By Stephanie Hai and Katrina Sun
After a brief two month hiatus, we have returned, with fervour, to address a serious topic instead of rating Korean TV Dramas. Both of us believe we’ve been accustomed to a fair share of difficult episodes while in high school, times when we wished for helpful advice and guidance. Previous advice columns have shared several useful tips and tricks, but we thought we should get even more granular. In this article, we’ll be splitting it up into three realms of high school: social life, education, and general teenager tips. Some lessons will include tips, and others are for the sake of information. There are 10 lessons in total. Although some may seem too specific, we hope you’ll walk away from this article knowing we’ve been in your place—academically or socially struggling.
Note: these are suggestions from our own experiences—we are merely here to serve as friendly guidance.
On Social Skills: learning small talk, avoiding academic conversations, accepting defeat, and embracing loneliness
Before the terrors of our strenuous 11th grade year, we used to have social lives too—something which seems unfathomable! Over the years, we’ve gathered our brain cells to generate four large lessons to pass onto the younger generation of WPGA pupils.
Lesson No. 1: learn basic small talk rules
While small talk may seem unimportant and easily forgettable, it certainly leaves an impression and insight into one’s social ability. With this in mind, we strongly advise our readers to consider topics beyond the weather, your latest test mark, or your insurmountable homework. Simply put, these are issues that already consume the average high-schooler. (As one wise friend once told me “bad topic = bad snakes.”) Instead, ask personal questions, perhaps: What did you do this weekend? Who did you dream about last night? What did you have for lunch?
When responding, make sure to give more than a head nod. With masks blocking our view of your awkward smile, it will seem extremely rude not to verbally respond. In fact, when in doubt, just ask another question! No matter how off-topic it may seem, it shows you care, which is what small talk is truly all about. If faced with a distant acquaintance, or just someone you never see alone, simply relax. The point is to act genuinely invested in the lighthearted and seemingly frivolous conversation—time to put our examples to use!
Lesson No. 2: avoid academic conversations at school
While walking into the hallways, all I hear is school, school, school. People ask: What did you get on this test? Why does this teacher mark so hard? Why is this class so difficult? Why is my redo mark lower than my original mark? It’s almost become a whisper room of endless questions and complaints—tiring my soul in an already tiring environment. No one wants to go to school with certain individuals hunting you down for answers or assignments, especially during your free time. The cafeteria has slowly become the new classroom, defeating its intentions of gathering, friendship, and high school wholesomeness.
- Use your eating spaces to talk about out-of-school things.
Don’t make the cafeteria an extension of the dreadful classroom! (Or wherever else you eat lunch, if you’re not a grade 11.) Use the environment to talk to your friends, relax, and decompress your stressed brain. If you need to do assignments, do them after the eating period. You should enjoy this little time of the school day away from your academics and apprehension.
- Take the time to learn about people, not just their academic abilities.
I think too often, we characterize people by their marks, classroom behavior, and how good a student they are. Instead of doing this, try to learn personality traits beyond their academic tendencies. For both of us, we would appreciate it if people took the time to talk to and get to know us, before urgently jumping to ask for an assignment or answer.
- Use hallway exchanges to your advantage—note our tips on small talk.
If you haven’t talked to someone in a while, use the hallway to ask how they are! No one wants the dread of having to make awkward banter, but it would be nice to say hello rather than detouring into a locker room. This will lead to long-term social benefits, where everyone will view you as a genuinely caring and nice person.
Lesson No. 3: sometimes, it’s easier to accept defeat in a fight
Recently one of my close friends inquired me for advice over a quarrel they had with their other friend. Being something of a well-known relationship counsellor, I found that social wisdom has always come to me easily; unfortunately, not everyone is blessed with the same ability. After many fights and misunderstandings, I have concluded that some squabbles are simply meant to be let go of. Of course, if someone accuses you of a blasphemous and slanderous act, you should defend yourself. But, if someone said that you offended them and you don’t think you did, don’t try to tell them how to feel. Just pretend that you understand and are sorry. Even if you don’t fully feel at blame, sometimes dignity is not a justifiable means to engage in further argument.
Lesson No. 4: embrace loneliness
This pandemic has highlighted the art of enjoying your own company and hanging out with yourself. Before COVID-19, I tended to leave my house when I had no real desire to, or engage with those I didn’t get along with. I was aware of this phenomenon, yet continued to ignore these feelings and focused on having high school fun. Over the last year, I’ve finally understood the true beauty of staying at home (despite the fact that it was initially forced). When you’re alone, you can do whatever you want without being judged or questioned. Suddenly, delving into the realm of Korean Dramas seems much more enjoyable than engaging in nights of generic teenage activities with even more generic teenagers.
Perhaps even more importantly, you aren’t always going to be surrounded by other people. Alumni have noted the strange unfamiliarity of first-year university after leaving the close-knit community of WPGA. As a result, being prepared to enjoy your own company is crucial to your self-growth and independence.
On Education: studying productively, using failure as motivation, and realizing marks are not your personality
Lesson No. 5: studying productively
Although we were hoping to stray away from generic advice, study tips are always beneficial. In the past four years, my study habits have changed immensely. This may be due to my brain having to absorb more information in grade 11 than in grade 8, but nonetheless, reforming your study habits to best fit your productivity is essential to obtaining a 98% (2% left for motivation).
In the classroom, balance your time paying attention and writing notes! If you know writing computer notes distracts you from the lesson, try writing them down in a notebook. For notebook notes, make sure you’re not utilizing all your time on the layout, color scheme, or which type of bullet points to use. From personal experience, this can absorb crucial learning time.
At home, a functional desk setup is more important than you think. After the trauma of enduring online school, I was tired of my mundane desk setup and relocated downstairs to my family dining room. It was nice for a while, before realizing nothing was in a set location and my chair gradually became less comfortable. Essentially, make sure you actually enjoy the place you’re learning at home—decorating it (find study inspiration on Pinterest), buying a new chair, or organizing your setup will help you in the long-run.
For assignments, both of us generally recommend you to get them done earlier rather than later. Although it may seem impossible and unnecessary, getting them done earlier is better than prolonging the doom. This goes hand-in-hand with keeping an agenda—whether that’s a google document, planner, or online calendar. Map out your week on Sunday nights, and see what you can get done before the school week starts—seems crazy, but definitely possible!
Lesson No. 6: use failure as motivation
This is so cliché but very important! As a person who requires two days to study before a test, instead of someone who can study the block before a test, I’ve learned the meaning behind “everyone learns differently.” It’s an inevitable lesson you learn especially at our school, where it is likely to carry onto university and your career. Rather than feeling defeated about your lengthy study habits, remember that work ethic is the most transferable skill. For some, understanding concepts just comes naturally. Try to remember there’s nothing you can do about the way other students learn subjects, but focus on how you can better your own habits to remain efficient and productive.
For instance, we are both placed at opposite ends of the education spectrum. On the one hand, Katrina is what would constitute a naturally-smart person. Admittedly, she takes shorter periods of time to study and learns material quite fast but struggles with time management. On the other hand, Stephanie is slower at learning and requires additional resources and help for her to truly succeed, such as flashcards, different pen colors, and multiple study nights—yet, she prides herself in her online agenda. Instead of comparing ourselves to each other, we both strive to accomplish our personal goals and help each other to do so. Remember, everyone has a weakness.
Lesson No. 7: marks aren’t your personality
Having both continually struggled throughout high school with the mentality that marks are the sole factor in determining our self-worth, we hope to offer some insights to combat this highly problematic thought-process. Though having discussed this phenomenon with teachers and peers, we continue to struggle in digging down to the real reason behind the marks-centered nature of our school. While some may claim it’s family pressure, others claim it’s pressure from themselves or even peer pressure. One thing is for certain—don’t give in to the stress culture cultivated by the flocks of crying students.
- You don’t need to be well-rounded
As we will later discuss this, ensuring you are sufficient in one field of school is much better than combatting multiple fields of school at once. Attempting to be the pinnacle of spirit, athletics, service, and arts is much more demanding than you think. Try and focus on one or two fields you enjoy most, rather than spending your time on too many activities.
- Stop comparing yourself to others
By comparing yourself to others, you are actively belittling your accomplishments and individualism. In our example above, we both found a unique way to combat the possibility of an unhealthy friendship comparison. Focusing on how you can better yourself, instead of how others are performing, is a much more valued skill set.
On Teenagers: finding your niche, establishing “corporate energy,” and valuing your time
Lesson No. 8: finding your niche
While approaching grade 12, you may find yourself in a frantic frenzy to specialize in one passion project, subject, or what we call, a niche. Finding your niche can be extremely strenuous and at times, even intimidating. With everyone around you being randomly passionate about a particular “thing”, you can feel isolated and lost in a sea of resume-cushioning-vultures. Notwithstanding, this year, we learned in our economics class the law of diminishing marginal returns. The more you add, the less output and productivity you get. This can be applied to niche-finding, in which specialization is crucial to maximizing your last years in high school.
- Rediscovering Childhood Sympathy
Ask yourself, what did I care most about as a child? Maybe you were interested in the roots of homelessness or worried about the cut-down trees on the playground. Similar to finding your hobby, finding your niche through scavenging childhood memories can potentially place you on an authentic and genuine path.
- Don’t Follow the Trend
Instead of browsing through Instagram threads and social-justice posts, try and identify what you care most about—without literally searching for it. Finding a niche in which you feel most comfortable will foster a healthy direction to success.
- Maximize your available opportunities
After identifying what you deem to be authentic to yourself, start researching how you can implement your niche into your everyday life. Whether that be joining student-run organizations, starting your own, or finding corresponding volunteer opportunities, navigate a way to leverage and embrace your niche!
Lesson No. 9: establishing corporate energy
For us to truly be most on brand, we had to disclose our secrets of establishing corporate energy at school. Post-niche-exploring, you may find yourself in need of some confidence to put your newly discovered passions into motion. No need to fret, we have discovered the one true mentality for overcoming inferiority complexes; we like to call this corporate energy. You have probably seen a friend who changes completely when faced with an important task, whether it be at Model UN conferences, interviews, or even while talking to a teacher. This separate personality, per se, creates a barrier between our vulnerable selves and the scary world we inevitably have to face.
We utilize our corporate energy to overcome the feelings of anxiety during particularly stressful meetings, tests, events, and work. With a clearer divide between one’s personal and professional self, there becomes an even clearer work-life balance, which ultimately brings more order and organization to our hectic lives. Of course, our intent is never to promote radical changes in our readers’ personality, or even worse, cause an identity crisis! Rather, we hope that corporate energy can become yet another new aspect of your multifaceted personality.
- Creating a “customer service voice”
The first step to developing this alter-ego is creating a professional identity in which you use a customer service voice. Imagine this as the voice you hear on the other end of the line when making a reservation at restaurants, or when you’re getting checked out at a grocery store. The tone of voice you use is truly imperative when making a first, second, or third impression. Always remember—attitude is key!
- Grandiosity is sometimes necessary
You have probably heard of the saying “fake it ‘til you make it,” which is a phrase we loyally stand behind. Oftentimes, when facing a scary teacher or situation, confidence can play a big role in your success; thus, pretend you have some, even if you don’t, and you will soon be able to back it up with real achievements.
- Find a corporate energy idol
Search for a friend or mentor who has the corporate energy you hope to acquire. Try to discover and adopt some of their mannerisms, but don’t be obvious. Often, this is someone who possesses an abundance of confidence, yet can remain humble and respected.
Lesson No. 10: value your time in high school
Admittedly, Stephanie and I entered high school donning rose-coloured glasses, unsuspecting of an upcoming pandemic, and chasing the ideal of a bustling high-school social scene. As it turns out, we hit our social peak in grade 10, halted by the pesky virus and a new outlook on life. Through this, we have experienced many obscure obstacles in our friendships while searching for a semblance of normalcy in an abnormal world; for example, you can determine who your real friends are after a province-wide lockdown. Even better, you can slow down the rapidly-turning wheels of high school, and value your precious time.
For both of us, and many fellow WPGA students, our depiction of high school was crafted vividly by our older siblings. In what seemed like endless glass-room fun, grade bonding, and memories of enjoyable weekends, we longed for our image to become a reality. Due to the pandemic, our image became quickly submerged and near-impossible to attain. Yet, we were able to find a silver-lining. Instead of feeling defeated, we took this time to slow down and appreciate our current surroundings. As we near our senior year, we’ve learned a lot about how to manage our time and wellbeing.
- Don’t be friends with people you don’t want to be friends with
To many of us, this seems like common sense. However, it seems that when it really comes down to it, many of us would choose to “sacrifice” our own wellbeing to cling onto the threads of a dying friendship or befriend someone because all our friends did. Consider prioritizing your life and the role of your friendships in it. You may need to learn to gently let go of the relationships that no longer bring you joy or even those that are just too problematic to maintain.
- Going out ≠ fun
Receiving an invite—or Zoom link—to the weekend’s social gatherings may be all that you think you want. But, be careful what you wish for. Forcing yourself to go out, hindered by FOMO, will never be as satisfying as rolling around in bed when you’re tired.
- Talk to everyone, literally everyone
One day you’ll be approaching graduation, realizing that there are some people who you’ll never have the chance to talk to for the rest of your life. Refer to our small talk tips and start a conversation; you’ll regret it if you don’t!