Unplugging

I went on a wonderful camping trip this weekend. Though I was very excited to spend time with nature and catch up with my best friend, I have to admit that I was a bit apprehensive about heading into the woods and leaving my cell signal and wifi behind. What if I miss an email from a potential landlord? What if my friends get impromptu tickets to a concert? What if the entire city of Toronto gets destroyed by a meteor and I won’t find out until I see the massive crater on the horizon?

Goodbye sweet iPhone, we’ll meet again in the land of cell signal

To my surprise, being away from my phone and laptop actually made me feel more relaxed, not anxious. Over the camping trip I realized just how attached to my phone I am, and that the constant cycle of checking facebook then checking instagram then checking email then checking this and checking that has left me more tuned out of life than connected with it.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not a supporter of the whole “electronics are ruining our generation” argument. I love social media, my phone and the internet. I can’t imagine a world where I’m not connected with people all over the globe. But leaving the Internet alone for a few days taught me some interesting things about myself, about how I view the world and most importantly, the things I sometimes miss.

crecent moon shape made with a flashlight

Lesson 1: Being away from the Internet helps me sleep better. The first thing I noticed about being away from my phone and laptop is how much better I slept. Most nights, unwinding before bed can easily turn into scrolling down tumblr for two hours past when I had planned to sleep. Without my phone around, I was able to go to sleep when I needed to and slept better without it buzzing beside my head.  I dare you to leave your phone in another room when you go to sleep tonight, if you don’t sleep better, you may at the very least go to sleep earlier.

photo of a beach seen through a clearing the trees

sunglasses make a great DIY photo filter

Lesson 2: Close instagram. Unplugging made me truly embrace my surroundings. Without the pressure of taking the perfect photo, picking the best filter and sharing my trip with my closest 200 followers, I was able to snap a few quick pictures with my camera and then completely enjoy the nature around me. There’s something magical about experiencing something for yourself and not for the people you’re friends with on social media.

photo of two potatoes roasting over a fire

potatoes take a long time to cook, which gives you a lot of time for conversation

Lesson 3: Text less, talk more. I pride myself in my ability to text without looking. If I’m out for coffee with a friend I can quickly text my mom without zoning out from the conversation. However, I realized this week that when I do that I actually am distracted, even if I’m not looking, I’m still not paying as much attention as I probably should. There was a newfound depth to my conversations that doesn’t usually happen when my phone is around.

photo of a map of a campground

Lesson 4: It’s okay to get lost. I love Google maps. If it weren’t for the Old Goog I doubt I’d ever get anywhere on time. But after passing the no signal bubble, the data service on my phone disappeared into the void and we were forced to do it the old-fashioned way, with maps. Yes, the amount of paper and folding and “wait a second I was holding it upside down” is less than ideal. But when you afford yourself the time to get lost, getting lost becomes a lot of fun. Next time I have to go somewhere new in the city, I’m going to try doing it without the help of Google maps. Sure I might be late or I might get horribly lost, but in a city as big and wondrous as Toronto I’m sure to stumble upon something amazing.

photo of MILLIONS OF TREES seen from a lookout point. okay maybe a couple thousand trees. I was exaggerating

Lesson 5: Focus on yourself. Let’s be real, scrolling down Facebook can lead to major FOMO. I’ve spent the past few months looking at my Facebook friends’ photos of beaches and concerts and worrying that I’m not doing enough with my summer. Not being able to check Facebook made me realize how much time I’ve wasted comparing myself to others, and how much more fun I can have when I just focus on what I’m doing instead of what others are doing.

photo of trees seen through tent window

Lesson 6: Get outside! Reblogging pictures of trees to my tumblr only gets me so far. And none of those pictures have come close to the beauty of sunlight streaming through the trees on the roof of my tent.

photo of a tent at sunset

Lesson 7: The last and probably most important lesson: The world will always be there when you come back.

panorama of a beach, taken from the middle of a lake

U of T staycations

It’s summer in Toronto, U of T – and it’s a hot one.

(Well, most days. Then there are those weird cold days. But I will refrain from turning this post into a rant about the unpredictability of the weather this summer.)

If you’ve got time to spare between classes and work-study and whatever commitments are bringing you to campus this time of year, here are some ways to turn U of T into your own personal vaycay destination.

1. Sunbathe in King’s College Circle.

Who needs a sandy shoreline when you have a massive patch of grass surrounded by classrooms and libraries? Pack some sunscreen, a book, and a blanket and lay out in the sun in the heart of campus. If you need some shade, check out nearby Sir Dan’s quad. It may not be the beach, but try to imagine that the tourists are in bathing suits and the squirrels are seagulls, and you may as well be in Ibiza.

A picture of King's College Circle with clip art of a beach umbrella and a palm tree that reads "Greetings from UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO".

2. Go for a swim.

U of T’s athletic facilities have beautiful pools for you to cool off in on the hottest summer days. Dive into the slow lane and hope no one notices your inflatable shark and Hawaiian necklace as you float along the current of others’ laps.

3. Dance the night away at Forrò class.

Learn some new Brazilian folk dance moves at the Centre for International Experience! Your participation in this event will basically be a shot-for-shot remake of Dirty Dancing. What are you waiting forro?

(…Sorry about that. It had to happen.)

Salsa dancing at Hart House for the Pan Am Games.

Salsa dancing at Hart House for the Pan Am Games.

4. Relax with a low intensity drop-in class.

The next best thing to a spa day – a drop-in yoga class! Find inner peace with Flexibility Fusion at Hart House. Your mind and body will be convinced that you’re actually in a Nordic spa (minus the hot springs and spa treatments and all that… which are obviously overrated.) If you’re longing for more spa time after class, find some friends and suggest a massage train as a fun activity. Sit at the front of it. You’re welcome.

5. Take in the views from Robarts.

A Drake-approved activity: park your beach chair (read: normal Robarts chair) in front of the windows facing the CN tower, put a mini umbrella in your Starbucks drink, and survey the 6ix. Take a few selfies to send home and a few cover photo worthy panoramas and breathe in the fresh air (read: the library air). Pop your headphones in and have a silent disco in the stacks, showing off your newfound Forro moves and King’s College Circle tan. You’ll feel like you’re on top of the Empire State Building!

Except, it will be Robarts.

Which, I think we can all agree, is EVEN BETTER.

An ice cream truck on campus.

Ice cream: I’M ALL ABOUT IT. Reliably the best way to cool off, there are treat-filled trucks outside of Robarts and the astronomy building along St. George Street.

When it’s time for your staycation to end and your classes to begin, complete your round trip down the Robarts elevators and back to reality, relaxed and renewed and ready to do it all over again in two hours when you’re waiting out the time until your next class starts.

How do you wind down and beat the heat on campus? Share your staycation tips in the comments below or on Twitter at @lifeatuoft!

Being an International Student

So it’s mid-July. You’re probably chilling in your hometown, a considerable distance from U of T, scrolling through photos of campus on Google Images. Maybe you’ve changed your Facebook cover photo to one of the Toronto skyline with the caption ‘U of T Class of 2019! So excited! <3<3’ while not having actually ever seen or set foot on campus because…

google map showing distance between karachi, pakistan and toronto

you’re an international student and you live thousands of miles away. #internationalstudentproblems

I feel you. I know what it’s like to think the weather isn’t that bad and forget to check the windchill numbers ( -1, feels like -10. Go figure.) or not quite know how to deal with milk in a plastic bag (yes, that’s a thing here!) or look on enviously as your friends bring the contents of their entire homes onto res while you’re stuck with two measly suitcases and a carry-on.

screenshots of weather app iphone showing temperature as compared to temperature with windchill

one of the many #internationalstudentproblems: not knowing which temperature to dress for

But incoming globetrotters – FEAR NOT. Having lived here for a grand total of 339 days today, I am obviously an expert on all things Canadian and am only too happy to share some tips and advice to make your continental leap a little bit easier:

1.  As soon as you arrive in Toronto, get important stuff out of the way

This includes getting bank accounts set up, picking out a phone plan, getting your UHIP card, applying for a SIN number if you wish to work in Canada and more. There’s a really handy list of things to get done on the CIE website as well as some FAQs that you can check out here and here.

There will also be a U of T Welcome booth at Pearson Airport to help you with any questions you may have about arriving in Canada. Watch the video here!

Also, make sure you have all your important documents in one safe place at all times! There’s nothing worse than being in a political science lecture, hearing the word ‘passport’ and mentally panicking because you can’t remember the last time you saw yours. I spent the next two hours of lecture envisioning myself being deported. Not fun.

2.  Be prepared

As soon as I arrived in Toronto, I made sure to input some important numbers into my phone’s contact list – such as my country’s embassy, police, medical and fire services, and more. Embarassing confession: I also made a map of the TTC my phone wallpaper in case I got lost.

iPhone screenshot of wallpaper with TTC map on it

#tbt
today, i can name all of the stations on Line 1 in order without cheating
go on, quiz me.

3.  Do a little research on Canadian slang

By the end of the year you will understand the sentence ‘can you lend me a couple of toonies so I can pick up a double-double and pop from Tim’s and we can chill on the chesterfield and watch the Maple Leafs play?

you will also learn the art of sneaking ‘eh?’s into daily conversation.

not to worry – this should help you update your vocabulary

4.  Don’t mentally convert prices into your home currency.

This will only depress you.

a photo of me gaping at obscenely priced items

that costs WHAT?! I could get that for like five rupees back home!

 

5. Try recording your lectures

As someone who grew up speaking English and watching American TV shows and movies, I thought I was well acquainted with the standard North American accent. But sometimes while taking notes during lecture, I find myself missing a word here and there or not quite catching what the prof has said. It’s always useful to have a recording to play back and fill in those unsightly note-gaps.

Just make sure that your professor is okay with recording before you start!

6.  Explore!

Downtown Toronto is full of amazing places to see (and eat) and while you probably won’t find restaurants dedicated to ‘Canadian’ cuisine there are lots of delicious things like poutine, butter tarts, beaver tails, and nanaimo bars that I have been informed are very Canadian.

7.  Take advantage of all the resources on campus to help you adapt

I mentioned this in my previous post and I’ll say it again –  you are paying a considerable amount of money (read: a small fortune) to be here so why not take advantage of everything you’re offered?

The Career Center, the Writing Center, the CIE and the Multi-Faith Center are all great places to check out.

8.  Meet new people

As tempting as it is to just stick to the international student crowd or people from your home country, there’s no harm in diversifying your network a bit.

Toronto is one of the most multicultural cities in Canada and it’s always a good idea to meet people from backgrounds different than yours.

And lastly, just remember that you don’t need to wrap yourself in plaid or tote around a hockey stick to fit in. Just be yourself and try not to worry too much – you’re going to have a great time!

 

Person In Transit

Two subway seats on a TTC train at St. George station. Chihiro and No-Face from the movie Spirited Away sit waiting for their stop.I’ve been commuting to school for the last three years. I hail from Mississauga which is far enough to still make for an annoying commute (re: TTC  delays) but close enough to not be able to justify paying extra $$$ to live in Toronto.

Commuting used to be the bane of my existence. In first year, I thought commuting was wasted time that could’ve been spent doing ¡FUN & EXCITING! things and I experienced major FOMO. This led to a self-fulfilling prophecy in which I’d continue to feel miserable for myself. But in my second year I realized I was being super lame and that I could still make the most of my U of T experience, even as a commuter. Here’s what helped:

Orientation
As a commuter, I was scared it would be difficult to form lasting friendships with new people at school, compared to those who have the chance to live on campus. Orientation is a traditional event that helps to overcome this. The ma
in point of Orientation Week is not the screaming or the fact that you wear the same shirt for 7 days. The main point is to become informed, make friends, and get excited about coming to university. And for this purpose, orientation was great. I met a lot of people that I still hang out with.

Most undergrad faculties and A&S colleges allow commuter students to stay on campus for orientation week. And if you really enjoyed your week, you can sign up to be an orientation leader for next year’s group of students!

If orientation week isn’t your thing, no worries! There are alternative orientation programs like Kickstart which are really helpful in easing your transition into university. In addition, there are orientations focused on our LGBTQ+ community, international students, students with disabilities, and students with families. Keep checking back with these links – more information about events and registration will be updated shortly!

The Student Life Office will be hosting a Twitter chat and info session regarding orientation on July 28, 7:00-8:00 pm. Feel free to send us your questions and concerns using the #AskMeUofT hashtag and follow along with our accounts @UofTStudentLife and @LifeatUofT. Hope to talk to you soon!

There are also student lounges all over campus where you can hang out and bond with fellow commuters.

Picture of a cozy corner in the JCR

The JCR is a student common room over at UC, complete with excellent couches and Diabolo’s Coffee Bar.

Timing
For my school commute, I allocate an hour and a half for one way. Sometimes more, especially during rush hour, in the winter, or …*shudder*… both. The day of a midterm or exam, I always leave even earlier – it’s better to wait in the Exam Centre for an extra hour than to miss your test.

If possible, I manipulate my course schedule to avoid morning classes because no matter what Drake says, “5 AM in Toronto” is not the motive.

Pink and orange sunrise in the suburbs

When you’re not a morning person, the only redeeming quality of an early commute is the view.

I Photoshopped a graphic of the hands of a clock, with different symbols for each hour that detail a typical school day. For example, at the "start" of the clock, I have a toothbrush. Other symbols include a bus, a coffee cup, pizza, and a laptop.

My typical school day

Footwear (Winter is coming)
Speaking of winter, treat yo’self to proper winter boots. No amount of street style cred is worth the sensation of wet socks. Too long have I suffered with aching feet in a pair of heeled ankle boots. Moral of the story: Don’t be a hero, Nancy.

Picture of my footwear, which remained white for a whole 3 hours after I bought them.

Do your feet a favour and wear comfy shoes to school. Also, white shoes are an ambitious investment if you plan on walking across front campus!

Lunch
Freshman 15 is real and it is relentless. Don’t give in to the food trucks and cheap, convenient street meat…at least, all the time. There are microwaves in buildings where you can warm up food. Packing lunch saves money and hopefully ensures a healthier diet. So no, I do not mean bringing a package of instant noodles to school and adding boiling water. But yes, I am guilty of doing this.

Grocery basket full of instant noodle packages and various snacks.

All noodle and no cooking makes Nancy a bad student

Multi-purpose your commute
My commute is a good excuse to power nap. The time is also useful for catching up on readings or cramming for a test. But my usual habit is to read or download a new album and listen to it the whole way to school.

My book in the grass

Currently reading: Americanah by Chimimanda Ngozi Adichie

Get involved
I figure if I’m going to come all this way to school, I might as well make the most of my time here. Try a restaurant. Take some pictures. Explore the city. Plus there are hundreds of student groups on campus, catered to every interest. This year, I’m determined to show up for a workshop with the F.O.L.D. origami club.

Colourful origami cranes and flowers

I can make the typical crane and flower but it’d be awesome to learn how to fold some of the crazy stuff on UTFOLD’s website!

Public transport
You can get discounted TTC Metro Passes at the UTSU. Students using GO Transit can get their GO Student IDs at the TCard office on campus. There are also scheduled shuttle buses between St. George and Mississauga campuses at Hart House and a TTC bus from Kennedy station to the Scarborough campus, as mentioned in Emaan‘s post.

What are your commuter tips and tricks? Leave me a comment or talk to us on Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook

6 Tips for Surviving Your First Course Enrolment

First year course enrolment is next week! And if you’re anything like I was last year, you’re probably pretty nervous. Course enrolment can be a tense time, full of waiting and rapid clicking, but it’s not as scary as you think. No matter when your start time is, there are always ways to make it go smoothly.

1. Don’t stay up all night

photo of dark bedroom with laptop on bed, netflix is open on the laptop

Netflix? Awesome. Netflix at 4am? Maybe not so awesome

Last year, I was lucky enough to be given a 5:30am start time. As great as this start time was, it lead to my stupid decision to stay up all night watching Netflix and refreshing ROSI. Take it from someone who made the mistake, ROSI and ACORN won’t open up 5 minutes earlier for you because you’ve been waiting all night. The only thing that’ll happen is that your combination of nerves and sleep deprivation will make your typing really shaky. Instead, wake up 45 minutes or so before your start time, make your self a cup of tea, and try to relax. It’ll all be okay, I promise.

2. Don’t waste your entire day waiting and worrying

photo of cat walking on laptop

If your cat is concerned about how long you’ve been on online, it might be time to go for a walk.

If you have a late start time it can be extremely tempting to stay glued to your computer all day checking how many spots are left in the Class you need and analyzing every schedule posted into the U of T Class of 201x Facebook page. Don’t do this. Course enrolment can be a stressful time, but you don’t need to torture yourself with worry. Get away from your computer, stay off Facebook, and enjoy your day. Keep a few alternative classes up your sleeve just in case, and don’t be afraid of the waitlist. Chances are most of the classes you need to get into have 1000+ spots, and you’ll most likely get into them. You’ve got this!

3. Check out the SWS before you sign up

animation of different pages on ACORN

As Nancy said in her post on course enrolment, it’s a very good idea to make yourself familiar with the SWS (student web service) before the actual day of course enrolment. ACORN, U of T’s new web service has lots of lovely hidden gems that are just waiting to be found, like the enrolment Cart

4. Use ACORN’s enrolment cart

screenshot of ACORN's enrolment cart feature

Back in my day, we had to type out our course codes by hand, which can be nerve-wracking when you’re trying to snag a spot in a small class. My favourite feature of ACORN’s course enrolment system is the enrolment cart, which allows you to add the courses you wish to enrol in ahead of time so you can simply hit “enrol” on the day of. Talk about a time saver!

5. Write it down!!!

photo of a piece of paper with multiple course codes written on it

As anyone who’s ever lost work on an essay knows, computers aren’t perfect. Power goes out, systems crash, and websites go offline.  If you’re keeping your course info on Griddy, an Excel document, or anything else on a computer, either print it out or copy it out by hand. This way you’ll be safe from any computer issues, and you’ll get the satisfaction of crossing courses off with a pen as you enrol in them! Chances are your computer and internet will be fine on enrolment day, but better safe than sorry.

6. Don’t be afraid of the waitlist

screenshot of the waitlist button on ACORN

Waitlists are your friend. Whether the class you wanted to get into fits 15 students or 1500, it’s always worth it to join the waitlist. After the first week of classes there are always a significant number of students who decide a course isn’t for them. You’re not losing anything by joining a waitlist, and you might even gain a spot in that class you really wanted to take! And even if you don’t get into the class, don’t sweat it. You can always take it next year, and if it’s an extremely important class, your registrar might be able to help you figure something out!

Bonus tip: Didn’t get into the 199 you wanted? Your seminar dreams aren’t over

The first year seminars, or 199 courses, are very popular and have very few spaces, so they fill up quickly. Seminar courses are amazing and a great way to meet people and get involved, and they can really help ease the transition from high school classes to university.

However, just because you didn’t get into the 199 you wanted doesn’t mean your seminar dreams are over. Victoria college offers their own collection of seminars, called the Vic One Hundreds (not to be confused with the VicOne program), that are less well known than the 199s. Though Victoria College students have priority for enrolling into these classes, students from all colleges are allowed to enrol, and there are usually many spots left after the priority lifts. You can find the entire list of Vic One Hundred seminars here.

picture of a person signing their signature at the bottom of a letter

I was lucky enough to take VIC116 – Politics of the Pen last year. As a class we worked together advocating for writers in prison and exile. On the last day we signed letters urging different politicians to help these writers.

The perks of pen pals, or my personal quest to keep Canada Post in business

Dear lovely Life at U of T readers,

I mentioned in previous posts that I studied abroad a couple times during my undergraduate degree (you can read about my summer in Berlin here). During those terms, I always made sure to pick up lots of new postcards for my ever growing collection, and to send lots of letters and postcards home to friends and family.

I’ve always loved writing letters. When I was young, I would write plane letters and train letters for my friends who were going away – even if it was just for the weekend. I’m an avid diary keeper, and I love how letters let me share that personal, journal entry sort of writing with the people in my life.

A letter I received from France with beautiful pressed flowers within.

A letter I received from France with beautiful pressed flowers within.

When I studied abroad, I made my best efforts to pick up some new pen pals to add to my address book. I write to friends in Ottawa, friends who went to universities elsewhere in Canada and the U.S., friends from far away, and friends from home traveling far away.

I also write to friends in Toronto! That may seem silly – I could see them any time, but letters are so much more personal. I find that I learn a lot more about a person from a letter than I do from most conversations.

Some magnificent mail from our nation's capital.

Some magnificent mail from our nation’s capital.

People are often intimidated about what they should write in a letter. Here’s what I always say: there are no rules to letter writing! Especially if you are local Toronto pen pals, or people that talk often to one another over text or facebook or otherwise, you shouldn’t feel any pressure to provide a thorough update on What You’ve Been Up To Lately. Instead, just write whatever feels right – tell a story about something that happened to you, or a dream you had, or write about whatever’s on your mind. Draw something and only write one or two lines. Make a list. Describe what you see.

I realize I’ve gone completely high school creative writing teacher on you – explore the space of the paper! Let yourself go! Be free with your words! - but that’s because there are no limits when it comes to letter writing! Unless, of course, you have a limited postage fund.

A letter from my pal in Halifax that was truly packed with treasures.

A letter from my pal in Halifax that was truly packed with treasures.

I also like to enclose little gifts in my letters – whether it’s a receipt with a little note on it or a pin or a small photo.

So, if you’re looking to reconnect with old friends, or connect with new ones, consider asking them to be pen pals! Most people, in my experience, will be really excited to try something new – and they will also likely send really excited selfies when their real life physical letter arrives. Getting a letter is an incredible novelty in 2015 – it’s one of the cheapest ways to make someone’s day!

Yours sincerely,
Danielle.

Do you have pen pals? Have other ideas for staying in touch with friends from abroad? Share them in the comments below or on twitter at @lifeatuoft.

The Soldier’s Tower

a poppy display on the wall inside Soldier's Tower

As you walk towards Hart House from King’s College Circle and look directly upward, there are several architectural features that greet your eye, from the beautiful brickwork and pointed turrets of University College to the rainbow-topped dome of the UTSU building and straight ahead, looming in the distance- the 143-foot tall, Gothic-style Soldier’s Tower, one of the instantly recognizable features of the St. George campus.

Soldier's Tower

Throughout my first year, I had passed by the Tower several times, but embarrassingly enough, only ever gave it’s golden clock quick upward glances for time-checks as I rushed to my class at UC, (for which I was inevitably always late) and as a result, never really got to know about it’s history and the existence of the Memorial Room until this summer.

It was one of those cloudy July days and I was making my way back from LaidLaw Library after discovering that it was closed for the summer (quite sad, it’s one of my favourite libraries on campus) when it started to rain and covering my head with a copy of The Gargoyle I picked up inside the entrance, I walked towards Hart House and noticed a little sign resting on the grass beside the Tower.

the nifty little sign outside the Tower

the nifty little sign outside the Tower

Curiosity and the prospect of shelter were enough to pique my interest and I walked right in

the stairwell leading up to the Memorial Room

the stairwell leading up to the Memorial Room

The walls surrounding the seventy-five stone steps up toward the Memorial Room on the second floor are dotted with beautiful stained glass displays, each illustrating the contribution of different Canadian wartime service forces- from women’s special forces to the air force and the Navy. There’s also a wall hanging of the Varsity’s 1915 issue as well as some flower wreaths and fascinating photos of campus during wartime.

stained glass windows

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As soon as you walk into the small Memorial Room, the exquisite stained glass windows immediately catch your eye. They are a ‘visual interpretation of John McCrae’s poem In Flander’s Fields’ (who, by the way, was a graduate of U of T) and feature poppies, the maple leaf, the victory torch and men and women performing wartime duties.

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Encased in and around the glass displays are many interesting artifacts donated by soldiers’ families or obtained by the Alumni Association- including soldier’s medals and badges awarded for valour during wartime, a piece from No Man’s Land, portraits of war heroes and even a German machine gun.

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The Tower itself, built in 1924 as a memorial for the 1185 people who lost their lives in both the First and Second World wars, has four floors or levels- the ground floor with the historic memorial archway, has the names of those who lost their lives in the wars etched in limestone, the second floor houses the memorial room, the third- the clock mechanism and the carillon’s claviers and the fourth with the carillon bells.

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Fun fact: the Tower is Canada’s second tallest war memorial after the Ottawa Peace Tower

The Soldier’s Tower Committee of U of T’s Alumni Association handles the upkeep of the Tower and is supported by a host of volunteers and students here at the university through the work-study program. There are also free carillon concerts held several times a year- sometimes featuring guest carilloners- the next informal recital is on Sunday July 26th (10-11 AM) and a formal recital is coming up on August 3rd (7-8 PM) so look out for that!

If you would like to learn more, give the Tower a visit- it is open on these dates this month:

Tuesday July 21st (2-7 PM)
Wednesday July 22nd (1-5 PM)
Thursday July 23rd (1-7 PM)
Friday July 24th (3-5 PM)
Saturday July 25th (2-5 PM)
Wednesday July 29th (1-5 PM)

(or just look out for the sign on the grass like I did!)

You can also email soldiers.tower@mail.utoronto.ca for more information

The Tower is a wonderfully preserved piece of history and the stories of student-soldiers just like you or me who made spent the best years of their lives serving the country stay with you long after you have stepped out of the building.

the Tower by night

the Tower by night

So in between a hectic day at school, whether or not I got into that course or passed that test or got caught in the rain, I’m going to take a moment to look up at the Tower as I pass it by and be thankful for how lucky we all are to simply be alive and free….and I hope you will too!

This is not the CAT that Meows

Photo of my subject review books for the MCAT along with e-books on my laptopThis August, I’ll be rewriting the MCAT – a necessary component for applying to many medical schools. It’s the only time that the word “cat” could make me feel any kind of negative emotion. Hopefully I’ll do better this second time given the infinite number of mistakes I made from the first sitting. And while my failed experience is through the lens of a medical school admission test, I’m hoping this advice will be applicable to anyone planning on writing other admission tests like the DAT, LSAT, PCAT, or GRE.

An impossibly cute kitten wrapped in a blanket

My preferred type of CAT (Source: Instagram @dailydoseofkittens)

How hard is the MCAT?
In hindsight, the material itself is basic (up to second year Life Sci, assuming you’ve taken the necessary prereqs at U of T). It’s possible to not be in a science program and learn the material elsewhere or by yourself, but learning it in your courses is certainly an advantage. 

The content just seems daunting when you’re trying to study everything at once. As well, many students feel intimidated by the format of the test. The long, wordy passages and obscure information throw people off. The key is to look past unnecessary factoids and concentrate on solving the questions using basic concepts you already know. The MCAT will not test anything beyond what the curriculum tells you to study. Plus it’s all multiple choice so process of elimination can be useful. 

The hardest thing is keeping a level head the entire time you’re sitting there. It is both mentally and physically exhausting to sit at a computer for hours… and exponentially harder if you’re ill-prepared and running on zero sleep (me). But if you’re calm and relatively confident (I say relatively because realistically everyone will be nervous no matter how much they study), then you will be okay!

A pixelated graphic of a bike rider and the words "How much further should I go? I'm tired, tired, tired, tired.

You might feel pressured for time and pull all-nighters to cram. But maintaining a steady sleep schedule will help you consolidate what you learned as well as ensure that you don’t burn out the morning of the exam! (me) (Source: http://8-bitfiction.tumblr.com/)

When should I write the test?
The AAMC will have select dates as to when you can sit for the MCAT. I chose to write in August again because I could spend my summer focusing on it and not have to deal with a full course load. When you choose to write will depend on your own schedule and priorities – I know students who write during the school year and still do well! 

I was in second year the first time I wrote it and the material was all review (again, because I took the necessary pre-reqs). I would say that a prime time to write it would be for students just finishing second year in Life Sci because all the concepts are still fresh.

How much time should I allocate for MCAT prep?
I studied in two weeks before the MCAT. The first weekend of the test month was spent frolicking on an island for Osheaga and the rest of time I was honestly just procrastinating. If you plan on writing late summer, an intensive 3-month study period is okay, assuming you haven’t forgotten everything from your courses the second you left the exam (a very real possibility). Obviously, the more time for prep, the better! This gives you a chance to pace yourself and not have to concentrate so intensely for 3 months straight.

Took a picture of the band and stage during the Arctic Monkeys' set at Osheaga.

If only I could memorize physics formulas as effectively as I can memorize Arctic Monkeys lyrics.

How should I prepare for the MCAT?
I’m currently using a combination of Exam Kracker and Kaplan review books, but there are also Princeton and Berkeley. If you’re going to self-study using just books, it is important to stay on schedule because it is very easy to get distracted or procrastinate when you’re at home. As well, there are Khan Academy videos dedicated to the new MCAT material.

I made a graphic on Photoshop with icons for different subjects (i.e. brain for Psych,  beaker for chem) and created a daily study schedule.

Setting a schedule for yourself and sticking to it is super important. Another good technique is to do a little bit of each subject per day.

I found a neat website/app called Cram that lets me make electronic flash cards which I read while on the bus – pretty good for memorizing psych and soc terms! 

A screenshot of the Cram app on my phone.

You can participate in paid prep courses: Prep101 and Kaplan often sponsor student groups on campus that are always raffling off discounted courses during their group meetings. These are pricey but have a strict schedule so they force you to stay on track. 

You can find MCAT posters advertising free seminars posted all over campus. There will probably also be representatives from different student groups like the Pre-Med Society posting on Facebook or handing out flyers after your classes.

But above all, PRACTICE with tests or problem sets. AAMC practice tests are the most helpful; I found them the best indicator of difficulty, content, and question styles, especially for the verbal (now rechristened as CARS) section. Even though I was a little lacking in content knowledge, doing these was a lifesaver. It is also important to time yourself when doing them as to stimulate a real test environment, so you get a feel for how much time you should spend on questions.

Practice test

Any study tips for intense exams? Are you considering writing the MCAT yourself? Feel free to ask questions or leave a comment below! 

How to finish course enrolment as quickly as possible

What’s on your mind in the middle of July? Are you thinking about the beach? Thinking of flying to Europe in August? Contemplating your courses to choose for the fall? If you’re a student, that last part is particularly important, as starting this Wednesday, the first round of course selections start.

I find course registration goes more smoothly when I am prepared before it starts. It helps take the stress out of class selection. You can’t choose your start time, and sometimes you are put in awkward spots, like I was last year. I had to select classes at 9:10 am, and I started my shift at work at 9. Luckily, I had an understanding boss, but even then, I wanted to be as quick as possible. Preparation saves you more time so you can go back to the beach that much earlier (or, if you have an early start time like I do, go back to sleep).

A painting of two people sleeping under blankets in a bed.

I would still go to sleep if it were a late start time. I basically live for sleep.
(Painting: “The Bed” by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, found via The Yorck Project)

Ever since I switched majors, I’ve had to be extra careful about course selections. I took my requirements, put them into a text file, and put all of the courses that would apply for certain requirements beside it. For me, I’ve had a plan of interesting courses that I’d like to take, but even this year, those options fell short a bit. Instead, I decided to branch out and learn a bit more from different streams of psychology, such as social, personality and abnormal psychology (most of what I’ve been studying has been specialized within cognitive psychology).

I had my courses, but I had to see whether they’d work together, and check enrollment controls on the courses as well. Nancy, in her previous post, mentioned Griddy as a way to map out course conflicts. It is brilliant, but nevertheless missing a few things that helped me out this year to map my courses. Griddy doesn’t allow you to see the enrollment controls for each class. On the other hand, the course timetable lists those controls for every course, allowing you to see whether there is priority sign-ups for any particular course. For example: I wanted to take a seminar course this year. Unfortunately, the enrollment controls block psychology majors from signing up for seminar courses before August 8th (they’re prioritized for specialists). After August 8th, the priority lifts, and anyone can sign up.

There’s another benefit to using the course timetable: you can see what professors are teaching what class. I’m not one to advocate choosing classes solely on professors, because you’re likely to miss out on great content and the opportunity to connect with great minds. Course evaluations on Blackboard will list all of the feedback over the past three years with the professor’s name beside them. While none of the course evaluations will keep me from picking classes this year–in fact, they helped me feel more confident about my choices–it is an important tool to help you find the course that best fits you.

Between Nancy’s last post and this one, here’s hoping you have all the tools you need to make course selection a breeze. Believe it or not, I’m actually excited for course selections every year (I actually had my schedule planned since early May), and for once, this year I should be able to get into every course without waitlisting. Here’s wishing everyone a quick and lucky course enrolment!

Of coffee and cabbages

For most of my U of T career (so far), I’ve lived in Harbord Village. Being close to campus made life a lot easier. I was able to roll out of bed half an hour before class and stay at Robarts as late as I wanted. But in my fifth year, I decided it was time for a change and moved further away from campus to a new apartment that falls somewhere in between St. James Town, the Village, Cabbagetown, and Regent Park.

There are a lot of benefits to living a bit further off campus. Having to go home a bit earlier meant I spent a lot more time at home this year, appreciating my apartment and my roommates and the neighbourhood(s) we live in. Plus, when you move just a bit further away from a campus, you save on rent.

I’m moving for the upcoming year, so I’m currently in the midst of the dreaded Toronto apartment hunt. But before I go, I wanted to write about my favourite discovery since moving to the area – quirky, beautiful Cabbagetown!

A sign outside a store front that says  "I [picture of a Cabbage] Cabbagetown"

I cabbage Cabbagetown!

Here are some quick facts in case you’ve never heard of the neighbourhood:

  • Cabbagetown is so named because Irish immigrants who lived in the area used to plant cabbages on their lawns.
  • Cabbagetown has its own flag. I’ll give you a minute to guess what it looks like… Ready? It’s a cabbage.
  • According to the Cabbagetown Preservation Assocation, the neighbourhood has “the largest continuous area of preserved Victorian housing in all of North America.”
  • Cabbagetown fancies itself rather, well, fancy. But the neighbourhood is also surrounded by low income areas and homeless shelters, so there’s a bit of a tension there. (In fact, my roommate wrote about that tension for The Varsity Magazine this past year – you can check that out here if you’re interested!)

And with that, here are my Cabbagetown must do’s:

  1. Get a coffee: Jet Fuel Coffee is legendary for a reason. It’s bustling with locals, and you may feel like you’re not cool enough to try their brew. But you are. For a cozier option, across the street is Cabbagetown Brew, where the peanut butter latte is my go-to and the comfy cream chairs are my happy place.

    The Jet Fuel Coffee storefront.

    Rock and roll coffee for yuppies and hipsters. Sometimes I feel like a failure for adding sweetener.

  2. Explore Parliament Street and surrounding area. There are lots of cute shops and restaurants selling local goods, vintage everything, and amazing food in Cabbagetown. My highlights are Labour of Love, which I cannot spend less than half an hour in since there’s so much to look at; Taiwanese fried chicken at Kanpai that has brought me to tears; and non-dairy gelato that’s better than dairy gelato at Grinning Face.
  3. Check out Riverdale Farm and the Toronto Necropolis. I like to take my Sunday mornings with strolls past baby goats and the graves of great Canadians.

    Trees at Riverdale Farm.

    Tall trees at Riverdale Farm. Did I mention that there are baby goats here? They TROT. They trot around the barn and it’s the best thing ever.

  4. Aspirational house-hunting. Peruse all those Victorian homes and think, “who knows? Maybe some day…”

  5. Take a hike. There are lots of Don Valley trails that you can easily walk to from Cabbagetown. I like to walk through a trail to the Evergreen Farmer’s Market on Saturday mornings.
"Watershed Consciousness" at Evergreen, a map of Toronto that's literally alive, covered with moss and plants. The head you see admiring it is my sister's. If you hike to the farmer's market, make sure to check out the full grounds! There's lot of art & heritage to see.

“Watershed Consciousness” at Evergreen, a map of Toronto that’s literally alive, covered with moss and plants. The head you see admiring it is my sister’s. If you hike to the farmer’s market, make sure to check out the full grounds! There’s lot of art & heritage to see.

Got Cabbagetown tips or questions? Chat with me in the comments or on twitter at @lifeatuoft.