Quick! “UofT students are disconnected from one another, and there’s no sense of community whatsoever.” True or false?
If all test questions at UofT were this easy, I’d be well on my way to medical school by now*.
While I wouldn’t say that the school completely lacks a sense of community, it’s definitely very difficult to build relationships on this campus. It’s actually pretty normal for me to openly embrace someone that I haven’t seen for months, or even a year, simply because circumstances don’t actually allow for more frequent encounters. It’s a fascinating type of relationship, because one day you get to know a person somewhat well, then you don’t hear from them for forever, and the next time you randomly bump into them, you feel so excited simply because you actually recognize his or her face (Thank you, Facebook).
Sometimes I make it into a sort of game. I’d walk down St. George purposely looking for people I’d recognize so that I’d be able to catch up with someone–anyone–even if it’s just for a brief while. It’s great, you should try it sometime. It’s like spotting Waldo.
For friendship, this is fine, I guess. After all, a commuter can’t help being a commuter–they are destined for home every night despite the fun late-night events they so desire to attend (sometimes). But this has serious implications when you are looking to find your special someone. How are you supposed to “bond” with anyone if you see them once or twice a year tops? Even if, in the luckiest situations, both parties were interested in each other, the chances that they’d both take initiative and go out on dates during the grueling and never-ending mid-term season and possibly sacrifice their marks in the name of love, are just so slim. Last week I was at a girls’ get-together, and when I heard that a few girls there were talking about their boyfriends, I asked them, out of curiosity, how on earth they had even managed to meet someone (not “someone good“, just “someone”) at this school. It turns out, none of them met their SO’s on campus. They had known each other before university started, either from high school, church, or via other affiliations.
I’m not going to try and diagnose why building relationships on this campus is so hard. There are too many factors involved, many of the more obvious ones we are already aware of – things like the sheer size of classes, the presence of colleges, the large percent of commuters are all parts of the equation. The question then becomes: what can we do to change this?
I wasn’t joking when I said that Facebook helps in this case. It helps me to keep track of the people I meet, keep in touch with them, and I guess most importantly, with their constant status updates and God-knows-what-else, it prevents me from forgetting them (it’s easier to do than one might think). Just make sure to use your privacy setting and security measures to effectively protect yourself.
What has worked for me in previous years are small get-togethers. My friends and I would have random ones throughout the year for the weirdest reasons. For example, after having made a few close friends from my first year physics lecture, we started this tradition of “Physics Group Get-togethers”, where the few of us would meet up and go out for dinner once in a while. It keeps us bonded even though after that course we had each gone our separate ways.
All small-group parties are in general a great way to keep in touch with friends, and possibly meet new friends. The more important thing is: how much do you value these relationships? If you truly feel the need to be a part of something bigger, and value building friendships and deep bonds, then you would no doubt take the initiative to improve this part of your life, despite the stereotyped obstacles that UofT might impose. So, if that sense of community is what you’ve been longing for, go ahead and create your own! Establish circles of friends and maybe even have them meet each other.
If you feel a different kind of loneliness that is on-going, or when these small efforts are somehow not enough, there are lots of counseling and psychiatric services that you might find helpful. The key thing to keep in mind is that whatever happens, you are not alone. No matter how big or how small your problem is, there are people out there who genuinely care about you, who are ready to provide all the help you need. Thriving in a university environment–and especially on this campus–is definitely not an easy thing to do. Different people take drastically different lengths of time to adjust to changes–for me, it took about two whole years and who knows, maybe it’s ongoing still! But I can reassure you that there’s always light at the end of the tunnel, so it’s all a matter of plowing through the difficult times.
Remember, building relationships is hard work, and most definitely requires effort. Expect others to contribute, sure, but also make sure to be proactive as well. As a close friend likes to say: “One hand makes a slap; two hands make a clap!”
*Note: No, I’m NOT aiming for medical school and no I’m NOT just saying that. I’m NOT your competition if you are a pre-med. Yes, that’s one less person, so relax, breathe, and smile.