Acting on a suggestion from a high school teacher, Dartmouth’s Kate Barkhouse crossed the Halifax harbour to attend a King’s open house. She wanted to learn more about this so-called “FYP” (Foundation Year Program). It didn’t take long. She sat in on a lecture in which Dr. Neil Robertson discussed Homer’s “The Odyssey” and homecoming.
“It was like, ‘Yep. I’m sold, let’s go.’ ” She applied on the spot.
It was only during O-week (orientation week) when Barkhouse knew she made the right decision. She was settling in on campus. “I was there with a group of people that I’d known for, like, three of four hours,” she said. “We were all in the lecture hall, and the student council was playing ‘Africa’ by Toto and everyone was standing up on the desks…singing ‘Africa’ by Toto and I was like, ‘Where am I? What am I doing here? This is great!’ ”
Once it was time to get to work, however, Barkhouse admitted she was taken aback. “I was surprised by the sheer number of texts that we were reading.” It wouldn’t be as overwhelming as she feared. Once she started turning the pages and attending tutorials it all started to click. “The professors were really supportive, and they’re all so smart and they know what they’re doing.”
“It was daunting at first because FYP essays are kind of their own beast, which is something that you hear a lot in the beginning. But you catch on fast and the professors offer a lot of good advice. You go in after you write your first [essay] and have a one-on-one meeting and learn about what you can do better so there are lots of supports.”
It’s not always easy to grasp these ancient and philosophical texts the first time around. Barkhouse found support in both her professors and her peers—especially at tutorials.
“You talk about it with other students and with your tutor and that’s kind of how you make the text…less abstract and more something that you are actively reflecting on.”
Another intimidating part of first year can be FYP oral exams. Students sit down in a room with two professors who ask questions on one text from each section of the semester. “It’s not as scary as it sounds,” Barkhouse said. “It’s everything from that semester but if you’re there, if you’re paying attention, if you do some studying, it’s fine. It’s nerve-wracking but they (the professors) do really well, I find, to put you at ease.”
Along with spending her first year of university diving into the academic content of FYP, Barkhouse also got a behind-the-scenes look at the program working as an assistant to FYP administrator Elisabeth Stones. She also had the opportunity to work with Associate Director Susan Dodd as the student editor for FYP News, the Foundation Year Program’s biannual newsletter, gaining experience putting together a publication.
An important realization she made early on is everyone gets through FYP in their own way. Everybody has a different process for writing a paper every other week. “Like, for me, I would have to start the paper the day I got it—I had a whole schedule.”
Barkhouse would pick out her question one day, write an outline the next, and then find all the quotes she wanted to use after that. “But I knew some people who would just take the Saturday and Sunday before and write the whole thing which I think…that just blows my mind.”