Finding A Little Balance

If you could only tell one story about yourself, what would you tell? Is your story long, or short? Deep, or lighthearted? How would you break the ice?

I’d start with an introduction: My name is Zach and I’m in my third year at U of T, in the undergraduate Public Policy and Governance program. I also minor in Aboriginal Studies and Russian Language, just to keep things interesting. I’m from Calgary and more used to mountains and meadows than I am to towers and transit. Some of my ancestors were Cree and Russian. These roots guide my story.

Pathways through the trees.

Sometimes you find yourself in need of a guide, and that’s actually a good thing (photo taken by Zachary Biech)

But I’d go beyond the basics. I’d include other parts of my life, to paint a better picture. In short, my story needs balance. Actually, my story is about balance.

I’ll start back in grade school. I think I’ve always had some mental balance. I always found time to work hard for my marks. Don’t get the wrong idea, I had time to goof around too. In class. In front of teachers. Oops.

Before grade twelve, I lacked physical balance. I’d get home from school and eat a whole pizza sub or two for a snack. I wasn’t a shining example of athleticism. But after recognizing this imbalance, it was easy to change my ways. Ok, not that easy. My calves burn just thinking about the exercise regimes. Finding the willpower to eat healthy was even harder. Thankfully, I dropped over eighty pounds. It’s great although I miss binging on chips and milkshakes.

Next, I landed in Toronto. Imagine you’re an alien visiting another alien world even crazier than where you’re from. Now you know how I, a small-town Albertan, felt in big, bustling Toronto.  After wobbling around in this immense place like a goofball for a year, I read the writing on the wall. I needed emotional balance. Over the second year, I dealt with every emotion known to man (and maybe some unknown ones as well) and came out on top. My goofball score dropped dramatically too. I think.

A view out over the Bow River Valley in the foothills of southern Alberta

My old view from my home in Alberta (photo taken by Zachary Biech)

Toronto's impressive skyline on a bright clear day, from 18 floors up in a tower

My new view from my Toronto apartment (photo taken by Zachary Biech)

Afterwards, I still lacked something. Maybe you’ve felt the same way like you need to complete your soul’s inner circle. Profound, right? I simply realized I needed spiritual balance. So I worked up some courage, embraced my heritage, and dove headfirst into Toronto’s Indigenous communities including U of T’s First Nations House. Engaging was easy and I received the warmest of welcomes.

The vines and trees just outside the First Nations House building

Just outside First Nations House (photo taken by Zachary Biech)

Mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual balance were vital for embracing my Indigeneity and finding my personal, academic, social, and spiritual center at U of T. I even enjoy my other interests more fully, like music and cooking. If I could only tell one story, I’d talk about balance to show my perspective. But luckily, I have much more to tell! I also like listening and I think we can have a great time storytelling together.

How balanced are you?

If you could only tell one story about yourself, what would you tell?

Looking straight upwards at the big blue sky, through foliage and campus buildings

Finding centre at U of T is not as hard as you’d think; you just need to know where to look (photo taken by Zachary Biech)


UTSU Clubs Day 2014

Hey there U of T! To all those participating in orientation week, I hope you’re having a blast getting to know your new home for the next four (or more) years. to everyone else, I hope you’re enjoying this last week of summer and gearing up for the new year!


On Wednesday, UTSU held their annual clubs fair where each of U of T’s 250+ clubs get a table at Hart House Circle and give out information (and occasionally free stuff) to students. In case you missed the fair, or couldn’t fight your way to the front of a line to sign up for a cool club, Ulife has a directory of clubs right here.

Check out some pictures from the Clubs fair below!


Hanging out at the Student Life booth! There was popcorn! And books with my face in them!


So many clubs and student associations to join! I’m very excited to see the Importance of Being Earnest at Hart House this year and I salute the brave souls in the U of T bees club!


So U of T, what clubs are you excited to get involved in? 

Last-Minute Orientation Week Events

As you walk around campus today, you will notice something profoundly different. Hoards of people dressed in the same colour shirts are walking around screaming and cheering. Campus buildings are dressed in their newest and brightest banners, advertising different events and programs. The once quaint study spots you occupied all summer have been over-taken with obstacle courses and mass barbecues. It’s officially Orientation Week here at the University of Toronto! 

Image via.


While it’s undeniable that Orientation Week brings a unqiue energy and sense of life to campus, not every first year feels the need to paint themselves purple with the engineers, or block traffic intersections with UC. That’s why U of T offers hundreds of different orientation opportunities, and even though the week has already begun there’s still great events you can sign up for.

Kickstart is one of the most unique opportunities you can sign up for here at U of T. It runs for two weeks from September 2nd until September 11th, but the schedule of events is entirely customizable to fit your wants and needs. Although you register for one week or the other (or both!) the idea is that you only attend the events that sound interesting and helpful to you.

Choosing Orientation Week events like...  via.

Choosing Orientation Week events like…

They offer things such as workshops that help you transition to university writing style, a panel of upper-years (including myself, Amie, and Api!) who can help answer some of your burning questions, and tours of Hart House and Robarts library. You can still register for kickstart at

The Univerisity of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) is your next place for no-strings-attached Orientation Week events. They host a series of events to welcome you to campus and let you meet students from every college, faculty and campus of U of T. Their annual events, such as the Clubs Fair, Parade, and Street Fest are massive events that showcase all the unique opportunities U of T has to offer. To attend any of these events, you only have to be a University of Toronto student – no registration or commitment required!


The UTSU Parade through St. George campus & downtown Toronto!  Source:

So to all my Orientation-registration-procrastinating friends out there – there is still hope, and more importantly still time! Even if Orientation Week sounds like something you wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot pole, what’s the harm in taking a casual walk around Clubs Day day, or attending a FREE Tokyo Police Club concert? (There isn’t any – I promise!)

Put yourself out there this week and enjoy the energy of the campus. To see all of my Orientation Week adventures, make sure to follow me on twitter at @Rachael_UofT.

Orientation Week Survival Kit

Your expectations for your first year probably come from the stories of your family, your campus tour (if you were lucky enough to take one) and inevitably, the hundreds of Hollywood movies based around college life.

I’m here to tell you, as someone who only just experienced this 1 year ago, Hollywood does not prepare you for what orientation week is really going to be like. Neither do the stories of your older siblings or the posts on the “Accepted at U of T class of ____” Facebook page. That’s because the only person who can dictate what your orientation week is going to be like – is you!

Me during my frosh week last year with the people that would soon become my best friends!

Me during my frosh week last year with the people that would soon become my best friends!

Orientation Week at the University of Toronto (here at the St. George campus), is almost entirely customizable. There are multiple different options for every experience from the classic “ra-ra” cheering with your college or faculty, to one or two day seminars that help prepare you for the academic expectations of university. Check out all of these different options and more on the Start at U of T Orientation Calendar.

Regardless of the experience you choose for your Orientation Week, it’s going to be busy week. Between meeting new friends, running to different locations on campus, and trying to squeeze in as much as you can before class starts, here are a few things you should keep on hand. An Orientation Week Survival Kit of sorts;

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  1. A Backpack – on top of using this to carry around everything else you’ll need for the week, most events come with an endless supply of pamphlets, booklets and free swag. The last thing you want is to be carrying that around all day. Keep your hands-free and bring a backpack!

  2. A Water Bottle – one of the things I wish I had known about U of T before I came was that no where on campus sells bottled water! This environmentally friendly initiative means that having a reusable water bottle, that can be filled up at hundreds of places around campus, is a must.

  3. Flex Dollars – speaking of eating & drinking, trying to run off campus every time you want to eat is not always do-able. It’s also not necessary as U of T offers hundreds of different locations on campus where you can get everything from locally grown sustainable produce, to favourites like Pizza Pizza and Subway. Make things easy for yourself by purchasing some Flex Dollars on your TCard, so that you always have money to eat!

  4. TTC Tokens – that being said, there will be times when events are off campus! And while transportation is usually always provided, it’s good to have some TTC tokens in your pocket so that you always know you have a safe ride home.

  5. U of T Lanyard – remember the early 2000s when wearing a lanyard around your neck (with your one house key and tamagotchi attached) was so cool? Well I’m not saying lanyards are back in that sense but I will say that all of my friends in first year used a lanyard for their residence keys and their TCard. The U of T Bookstore sells special lanyards that house your TCard in a clear plastic sleeve for easy access!

  6. The U of T Map App – for anyone who hasn’t yet downloaded the U of T Map app, this is your new favourite tool for finding the location of events. Just type the location name into the app, and the map will show you were it is on campus! It also has features like where’s the closest ATM, or the closest Coffee shop.

So that is my Orientation Week Survival Kit! Just a few things to keep on hand to make sure you have an amazing, and safe, week!

Myself, and the rest of the Community Crew, will be on campus all week and we would love if you said hi! So no matter what Orientation option you choose make sure to share what you’re doing with me on twitter at Rachael_UofT.

Top 5 #UofT Twitter Accounts

In my last post I talked about how following different U of T twitter accounts was one of the best ways to feel like you were still on campus, even when you’re hundreds of miles away. But it’s come to my attention that when you search “UofT” on twitter, you get thousands of tweets, hundreds of different twitter accounts, and a gentle reminder that
Hey – you’re the one who decided to go to the largest school in Canada!

So today I have decided to brave the labyrinth and decode the complex twitterverse of the University of Toronto. There’s a lot of great content out there, but there’s also a lot of false information and down-right trolling. Somewhere in between it all, I’ve narrowed it down to The Top 5 #UofT Twitter Accounts You Should Follow;

1. The Official One

Okay lets start off with the basics. You should most definitely begin by following the official U of T twitter account. Although their content is mostly retweet based, you can guarantee that all the information provided by them is legitimate. They often inform when there are IT problems, university closures and major campus events. Their partner account is UofT News, which is essentially your one-stop shop for quick-read headlines linking to news articles about the U of T community.


2. The One That Actually Relates to Your Life 


Excuse the shameless self-promotion, but if you aren’t following the Life @ U of T twitter you’re missing out. @LifeatUofT is, well exactly how it’s name portrays it, about life here at the Univetrsity of Toronto. Whether it’s sharing events or venting about lack of sleep during exam season, the content is written by students for students. It’s relatable, and most importantly relevant. It’s also by-far the most community-based account out there. It really focuses on connecting with different students, staff, and faculties at the university – which makes it a great home base to find other accounts out there.


3. The One that Represents You 


You probably know that we have a student union, and if you didn’t you’ve probably at least attended one of their events without knowing it was put on by them (think the frosh week concert every year). The UTSU twitter account is very event and opportunity focused. It’s a good place to look if you’re interested in getting more involved or want something (usually FREE) to do on campus.


4. The One without a Point

front campus

I long debated putting this on my list, but I’ve decided that if this account manages to make me laugh on a daily basis it shouldn’t be excluded purely due to it’s lack of legitimacy. You’ve probably already seen their tweets around, but Front Campus officially has a twitter account. Yes you heard that right – there is an entire twitter account dedicated to the grassy laws of front campus. I’m going to blatantly admit that there is no underlying point to this account, yet each tweet exposes a hilariously true point or comment about front campus. Follow them if you’re looking for some funny timeline filler.


5. The One with All the Answers 


Ask a Student U of T is a twitter account for where U of T students answer the questions of other students in an entirely hilariously, yet ultimately accurate way. Their tweets are almost exclusively links to answered questions with a brief headline of what the question entails. So although there’s not much content created exclusively for twitter, I guarantee that as you scroll thought your timeline you’ll inevitably think “Hey, I was wondering that too!”


So those are my top 5 twitter accounts. Talking about everything from event listings, to answered questions, to relatable rants about the elevator lines at Robarts, they’re sure to fill your timeline with the perfect combination of U of T infused content. But hey, maybe I skipped out on a few great ones! Maybe there are even some instagram accounts I need to check out. Send me your suggestions and additions to my list in the comments below – or tweet them to me at @Rachael_UofT

Taking the next step

The picture-perfect version of graduation. The real thing comes with a big slice of uncertainty. Via

Graduation, minus the real-life reality of uncertainty and anxiety.

Graduating is a pretty exciting concept. You’ve survived the onslaught of assignments and tests, and as a reward you never have to set foot in the Exam Centre again. This is the time to celebrate, graduating students! You did it!

Since I’m one of you, I know that the reality is not quite that simple. A huge cloud of uncertainty seems to settle in as the school year draws to a close. What comes next after U of T? Should you go to grad school? College? Search for a job? Find an internship? Should you move back home? The questions are endless. And even for those of us who have decided where to go next, there’s still anxiety about whether the choice was a good one and how to end up in a desired career.

Last week, I attended the Next Steps conference, which was designed to help answer these kinds of questions. It began with a keynote address from Gloria Roheim McRae, an alumna who tried out 21 different jobs before landing on her passion as an entrepreneur.

speechNear the beginning of her speech, she asked who was feeling overwhelmed by what was next. At least half of the hands in Con Hall went up. She shared her story and provided advice on how to stand out and make a living doing what you love. I can only speak for myself, but by the end I was feeling a lot less overwhelmed. A linear path to a dream job is not necessary, and in fact may even be less interesting. Your unique experiences are what set you apart from your peers, and may even be key in landing a job.

As the cliche goes, “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” Roheim McRae can attest to this; only one out of her 21 jobs was landed through a formal application process. But instead of handing out business cards and viewing other people only in terms of what they can do for you, she emphasized the importance of making authentic connections. Get to know people, be genuinely interested in what they have to say, and opportunities will come from there.

A conference was a perfect setting for that kind of conversation. It was easy to chat with people while eating cookies or waiting for events to start, and everyone there had a lot in common by virtue of being in the same life stage.

signI also attended some afternoon sessions on education after undergrad and staying positive and finding balance as you make the transition. Both were great opportunities to hear the stories of alumni and staff, reflect on where I’m going, and set goals for moving forward.

One thing I wish is that I’d attended this conference in my third year. It would have been useful to more thoroughly explore my options well before any actual choices had to be made. For any second years out there, keep an eye out for this event next year!

A Final Farewell to U of T

For the past four years I have said goodbye to U of T in April. But it was a tentative goodbye, said with the knowledge that I was returning to the woes and joys of student-hood in September. Now, this April, today, I am saying goodbye to U of T for the last time.

To commemorate my time here, I went for a little walk the other day. Here’s some of what I saw:


I remember when my parents dropped me off at those doors. I was nervous. I came in with boxes and bags and posters to hang on my wall. But beyond my edgy nerves, I remember the undeniable thrill of arriving. I was starting a new life, and I was making a new homeIMG_0095

When I discovered the UC Quad, I knew I was home. Standing on the low stone steps leading down onto the open green grass, and looking across at those sunlit archways, I remember how my imagination exploded with the possibilities at U of T. I dreamed up a whole life for myself, a whole new me, really. And it turns out, at a place as magical as U of T, dreams drift right into reality.


My main stomping-ground in first and second year, Hart House Library. Curled up in a red arm chair, bathed in warm sunlight, a novel laying open on my chest—it may not have been the most academically productive space, but you can’t ask for a better setting for a studying induced nap.


Yep, a secret, forbidden stairwell at Hart House. Where does it lead? I’ll leave that to the naturally adventurous…


This room in Northrop Frye Hall! There are lots of wonderful reasons that make this room special. Peices of that university dream that I never really expected would come true. I’m sure, if you think about it, there’s a room somewhere at U of T that makes you feel the same way. If not, just you wait!


The Isabel Bader Theatre is the most comfortable lecture hall at U of T. Trust me, it’s science! Not only did I have first year philosophy in this theatre, which I will never forget—because it’s first year philosophy—but the Bader was also home to The Bob sketch comedy performance. Here, in this theatre, I really got to be me, and a whole lot of other people, but mostly me.

Wow! What a great pleasure it has been to attend the University of Toronto. It was certainly the best, most fulfilling, most challenging, and most rewarding part of my life, to date. And it was extra special having the opportunity to share some of my experience with you, the U of T student community, this last year.

To all of you who ever read one of my posts, and to the whole of U of T, the professors, T.A.s, students, admin, caretakers, grounds workers, chefs, cashiers, and coat-check volunteers:

Thank You. It was diamond!

- Stephen.


On A Magic Bus

One of the great things about university is the endless opportunity to experience, learn, and engage with new perspectives and worldviews. Last Saturday I went on a Multi-Faith Centre hosted event, a Bus Tour of Houses of Worship in Toronto and the GTA. I saw a poster for it at Hart House a week ago. The tour visited a Sikh Gurdwara, an Islamic Mosque, and a Christian Presbyterian Church.

The bus tour left from Hart House at 10 am. Everyone had to register before hand, and as we boarded the bus, the organizer checked our names from the list. We were given name tags and encouraged to speak with the people sitting in front and behind us. The bus was packed.

I talked with an exchange student from Paris, France, who had been a little undecided whether to come to Canada or the United States for her term abroad, but she said she was enjoying her decision very much. She registered for the bus tour because it allowed her to explore Toronto and Canada in a safe and comfortable way and experience the variety of communities and cultures that live here.

We arrived at the Sikh Gurdwara first. The building reminded me of a library mixed with a gymnasium. It was very quiet and clean, and we had to remove our shoes and don shawls to cover our heads. Our Sikh guides, a young woman and an older man, gave us a tour of the different prayer rooms, and eventually led us to the cafeteria where they were offering lungar, a free meal to which all are welcome. On the floor, we ate vegetarian curry and naan bread and vegetables tossed in a special batter. It was delicious! The Sikh religion believes in inclusivity, equality, and good will to all of humanity.

We got back on the bus and drove a short ways and arrived at the Islamic Mosque. Welcomed by a very cheerful and entertaining volunteer, we discovered that the building was also a community outreach centre, a registered private school, and a place of worship. Inside the prayer room, I was surprised by the lack of symbols and images. The room was plain and undecorated. Our host explained that individual prayer is integral to Islam, and so they don’t have intermediary symbols and signs. The religion is largely about how to be a good person.

Our final destination was the Christian Presbyterian Church. I went to church when I was younger, and I recognized the smell of old wood, the dim light of stain glass windows, the Bibles on the backs of the pews. But I know very little about Christianity. For instance, I thought the Gospel was a song. Nope. The Church employee cleared that up, explaining that the Gospel is the triumph over evil, and that Church is the celebration of the Gospel. She also told us that the church is involved with local Toronto charities, offering Out of the Cold and ESL programs.

All in all, the Bus Tour of Houses of Worship brought to my attention the vastness of my own ignorance. But in a good way. I realized that the opportunity for understanding, and the potential to explore and learn is open to me, and to every student, here at U of T. We have such an unbelievably magnificent invitation to open our eyes and see the world beyond our own life-styles, beliefs, and understandings. It was a great day. Plus I got a free lunch!

‘Til next time, U of T, stay diamond.

- Stephen.

A How to House Hunt Post

About this time in first year, I started thinking about where I was going to live in September. I had decided to move out of New College residence, to the great dismay of my stomach, but I just really wanted my independence in second year. The tricky part was finding an apartment in Toronto.

I had gotten together with two friends with the idea that we would live together. We started looking for places, just sort of walking around the Annex, Kensington Market, and the East end near Bay and Yonge. We had the funny notion that the perfect apartment would just appear on the side of the street.

Around this time I went to an apartment search information session hosted at New College. It explained what to expect from landlords, rent agreements, what to look out for, such as poor plumbing and infrastructure. There was an interesting fact that the majority of people never look up and examine the ceiling when they enter a new room or building. There could a giant hole and most people would miss it. So look up!

U of T Housing Services offers a lot of information and resources to help students with the house hunt. They provide students with a Housing Finder, a Roommate Finder and a really cool Interactive Home Inspection tool that offers tips, reminders, and questions to ask landlords about a new apartment. Also, in June and July, Housing Services will be holding Explore Off-Campus Housing Workshops at select residences. Check back with their events page for full details!

In my own search, I eventually turned to other options in Toronto for finding an apartment, such as Craigslist and Kijiji. There is another really good online and mobile service called Padmapper. These services offer a lot of options, a lot of listings, which is good and bad. It’s bad because it can seem overwhelming to wade through it all, but it’s good because you’re bound to find a good, affordable place.

One thing I discovered about these sites: September apartments really start showing up around late June to July. April and May are good times to think about where you want to live, and to try to find roommates. But don’t worry if you aren’t seeing any September 1st listings. In time!

Lastly, there was a useful event that is still being offered at U of T, the Housing Fair on April 5, 2014. It’s a networking event to meet other students who are looking for apartments, roommates, or seeking someone to sublet for the summer. A nifty trick, if one were so inclined, is to meet someone who is subletting and then find out whether they are returning in September. If not, the apartment will be up for grabs!

Ultimately, apartment hunting should be fun, like a mini safari around the Toronto wilderness. Go into it with your friends and explore. Meet landlords, look at ceilings, test water pressure, look in the fridge. Don’t be shy, and really just have fun!

For me, it was my first real apartment. I lived there, I loved it, and I will remember it forever. It was fun!

‘Til next time, stay diamond, U of T

- Stephen

Need A Place To Study . . . In Silence?

There is a new dimension beyond those known to U of T students. It is a dimension of sight and mind, but without sound. A wondrous land of study and contemplation. It is an area called The Silent Zone.



This was essay week for me. I work well at Robarts Library, so I packed up my things and headed off to the big ol’ turkey. It think it’s the altitude, like working on top of a mountain. Anyway, when I got there I saw a notice on the wall promoting these new Silent Zones. Of course, I had to check them out.

There are a few different Silent Zones at Robarts Library. I visited each one to get the full experience. The first one is the Reading Room on the second floor, and I’ll admit I was surprised when I first walked in . . .

It was quiet. It was also pretty big. And it was packed. I had never been to the Robarts’ Reading Room before, but at 4pm on Wednesday it was a popular place to be. I stayed only for a few minutes, mostly to scope out the vibe.

The second floor Reading Room is designed for studying. Three rows of single person study-cubbies fill the middle of the room, with lots of four-seater tables set along the walls and across the windows. Each of the four-seater tables has a power plug built into the middle of it, which is pretty great for computers, tablets, phones (on silent!), and anything else, so you’ll always have power!

There is another Silent Zone on the third floor, in the Reading Room, right above the second floor with an overlooking balcony. I liked this room more than the last. There are three tall, bright windows in the corner that look out over St. George St., giving the whole room a good open feeling, like you could really work undisturbed and comfortable. And the only sound was the occasional . . .

Then there was the Computer Lab on the fourth floor. Another place at U of T I had never visited. It’s a fairly small room, but there are a lot of computers, and the walls are made of glass. Was it silent? No, not really. There was an instructor preparing to teach a class on one half of the room. But it was okay. It was like most computer labs . . .

I got up to the 9th to 13th floors, and I was beginning to doubt the integrity of these Silent Zones. The 9th floor was already pretty quiet. How much less noise could people make? But as I rounded the corner towards the Harbord Apex and the designated Silent Zone, I all at once noticed a strange noise fill my ears. It was sudden and overwhelming . . .


Yes, I kid you not. The Harbord Apex of the ninth floor of Robarts was utterly silent. There were students working and studying, but I couldn’t even hear the keyboards. The only sound was the gentle hum of the ventilation, which might easily have been a calming breeze. Truly, I was on top of a mountain. It was nice. And I wrote my whole essay in a few hours.

So, if you are walking around in Robarts Library, and you happen to feel a stilling sensation fill your ears, a sudden sense that you’re standing on top of a mountain, then you may have just entered a Silent Zone.

‘Til next time, stay diamond, U of T!

- Stephen.