McGill — My MESS!


As I approach the end of my 4 years at McGill University, I am recollecting the experiences and memories that shaped my character and who I am today. Each year has its own theme, themes that, for the most part, are widely different yet symbiotic in their contribution to my understanding of the world.

Music, Events, Stress and Socializing are all common episodes that formulate the 4 seasons of my TV show at McGill. If you take a look at the first letter of the episodes, it creates the word “MESS,” which perfectly encompasses the experience of being a student, yet transitioning into adulthood and figuring out how you want to make an impact in this world. It really is all a mess, but a beautiful mess at that.

This is what I will call my TV show, and so I welcome you the premiere of MESS!; written and directed by yours truly, Muhammad Arham Ali.

Music — The Passion Driver

I am lucky to have been able to find a passion at such a young age. I started rapping when I was 13 and kept a “Book of Rhymes” where I would write about momentous and trivial moments in my life, no matter how small or big. As I grew older, my trajectory in creating listenable & tolerable music began to develop as the ears of my peers & studying the game pushed me into expanding my knowledge of Hip Hop. It has had me conflicted at points in my life, wishing that maybe the life I want to lead was different than what societal & familial conditions were imposing on me. The traditional 9–5, logging your hours till you sweat for being able to exist.

The creation of music and art is something that has been able to help me cope significantly with deeply entrenched thoughts and feelings, especially when no-one was there to listen. It may have delved me further into a shell, thinking that maybe this was the only way I was meant to cope with my fears. But it taught me something extravagant, too. It taught me that my worldview, no matter how radical or simple, was worthy enough to be expressed regardless of what opinions people held of me. Every time I would find myself stressed, I would open my laptop, go onto YouTube, and find an instrumental to freestyle over to help me vent and figure out what is going on. Sometimes, especially before finals season, I would freestyle the content I was learning that day for a subject just to help ingrain it further in my memory. Safe to say that when it actually came around to the exam, I could not remember the freestyle for shit, but I did hope that it would eventually count for something. If I could have free-styled my entire finance degree, I would have not batted an eye for a second.

That’s kinda cool though, maybe institutions should offer ‘spoken’ degrees. You spend your entire time at university sitting interviews about questions on a subject rather than writing exams, so people who are better at speaking (and maybe bullshitting verbally) can really do great things here. Or it is a completely bollocks idea and has no definite weightage to being a successful way of attaining a degree. Fabulous.

Anyways, my point is to say that having a passion throughout the years really helped me evolve and cope mentally. There was one semester where I never wrote/produced a song or even free-styled because I fell out of love with art for a bit (since I did not like what I was making and was focused on getting a job), and it spiralled me into a deep depression that was super tough to get out of. I know that I cannot let that happen again. If you do not really have a passion as of yet, it goes without saying that the first step to finding out anything is to get out there and try it. I can’t stress this enough; find that flame and let it burn for the rest of your life, because you never know where it can take you.


Events — Just Do It

Now university life is all about events, and they take all shapes and sizes. From Frosh to Carnival to Clubs to Student Societies to almost anything you can think of when it involves interacting with other students, even FIGHT CLUBS… Yes, you heard that right. Last year there was a massive organized fight club on Jeanne Meance because students were so tired of staying indoors due to COVID-19 they decided to form their very own fight club, like, from the movie. But the first rule to fight club is to not talk about fight club, yet everyone at McGill was talking about fight club. Come on McGillians, do better.

Events and getting involved is just something you have to come to terms with. Even if you find yourself an introvert, everyone you meet at these events either used to be one or still is one, so you will find that it is necessarily easy to step out of your bubble without feeling like you’re bursting it. You meet a lot of cool people along the way (a lot of questionable people, too), and you will find that you have more similarities than differences when you interact with others that share similar interests as you, which kind of goes without saying. You won’t know what those interests are until you go out there and learn about them, which happens a lot all over campus through info-sessions, tabling and more recently, Zoom rooms.

Tabling is nice because clubs usually offer samosa sales to get people to come to their table and learn about the club. Once you get a samosa, the person tabling starts talking about their club but you are already knee-deep in aloo samosa and chutney that you couldn’t really care less about what they’re promoting. Info-sessions are informative, of course, but you cannot help but think about how the person talking is not even remotely passionate about the roles or opportunities available. Sometimes you’ll find someone who is passionate, and if you do, then go ask them questions and build your contacts with them. Those are the ones you want to know. Zoom sessions, well, are zoom sessions. You spend the entire time on your phone so you miss out on all the key information, just to tune in at the end when they say “Does anyone have any questions?” At that point — and I can’t make this up — you reflect on the hour just gone by and can’t remember anything. So your best option is to say thank you and leave. Just make sure you’re wearing your blue light lenses and have your microphone on mute. This paragraph was just the truth and nothing less.

You will never get these 4 years again, so go out there and live it up to the fullest. Get involved and allow yourself to thrive, even if that means getting faced with rejection. I got rejected from every role I applied to first year, and I even walked out of an interview because I couldn’t give a flying f*ck about answering the question the way they wanted me to. A little context, basically, it was for a case league class and I had reached the final round. The interview went well as they asked me about my background and experiences in high school, and then they dropped the typical consulting question: “So, how many door handles do you think are manufactured in Montreal every year?” So I began answering by doing the math i.e. population → no. of homes → breakdown of homes → door handles per home etc. When I was approaching my final answer, I thought to myself “This is so monotonous, like, why do they need to know how many crappy door handles there are? It does not help with anything.”

So I ended up saying “You know what? It doesn’t even matter how many door handles are made, because everything happens for a reason and the world will continue to spin on its axis,” proceeding to get up and exiting the room. In that fleeting moment, I realized that this entire undergraduate society thing is just a game. You just have to play it right. Safe to say that I eventually ended up getting roles that I enjoyed and didn’t have to be an expert on door handles. Everything will work out for you eventually.


Stress — The Ingredient to Success

Stress is a vital ingredient to get by at McGill, and fortunately enough you will have a lot of it over your 4 years. The best thing for you to do is to make it your friend and let it drive you to complete tasks, even if that means leaving essays to the last minute and overdoing it on the Double Doubles from Tim Hortons. I think I was having 2–3 Double Doubles a day during one of my semesters because it curbed my hunger and gave me energy, but boy was it bad for my health. So, actually, I take it back, don’t overdo it on the coffees or the energy drinks. Try to find healthier alternatives like green tea or black tea to give you a boost.

Let stress be the rhythym by which you complete things, because eventually you will not even feel like it is there. You become numb to it because you experience it so much, but to be honest you will always feel mild symtpoms especially when important exams around the corner and a lot of your grade depends on it. 60% finals? Pssht, easy… not. Just don’t do that thing in first year where you still have a high school mentality and think you can ace stuff without trying, because trust me that sh*t will come around to bite you on the a*s later. Try to get organized from the get-go and understand how the system works, so in that way you will be prepared for everything that is to come your way. Ask people in years above and campus advisors if you need any help, because they are always willing to lend a hand.

McGill was not an easy school. I would find myself wide awake in the middle of the night thinking about how tomorrow or the day after would play out, or what I needed to get done to make sure I was on track. After experiencing a tough first year, I needed to figure it all out. If you find yourself in the same situation, don’t be afraid to reach out to friends ad peers for help, because a lot of people will be going through what you are experiencing. Also, professors are actually very understanding if things don’t end up going your way grade-wise. Go to their office hours and speak to them if you’ve been having a tough time and they can make some exceptions for you. Just make sure you attend your classes so it doesn’t seem like you’re a free loader looking to find shortcuts.

If you find out positive ways to reduce the stress you’re experiencing, then click on the link underneath the image below. It will give you 9 ways of mindfulness to help cope with stress-related issues.


Socializing — It’s Cool But Pls Help Me

Socializing is just one of those things that can really help you channel your energy, but also one that drains it completely. Our ‘social battery’ is constantly put to the test where we have weekends to spare and are looking to go out with friends. I think the biggest experience for me here was learning to say no and not putting up a false persona to please others. When you’re new to a place, it can be easy to lose your sense of individualism as you try to fit in with different social circles. When you do this, it creates unrealistic expectations about you that people expect you to always live up to. You can never be sad, quiet or anxious if all you ever put out there was this persona of being full of life and energetic. Know your limits and boundaries, and expect individuals to respect that. If they don’t, then they are not meant to be in your life. I wish someone had told me this when I first came to McGill, because it put me in confusing situations.

Don’t be afraid of turning down a gathering if you don’t want to be there, because if your week has been frantic and full of moving parts, you need to change the oil in your engine to rejuvenate for the next week. If you find yourself tired of the club at 12 AM, don’t be afraid to leave and walk home even if its on your own. McGill has this initiative called WalkSafe where people can walk you home in case you’ve had a wild night out, and this way you are not stopping your friends from continuing their night if they want. I promise you that FOMO is not a thing at McGill, because almost every party or gathering will play out the same way every time. Instead, bring the party to you. Invite people to your place so therefore no can disrespect you in your own house, and you get free leftover drinks to use for the next time. It’s a win-win. We lived in the 1522 and it was a monstrosity of a place, so we made sure to host ample parties there. I would say around 30–40% of the people invited either didn’t like me or thought I was obnoxious, which made it so much better. You can look them in the eye and kill them with kindness. It’s really a gift.

Over the four years you definitely have different opinions on going out. First year you go ham and go out almost every day, second year it’s every now and then but this time people are hosting parties at their homes so that’s pretty cool. Third year you get tired of it and just want to stay home most of the time. Fourth year, well, was fourth year. Because it was in the midst of the pandemic I was back home in Dubai for half of it, which was a great time for me because I got to see my high-school friends, my family, and got to go out. Now I’m sitting here in Montreal in my final semester, writing this essay so I can teach you all about the mess McGill created within me and outside of me, but a mess I truly appreciate in every sense of the word.


I hope your messy chapters at McGill teaches you everything you want to know, and that your experiences really mould you into who you want to become. Remember your pride and sense of individualism along the way, and it will help you in every aspect of college life. If you have any questions, or want to learn more about my experiences, please do not hesitate reaching out to me on my social medias, which I will plug below. Share this article with your friends if this is something that resonates with you, and I appreciate you for taking the time out of your day to read this.

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Muhammad Arham Ali

Muhammad Arham Ali

Current student at McGill University pursuing a degree in Finance & Economics. Interested in self-development, technology and business.