Finding A Little Balance

If you could only tell one story about yourself, what would you tell? Is your story long, or short? Deep, or lighthearted? How would you break the ice?

I’d start with an introduction: My name is Zach and I’m in my third year at U of T, in the undergraduate Public Policy and Governance program. I also minor in Aboriginal Studies and Russian Language, just to keep things interesting. I’m from Calgary and more used to mountains and meadows than I am to towers and transit. Some of my ancestors were Cree and Russian. These roots guide my story.

Pathways through the trees.

Sometimes you find yourself in need of a guide, and that’s actually a good thing (photo taken by Zachary Biech)

But I’d go beyond the basics. I’d include other parts of my life, to paint a better picture. In short, my story needs balance. Actually, my story is about balance.

I’ll start back in grade school. I think I’ve always had some mental balance. I always found time to work hard for my marks. Don’t get the wrong idea, I had time to goof around too. In class. In front of teachers. Oops.

Before grade twelve, I lacked physical balance. I’d get home from school and eat a whole pizza sub or two for a snack. I wasn’t a shining example of athleticism. But after recognizing this imbalance, it was easy to change my ways. Ok, not that easy. My calves burn just thinking about the exercise regimes. Finding the willpower to eat healthy was even harder. Thankfully, I dropped over eighty pounds. It’s great although I miss binging on chips and milkshakes.

Next, I landed in Toronto. Imagine you’re an alien visiting another alien world even crazier than where you’re from. Now you know how I, a small-town Albertan, felt in big, bustling Toronto.  After wobbling around in this immense place like a goofball for a year, I read the writing on the wall. I needed emotional balance. Over the second year, I dealt with every emotion known to man (and maybe some unknown ones as well) and came out on top. My goofball score dropped dramatically too. I think.

A view out over the Bow River Valley in the foothills of southern Alberta

My old view from my home in Alberta (photo taken by Zachary Biech)

Toronto's impressive skyline on a bright clear day, from 18 floors up in a tower

My new view from my Toronto apartment (photo taken by Zachary Biech)

Afterwards, I still lacked something. Maybe you’ve felt the same way like you need to complete your soul’s inner circle. Profound, right? I simply realized I needed spiritual balance. So I worked up some courage, embraced my heritage, and dove headfirst into Toronto’s Indigenous communities including U of T’s First Nations House. Engaging was easy and I received the warmest of welcomes.

The vines and trees just outside the First Nations House building

Just outside First Nations House (photo taken by Zachary Biech)

Mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual balance were vital for embracing my Indigeneity and finding my personal, academic, social, and spiritual center at U of T. I even enjoy my other interests more fully, like music and cooking. If I could only tell one story, I’d talk about balance to show my perspective. But luckily, I have much more to tell! I also like listening and I think we can have a great time storytelling together.

How balanced are you?

If you could only tell one story about yourself, what would you tell?

Looking straight upwards at the big blue sky, through foliage and campus buildings

Finding centre at U of T is not as hard as you’d think; you just need to know where to look (photo taken by Zachary Biech)


Global Health Expo!

Over the past few weeks, I have been planning a Global Health Expo for Juxtaposition Global Health Magazine! This past Tuesday, I got to see it come to life!

Students got the chance to come out and meet some of U of T’s global health community and learn about ways to get involved, as well as their initiatives for the year! Did I also mention there was free food? 


Yes, they tasted just as good as they looked. Photo credits to @juxtamagazine on twitter!

At 1:00pm people slowly trickled in and explored the tables that each group had set up around the East Common Room of Hart House, which was decked out with 2 large rows for the event.

I was a little nervous but very excited for the Global Health Expo, since it was my first event as the Events Co-director for Juxtaposition!

The morning of, I thought to myself: Okay, worse comes to worse, if no one shows up, the leaders of the groups can just have a nice chat and we can eat all the food ourselves.  (Clearly I have a lot of faith in myself).

Luckily, I did not have to force extra food down the throats of group leaders. To my relief, students came out and got to meet our team, as well as all the other groups that joined us!

photo 1 (1)

People! Rejoice!

Since we’re super fancy, we started our own hashtag (#GHExpo) and set up a twitter feed on the projector so people could see what everyone was saying!

tweets pic

Check out the #GHExpo hashtag on Twitter to see what was happening! Photo credit to @TO_thinks on Twitter!

The event ended with a raffle draw for tickets to Earthtones Benefit Concert, as well as the UTIHP Health and Human Rights Conference, to keep up with the global health theme.

It was great to get a lot of positive feedback, as well as constructive criticism on the event. I resolved that I could change or add the following:

  1. Expand the scope of the groups to cater to more varying global health interests.
  2. Go into more classes and speak firsthand to students about events, because the few classes I did speak at responded really well.
  3. Add more activities to engage students to keep them interested!

Over all, the first ever Global Health Expo at U of T went smoothly! Looking back at it I learned a lot from planning just this one event, and I’m really looking forward to future ones!

Getting [back] into the swing of things

Hello UofT! My name is Charles, and I’m the student blogger for the Centre for Teaching Support and Innovation (or the “CTSI”, to save a mouthful). That means I’ll be mostly blogging about things that relate to my experiences with student-faculty engagement, both inside and outside the classroom. But we can talk more about that later. Let’s start with a proper introduction. This is me:

Photo of Charles pondering

“Whatcha thinking about?” “Oh, just bear stuffs

Some things about me: I am a nerd about many things. Thankfully, I’ve managed to “focus” my nerdery down to degree interests in philosophy, psychology, and bioethics. This is my fifth and final year here at UofT, and it’s starting off a little different than the rest: this is the first year where I’ve taken the summer off from studies. By the end of my fourth year, I had spent nearly forty-five consecutive months in school. I deserved a break, and I enjoyed it. But summer’s gone, and now I must deal with something entirely new: learning how to get back into the swing of things.

Photo of A.A. Milne books, photoshopped to read "Now We Are Fifth Years"

This lesser-known A.A. Milne book has really helped me out.

Whether from summer vacation or from life events, I think everyone faces a moment where they’ve fallen out of step and need help to get back to their studious peak. But, how do we go about doing that?

Others will tell you it’s all about time management. About getting time to sleep and time to relax. It’s about visiting your professor’s office hours, and getting help at the math aid centres or the many writing clinics. And absolutely those are things that you should be doing. But, maybe you want to try something a little… different.

Photo of women dancing with umbrellas

Well, at least not umbrella-convulsively ‘different’. [source]

In the past few years, I’ve collected a few weird “brain hacks” to help me stay productive and get the most out of my studies. These aren’t just habits I picked off the street: they’re supported by science. I’ll even link to some articles; that way, if anyone asks why you’re biting the pen they just loaned you, you can confidently say: “Science told me to“. (Just don’t blame me). Here are some of the “hacks” I use:

  • Go Green. Get yourself a cactus or another easy plant: keeping a plant near your workspace can boost your creativity and your  health. Can’t afford a plant? Buy a green pen! The colour green in general might help you relax and be more creative. Hanging around abstract art also works.

  • Bite, Pull, and Cross. Have trouble paying attention in class? Tug on your desk. It tricks your brain into thinking you’re engaged, and helps you relax and pay attention! If that doesn’t work, try crossing your arms. Still stuck? Try sticking the end (not the tip!) of your pen in your mouth to make you feel relaxed and happier.

  • Lay down. While studies show sleep frequently helps with problem solving, those of you too lazy to even sleep might like to know that just physically lying down can help boost your problem solving skills.

  • Study with Strangers. If you’re having trouble breaking through a tough problem, try bringing somebody new into the mix. Studies suggest that switching up members of a group makes the whole group more creative.

  • Just Get Started. Finally, if you’re a procrastinator like me, it may help to know that just getting started a little bit on that assignment (even for one minute!) can help with your motivation to complete it. Science.

Have any tips of your own? Share them with everyone in the comments below. I know I could use the help!

The Not-so Healthy Wellness Blogger: Haley and the Simplicity of the Unhealthy

Hey Life @ U of T blog readers!

My name is Haley and I will be your Health and Wellness Blogger for this upcoming year. Now, before you say “Oh another health guru, let me just look at someone else’s post,” let me be straight up with you now: I am not your typical “health” blogger. To be frank, I am a chip eating, wine drinking, cigarette-smoking (my boss is probably horrified by this admission), anxiety-stricken queer person who has never thought of dental dams and “the bedroom” in the same sentence.

Screen Shot 2014-09-14 at 11.39.54 PM

Now you might be thinking: “But Haley! I drink wine and eat chips, and sure, I may smoke a couple cigarettes at a party, but you can still be healthy if you keep it in moderation.” Thanks friendly reader but here is the problem: moderation is not as easy as it sounds. Not to make excuses for myself but when I am stressed, which is often, I am not thinking to myself, “I really should be doing some meditation while I eat some kale.” No, I am thinking, “Pass me those Pringles so I can get me through (insert stressful essay/activity/event here).”

Eating a lot of terrible things are often “quick fixes” to terrible student problems. We all know that. But it seems impossible to get out of this mindset of reaching for the fast and often unhealthy food. Although I am making it through in public with a smile on my face, I am still struggling just as hard as I did in first year. Resorting to smoking, if anything, has made it worse because all I think about during writing an exam/essay is “when can I go outside for a cigarette?  I just can’t seem to focus without one in my hand.”

I have not actually solved the underlining problem of WHY I get so anxious. Yes medication helps, but the brain is an organ folks- it needs proper nourishment too.

It is hard, I know, but there really is no quick fix. Healthy eating and occasional exercise is something to work for, one little step at a time. I know treadmills are not my friend (fast walking for the sake of getting sweaty and tired, why?), but tap shoes are!  Cheesecake is definitely my friend but so is stem-cooked broccoli and baby carrots. Come April 2015, I want to look at health and wellness as something other than the “miracle pill” or the “lose weight on your couch” garbage that is seen on television. I do not want to see these options as “compromises” but as an additive to a better and happier lifestyle.

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That is why I want to write for y’all and that is why I need your help to take the initiative to put my body and mind first. It is not easy and if people tell you it is, they are probably trying to sell you some green “health” mush from a late-night infomercial.

Help me, fellow students! Let’s get a little bit better together.

All for now,


New Discoveries: U of T Art Centre

During Orientation week I participated in an ask-an-upper-year panel as part of Kickstart Orientation that was held in the University of Toronto Art Centre (UTAC).

This was the first time I had been in UTAC and I was totally blown away at how great a space it was. Admission to UTAC is free so the other day I went in while killing time before classes to take a longer look. There are currently 3 temporary exhibits and 1 permanent exhibit to check out: one consisting of the photographs of Allen Ginsberg, one of the photographs of Robert Giard, one of the works of AA Bronson, and one consisting of Byzantine and Post Byzantine Icons from the Malcove Collection.

My favourite exhibit was “We Are Continually Exposed to the Flashbulb of Death”: The Photographs of Allen Ginsberg (1953-1996)”. The photographs were amazing and there were timelines around the exhibit that illustrated his life as well as a recording of him speaking playing throughout the room. I also loved the healing tent (shown below) that was part of “AA Bronson: Life and Work” and had to resist the urge to crawl inside with a book.

I can’t believe that I didn’t know about this place for the past two years and I will definitely be going back very soon! AA Bronson, Tent for Healing, 2013 in the AA Bronson exhibit

Allen Ginsberg Exhibit: wide shot of the ginsberg exhibit wide shot of the ginsberg exhibit   photographs from the Ginsberg Exhibit close up of papers and  in the Ginsberg exhibit

Robert Giard Exhibit:photographs from the Robert Giard exhibit

wide shot of the Robert Giard exhibit

Have you checked out the U of T Art Centre in the past? What has been your favourite exhibit? 

Hello, U of T!

My name is Peter, and I’m one of the new Life @ U of T bloggers this year. Let me be the first to say hello, unless you have already said hello to your monitor.

A quick introduction: I was born, and then I had a childhood. I started studying at U of T 5 years ago, though this is only the 4th year I am enrolled, and U of T considers me to be in 3rd year. I used to stammer whenever people asked me what year I was in. Now I simply choose a number at random and say it with confidence.

I am majoring in English and also majoring in Math. Because a lot of people tell me it’s an interesting combination, I’ve started to preempt the discussion by explaining how people often respond, to which they respond by stating: “that’s an interesting observation.” Soon my conversations will be the world’s most banal Matryoshka doll.

My position exists jointly between Student Life Community (who run this blog) and the Academic Success Centre (located in the Koffler Centre). The Academic Success Centre has been a great resource for me in the last year, so I’d like to close off my introduction with a story of how I first got involved with the ASC.

Last year, just as I was returning to school full-time, I was doubtful that I would be a good enough student and/or sufficiently sane to handle lectures and homework. I did what many do when faced with anxiety and stress: I wandered aimlessly and ruminated moodily on my future. Campus is green and pretty and bustling in mid-September, so it’s particularly well-suited for meandering.

I happened to stroll into the Koffler Centre, where I noticed the Academic Success Centre squirreled away next to the Career Centre in the Student Life Commons. The ASC was hosting drop-in hours to see a resident Learning Strategist, so I signed up (at the last possible moment).

The Academic Success Centre turned out to be my greatest resource on campus.

I can’t say the Academic Success Centre was a miracle tonic. The ASC can’t do your homework for you, or drag you out to class, or any other unrealistic but admittedly potentially useful things.

Instead, the Academic Success Centre helped me help myself. I learned time management skills. I developed strategies to get to classes and tutorials. I started a routine to get homework done. And the ASC was able to refer me to other great resources on campus, like Counselling and Psychological Services (CAPS). I would definitely recommend the ASC to anyone who feels like they might need help with being a better student.

That’s all I have to say about myself for now. Hopefully you will have as much fun reading my posts as I will writing them. Drop me a line in the comments and say hello!

Commuting: The Multitasking Edition

Like most students here at the University of Toronto, I am a commuter student. As such, I spend a large portion of my time every day on our city’s treasure: the TTC.

Unlike many of my peers though, my commute is not that long. I only really have to be on the TTC for half an hour to get to campus. I know, I’m blessed. I commend those brave souls who travel to campus all the way from places like Ajax! The sum of those individuals’ commute is definitely not 41 minutes.

Yes — I deliberately made a Sum 41 joke in 2014, I apologize for that. 

Back to the subject at hand, yes, it’s slightly annoying to put your life on pause to sit in public transit. Nevertheless, I’ve recently started to take a new perspective on it, and I’ve actually come to embrace my time on the TTC.

To quote the great Ferris Bueller: “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

You don’t actually have to have a miserable experience while commuting! It can even be *audible gasp* enjoyable.

Here’s what I did:

  1. My readings.

    Me holding one of my Anthropology of Youth Culture text.

    The Anthropology of Youth Culture!

    I don’t start new readings since I find it pretty difficult to start new readings in the frenzy of the TTC. However, I find it extremely helpful to re-read readings that I’ve already started or finished. While it is always advised that you look back at your readings, I perpetually ignore that fact, unless I’m on the TTC. Therefore, the TTC is a treasure to my GPA.

  2. Read newspapers.

    Me expressing sadness.

    I came too late. No copies of the Metro were left.

    I can’t even explain to you how far behind in the real world I was until this summer. Yes, we have the Internet. But with the Internet comes videos of dogs reuniting with their owners after a year. Why in the world would I voluntarily skip out on that, and instead read about Rob Ford’s $9-billion subway plan. It’s sad to say this — because I’m basically admitting I’m an old person — but the subway excites me these days, because I know I will have time to just read the newspaper. Getting topical is becoming fun for me!

  3. Listen to music.

    Me embarassing myself in public. I'm not singing,  I'm sanging!

    Me trying to achieve the whistle register.

    Sometimes I don’t want to think — sometimes I just want to put Avril Lavigne’s Girlfriend on full blast through my earphones, and just wail my arms. This is honestly such a stress reliever for me, you don’t understand. Sometimes it takes making a fool out of yourself to put everything back into perspective.
    (Warning: Never try to listen to Landslide by Fleetwood Mac while alone on the subway, you may start thinking about life and stuff)

  4. Sleep.
    Me sleeping.

And that, folks, is how I realized, that the commuting part of being a commuter was not actually that bad.

So, UofT, what do you do on your commute?

Denying Distraction: Turning Off Your Cellphone for Class

I am the first person to admit that I have a problem. More accurately, an addiction.

My name is Rachael and I am addicted to my cell phone. 

Not in the unhealthy “I’m going to cry if my cell phone dies in public” kind of addicted, but more along the lines of “I check instagram every 15 minutes and update my snapchat story too much to be normal.”

3 "selfie" style photos of female student sitting in a lecture hall

So you’re saying it’s not okay to take multiple selfies on Snapchat during lecture…?

So this year when I made my New School Year Resolutions, I decided to attempt something crazy. Something entirely out of my comfort zone. This year I am going to turn off my cell phone during every class and tutorial. 

I think that we’re all guilty of checking our phones during class. Especially in large lectures where it’s so easy to hide our phone behind the computer screen. It becomes a safety blanket, something we can turn to when we’re feeling bored or lonely. However once you start checking your phone it can be hard to stop, and before you know it the professor is onto an entirely new subject and you have no idea what you’ve missed.

So for this upcoming school year I’ve decided to put away my phone.

The first lecture was easy. My professor was funny and engaging, and being my first class of the year it was easy for me to pay attention. I wasn’t once tempted to check my phone. This was the same for my second class, and even for my third.

It wasn’t until my 4th day of school, in the first lecture that was more in-depth than just an introduction, that I felt the pull to check my phone. I didn’t have anything specific I wanted to do – maybe just check if I have a text message or see if there’s anything new on Instagram. But I persevered and kept my wandering attention focused on the lecture.

Computer programs like iProcrastinate can help reduce distraction on your computer if your cell phone isn't the problem! (Click here to see more about this program)

Computer programs like iProcrastinate can help reduce distraction on your computer if your cell phone isn’t the problem! (Click here to see more about this program)

So while my professor continued on about the importance of Socrates in Ancient Philosophy, I came to a profound realization. I wasn’t checking my phone because I was bored or uninterested in my class. I was checking my phone because I was scared of what I was missing when I was in class. To be stereotypical, I was experiencing FOMO. (Fear of Missing Out)

I wanted to check my phone in class because I didn’t want to feel disconnected from the rest of the world, and equally so I didn’t want others to think I was disconnected.

It was then that I made a second realization; I am a student. My life, and the lives of most of my friends, is spent in class. We should be disconnected from the rest of the world while we’re there.

On top of which, it's not like your teacher doesn't notice you're distracted

On top of which, it’s not like your teacher doesn’t notice you’re distracted

I’ve had a few more classes since then, and I’m proud to say that my phone has remained turned off in the bottom of my bag. Not only do I find myself much more engaged in the lecture, but it’s made me realize how disrespectful it is to my professors and instructors. They’re giving their full attention and time to the lecture, so I should be too.

But what do you think U of T? Do you check your phone during lecture, and if you do, do you think that it’s okay? I want to hear your opinion, so leave it for me in the comments below! Until next week check out everything I’m doing (when I’m not in class) on twitter at @Rachael_UofT.

Club Community!

This past week, Amie flawlessly captured the essence of Club’s Fair in her latest post. There were smiling faces, people learning about new clubs that interested them, and loads of students all looking to get involved in their university campus.


This year, for the first time ever, I got to experience club’s fair a little differently: I was on the other side of the table.

Being part of the executive team on a campus organization has so far been both a lot of work and a lot of fun. I got to experience the UTSU Club’s fair from a different perspective, and I found that it’s a seriously community building event for a few different reasons!

I got to build a network. Club’s fair was the ideal place to network with other students! No emails, no phone calls, just simple in-person contact that connected me with other leaders on a more personal level. I met people who had similar interests and who wanted to collaborate on future endeavours! There’s nothing quite like the feeling of slyly slipping people business cards with a “Hey, keep in contact, here’s our info.”

Screen Shot 2014-09-11 at 9.59.40 AM

There is nothing that describes how I feel handing out business cards better than this face. via

I made a few new friends. Engaging with students that stopped by our table involved just asking them questions about what they were studying and why they were interested. A lot of them took the opportunity to ask about our own programs of study and how we liked our life at U of T.

I got to talk… a lot. Is it conceited to say that I love to hear myself talk? (Just kidding!) It might seem hard to believe but I’m actually a fairly shy person, and I used to be uncomfortable with public speaking. After a lot of practice (and even a workshop from U of T Public Speaking Club) I’ve gotten a little bit more comfortable, but I never give up the opportunity to practice talking! The Club’s fair had my voice hoarse before the end of the day.

Overall, the Club’s fair was very uniting! I got to watch a dance team perform, see the kendo club practicing, and explore tons of different areas that U of T is dedicated to. Despite the hoards of students situated in Hart House circle, I really felt a sense of community!

No, not that Community! But the emotion's the same.

No, not that Community! But the emotion’s the same. source:

What club are you most excited for, U of T? Let me know down in the comments!

Explore Toronto: Islands Edition

Happy September everybody! Even though there are leaves falling off the tree outside my window I refuse to believe that fall is coming and am trying to do as many summer activities as possible! This past week I took a trip down to the islands to soak up the last bit of summer weather. Despite living in the city for the past 2 years there are still so many places that I haven’t been to. This year I’m definitely making more of an effort to get out and explore this awesome city that we live in!

To get to the islands you can take the TTC (or walk) down to Union Station, and then walk down Bay to the Ferry Terminal. Student fare is $4.50 for a round trip (cash only).



The view of the city as the ferry pulls away from the dock is my favourite thing ever. The sailboat just makes it better.


Look at our pretty city.


The main islands that you can ferry to are Wards Island and Centre Island. Wards Island has beaches and cottages, while Centre Island has more grassy areas and an amusement park for kids. You can walk between the islands if you have 45-ish minutes to spare.


Perfect spot for a picnic. Also, it’s nice to see a sign encouraging walking on the grass for a change.


Their are ferries leaving both Wards Island and Centre Island until 11:00 pm, so if you want you can catch some pretty great sunsets from the Islands.

So U of T, now that everyone is back in the city, what pleaces are you most eager to explore? Let me know in the comments below!