Write Away

I’ve been writing non-stop all week so I’m typing this blog with sore fingers. I don’t think I’ve ever had so much work to do in such a short amount of time! What’s the biggest assignment you’ve ever had to write?

This week, I wrote three essays for Urban Politics and Globalization, Indigenous Spirituality, and Economics, for a total of 21 pages plus another 11 pages of references. Yes you read that correctly, I had to write an essay for Economics. You may be wondering what the point is for having essays in a math-based class but if you read an article in an economics magazine, you’ll realize why we need better economics writers…

From my perspective, looking down at the pyjamas and moccasins I'm wearing

Most of the week I was cooped up at home writing in my PJs, so this was the week of the “Pyjama Papers” (Photo by Zachary Biech)

In all honesty, I don’t recommend writing three big assignments in only a week. It’s taken years for me to learn how to research, write, edit and cite my essays correctly and even longer to learn how to do it all quickly. In extreme times like this I can make it through but it’s a rough ride. I don’t want you to have to go through it!

My first recommendation is to do your research first. Give yourself a few weeks to begin researching because it takes a long time and you’ll need the time for the rest of the essay. I have found that researching before I decide on a thesis is really helpful for informing me and giving me direction.

Check your assignment guidelines for what type of sources you need (including course readings and outside sources). When your assignment has a suggested number of sources, my rule of thumb is to use twice as many as suggested. Good essays have a ridiculous amount of cited research so get as many as you can! Also, using peer-reviewed academic sources is always the best route. I use the U of T libraries website and I go into the ‘subjects’ database. From there, you can get specialized databases tailored for your course subject!

Looking almost straight upwards from the front door of Robarts, up to the top of the building

U of T has MILLIONS of sources for you to choose from in their freaky-looking libraries. Imagine how much good research is in there… (Photo by Zachary Biech)


First Nations house has an awesome library too, I highly recommend it!

For taking notes on your research, I use the queue card system. Write the name of the author or document, the page number of the detail you’re taking a note on and only include a few details per card. With this system, you can mix and match cards like building blocks however you need and you’ll have the referencing info you need for your citations later on.

A ridiculously huge stack of Q cards with all sorts of colourful rubber bands, clips, and sticky notes to try and sort them

Here’s what a few essay’s worth of queue cards look like, at least when I’m the researcher… (Photo by Zachary Biech)

Work hard on your thesis and make sure to follow it the whole way through the essay. There are plenty of resources and people at First Nations House and elsewhere in U of T to help you if you get stuck. For example, I use the University College Writing Centre one-on-one appointments all the time! At First Nations House, you can meet with Learning Strategist Bonnie Maracle and she can help you with essays as well!

Next, you’ll encounter the editing stage. Here’s where A+ papers are made or lost. Edit, edit, then edit some more. When you write stuff out for the first time, it will usually be pretty bulky and confusing so go over it a few times. I’ve had essays in which I was able to edit away two whole pages without removing any of my content, so trust me when I say there’s always a shorter way to say what you want to say! Also read your essay out loud! I find that reading my work aloud helps me quickly identify awkward statements.

Lastly, you’ll need to do your citations. It’s super important to get these right, so check and double check that you’ve got them all done correctly! I always use the OWL Purdue website–it has APA, MLA, and Chicago styles spelled out excellently.


Now, time to get writing!



Summer in Moderation

In my first year of university, I took 6.0 FCEs. It worked out surprisingly well for me, but it is clear to me now in retrospect that I should have calmed down a little bit and taken fewer courses; by the end of that year, I was almost completely burned out.

That did not stop me from doing a course overload in the summer session, however.

You have to appeal to your registrar to get permission to take more than 2.0 FCEs in the summer. Limits at U of T on which courses you can take and how many may feel arbitrary but are in place to protect people from making a terrible decision, like that time in second year I tried to take twelve half-courses in the first semester and none in the second.

I successfully appealed to take 3.0 FCEs in the summer. I thought that, even though summer courses tend to be more intense (since classroom hours are doubled and the rapidity with which you must learn is also doubled), I was going to be able to handle it.

The truth is, I wasn’t.

There were probably many factors that contributed to that train-wreck of a semester, such as general burnout, an unrealistic school load, my full-time summer job, untreated depression, and so on. I’m sure a 3.0 FCE summer session is possible, with enough support and dedication.

Now that the summer session is coming up and registration is starting soon, if you are going to be taking summer courses, you should make sure to do so in moderation. This summer session I’m going to be taking just one course, to get an edge on my degree and also keep up with study habits so I don’t need to build them up again in September.

The Search for Study Spots

When you’re a chronic procrastinator like myself, something as trivial as not having an adequate seat at the library can trigger a chain reaction that ends in watching half a season of The Mindy Project instead of working on that 30 minute final presentation due next week. So as part of my quest to explore all corners of U of T, I decided to look into some new study spots that meet my needs. I hope to one day get around to visiting all 44 libraries on campus, but for now, I’ll just breakdown the latest three that I’ve found solace in:

1. OISE Library 3rd Floor:  I occasionally stop by OISE for classes, or as a meeting spot with friends, but only today did I discover that there were MORE FLOORS TO THE LIBRARY. The third floor is such a gem because its empty. I was there at 4pm, and there were only 2 people up there! This isn’t the usual Instagram-worthy library that you might expect. If anything, it has a Toronto Public Library feel to it (in the best way possible), which makes me feel like I’m reading books for fun again, and not because of some sort of assessment.

Notable Features: Close to the subway, has Starbucks and Tim Hortons extremely close by, and has outlets at the tables (!!!)

Picture of room with ceiling lights showing, carpeted floors and a portion of a laptop

…That awkward moment when you forget to close Buzzfeed before taking a picture #Guilty

2. Faculty of Information 4th Floor: Also known as the iSchool.  I ventured to the iSchool a few days ago, and the 4th floor study area is amazing! The iSchool is my new love because the high ceilings make it seem open and large. Not to mention all the seats are comfy and perfect.

Notable Features: Has large windows, which make study sessions oddly less prison-like.

View of St George St. from the iSchool!

3. Hart House Library: Hart House Library is my designated quiet, chill-out library, but desperate times call for desperate measures. I’ve never actually studied here until a few days ago, and can I just say: there is absolutely nothing better than cushioned seats with a nice view when you’re studying the day away.

Notable Features: The library is so Instagram-worthy that you’ll have a built-in study break activity ready to go. 

corner window seat with a lamp coming down at hart House library

Pulled from the Hart House Library Instagram, because I actually studied enough to forget to take a picture :(

If you have any suggestions for some new, quiet and comfortable study spots on campus, let me know on Twitter at @Api_UofT or down in the comments!

An End of Term Toolbox

As the year begins to wind down (or up, as it may be), assignments are becoming more daunting than ever. In fact, I’m writing this blog post mostly as a form of procrastination: I’ve four papers to write in the next ten days, and exams after that.

I’ve always been pretty bad with procrastinating for many reasons (mental health, laziness, and netflix among the top three contenders). But it also means it’s hard sometimes to get back on me feet and get down to business.

Like a few other students, my classrooms are disrupted and I don’t have all the access to in-class and in-person resources that I otherwise would. Thankfully, the university provides a number of academic resources to help students succeed. Here are five free campus resources for students trying to cope with the end of term:

1. Free Essay Clinics
Essay clinics are run by professionals, free of cost to you: people who know how to write will look at drafts of your paper, and tell you how to make it better, and generally how to improve your writing, for free. And why not? You can only get better. Each college has a writing centre, and so do some departments. Find one to book a free appointment here. While their schedules might tell you that they’re full, many people cancel appointments: get in touch with the clinics to see if you can be put on a waiting list.

2. Free Math, Chemistry, Stats, & Eco help
Just like the writing centres, professionals are around to help you out. Many of the help sessions are on a drop in basis, but it’s always worth checking their schedules in advance. Get free tutoring in mathchemistrystats, or economics.

3. Free Past Tests
I often have problems with my memory and arthritic hand cramps, so when it comes to midterms and exams, I can stress out a lot. With papers, I have oodles of time to think about what I’m going to say: exams put me on the spot. Fortunately, the Arts and Sciences Students Union (ASSU) has filing cabinets full of past tests: literally. Just walk in with a T-Card and you can take a free peek at one of their many past tests, donated by students (find them in SS1068). They also sell test packages around midterms for major courses.

Photo of some of the files and past tests that ASSU has available.

From A(CT240) to Z(OO362), ASSU has you covered.

4. Free Past Exams
The ASSU library only holds donated midterms, but it doesn’t mean you can’t study also for the exam. You can use old midterms to get an idea of the questions likely to be asked. But when it comes time for exams, you can always look at the past exam repository, to help get an idea of how exams have been structured in the past.

5. Professor Office Hours
But when it comes on down to it, nobody knows how to help you succeed in a class like the people running that class. Talk to your course instructor! They get pretty lonely when nobody comes by their office hours, and they’d love to chat and help you get through assignments and material. It’s also a great way to make friends (profs are people too!).

Have an inside scoop on other campus resources? Let me know in the comments below!

Osaka to Okinawa

After spending a few weeks hanging out with friends and host families in Hiroshima and Osaka, I’m ending my spring break with a brief solo trip to Japan’s southernmost prefecture of Okinawa. Once a semi-independent kingdom, Okinawa subtly separates itself from Japan’s other prefectures; it’s older generations speak Okinawan, and it’s classical architecture, i.e. that of castles and some homes, is markedly different from that of Japan’s other prefectures. Moreover, it’s remote location affords a unique topography. These characterists collectively provide a sense that Okinawa is somehow distinct from most other regions of Japan.


Okinawa Prefecture is also referred to as the “Ryukyu Islands.” [source]

I started my first  full day in Okinawa by waking up early to catch a ferry to the island of Tokashiki.

Approaching the island.

The island’s port was characterized by wild vegetation, and rusty shacks, aged through years of salty seabreeze. After briefly taking in the scenery, I grabbed a bike at the local rental shop, and started my adventure.

Rice paddies near Tokashiki’s port.

Half an hour’s cycle brought me to one of the island’s famous beaches:


Tokashiku Beach

Okinawa is renowned for its beaches, but most of the more famous ones, e.g. Tokashiku, are located away from the main island - where most tourists stay. Tokashiku alone made the trip worthwhile.


A view of Tokashiku from its connecting mountain road.

I spent a few hours reading and relaxing at the beach before hopping back on my bike.


One of the mountain roads connecting the island’s municipalities.

Alternating scenes of beaches and thick vegetation patterned the island’s landscape:

Aharen Beach


Aharen from above.

The island’s north coast featured a number of war memorials commemorating victims of World War II.


A memorial dedicated to Korean victims.


A memorial dedicated to Japanese victims. The island’s tragic history juxtaposes its beautiful scenery.

After spending a few hours cycling the length of the island, I finally caught a ferry back to Naha, where my hostel is.


Spring break has been a blur of transit, catching up with friends, and eating delicious food. While I don’t want it to end, I’m also looking forward to the beginning of my second semester. Next week, for the first time in a while, I’ll be writing to you from Tokyo. Until then, good luck with the end of the semester!

On flexibility and finding what you love

At this time three years ago I was planning out my courses for first year (with the previous year’s calendar because the one for 2012-2013 wasn’t out yet… yeah, keen is my middle name). At that point I was sure that I wanted to major in history and do a double minor in classics and anthropology.

a timetable made in word with classes blocked in and colour coded

my first semester plan — Greek and latin were very short lived as I realized that they weren’t for me (but I replaced them with other classes that I really enjoyed)

As first year progressed, however, I realized that while I liked my anthropology and classics classes (not counting Greek and Latin — kudos to anyone who makes it past the first couple weeks in those classes, you’re a stronger person than I) I didn’t feel the same passion for them as I had expected to. At that point I decided to simply do a history specialist until a friend of mine was looking at the Victoria College Academic Programs page in the dining hall one day and pointed out the Material Culture minor to me. I was intrigued from the first sentence and immediately applied for the POSt. Since it’s only a minor it fits in really well with my history specialist and I really really enjoy my material culture classes.

the front of the main university college building flanked by red balloons Last week I volunteered at the Spring Campus Open House representing Material Culture and I had a really great time sharing what I love about my program with possible incoming students. a room with tables and boards with programs names on themIf you know absolutely what you want going into first year or choosing your POSts then that’s amazing but if you’re not sure, or you’ve made it to the end of first year and you’re not sure what you’re doing is for you, don’t fret! Flexibility is important in university and in realizing you don’t like something you thought you would you may find something else that you absolutely love.

a screenshot of the vic programs website showing tiny little niche programs

the more obscure the program the better! (I kid I kid — but seriously I know people in four of these programs and they all love them)

a girl holds up flyers for history and philosophy of science and smiles.

What about you U of T? Did you stumble upon any programs that you hadn’t considered before? Let me know in the comments below! 

RENT: Not the Musical

School is almost over! 

It doesn’t seem like that because we haven’t started exams yet, but classes are done next week. For people who don’t have any exams… I hate you with the passion of a thousand burning suns. :(

Back to the topic at hand – what does the end of the school year mean? Well, it means making plans. Api discussed some of her plans last week – things like summer employment, summer school, and of course binge-watching TV. 10/10 list from Api – would read again. However, another important thing you should be planning right about now is where you’re going to be living next year.


If you are handsomely well-off, please exit this post and ask your parents if they can just let you live in their vacation condo on Bay Street.

I’m completely kidding of course.

Anyways, back to us regular folks who have to plan to live somewhere. Living off-campus can be an awesome, and often life-defining experience during your undergrad. This is the adulthood everyone keeps talking about. You’ll have to deal with a plethora of new situations, such as signing and paying for a lease, buying your own food, and paying for your internet. Most importantly, you will have to do your own laundry.

So, here a few things you should consider doing while you’re studying for exams:

  1. Decide when you want to move in. Leases around the campus most often start either in May or August. Most of the time these leases start in either the beginning of May or the beginning of September. If you plan on living in Toronto in the summer, it’s definitely your best bet to start a lease in May. If you start a lease in September, make sure to ask your landlord about their stipulations on subletting. Subletting is always a great option if you want to move to another place early, or if you just want to save money living at home for the summer.
  2. Decide who you want to live with. If you aren’t the Princess of Genovia, chances are you will have to live with at least one roommate to subsidize downtown Toronto’s absurdly high rent. Who you live with is incredibly important. Find people who you can depend on, and who share your vision in rent and space. From my personal experience, if you want to live with a very close friend try and find other roommates to live along with you. You might imagine that living with your best friend in the big city may read like an episode of Friends, but trust me when I say that it can quickly become a Jerry Springer episode. Unless you’re the type of friends who have a blood pact, small spaces can often breed passive aggression.
  3. Read, learn, and breathe the Ontario Residential Tenancies Act. Always know your rights before making a expensive commitment.

These are just a few things you should be thinking about while you’re stressing for exams! If you are finishing exams early, always remember – the earlier the better. There are a bunch of helpful tools to help you get started like the university’s Housing Services and PadMapper. Have fun and good luck!

Are You Ready for the Test???

Being prepared for tests is a complicated art. Exams are the most individual task you will do in university. It’s just you and the test, so don’t let your mind go rushing onto all your other responsibilities. Your soul must be centered. Physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual balance are key to preparing and working on all those areas in advance when you still have time and strength is the best failsafe.

Before and during tests, you have the opportunity to fight for every mark. One helpful trick I’ve found is to do practice tests, quizzes and review at the time of day when your exam will be. Exams can be held at strange times, so it’s good to get into the habit of working on the specific material on your test at those weird times.

Two battered erasers with paperclip guns and bottle cap helmets

These are my study soldiers: veterans of seven semesters of duty (Photo by Zachary Biech)

Eat a healthy, large meal before your test so you don’t go hungry or have an upset stomach. Bring everything you need for the test and bring spares if you can. Pens, pencils, sharpener, eraser and your T-card are must-haves, and depending on your course, you may need a non-programmable calculator so bring one with batteries! Also, bring a watch! Most test rooms at U of T don’t have clocks. The worst feeling in the world is when your exam invigilator says you only have 20 minutes left and you’ve only done the first tenth of the test because you couldn’t keep track of time!

a pencil sharpener, two pencils, two pens, an eraser, and a non-graphing calculator

Test-taking kit (Photo by Zachary Biech)

a watch on my arm

Not sure of the time? Better watch it! (Photo by Zachary Biech)

Be 100% sure of your test location because you don’t want to show up to the wrong room. If you’re not familiar with the location, check it out a few days in advance so you know where to go and what the room will be like. Exam rooms here can be very large, strange and intimidating at first so do yourself a favor and get used to it beforehand.

Leave early when you are going to the test because you never know what can happen along the way. Traffic, construction, and many emergencies can stop you from getting there on time and can cost many marks.

There’s also an art to the moments before tests begin. First, make sure you use the bathroom before you go into the test room!!! I’ve written too many tests where I couldn’t think straight because I had to go so badly!

Second, you have to keep centered when you’re waiting to get into test room with all your classmates. I’ve found that students can hugely destabilize each other outside test rooms. Some people are so stressed that they’re shaking, unclean and sleep-deprived and their behavior can rattle others.

The other thing you have to watch out for students who try to rattle you and your classmates. I’ve played plenty of games with such people. They may try to shake your confidence by asking you if you reviewed obscure topics just to make you worry, and suggesting that weird questions you’ve never heard of will be on the test. They also act overly confident and may try getting you to lend them pencils or erasers just to bother you and to eliminate your spares.

Avoid those people as best you can and remember that you only need to trust yourself and your instinct. I remind myself to expect that behavior so I can shrug off their nonsense. They are laughable so you might even be able to get a good chuckle from them if you need it!

When you finally begin the test, you’re near the finish line! Listen to your exam invigilators and follow their instructions carefully so you don’t break any rules. Monitor your use of time and leave yourself with enough time at the end to check your work. Stay for the whole duration of the test. You may wonder, “why am I the first one done?” or, “why am I the last one done? Why is everybody leaving already?” Don’t worry about what everyone else is doing, only focus on your test. Use every minute, fight for every mark. If a question is about something you didn’t prepare for, you may feel a jolt of panic. Breathe, and keep centered if this happens. Skip to a different question if necessary and come back at the end.

Don’t give up on any questions! Finish all the questions you know the best and use the time you’ve left yourself at the end to squeeze as many marks from the difficult ones as possible! You will surprise yourself with how many marks you can earn yourself with this extra effort and you definitely deserve those marks! Leave all the energy you have in that test room, and your result will be the best reward you can give yourself.

Fighting for every mark is hard and takes lots of motivation. I attended a talk by Chantal Fiola–a Métis scholar of identity, politics, and spirituality–on March 16th. I was even given the honor of conducting the smudge for all attendees at the beginning of the presentation! Chantal shared many invaluable lessons and insights from her life’s journey and also shared key Anishinaabe teachings, including the Seven Fires prophecy.

Her new book: http://uofmpress.ca/books/detail/rekindling-the-sacred-fire

Her explanation was an immensely helpful reminder for me of those teachings and of what our role is at U of T. We are the seventh generation. We are a new type of people with many precious gifts as well as an immensely difficult task. The path we must navigate is very hard but the hope and potential we can nourish by fighting for every single mark is worth every moment. What we do here every day at U of T, in every classroom and with every test, will cause change more positive and productive than anything that has yet been seen in the world.

I wish I could’ve thanked Chantal for reminding me to fight for every mark. The tests and assignments and endless workloads may drive us nuts, but we can always remember that we’re lucky to have the opportunity to be driven nuts by such important material and invaluable experience for the journey ahead.

UC Charity Drag Show

Coming into university I knew that there was going to be a mile long list of ‘firsts’:

My first time doing my own laundry, first 500 person lecture, first time spending over 12 hours in a library. 

However I don’t think I could have prepared myself for what came along with last year’s University College Charity Drag Show: my first time watching a friend get dressed up in drag and perform on stage to Beyoncé

My best friend Chim dancing to Beyonce at last year's drag show

My best friend Chim dancing to Beyonce at last year’s drag show

So when I got invited to this year’s 2nd Annual University College Drag show – I knew I couldn’t turn it down! With a killer line up of performers and all the proceeds going to Toronto’s LBGT Youthline it was sure to be a great night. 

Since my first day at University College, the attitude towards diversity and acceptance has overwhelmed me.  Encouraging everyone to love themselves no matter what they looked like, where they came from, or who they loved, has always been one of the things I’ve admired most about my college.

My crazy group of friends supporting Chim after his amazing performance!

My crazy group of friends supporting Chim after his amazing performance!

Events like the drag show are what really inspired me to get involved with my college, and was even one of the events that pushed me to apply for my Life@UofT job.  I wanted to experience more of these amazing events, and help other people experience them too. 

As for the event itself, let me start by saying that these Queens outdid any makeup or hair I could ever do. (I’m also now a firm believer that men wearing skirts and heels should be a daily occurrence, as I have never seen legs look so good in my life)  The Kings were equally impressive, rocking everything from the Beiber flow to baggy pants.

However, the real jaw-dropping happened when they took the stage.  Dancing to everything from 80s fem-rock classics, to today’s top 40, these men and women gave Rue Paul’s Drag Race a run for their money. 

To compliment these amazing performances, the UClit throws quite the party.  The JCR was dimly lit with oversized couches and an enormous amount of food. The performances were broken up with raffles and hilarious commentary by the MCs. 

One of the art instillations created by the AVSSU, that acted as the stage backdrop

One of the art instillations created by the AVSSU, that acted as the stage backdrop

This year the JCR was also covered in art instillations. The Architecture and Visual Studies Student Union created five different stunning art instillations that added another layer of interest and entertainment to the event. 

However the best part of the night wasn’t the beautiful art, the delicious food or amazing performances.  It was the palpable energy that ran through the air.  There was an undeniable sense of carefreeness.  These men and women were up there, dancing and having a good time, without an ounce of worry that someone was going to judge them or laugh at them.  They were supporting an amazing cause while getting one of the most memorable experiences of their life.  But most of all, they were just having fun. 

Living in a big city and going to such a diverse school, it can be easy to forget the rest of the world.  That hundreds of boys and girls live every day hiding who they are out of fear of being punished or ridiculed.  Thats why unique events such as this are so important.  They help make this school and, in a small way the rest of the world, a better place.

The Road Ahead: Planning for Post-Exam Life

“I can’t believe this year’s already over!” we all say to ourselves in disbelief. In just over a month (even sooner for some people) we’ll be done with exams and will be free for four months. Now I know many of you have likely started figuring out your summers already, since jobs, travel plans etc. are often best planned in advance. But, if you’re like me and have procrastinated on post-exam Life: Have no fear – Api is here!

I have compiled a list of my summer options, which are my alternatives to the summer endeavours that I should have (probably) started a few months ago…(I’m only human.)

Hopefully this will help me decide on what to do this summer, and will offer some inspiration to a world of procrastinators and beyond:

1. Employment: Okay to be clear, with jobs, EARLIER IS ALWAYS BETTER. But don’t fret my friends, because it is not too late! Many places around the city are still hiring and continue to hire into the summer. Places with high traffic in the summer (such as tourist destinations) tend to hire progressively throughout the summer as well, based on need. Realistically, it might not be exactly what you wanted, but if money is the motivation, then you have plenty of hope!

Special Tip: Check out the U of T Career Centre (aka my life and soul), either in person on online for job postings, resume building and more! A few other personal favourites for job postings include TalentEgg or Indeed.Ca!

Api in a blazer in an office setting

I Wear Blazers So Please Hire Me: A Student Saga.

2. Travel: Unfortunately, I don’t have a lot of experience planning large trips abroad, so I know that’s likely out of the question for me this year. BUT did you know Ontario is kind of an amazing province? A weekend up north at Georgian Bay or a Toronto Staycation is exactly what I need this summer (and it won’t disrupt school, work or anything else I want to do!

Api sitting on rock formation overlooking a lake at Georgian Bay

Ontario, yours to discover!

3. Study: The schedule for the summer term came out fairly recently, and as always, there’s a wide array of courses being offered.  Ah, summer school. It may help you finish your course requirements faster, or let you take a more intensive course without the distraction of other classes. And it probably has many other perks for some! But alas, it is school. In the summer.

Photo of empty chairs at Hart House Library

One of the many summer term perks: EMPTIER LIBRARIES

Special Tip: If you’re taking 1.0 credits continuously from May-August, then you’re eligible for the summer work-study program! Yay for more employment options!

Bonus Suggestion: Binge-watch things. I’ve barely kept up with my TV shows this year. I think that justifies watching ALL of 2014/2015’s TV gold AT ONCE, right?

So that’s a little peek into my summer, folks! What is your summer looking like, U of T? If you have any tips for what I can explore for the next third of my year, let me know down in the comments!