A hop along Harbord Street

When I moved out of residence in my second year, I realized that my first year of university was confined to a small, campus-wide radius. I moved between classes and libraries, and a bit up and down Bloor Street, but for the most part, I hardly explored beyond the school. There’s plenty to see right here on campus, but the city is filled with interesting pockets to explore and you’re missing out if you don’t take the chance to do so! Plus, taking a walk and seeing new things is a great way to de-stress.

Luckily, you don’t have to go very far off campus to start exploring. Jutting right off St. George Street is Harbord Street – the road that stretches between Robarts and Ossington Avenue. It’s situated in the centre of Harbord Village, a neighbourhood in between Kensington and Bloor Street that houses many students and professors, as well as restaurants, cafes, parks, and corners of the city’s history.

A walk along Harbord is filled with hip spots to grab a coffee or peek in, and the shady, historic side streets are sure to inspire you to cut through them and see the unique homes up close. Here are some things to do when you take a stroll in the neighbourhood.

1. Get caffeinated.

There are lots of places to grab a coffee along Harbord – among them Tik Talk Cafe, which also serves up breakfast and lunch and is right by campus. Across the street is Redfish Bluefish Creative Cafe. It’s a family-friendly spot but it’s great for students, too, and particularly those who like fine coffee and healthy, gluten-free options for snacks.

A sign outside Tik Talk Cafe that reads: "Life is too short for bad food and coffee. [arrow to the right pointing inside the cafe] Make the right turn"

A sign outside Tik Talk Cafe this week. Accurate.

New spot Almond Butterfly also has lots of coffee and caffeinated drinks to choose from. Once, a friend brought me their hot chocolate on a cold winter day in Robarts and I nearly cried of happiness. They also offer a 10% discount for all students – just show your TCard!

2. Get some treats!

Harbord Street is a haven for baked goods and desserts. Almond Butterly also serves lots of beautiful baked goods and they are 100% gluten-free. They’ve got cakes, pies, muffins, cupcakes, and more, and they taste as lovely as they look.

Cupcakes inside Almond Butterfly. Flavours from left to right, top row: strawberry milkshake, vanilla bean, orange creamsicle, cinnamon sugar cookie.

Dear cupcakes, please never leave me. Yours with enduring love and affection, Danielle.

RedFish BlueFish is scooping ice cream from Kawartha Dairy this summer, and not only that, they’re also doing milkshakes and hopping on the blessed ice cream sandwich trend – check out this delectable looking picture of one of their sandwich creations from their Instagram page!

Closer to Bathurst Street is Chabichou, which has a huge selection of cheeses, but also serves cupcakes and tarts. And honorable mention, of course, to Krispy Kreme, for their wallet-friendly classic doughnuts.

3. Harbord Bakery. Enough said.

 Yes, it’s more treats, but Harbord Bakery is a category all of its own! It’s a staple of the area and a piece of its history, having been around since 1929. They have amazing fresh bread, salads, pies, baked goods, and speciality items. It’s a beloved local hub and a great place to get a study snack or picnic supplies.

Packaged baked goods inside Harbord Bakery. Pictured are sweet nothings, almond cookies, and meringues in plastic bags inside wicker storage boxes.

Three of my Harbord Bakery happiness essentials: sweet nothings, almond cookies, and meringues. But seriously, you have not lived until you have tried all three of these.

 4. Learn some local history.

The Harbord Village Residents Association is really active and has worked on a number of projects to preserve the history of the neighbourhood. They recently started the Oral History Project. They installed “StoryPosts” all over the neighbourhood, which contain QR codes that link to short podcasts that describe a relevant piece of history wherever you’re standing!

A StoryPost in Harbord Village. It's a white printed rectangle tacked onto a blue fence. It has a QR code and text which reads: "StoryPost 16 Corner Stores The Role of the corner grocery store, in our neighbourhood's history http://harbordvillagehistory.ca/storypost/16.html Harbord Village Residents' Association". It also has an icon of a speaker that says "listen!" below it.

One of the StoryPosts. It links up to this audioclip on the Harbord Village History website!

The audio clips contain interviews with some of the oldest living residents in the area. It’s a really unique aspect of the neighbourhood that goes to show how remarkably passionate its residents are.

5. Grab a meal.

There are tons of restaurants along Harbord – and a lot of them are kind of fancy, so they’re great places to celebrate with friends or take a date.

Flip, Toss, and Thai Kitchen is inexpensive and really delicious for a hot meal. They also deliver so you can order your dinner to wherever you are on campus. Harbord Fish & Chips looks like a stand straight out of a beach town. It’s a great spot for a quick fried meal fix, serving delicious no-fuss fish & chips on pieces of newspaper that you can enjoy on cheery white picnic tables outside in the sun.

As for the fancier joints, Harbord House is a definite stand-out, serving craft beer and really delicious entrees at prices that are a bit higher than the usual student budget, but not totally out of range for a special night out. Their sticky toffee pudding is a must-try. Harvest Kitchen is a great place for vegetarian options, and their sustainability-minded locally-sourced menu is guilt-free and full of healthy, earth-friendly choices. They also have lovely patios for outdoor eating.

6. Discover something special!

As with any neighbourhood exploring, what truly makes a place special when you’re wandering around are the little corners you stumble upon without looking for them. There’s a bench on Brunswick Avenue, for example, that invites anyone to take a rest – locals come there to write, get inspired, leave messages, or just take a breather, and some less fortunate people take naps on it. The family that lives in the house maintains it and has fixed it up over the years.

The bench on Brunswick. A plaque on it reads: "SHALOM WE Honour the memory of "Honest" EDWIN MIRVISH July 24, 1914-July 11, 2007 He Will Be Remembered All are welcome to rest on this bench." The bench is made of wood and surrounded by greenery and flowers. On the left side there is a turqoise bucket for cigarette butts

The bench – one of the many special little things in Harbord Village.

There’s also all the homes, each with their own unique little quirks, like brightly painted bricks and wildly overgrown gardens and windowsill planters filled with herbs. There are alleyways and buildings with interesting street art and quiet parkettes decorated by flowers and play structures.

Harbord Village is just one of the many neighbourhoods bordering campus, and beyond it are even more interesting areas. It’s very easy to be a tourist at home in Toronto, just by taking a quick jaunt away from the university or grabbing a streetcar taking you somewhere new. It’s the summer, so now’s the time – expand your personal radius in the city, and revel in the sun and all the things to see that are waiting for you to find them!

Myself and Laura pictured through a mirror mosaic found in an alleyway behind Harbord Street. The surrounded frame is purple brick and yellow, red, blue, and pink mosaic.

An abstract portrait of myself and Laura through a mosaic we discovered in an alleyway.

What’s your favourite neighbourhood in the city? Or your favourite spot in Harbord Village? Chat with me on Twitter at @lifeatuoft or in the comments below!

My study abroad story

I remember the night I arrived in Berlin. I got to the airport with nothing but the phone number of my soon-to-be roommate. I went over to a payphone and tried calling, but she wasn’t answering. I was already jittery, and having no one to tell that I had made it to Germany in one piece sent the butterflies in my stomach soaring. I took a deep breath and found the bus I needed to take to my neighbourhood for the summer: Kreuzberg.

As the bus drove into the city, the dark night was illuminated by bright lights and hustling bodies and unfamiliar statues and alleyways and parks. I was relieved to remember that I was somewhere exciting, a brave new world of things to see packed into my numbered weeks abroad.

The street sign for the location of my Berlin apartment, Adalbertstrasse (Adalbert Street). It's covered in graffiti and the red  "do not enter" sign has a sticker of a little stick figure being crushed by the white line.

My street in Kreuzberg, featuring, like every inch of the city, graffiti, as well as a great sticker addition to the no entry sign.

I arrived to my apartment in the rain, and my roommate was there, smiling and radiant and offering me food and asking how my trip was. Throwing my bags down in my new room, I was struck by that always welcome sense that everything was going to be alright.

More than that, everything was going to be great. Over the next couple of months, I would meet new people, see Berlin and some other cities too, and learn in class with a diverse group of students.

I actually studied abroad twice in my undergraduate degree – once at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and once at Humboldt University in Berlin. For both trips, I was able to secure enough funding to make the experience affordable, to transfer my credits, and to have incredible summers.

A scene in Berlin - people by a waterway, with an older building on the opposite side of the water, a string of lights along the edge, the TV tower in the background.

Typical Berlin skyline: something modern, something old, and construction.

In Berlin, I participated in the Leo Baeck Summer University in Jewish Studies. The six-week course is divided into three two-week seminars with a major research project due at the end. The rest of your grade is made up of short reading response papers, presentations, and participation in class discussion. Mornings are spent in the seminar room discussing the night’s reading. Afternoons are always an excursion. The focus of the course is Holocaust studies and particularly Holocaust memory, so there is plenty to see in Berlin and sometimes beyond it (occasionally, we went on trips to sites outside the city).

The seminars are taught by different professors each year – in past years, at least one U of T professor that I can think of has participated. They bring different perspectives that keep the seminars current and interesting. The students hail from all over the world and are a mix of undergraduates and master’s students from unique academic backgrounds, making the collaborative final projects especially innovative.

On weekends, I explored the city, went to lakes with friends, took trips to Prague and Budapest, got groceries at the nearby Turkish market, and did course readings on Holocaust memory surrounded by the very monuments they referenced.

Hand holding a cinnamon and sugar pastry from a weekend visit to Prague.

A thing I ate in Prague that was THE MOST DELICIOUS THING EVER.

A lake in Berlin surrounded by trees and lit by the sunlight.

Going to lakes on the weekend is a very popular activity in Berlin in the summer, because there are lots of them, it’s really hot out, and they are quite serene. It’s perhaps worth noting that there are no rules about bathing suits in these parts so go at your own risk of seeing people baring it all!

A picture of me and my friend Molly at Mauerpark Karaoke where I'm wearing the previously referenced jean jacket.

Selfie at Mauerpark Karaoke with Molly, also from U of T, who was visiting me after her summer abroad experience in Namibia.

One of the things we often talked about in our course was what function memorials serve and how people should “act” in them. There isn’t a clear-cut answer, but in Berlin, seeing people simply living among the memorials – singing awful Michael Jackson karaoke in the former Death Strip of the wall in Mauerpark or children playing in the maze of the central Holocaust memorial – made them feel alive, important parts of the landscape of the city.

Studying abroad gives you the space to think about things like that – to immerse yourself in a culture and let people and places breathe new life into your course material. After mornings spent turning our readings over and over, our excursions would provide new context and new ideas. We visited artists’ studios, community organizations, memorials, museums, and sites that took learning outside the classroom and made it more holistic and meaningful.

Inside the Berlin Holocaust Memorial, a narrow alley between rows of concrete slabs with the bright sun shining at the top.

Inside the Berlin Holocaust Memorial. There are a lot of different interpretations of it, but I think this picture conveys the sense of isolation it can inspire.

As clearly as I remember my first night in Berlin, I also remember my last. We decided to stay out all night because that is always a wise thing to do when you have an endless flight the next day (read: it is not a wise thing to do, but it is a fun thing to do). We hopped around different spots in Kreuzberg, and then met up at the pond by our apartment complex to watch the sun rise with shawarma from the best shawarma place in the world, or at least in Kreuzberg (Maroush, in case you were wondering). It was one of those really full moments, bursting with feeling and, once again, that calming sense – everything was going to be alright. More than that, wonderful.

My knees sitting by the pond with tall grass from the water taking up most of the frame and the blue sky with white clouds in the background.

One of the many lovely views by the pond.

For those of you who are thinking about studying abroad, below is my synthesized advice!

Step 1: Plan… Planning ahead is key to studying abroad. Things you can plan for:

  • What do you want to study, and where does it make sense to study it? Do research to find a program that makes sense for you.
  • How are you going to pay for it? Go the Centre for International Experience and research online to find out about funding opportunities. Apply on time and apply for a lot of them – small scholarships can add up! Also, start saving money!
  • How many credits are you transferring back? Contact your department and apply in advance to get your credit transfers in order so there are no surprises when you get back.
  • What else do you need to do before you go? There are applications that need to be filled out, safety orientations that need to be attended, pets that need places to stay, packing that needs to get done. Don’t let it all overwhelm you in the days before you go – make a list now with tentative deadlines for your tasks so there’s no stress, in addition to the stress of going abroad, before you leave.
  • How much are you going to spend while you’re there? Make a budget before you go! Look around online to see how much food seems to cost and how much the attractions or excursions you want to see cost. There may be some tickets you can buy in advance to save money or skip costs (A lot of museums, for example – I’m looking at you, Paris; or flights are always cheaper in advance if you’re planning to travel around). When you’re abroad, it will be tempting to buy souvenirs, to eat out a lot, to see everything – and certainly, you should grant yourself some leeway since you’re on a trip – but if you go in with a budget, you will save yourself from overspending and ensure you’re thinking about your overall expenses as you spend.
Me in Jerusalem against the backdrop of the city with the Dome of the Rock.

From my other summer abroad in Jerusalem! Taken exploring the Old City with another friend from here at U of T.

Step 2: Then don’t plan! Once you arrive to your study abroad school, focus on seeing lots, learning lots, meeting new people, and enjoying yourself. Be spontaneous and have fun!

For more information, check out the Centre for International Experience. Don’t be afraid to pop into the building – the staff are super friendly and helpful!

Did you study abroad, or do you want to? Know a better shawarma place in Kreuzberg? Let’s chat on twitter at @lifeatUofT or in the comments below!


The definitive guide to quad picnics

U of T has many students, many libraries, many squirrels, and many quads. As we begin to cautiously believe that spring might actually be upon us, we also share the desire to pass our days in parks under the sun. The quads provide a great place to bring a packed lunch and revel in the warm weather with friends. But, there is an art to the quad picnic — here’s what you need to know.

Choose your quad. Between the colleges, Hart House, and even some of the libraries, there are ample quads to choose from at U of T. If you haven’t done so yet, you should definitely do a comprehensive quad hop and check them all out to determine which one is best in your eyes.

If you like perfectly cut grass and ornate footpaths, Trinity College may serve your needs. If you want to throw a football around, your best bet to join a game is the spacious UC quad. If you want to eat in serene silence surrounded by gothic architecture, Knox College is the quiet corner of campus for you.

The twitterverse was generally partial to the Victoria College quad when I asked, but share which one you prefer with me on twitter at @lifeatuoft:


Screenshot from twitter: Jacob Ke ‏@Jacob_thesnake May 8 @lifeatuoft Vic Quad is HOME @VicCollege_UofT Reply Retweeted Favorited Follow More RETWEETS 2 FAVORITES 3 Sheena GarciaVic College UofTLife@UofT St. George 11:06 AM - 8 May 2015 · Details

Screenshot from Twitter: Elizabeth Raymer ‏@ElizabethRaymer May 8 @lifeatuoft @UofT University College playing field (though much changed); UC was my college, the playing field peaceful but well-located. Reply Retweeted Favorited Follow More RETWEET 1 FAVORITES 2 HOLOGRAPHIC HYPOCRITLife@UofT St. George 5:41 PM - 8 May 2015 · Details

Take in the scene. Usually we experience the quads by running through them to meet friends or get to class. During your picnic, take a moment to look at the things you don’t always notice, like the plaques in the Sir Dan’s quad or the flowers in the Hart House quad.

Screenshot from twitter, including a photo of the modern art sculpture of the archangel St. Michael: 1. Life@UofT St. George ‏@lifeatuoft Hey #UofT - what's your favourite quad on campus & why? Reply Retweet Favorite View Tweet activity More RETWEET 1 FAVORITES 3 khaleesi.Moon Beam ☾UniversityofToronto 10:57 AM - 8 May 2015 2. askastudent ‏@askastudentUofT May 8 @lifeatuoft SMC Quad because that abstract triangle is supposed to be the archangel St. Michael. pic.twitter.com/Lov030nBE3 Reply Retweeted Favorited More Embedded image permalink RETWEETS 2 FAVORITES 11 Keesharachelle isidro♥jess♥er-budHOLOGRAPHIC HYPOCRITHannah LevisAndreaLife@UofT St. GeorgeSteph Vassos 1:13 PM - 8 May 2015 · Details

Sure, you may have noticed the sculpture at the centre of the St. Micheal’s College quad before. But did you realize that it’s supposed to be a PERSON?

Check for convocations. Also weddings. Especially in June, there will be much convocating ensuing at King’s College Circle and if you are picnicking near the college that’s graduating that day, your picnic may be interrupted by many excited soon-to-be alumni in gowns. On the flip side, if convocation people-watching appeals to you, this may be a welcome distraction.

Bring a blanket and all the other things you ought to bring to a picnic. This is just your basic picnic advice. Bring a blanket lest your legs get covered in grass and dirt. Also bring cutlery, napkins, lots of food, and some friends, too. (Unless you want to just eat all the food yourself. Which I respect.) Also, use straws with your drinks to avoid bee-related disasters.

Do Mother Nature a solid. While enjoying all the greenery, you should also be as green as you can. Use reusable containers, try to minimize garbage, and don’t leave any mess behind.

Don’t throw shade. It’s not nice. And speaking of shade, consider sitting in it! There are many pretty trees to shield you from the sun. In any case, wear sunscreen. All the cool kids are doing it.

Student Life assistant Laura throws her arms up in the centre of the Trinity College quad.

This is Laura! Her quad of choice: Trinity College.

The classiest picnics are picnics that are actually classes. If you’re a summer school student, try to convince your professor to take class outside for a day. Classrooms in July are undoubtedly the place to be, but sometimes, a breath of fresh air can breathe new life into course material. Alternatively, make a study group with your peers and meet up in a quad instead of a library to enjoy the warm weather while getting work done.

Beware of summer school students. Don’t let them distract you from your frolicking with their reading. Conversely, if you are a summer school student, beware of students who are taking the term off and will distract you from your reading with their frolicking.

Beware of squirrels. Guys, this is serious. The squirrels on campus are mostly our adorable friends — they even have their own facebook page. But they also have a tendency to jump out of garbage cans and to eat muffins and pretty much any other scraps they can find.

Screenshot from twitter: Life@UofT St. George ‏@lifeatuoft May 8 Hey #UofT - what's your favourite quad on campus & why? 1 retweet 3 favorites Reply Retweet1 Favorite3 View Tweet activity More User Actions Follow Ryan Hume ‏@RyanHumerous @lifeatuoft @UofT Sir Daniel Wilson's because I'm confident the squirrels which inhabit it could demolish any other UofT squirrel community Reply Retweeted Favorited Follow More RETWEET 1 FAVORITE 1 Life@UofT St. George 12:51 PM - 8 May 2015

Who run the world? Squirrels.

Say hello. Share a picture or update on social media so the U of T twitterverse can applaud your expert picnicking and watch your klout score soar. Tag @lifeatuoft for a retweet!

Blogger Danielle pictured on a bench in the Sir Daniel Wilson quad.

Hello! As for me, I’m all about the Sir Dan’s quad. Lots of shade, close to coffee at Diabolo’s in the University College Junior Common Room, and, of course, crazy squirrel watching.

Do you have any quad picnic tips or questions? Want to school me on which quad is indisputably the best on campus? Let’s talk on twitter at @lifeatuoft.

How to do to-do lists

Do you hear that? It’s the quiet lull of the St. George campus, post-exams — nothing but passing cars, scattered pedestrians, and ringing bicycle bells. The once-packed libraries are peaceful, and the cherry blossoms are starting to bloom. Campus is taking a breath ahead of the summer term, and so are students, who are gearing up for jobs and internships, preparing for summer school, packing up to go home, or heading to far flung corners of the world.

Some of the many Spring flowers on campus. These ones are by Sir Dan's quad in King's College Circle.

Some of the many Spring flowers on campus. These ones are by Sir Dan’s quad in King’s College Circle.

Like the start of any new term, the close of the winter 2015 semester at U of T brings with it a sense of promise. We’ve got four months full of potential to do things — to stop procrastinating, to get fit, to eat well, to have a social life, to pursue that hobby or project we’ve always wanted to start. Before it’s begun, summer feels like an opportunity to have it all.

And then it starts! Between all your work, school, volunteer, and club commitments, having a social life, and the overwhelming post-semester desire for naps and Netflix at all times, keeping on top of your lofty summer self-renewal plans can be a demoralizing challenge.

In fact, just making a to-do list of your broad summer goals sets you up to fail! If “get fit” is a goal, at what point do you consider yourself fit? Goals take nurturing — you won’t be crossing anything off that list any time soon, and you will feel discouraged before you feel accomplished.

Image of a pen and a to-do list with "TO DO LIST" and the top, and the only item being "Everything!" and a doodle of a stick man looking stressed.

How a summer to-do list can sometimes feel. Photo by john.schultz via Flickr.

So here is a to-do list for making a summer to-do list that will lead you to success!

Step one: Set goals.

Despite what I wrote above, the first thing you should do in mapping out your summer goals is make a list of broad goals. Here are mine for this summer:

  1. Practice a healthier lifestyle — sleep better, get fit, and eat well.
  2. Prepare for my master’s degree — learn coding fundamentals, network, and read.
  3. Relax and renew old habits — read daily, write daily.
  4. Explore and reconnect — see the city and spend time with friends.

I have only four goals. They each have “sub-goals.” Since I am planning for four months, I want to be realistic, so I have one goal to each to coincide with each month. I will try to practice all of these goals throughout the summer, but also have them in an order that allows me to “launch” each goal more deliberately by the month.

Step two: Set guidelines.

My next step is to break down these broad goals into action plans with “rules”. As an example, here’s my first one:

Goal: practice a healthier lifestyle.

  1. Sleep better:
    • No Netflix, texting, or Twitter scrolling before bed. Turn off or put sleep mode on electronics by 9:00 pm on weekdays.
    • Keep a notepad and pen on nightstand in case thoughts strike before falling asleep – for example, not to forget to do something the next day or an idea to discuss with a colleague.
    • Practice mindful breathing and stretching before bed to slow down and get into a better mindset for falling asleep.
    • Place alarm away from bed so getting up is required to turn it off.
    • No snoozing! Make the bed as soon as the alarm goes off and get the day going.
  2. Get fit:
    • Save money on transit — walk or bike everywhere, even if its an hour away. Only use transit when absolutely necessary!
    • Hit the gym before work! Endorphins are a way better kick than coffee to get the day going.
    • Go outside! On weekends, go on excursions to see the city and enjoy the outdoors, while getting in some activity.

      A yoga mat, shoes, and a water bottle at Hart House Fitness Centre in the Exercise room. I've been going to drop-in classes at Hart House as part of my goal to get fit.

      I’ve been going to drop-in classes at Hart House as part of my goal to get fit.

  3. Eat well:
    • Plan meals for the week and make a list accordingly.
    • Spend Sunday evenings making a nice meal. Savour fresh food!
    • Don’t shop hungry! Eat before you go.
    • Do groceries once a week on the weekend as part of a nice walk. Try to find local, sustainable options by going to farmer’s markets and small vendors.
    • Save money & stay healthy by holding a small cash food budget for the rest of the week, for coffee, snacks, or meals out with friends.

Step three: Make plans.

So now you have some goals, and you have specific actions in mind to actualize those goals. What’s next is to implement those actions into your daily life. Make your day-to-day plans include these as appropriate within your schedule.

Fresh peaches and blueberries at Evergreen Brickworks Farmer's Market. I went there this weekend to pick up healthy, local groceries for the week. Photo via Sameer Vasta on Flickr.

Fresh fruit at Evergreen Brickworks Farmer’s Market. I went there this weekend to pick up healthy, local groceries for the week. Photo via Sameer Vasta on Flickr.

Step four: Reflect.

At the end of the day, or the week, reflect back on how your goals are going. Write down what you did towards achieving them. Celebrate your successes and reflect on any moments where you cheated or backpedaled to get around your goals.

It can be helpful to set up a support system with friends or family, to check in on each other’s progress and get advice and reassurance.

Step five: Repeat.

The real way to achieve your goals isn’t just to follow through them for a week, or for four months — it’s to turn them into habits! And when you do things over and over again and they become routine, you’ve done what you set out to do — but there’s plenty more to do from there! Continue to review and revise your goals and your action plan, to write your schedules with your plans in front of you, and to reflect on how you’re doing. A lot of people return to the same goals each year, having lost track of them at one point or another. Stick with them by staying mindful and making reflection a part of your routine.

The words "today" and "tomorrow," with the word "tomorrow" crossed out - there's no better time than now to get started with achieving your goals! Image by Chris Florence via Flickr.

There’s no better time to get started! Image by Chris Florence via Flickr.

What’s on your post-exam to-do list, #UofT? Do you have major summer goals? Or other hacks for completing them? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter at @lifeatuoft with #todoUT!

My service learning story

I grew up in Ottawa in a Jewish home. My parents sent me to Hebrew day school and we went to Synagogue most Saturday mornings. On Friday nights, we stayed in for Sabbath dinner, and on Jewish holidays, we celebrated and attended community events.

When I moved to Toronto to go to U of T, I left my community in Ottawa and became a part of several other communities on campus through my program, my college, and involvement with clubs. But as I entered my fifth year, I wondered what communities I would be a part of after graduation, and what being a part of a community outside of school would mean for me as a young adult.

Serendipitously, over the summer, I learned about a new course being offered through the Centre for Jewish Studies on Community and Identity in Jewish contexts. It was a yearlong service-learning course taught by a professor I’d taken classes with previously, Sol Goldberg. I emailed him to see if it would be a good fit for me, and ended up enrolling.

So, you might be wondering, what is service learning?

Garlic, freshly harvested at Bela Farm, Shoresh's rural farm located an hour outside of Toronto. Hint: service learning does (always) have to do with garlic. But in my case, it did, and this is some that I helped harvest! Photo courtesy of Shoresh.

Hint: it does not (always) have to do with garlic. But in my case, it did, and here is some that I helped harvest! Photo courtesy of Shoresh.

Service learning is participating in community service through a course. It’s offered through the Centre for Community Partnerships in collaboration with academic units on campus. For academic credit, you both take part in a placement activity that benefits a community, and reflect on your service through the lens of a broader curriculum in a classroom setting.

Service learning is a middle ground between volunteer positions, which primarily benefit the placement and emphasize service, and internships, which primarily benefit the student and emphasize learning.

I did my placement at Shoresh Jewish Environmental Programs, where I did blogging, helped with their website redesign, and was generally available to help out in any way I could. Shoresh operates several gardens in Toronto, as well as a farm in rural Ontario and a CSA. They offer educational programming and volunteer opportunities that raise awareness about contemporary ecological issues and connect community members to their local environment incorporating Jewish values and sources.

Among Shoresh's many initiatives - they have an apiary where they make amazing local honey! Pictured are honeycombs in mason glasses during the preparation of the honey. Photo courtesy of Shoresh.

Among Shoresh’s many initiatives – they have an apiary where they make amazing local honey! Photo courtesy of Shoresh.

I went to Shoresh about once a week and sometimes worked from home. We had class once a week as well with readings that focused on Jewish social philosophy. The class was quite small and everyone had unique placements and diverse experiences. In our conversations about the course material, we would also discuss our experiences at our service placements. We also had a discussion board to post weekly reflections connecting our placement experiences with course concepts.

For me, as a graduating student, my service-learning experience was both very valuable and very meaningful, and, in turn, I think I was able to provide a lot of help to Shoresh. I’m planning to continue to volunteer with them as much as I’m able to in the future, and I’m still in touch with my awesome supervisors there. I really enjoyed the office environment and was struck by my supervisors’ passion and energy. Between great conversations with both of them and observing what the organization is doing and their exciting plans for the future, I became inspired to stay involved and to educate myself on Jewish communal approaches to contemporary environmental issues. (The latter ended up being the subject of my final paper for the course.)

Shoresh has a few gardens in the city where they grow beautiful berries & produce. Pictured is a hand holding some fresh raspberries at the Kavanah Garden, Shoresh's location on the north end of the city. Photo courtesy of Shoresh.

Shoresh has a few gardens in the city where they grow beautiful berries & produce. Photo courtesy of Shoresh.

The combination of my experiences at Shoresh and rich class discussions, guided by my professor and our readings, helped me to better situate myself in my cultural community ahead of graduating. Class discussion and reflections weren’t so much focused on the specific situations we were facing at our placements, but rather on contextualizing our experiences within broader issues of Jewish communal identity using multiple sources and commentaries. I had the opportunity to think critically about community issues and the way that I think my cultural community should look and operate.

Service learning allowed me to make an impact, while learning a lot about myself and my community. I’m not planning to work in a community organization, but service learning helped me realize that I want to stay involved both as an outlet to have a community outside my professional life, and as an opportunity to give back and help facilitate positive change in the world through meaningful, local initiatives.

You can learn more about service learning and course offerings at the Centre for Community Partnerships website.

Would you try a service learning course? Have any questions about it? You can reach me in the comments or on twitter at @lifeatuoft.

So you wrote your last exam… now what?

There’s no sweeter feeling than finishing exams. Whether you had one or five, the feeling of total freedom that comes after the last one is pure bliss. For me though, by the time my last exam rolls around I’ve been studying non-stop (with a healthy bit of procrastination in there) for so long that even after I’m done I often feel like I should still be studying and have no idea what I should do with all this free time. So for my last blog post (more on this at the end) here’s what I’ve been doing since writing my last exam yesterday.

Step 1: Get started on that huge list of books you plan to read this summer. First up for me was to finish The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd and now I’m on to Slouching towards Bethlehem by Joan Didion. My summer plan is to read as many books as possible before the school year starts up again. Who’s with me?

a book (joan didion's slouching towards bethlehem)

Step 2: Deal with the disaster that your room has become. If you’re like me you get so in the zone during exam time that by the end you can’t actually see your desk (if you’re not like that then I applaud you). I was going to include a before picture here but it was just too bad. a spotless clean desk

Step 3: Living room dance party while you tidy the rest of your apartment. Don McLean and I give two thumbs up to being done exams.a hand giving a thumbs up, behind it is a record player and the ablum cover for don mclean's American pie also showing a tumbs up

Step 4: Sit back, relax, and veg out with some netflix. Netflix may be my #1 procrastination tool during exams but watching it afterwards guilt-free is so great. Planet Earth documentaries narrated by David Attenborough are also great. a laptop showing a full screen image of a lion's face

Step 5: Decide that what you really need to do is organize your bookshelf to deal with the influx of Christmas/birthday/just for fun books that you’ve accumulated since last time you organized your books. Try and fit in your textbooks, anguish a little over how ugly textbooks are, despair at the fact that you have to send another box full of books home because you have too many. a bookshelf with some books piled on the edge of a sofa

a roy of books, spines up on a bench

sometimes you just have to say goodbye to your old fav teen reads and those random books you bought at a book sale and probably will never read

Step 6: Go for a walk, hang out with your friends, take up a craft, work out, take a nap, do whatever… the world is your oyster. Another set of exams is over and done with!

(warning sappy last post feelings below)

So that’s it! My last post! It’s been nearly a full year since I first started blogging here at Life at U of T (I cannot believe how fast it went) and I can honestly say that it has probably been my best year at U of T yet. This job made me really get out and try so many things that I had been meaning to do, made me use my camera a lot more, and introduced me to so many great people. Thank you all for reading along (and following along on instagram and twitter) and be sure to stick around for next year’s crew (they’re really awesome, trust me)!

Adios friends!

- Amie


This is the Part When I Break Free

Well, well, well.

It’s been about 84 years, but here we are folks. This is my final post on the blog. Thanks for reading. If the Community Crew was One Direction, I’d be Zayn. Api would be Louis. It was a pretty chill time, but like Api, I gotta go my own way. Smell you later, suckerz.

I kid, I kid. I wouldn’t leave you guys out in the dust like that.

Ever since I was a wee 3-year-old toddler it has always been my dream to blog for money. I was blogging recaps on Beverly Hills 90210 episodes even when I was just a fetus in my mother’s Windows 95 womb. The University of Toronto gave me that opportunity. Thank you U of T.

Being able to share my experiences on this blog has been therapeutic. To quote the greatly underquoted Marilyn Monroe “If you can’t handle me at my worst, then you sure as hell don’t deserve me at my best.” Even though I’m the worst 90% of the time, it’s nice to know that there are people out there who still care about what I post. It’s an even better feeling to know that I’m helping people to adjust to university life. Like, that’s pretty radical.

First-year me would’ve never guessed even for a second that I would have had as many opportunities to engage with the community as I did this year. Because I like to keep my professional, personal, and ~*blogging*~ life separate — I rarely write about my extra-curricular involvement.

A picture of my floating head. A bunch of my floating heads are behind my giant floating head. A very rainbow coloured background. It's rainbow too.

In first year, the only thing I was confident in was my Photoshop skills.

I was the Male Head of Non-Resident Affairs at my College (thus, I also sit on the board of stewards, finance committee, and senate among other things), the Co-Chair of Students for Gender Equity, the Vice-President of Trinity College Comedy Collective, a member of the Collective, participated in Orientation Week, and was recently elected to be an Executive on ASSU for the 2015/2016 school year.

OK. I’m sorry this post isn’t supposed to be about my LinkedIn, but sometimes you just gotta lay it all out for people to understand! Needless to say, I’m pretty involved.

But as difficult as it is to imagine, I’m actually an introvert. I’ve always tried my hardest to be THAT person who talks with their hands, but I just can’t. Understandably, I was nervous when I first came to UofT. I thought that becoming just another number was my reality. So, I decided from day one that I would break out of my comfort zone.

Three years later, here I am.

A picture of me taking a selfie. It's been edited with stickers. Stickers include a giant crystal, glitter, garbage bags, and giant text. The text says "I don't know what my blog is about" in rainbow. I am wearing cute camo pants, Sperry's, and a denim button-up. Fab.

I learned that breaking out of your comfort zone doesn’t mean changing who you are. It just means taking extra initiative to really consider what you’re passionate about. I’m more involved than I ever thought I could be — and for the first time in a long time, I can say that I’m confident in where my life is heading. I’m here because I didn’t listen to those my voices in my head. I stayed true to myself.

TL;DR: I broke free.

This year has been a defining moment for me, and I’m so glad that I had the opportunity to share it with all of you. :)

I don’t want to be THAT guy, but if you have the courage step out of your shell, there’s truly nothing that will stop you from getting what you want out of life.

Thank you for everyone who kept up with me (and the Kardashians). Thank you to everyone on the Community Crew who gave me a chance to be the best me possible. Also, thank you for tolerating my cheesiness IRL.

I mean this in the most sincerest way possible: You rock, never change.


Soaring, Flying

Ah, my last post on the blog. I really don’t know what path to take with my goodbye. Do I want to end it off with inspiration? Humor? Tears? Motivation? A metaphorical mike-drop?

Because let’s be honest, where do I even begin with this goodbye? Imagine the Spice Girls breaking up. Or Zayn leaving One Direction. OR JUST DRAKE. What I’m saying is that I just have a lot of feelings.

I was a first-year who came here thinking that I would be superwoman. I would attend all my lectures and tutorials. I’d ace all my classes. I’d be involved in extracurricular activities. I’d volunteer at a hospital and work a summer job in the science field for four months. I’d repeat the process every year, and then I’d be accepted into medical school and repeat the process again (except more…medically). I had my whole future planned out.

And here I am 3 years later. I sometimes sleep through my morning lectures by accident. I consider it an accomplishment to finish an assignment one hour before the deadline. I might get a not-so-stellar grade in a class. I don’t even know what I’m having for lunch tomorrow.

But here’s the thing …when I think about first-year Api and compare her with third-year Api, I still feel as accomplished as I wanted to be, just not in the way I planned.

I’m on the community crew to share my own student experience here at U of T. And guess what? Sometimes, it wasn’t so great. It’s frustrating to get bad grades. It’s intimidating when it feels like everyone around you has it together. But here’s the big secret I later found out: not everyone does have it together. That doesn’t mean I was going to pass on some of the amazing opportunities that this school has to offer.

I’ve focused on doing thing’s I enjoy. Just because thing’s didn’t always go the way I wanted, I still tried to keep my head in the game. We had some great posts that reflected this very idea. Missing final exams, dropping courses, flunking courses – it all happens. I could dwell on my setbacks, or I could work to solve them, and move forward. Setbacks for me were just the start of something new.

So that’s where I want to leave my goodbye – with a hope to match Troy and Gabriella’s budding love, and a promise that I’m going to continue trying to soar and fly.

This isn’t really goodbye, it’s just a see you later. Or a ‘see you at Robart’s when I’m line for Starbucks.’ Either way, it’s been real, U of T. :)

POSter Child

Hey kids, it’s springtime!

This means the crocuses and snowdrops are coming up, and we may eventually get consistent sun and warmth. For most of us it means exams. And for anyone entering second year or switching programs, it means Subject Program of Study (POSt) enrollment time.

Subject POSts are the programs of study we’ll follow for our remaining time at U of T. They determine what courses we can or cannot take, and whether we’ll end up with a B.SC or B.A.

Every other year I’ve been applying to a Type 1 or Type 2 Subject POSt, so applying has been a simple matter of finding the Subject POSt Code and adding it on ROSI, and either getting in right away (for a Level 1 POSt) or waiting until an administrator has confirmed I meet the minimum grade requirements (for a Level II POSt).

But now I’m applying to a Type 3 POSt and it feels like a much bigger deal.

Unlike Levels 1 and 2 POSts, which don’t require much effort beyond waiting for approval, Level 3 require separate applications. There’s a long list of programs in this category, including music performance and health and disease. In my case, the international relations (IR) major program requires specific confirmation that I have taken all its prerequisite courses, as well as a small essay. It’s only 500 words, but it feels like there’s a lot on the line.

My admission to this POSt won’t drastically affect my academic path, as it might have had I applied sooner. I don’t have very many credits left for a full degree, and have already taken a few IR major requirements this year and through transfer credits. But I’d like to make it official. This does of course mean that I will be spending a lot more time in Trinity College, a long-time friendly rival of my home base of University College, but it’s a sacrifice I am willing to make. ;)

This will also mean that I will be headed for a Bachelor of Arts rather than my initial plan of a Bachelor of Science in actuarial science. This doesn’t bother me as much as it once did, but it’s a little sad to leave something I was so proud of behind in such an official way.

However, I’m looking forward to the awesome-sounding courses that will be available to me.

How about you? Are you applying to a new Subject POSt? Let me know how it’s going in the comments, and good luck!

Know your (copy)rights

Thursday, April 23 marks World Book and Copyright Day. The international event was established by UNESCO in 1995 to celebrate books and authors, promote literacy, and raise awareness about copyright.

At U of T, students will be working away in the stacks with their noses, rather appropriately, buried deep in their textbooks on this day. Downstairs at Robarts, a public reading of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes- all 104,333 words of it –  will be taking place all day long. The U of T Libraries will also digitize a book new to the public domain based on the results of a social media contest that’s ongoing throughout the week – check out the hashtag #UofTBookBattle to cast your vote.

The first edition of the Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. Via Wikimedia Commons.

The first edition of the Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle. Via Wikimedia Commons.

It’s easy to get on board with a celebration of books – but what about copyright?

Copyright at U of T has changed in the last couple of years. Previously, the university had an agreement with Access Copyright, an organization that acted as a liaison between the school and copyright holders, like authors and publishers. Fees for students were high, but copyright regulations in Canada have opened up in recent years and open access material is increasingly available. So, in early 2014, citing these reasons, the university opted out of their agreement with the group to take on copyright matters internally. The university hired on Bobby Glushko, a copyright librarian, to run what is now the University of Toronto Scholarly Communications and Copyright Office (SCCO).

The main group of people who use this office at the university are faculty members – professors who want to include materials in their course packs, for example. But, as Glushko puts its, “The SCCO is here for everyone in the U of T community, not just faculty.” Students are welcome to visit the office with any concerns.

“Last year, we helped over 20 grad students with questions relating to their thesis work, and its not just graduate students who he help,” he says, adding, “we helped several undergraduates who had questions on assignments or publications.”

The SCCO also helps students by helping professors – in the fall semester last year, for example, they worked with instructors to reduce the costs of coursepacks using open access materials and fair dealing, saving students $100,000 in coursepack costs.

As students, copyright impacts us through issues of plagiarism, citation, access to materials, and user rights.

Good-to-know copyright lingo. Copyrighted materials: Copyright refers to the right to copy - according to the Canadian Intellectual Property Office, “the sole right to produce or reproduce a work of a substantial part of it in any form.” Copyright generally applies for the duration of the lifetime of the author of the material until fifty years after their death. It then becomes… Public domain: Anything in the public domain is intellectual property where the copyright has expired or been forfeited. These days, a lot of people are doing the latter and making their material... Open access: This refers to content, often scholarly research, that is published online without restrictions to access. There are varying degrees of open access with different user’s rights. These are categorized through Creative Commons licenses.  Fair dealing: Fair dealing is a defense to allegations of copyright infringement. The use of the material must be fair, and must be (in Canada) for purposes of research, private study, education, parody, satire, criticism or review, or news reporting.

Good-to-know copyright lingo.

When you’re using materials through the U of T libraries catalogue, you can check on the copyright by looking at the “Permitted Uses.” This will show you a list of ways you can or can’t use the material – for example, you may be allowed to link to a source, but not allowed to print and distribute it.

Glushko advises: “Generally with student work, for in class assignments and other course work, if it’s not an academic integrity issue, it’s not a copyright issue.”

Pay attention to permissions, cite carefully, and don’t plagiarize. If you’re ever uncertain about permissions, talk to a librarian. You can also be in touch with the SCCO at copyright@library.utoronto.ca – or, they’re on twitter and instagram!

There’s a ton of great open content that you can find online. U of T hosts lots of fascinating material through its online special digital collections, where you can look through manuscript fragments, a collection on the discovery of insulin, and over 200,000 public domain books digitized right here at U of T. TSpace is an open access repository for scholarly work from U of T. It’s a great resource to check out research happening on campus. Glushko recommends The Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library for their “AMAZING work in the public domain.” You can follow them on instagram.

Flowers for spring: Lysimachia quadrifolia by Agnes Chamberlain. via Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library. Some of their special collections are available on Flickr!

Creative Commons flowers for spring: Lysimachia quadrifolia by Agnes Chamberlain. via Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library. Some of their special collections are available on their Flickr page!

Given the growing access to materials like these online, there’s a lot of attention on intellectual property and copyright issues right now. More and more information is available on the web everyday. U of T offers you access online, through the libraries, to collections, peer-reviewed journals, movies, databases, and full books. Be mindful of permissions, but also be sure to take advantage of the heaps of knowledge you’re afforded through the university. Go to Robarts on Thursday and listen to the rousing exploits of Sherlock Holmes in the public domain – and read along on the internet archive, if you’re so inclined. The access we have to books, art, and research is certainly something worth celebrating. Happy World Book and Copyright Day, U of T!

What are you reading, U of T (besides, of course, textbooks)? Let me know in the comments or on twitter at @lifeatuoft.