Finding Relaxing Spaces around U of T

Although I may sound like a broken record, I still have mono. What is worse, this mono is impacting my medications, meaning my anxiety is on high gear. On the bright side, however, I am getting much better and my mental health is significantly improving.

When I got diagnosed with mono a few weeks back, I was so tired that I couldn’t even leave my dorm room. I also didn’t feel like seeing my friends for fear of giving them my illness. As a result, I was lonely and depressed along with being incredibly sick and tired.

But when I started to feel better, I was able to get out of my room. While time has proven to be the best medicine, I also noticed that my mood was greatly correlated with my surrounding space. I found that when my environment had lots of sunlight (Vitamin D from sunlight is proven to help with mood) and I was surrounded by some of my close friends, I felt significantly happier. Furthermore, whenever the room was quiet and calm, I was able to better focus on my readings and assignments as well.

The point is your environment can sometimes make all the difference in your mental wellbeing. So without further ado, here are some places I find relaxing and calming around campus, and hope you will too:

  1. Trinity College Quad

    Me in front of the Trinity College Quad. You can see only a little bit of it as it is hiding behind my massive head.

    As you can all see, the Trinity Quad is beautiful, with the concrete design and an occasional friendly squirrel. There has also been reports that a small hawk hangs around and plays with our assistant dean’s dog.

  2. Philosopher’s Walk

    A selfie of me with a small glimpse of Philosopher's Walk.

    The beautiful Philosopher’s Walk where people think about Socrates and Kierkegaard while having a a venti ice coffee with no ice.

  3. Junior Common Room (Trinity College)

    Me taking up the entire photo expect a little show of one of the bookshelves.

    The Junior Common Room at Trinity College! It is open 24 hours and has books on the shelves that no one reads! What a lovely place. And before you say, “Haley is this a tour of Trinity College or U of T?” let me just say that the UC JCR is also quite lovely (and bigger) and they have coffee and goodies you can buy! What a win-win. Thumbs up UC folks.

  4. Graham Library

    Me in the stacks of Graham Library

    “Why in the world is Haley taking selfies in the library?”

  5. UC Quad

    Me at the UC Quad trying not to be spotted.

    Hangzies in the UC Quad. Love the architecture around here. Also tried not to laugh when a student loudly was saying, “oh my god, is she from that U of T blog thing?!?” *Haley runs awkwardly away to the UC JCR after this photo*

Now you may be thinking- “Haley! It is so cold out! I can hang around the quad or Queen’s Park to relax.” Aside from the fact that I am from Edmonton so I really don’t ever find Toronto cold (as I am writing this now, Edmonton is -20°C…Toronto is -2°C), I am a person that regularly needs to get outside for breaks. Walking around aimlessly out  in the sun is one of my favourite activities and something that really calms my mind (hence why I was once so addicted to cigarettes).

Nevertheless, all of us are different. My biggest suggestion is to find something, anything that helps you feel calm during this exam season. For me, managing my stress levels largely comes down to hanging out in a positive and calming environment; for you it might be going to Hart House and exercising for an hour. Whatever it is, I hope you keep it up to stay healthy and stress-free as we head into these final few weeks of the term.

Lots of love,

Haley

Preparing for the end of the semester and beyond

The semester is almost over. If you’ve had a tough and difficult semester, you should take a moment to congratulate yourself for getting this far. School isn’t easy.

But, unless you are ready to graduate this semester and have already completed all your coursework, there is still more to do. I’ve decided to recap a few things that might be relevant.

1. Check (or double-check) your exam schedule.

I am sure almost everyone has done this by now. Still, it doesn’t hurt to check again. If you deferred your exam, you can find the new date and time here. If you have registered to write your exam with accommodations, you will receive an email the day before your exam is scheduled informing you when and where to report for your exam. If you have both deferred your exam and are writing it with accommodations, consult with Accessibility Services.

If you have not deferred your exam or have not registered to write your exam with accommodations but you would like to, the deadline for applying for these considerations has long passed. But, if you have a good reason for having missed the deadline or you have a truly pressing need for a deferral or accommodation, you can petition for late consideration, so you should go speak with your registrar right away.

2. Finish (or get an extension for) any outstanding work.

If you were unable to finish your any coursework or you simply enjoy the whooshing sound deadlines make as they go by, then this is the time to go speak with your prof about what you can do to make up that course work. Assignments may be accepted late or be re-weighted for you at your prof’s discretion. If you are registered with accessibility services, you can contact your disability counsellor, who can communicate with your prof regarding why you might need extensions or re-weighting. Otherwise, you should go speak to your registrar, who certainly would know more than I do about what you can do in the case that you need an extension or re-weighting.

Some profs will outline their policy for extensions on the syllabus for the course. If you are lucky enough to be explained the policy, you should try to follow it if you can.

3. Plan out your studying.

Ideally, studying is a semester-long process of deep understanding and thorough competence of the material you are learning. In practice, studying is much more mundane. Depending on how well you have prepared beforehand, the study period between the end of classes and your exams will range anywhere from a desperate last-ditch attempt to stuff relevant facts in your brain, in the place where phone numbers used to be, to a final refresher on key concepts. Either way, you should look at your schedule and try to divide up your time in a way that will allow you to study well over the next couple of weeks. Here’s a helpful tool to create a five-day study plan.

4. Take a break.

I don’t even want to justify this: Too much school can burn you out. Use the time you have to reconnect with friends and loved ones.

5. Prepare for next semester.

Classes start again on the 5th of January, and they don’t relent until Reading Week in February. Go over your Winter Timetable again. Make sure you want to be in the classes you are in. If you find yourself still on a long waitlist, now may be the time to consider what course you will take instead. Research the texts you will need for your courses. If they are available at a U of T library, go check them out and see what they are like. You may also be able to find them at a great price through a third-party. Knowing is half the battle, so don’t wait until January the 5th to stumble through the first few days of classes.

That’s all I have to say on that. Hopefully your next semester goes as well or better than ever before!

Charles vs. The Turkey

Or: How I learned to Stop Worrying and Love the S-Bomb

Chapter One

Turkey, Peacock, great-concrete-brutalist-monolith-of-doom… whatever you prefer to call it, I spent the first four years of my undergrad without studying in Robarts library. I had never felt the need. There were so many other spaces on campus that seemed less, well depressing. And even then, I rarely used the other libraries either. I was content, where-ever I was living (I’ve moved every year) to study in bed, on the couch, in the park, anywhere but the library.

There was something daunting about the size of the library, that you need ID to access the books, the mysterious 5th to 8th floors, the consummate concrete, the artificial lighting, and the air of agony of studying students, which made it seem all-too-like a prison to be a comfortable space to study.

And the triangles. All those triangles. The lights: glowing fangs. The library baring its teeth.

So I avoided Robarts. Then, in fifth year, a series of unfortunate events found me willingly entering Robarts, inviting myself into incarceration, into the belly of the beast (if a turkey can be considered a beast): 1. An article I needed was not available online, and 2. I don’t have internet access at home (I’ll talk about 2 a little more next week). As a result, I had no choice but to tackle the turkey, to pursue the peacock, to reconsider Robarts.

Photo out of a Robarts window. But not quite "out of" because it's dark and the inside light is reflecting. But, you get the idea.

The view’s not so bad, to start.

To be brief, it wasn’t so bad: an anticlimactic realization five years in the making. I even got used to the triangles. There’s little to say about UofT libraries at this point: you all know that they’re top ranked, full of great books, have plenty of study space, etc. That’s not new[s] to you, nor me. But that’s not what this post is about. This post is about the “s”-bomb…

Chapter Two

…that is, to “shh”. Starting to use the libraries means I had also to transcend my private notion of a study space: there were other people there. And people can be loud. If there is one thing that is misunderstood about the UofT libraries, it’s that they are not sound proof: study rooms are not sound proof. They are not meant for dance parties. They are not meant for rocketing laughter or full-volume conversation. They are not meant for catching up on Spongebob episodes. But sometimes people forget this fact. And that’s okay—people forget things. Still, it can still be infuriating. So, what is one to do?

“Shh”

In a future post, we might go into more detail about how to go about shushing; it’s not always easy to do. But, I’ve made a new habit of shushing, and have a few quick tips to tide you over until that later post.

  1. Make eye contact, or don’t. There are pros and cons to each. If you don’t want them to know you are the shusher, shush into your lapel or your book. But, if you want to guarantee maximum shushage, look them in the eye. Single them out. Let them know that shush is for them.
  2. Speak if you can’t shush. If you have to confront a study room, it can be a little weird to open the door just to utter “shh” and walk away. Use your words: it also means other people can hear you, and the shushees will know that everyone knows they got called out.
  3. Be polite, offer alternatives. It’s hard to quarrel with politeness. Say “sorry to intrude” or “thought you should know”, and suggest that they might like to prefer to move to the cafeteria or a common space to talk (a polite ultimatum). They might not know that they’re being loud, and may appreciate the note.
  4. Borrow Peter Capaldi’s eyebrows. This option might not be available to you, but if you want to make sure you’re holding on to your assertiveness while being polite, Peter Capaldi’s eyebrows can’t do you wrong. Be polite, but on the attack.
  5. Bask in the approving nods of other library patrons. You’ve conquered the noisesome enemy; you are a library hero. Rejoice!
Just Peter Capadi's Eyebrows.

I’m technically supposed to cite where I get the photos I don’t take or create, but I’ll admit that I’ve had Capaldi’s eyebrows on my harddrive for too long to remember.

Komaba Festival

A few friends and I checked out the University of Tokyo’s annual Komaba-Sai (駒場祭) festival last weekend. One day of preparation transformed the campus’ otherwise tranquil tree-lined corridors into bustling streets of food vendors and entertainers.

This image shows the front of the University of Tokyo, Komaba Campus. Large crowds of people can be seen surrounding the front gate and clocktower.

Front Campus

This image shows a corridor at the University of Tokyo, Komaba Campus. It is lined with food vendors. Crowds of people are walking along it.

One of the many corridors.

Almost every student group was responsible for managing at least one food both (yatai) around campus. The sweet and savoury aromas of yakisoba, karaage, and manjuu coalesced in the corridors. There were about ten vendors selling each of these items, making them some of the most popular dishes on campus. Extreme competition forced members of each vendor to market their product –  to desperately try to diversify it from the other similarly priced and cooked dishes; they made up for their products’ unoriginality with fierce enthusiasm and persuasion.

This image shows deep-fried banana in a paper cup.

Fried Banana

After indulging in a few dishes, we found our way to the performance areas. I was amazed by how diverse the types of performance were. In the forty-five minutes we spent at the stages, we saw dance routines, barbershop choruses, jugglers, hula dancers, and more.

This image shows a man wearing a pink sweatshirt and white pants holding bowling pins. He is about to juggle them.

One of the jugglers preparing for his performance.

This image shows a man playing a guitar and singing into a microphone.

We found even more things to see inside some of the school’s buildings. Classrooms had been converted to exhibits for various campus groups. Similar to the performances, the classrooms represented the diversity of the University of Tokyo’s extracurricular activities. In one hallway alone, there was a room for chess, shougi, and go; a photography and film exhibit; an origami workshop; and a room displaying original optical illusions. These were just a few of the many showcases.

This image shows an origami display on a table.

One of the origami displays.

Every room promised something new and exciting to see. Our curiosity led us to every exhibit. After exhausting ourselves, we grabbed some yakitori for the road, and called it a day. The festivities ended shortly afterwards.

Komaba-Sai was one of the highlights of my time at the University of Tokyo so far. It was incredible to see every student organization represented in one cohesive event. The festival was revelatory; it was an opportunity for students to meet outside the usual setting of the classroom, and share their otherwise hidden hobbies with each other. The event also made me think of U of T. In a way, Komaba-Sai was a sort of grander version of U of T’s Clubs Fair in Hart House Circle, with even more club representation. Of course, U of T has diverse forms of student life too. I think it would be great for school spirit and club awareness if U of T could run a festival similar to Komaba-Sai: one in which all student organizations are represented in a celebration of student life.

That’s all for this week. If you have any questions about student life at the University of Tokyo, feel free to comment below.

Winter is coming… Oh Wait

Unless you haven’t looked out a window and/or been outside in the last 3 days, you may have noticed that winter is here. As exams descend upon us, and winter freezes everything in it’s path, including my morale, motivation and productivity, it’s easy to justify spending countless hours on the computer, doing assignments or completing tasks for student groups. For me, especially in the winter months, even leisure time starts being spent on the computer, watching movies, TV shows, or pinning DIYs on Pinterest (don’t judge me).

PIcture of St George St. covered in snow

See that? That’s misery summed up in a photo.

My responsibilities from school, work and clubs require me to stay fairly connected for most of the week. Staying connected is not a bad thing, but constantly spending time in front of a computer screen or on my phone screen can be exhausting.

Studies have shown correlations between increased time in front of a screen (television, computer, and video games) and unhealthy outcomes. It could lead to trouble sleeping, attention problems, vision problems or even unhealthy eating habits.

I could go on about the health effects of too much screen time, but alas friends, this is not Dr. Api, Web M.D.  The truth is, everyone’s different and it could affect them differently.

The way I see it,  at a time in my life when I have to spend most of my day in front of a screen, I want to try to make use of my free time and find other things to do. I want to develop  healthy habits that I can use in the future because I’m inevitably going to be spending time on the computer for a lot of different things.

This is why the U of T Healthy U Crew is having an UnPlug Fest on November 28th in the Bahen Center! They’re going to have different activities and strategies to do in place of being on the computer or on the phone.

poster

If you’re thinking that this is just another event that tries to get you physically active, then don’t worry. There are not just movement breaks, but also a chance to do other activities such as origami, board games, writing and more. And if that’s not enough to get you off the screen, there are also free snow cones!

If none of that is enough to stop by the Bahen Center between 12-4 next week for a well-deserved study break, then let it be known that I’ll be there hanging out too! (I won’t be signing autographs though).

Find a way to enjoy that winter “wonderland!”

Photo of sun setting behind Robarts

So tell me U of T, what do you do to stay off the screens?

Surviving the end of term crunch

This week is the last full week of classes for Arts and Science students, meaning winter break is fast approaching. Standing between us and winter break however, is the hulking menace that is the exam period (dramatic, I know). Somehow I lucked out and only have one exam during the exam period but I also have a large final project in 3 of my classes, and small final projects in the other 2 – so I’m still pretty stressed out. When I have a lot due it can be really tempting to just lock myself in my room and watch Netflix and cry not emerge until everything is done so this year I’m making a special effort to get out and recharge during this end of term crunch.

To remind myself of the joy that will come after all these assignments are done I’ve turned to my second favourite genre of music: Christmas music. Listening to Christmas music always makes me happy so I have a (very large) playlist of it on my phone to listen to while studying or walking across campus.

an Iphone 5 held up in front of grass with an image of a christmas album on it. The song playing is elvis "santa bring my baby back to me"

nothing like Elvis to get you in the Christmas mood

knox college quad is shown with a curtain blowing out of a window. When the weather is nice out walking through campus can be really pleasant, as you all know by now I’m in love with Knox College so I always walk through their cloisters if I’m going that way.picture of the knox college cloisters. the shot is from the doors looking west and shows the empty arched cloister with a bench and some hanging planters.

The bamboo garden in the Donnelly Centre is a place that I’ve always heard about but never visited before now. It’s absolutely beautiful and super peaceful in there so its the perfect place to go if you just need a break from studying, rushing to class, or general holiday chaos. Being surrounded by so much green also makes it easy to forget that it’s winter outside, I envision myself spending a lot of time here come February when we’ve all forgotten what grass looks like. bamboo and other tropical ferns contrast a cement barrier between them and a walkway at the Donnelly Center donnelly center bamboo garden. a girl is sittting on a bench in the background. In front of her are trees and shurbs and a lamp post. she is sitting against a light yellow brick wall. the bamboo garden at the donnely centre. the left side of the image is the garden while the right side is the white hallway. bamboo garden at the donnelly center. there is a wooden platform with a bench surrounded by trees and shrubs. DSCF4580

 

How are you surviving the end of term crunch U of T? What are your favourite places to go to/things to do to keep you on track during this busy time? 

 

Funding Opportunities for Exchange Students

In my first two years at U of T, I got the sense that many students were anxious about some of the purported costs of going on exchange. I heard that studying abroad was exponentially more expensive than studying at U of T. Fortunately, attending a few information sessions helped to clarify the real costs of studying abroad. It turns out that for students who already pay for their own food and rent in Toronto, the price of the plane ticket is the only major added cost of studying abroad. School fees don’t change! The Centre for International Experience’s (CIE) agreements with its partner institutions allow U of T students to pay their regular U of T tuition when on exchange. This means that your school fees are not vulnerable to exchange rates. Moreover, you can study at otherwise relatively expensive universities by paying your relatively cheaper U of T tuition. Students participating in one of CIE’s various programs can also apply for scholarships, to help them make the most of their time abroad. Here are some of the funding sources that I looked into before leaving for Japan.

The Centre for International Experience (CIE) sponsors a number of scholarships and bursaries for its outbound exchange students.  Some of the awards have specific criteria, e.g. collegiate affiliation or host country, but others are primarily based on academic merit and/or financial need. You can find a full listing of CIE’s scholarships and bursaries here. Students considering the University of Tokyo or University of Kyoto should look into CIE’s Mitsui Canada Foundation Student Scholarship, valued at $15,000.

Many host countries’ governments also sponsor scholarships for their inbound exchange students. Japan and Germany are two great examples. For short-term (up to one year) exchange students, the Japanese Government sponsors the merit-based Japan Student Services Organization (JASSO) Scholarship, valued at ¥80,000 (approximately $800) per month for the duration of your stay. Over the course of two semesters, or approximately ten months, this amounts to a significant contribution: 10 months × ¥80,000 = ¥800,000. I am less familiar with public scholarships in other countries, but I know that Germany’s DAAD program also offers financial support to inbound exchange students.

The Faculty of Arts & Science also provides a number of scholarships in cooperation with various departments. These awards are open to all students within a particular department, instead of just exchange students, which means that the applicant pool is larger. However, mentioning your admission to an exchange program will likely make your application stand out. You can find a listing of each department’s scholarships here.

Each college also offers a number of scholarships.

Lastly, external scholarships can be great, albeit harder to find, sources of funding. The University of Toronto does not offer a comprehensive list of external scholarships, so it is up to you to do some research, and see what is out there for your field of study. Students interested in Japanese studies should check out Toronto’s Shinki-Kai Scholarship in 2015.

If you nail down enough scholarships, studying abroad can even be more affordable than studying in Toronto!

Now that I’m in Japan, I’m glad that I investigated the real costs of going on exchange. If I had relied on rumours, I likely wouldn’t have applied to CIE. I would’ve missed out on the awesome experience that I’m having in Tokyo right now. If you have any questions about funding your time abroad, feel free to comment below.

Ondiek Goes to… a Feminist Comedy Show

Last night I had the pleasure of being able to attend the hilarious (and equitable) Crimson Wave Comedy Show at the Comedy Bar! The event was jointly sponsored by both Rainbow Trinity (have I mentioned before that Haley’s the president?!) and the Woodsworth Inclusive (WINC).

I found out about the event pretty last minute. I’ve been cramming and writing this entire week, and for a few days I completely forgot that social media existed. Okay – that was an exaggeration. I was still on Facebook doing my usual educating/creeping, when I finally saw that I was invited to this event. While multitasking typing a final paper and shoving graham crackers into my mouth, I deduced I was too busy to go to the event. But after my word count hit ‘1587/2000’ at 8pm, I decided that I deserved this. Also, Haley agreed to proofread my paper.

A picture of the Trinity College quad covered in snow, with a nice reddish filter for added effect.

Our beautiful designated meeting spot.

I’ve been to a few stand-up shows in my lifetime, but I’ve never been to a “feminist” comedy show, so my third-wave feminist self was naturally very excited to attend the event. Also, the fact that it was located at the Comedy Bar on Ossington, which is directly on my way home , and more importantly 5 steps away from a McDonalds, made the deal even better.

So, after meeting in the quad, we left to go on the magical spaceship that is the TTC! And after about 10 minutes of utter vehicular euphoria, we were there. We had to walk on the sidewalk for like 3 minutes too, but I’ll just pretend the subway dropped us off in front of the venue.

The front of the Comedy Bar. The Comedy Bar sign is glowing red in the night, and Crimson Wave is performing at 9:30pm!

The Comedy Bar!

We got seated, and the show started. The opening monologue of the show was done by self-proclaimed besties Natalie Norman and Jess Beaulieu. They were absolutely hilarious; I don’t know what I expected from a duo named the ‘Crimson Wave,’ but they definitely lived up to their name. They constantly went there with their jokes, and I cheered as obnoxiously as Regina’s mom in the timeless 2004 classic Mean Girls.

Natalie and Jess (AKA Crimson Wave) performing their opening monologue in front of a red velvet curtain stage.

Natalie and Jess “tearing down the house!”

The rest of the acts were funny (and mostly equitable) as well! I had so much respect for the acts that were just starting on the stand-up scene. It takes a lot to be comfortable enough to put yourself out there, and still be witty. They’ve inspired me – maybe one day I will get into feminist stand-up?

So, thank you Rainbow Trin and WINC for coordinating this event, I had a spectacular night. I’ll definitely check it out again during the break. It happens every Sunday!

 UofT, how do you like your comedy? How about your feminism?

How Things got Bad – Then got Better

Such was the advice I’ve needed over the past few days. I’m convinced that the most recent 25 views or so have been me hitting “replay”.

As suggested by my lack of (and tardy) posts, these past few weeks have been rough.

Assignments have taken longer than expected. I’ve felt unable to be at full strength for either of my two jobs. And just over a week ago, I received some failing test grades.

Now I have written about receiving poor grades, and preventing negative feelings, but this was so devastating that neither seemed sufficient to explain how I felt or help me get through it.

The course in question was my final pick of the term, a course I needed to even out my schedule, but didn’t necessarily need for my program requirements. But it quickly turned into my most demanding.

The lectures were hard to follow, and the course materials in an alternate format arrived a couple weeks into the course. This meant I had to rely on support from one of the course’s two Teaching Assistants. I also formed a study group of people I hadn’t met before to work through material and practice problems. Once I had access to it, I spent many a night reading the course pack and working through the examples it contained.

And I still failed the first test, and just passed the second.

The silly thing was that the tests didn’t feel too bad. I felt I was on top of the work and the material, more or less. To find I wasn’t — right when I needed to be splitting my focus between all my courses to accommodate mid-terms and finals over December — was a shock. What do I do now? How can I save this term? The final’s worth 60 per cent of the course grade — what if I don’t even pass that? And my other courses! They’re program requirements!

Needless to say, I didn’t handle it particularly well. It made my other posts seem flippant.

Here’s what I did after receiving the bad news:

  • Cried. To the course’s second TA whom I’d never met before (she had the test grades handy). To a friend I met for dinner afterwards. To my sister over the phone. To my mum over the phone. By myself. (I unabashedly cry in public; just ask the friends who went to The Fault in Our Stars with me…)
  • Got mad. Wondered aloud why I’d spent so much time on a course that wasn’t a program requirement at the possible expense of courses that were. Raged that I’d done solid (as far as I could tell) work and still come up short. Questioned why I left school in my hometown to come back to U of T at all. Hated that I’d even thought that.
  • Sulked. Tapped into my arsenal of therapy tools with some success. Finished an assignment for another course while questioning my intelligence. Did work but couldn’t concentrate well. Slept fitfully and napped for the first time all term. Watched too many Grey’s Anatomy clips on YouTube. Drowned my sorrows in a Grande Peppermint Mocha: my first Starbucks in a while. Spent too long flicking through my iTunes library to find an appropriately peppy song to get me going or reflective song to be in the moment with. Coldplay, The Dixie Chicks, Glee cast, Allison Hinds, Drake, Fleetwood Mac, My Chemical Romance, angry Taylor Swift, The Killers, Bedouin Soundclash, Lorde, and any non-Disney songs from the soundtrack to the Broadway production of The Lion King all made appearances on this week’s playlist. Considered adding Les Misérables, but figured that was getting too melodramatic. Found One Direction and Taylor Swift’s new stuff on YouTube. Questioned my claim to adulthood as a result.
  • Got sensible. Discussed matters with my parents, something I definitely didn’t do the last time I was here. Realized the gaping holes in my knowledge. Sought a tutor. Spoke to the instructor of the course in question and had a rational and productive discussion. Considered late withdrawal as a last resort. Went to lectures and took some of the best notes I’ve made all term. Used my very basic HTML  knowledge (just because I could) to write down a master to-do list of everything I wanted to get done over the next week for each course, my jobs, and any personal miscellaneous tasks. Noticed my rising panic and second-guessing ebb away as this list of concrete things to get done by a specific date came into being all in one place.

Though I constantly feared (and fear) a slide into behaviours of my past — where I eventually gave up on pretty much everything — this was not the case. It hasn’t been a great week by any stretch, but I’m slowly digging myself out of the hole I landed in, with much help from family, friends, and time.

I wanted to share this with you because it not only has absorbed my mental energy all week, but it also is a thumbnail sketch of how things can get bad, but then get better with the proper tools and a bit of rational problem-solving.

I will leave you with another inspiring classic movie quote to get you through the coming weeks.

Gearing Up

Brace yourselves: exams are coming. Don’t forget about essays and assignments due soon. I know how daunting these tasks can be, especially in first year. But we’re all in this together!

Street-level view, looking up into a snowy night sky amidst the glowing lights of towers and old Victorian houses

In this crazy huge community, we have to stick together to make it through the hard winters (Photo by Zachary Biech)

It’s all in the way you think about working. When I feel overwhelmed, I tell myself to breathe, not to worry and that there are many hours between me and the tests or due dates. When you see how many hours you have, your subconscious can adjust to the overwhelming to-do list and plan how to use that time. The power of the mind is limitless!

I also try to look forward to the holidays. For my holiday, it means flying home to snowy, frigid Alberta for some serious chillaxation. Winter is a great time. It’s a time of rest, peace, and reflection. We just have to get through the fall semester, our peak mentally focused time, reel in those marks and get those jobs done. Then we’re home-free.

Family support is key. I know too many students who don’t have strong enough family connectivity and it’s heart-breaking. Everybody needs a hand sometimes and everybody (including young people like us working hard on our studies) deserves a hand.

I’m a lucky, lucky guy. My parents and I are best pals and our little family stays connected no matter what. My Dad stayed with me last summer and my Mom came to visit me right at the time that I started this blog post! She and I always have a great time together in Toronto and perhaps we can share some of that fun with you too!

A snowy afternoon sky, surrounded by the massive bright signs on all the buildings at Yonge-Dundas Square, with a large silvery ornamental evergreen tree right in the middle

My Mom and I thought the holiday display at Yonge-Dundas Square was pretty cool (Photo by Zachary Biech)

Once she was settled in my apartment after the long flight, my Mom gave me some amazing gifts from the Tsuu T’ina peoples who live just west of Calgary to liven up my place. We also reorganized and redecorated my bachelor-pad. I can’t take all the credit for my home layout; I’ve had an excellent interior designer helping me.

A large dream-catcher with three bundles of feathers, hanging above the bar in my kitchen

A new Tsuu T’ina dream-catcher, chosen special for me by my parents! (Photo by Zachary Biech)

Four coasters, hand-woven beige cloth with rich dark blue, turquoise, and orange  imagery

My Mom also gave me these beautiful Tsuu T’ina coasters, among many other little items (Photo by Zachary Biech)

You don’t need family to do this, and if you’re lonely, a change is as good as a rest. Even the little things can make a world of difference. Little things, like moving some furniture, sorting, and redecorating, can have a big impact.

Fancy blue and red decorative boxes placed in a row, with a Métis sash draped over one, on top of my TV stand next to hilarious little Lego sets

Some new interior design mastery atop my TV stand (Photo by Zachary Biech)

One of the shelves in the middle of my apartment, no longer in line with it's larger neighbour, thus freeing up much more space

Shifting this shelf 90 degrees may seem like no big deal, but for a guy who’s used to it the other way, this is life-changing (Photo by Zachary Biech)

There’s a lot of wintertime fun downtown. While we were window shopping on Bloor Street in the Yorkville ritzy area (my Mom loves the awesome window displays; you can’t get those back home!) we even caught a glimpse of a big holiday parade.

A giant metal reindeer standing in a hall in Eaton Centre, with the big skylight as the backdrop

Eaton Centre has these giant holiday reindeer to terrify us into shopping faster (Photo by Zachary Biech)

But there’s even more to this winter wonderland. We toured all over snowy downtown. We even made it to the Anishinaabe Artists of the Great Lakes special exhibit at the Art Gallery of Ontario. It was massive! Each piece of artwork had a powerful story attached to it and each was more moving than the last. I can’t describe the beauty. You have to see them yourself.

The wavy exterior design of the Art Gallery of Ontario, totally draped in snow

Snowy day at the AGO (photo by Zachary Biech)

The ultra-modern, wavy wooden rafters in behind the AGO's crazy glass exterior

Now we know what that crazy glass part of the AGO looks like from the inside (Photo by Zachary Biech)

Giant printing on the gift shop wall which says "This is the mos important place in the museum"

This giant sign is on the wall in…you guessed it…the gift shop (Photo by Zachary Biech)

We’re entering a time of celebration. Even if you’re on your own, remember: celebrate your home, celebrate what you’re working towards.