Being a commuter student and a basement dweller, friendly faces at U of T can sometimes be hard to come by. Despite meeting people in classes, labs, tutorials etc. the interactions are generally shallow and brief. When I first heard about Alternative Reading Week (ARW) last year, I assumed it would be like most of my other university experiences: brief and uninteresting. Due to relentless badgering from a certain Alternative Reading Week Program Assistant (badgering which I now look back upon in appreciation of course!), I decided to give it a shot.
On the first day I was assigned to do outreach for the Jane Street Community Hub which consisted of talking to random passers-by on the street about the services that the hub had to offer. The very thought of randomized social interaction terrified me to the point where I almost immediately regretted my decision. However the experience was quite the opposite. It was actually the most fun I’ve ever had volunteering! It became almost like a game: trying to find ways to entice people to take a moment out of their busy day to stop and have a conversation with me.
Being in the Weston-Mount Dennis community, seeing the landscape, interacting with community citizens, and hearing about its history helped enrich my understanding of what “Toronto” really is. It is very easy in the ivory towers of U of T’s downtown campus to forget that there is more to Toronto than first meets the eye. Over the span of the three days of ARW I saw a side of U of T students that I had never seen before; everyone was talkative, friendly and open. I found myself looking forward to the following days with much enthusiasm.
At the end of the three days I wished it was longer. Even though I approached the entire event with such apprehension, I not only thoroughly enjoyed my time there but also helped out in the community. I ended up hanging out at the Centre for Community Partnerships longer than expected, and I am currently the TDSB Tutors in High School Program Assistant. This whole experience made me realize that in order to get what you want out of U of T (and life) you need to sometimes move outside your comfort zone and search for opportunities yourself. I found what I was looking for, now it’s your turn.
ARW2013 Project Leader and CCP Work-Study