Getting involved with conferences

My reading week was split into two tasks: (a) grading midterms for the class I TA, and (b) presenting at an conference in Michigan. I’ve been at UofT for five years, but this is my first year applying to conferences. Upon reflecting, I wish I had done so earlier, and I want to spend this blog post trying to convince you to at least consider applying to conferences (even if you don’t plan to continue into higher higher-education!).

Photo of woman buried under stacks of paper with a general look of anguish and despair playing across her downtrodden face.

Basically me grading midterms [source]

Why apply to conferences? There are a few good reasons. First, it’s a great opportunity to get feedback on your work. A prof’s comments on an assignment can only go so far. Here, you can have a number of people providing important insights on your work that you might not have gotten otherwise. Second, it’s a great way to practice presentation skills. Whether you’re planning on staying in school, or going into the work force, presentation skills are valuable. Third, it’s a great way to network and meet people you may be studying or working with in the future. And finally, it’s a chance to explore new ideas from other people. (It also looks good on a resume or CV, if you’re into that sort of thing).

Am I good enough for a conference? Despite what you may think, you probably are! Firstly, conferences usually have more lax criteria than do journals, and are in part there to provide you with a platform for testing out your work in progress, as much as sharing it. Secondly, while you might want to apply to specific or big conferences (and there’s nobody stopping you!), there are a lot of undergraduate conferences out there dedicated to accepting only undergraduate work. So you can feel safer amongst your peers. Don’t think your GPA has any bearing on how you can perform at a conference, and know that it’s OKAY to present a not-so-perfect paper. That’s how we learn, and that’s how we improve.

What if I’m a poor public speaker? That’s okay too! Most of these conferences are great learning experiences for speaking practice, but you should also note that many conference speakers (even professionals) will read off their pages or prompts, as much as they’d like to do otherwise. Nobody has high expectations of speakers in reality. Don’t put yourself down and out of the count: you can take this as an opportunity to improve!

Can I afford it? UofT likes to brag about it’s accomplished researchers and to facilitate thinking, even in its undergraduates: there are many resources available. Most colleges and departments have some travel funds to help with the cost of travel and lodging, and some of the conferences themselves might have some assistance available on request. If you’re a full time arts & sciences student, you can also apply for travel support from the Arts and Sciences Student’s Union. Finally, you can often skip the hotel fees for another student’s couch.

photo of child on a surfboard on a couch. A little too literal if you ask me.

Not this kind of couch surfing, mind you. [source]

How do I find a conference for me? UofT holds a number of undergraduate conferences run by student clubs and course unions: try asking around! Beyond that, some disciplines have websites specifically for collecting CFPs (Calls For Papers) and CFAs (Calls For Abstracts) where you can find out. I’ve even found Facebook groups dedicated to sharing conference calls within subdisciplines. But, if you’re in doubt, you might want to try asking your department’s undergraduate coordinator or your professors: they’re also often in the know.

That’s it for me trying to convince you. Maybe in upcoming weeks I’ll talk about the actual process: it can be nerve-wracking I know. But hopefully you’re at least thinking about the option.

Making Group Work Work

“Teamwork makes the dream work”, or so I’ve been told. Some people might be inclined to respond that “Group work makes the nightmare work”. It’s a scary form of assessment which universities seem to be falling increasingly in love with. From an outsider glance, it’s easy to see why: future researchers need to be able to collaborate with people who have different knowledge than do they in order to continue advancing our understandings of the world, and anyone working or living in the world today needs to develop interpersonal and teamwork skills to survive.

Both in the real world and in the university, group work poses a few risks: someone might coast along with the team just to take credit, people might take control of the group,  and duties might not be distributed fairly, among other things. In the classroom, there’s the added weight that your grade usually depends on working with other people. It’s a scary trial that many people will have to confront before they graduate.

Yet, despite so many students harping on group work at UofT and around the globe, a google search for how to make university group work actually work shows almost no results: mostly just resources for teachers trying to make group work worthwhile. But what about us students? Where are the guides for making group work work? Good question. It will depend on the kind of group work assigned and the discipline it’s for. But I think there are some answers on a broader interpretation. Continue reading:

1. Introduce yourself. Even in small classrooms, it’s very easy not to know the people around you. It will be a lot easier to work with people if you know their names, and it helps to break the ice. Even if your group work is only going to last ten minutes, it only takes a few seconds to introduce yourself.

2. Exchange the best contact information. A lot of students feel obliged to give out their utoronto email accounts, even though a lot of them don’t use their accounts too frequently. This makes it hard to keep touch. Go ahead and share your sk8r_h8r1998 hotmail account if it’s what you use most. Or, try Facebook groups or third party applications. Whatever is going to keep your team in touch.

3. Don’t be too modest. Everybody has their own skills. A team works best when it’s using everybody’s skills together. If you’re good at presenting, let them know. If you have great research skills, great! If you have strong penmanship, well you’re likely a total keeper. It will make assigning any jobs easier, and will make it easier for you to do your part when you’re already good at it!

4. Break out but don’t break up. It’s easier to work on projects in smaller groups and way easier to schedule! (Not to mention, may be helpful with productivity). But be careful that you don’t wander too far: your break out groups should stay accountable to your whole group. I can only tell you what happens when the people supposed to do section X disappear on presentation day, and nobody knows what their part was.

5. Get [a] stranger. If you have the option to pick your own groups, consider bringing in a stranger. It can be comfortable to study and work with the people you know, but (a) it also means conflicts can be even worse, and (b) some studies show that bringing new people into a group setting improves the creativity and productivity of the group. Who knows what your peers have in store for you!

6. Bonus: Ditch the doodle polls for group scheduling; when2meet has made my scheduling life so much easier in every way.

Have any other tips for surviving group work? Let me know in the comments!

b2B History Alumni Dinner – #TryitUofT

Over the last year and a half at U of T I think it’s safe to assume that I have received 1000+ emails to my school email address. While a lot of these did contain valuable information about courses, midterms, and social events, a lot of them didn’t. They were invitations to extra curricular events, newsletters, and classmates asking for lecture notes. 

So it’s no surprise that I’ve developed a bit of a bad habit of filing these emails away, out of my inbox, into a U of T folder. 

However, January was #TryItUofT month here on the Life@UofT blog – and in the spirit of trying something new I decided to open one of these emails and go along with whatever was inside. This ended up being the b2B History Mentorship Dinner. 

photo of myself with the text overlay "backpack 2 briefcase" - on the left hand side is a picture of me dressed as a student holding a backpack, while on the right hand side is a picture of me looking more professional

b2B, or backpack to Briefcase, is a program here at U of T that aims to help U of T students bridge the connection between their education and their future profession.  The program hosts a variety of events such as panels, workshops, and alumni events such as the one I attended. 

dinner table in an old room, dressed with white table clothes and dinner setting. There are both older adults and younger students sitting at the table engaged in discussion

The b2B History Mentorship Dinner was designed to connect students at U of T currently studying history, with alumni in a variety of different professions. The aim was to show how versatile a degree such as history can actually be. The alumni that attended ranged in profession from an Investment Banker at RBC, to a professor here at U of T. 

The dinner was held at the beautiful Faculty Club here on campus, and the alumni were dispersed evenly throughout the students. As the night and meal went on, the alumni were encouraged to change seats and interact with as many of the students as possible. By the end of the night, I had spoken with almost everyone in the room. 

photo of me and another female student standing in front of a b2B poster

I met a lot of great alumni, and even made some friends along the way

Going into the event I didn’t know what I wanted out of the experience.  I knew it was a great opportunity to network – but I was unsure about how willing the alumni would be to connect with a mere second year. However, this was far from the case. 

The alumni engaged each and every student genuinely, giving pieces of advice and sharing their own stories. I received business cards and was encouraged to send Linked-In invitations to maintain contact after the dinner was over.

an female alumni addressing the table

The atmosphere of the dinner made me feel immediately comfortable, and the ratio of alumni to students was almost 1 on 1, meaning there was no competing for attention. Most of the alumni in attendance were aware of who they had already talked to, and took it upon themselves to ensure they had spoken with every student in the room. 

Photo of a cream dessert in a white bowl with a fruit garnish

Let me also add that the food was delicious! I ate the rest of the meal too fast to get a picture, but this delicious looking dessert pretty much sums it up!

Overall the experience was more than I could have even hoped for it to be. The food was delicious, the conversations were genuine – and more than anything I left the dinner with a sense of hope and reassurance. It was so refreshing to feel as if these people, who had only met you hours earlier, had a sense of confidence in you. They acknowledged your struggles, and yet didn’t allow them to validate your fear of failure. They had all been there before, and they had made it through. 

a student addressing the table of alumni and other students

I would strongly encourage anyone who is debating going to a b2B event to do it. While you may swear that it won’t be valuable to you, you might be surprised by what you get out of it. For more information on the b2B program check out this webpage, or just loosen up on your email filing!

Future Shoes & Present Resolutions

Welcome back, and welcome forward: into a new year! 2015 brings many things; not the least of which is that Marty McFly should be showing up (along with some sweet kicks), and not the most of which is that I get to be a Teaching Assistant (TA) for a biomedical ethics course in Scarborough. But, as everyone who’s ever seen a superhero movie likes to note: with great power (laces) comes great responsibility. Or, something like that.

So this year, for the first time in many years, I’ve put myself to the task of making a few New Year’s resolutions. Some of them, with particular regard in mind for my roles and responsibilities as a TA. I thought I’d share some of them here, so that you can all hold me accountable.

1. Stop trying to understand people through my own experiences, and just listen more. By trying to understand others through my own experiences, I risk misunderstanding them or diminishing their own experiences. It’s hard to fully understand something completely new when you’re actively trying to relate it to old knowledge. My goal is to be less preoccupied with trying to understand others, and turn to focus more on hearing what they have to say. I think this is especially important in a diverse classroom where students may be coming from all sorts of backgrounds. The goal is not to talk over students, nor to constantly try to reframe their statements (“So, are you trying to say something like…?”), but rather to create a listening space where everyone is safe to speak and welcome to be heard.

Photo of Wittgenstein's famous duck-rabbit. An ambiguous image which looks like a duck, or like a rabbit, depending on your perspective and your familiarity with ducks or rabbits in general.

If you spend your whole life looking for ducks, you might never see the rabbit sitting in plain sight. [source]

2. Try best to assume that people doing or saying harmful things don’t know any better. The course I’m the TA for covers a lot of sensitive topics, and it’s easy to accidentally say a good idea in the wrong way, and to unknowingly end up hurting others. While I will be doing my best to keep my classrooms a safe space, I want to also keep in mind that people don’t always know when they’re being harmful: I certainly don’t! And it can be difficult to be confronted with the fact that you’ve done something wrong; especially when you have no idea you’d done so. My goal is to keep in mind that everyone makes mistakes, and to avoid making people feel bad or victimized for actions when they might not know any better.

3. Stop caring about other people’s grammar. This is a pretty tough one for me. I’ve done my fair share of correcting people’s grammar. In part, probably because I have difficulty understanding people some times, and in part because I just find that it’s sort of a fun puzzle-solving activity. But to be able to worry about grammar is rather privileged of me, and to call people out on their grammar can be really insensitive. Toronto is a big city with people from all over the world and a vast spectrum of individual backgrounds. It’s really unfair to expect people to have perfect grammar. Aside from when I’m grading papers (when it’s my job to care!), my goal is to care less about other people’s grammar or spelling. Just like with my other resolutions, I want to focus more on caring what other people have to say more than how they say it.

Picture depicting how "We invited the rhinoceri, Washington, and Lincoln, could be taken in two completely different ways, depending on how one implements their Oxford commas. The photoshop job is a little lazy, but the sentiment is cute.

I doubt they’ll be showing up, but I can understand your point even if you do without the (beloved and important) Oxford comma [source].

What about you? Have any New Year’s resolutions
you’re trying out? Let me know in the comments below!

New Year, New Me (Hopefully)

Welcome Back U of T!  The turkey has all been eaten, the sidewalks are icy, and the bookstore is busy again. It’s the beginning of a new semester which means it’s a fresh start – a clean slate to leave the procrastination and bad habits of first semester behind! 

A collection of images from the first semester. Photos vary from images of restaurant dinners to social occasions.

While first semester was very fun, you’ll notice there’s no pictures of studying…

It’s funny how, as students, we get the chance to make “New Years Resolutions” twice a year – once in September, and once again in January. We’re driven by the belief that a new semester will actually change something – that it will actually be different. 

When in reality, it rarely is. 

Image of man drinking beer looking directly at the camera with a meme overlay reading "New seamster starts Monday... great, nothing to do until Exams

I’m really really REALLY trying to not let this be my mindset this semester

This year however, I’m determined to break the trend. I’m saying goodbye to Wednesday night movie marathons and Canton Chilli VISA debt, and hello to setting morning alarms and using an agenda. 

Here’s how I’m planning to do it; 

1. Using an Agenda

Picture of a student agenda with colour-coded events and lists

I was an avid agenda user in high school and first year, so I don’t know why I dropped this habit. For me, writing everything out makes me retain it more and makes it seem more urgent than typing it into an app. 

Tip: I still love my to-do apps though! Wunderlist is my favourite for school, grocery lists, blog post ideas, and everything in between. 

2. Getting A Job

When I say first semester took everything out of me, my bank account is included. I’m hoping that by getting a job in January, and easing into the hours, I’ll have some time to adjust and potentially something I can keep through the summer!

Tip: If you’re also looking for a job, check out the Summer Job fair on Tuesday in Varsity Dome from 11am-3pm

3. Making a Routine 

Photos of pre-set alarms starting at 7am and ending at 10:30am

Don’t let this be you

My schedule is pretty inconsistent: some days I have to be up at 7:30, while others I can sleep in until noon. This semester I’m determined to make a routine of getting up and going to bed at the same time every day. Obviously exceptions will be made, but a regular sleep schedule dramatically increases the quality of your rest!

Tip: If your problem is getting out of bed in the morning – try this app which makes you get out of bed to turn it off! 

4. Attending More Events

Being a Community Crew member, and just a student at U of T, I see about a hundred cool event listings every day. Rarely however do I actually make the time to attend one of these events! Using the agenda tip above, and some wrought iron determination, I am making it my goal to do one new thing a week! 

Tip: If this sounds like something you’re interested in, join in on social media and use the hashtag #TryitUofT when you do something new on campus! 

Photo of a live band performing

I’ve already started to work on this resolution by attending most of the Winterfest events last week!

So this is what I’m going to try to keep up this semester! I’m already one week in and feeling pretty good about it – but I would love if you could all help keep me on track by tweeting me @Rachael_UofT. Share your “New Semester Resolutions” with me and maybe we can help each other achieve our goals! 

For now U of T enjoy the beginning of a new semester, and stay warm! 

Congratulations and Celebrations

In one of my favourite classes here at U of T, we learned about something called reflective practice. It’s essentially the process of looking back and learning from our experiences. Now that we’re smack in the middle of finals, I’ve been having those “when will we ever actually use this in real life” rants. To keep my morale up I’ve decided to actually apply what I learned in school (!!!!) and be reflective about 2014! How fitting considering this is my last blog post of 2014!

I’ve had the busiest but most rewarding summer of my life, working three jobs while doing summer school. I was a more active part of the extracurricular scene at U of T, joining the executive team of several clubs I was interested in during first and second year. I’ve also even managed to fulfill some of my 2014 New Year’s Resolutions by bringing my grades up, staying more organized and eating healthier.

Picture of tupperware with veggies sitting next to chocolate on the desk

(That last one’s still in the works. But hey, there’s still 3 weeks left of 2014. And miracles can happen.)

But the point of reflective practice is to highlight what I learned and what I could do differently. So what have I learned this year?

  • I’ve learned how to write a killer blog post (All credits go to Tricia!!)
  • I’ve learned enough yoga to strike a perfect yoga pose for pictures
Api and Aviva doing yoga poses

Me and fellow Healthy U Crew member Aviva striking some poses at Unplug Fest. Photo Credits to Carly Michelle!

  • I’ve learned how to get A’s on papers
Photo of api holding a Paper with "A-" written on it

See! I wasn’t lying!!

  • I’ve learned how to plan events to help people get more involved!
photo of tables set up in Hart House East Common Room for Global Health Expo

Throwback to Global Health Expo!

I realize that all these lessons equate to one thing:  I learned how to step out of my comfort zone. My comfort zone has always been with a small group of friends and a small range of activities, but 2014 was the year I made an effort to explore new places, try new activities and meet new people! If this whole process has been me breaking out of my shell, then 2014 was just the first crack! Here’s to 2015 being another year of great experiences! But there is one thing that was the most important thing I’ve learned this year:

Screen capture of tweet by @Api_UofT reading: "Winter in Toronto went 0 to 100 real quick"

I’ve perfected the art of bad drake puns

Congratulate yourselves on the accomplishments and celebrate the victories! Let me know about your year, your holidays or even just how your day is going down in the comments! Happy holidays, and happy finals everyone! Remember, you might actually be able to use some of that knowledge in real life (lol).

Another Year Wiser

December has finally arrived! I always love this time of year. December is a special time when we welcome winter into our lives and focus on getting away from the cold crazy world out there and curl up inside where it’s warm. Winter is also a time of reflection.

Looking out from a dark tunnel in a St. Michaels residence into an open courtyard with a large fountain

Almost through the passage, into bright newness (Photo by Zachary Biech)

This post is my last of 2014! Can you believe it? This semester has flown by so fast! I’ve learned so many new things, met many new people and had many new experiences.  I can honestly say this has been one of the most exciting half-years in my life.

The tangled wilderness and fallen leaves strewn around a secret garden behind the Victoria College library

I’ve done so much exploring, and yet I finally just stumbled into this park at Victoria College (Photo by Zachary Biech)

So much has changed and I have changed as well. I’m still the same old Zach but university life changes everything. I finally embraced that change and even caused some of it on my own.

A notebook page with "thanks" written in Anishnaabemowin, Russian, and English

These are all thank-you’s to my friends and family for their birthday wishes, in the three languages I use these days (I recently turned twenty, just to add more change into the mix!) On my birthday, I wrote a syllabics test for Anishnaabemowin, studied Russian, and submitted an essay which had Russian Politics AND Indigenous studies… (Photo by Zachary Biech)

To cap off the year, I’ll share some key points of my success this semester.

Key #1: Balance.

Balance balance balance! In my first blog, I shared my journey towards balance and how that journey has shaped my university experience. In short, all you need to do is recognize the four areas of your life, (body, emotion, mind, spirit) and give them each equal attention. Trust me, it works.

Key #2: Do what you love.

You are the only person who knows best what you are interested in and how you want to live and work. Celebrate those interests; they are what make you so special! It’s tremendously hard work to be a university student between classes and everything outside of class so it’s important to choose things you are comfortable pouring your heart and soul into (I think you’ll find the hard work feels much easier this way!)

Key #3: Change is as good as rest.

It’s amazing how big an impact you can have on yourself by changing things up. Try getting away from campus for a while, explore new areas and even rearrange some furniture if you have to. Change it up, it really helps!

Key #4: Get involved.

There are so many different groups you can engage with at U of T and in downtown Toronto, there’s bound to be something you’d love. So try going to a couple of meetings and choose groups that you feel you can connect with. The networks and projects you can build are limitless and the skills and energy you develop in those groups is invaluable.

Looking out into a large gymnasium, with many tables of Indigenous artworks and handmade crafts

As promised, here’s a view of the NCCT craft sale I volunteered at! (Photo by Zachary Biech)

A table with huge baskets of colourful candies and crafts, which were the prizes for the raffle

Here’s the raffle table from the NCCT craft sale, where I was stationed (Photo by Zachary Biech)

For instance, being a part of the Student Life Blog has been hugely helpful in my life. I get a lot more writing and editing practice which helps me with essays and assignments.  I get to expand and share my experiences, all while connecting with my Blogger peers, who are all amazing friends I am thankful to have!

Looking south over all of the awesome buildings of campus, towards all the huge towers down by Toronto's waterfront (including the CN Tower)

An awesome view of campus from the OISE Nexus Lounge, during the Indigenous Winter Social (Photo by Zachary Biech)

Keep these 4 keys in mind in your life at university and your path will become much clearer.

That’s all from me for now! Wait for my next blog in 2015!

Internet and Outernet

For more than the last eight weeks, I have had no internet access at home. It’s been a difficult time. Undertaking research projects for credit, applying to grad schools, blogging here… all while not having internet access was difficult. No longer could I Facebook from my bed; no longer could I know what the weather would be like later that day (my radio’s on the fritz too); I haven’t watched youtube videos or TV in over two months. In order to do anything, I had to commute to campus, to coffee shops, loitering outside closed cafes at one am hoping that “maybe they left their router on over night”. Instead of having the INternet, I had to make do with the OUTernet; and when I didn’t want to travel to use the OUTernet, I had to put up with the WITHOUTernet. (But not this kind of Outernet: I’m just making a bad pun).

Admittedly, things have been rough: I’ve spent a lot of time on campus, in libraries and offices and study spaces, late into the night. I’ve fallen asleep at desks and on couches, realizing that I can’t get home in time to pass out. I’ve gone to no fewer than six classes which were cancelled by email the day before. (But, I’ve burned a lot of calories running back and forth between house and internet, and that’s okay, right?).

Yet, there are a few things to be said about living without the internet at my fingertips. I have learned to be more efficient with my time online, rather than thumbing around through cat videos and television, mindlessly scrolling through facebook, sending long winded emails, or worrying about keeping the world apprised of my life. And, because of this, I’ve also procrastinated less. Or, rather, I’ve found better ways of procrastinating. Instead of digging deeper and deeper into the unfathomable (and often very very weird) depths of the internet, I’ve been able to actually read some of the books I own (you know that feeling: owning fifty books for every one that you’ve read). And, reading those books has accidentally helped with my research, when not simply just enjoyable in and of themselves.

It’s also been rather good for my mental health, not being constantly bombarded by and accountable to people and posts and emails online. Having time to myself, by myself, rather than that sort of fake time alone where we’re surrounded by hundreds of Facebook friends or tweeters. Being able to have the space to relax, think about the things I need to think about, or not think about the things I don’t, has really helped me survive a crazy year. (Though, admittedly, there is a lot of online self-care I’ve missed out on).

Ultimately, as much as there is suffering, there is growth; cheesy as it may sound. It’s been good to be away from the web. We should probably try it more often, and it’s probably a good thing to try for the exam period: toning down on that distraction and learning to appreciate the internet for what it is.

And with that, I’m off[line?] for the holidays. Good luck with your midterms and exams; we’ll talk again in January.

Some Reminders:

Don’t forget to fill out your course evaluations: let your voice be heard

And, have you had a really exceptional Teaching Assistant (TA) this term? Consider nominating them for a TATP TA Teaching Excellence Award!

Closer to the Art

Art is great. I don’t always understand it, but it’s still great. Being able to convey feelings or stories in many ways is a treasure. Even if you’re like me and the best image you can draw is a stick-figure, visual art forms can be fascinating.

The most amazing bagel with tomato sauce, pizza pepperoni, and molten mozzarella cheese you've ever seen (with a bite taken out already by an overzealous Zach)

First Nations House Lunch on Friday Nov. 28: Simple, delicious, a work of art! (Photo by Zachary Biech)

For me, guitar can convey feelings when words just won’t do. But visuals really help me learn best.

String-level view looking down the fretboard of my electric guitar (did I mention the guitar is bright green!)

One piece of my rock n’ roll arsenal (Photo by Zachary Biech)

I visited the Art Gallery of Ontario with my Mom (which I mentioned in last week’s blog) to see the Anishinaabe Artists of the Great Lakes special exhibit. It’s incredibly powerful stuff. There were many stories, some ancient and some about present-day life. And there was me wandering around in deep thought. People probably thought I was just lost and that I didn’t know I was in an art gallery.

The top half of my head, wearing an awesome bright red Calgary Flames toque

The Flames toque I’ve needed to wear all over the place because of the November cold also makes people look at me funny, especially at the AGO (Photo by Zachary Biech)

Music can be just as moving. For instance, my Mom brought me a CD called True Blue, by a pow-wow drum group called Northern Cree. It’s awesome. Those guys can really sing. Such music reminds me how much I enjoyed starting to learn the “N” dialect of the Cree language over the summer at the Native Canadian Centre of Toronto.

A picture of the CD case for the album True Blue by Northern Cree

Awesome Album (Photo by Zachary Biech)

I always enjoy the artwork in First Nations House. The more I look around, the more I find. The paintings on the walls are a nice change from most U of T buildings and I think the birch bark canoe is grand. There’s a Great Lakes Canoe project run through Mizwe Biik, in which they built that canoe and paddled it out onto one of the Great Lakes. It’s a different style of art and I recommend you check out their next project if you’re looking for a really cool opportunity.

A wall mural of a river, forest, and Toronto skyline, with a bear and it's cub, in Indigenous woodland style

Just one of the huge murals that adorns First Nations House’s walls (Photo by Zachary Biech)

At the Native Canadian Centre, you can also do a lot of fun volunteering projects. Over the summer, I helped do the judging for the Young Native Artists 2015 Calendar contest, where kids from reserves all over Ontario from kindergarten to grade 12 submitted artworks (about a thousand in total) for us to choose from. We had a blast. We picked a winning piece for each month, plus one for the cover and one for a small motif which is on all the pages.

The inside cover of the 2015 Young Native Artist's Calendar, with all the names and communities of the winning artists and other contributors

The amazing artists for this year’s calendar! Note my name under the committee member list in the bottom left-hand corner (Photo by Zachary Biech)

Those kids are amazing, they are all winners. Two kindergarten students got into the calendar, they blew me away. Their art is all very beautiful and skillful, and some of the pieces are so witty, we just had to choose them!

The calendars are available at NCCT for 5$ each. They are a perfect gift for the holidays. NCCT is also having their big craft sale on November 29th. I’ll be volunteering there as well, and maybe next week I’ll post pictures of the action!

One last note: First Nations House, The Centre for Aboriginal Initiatives, the NSA, SAGE, IEN, and the Office of Indigenous Medical Education are all working together to host this year’s Indigenous Winter Social at OISE on Friday December 5th from 3:00 to 5:00 pm. Come check it out!

A great whale wall mural in western Indigenous art style

More of First Nations House’s beautiful imagery (Photo by Zachary Biech)

Cycles of Change

November has arrived and fall is in full swing.  For me, everything seems to have changed all at once. Over the weekend after my latest midterm, I got back into my housekeeping and admin routine. Though my tasks were fairly straightforward, things just seemed different. It’s hard to describe.

Looking up at the main Victoria College building, towards the dark green coverings on the scaffolding. The building seems to be undergoing some lengthy renovations

Everything needs change every now and then (Photo by Zachary Biech)

I felt new energy starting to lift me into the new month. Even little things were ready for change like my decision to clear out some of the year-old sticky-note reminders I had left myself about lists of CDs to buy (yes I still buy CDs) and miscellaneous ideas for cheesecake baking.

Two shelves full of CD cases, with everything from Jeff Beck to Van Halen, in alphabetical order of course.

I think I’ve listened to these ones about 1000 times each… (Photo by Zachary Biech)

Rarely does the shift into a new month or season feel so abrupt in university as the days and weeks often blend together amidst the midterm madness. I’ve been trying to figure out where this new energy is coming from or more importantly where it’s leading me. After reflecting on the semester so far, I quickly realized that this rejuvenating feeling is definitely no accident. I’m simply completing a cycle, and launching into the next one.

I think it’s important to recognize the cycles we experience in life. For most U of T students, I think the cycle may look like this: Wake up, eat, studystudytstudystudy, sleep, repeat. Hmmmm. That doesn’t seem very healthy does it? Read my earlier posts about balancing and time management if you want to break this cycle.

Cycles are larger in scope than we realize. I’m not sure what’s all in the cycles of university life but I can tell you that to complete your cycle, you really need some social time. September and October have been very social for me and I think the positivity of nurturing relationships with friends has really contributed to the momentum I’m feeling.

For Thanksgiving, a friend was very kind and invited me to Mississauga to have lunch with their family and friends. What a grand feast! And I have to add that it’s well worth it to hop on the Go Train and get out of downtown if you’re stuck down there like I am. I made sure to soak in some refreshing new sights and spent some time exploring some of the peaceful neighbourhoods in Port Credit too. Good for the mind.

Halloween was also a brilliant final piece to finish off October. Me and a big group of friends all dressed up and headed to the Hart House of Horrors Halloween event.  Rest assured, we were terrifying.  Let’s just say that every Halloween from now on, U of T students will remember the fear that overtook them when the lord of the night, Count Zachula, first appeared from the shadows…

A selfie of me nad my terrifying fake vampire fangs.

Count Zachula strikes! With a selfie… (Photo by Zachary Biech)

The Debate Room in Hart House, only lit with a faint red glow, with many strange clown creatures lurking in the shadows

Some of the rooms in Hart House were turned into a freaky carnival, complete with the clown monsters (Photo by Zachary Biech)

A large clown mannequin, with a particularly snarly smile

This is my friend Fred, we met at the Hart House of Horrors. When I asked him to show me around, all he did was shrug and glare at me with murderous intent… (Photo by Zachary Biech)

A small archaic looking switchbox sitting next to a monstrous fellow in a straight-jacket and hooked to a starnge machine, with a sign that reads "Pull Switch...If You Dare"

One of my friends dared to flip the switch. We thought the mannequin in the chair would do something, but instead the switch-box flipped open and a monstrous Jack-In-The-Box began cackling at us maniacally (Photo by Zachary Biech)

First Nations House is a great place to stop by every week if you need a little socializing. Every face is friendly and every conversation is worth every moment. Just sayin’…

What do you do to socialize? When’s the last time you finished a cycle and entered into something entirely new?

Me staring aimlessly into the background (wearing my fangs and cape),in front of a photobooth backdrop

Count Zachula, blissfully unaware that the photobooth machine was still taking pictures (Original Photo by Snapshot Photobooth)