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Aleisha Fernandes, Michelle Lam, Alisha Rana
"Perhaps life would have been different if I was living on campus, but I didn’t let my commuter lifestyle prevent me from experiencing an alternate student life. What you get out of university is really up to one’s own efforts."

Hi, I’m Aleisha, and I’m a retired commuter student.

So, what is a 'commuter student'? According to the Dictionary of Aleisha (which is a very reputable source), it is a student that travels great distance, and sometimes a mountain, to pursue ancient wisdom.

I say retired because I graduated this past June. Looking back to my graduation, it has been a long and wild 6.5 years, but I would not have changed any part of it. Every detour and wrong turn I took, (and yes, all those times I roamed aimlessly through the Academic Quadrangle looking for the K building), those experiences have helped me grow, and allowed me to leave with more certainty in what I want to do, (and in my navigation skills too).

I wasn’t always this wise and certain. I was once a student who just used to attend classes and then head straight home afterwards. I thought that this was what the life of a commuter student was, in comparison to the legendary university student life, which was something reserved for those who lived on campus. It wasn’t until my second year at SFU, when I realized that it wasn’t the case. After browsing the different booths from afar during club days, I approached one of booths, got a run-down and right then and there, I joined my first club. I still remember talking to myself into going to an event, worried I may stick out and not know where I was going. Yet, once I got there, I found myself greeted by other smiling faces from people who were also fellow commuter students, all trying to find a sense of belonging too. For the first time I felt like I was a part of the community at school, and soon realized how the commuter lifestyle can also really bond people together. I eventually went on to become an executive for the club I first joined, and following that journey, I joined other clubs and started volunteering a lot more. It was through these extracurriculars that I finally got that exclusive taste of student life (that turned out not to be so exclusive at all). I began to find myself heading out to campus a lot more often to attend other events and opportunities, rather than just for classes. It was also through these extracurriculars that I got to learn more about what I enjoyed doing and what I was good at.

Coming into university I knew I wanted to work in healthcare, but I did not have a set career path. I decided to pursue a BSc in Health Sciences, to keep the doors open to nursing and medical school, while also looking for other options of other career paths. To help myself explore some of these other career paths, I did a couple of Co-op work placements. In my first term, I got to work at a non-profit where I led community kitchens and even planned a strawberry picking trip for community members. Although I enjoyed working with people, I still felt something was missing. My next few placements for Co-op were at Fraser Health and BC Cancer Agency,  where I got to work with large datasets and see from beginning to with the processes of research studies.  Thus, my passion for research sparked when I went on to conduct my own research study. These work terms not only supported me in gaining more confidence in myself, but they also taught me that passion points can be found throughout the journey, and to be comfortable with uncertainty. However, it wouldn’t be right if I didn’t include the successes and lessons learned. My experiences wouldn’t have been made possible unless I had stepped out of my comfort zone to pursue the illustrious student life that left me with numerous connections and experiences to fill up my resume.

Yes, sometimes I still wonder if I missed out on any other student experience that only one can achieve if they reside on campus. Yet, I also know that each students’ experience is different and unique. Perhaps life would have been different if I was living on campus, but I didn’t let my commuter lifestyle prevent me from experiencing an alternate student life. What you get out of university is really up to one’s own efforts. For me it was taking that first step of accepting a flyer, then learning more about a club, and then attending what was a seemingly small event that changed my whole university journey. So, a message from your former commuter student: get out of your comfort zone! Take your student life by the reins and explore what you like doing! Some day you, too will be as wise as this now retired commuter student.


This blog was originally posted on the SFU Surrey-TD Community Engagement Centre website on October 13, 2021.

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