…On a school year spent blogging.

When I was first presented with the opportunity to blog for Upbeat I was very excited, yet a little daunted by being required to come up with a new topic each week.  I mean – would I be able to meet their expectations? Would my posts be interesting to Upbeat’s readers? Regardless, I jumped right in, and I’m so glad that I did.

During this year, my posts have taken me on a tour of the St. George campus; taught me that Robarts is a peacock; introduced you to my wayward dog, Thelonious; mourned the demise of my evil laptop, Lappy; gotten me free tax prep help; and gotten run over by the Frosh Fit train.

As the winter semester draws to a close, balancing blog posts and schoolwork has been a little more challenging. But I thoroughly enjoy doing it; it provides a much-needed respite from the constant requirement to write academically. My background in writing has been as a poet, and it is something that I’ve missed dearly since beginning school. The Upbeat blog has provided me a great outlet for non-academic writing, while the expectation that I upload a post each week has provided me with the structure and discipline needed to ensure that I get it done.

Blogging has been an exercise in discipline; in challenging myself; but it has also been a thoroughly enjoyable experience. Coming up with weekly blog post has been a great way to get to know more about all that the University of Toronto has to offer.

I looked forward to the weekly blog meetings with Chris, Cynthia, Danielle, Lori, and Shannon. Chris is kind of like our blogging Yoda, offering lots of advice and feedback :-) . The comaraderie that developed among the five of us as bloggers has been really cool, too. If anyone is stumped in coming up with a post idea for the following week, someone is always there with a brilliant topic suggestion.

I’m thankful to Andrea Graham, a learning strategist with Accessibility Services who has served as the editor for my posts. Her feedback and encouragement have been invaluable!

I remain especially grateful to Victoria Littman, who offered me the opportunity to blog for Upbeat. Victoria was a learning strategist with Accessibility Services, and I met her while attending her weekly writing sessions. Aimed at unblocking the writer’s block that students deal with from time to time, Victoria’s workshops helped me and many others to unlock the writer that resides within.  During one of the sessions, I mentioned that I was trying to jump-start a blog that I had started a long while ago. She asked to see it, and after reading it, immediately offered me the opportunity to blog with Upbeat! Unfortunately Victoria passed away unexpectedly last October; but her legacy remains in the effect that she had on the students whose lives she touched. Her smile and enthusiasm for creativity were infectious, and I consider myself lucky to have crossed paths with her.

All in all, this year spent blogging has been beautifully challenging, and provided me with the opportunity to meet a lot of cool folks, and take part in many of the things that this campus has to offer us as students. Thank you, Dear Reader, for indulging in my writing jones on a weekly basis, commenting on each post. Good luck with your final exams, turning in those final papers – and have a fabulous summer!!!


I like to move it, move it!

Thanks to you readers, I let loose and "moved it"!

Thanks to you readers, I let loose and "moved it!"

I like to move it, move it. I like to move it, move it. I like to move it, move it. Ya like to move it!

For a quick distraction from exam studying, check out will.iam’s music video “I like to move it” from Madagascar II. For me, this song represents how I managed to get fitter this year and had fun while doing it!

Yes, this year, I moved my body in ways I didn’t think were possible. I shimmied and shook my hips in a spicy Latin salsa sequence at Zumba. I picked up complete strangers (who quickly became friends) and threw them in what felt like a back breaking catapult at Tae Kwon Do. I laced up my grandma’s old skates and tried out some of Toronto’s public skating rinks. I got some fitness and nutrition tips at Frosh Fit, and even dragged the UpbeaT bloggers back for a crash course on working out. It was fun, right guys? Hey Cynthia and Lori, have your legs recovered yet???

And it was all thanks to you readers. In September, before I started blogging for UpbeaT, I struggled to get into a healthy routine. I told myself the same excuses: too busy, don’t know how, have no one to go with, too tired, don’t have the “right gear.” But, then I made a resolution to try as many physical activities as possible on campus. At the time, I thought this commitment would turn out to be another dreamy ambition too lofty to reach. Like the year I tried to teach myself to play the guitar and turned into just another one hit wonder strumming a botched version of Pearl Jam’s “Last Kiss” over and over.

Somehow, this commitment worked. Knowing that my devoted UpbeaT readers believed in me gave me that extra push to really put myself out outside my comfort zone and flail about awkwardly in activities like cross-country skiing and ashtanga yoga. Yes, readers, you were my cyber trainers who made me accountable for following through with my plan to get fit this year.

Here’s a few tips I learned along the way that helped me get fitter:

Schedule physical activity: You need to make physical activity a priority and schedule it into your life like you would an academic class. Write down a specific date, time, and location of activity and block it into your routine. Ex. Mondays: Women-only weight training at the Strength and Conditioning centre from 12-1 pm.

Find a work-out buddy: Meeting up with a friend makes it harder to back out on your work-outs. My friend, Ali and I did the Hart House Circuit every Tuesday morning at 7:30 am. I’m not a morning person, but just couldn’t let her down by not showing up!

Body power= brain power: No matter how stressed I got this year with the amount of reading or studying I had, I always felt better and worked more efficiently after a good workout.

Have fun! It is much easier to stick to activities that you enjoy. I have a hard time motivating myself to get to the gym if I know I’m just going to run on the treadmill or sit on an exercise bike. But, I actually look forward to things like going for a swim, or playing squash with a friend.

So readers, I’d like to thank you for motivating me and helping me to stick to my commitment to get healthy this year. I only hope that next year, when I’m no longer a student, I keep up with these healthy habits. But at least for now, I’ll bop along with the Madagascar characters that I’m:

“Physically fit, physically fit,
Physically, physically, physically fit
Woman! Physically fit, physically fit,
Physically, physically, physically fit.”

Thanks, readers! Please promise that you’ll motivate next year’s UpbeaT team to stay fit and healthy like you did for me!


It’s not you, it’s me…

Dearest UpbeaT,

This is more difficult than I thought it would be, so I decided to put it in writing.

It’s been a great year and we’ve had some good times, but we need to take a break. Summer is almost here and we won’t see each other for a few months. It’s just easier to say good-bye now before anyone gets too attached.

I really don’t mean to hurt you. I care for you, but we both knew in September that this arrangement wasn’t permanent. Oh, we pretended not to realize the time was drawing near. We laughed and avoided the subject, but April is now here and no matter how much we want this to continue, we both have to accept that it is over for now and move on.

I hope you realize that I cherish all the great experiences we had exploring the far corners of campus together.

I’ll never forget our research appointment at Kelly Library. We were both so impressed that we forgot how to express our thoughts at even a remedial level…book!

You were right beside me as I ate my neighbour’s dinner roll at an awards dinner. You were my motivation to seek out etiquette lessons at the Faculty Club, where we learned just how uncouth our table manners were.

You’ve been there with me all year, through the embarrassing and not so embarrassing situations, I’ve found myself in. You gave me a reason to learn how to properly use my cell phone camera, so I could take spontaneous photos that would compliment my posts. You helped me learn how to draw a really good stick woman.

Do you remember when Tiko almost killed us at Frosh Fit? All I have to do is close my eyes and I can still feel my thighs burning.

You kept me company, as I visited every woman’s restroom from the east side of campus all the way across Harbord and down St. George in one single afternoon. Do you remember how they looked at us as we methodically surveyed bathroom stalls for directional graffiti?

You even helped me have the strength to push my broken bike all the way across campus to get it repaired at Bikechain.

You gave me a reason to write and I’ll never forget that.

Those were good times. I hope you don’t think it’s anything you’ve done. I didn’t mind the deadlines and even during exam period I really looked forward to our meetings. I swear it’s not you, it’s me.

I wish you all the best; I guarantee you’ll find someone else. Just wait and see, when September comes along you’ll have a whole group of students wanting to spend time with you.

Who knows, maybe we’ll meet again, but until then thanks for the memories UpbeaT.

ps…all kidding aside, I will miss this position and the great people I have met this year! Specifically, my fellow bloggers Cynthia, Danielle, Dara, and Shannon. Thank you for a year full of laughs, cupcakes and really good ideas!

Final Countdown

Time: 3:23AM

Word count: 2,929. (just 71 words short of finishing my 3,000 word research paper)

Typical countdown of a U of T student during finals week. (or even any typical week while drowning in schoolwork for that matter!)

In 14 days, 2 final papers, and 3 exams, I will have officially completed half of my undergraduate degree at U of T. Looking back on the past two years of my postsecondary career, I have learned, unlearned, and relearned more than I have ever expected to in such a short amount of time. And the time went by so quickly! You know how they say time flies when you’re having fun? Well, who knew that education could be considered part of that time-bending bracket of fun?

Blogging with UpbeaT this school year has contributed greatly to my experience and has challenged me to think outside of the box and actively seek out opportunities. I found answers to my own burning questions and discovered the hidden gems of our university. Collaborating weekly with the other bloggers has also allowed me to gain a small sense of community in the sea of U of T students. We touched base weekly, supported each others ideas and even sweat out buckets at Frosh Fit together – a fun experience I will never forget. Shout out to the rest of the UpbeaT team, this year has been a blast with you all!

So while I take advantage of the free wifi and 24-hour service here, I am leaving you with my final UpbeaT blog live from the golden arches of McDonalds. I look around and find myself among the night owls, fast food fanatics, and even other students entering the trend of taking late night study sessions to McDonalds. (Don`t judge me. It saves the trip for coffee runs!) As we all stare at our laptop screens in zombie mode, studying for finals, I can’t help but hope that every student here has put a little UpbeaT step in their stride and gone beyond the classroom to seek out opportunities on and around campus this year.

It’s hard to explain my experience into a few words, but here’s the best way I can explain it: You know when you discover something really cool that is just so awesome you can’t keep it to yourself and you just want to tell all your friends and your friends’ friends, and friends of friends of friends? That is exactly what UpbeaT means to me. Every Tuesday, I’ve had the opportunity to share my insights and discoveries with you and although it is my final chance to do so, my never ending thirst for discovery still remains. In fact there are several ideas I never fully got to pursue. The opportunities are endless!

So I leave you with these final words and snippets from lessons that I have learned throughout the last two years:

1. Partying hard = studying harder.

2. Always back up your files. Especially when you least expect you should.

3. Deadlines are closer than they appear. Instead of wasting time thinking about starting, just start now. Open the book, write the date, anything to just get you started. Fight procrastination!

4. No pain, no gain. Keeping physically fit = keeping mentally fit.

5. We’ve got spirit, yes we do. U of T has school spirit! How about you?

Lastly, I encourage you all to keep the UpbeaT torch alive this summer by discovering your passion! I know I will be doing so during my summer abroad. When I return on campus next Fall, only then will I know what the next school year has in store for me.

Until then, good luck with exams and if you’re already done – get off the internet and enjoy the sunshine!

– Danielle

Con te partirò… It’s time to say goodbye.

I can hardly believe it, but dear readers, almost two years and 57 posts later, this is my last for UpbeaT. Con te partirò… It’s time to say goodbye, indeed.

I’ve been writing for the blog since the summer of 2009, and blogging has become such a part of me that I’m not quite sure where to begin with today’s post.

I’ve gotten used to sitting down and writing a post on Friday, and editing it during my commute to school Monday morning. It’s such a part of my routine that during the winter holidays, I woke up the Monday morning in cold sweat thinking that I had forgotten to submit a post before realizing that hey, it’s a Winter Wonderland outside, there’s no school, and I’m good.

Except now I don’t ever have to write a post anymore and it’s definitely going to be strange (and truthfully, kind of sad).

You know when you get to U of T in first year and you’re completely overwhelmed by the size of the university and, as Lori said, at a loss as to how you’re ever supposed to find friends?

lifeatuoft gave me a place to call my own during the past two years. I never got to meet Heather, who was part of the Original Five, but I worked with Lucy, Mary, Liesl, and Fariya last year, and Shannon, Lori, Dara and Danielle this year. Needless to say, these girls are awesome.

Have you ever wondered what goes on behind the scenes here at UpbeaT? Us bloggers meet every week to brainstorm and exchange ideas, and this one hour meeting is what grounded me throughout the good and bad times of life as a student.

If there’s one thing I take away from UpbeaT, it’s the relationships with the people I’ve met. I’ve met so many people from different faculties and different years that I wouldn’t have met otherwise. For example, fangirling over askastudent led me to interviewing them over at Innis College, and then discovering that one of the askastudents, like I, plays the piano, and we jammed with the rest of the group he plays with after their performance at Hart House just last week. How cool is that? (oh yes, name-I’m-withholding-to-protect-your-innocence, you still owe me a poutine meetup.)

Speaking of cool. I was talking to a first-year student the other day, and the topic of colleges came up. She said, “oh yeah, there was this blog series online that I read…” and I was like, “OMG OMG OMG, you mean UpbeaT? I WROTE THAT SERIES” and tried very hard not to flail. It’s heartwarming to think that I made some sort of a mark with the blog.

I can’t help but get the feeling of warm fuzzy small animals* whenever I think of UpbeaT, and I’m really really proud to have been part of a project made of such awesomesauce.

And you, dear readers, thank you for being here with us every week. Did you know? We broke 100,000 visits two weeks ago!

Seriously. My love to all the past, present and future bloggers and readers, and all the very best. <3

Now and always,


*Erh, no animals were harmed in the writing of this post.

What’s on your running playlist?

Ok, readers. I think I can safely say that spring’s finally here. Yuck, I did see a few snow flakes this week, though…and also a few people wearing flip flops! For me, spring means making the switch from the treadmill to running outside. But, even though being in nature makes my runs much more enjoyable, I just can’t seem to get a good rhythm without a great play-list.

I can vividly remember the first time I ran with music. It was a few years ago in May and was one of those days where you let out a sigh of relief as soon as you step outside and experience blue skies and perfect summer weather. I was visiting a friend in Kingston and while she was working, I decided to take advantage of the beautiful weather and go for a run along Lake Ontario. She let me borrow her MP3 player (yeah, I don’t think many people had iPods then!), which introduced me to a whole new running experience.

I can still remember some of the songs that I listened to, as I ran into the warm summer breeze, feeling fresh and energized. I paid no attention to my watch as “Like A Prayer,” “Eye of the Tiger,” and (I’ll shamefully admit) “Backstreet’s Back” played, motivating me to keep a quick pace to meet the beat of the music (and shake my shoulders every now and then in rhythm to some of those feel-good songs I will never get sick of). I finally understood the “runner’s high” as I felt like I could have run forever. It was completely different than any run I had gone on in the past.

As a recreational runner, I often have trouble “getting through” runs. There gets to a point where, regardless of how my body feels, I mentally defeat myself and just want it to be over. I check my watch every minute or so, wondering if I’ve finally hit the 30 minute mark (or whatever target I’ve set for myself), and can start my cool down walk. Listening to music definitely motivates me to keep going when I feel like quitting.

Although most people who I see running have the distinctive white iPod buds in their ears, I have one friend who actually prefers to run without music. She says it helps her feel more connected to the run and allows her to better experience the outdoors. Not me! After that first experience running with music in Kingston, I don’t think I will ever be able to go back to running without it. It has become such a dependence that I would choose not to run over running without music.

It is a very tough call, but I would have to say that my top five favourite songs to run to are (oh, and I had to use a lot of self-control to keep Backstreet Boys from making the cut!) :

“Just Dance”- Lady Gaga

“When Love Takes Over”- David Guetta Feat Kelly Rowland

“Waka Waka”-Shakira

“Going Insane”- The Warp Brothers

“Don’t Stop Believing”- Journey

Readers, do you have any songs that you love to run to? Have you heard anything lately that just wants you to lace up your runners and get outside? Let me know!

Time to dust off your wheels…or at least it should be!

As I write this, I am looking out my kitchen window at yet another spring snowfall. When I decided to write a post this week about “springing” up your bike, I was confident that we had seen our last snow fall of the year. I was wrong.

But this doesn’t mean that you can’t get mentally prepared for the spring thaw and the cycling that will come along with it.

First off, I recommend a nice, relaxing tune-up for your bike. You will probably have noticed “spring tune-up” signs outside of local bike shops. The prices usually range from $30 to $50. However, you could also tune-up your bike yourself at Bikechain. I wrote a post about Bikechain last fall, but here is a reminder for those who still haven’t heard about this great FREE service. Bikechain provides the space and tools for you to complete your own repairs to your bike. There is always a friendly mechanic on hand to help or guide you through the process. You just have to pay for the parts.

Bike chain has a Spring tune-up checklist that is quite helpful, if you plan on doing the tune-up yourself. Apart from the mechanical aspects of bringing your bike out of hibernation, there is also what I like to call “pretty” projects, that I start to envision for my old bike…new fenders, a shiny new bell, and possibly a new seat that matches the new fenders! This is the stuff that really excites me.

Every year, I get some new parts for my bike. I have calculated that in ten years, I will have an almost completely new bike. So far, my bike has received a new chain (it’s purple!), new tires, and new pedals. I am anxiously awaiting warm, dry weather so I can take my old fenders off and attach the new fenders that I have been eyeing since last spring.

Now is also a great time of year to remind yourself of cycling safety. Bikechain is offering a two-hour spring biking seminar called Intro to Cycling in Toronto. on April 21st at 5:30. It may be that you are brand new to cycling in the city or perhaps, like me, you just need a refresher course.

Public Awareness for Bike Boxes...I'm obviously not the only one who's confused!

Public Awareness for Bike Boxes...I'm obviously not the only one who's confused!

One area of knowledge that I am lacking in this year is the new Bike Boxes that magically appeared last year sometime after I put my bike away for the season. The proper use and purpose of the boxes is a mystery to me. If you haven’t seen these new street features, go to the corner of Harbord and St. George. You will notice that on Harbord, there is a box with a symbol of a bike on the street. This box sits in front of the wide bar where cars stop at the lights. I am hoping that the Intro to Cycling in Toronto will be able to shed some light on this mystery. I don’t think I’m alone in my confusion with the bike boxes because everytime I approach this intersection on foot, I see a cyclist using the box in a different manner. Here is a post recommended to me on how to use the bike boxes. With the information from this post and the information provided in the cycling seminar, I think I should be able to get a handle on these new bike boxes!

Along with safety and bike beautification, this is also a great time of year to shop for new bike gadgets. Every spring brings an onslaught of new little tools and niceties that are completely unnecessary! Here are two of my favourites:

1. The Helmet Flip Mirror: I’m not sure if this is a new item, but it’s new to me. This little mirror attaches onto the front of your helmet and allows you to see whats coming up behind you.  Neat!

2. The Flea USB front Light: So bike lights aren’t the most exciting thing, but this bike light has a power gauge that tells you when to change the batteries! If only I had this last year, I could have avoided all those dark rides home, after the batteries died on my light.

If you are new to the city or have never extensively biked through this great city, the University of Toronto Cycling Club might be for you. This organization offers weekly touring and training rides. This would be a great way to get to know the city on two wheels, in the company of others!

There are a lot of great opportunities to get out on your bike and enjoy the city. Although if you are like me, you might want to wait until it is certain we have seen our last snowfall of the year. I’m knocking on wood right now!

Here’s to spring, which I’m hoping will come soon!


Put Your Ballot Where Your Mouth Is…

Politics. If there were ever to be a hot-button issue, it would be this. University campuses are virtual hotbeds for a plethora of political views; spirited discussions, debates, and disagreements on innumerable social issues can be heard on any given day. And at a time like now, when a major election looms near, these conversations take place at a more fevered pitch. Canada’s next general election will be held on May 2nd, which is just under a month from now.

Voting. Whether it is to affect change here on our campus by choosing our student representatives, or to affect our fates as citizens of this country, we all generally recognize its importance.

As university students, we’re taught to critically think about and analyze situations, circumstances, and phenomena, and use the knowledge that we’ve gained to affect change. This can be extended to the process of becoming politically active: we discuss social and political issues with our friends and families, educate ourselves about what the platforms of the various political parties are, listen to the televised debates, make an informed decision about which party best represents our own views, and then seek to influence change on election day.

Please know that this post is not about attempting to sway your political leanings in one direction or another. And I also want to make clear that I recognize that voting is not an option for some because of religious or other ideological reasons. My aim for this post is simply to speak to those who wish to vote, but, like me, have questions about the whole process.

So, what if you want to vote on May 2nd, but don’t know enough about the political parties? Having lived outside of Canada for nearly twenty years, I am humbly admitting that I fell into this category. I mean, I had a very general idea about what each party stood for, but I did not know enough about where each party stood on each of the issues that were important to me. Here are a few things that I am now doing, that may be helpful to you as well.

For me, catching as many of the televised debates, and paying closer attention to the nightly news, are both key. This may seem as though it goes without saying, but the fact is that with all of the assignments and studying that we have to do – who really makes the time to watch tv on a regular basis?

Something that I’ve (cautiously) found very helpful has been CBC’s Vote Compass. They ask you a series of survey questions, and your answer is scaled along the lines of “strongly disagree” to “strongly agree”. After you input your responses, the Compass provides you with a grid that (supposedly) indicates how close/far you are to which political parties. Now, of course, you won’t just want to rely on this tool as the deciding factor for who you’ll vote for. I’ve heard that some are concerned that the Compass may not be entirely neutral. So take the response that it gives you with a grain of salt. But, used in combination with the information you can gather from watching the debates, it can provide some insight.

If you are unsure about your eligibility to vote, or about registering to vote, you can visit the Elections Canada website – I’ve provided a link here. Election Canada is, as they say on their website, “the independent, non-partisan agency responsible for conducting federal elections and referendums.”

And finally – discuss, discuss, discuss. Continue having those lively conversations and even heated debates with family and friends. Recognizing that everyone has a right to their political opinion, and that these political differences of opinion are part of what makes Canada such an interesting place to live, you can truly appreciate the merits of a good debate.
Happy voting!


Study and SAIL Abroad!

Last week, Lori posed the question: ‘to be or not to be…in summer school’.

Last summer, I ended exams early and had about five months of summer. Sounds like the dream situation for many, but after the first two weeks I was sick of the endless routine of eating, sleeping, and then doing nothing… without consequences. By the end of it I just wanted to go back to school already! I spent the majority of summer working a desk job and although I was gaining valuable work experience, I never got to spend time soaking up the sun or much of anything else either.

So to answer the question: to be or not to be in summer school? I chose the best of both worlds and decided to study abroad! In fact, it’s something that I have been considering since way before I even applied to university. Apart from immigrating to Canada several years ago and making a few trips to Disney World and Cuba once or twice, I have never left North American borders. Plus, going to theme parks and resorts hardly count as travelling and experiencing the diversity and culture of the countries firsthand.

U of T offers a summer abroad program sponsored by Woodsworth college. I received a tempting brochure in the mail earlier in the semester and could not make up my mind between all of the amazing countries where study abroad was offered! I looked throughout the site and imagined myself in each of the different countries. The great part is that the courses transfer for U of T credit. However, only certain courses are offered in each country, and when I realized that, it looked like my dreams of studying abroad this summer were far out of reach.

At that point, I received a letter in the mail that I was admitted to sail on the Summer 2011 voyage of Semester at Sea hosted by the University of Virginia. While I was wishing I was somewhere else, I applied to the program one day at work. I convinced myself to apply through wishful thinking, not thinking that I would actually get accepted!

If you’ve never heard of Semester at Sea, it is basically a campus on a big cruise ship called the MV Explorer. You take classes on the boat as it sails the oceans and makes stops in several different countries. I have always dreamed of doing something like this ever since the days of watching Breaker High on YTV when I was younger. If you have no idea what Breaker High is, they no longer air it so instead, think of Family channel’s Suite Life on Deck with Zack and Cody.

All blast-from-the-past pop culture references aside, this trip is actually for real. Students do have the opportunity to study and sail on a boat. In order to make it a reality, I had to somehow find a way to pay for tuition, board and lodging, flights, hotels, traveling and spending money! So I put in my deposit, applied for every scholarship I was eligible for and crossed my fingers. I was fortunate to receive the Diversity Abroad scholarship and will be meeting with the other scholars to discuss our encounters with diversity on the ship and abroad. The trip is mostly full of American students and with only a few Canadian students on board, I am proudly representing our campus aboard the MV Explorer.

The summer voyage is 66 days long and travels across the Atlantic ocean, making stops at the following port cities and countries:

  • Nassau, Bahamas
  • Barcelona, Spain
  • Naples / Civitavecchia, Italy
  • Dubrovnik, Croatia
  • Piraeus (Athens), Greece
  • Varna, Bulgaria
  • Istanbul, Turkey,
  • Casablanca, Morocco
  • Boston, MA USA

I will be taking courses in Global Studies, Art History and Social Sciences. There are so many courses to choose from – psychology, to biology, writing, music, and business. Si ! Oui! there are even language courses in French and Spanish for beginners.

Even with the scholarship, I know it is super expensive and I will probably be spending years and years paying it off, but it is truly the experience of a lifetime. In fact, the thing that had me sold was the field trips and global campus experience. How many people are able to say that they’ve studied on a floating campus?

Several field trips are offered by the Institute for Shipboard Education and among them are authentic experiences with diversity that you would not easily be able to do on your own. For example, they offer opportunities to have service visits in orphanages, community projects, dinner with an Italian family, and opportunities to experience culture firsthand.

So not only is it an opportunity to study abroad, but I will also be able to do service abroad. Many people take trips to do service abroad and choose to do so in favour of study abroad or summer school. The fact that I will be able to combine study, service, sailing and travelling all in one is the perfect combination for what I was looking to do this summer. The experiences I will have in all eight countries are valuable life lessons in themselves.

Studying abroad takes a lot of advanced planning, sacrifices and commitment, but I really think that in the end it is all worth it. So if it is something that you are looking into doing, I would research everything possible and plan ahead. Semester at Sea is not sponsored officially by U of T but it is still possible to get credit. At times, I felt like this trip would never happen for me but I stayed positive, looked into all possibilities and never gave up. This trip sprung up pretty late on me and it would not have been possible without the scholarship I received. Talk to your registrar if you are interested in studying abroad and they will definitely help point you in the right direction. You can also find out more about study abroad from the Centre for International Experience. As for me… now I’m just ready to plan, end exams, pack my bags, and get on that boat. I’m going to take advantage of every moment!

– Danielle

Preserving Chinese heritage through handicraft

As a child growing up in Hong Kong, I remember the heavy emphasis placed on doing well in academics by my teachers.

I remember being told that I had to do well, otherwise, I wouldn’t be able to get into a good high school, and if I couldn’t get into a good high school, how would I be able to get into a good university, and if I couldn’t get into university, what was I going to do with my life?

Let’s not get into how wrong that line of logic is for a second (there’s enough fodder for an entire rant right there), but I asked my friends, and they had similar experiences. I can’t say if this is what school is like now; I can only speak about my experiences more than a decade ago.

Ironically, my mother never really cared (she was more “practice piano!”, haha), but I remember going home with a heavy knapsack filled with math sets and rows of blank squares to practice my characters. That’s all there is to my memory of primary school in Hong Kong.

There wasn’t arts class, like I had when I was in Canada. I remember taking art classes outside of school, but I never picked up a paintbrush in class. I remember being completely confused on my first day of school because I didn’t have to start by doing problem sets or reciting text. I was even more baffled when there were two recesses and a lunch break (I was used to having lunch during my one break), and was completely flummoxed by the time we got to the end of the day and I was given glitter to paint with.

But I heard it wasn’t always like that. I heard from my aunts and uncles that when they were in China, school included a lot more arts and crafts. But with the increase in people competing for spots in universities, the arts and crafts were filtered out and replaced by academics.

Revitalizing this culture is what the Chinese Handicrafts Community at U of T set out to do. They’re a small group that was established last August with the purpose of cultural exchange.

“Young people don’t have the passion for culture and handiwork anymore,” says Kelly Zhong, the club’s president. “Handiwork is getting lost, and I want to protect and share our culture.”

And so using money out of their own pockets, Kelly and Alexandra Zhao, the club’s vice-president, bring back traditional supplies when they are in China for the club’s use.

“We want to create a space for cultural exchange,” said Alexandra. “A place where anyone who is interested in East Asian culture can experience it for themselves.”

The club does a variety of Chinese handicrafts. From cross-stitching (I remember doing this in kindergarten!) to paper cutting to making knots to cooking traditional Chinese food, the club tries to give its members a full taste of the rich Chinese heritage once or twice every month, the most recent being a workshop on cross-stitching.

I was curious to know where the club’s executive learned how to do the handicraft, and Kelly told me that a lot of this was self-taught, “We’re passionate about Chinese culture and handicraft, and so often, we would find books and videos to learn how to do a particular craft. The club’s spirit is more about the cultural exchange.”

But Kelly tells me that there are plans to invite relatives to come in to host workshops. Apart from imparting their knowledge, Kelly says it’s a great way for the elders to see how youth are still interested in the culture and history.

So, readers, if you didn’t do all your schooling in North America, what was your experience like? I’d love to hear about it.

– Cynthia