Being Graceful 24/7

I’ve been going strong with my ballet classes at the Athletic Centre, but I can’t believe I’ve completed a semester of pirouetting. Honestly, it still has not hit me that I will no longer be going to the dance studio every week to practice my dance moves—however, that doesn’t mean that the dancing has to be over!

Over the course of the semester, I learned to incorporate one of the toughest type of sports into my daily life. I practiced the art of strengthening my core by correcting my posture while in class, I kept up with my planking, and I stayed faithful to my warm up stretches. When I was not in the dance studio, I tried my best to incorporate every graceful aspect of ballet in between dance classes. Now, I call that discipline.

I remember attending my first class and having to depend on looking at the wall-length mirror for guidance as the instructor called out positions. Now I feel as if I’m on autopilot when it comes to going from one position to another—it’s slowly becoming second nature to me.

1st position, feet are angled opposite from one another while touching at the heels.

2nd position, feet are still angled opposite from one another, but this time a few inches apart.

3rd position, one foot is placed in front of the other while still angled opposite.

4th position, same as 3rd position, but this time a few inches apart.

Are you noticing the pattern here?

Last but not least, the 5th position, where feet touch each other again, but heel to toe.

Dancing does not have to be an optical illusion. -VIA MOILLUSIONS.COM

See, I got this. And I’ve improved with each class!

With practicing straightening my posture while in and out of class, I’ve also found myself focused dancing gracefully. I decided to look at my participation in ballet as something more than just physical activity. After all, ballet is both a sport and an art form. As time went by, I learned that balance within my core is key when trying to perfect the plié and tendu. I found myself more in-control than ever and I’ve been able to twirl around the dance studio with a little more self confidence. Most of all, I’ve been able to relax while going to this class, which was much needed considering how exam season is here.

I started this class with sore feet, but I think I’ve been able to toughen up after all of that practice.
I’m never going to be a professional ballerina, but hey, one can dream.

One can dream though! -VIA 5-SECONDS-OF-IDOLS.TUMBLR.COM

What have you done to prepare yourselves for exams while staying active?


in which goodbyes are about transitions

I started my blogging year writing about a conversation I had with a little girl about “’paradise”, and how a word could mean many different things to different people.


The winter version: Steeped tea and strudel

My final year of Undergrad is coming to an end.
And this year, “U of T” for me was about goodbyes.

Five years on campus means habits I’ve developed, relationships I’ve built, couches I’ve become attached to, and routines I’m comfortable in.

It is hard to envision that come September there will be no agonizing over conflicting classes, calculating textbook budgets and walking into wrong classrooms on the first day.

Saying goodbye to campus has been an intentional part of my year, and I’ve taken time to savour places, spend time with people and indulge in favourite foods.

“U of T” is also slowly shifting from being my present, to becoming my past.

When you think about it really, goodbyes really are just about transitions.
They are doorposts to new spaces, new seasons and new goals.

This is the time of the year when
we say goodbye to winter, and hopefully welcome spring.
we say goodbye to courses, professors and classmates, and hello to the exam grind.
we say goodbye to university and prepare to go to larger work environments.


There are three essential habits I practice in times of transition:

1. I give myself options

photo 3

When the season starts to change, it becomes important to pick clothing that accommodates the fluctuating weather. Wearing layers I can remove or add is a good way of providing myself with many choices that can be combined in different ways to meet any curveball the weather might throw at me.

The same philosophy applies to studying for exams or looking for jobs.
Divide your daily studying schedule into sections with different options for the day. This makes it easier to adjust to potential time you might lose to unforeseen circumstances, or even just give you room for those poor, unproductive study days.

Expand your criteria when looking for jobs and experiment with different times, environments and expectations. I’ve been looking for evening jobs for next year, and it’s surprising how future plans change when jobs don’t span the typical 9AM-5PM time slot.

2.  I listen to good music

photo 1

Need I say more?
Music will be with us for most of the study season. It will energize us when we are tired, isolate us when we need focus, and empathize with us in the wee hours of dawn before a final.

Meet musician Mandy, who herself is in a time of transition.

Her personal EP is in the works. :)

Check out her free downloads on Facebook
Her stuff is my current study playlist. : )

3. I surround myself with good company

Keep your relationships close.
They will become your rock in times of trouble.
But even more than that, they also will live completely different experiences, and can offer you a completely different perspective on the future. I have friends who are taking time off next year to travel, moving to another country to work, starting entry-level jobs, or are continuing with Education.

For the last five years, U of T has been a space for other lives to intersect with mine, stories that have built little bridges of relationships, and long hours of conversation.

photo 2

It is time to move on,
but I am not going alone,
and that makes all the difference.

To Prospective MoveU’ers

Right now, many high school students are looking at their offers of acceptance and making big decisions. Part of that decision is considering what a university has to offer, lifestyle-wise (hey, university is more than just academics).

Staying active is crucial to your university experience. So to any of you prospective student readers out there, let me share with you some of the best aspects of U of T St. George campus.

The Athletic Centre
Ah, the good ol’AC. If you’re looking for a gym to work out in, or to take drop-in and registered classes that range from Parkour to Pilates, you’re covered. This place is legitimate — there is a dance studio (which I am currently taking ballet classes in), a 50-feet Olympic pool, field house, spinning room, weight room and various other rooms filled with brand new, and top of the art exercise equipment, you can spend days exploring this behemoth of a building.

Lo and behold, the Athletic Centre. VIA PHYSICAL.UTORONTO.CA

The Athletic Centre is also near another behemoth — the concrete peacock library of our time, Robarts. Need a break from studying to go work out, or vice versa? The buildings are about three minutes away from each other. How convenient to your academic and athletic career in university!

Does it not look like a peacock though? VIA SCE.LIBRARY.UTORONTO.CA

Hart House
Personally, the fact that you can be able to say to people that the gym you go to is in a castle-like building adds more cred to what Hart House is. People call this building Hogwarts for a reason: tons of stairs and arched windows. Although this gym isn’t as spacious as the Athletic Centre, it’s a gem on the U of T campus. I love the coziness of the small weight room, and the fact that the running track is just above the gymnasium, where many drop-in and registered classes take place. Most of all, it’s located at the heart of the U of T campus, and which makes it easy to travel to.

Ye olde Hart House. VIA HARTHOUSE.CA

MoveU Passport/Co-Curricular Record

The University of Toronto has introduced the co-curricular record, which is a transcript that keeps track of your activity and participation on campus. How can I build my CCR, you ask? Participate in extra-curriculars, work in jobs on campus, and take part of CCR-recognized events and programs, such as the MoveU Passport. The MoveU Passport, as I explained in my previous post, is an initiative where taking part in weekly MoveU events and getting active will count toward your CCR. Past events held by the MoveU Passport include Dance Conditioning, Table Tennis, and many more in this drop-in schedule! I don’t know about you, but having a flawless CCR is another reason worth going to the gym for!

The best part about all of these places and programs?
You’ll be able to meet people and make new friends through being healthy and active on campus.

Cheesy, but it’s true!

If you prospective students want to ask any questions about MoveU, feel free to ask away in the comment section!



A Final Farewell to U of T

For the past four years I have said goodbye to U of T in April. But it was a tentative goodbye, said with the knowledge that I was returning to the woes and joys of student-hood in September. Now, this April, today, I am saying goodbye to U of T for the last time.

To commemorate my time here, I went for a little walk the other day. Here’s some of what I saw:


I remember when my parents dropped me off at those doors. I was nervous. I came in with boxes and bags and posters to hang on my wall. But beyond my edgy nerves, I remember the undeniable thrill of arriving. I was starting a new life, and I was making a new homeIMG_0095

When I discovered the UC Quad, I knew I was home. Standing on the low stone steps leading down onto the open green grass, and looking across at those sunlit archways, I remember how my imagination exploded with the possibilities at U of T. I dreamed up a whole life for myself, a whole new me, really. And it turns out, at a place as magical as U of T, dreams drift right into reality.


My main stomping-ground in first and second year, Hart House Library. Curled up in a red arm chair, bathed in warm sunlight, a novel laying open on my chest—it may not have been the most academically productive space, but you can’t ask for a better setting for a studying induced nap.


Yep, a secret, forbidden stairwell at Hart House. Where does it lead? I’ll leave that to the naturally adventurous…


This room in Northrop Frye Hall! There are lots of wonderful reasons that make this room special. Peices of that university dream that I never really expected would come true. I’m sure, if you think about it, there’s a room somewhere at U of T that makes you feel the same way. If not, just you wait!


The Isabel Bader Theatre is the most comfortable lecture hall at U of T. Trust me, it’s science! Not only did I have first year philosophy in this theatre, which I will never forget—because it’s first year philosophy—but the Bader was also home to The Bob sketch comedy performance. Here, in this theatre, I really got to be me, and a whole lot of other people, but mostly me.

Wow! What a great pleasure it has been to attend the University of Toronto. It was certainly the best, most fulfilling, most challenging, and most rewarding part of my life, to date. And it was extra special having the opportunity to share some of my experience with you, the U of T student community, this last year.

To all of you who ever read one of my posts, and to the whole of U of T, the professors, T.A.s, students, admin, caretakers, grounds workers, chefs, cashiers, and coat-check volunteers:

Thank You. It was diamond!

- Stephen.


What I’ve learnt being the Health and Wellness Blogger

I’m honoured to have been granted the opportunity to be the Health & Wellness blogger at UofT for the year. As a last post, I’ve decided to write about what I’ve learnt during my time writing for the Life @ UofT blog.

1. Health and wellness is about balance



In my very first post, I talked about the importance of balance in maintaining health and wellness. Writing for the blog has only strengthened my belief in that perspective. I think that the most stressful times in the life of a student are the times when we are most unbalanced. For example, think about midterms and exams—we are often under exercised, under slept and over-caffeinated.  To keep down our stress levels and maintain balance despite a busy student schedule, a good method is to…

2. Plan, plan, plan

For example, set up a schedule.  If you’re aiming to exercise regularly, schedule it. For all your assignments, estimate how much time will be needed and then build in a cushion and start working on them in advance rather than of rushing last minute and forgoing sleep. Don’t get me wrong, I love spontaneity. However, some structure is essential to maintain balance. Of course, it is possible to be spontaneous even with structure in our lives. For example, sometimes during my gym time, I’ll decide to go for an impromptu game of squash instead of my usual weight-training routine.

3. Skimping out on your health and wellness will add up



If you’re anything like me, I am always looking for shortcuts whenever I am tight on time; whether I decide to cut back on the amount of exercise and sleep I get, amongst other things that might not have made it to my priority list that week. But it adds up. Cutting down on exercise and sleep can leave you feeling tired, unwell and in a mental fog. If the effects don’t show now, it can show later on in life.  Be sure to prioritize sleep and fitness in your daily schedule.

4. Always try new things!



I’ve always loved trying new things. It has been great writing for the blog because it has introduced me to many more activities, events, groups and issues related to health and wellness than I would have been exposed to otherwise.  It also made me realize how essential it is to keep trying new things because of all the learning that can come from these experiences. I have become engaged in and exposed to ideas for maintaining my health that really work for me!  Try something new and figure out what works for you.

5. It’s not easy, but it’s achievable

Nobody’s perfect. Sometimes I find that all-nighter is inevitable, and so is having mac n’ cheese instead a well-balanced meal. However, it’s possible that we can maintain our overall balance and go after the healthy choices in our lives most of the time. Despite juggling classes, jobs and social lives, all it takes is  a bit of effort, planning, and motivation.

And  remember that at the end of the day, maintaining your health and wellness shouldn’t be seen as a chore, but an investment in you. Being healthy and well means you can think, work and feel better—it affects all aspects of your life, not only student life!


On Change: Getting Old, Saying Goodbye

I’m horrible at introducing myself. I’m not that great at saying goodbye, either, so I thought I’d get it over with at the beginning of this post. This is my last post for Life @ U of T. Blogging here has been the best ‘responsibility’ that I’ve ever had in my life. I feel super blessed to be attending an institution that offers such great opportunities, and I’ve met the coolest people on campus through this blog. I really, really encourage you guys to look around — there are so many awesome things to do on campus. Bye people. This has been awesome (picture me awkwardly patting you on the shoulder).
Now, let’s talk about change.

Last week was my birthday.


I turned 20. I keep telling people that I’m old. I am old. I’ve been alive for two whole decades. I’ve lived for 5 world cup finals (and another one this summer!), the rise and fall of email, and the completion of the human genome project. I’ve lived 170 times longer than the life-span of summer-born monarch butterflies. I. Am. Old.

I’m freaking out because I feel like things are happening too fast. There is no way overalls are considered vintage! What do you mean, I’m already halfway through my undergraduate career?

Cue Freak Out. Source:

My time at Life @ U of T is over? I’M TWENTY YEARS OLD? It’s scary thinking about how fast time flies. I can’t help but think of all the things that I could have done, experiences that I should have had, and wonder why I didn’t take advantage of the opportunities when they were sitting in my lap. At the same time, though, I think about all of the awesome crap that happened, too — my prom, my first time on an airplane, my acceptance into the University of Toronto, the first awesome job I’ve ever had — and I can’t help but be grateful to be living the life that I do.

In a nutshell, I am happy. I’m ready to take on the next decade — and the next year — and whatever comes with it. This has been an awesome year, and I’m looking forward to see what the next decade will bring.

Love, Hawa

The End of Essays

So last Tuesday I wrote an essay. I wrote it like most other essays, reluctantly and with heavy doses of caffeine. It was only after I was finished that I stopped and realized that it was the last one, the finale, the ultimate essay in my career at U of T. There will never be another, and that must mean something . . .

For some of us, these present weeks have been laden with essays. Endless visits to the library. Pulling all-nighters. (BTW, why do we say ‘pulling’ all-nighters? Any ideas? #allnighter, if you got the answer.) No time for friends, or food, or fun. Just coffee, coffee, coffee, essay, essay, essay!

If you have finished all your essays for the year, give yourself a grand ol’ pat on the back! No, really, do it! It’s very easy to take all the seemingly minor accomplishments of a university career for granted once you are elbow deep in thick of it. But any finished work was surely hard work. It took effort (some) and time (yeah) and consideration (maybe), and any combo of those deserves a moment of congratulation.

I tried to calculate how many essays I have written in my undergrad. But I’m lousy at math. I think it’s somewhere between 60 to 100 essays. That number seems really small when I think about the accumulated mass of time and stress and thought that went into each essay. But I guess memories have a certain weight to them. I’ll stick with a pat on the back.

I try to remember my final essay in first year, for HIS103 on the Spanish Civil War. I stayed up several nights in my dorm at New College. My desk was cluttered with books, orange and yellow sticky notes marking key pages. I was drinking lots of tea in first year (I was against coffee, ha). I stood from my desk and paced. I sat back down. I opened the window. I tried to find that particular passage. I remember calling my dad and he said my essay sounded interesting. I drank more tea, surrounded by books, deep in thought, scouring my sources, page 6 of 15, and trying. I was happy.

An essay is more than a developed argument. An essay is the practice of a kind of critical, analytical, and reflective thinking. An essay is the embodiment of the liberal arts pursuit, to be able to think conscientiously, coherently, with conviction, and cognisant of the consequence of our thought. To this I am happy to say I have finally finished the forceful and at times strongly resented training period, but I think I have emerged all the better for the tutelage, ready to take my essaying habits into the wider world.

But most of all an essay is a vestige of my self, like a Horcrux, but less evil. With every essay—regardless of how I felt at the time, whether I hated it or loved it—I necessarily left a piece of myself in the work. Remembering them, I can recall who I was at the time. I can map the development of me.

Til next time, U of T, stay diamond!

- Stephen.

Spring Cleaning

It’s almost the end of the year.

The end of the school year always makes me fidgety. I have to remind myself to work at a slow, steady pace — as much as I’d like to storm through all of my assignments and get them over with, slow and steady wins the race. I’m fidgety about my assignments, my exams, my grades, summer school, winter taking forever to get the heck out and make way for spring.

To clear my mind, I have a personal tradition of spring cleaning. I don’t spring clean in the regular sense. (I do dust my windows and clean under my bed, but that’s more “Mom-please-stop-yelling-at-me cleaning” than “spring cleaning”). I prepare myself for a brand new start, so that I’m ready to walk into the summer and the new school year feeling like I have a blank slate. Here’s what I will “clean” before the end of the year:

I clean out my computer. I organize my photos, delete anything that’s just taking up space, tuck my old lecture notes, assignments, and readings in a folder far away, and make sure that my desktop is as uncluttered as, well, a brand new Mac.

I clean out my closet. My favourite thing to do is to complain about how few clothes I have. By the time I’m done putting my winter clothes away, organizing my spring/summer wardrobe (yay!) and doing away with anything that don’t wear anymore, I feel like I’ve gone on a shopping spree.

I clear out my phone. I delete defunct phone numbers, and numbers that I don’t need (I mean, how often am I going to call that girl I met one time in my first year ANT100 lecture who I also have on Facebook and Twitter?). I get rid of apps that I don’t use, songs that I don’t listen to, and upload old photos to my computer.

I maintain my social media accounts. By maintain I mean delete the 100-something celebrities I follow on Instagram and Twitter and any photos and posts that might compromise my future (Just kidding…*nervous laughter*).

At the end of it all, I feel good. I feel refreshed. I feel like I can take on the world. It might sound ridiculous to some of you. In my head, by physically creating a fresh start, my mind is ready for whatever the new school year might bring.

Blogging about Blogging

For this week’s post I had the hardest time coming up with something to write about. Over the last year, I’ve been writing weekly blog posts for CTSI, in partnership with Student Life. The posts generally follow rough guidelines:

  • Word count: 400-700
  • Text blocks must be broken up by images
  • Submit by noon the day before it needs to be posted
  • Cover student life topics (in my case, also the educational aspect)
  • Write myself into each post.

Apart from the above, there really are few other rules, which means plenty of room to explore potential topics and write about all kinds of experiences.

Having to go through this process weekly for an entire year, has taught me a few things.

 1.    You almost always have to do it again.


ahh track changes, my good friend.

A blogging job means that I am not the final authority on the readiness of my writing. My post is submitted and subjected to comments and edits, which I consider in my revisions, before posting.

The feedback is crucial to me, as it gives me a better sense of what is expected of me, and points out certain bad writing habits I tend to slide into.

 2.    Find the creativity, or it might not find you.


come here you!

Not submitting a blog post on the basis of not having anything to write about is a pretty bad reason. Yet, a deadline waiting to be met is also one of the stressful things to deal with.

The key is to plan ahead, have backup ideas, and venture into new environments to look for interesting topics.

 3.    Your voice is important. Use it.


“HEY YOU ACROSS THE STREET …you have nice hair…”

This year, I’ve written about student learning, de-stressing, achievement, and done professor interviews. But I’ve also incorporated my own interests in art, music, travels, and poetry into my posts.

I’ve become more adept at making connections between different parts of me, and crafting them into reflective pieces of writing that satisfy my job expectations, but also showcase who I am. 

 4.    Professionalism is a matter of choices. 


just suck it up and keep going jasmine.

Meeting my deadlines every week means I have to know how long roughly it takes for me to draft a post, do the necessary research, or create illustrations, and include time for potential revisions. This has to be fitted into my schedule regardless of whether I have essays to hand in, functions to attend, or motivation to write.

Having to choose every week to begin the process all over again, has allowed me to experience a degree of discipline in my writing that I wouldn’t otherwise know.

 5.    You won’t accomplish everything you set out to do. 


uhh… let me get back to you on that one.

I planned to do three professor interviews, and explore more thought-provoking topics such as technology in the classroom. But the grind of schoolwork caught up, and posts that required a lot of extra research were pushed back, and never actually came to fruition.

What I am choosing to focus on, however, is what I did manage to do: I successfully did two interviews, blogged on a  variety of topics, and even wrote a couple of more practical posts I had not planned on writing.

Looking back, I feel blessed when I reflect on my personal and professional growth. These lessons have made me a better writer, a better worker, a better student and a better teacher.

As a student blogger who set out to write about learning,
I’d say I’ve done pretty well. ;)