Reflections on First Year at U of T

Seeing as how the school year is rapidly coming to an end, I thought it might be apt to share the experiences had this year by one of the university's newest members — a first year student. In pursuit of this I approached student life rising star Jelena Djuric (pictured below) to get her take on her first-year experience at Canada's leading academic institution. My questions are in bold with Ms. Djuric's response following subsequently.

I would like to thank Jelena for agreeing to being featured in this week's post.

What classes did you take in your first year? Any in particular that you enjoyed? What Program of Study do you hope to pursue going forward? This year I took five full-year courses, allowing me to have a more spread out workload. I took POL101 (Democracy, Dictatorship, War and Peace), HIS103 (Statecraft and Strategy: An Introduction to the History of International Relations), ECO105 (Introduction to Economics for Non-Majors), DTS200 (Diaspora and Transnational Studies), and a first year seminar titled “The Embarrassment of Scripture”. So far, my political science and history course have been most engaging. I intend to pursue an International Relations Specialist degree, or a double major in International Relations and Political Science. However, a Peace and Conflict Studies major/minor is still an option following second year. What, in your opinion, was the hardest part about your first year as an undergrad? How did you cope? Would you offer any advice to incoming students who may face a similar issue? As a residence student, I experienced many distractions on a daily basis. I dealt with this by being in the library and ensuring I was being productive while I was off residence. With the constant urge to socialize with new friends, I understand this may seem easier said than done. I would recommend incoming students facing a similar barrier to getting their work done to motivate their peers to do the same. That way, when productivity is achieved, everyone gets to reward themselves! What extracurricular activities did you get involved with this year? This year I had the pleasure of serving as an elected member-at-large on my college’s student council! Being on VUSAC (Victoria University Student Administrative Council) was definitely one of the most rewarding experiences I have had so far. It allowed me to form multiple relationships with many like minded students across campus. As a member-at-large I helped to organize UofT’s annual Winterfest, the Victoria College annual formal Highball, in addition to being a member of the Budget Steering Committee. Additionally, I had the opportunity to debate at Yale University and McGill University with the Hart House Debate Club. I am also a policy analyst for the G20 research group, analyzing the commitments made by G20 member states in the area of climate change. What motivated you to get involved? Before going in to university, I was already immensely passionate about governance, political debate and so on. I knew that in order to engage in these passions I could not solely rely on the ‘lecture experience’. I also knew that constantly doing readings and essays would not give me the best university experience. I knew I wanted to share my passions with students and I knew I could find that by getting involved at UofT. Where did you first hear about the extracurricular activities you are currently involved with? I heard about VUSAC during frosh week, and I knew I could positively contribute to the council. As for debate, I was already a member of my high school debate team. In terms of the G20 research group, I accidentally stumbled across it while reading John Ralston Saul’s book “The Collapse of Globalism and the Reinvention of the World”. For no particular reason, I looked up a footnote and realized he cited his information from the G20 research group based at the university. When I realized I too could contribute to the report, I immediately applied to be a policy analyst! What’s your favourite thing you did this year outside of the classroom? This year I signed up for two sessions that are a part of a Vic initiative titled “Ideas for the World”. Every week, students get together with a professor over lunch for 2 hours to discuss various, often controversial and thought provoking topics. In the fall, I was in “Environment and Economics”, and I am currently in “Culture and Conflict in the Media”. The unique part of this program, is there are no marks or assignments. You simply show up, watch a video, and have an intellectually stimulating discussion. This was a great way to voice my opinions on various issues without fear of getting a bad grade! What was your favourite thing you did inside the classroom? I believe my favourite thing has been the freedom to research a wide array of topics that are of interest to me. For example, I am currently in the process of researching the Serbian diaspora situated in North America in the post-communist order and the impact the breakup of Yugoslavia has had on the creation of the Serb identity. And this is for my diaspora and transnational studies class! It is very exciting to be able to delve in to a topic that deeply resonates with me. What extracurricular activities do you hope to purse next year? I plan to continue to pursue all the activities I am currently involved in. I am also hoping to get involved with the International Relations Society, or with the Association of Political Science Students. Would you say your extracurricular experiences enhanced the quality of your first year at the University of Toronto? Without a doubt! Getting involved at UofT has opened up many future opportunities for me. Would you recommend first year students get involved in extracurricular activities? YES! I understand going in to university from high school can be very daunting. However, getting involved will give you a sense of community that you may not necessarily find in the classroom or in residence. The campus seems a lot smaller when you see so many familiar faces! First year students are not typically the students who are most inclined to get involved in extracurricular activities. Can the university do more in promoting the benefits of extracurricular involvement to first year students? What would you like to be seen done? A lot of students seem to think getting involved means your GPA will suffer. This is definitely a misconception. In fact, the opposite seems to be true. I think the university should promote extra-curricular in a way that accurately shows students who get involved will not only reap social benefits, but their academic experience will accordingly be enhanced.

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