Discover #JoyAtUofT in the Little Things

“It’s such a cold, cold world (hello cold world)
And it’s got me down, but I’ll get right back up, as long as its spins around
Hello cold world” – ‘Hello Cold World’, by Paramore

The winter blahs are still in full swing, and we don’t even have snow this year to brighten things up. On top of that, midterms are here to keep us preoccupied. Thankfully, February also happens to be #JoyAtUofT month, to help us get some inspiration from each other as we attempt to stay positive in a time of year when it’s all too easy to be down.

On one hand, El Niño took care of the heaps of snow I was warned about. On the other, the lack of snow is kinda depressing, too...

On one hand, El Niño took care of the heaps of snow I was warned about. On the other, the lack of snow is kinda depressing, too…

I can definitely relate. Granted, I don’t have any full-year courses this year, so I didn’t have any assignments/essays due at the start of the semester. Midterms have come along equally brutally, though. I know I complained about them last time around, but the added blasé of the season seems to amplify their effect on my mood. Grey skies, wet concrete, and barely a hint of snow on the ground have characterized many of the days I’ve had to make the walk from Chestnut to campus.

It’s times like this that finding some joy in life can really make or break my productivity levels. I’m way more likely to get things done when I don’t feel like Eeyore all the time. Amidst all the chaos, squeezing in time to do the little things that put a smile on my face is definitely worthwhile. Frantic as I should be studying, spending time relaxing in the common room among friends can lighten the load on my shoulders, even if it’s just for that brief period of the day. It could even be as simple as making a food run to Med Sci with the gang. Getting out and pursuing hobbies such as photography have a similar effect, letting my heartbeat and stress levels fall to healthy rates.

Getting out with my camera is a great stress-reliever, and definitely brings me some happiness during this seasonal lull.

Getting out with my camera is a great stress-reliever, and definitely brings me some happiness during this seasonal lull.

Joy for me also comes from extracurriculars. Being a member of this awesome Student Life Community Crew has been an experience I wouldn’t trade for any other; I get to see some of the most creative people I know, every week. From hearing their ideas in the meetings, to reading the final product each day, it’s easy to see why Student Life chose them to represent the student body in this way, and I feel privileged to be a part of it. The Blue Sky Solar team that I signed up for just a couple of weeks ago, has already proven to be a source of escapism from the world of academia, if only for a little bit at a time. Researching alternative designs for software, with the promise of soon getting the chance to actually write the code to match, has been a great ride so far.

The weather might be uninspiring, but there’s still plenty of things that manage to lighten up the atmosphere. Be sure to share what brings you #JoyAtUofT on Twitter and Instagram – I’ll be keeping an eye on the hashtag to get some ideas!

My Joy at UofT: Theatre

I recently finished my very last stage production at UofT. It was a play called “Rope,” which is about two university students who kill one of their friends for “philosophical reasons” and put his body in a chest. They host a dinner party, using the chest as the table. It’s a play by Patrick Hamilton, but most people are more familiar with the Hitchcock film that was based on the play. It was definitely an interesting play to work on! I have always had a passion for theatre, but I don’t study it at UofT. I always knew that I’d probably get involved with theatre when I got to university in an extra-curricular capacity. It’s no surprise, then, that “Rope” was my fifth on-campus production.

It’s safe to say that I have spent a lot of my undergraduate time rehearsing. I mean, A LOT! Rehearsing quickly becomes like a part-time job, especially in the lead-up to Show Week when there’s Stumble-Through, Tech, Dress, and sometimes even a Sitzprobe, which is when the singers and the band play together for the first time. For me, campus theatre has been well worth all the hassle it so often entails. It was worth all the times I had to stay up late finishing assignments because rehearsal ran late, it was worth all the missed social gatherings, it was worth all the sore throats and worrying and aching muscles. I have definitely put blood, sweat, and tears into every role—word to the wise: beaded dresses and stage falls do not mix! Despite all that, being involved with campus theatre has been one of my greatest joys at UofT.

The first time I got involved with campus theatre was with “The Mousetrap” in my first year. I got a callback, but I didn’t get a part. Nevertheless, I caught the bug. I liked how welcoming and energetic everyone was at the callback; I didn’t feel nervous at all and I actually had a lot of fun. I auditioned for the TCDS’s musical that year, “The Frogs,” and I spent the next few months of my life frog jumping like an absolute maniac. In second year, I got to play Einstein’s girlfriend in “Picasso at the Lapin Agile.” The great Steve Martin, who is the playwright and someone you may know from SNL, tweeted us to wish us well with the show! It wasn’t until “Into the Woods” that I really felt at home in the UofT theatre community. By that time, I had made so many friends through theatre and I was well and truly used to the way things worked. I loved that show so much; some of my best friends from undergrad are people I met in that cast. Next, I did my first Shakespeare in third year: a very unconventional staging of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” that took over all of Trin Proper for a few nights. Finally, “Rope.”

There are a lot of things that I have always loved about theatre. I have always loved developing my artistic skills. I have been performing in front of any audience that would have me since I was extremely young. I have loved the costumes, the lights, and the atmosphere ever since my Dad first took me to see a show.

There is one thing, in particular, that I love about theatre that has proven to be especially true in the context of university: it provides a built-in sense of belonging. I came to university not knowing anyone, as many people do. When you think about it, that’s a pretty crazy and daring thing to do! As I have mentioned previously, I’m a pretty shy person. I don’t like to be anywhere unless I have a concrete reason to be there; I need a specific role to fulfill. What could be better for me, then, than to be assigned a specific role in a play? It’s exactly what I needed to feel at ease. I found my place of belonging on the stage at UofT, and that belonging has brought me so much joy!

Where do you find your #joyatUofT?

Pictured: Me playing Cinderella in Into the Woods

Gosh, I am going to miss it!

Clubs to Get You Moving in 2016

Welcome back! I hope everyone’s well on their way to settling into a new semester. I can’t say I started it particularly enthusiastically; however, I feel I’m very much back in the groove. I start a circus silks class at the Athletic Centre soon (can’t wait to report back!) and Jiu Jitsu officially resumed today. I’ve dedicated this term to myself and my well-being above all else. I’ll let you know how that goes. So far… pretty good.

Tuesday was the annual winter Clubs and Summer Job Fair hosted by the UTSU at the Varsity Centre. I’ve never missed it — and for good reason. The fair isn’t a particularly popular event, so it’s a fantastic opportunity to chat with people (club executives and employers). It’s a very different environment compared to the fall Clubs Day at Hart House Circle. Even if you’ve never been, you must know what I mean…

How it looks... Source: UTSU Facebook Page

How it looks…
Source: UTSU Facebook Page

How it feels... (Also: name that movie!) Source: blogs.disney.com

How it feels…
(Also: name that movie!)
Source: blogs.disney.com

I seized the opportunity presented by the lack of stampede to interview a couple of sports/athletics-related clubs that were represented at the fair today. Without further ado…

The University of Toronto Ski & Snowboard Club (UTSSC)

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UTSSC offers affordable ski and snowboard trips for students. The club welcomes skiers and boarders of all skill levels. Never tried your hand at either of these winter sports? No problem! Absolute beginners are 100 per cent welcome, and the club offers free lessons over the course of their first two weeks.

One club executive I spoke to explained that a large part of their membership consists of international students hitting the slopes for the first time (no doubt to find something to redeem this dreadfully cold, harsh season that is Canada’s winter). The club executive describes the club as a place where anyone who wants to ski and snowboard can come together, meet and make friends — within a totally non-competitive, recreational environment.

UTSSC runs weekly trips to local hill Mount St. Louis Moonstone. They also host a Quebec trip over reading week — this year to Mont Sainte Anne, which I’ve enjoyed more than once! Anyone interested in joining UTSSC should check out their Facebook group (if it motivates you: I found a rather unflattering photo myself conducting this very interview, yikes!) and/or their website for additional information and sign-up options.  I HIGHLY recommend seizing such an opportunity to anyone who hates winter (wait, isn’t that everyone?). I find solace in the fact that while it may be freezing… I CAN FINALLY GO SKIING AT LAST!

University of Toronto Dance Club

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The main function of the University of Toronto Dance Club is to offer dance classes to U of T students and alumni. The club offers classes in a variety of styles, though the executive member I spoke to explained he personally got involved because he wanted to dance Salsa. Good choice, amigo. Latin dance makes me weak in the knees, it’s so, so impressive and, in my experience, a lot of fun. The club is a great place for anyone who wants to dance, try something new and meet some new people! My informant tells me lots of people find many friends within the community and greatly expand their social circles. The best part? Students pay only $40 for 10 hours of classes! Does this sound as awesome to you as it does to me?  Check out http://utdanceclub.com/ or join their Facebook group to start (or continue!) your dance education.

University of Toronto Jiu Jitsu Club

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Confession: I’m President. Consolation confession: I did NOT interview myself.

The University of Toronto Jiu Jitsu Club is a Japanese Jiu Jitsu club (many, many styles of Jiu Jitsu exist, even within “Japanese”), which trains at Hart House. It is a registered club at U of T, but it’s also part of the Jitsu Canada and the Jitsu Foundation, which are national and international organizations respectively (friends all over the world — can’t beat that!). Someone who wants to get involved would either visit http://www.jitsucanada.com/ or the Facebook group and get in touch with one of the fantastic instructors. Why someone might want to try it? According to Arlo it’s good fitness, good self-defense and what’s most important for him is “it’s a lot of fun!” I swear, he said it. Direct quote, not a shameless plug.

Naturally, I’ll insert my two cents ever so subtly…

IT’S AWESOME. No, but seriously… for those who might want a little more info on what exactly Japanese Jiu Jitsu entails:

Japanese Jiu Jitsu dates back to the samurai. It’s a system of unarmed combat the samurai developed for use if ever they lost possession of their sword (this is my favourite thing to say). Our style involves striking, locking, throwing, groundwork and weapons defense. It’s very self-defense oriented and it’s rather comprehensive!

While I think they’re fabulous, these are just three of many athletic clubs on campus, so don’t be discouraged if they aren’t quite what you’re looking for. That’s okay! Check here for a full list of our campus clubs, which will allow you to browse by category and find your perfect fit!

First Years – Unplugging on Campus

The start of the ’gap’ between midterms and finals is definitely a good time to find more opportunities to de-stress where possible. As I’ve been emphasizing the importance I’ve placed on striking a balance between work and play, I’ve decided to find out where my fellow first-years have been going to relax on campus. Specifically, I’ve been looking for places to ‘unplug’ and unwind without keeping a constant eye on my phone.

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MoveU Scary Skate & Varsity Centre Fun

Halloween is over, so we’re officially allowed to countdown to Christmas right?

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I LOVE holidays, especially Christmas. I can’t wait to see the city all dressed up and to go gift shopping and skating in Nathan Phillips square.

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First-Year: A Mid-Semester Review

This past month has undoubtedly been one of the more strenuous months of my life thus far, and that probably goes for a lot of my fellow freshmen. Midterms hit me hard and have left me feeling absolutely exhausted. Even though mental wellness month just ended, I still think it’s important to make sure sure that I head into the second half of this fall semester with a healthy mindset.

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You Never Know What You’ll Discover – A Testament to Fitness and Athletics on Campus

Anyone who knows even a little bit about me probably knows that I do Jiu Jitsu. I started practising Shorinji Kan Japanese Jiu Jitsu in September of 2013, when I began my undergraduate degree. I joined the Jiu Jitsu Club at UofT and I’ve now been the president of for about two years.

That decision was the best I’ve made over the course of my undergraduate career. Let me tell you why.

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Exploring Hart House

Last week, I ventured into Hart House to snap a few pics of Madelin. While there she mentioned that Hart House is one of her favourite places on campus, and how not enough students take advantage of everything it has to offer. I’m definitely one of those students. When I think of Hart House, two things come to mind: weddings and working out. Though Madelin and I weren’t there for long, it was definite that there was much there than I thought, and on one rainy afternoon this week I decided to explore the Hogwarts-esque halls of Hart House.

photo of the outside of hart house

Before I even got the chance to go inside I made my first discovery: an adorable little vegetable garden. Upon further investigation I found that the veggies were planted and cared for by U of T Dig In, a group dedicated to small scale sustainable food production. Want to learn more? See Danielle’s post about U of T Dig In.

photo of garden with sign that says "Dig In U of T Campus Agriculture" photo of some little baby tomatoes with a hand painted sign that says tomatoes

I decided to grab a coffee to help me warm up after being out in the rain, so I went into Sammy’s Student Cafe. The cafe has lots of vegetarian options, and serve healthy $5 lunches on Wednesdays. That’s a definite upgrade from my usual Tim Horton’s bagel.

entrance to sammy's student exchange

photo of a salad bar with fruits and vegetables in the foreground

 

 

After getting lost wandering the lower halls for a while, I went upstairs and happened upon the Reading Room. They really need to rename this place to the “talking room” or “fun room”. It’s bright walls and cozy couches make it the perfect place to hang out and socialize.

photo taken through a doorway of people sitting in the reading room

And to add to the Reading Room’s fun eclectic nature, Get Crafty, a weekly free arts & crafts program is hosted here! (Read all about Get Crafty in Emaan’s blog post)

turquoise sign outside hart house reading room that says 'GET CRAFTY'

photo cred: Emaan

Just down the hall I found the Map Room. Named for the beautiful illustrated map of U of T that it’s home to, the ivy covered Map Room seemed like the perfect place to snuggle up with a good book. It also shares space with CIUT, the campus radio station, and hosts an array of intimate concerts.

photo of a giant ivy covered window with people studying in front of it photo of a colourful illustrated map of u of t photo of an illustration of commencement on the map

 

Something I absolutely adored about Hart House was the abundance of art hung in the hallways. Sadly I didn’t get the chance to visit the Justina M. Barnicke Gallery, but finding the little pieces sprinkled throughout the halls almost made up for it.

photo of a giant eclectic collage framed on a wallphoto of a photograph that reads " I got a gold card & nothing happened"

 

When I walked into the library I went from being 50% sure my dreams had finally come true and that I had been teleported to Hogwarts to 90% sure. I couldn’t help but fall in love with the walls covered in books, the giant window benches, and the ivy creeping in everywhere. The library has definitely become my go to study spot.

Madelin reading a book in the Hart House library.

Shout out to Madelin for introducing me to this beautiful place.

photo of a laptop on a bench in front of an ivy covered window photo of ivy creeping into an open window

 

 

I finished off my afternoon exploring Hart House by venturing out into the rain and into the Quad. This gorgeous manicured courtyard has a tented area perfect for enjoying a coffee outside on a rainy day.

photo of the Hart House Quad photo of a copper greek inspired statue in the rain photo of a copper greek inspired statue in the rain

 

What’s your favourite part of Hart House? Let me know in the comments below. 

photo of a person studying in a little nook

 

 

One Blogger, Two Introductions

Hello Internet! My name is Emma and I am a new member of the Community Crew this year, writing for CTSI (Centre for Teaching Support and Innovation). I am going into my fourth year (eek!) double majoring in Ethics, Society, and Law and Literature and Critical Theory, minoring in Philosophy, and flirting with various French courses on the side. I like dogs, Oxford commas, and wearing hats.

A picture of new blogger, Emma Smith, standing by a lake with her dog

Here I am, wearing a hat, holding my dog, and thinking about Oxford commas.

It’s nice to meet you all! At least, cyber-meet you. I guess I haven’t really met you at all yet, have I? At this point, I’m pushing buttons on a little silver box and hoping that someone might receive and decode the message on the other end. Maybe you will, maybe you won’t. I mean, who are “you” anyway?

Wait, what?

We seem to have a Schrödinger’s reader dilemma on our hands, assuming there is a “we” at all…

Hello?

That got really uncomfortable really quickly, didn’t it? Bear with me; the point is that introductions are AWKWARD. Having established this, it’s time to take it up a level. This time, we’re tackling the ultimate awkward introduction. Never fear! Now that we’re so well acquainted, you can count on me to hold your hand throughout.

Brace yourself, for you are now on your way to… OFFICE HOURS! (Duh duh duhhhhh!)


(The following pep talk is most effective accompanied by Survivor’s 1982 pump-up anthem, “Eye of the Tiger”)

This is it. Today is the day that you forge a relationship with your academic superior. You want to learn from her, make a new connection on LinkedIn, and give yourself a better shot at that coveted A. You only have a two-hour window so you had better get going!

You dress for success and grab your things; don’t forget to pack any course readings, syllabi, or other course materials you might like to discuss. You’re feeling confident as you head outside. With each step, though, the doubts start creeping in.

A picture of a rock on campus, perfect for hiding under when you're afraid to go to office hours

Look! A hiding place!

You consider taking cover under that rock you just passed. I know what you’re thinking: What if I freeze up? What if I can’t think of anything intelligent to say? What if I waste the professor’s time?

Don’t worry! You trained for this. You did your readings, you went to lecture, maybe you even researched your professor’s areas of study or read some of her work. You have questions to ask and you have insights to share.

Even if you say something that isn’t quite on the mark, don’t sweat it; mistakes only facilitate intellectual dialogue. Your professor isn’t some fairy-tale troll who pushes people off the bridge when they get the wrong answer.

Professors are people, just like us; I know this because I saw one at the grocery store one time. We have to remember that they were undergrads once, too. They don’t encourage you to come to office hours because it’s some kind of trap. They want you to come because they want to help you. It’s all part of this grand academic tradition that we all belong to as members of the UofT community.

Besides, it would be super boring and disheartening to sit alone in an office for two hours, waiting on people who might not show up. Just look at this heartbreaking PSA video about empty office hours from CTSI.

A picture of a squirrel on the grass in Queen's Park, on its hind legs, with the sidewalk and street in the background.

That is one sketchy-looking squirrel. You consider turning tail and heading home.

I know that squirrel just gave you a menacing look (shudder) but shake it off and keep moving. Your professor, an expert in things that you signed up to study, is waiting. You have the opportunity to engage with her and pick her brains! Who knows? If you go introduce yourself, you might even get a chin wave on your way into the lecture hall next week. It all seems too good to pass up!

You’re so close now. Take a deep breath, climb those steps, march up to that door, and start with “Hi my name is…” Trust me, you’ll be glad you did. Afterwards, reward yourself with a cupcake or some other treat because by golly you earned it!


I hope you find this pep talk helpful. If I see someone walking purposefully across campus with “Eye of the Tiger” rattling out of their headphones, I’ll know that someone read it and put it to use. To that someone I say, nice to meet you! Maybe introductions aren’t that awkward after all, huh?

Legacy

We made it! April has finally arrived! I just survived three essays and four exams all in the last two weeks and I don’t even want to know what percentage of my final grade all those tests and assignments were worth.

“Good thing I just had three final exams in the last three days, now my final exams can actually begin.” Unfortunately, this is not an April Fools joke.

Looking out my apartment window south down Bay Street. It's morning, but very dark and cloudy, with all the buildings lit up like night time. Weird.

At the first dawn of this week of exams, this is what my world looked like (Photo by Zachary Biech)

Seeing as how April has arrived, this will be the last First Nations House blog for the 2014-2015 school year! Can you believe it? This has been the fastest, craziest, most exciting and ridiculous year of my life and I’m honored to have been able to share my experiences with you.

Last week, I attended a Ulead workshop which focused on legacy and transition in leadership. I had a great time and I really enjoyed all the people who attended and who facilitated the workshop. The topic of legacy was very intriguing and makes me think of what legacy I hope to leave with the First Nations House blog this year.

First, I’ll take some time to reflect on where I was when I started last September, and where I am now. Or rather, who I am now.

In September 2014, I had never written a blog before. I was also still new to the WordPress program. In September, I had never been to 98% of the events I went to this year either. I had only barely started learning Cree, and had never spoken or written a word in Anishnaabemowin. I had never been a co-chair in an Indigenous student association before either.

In September 2014, I had never given an on-air interview at a radio station before, and I had never had an Indian Taco from the Native Canadian Centre of Toronto. I never made a snow-Zach on campus before, and I had never shared my secret rye biscuit recipe.

A quaint little office with a big Hart House wooden door, a window looking into the Map Room, an old-school telephone, my coffee, and my laptop with what looks like Russian homework in progress.

A view of what it’s like to work in the CIUT 89.5 FM reception desk in Hart House (Photo by Zachary Biech)

A side view of the on-air booth for CIUT 89.5 FM in the Map Room, with all the microphones, gadgets, and even the big fancy fireplace

Another glimpse into the world of CIUT 89.5 FM (Photo by Zachary Biech)

I had never mentored a Toronto Catholic high school class from an Indigenous perspective, and I had never really publicly talked or written about much of my physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual journey. I had never made so many friends and spent so much time in one place like First Nations House. I had never felt so comfortable with who I am and I had never felt like I had a home away from home on this campus.

I also had never told the story of my cactus, Jose!

An awesome pointy weird green cactus in a square purple pot, with epic party sunglasses of course

Cactus Update: I have a new cactus, and this one is like my Dad’s cactus back home whom he calls Spike. So say hello to Spike Jr.! (Photo by Zachary Biech)

Now, because of First Nations House, the people I met there and the balance I have found within, all of this has changed. I can honestly say I am a better student and a better man because of First Nations House and this blog. For that I am grateful.

The primary message I wished to send this year is the importance of balance in university life. Take care of your physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual self and I guarantee you will find a pathway through U of T into your life beyond.

I have also learned from my time in First Nations House this year what community and leadership truly means. Community means inclusivity. People from all backgrounds and walks of life have important experiences and talents to share, and should always be welcomed into the circle.

The round building on the west end of University College, with it's fancy stonework lit up in marvellous deep blue

Circles are the best, even in architecture. Always keep your circle open, just like UC, which was lit up in blue on April 2nd for World Autism Awareness Day! (Photo by Zachary Biech)

Leadership means respecting that circle and everyone in it. Leadership means taking all perspectives into account, and recognizing the effects of the group’s actions on others. Leadership means responsibility, accountability, transparency, and building balanced relationships which are mutually beneficial to all those who are involved.

Leaders cannot be followers and have the right and responsibility to protect their circle even from imbalances within the circle. When the circle is broken, true leaders stand up to defend the circle and the pursuit of balance. Sometimes, standing up for the sake of a balanced circle means leaving a broken circle behind and moving forward towards a better future.

Leadership means always striving to find and protect the circle though finding that circle can be a long journey. But once you find your circle and community, I can honestly say the long journey is worth every moment and every single step.

Looking up from the base of the big centre tower of University College, lit up in blue, looking spectacular

I remember way back in June 2012, when the first picture of me at U of T was taken right here in front of UC, in the middle of the night. I took this picture three years later, after my last lecture of the 2014-2015 school year. It took many steps to get here, and what a journey it’s been so far! (Photo by Zachary Biech)

Finally, I can talk about legacy. It is my greatest hope that my blogging this year leaves a legacy which empowers you to engage with U of T and First Nations House and to balance your university life and a legacy which shines a light when there is only darkness on the path ahead. Be brave and be yourself. There is always hope and there is always a path worth exploring.

Looking at University College, with an incredibly bright blue street lamp in the foreground, in the middle of a dark night.

I know the future can look dark and clouded sometimes, so I hope I have been able to shine a light for you (Photo by Zachary Biech)

I’m not very good at goodbyes, I’ll admit. Writing this last sentence may or may not have made me a bit teary-eyed!

So for now I’ll just say niawen:gowa, mii-kwec, спасибо, and thanks!