A First Year’s Guide to Campus

Navigating campus for the first time can feel like you’re travelling through an unknown foreign land. With over to 150 buildings, getting around the St. George campus can get confusing. Even after attending U of T for a year, I still find myself happening upon parts of campus that I’ve never seen before. However, there are a few buildings and places that you’ll definitely encounter during your first year, and to save you the trouble of finding them yourself, I’ve outlined them below. You can view the locations of each of these places by clicking the building code beside the map.

Convocation Hall – CH 

If you’re a first year at U of T, chances are you’ll have a class in Con Hall. Con Hall seats 1200+ people, and hosts all of the big intro classes, from Philosophy to Biology. Due to the nature of the space, it can be very easy to get distracted from your lecture and end up scrolling down facebook. Try sitting on the first floor close to the stage, you’ll find yourself more focused on the lecture than you would be if you were sitting up in the balconies.

Queen’s Park

photo of the statue of Edward VII in the centre of queen's park

Queen’s Park isn’t just a great place to have a picnic, it also serves as one of the major thoroughfares of campus. Sitting north of University Avenue and College Street, Queen’s Park divides St. Michael’s college and Victoria college from the rest of campus. Even if you’re not living at or taking a class at either college, you’ll most likely find yourself having to cross the park sometime during the next school year. Protip: If it’s very snowy or very muddy just walk around the park, trekking through the park in certain conditions will take just as long as walking around it.


Sidney Smith Hall – SS 

If your class has a tutorial, there’s a pretty big chance it’ll end up taking place at Sid Smith. However, Sidney Smith isn’t just a building full of tutorials, it also serves as the home of everything ArtSci. Many different departments house their offices in Sid Smith, and the ASSU (arts and science student union) can be found on the first floor.

Robarts Library – RL

picture of robarts with the thomas fisher rare books library in the foreground

With 13 floors, Robarts is the largest library in the university. Robarts contains many other libraries inside of it, and has study spaces that are open 24 hours! There’s a Starbucks on the second floor to help fuel your study sessions, but make sure to bring your own coffee if you plan to pull an all nighter since it usually closes before 10pm.

Koffler Student Centre – KS

photo of the koffler centre from college street

Besides the bookstore, The Koffler Centre houses the Health and Wellness Centre, the Career Centre, Housing Services, and more. If you’re looking for help or advice the Koffler Centre is the place to go.

Hart House – HH

photo of hart house from king's college circle

Hart House is the place if you’re looking to work out, unwind, or try something new. Hart House has a beautiful gym and pool, an art gallery, a theatre, and beautiful study rooms. It also houses many extra-curricular events, clubs, and programs! Check out what’s currently going on at Hart House.




Orientation and the Introvert

So, last week, I talked about Orientation and touched on how it’s a different experience for everyone- and today, I’m going to go into a little more detail about how it’s a bit different for a specific group:  the introverts.

 Contrary to popular belief, we’re not reclusive hermits who just want to live in a cave and not ever speak to anyone- we want to have a good time like everybody else but just the thought of all that awkward social interaction can make those seven days seem like a nightmare.

For me, getting past meaningless small talk is the one big obstacle that stands in the way of really getting to know people and the first day of school is always intimidating enough without having the added pressure to socialize and make friends.

'So, let’s go around the circle, everybody say your names, your majors and one interesting thing about yourself.’  UH OH

‘So, let’s go around the circle, everybody say your names, your majors and one interesting thing about yourself.’

So for all the Type-B’s out there, here’s what I learned about how to tackle the Brave New World of Orientation Week and conversation-making:

  1. We’re all in this together. 

At the time, it may seem like you’re the only one who doesn’t know how to seamlessly string words together and haven’t instantly found your university BFFs but trust me, everybody is just as nervous and apprehensive as you are about making that first move and initiating conversation.

2. Be interactive

So once the meaningless weather banter is over and you’ve decided you’d like to keep talking to someone, it’s a good idea to insert in some what and how questions into the conversation to keep it flowing rather than just plain agreeing or nodding along.

Bonus: if all else fails, everybody loves a good compliment!


source: quickmeme.com

3. Follow up

If the exchange meets a premature end, I think it’s always good to swap contact information and send a little message letting the person know it was nice talking to them- it adds a nice touch and can lead to the start of something new.

you never know! source: quickmeme.com

you never know!
source: quickmeme.com

4. Objects can help

Seemingly ordinary things like holding an interesting brochure from Clubs Day, having some unique stickers or badges on your bag, or even an interesting phone cover or wallpaper can all be potential conversation sparkers.

Two of my really good friends met when one struck up conversation with the other over a pair of peace-sign earrings she was wearing and it turned out they both had a mutual interest in history and nonviolence and were in a lot of the same classes.

5. Don’t overthink what you said

If the conversation didn’t go as smoothly as planned:

What I did last year: mentally cringe

*oh god why did I just say that, where’s the closest place to buy a Time-Turner so I can just go back to the start and shove a fist in my mouth, note: avoid this person around campus for the rest of the year*

What I should have done: realized that I didn’t need to be perfect to fit in, it’s okay- it’s orientation week, everybody’s in the same big blue awkward boat, just forget about it and move on.

6. Don’t box away your feelings if you’re down

Talking to and Skyping with my friends and family, honestly telling them about how I was doing and hearing their advice and opinions played a big part in my adjustment process. Another thing that helped me a lot was writing down how I felt at the end of the day- its an unbelievably satisfying way to clear your head emotionally and also have something to read back later and perhaps have a laugh or two.

U of T also has an abundance of mental health resources to help you out in case you’re feeling a bit overwhelmed- ranging from workshops on how to cope with situations to peer support and counselling services.

So, in the end, there’s no special trick or magic formula to turn yourself into a conversation connoisseur but I hope this helps a little! Just be you and good luck :)

On Moving Away from Home

I spent this past weekend moving into my new apartment, and doing so brought up a lot of memories of the move I made last year from home to residence. For those of you living in residence next year, move in day is only a few weeks away, and you’re probably pretty anxious. This time last year moving out was constantly on my mind, and I was always worrying about some little aspect of it. Here’s some advice that I wish I’d been told before I moved out.

It’s okay to feel homesick. There’ll be days where you’ll hear a song or see a photo that reminds you of home and makes you feel a knot in your stomach, and that’s completely normal. As you grow comfortable in your new place, you’ll feel homesick less and less often. There’ll also be days where you’ll wonder how you ever lived anywhere else but Toronto, and those are normal as well.

photo of a wall decorated with polaroids

decorating your room with photos is a great way to make it feel more like home

Your dons are there for you. Dons aren’t there to be hall monitors or party police, they’re there to support you. If you need some advice, or just someone to talk to, your don is always there. If you’re not living on residence your college or faculty may offer commuter dons. Another great alternative is Peers are Here, a non-judgemental drop-in space for students to talk about anything with fellow students.

photo of a residence court yard with chairs in it

Dons are always there to pull up a chair and listen, just maybe not outside.

You can still hang out with your friends from back home, even if you’re hundreds or thousands of kilometres apart. My biggest worry this time last year was falling out of touch with my friends from home. My friends went to different schools all around the province, and I was scared that the combination of university academics and geography would push us apart. Thanks to the internet, this didn’t happen. My friends and I decided to video chat together every week or two on Google Hangouts (free group video chats! check it out!), and our Facebook group chat stayed just as active as ever. Though you might not see each other every day, with a little bit of work and planning you can keep your friendships as strong as ever.

photo of the author "dancing" with their friend on a video call

You can still have an awesome dance parties with your friends, even if they’re in Guelph and you’re in Toronto.

Get out of the U of T bubble. During our first house meeting of the year, my don warned us all of the “U of T bubble”: a Bermuda Triangle like stretch of land between College, Bloor, Spadina, and University that residence students rarely venture outside of. I told myself that I wouldn’t get trapped in the bubble, there was so much of the city that I wanted to explore! However, with the exception of a few trips to the Eaton Centre, I rarely left the bubble. As Danielle wrote in her post on moving, one of the best parts of moving is getting to explore the new area you’re living in.

screen cap of a map of toronto with the area between bloor, college, spadina, and university highlighted

U of T is great, but there’s so much more to the city than the few blocks that the campus covers!

Don’t shut yourself up in your room. What I miss the most about residence was how easy it was to hang out with people. Instead of having to make plans to see my friends, I could just walk down the hall and knock on their door.  If you’re in residence sitting in a common room instead of sitting in your room can be a great way to make a new friend. If you’re not living in residence, try hanging out in a college or faculty’s common room, like University College’s JCR. You might just meet someone new!

photo of the author and friends in kensington market

Feeling bored and lonely? Grab a few people and venture off of campus. I promise you’ll have a great time.

GO TO CLASS!! Picture this. It’s mid-January, and you wake up fifteen minutes before your 9am class across campus. You look out the window and see snow everywhere, and notice that the windchill is 15 below 0. You have two options: #1 Pull on your snow boots and run through the snow to class or #2 Get back into your warm, snuggly bed. Choose #1. Though it’s alright to miss a class if you really need to, missed classes can pile up very easily. Missing a large number will just lead to stress and regret, and once you’ve missed one it’s easy to rationalize missing another. Your warm snuggly bed will always be there for you when you’re done class.  

photo of the author's residence window covered in snow

It’s pretty easy to convince yourself that staying in your warm bed is better than going to class when your window is covered in snow.

Have any questions about moving away from home? Leave a comment and we’ll help you out. 

How I’m planning to #startUofT

We’re halfway through August, which, to me at least, feels like the end of the summer. But happily, it’s not the end, especially since classes start mid-September for most students this year!

Even though we’re not quite there yet, there’s lots you can do now to get ready for the start of the year. These are some of the things on my #startUofT to do list before the grind begins.

A picture of me with a sign that reads "HELLO my name is: Danielle and I'm going to: the iSchool!"

Oh, hello! Didn’t see you there! Share your hello selfie on Twitter or Instagram with the hashtag #startUofT!

Start reading. Fear not, I haven’t started doing reading right off my syllabi just yet, and for a lot of classes, you can’t get up-to-date syllabi until the first day of lecture. To gear up for the semester and start getting back into the academia state of mind, I’ve started reading a book recommended by a professor at a welcome session in June. (Tip: if you’re looking to do some preliminary reading to get ready for a class, check out a past syllabus for core literature or send an email to your prof or TA.)

Treat myself (to school supplies). My favourite part of starting up a new school year is getting new school supplies! While I mostly use my laptop, keeping a physical agenda has always been an important ritual for me to stay organized and relaxed, and I always like to carry around a notebook and some thin markers and pens just in case. (Another tip! Bring a paper and pen to your first classes at least, in case your computer dies or the professor asks students not to use electronic devices during class discussions, which sometimes happens during seminars particularly.)

Moleskin notebooks at the U of T Bookstore.

As Jay Z once rapped: all I need in this life of sin, is me and my moleskins.

Make a plan to stay healthy. It’s hard to keep on top of packing meals and getting exercise during the busy academic year, so I try to schedule regular times during the week for working out, getting groceries, and preparing food in advance. It’s not always possible to keep on top of these as things come up, but I know I’m more likely to get them done if they’re in my planner in advance rather than figuring them out on an ad hoc basis each week.

Connect with my mentor. I applied for a mentorship program for my Master’s, so I’ll be connected with a mentor from the year above me. We’ve connected over email and we’re planning to get coffee before orientation starts so she can answer some of my more burning questions and I’ll know someone around the faculty.

Apply for a work-study position. The work-study life is the life for me! There are tons of positions up on the Career Learning Network that offer flexible hours that let you make a little money and get some work experience, while still prioritizing your studies.

And unofficially, the last item on my list is to relax like it’s my full-time job! I’ll also spend the next few weeks eating lots of ice cream, spending time with family and friends, hanging out in the sun, and eating lots of ice cream. Yes, I’m listing ice cream twice, because that’s how much of it I plan to eat.

A cone of ice cream from the Big Chill.

Don’t worry, I’ve already started work on the ice cream eating task. This is from the Big Chill where, when you are inevitably asked whether you would like whipped cream and a mini oreo atop your order, the correct answer is always “yes.”

For more essentials for starting up at U of T, watch our Get Started Checklist playlist on Youtube.

You can also follow us on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram and follow along with the #CrewCountdown, where we’re posting all kinds of tips and tricks for getting started at U of T up until the first day of classes.

Making the Most of Orientation Week

Orientation Week, or as I like to call it, Seven Days Perfecting The Art of Small Talk, is just a few weeks away.

The orientation experience is different for everyone- when I reminisce about it with my friends, some insist it was the highlight of their year, some nod in semi-agreement and for others it was just ‘meh’.

Here are a few things that I found useful before orientation:

Be sure to dress practically

From the parade to Clubs Day and all the activities your college or faculty will have prepared for you most involve some degree of physical exertion and so it’s a good idea to dress in something that is comfortable for you. I preferred to wear something light and airy because it was close to thirty degrees and higher during my Orientation week, and of course- comfortable footwear. Maybe save those new strappy heels or leather shoes for another day- your feet will thank you with every step.

Be prepared

During the parade my year, it was so swelteringly hot that my half-filled bottle of water finished up in an instant and I totally regretted not having brought more. Bottled water is not sold on campus and you’re going to need to stay hydrated so make sure you’ve got some with you at all times! Carry an extra if you’ve got space (and then, if anyone needs some during the parade, you can whip yours out, heroically save them from dehydration and bam- instant friendship).

Try not to get overwhelmed by it all

There’s a lot to take in during those first seven days, you’ll be drinking in all the sights of our beautiful campus, surrounded by hundreds of potential new friends, plied with leaflets, free pens, food, stickers and freezies at the clubs fair and be surrounded by so many possibilities.

This sudden explosion of activity after two solid months of Internet surfing (in my case) can sometimes be a lot to deal with and it’s okay to skip out on an event if you feel like doing something more low-key. I remember when it all got a little too much for me during the parade, a few people I had just met decided to turn back around and head into a coffee shop to take a breather and I had a great time joining them.

photo of frosh parade in fron t of the UC building

don’t forget to take lots of photos!

You can always pick and choose what you want to go to- and you don’t need to limit yourself to just the activities that your college or faculty has planned- UTSU has lots of stuff going on, as does the CIE, so there are lots of alternatives.

Another little thing that helped me during Clubs Day was picking up a Clubs Handbook beforehand from the UTSU ( or you could check out the ULife website) , making a mental note of the clubs that sounded interesting to me so I knew which booths I needed to locate on the day of and could them leisurely stroll around when I was done.

photo of pen and UofT map

I also took out some time to locate my classes so I wouldn’t have to panic on the first day of lecture

Lastly, remember to smile and just enjoy yourself.

Even if your week isn’t going exactly as planned, it’s still a new experience.

Yes, there might be a lot of awkward moments and conversation consisting of small talk (more on that in the next blog post!).

But as you breathe in the fresh summer air, relish walking down St. George Street without having a tutorial to go to or infinite readings on your mind, try catching a glimpse of what looks like Bob the Builder-slash-Barney the Dinosaur running through Queen’s Park (hint: it’s the engineers), and enjoy those five minutes of fame with passersby videotaping you on their smartphones as you march down Bloor.

source:  memecrunch.com

source: memecrunch.com

Are you excited for orientation, U of T? Let us know in the comments below or on Twitter at Life@UofT!


My time in Global Brigades and our upcoming trip to Honduras

One of the ways I started getting involved on campus is with a student organization on campus called Global Brigades. It’s a new chapter here at U of T, only in its second year of operation.

U of T Global Brigades (UTGB) is an international, non-profit, humanitarian organization focused on improving quality of life in all spheres in third-world communities. Each year, UTGB students prepare for a volunteer trip to a third-world rural community of their choice, on a brigade type of their choice. This year, UTGB will be taking a group of students on a medical/dental/public health brigade to Honduras, of which I will also be participating – wahoo! We will do things like shadow doctors in consultation, help with children’s fluoride treatments, work out drug prescriptions, and build eco-stoves for community use.Global Brigades logo.

I chose to join UTGB because it’s similar to the organization Doctors Without Borders (MSF), which is what inspired me to want to pursue medicine in the first place. I’ve always wanted to do something like this so I figured: why not now? I like that it’s an organization whose main goal is holistic and sustainable development. Volunteers embarking on brigades have programs that encompass more than just medical/dental. They can also choose to do environmental, architecture, human rights, and more. GB makes sure to promote progress in the community we serve by keeping detailed records of what we do. The next year, we and other chapters use this data to track trends such as most prevalent diseases or most pressing needs. Based on what we find, we can follow-up with the same community and tailor our brigade to improve upon the problems we found.

A banner on the Global Brigades website for the Water Brigade. It shows two volunteers carrying long pipes that will be installed to construct a water pipeline system in a rural community.

Global Brigades’ holistic approach means we do brigades focused on other aspects like Business, Engineering, and Water, as shown here. (Photo courtesy of https://www.globalbrigades.org/)

Education and empowerment of the community are also key. The brigades always involve education sessions and ways for the community to become self-sufficient and independently functioning. I also appreciate that there is an emphasis on how Global Brigades is not a form of “voluntourism,” and that our focus is truly on interacting with and helping a community improve quality of life.

A group of our team members standing on the edge of a cliff overlooking the green scenery of the Honduran hillside.

Some of our team and the stunning view on the Honduras brigade last year.

During the year, UTGB members can sign up for sub-committees like Donations, Fundraising, etc. These members have responsibilities like finding sponsors/donors or thinking of creative ways to fundraise or promote our cause. I was a part of the Donations sub-committee and tried to email/contact as many companies as I could to help fund or donate supplies to our trip. It was fun making goodies for our bake sales, thus initiating my first foray into the art of making candy apples – which I promise were really delicious! We also don’t just focus on that one big trip – we also get a chance to help out locally by volunteering for shelters around the city.

A picture of our little spread out on the UTSU lawn. Long tables with hand-painted signs advertising for burgers, hot dogs, freezies, and lemonade. Our group banner stands beside the tables.

One of our most recent fundraisers: A summer BBQ held on the UTSU lawn. (Photo courtesy of UTGB Media Relations Director, Katie Edmonds)

To prep for our summer trip, I’ve gotten the chance to attend Spanish lessons (¿Cómo estás?) as well as attend education sessions where we learn more about the culture and customs of the community we’ll be serving. We’ve also had sessions on how to take patient vitals and other important skills that will be required for the trip. 

An education session for GB. Me and two other volunteers are taking each other's blood pressure using the standard cuff.

Me and fellow Brigaders Lindsay and Melanie, learning how to measure blood pressure. (Photo courtesy of UTGB Media Relations Director, Katie Edmonds)

We’re leaving for Honduras at the end of August so this blogger is going to be MIA until the start of the school year. I’m super excited and can’t wait to get there. I know I’m going to learn so much and will be back with lots of stories for you all!! (keener alert) 

If you’re interested in joining a student group focused on humanitarian support or global interests, Ulife has a comprehensive list of all our recognized campus groups.

Have you gone on any volunteer trips? What was your experience like? Share with us in the comments or let us know on Twitter at @lifeatuoft!

On the move

In the past five years, I’ve moved four times, and in a few weeks, I’m about to make it five.

I moved from home in 2010 into residence at Whitney Hall for my first year. After that, I moved into my first apartment in Harbord Village, where I stayed for three years. Last summer, I moved into an apartment in Chinatown where I was subletting for four months, before I moved into my current place in the Village. Next year, I’m heading back to the West End.

A collage with pictures of my two last bedrooms, empty after I packed them up.

My last two empty bedrooms after packing up my last two apartments. There will be another one to add to this collage as of September 1!

Moving is a lot of fun in the long run – you get to see what it’s like living in new neighbourhoods. You try out new coffee shops and grocery stores and recalibrate your existence around a new centre in the city. Plus, in my case, I’ve lived with lots of different people over the years, so I’ve gotten to experience different types of roommates and make new friends through the people I’ve lived with.

But moving is definitely not all fun and games! The move itself is stressful, between packing and figuring out how you’re going to transport your stuff from point A to point B. Plus, once you move into the new place, you and your roommates need to sort out stuff like house rules, bedrooms, and shared expenses.

For my last move, my roommates and I decided to book a mover together to save money and reduce stress. Since two of us were living together and one wasn’t, we arranged with the mover to do two stops.

Before moving in, we met up to take inventory of what we had for the kitchen and common spaces, what we still needed, and who would be responsible for getting things. We also talked about our schedules and cleaning habits so that nothing would be too surprising when we moved in.

Holiday celebrations in my current apartment with my roomies.

Holiday celebrations this past year in my current apartment with my roomies.

Moving day was crazy, but we decided on rooms beforehand so there would be no tension on the day of. Once all the furniture was moved in, we had another meeting to talk about what we still needed after the move, and set some house rules. We also made a chore schedule. We tried to institute monthly roommate meetings, but it wasn’t always possible with our busy schedules. Especially if you’re living with more than two people, you should try to meet as roommates regularly to check in and make sure everyone is comfortable.

In my experience, there are always problems in every roommate relationship. Someone doesn’t do their dishes, or doesn’t replace the toilet paper roll, or takes a shower at the time that you take a shower every day. Someone leaves bad food in the fridge or comes home late at night and isn’t subtle about it.

The view outside the apartment I'm leaving behind featuring my magical moon cactus. I'll miss it, but I can't wait to put my cactus in my new windowsill.

The view outside the apartment I’m leaving behind featuring my magical moon cactus. I’ll miss it, but I can’t wait to put my cactus in my new windowsill.

It’s not easy living with other people – but it can be really fun if you keep the lines of communication open and, most importantly, if you don’t sweat the small stuff. In the moment, it may seem like a huge deal that someone left their dishes in the living space – again – but ultimately, they probably weren’t trying to offend you, and if you feel strongly that you need to live with other people whose habits are better suited to yours, you can always move out at the end of the lease. Living with people is all about compromises – you have to decide which ones you’re willing to make and which ones you’re not.

The pay-off is worth it – if you and your roommates can work out a system that keeps everyone happy, you wind up with a cozy little family to come home to in the city.

Got questions about moving? Talk to me in the comments below or on twitter at @lifeatuoft. Plus, join me on twitter on August 19 at 7pm for our #ASKMeUofT twitter chat about housing! Check out more details on the Facebook event.

To volunteer or not to volunteer?

With the school year rapidly approaching and summer meeting it’s sad demise (T minus 33 days until classes, people!) thousands of us students will be collectively sighing as we map out plans for the upcoming semester.

Now that classes have been chosen and schedules finalized, one of the few ways I like to get ready for the school year is deciding what I want to be involved with outside of the classroom. (U of T has over eight hundred clubs and societies so this does take a proper sit-down session just to sift through the list of them all) But one thing I’m determined to work into my schedule this year is volunteering.

Volunteering has always been a constant feature of my years of learning, ever since middle school. I mean, I’m not saying this to brag about how dedicated I am, far from it- when I first had to volunteer as part of my school’s mandatory program, I was as annoyed and unenthusiastic as a thirteen year old could get (mostly because it meant I couldn’t stay home and take care of my tamagotchi).

But as time went on and I really started to bond with the staff and people at the organization, I spent more and more time there until it became a regular commitment all through high school until I left home.

(and my tamagotchi lived to a ripe old age despite my neglect).

I had (somewhat) similar concerns before I entered my first year about committing to volunteering. Between lectures and tutorials scheduled at awkward times of the day, wanting to be involved with clubs, trying to achieve that ideal GPA and still maintain some semblance of a social life, I really didn’t think I’d be able to set aside time to seek out volunteering opportunities.

But I think what I forgot was that you don’t need to commit large chunks of your time to go out and volunteer. People understand that we’re students and we’re inundated with work and stress and I found that most volunteer organizations are more than happy to have you dedicate even an hour a week to start off.

That’s what I did starting off volunteering at Hope Air in my first year. (It’s an organization that arranges free flights for deserving Canadians who require travel to healthcare facilities.) I picked out a short time slot once a week that suited me and didn’t interfere with any of my classes and really began to look forward to my weekly commitment.

I found the whole experience to be almost like a retreat – in the sense that volunteering allows you to forget about your own problems for a minute and really focus on what you can do to solve someone else’s.

It’s not all just about being altruistic either- you might not realize it, but there are so many ways that volunteering can benefit you. Of course, it wouldn’t be advisable to go into something purely for the sake of, say, beefing up your resume or impressing that grad school. It’s important to care about the cause as well.

But from something as basic as a change of scenery or a break from the monotony of study-eat-sleep-work-study, to widening your network, making connections on a meaningful level, improving your social skills by interacting with people (if you’re as shy as I can be) to boosting your happiness and self-esteem levels, there’s a lot to consider.

a meme photo of a determined baby with the caption 'volunteered, got way happier'

source: memegenerator.net

Volunteering also means you pick up some valuable workplace skills- from teamwork to problem-solving to hands-on labour- you’ll have a wealth of experience to draw from that will come in handy for the future.

It’s also a good way of keeping informed on issues within the community you live in. There’s so much I got to know about the Canadian healthcare system and the problems that can arise within it from volunteering that I would’ve normally known nothing about.

There are thousands of welfare organizations in Toronto that you can seek out volunteer placements at and lots of resources on campus to help you connect with those organizations. The Centre for Community Partnerships (569 Spadina Avenue) is a good first stop.

screenshot of center for community partnerships website


Lots of places also offer drop-in volunteering sessions and even home-based volunteering if you have computer skills so even if you have a chaotic schedule, there are ways to make it work.

So if you spot any of those grey spaces in the middle of your colourful patchwork ROSI timetable, maybe consider thinking about spending a bit of that time volunteering? It never hurts to have karma on your side! :)

Exploring Beyond Downtown: Guild Park

photo of a creepy angel sculpture

For a self-professed Torontonian, I haven’t seen that much of the city. Sure, I’ve been to the Eaton Centre 5000 times and I’m pretty good at giving directions to lost tourists on the subway, but I’ve never really ventured that far past the DVP. One of the goals I’ve set for myself this year is to explore past the downtown bubble, and it was this goal that lead me east to Guild Park (or Guild Inn and Gardens as the fancy people like to call it) in Scarborough.

photo of another creepy angel sculpture, this one has a bird nest between its wing and head though

Guild Park is breathtaking, in an extremely eerie way. The Guild Inn, which sits vacant at the front of the park, originally served as an artist colony. The park still serves as a sort of sanctuary for the arts, housing over 70 statues, pillars, and facades originating from pre-war buildings in downtown Toronto.

photo of stone pillars against the sky

The statues sit amongst lush gardens, giving the entire park a Secret Garden kind of feel. With weathered pillars rising up all over the grounds it’s hard not to feel like you’ve happened upon an abandoned archaeological dig.

photo of a winding path amongst the trees with a stone facade at the end


photo of a little bumble bee on a yellow flower


Exploring Guild Park was like an easter egg hunt crossed with a hunt for hidden treasure. With each new turn on the pathway, something new and unexpected popped up, whether it was an empty greenhouse or a tiny toad.

photo of an empty and slightly rundown greenhouse


As with any place worth seeing in the 6ix, Guild Park is Drake approved. The Greek Theatre, which sits near the entrance, was featured in Drake’s video for Headlines.

photo of the "greek theatre", a facade taken from an old bank building in downtown toronto

screenshot from Drake's video Headlines, filmed in Guild Park

Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cimoNqiulUE


Guild Park sits on the Scarborough Bluffs, and if you turn your back to the gardens and facades, you’ll see beautiful views of Lake Ontario.

photo of clouds reflecting on lake ontario


Want to see the gorgeous and only slightly creepy Guild Park? You can get there on the TTC, no extra fare needed. Need directions? Here’s a Google map explaining how to get there from St. George station. 

photo of lake ontario seen through some trees


How to see your name in lights (or at least in print) on campus

One of the cheapest thrills on campus is seeing your name in print in one of our many student media publications.

I can still remember seeing my first major byline in The Varsity – I wrote a story about going to a psychic. That Monday morning, I rushed to campus to get a copy and I was not at all disappointed – I was totally hooked, and I would keep working for The Varsity for the rest of my undergraduate career.

A photo of me holding up tarot cards from my story of going to the psychic.

The portrait of me that accompanied my psychic story. Photo by Bernarda Gospic, courtesy of The Varsity.

I kept writing until I became a staff writer, and met regularly with the Arts & Culture editor to work on my writing and pitch story ideas. Editors like it when you bring your own pitches, so try to bring a list of ideas with you if you’re going to office hours. The Varsity also tries to cover campus stories rather than Toronto stories (but there are lots of exceptions to this), so try to keep your ideas U of T focused. And it’s generally better to pitch specific stories rather than general ones – so instead of a list of dance groups on campus, for example, maybe you would profile one specifically that has a show coming up or is doing interesting things.

Eventually, my editor hired me as an associate editor, so when it came to elections, I ran for features editor. Features is the long-form section of the paper, and it also covers the two Varsity Magazine issues and the frosh handbook. I loved working as an editor, so at the end of the year, I ran for editor-in-chief. Running the paper was a major highlight of my experience at U of T.

A bulletin board with all the issues from the 2015/2016 volume of The Varsity pinned to it.

All the issues from my year as editor! Photo courtesy of Jennifer Su.

When I worked at the paper, a lot of students told me that worries over the quality of their writing was deterring them from starting to contribute. But the thing about The Varsity and all the publications on campus is that they are student publications – everyone is trying something new, and everyone is learning on the job – even the editors! So don’t be scared – if you want to contribute, go for it! There will be lots of people there to help you grow as a writer, photographer, illustrator, designer, web developer, and more.

Here are some of the different ways you can participate in campus media at U of T.

Join a campus-wide paper or blog. I got involved with The Varsity, which is tri-campus. There’s also the newspaper at St. George, The Medium at UTM, and The Underground at UTSC.

Contribute to your college or faculty’s publication. All the colleges and many faculties have their own publication as well. They’re all distinct and have interesting histories and traditions, and publish different types of writing and coverage.

Try out a campus magazine. U of T also has various student-run magazines that cover more specific topics of interest to students, like Juxtaposition Global Health Magazine

Start your own publication! If you want to start a blog or magazine about something that U of T’s campus media doesn’t cover, follow the steps on Ulife to bring your idea to life.

Got questions about how to get involved with campus media? Contact me in the comments below or on twitter at @lifeatuoft.