Potatoe, Potahto, Tomato, Tomahto- The International Student and The Accent

So, U of T, let me stir up a bit of trouble-

is it lift or elevator?

is it petrol or gas?

are they running shoes or joggers?

is it Herbal Essences or ‘Erbal Essences? (come on, it’s got to be the first, I sound like a pirate whenever I say the second).

NUT-ella or NEWT-ella? (I prefer to stay silent on this extremely touchy and controversial subject but I’ll just say this- last I checked, it wasn’t made of hazel-newts. I’m just saying! …please don’t kill me.)

a spoon dipping temptingly into a jar of nutella

source: im-free29200.tumblr.com

Well, okay, barring that last one- these are just a few examples of the very real struggle involved with shifting from the way things are said in one country to another (yet another chapter in the #internationalstudentproblems series).

Only it gets a little bit more interesting when you’re actually saying these words and others out loud, a little something I like to call…The Curse of the Accent.

As amusing as it can be to watch people hear me speak and then internally struggle with the politest way to ask where I’m from, it can sometimes lead to a lot of annoying situations- to name a few, scribbled-over essay drafts replacing s’s with z’s (organiSe, organiZe, analySe, analyZe- you get my drift), angry red lines erupting underneath letters as you type on Microsoft Word, even getting directed to the wrong address because of how you pronounced or interpreted a few words.

But besides trivialities like these, a lot of times this past year, I felt like the way I spoke could be a hindrance instead of something to be proud of.

Despite the fact that English is my first language and all my life, I’ve been educated at an English-medium institution following a British-based curriculum, I found it a bit unnerving coming somewhere where everybody speaks differently. It affected me in more ways than one- sometimes holding me back from conversations, blowing my confidence if I stumbled over a word or two or resorting to silently nodding along to discussions.

edward scissorhands meekly nodding

source: http://heckyeahreactiongifs.tumblr.com/post/62977236289

Trying to inject hints of Western-ness into my accent met with little success, I found, only making me even more conscious of the effort I was putting in to sound different (though I do a mean Valley Girl accent, just ask my roommate).

Let’s face it- I am not among those who can spend a summer in London and come back talking like Prince William.

Top Gear gif featuring: Richard Hammond on being british, saying 'now i can say this with utter confidence because im british'

source: snuffleupagus-gifs.tumblr.com

Which led me to the inevitable question- What, then, is the accent of success?

The quest to answer this took me to places outside my comfort zone- trying new things like taking interactive workshops, going out to more events to meet and really have meaningful conversations with people in an attempt to understand what it was that was making me uncomfortable to speak my mind.

And I’ve come to the conclusion that it wasn’t as much about the accent as it was about being confident and my attitude towards it. The more I focused and thought about it, the more uncomfortable I felt but the more I shook myself loose and got over my inhibitions, the more fluid my speech got.

mispronounced a word? verbal faux pas? i think not. take a note from good ol' swifty and shake it off

mispronounced a word? uh oh- verbal faux pas? i think not. take a note from good ol’ swifty and shake it off

And at the end of the day, I am more than my accent, just as we all are more than the way we speak, the places we were born, the colour of our skin or the clothes we wear. 

I feel like my hybrid Western/South Asian accent is a testament to who I am and where I come from and there’s something to be proud of in that.

Moral of the story: there’s no need to change who you are to try and fit in!

Now, if you’ll excusez-moi, I’ve got to go work on perfecting that French accent in time for class next week! Au revoir, U of T!

(PS, if you’re an international student wanting to polish up your English skills, there are some excellent conversation circles and workshops to help you through your linguistic journeys).

Good luck!

Being an International Student

So it’s mid-July. You’re probably chilling in your hometown, a considerable distance from U of T, scrolling through photos of campus on Google Images. Maybe you’ve changed your Facebook cover photo to one of the Toronto skyline with the caption ‘U of T Class of 2019! So excited! <3<3’ while not having actually ever seen or set foot on campus because…

google map showing distance between karachi, pakistan and toronto

you’re an international student and you live thousands of miles away. #internationalstudentproblems

I feel you. I know what it’s like to think the weather isn’t that bad and forget to check the windchill numbers ( -1, feels like -10. Go figure.) or not quite know how to deal with milk in a plastic bag (yes, that’s a thing here!) or look on enviously as your friends bring the contents of their entire homes onto res while you’re stuck with two measly suitcases and a carry-on.

screenshots of weather app iphone showing temperature as compared to temperature with windchill

one of the many #internationalstudentproblems: not knowing which temperature to dress for

But incoming globetrotters – FEAR NOT. Having lived here for a grand total of 339 days today, I am obviously an expert on all things Canadian and am only too happy to share some tips and advice to make your continental leap a little bit easier:

1.  As soon as you arrive in Toronto, get important stuff out of the way

This includes getting bank accounts set up, picking out a phone plan, getting your UHIP card, applying for a SIN number if you wish to work in Canada and more. There’s a really handy list of things to get done on the CIE website as well as some FAQs that you can check out here and here.

There will also be a U of T Welcome booth at Pearson Airport to help you with any questions you may have about arriving in Canada. Watch the video here!

Also, make sure you have all your important documents in one safe place at all times! There’s nothing worse than being in a political science lecture, hearing the word ‘passport’ and mentally panicking because you can’t remember the last time you saw yours. I spent the next two hours of lecture envisioning myself being deported. Not fun.

2.  Be prepared

As soon as I arrived in Toronto, I made sure to input some important numbers into my phone’s contact list – such as my country’s embassy, police, medical and fire services, and more. Embarassing confession: I also made a map of the TTC my phone wallpaper in case I got lost.

iPhone screenshot of wallpaper with TTC map on it

today, i can name all of the stations on Line 1 in order without cheating
go on, quiz me.

3.  Do a little research on Canadian slang

By the end of the year you will understand the sentence ‘can you lend me a couple of toonies so I can pick up a double-double and pop from Tim’s and we can chill on the chesterfield and watch the Maple Leafs play?

you will also learn the art of sneaking ‘eh?’s into daily conversation.

not to worry – this should help you update your vocabulary

4.  Don’t mentally convert prices into your home currency.

This will only depress you.

a photo of me gaping at obscenely priced items

that costs WHAT?! I could get that for like five rupees back home!


5. Try recording your lectures

As someone who grew up speaking English and watching American TV shows and movies, I thought I was well acquainted with the standard North American accent. But sometimes while taking notes during lecture, I find myself missing a word here and there or not quite catching what the prof has said. It’s always useful to have a recording to play back and fill in those unsightly note-gaps.

Just make sure that your professor is okay with recording before you start!

6.  Explore!

Downtown Toronto is full of amazing places to see (and eat) and while you probably won’t find restaurants dedicated to ‘Canadian’ cuisine there are lots of delicious things like poutine, butter tarts, beaver tails, and nanaimo bars that I have been informed are very Canadian.

7.  Take advantage of all the resources on campus to help you adapt

I mentioned this in my previous post and I’ll say it again –  you are paying a considerable amount of money (read: a small fortune) to be here so why not take advantage of everything you’re offered?

The Career Center, the Writing Center, the CIE and the Multi-Faith Center are all great places to check out.

8.  Meet new people

As tempting as it is to just stick to the international student crowd or people from your home country, there’s no harm in diversifying your network a bit.

Toronto is one of the most multicultural cities in Canada and it’s always a good idea to meet people from backgrounds different than yours.

And lastly, just remember that you don’t need to wrap yourself in plaid or tote around a hockey stick to fit in. Just be yourself and try not to worry too much – you’re going to have a great time!


Of Citrus and Reflections

Hi there, UofT! I have a question for you.

Do you know how much a polar bear weighs?


Enough to break the ice.

it’s a good thing you can’t see my face right now. It’s so much easier to crack lame jokes from behind a screen.

Well, now that’s over and done with, like those cringey icebreaker games they’ll make you play during frosh week which you’ll remember for years to come, let me tell you a bit about myself:

My name is Emaan and I’m going to be one of your Life @ UofT bloggers this year!

hello world!

hello world!

I’m going into my second year studying International Relations. I love tacos and tea, Bollywood movies and fat novels and I often tell Starbucks baristas my name is Emma just so I don’t have to deal with the name-butchering on my cup.

Like 17% of U of T’s undergraduate student population, I, too, was brought up outside of Canada. I grew up in Karachi, which is the largest and most populous city of Pakistan, a sprawling metropolis that, much like Toronto, is chaotic, bustling and vibrant… but HOT.

Temperatures can sometimes go up to 40 degrees Celsius ( 113 degrees Fahrenheit) like they did this summer and when I tell people from Toronto this, I usually get the same reaction as when I tell people from back home that I survived temperatures of -40 degrees Celsius this winter. (‘Oh my God, how do you LIVE?!)

Luckily Toronto’s summer so far has been just right for me- not blisteringly hot but not biting cold either. For me, the warm days are the perfect time to sit back with a cool glass of mint lemonade and reflect on the time gone by.

my homemade mint lemonade!

my homemade mint lemonade!

This summer, I’ve been thinking a lot about my first year that I just finished at UofT.

Coming to Toronto for the first time and leaving behind everything familiar I’d ever known was one of the scariest decisions I’ve made so far and in the first few months completely on my own, I wondered several times if I’d made the wrong choice. During those early days, I remember mistakenly attempting to pay for an iced tea with a loonie and a TTC token, thinking Tim Horton’s was some kind of fancy store that everyone kept talking about and losing my TCard several times. I kept thinking on numerous occasions that perhaps I should have played it safe and chosen somewhere closer to home.

But as time went by and I started getting to know the campus and the city, making friends and enjoying my classes, I realized that I’d made the right decision after all. What I love about Toronto and U of T is that there is so much that you can do with your experience here. The giant size of our campus isn’t an obstacle- it’s a gift.

With over sixty-thousand of us here at UofT, there’s the possibility of making a new friend every day, learning from all sorts of different perspectives, and with all the events happening on around campus, you’re spoiled for choice.

There are luckily also countless resources at U of T to help international students adjust to life in Canada- the CIE, the Student Life Programs,the Writing Centre, the Career Centre, and even your college registrar is bound to check in from time to time to see how you’re doing!

Overall, I feel like the U of T experience has made me a lot more confident, sure of myself and independent. From time to time you might still find me gazing up in doe-eyed wonder at the buildings around me but for the most part, I think I’ve adjusted quite well and at the end of the day, I can say that I’ve truly had a great first year.

So that’s about as much reflection as I can get out of one glass of mint lemonade!

empty glass = sad emaan

empty glass = sad emaan

While I go refill, why don’t you tell me about your summer, U of T? What are you reflecting on?


Storytelling is very powerful. Stories can hold all the experiences of a person’s life and the lives of their ancestors, even if the stories are short and specific. Stories also evolve the more times they are told and listened to.

A beige cloth coaster with turquoise, rusty red, and black imagery of a turtle

There are many teachings and stories even in this small picture, though it can take a lifetime to learn them all! (Photo by Zachary Biech)

I try to tell stories all the time. The key word there is try. I rarely get all the messages across the way I want to but I think everybody feels this way at some point. We all have so much to share!

Lee Maracle, who is a traditional teacher at First Nations House, is also a Grandmother of storytelling. Her experiences and activities cover a huge range and span from all across the country! She is a great authority on Indigenous literature and has written in many different forms: fiction, non-fiction, and poetry. She also speaks with this authority and she has recently released another book called Celia’s Song.


Lee is around to meet with you on Mondays and Tuesdays from 10 a.m. to noon.

Teaching is a key function of stories. Indigenous Education Week in Toronto this year exemplifies this relationship and the city is buzzing with many excellent activities based on Indigenous learning and teaching systems. First Nations House has events every day from Feb. 2-6.

I couldn’t get the poster the load properly, so check out the First Nations House Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/First-Nations-House-University-of-Toronto/8295583041?fref=nf

A very snowy day, with grey skies and heavy snowfall, looking across a white and fluffy Queen's Park to the west, at some of the old red brick houses of St. Michaels College, and the grey towers beyond

There is so much to learn, and so many stories to hear in every corner of U of T (Photo by Zachary Biech)

I’m really excited because this will be a new experience for me and I hope to learn a lot from all those willing to share. Mainstream education systems can be quite dry so these new teachings will help bring some life back into learning!


On Tuesday February the 3rd, I’ll be going to an Anishnaabemowin poetry reading at the Multi-Faith Centre. Poetry is a mystery to me mostly but the words in songs and poems are still powerful stories. I’m even learning the power of such words in my Russian language class where we’ve been reciting and learning the beauty held within Russian poeticism and novels.

A poem in Russian cyrillic letters, hardly sensible even when translated to English

This is a poem by Sergei Esenin (he wrote it in his own blood, freaky right?) (Photo by Zachary Biech)

I just read that last sentence to myself, and I think I must sound a little too poetic for my own good! The only poetry I’ve ever written was, well, never. To be honest, I’m finding that I barely even know the English language, and I’m getting worse at it as I learn more Anishnaabemowin and Russian!

Looking up at the southwest corner of University College, with it's old grey stones and shingles covered in fresh snow on this cloudy snowy day

So many stories have been born in the old UC building, including some of mine! (Photo by Zachary Biech)

It’s always worth the extra effort spent on getting ahead with schoolwork so we can experience more later on. I’m trying my best to get everything caught up this week so I can spend some time relaxing and learning during Indigenous Education Week. Relaxation is especially important this time of year, as the cold can be hard on us and I’m finding school to be very busy. January was intense enough, but February will be even more ridiculous! Stay strong and be resilient now through the hard work and tough times, and you will have a bigger life in the long run, with more experiences and better stories to share.

A snowy Soldier's Tower on a Snowy Day

Soldier’s Tower also has many stories within it’s coloured glass window (Photo by Zachary Biech)

Holistic Living for a Busy Schedule

My head can really get spinning. With so much going on, including schoolwork, tests, classes, extracurriculars and events, things can get crazy. Stress is a part of university life especially during flip-out times like midterms. But stress is natural and if you aren’t a little stressed about your university activities, you aren’t doing it right.

Let me explain; stress in controlled, healthy amounts is actually a good thing. Going into a mental tailspin, however, is not. If you have a balanced schedule full of activities you enjoy, the stress won’t feel like stress. It will feel like energy. This energy is good and there are many strategies to access it.

Two erasers standing vertically, with pop bottle caps for helmets and paper clips for rifles

Meed Bob and Ted, some veteran study soldiers from my first year. When you are overloaded with work, you can always count on your ability to distract yourself. (photo by Zachary Biech)

I’ll give you an example. Early October has been crazy for me. I’ve never spent so much time doing so many things all at once. In my opinion, it’s a little early in the year to have two midterms and a heavily weighted essay all in October’s first week. But here’s the strange thing. I’ve been working fifteen hours a day for a month straight and yet, my brain never went into code-red meltdown mode.

First reason: My schedule is full of things I love. There. Boom. Easy.

If you fill your day with your passions, it won’t feel like such a battle.

Second: My schedule is balanced.

Your schedule can’t be too heavy on the work and too light on fun and health-oriented activities and vice versa. All work and no play blahblahblah. But how much of each part of your life is necessary and what should actually be included in your day?

First Nations House has an Elder-in-Residence whom I’ve visited a number of times. His name is Andrew Wesley and he is Omushkego Cree from Fort Albany. Elders have invaluable, immense knowledge to share. The teachings I’ve received include protocol for ceremonies which have greatly helped me. At FNH as well as the Native Canadian Centre of Toronto there is plenty of help finding whatever medicines you may need. Also, you can talk with FNH’s Learning Strategist, Bonnie Jane Maracle.


Four small medicine bags, made of yellow, red, blue, and white cloth all pointing outwards in the four directions.

These are medicines of the four directions placed in my apartment to ensure it is a safe place to be. The entire atmosphere changed instantly when I put these up. (photo by Zachary Biech)

A small dream-catcher with dark red, white, and teal beads and a multicolour cloth from a Métis sash

My special dream-catcher. The cloth is a small piece of a Métis sash, given to me by Bruce Dumont, President of the Métis Nation of British Columbia. (photo by Zachary Biech)

Elders in Toronto have also really helped me grasp the value of the medicine wheel in balancing life to maintain healthy relationships with the four parts of our beings. You can definitely explore teachings like these at university. There’s more to learn than I could ever teach.


A small living room with tall white bookshelf cubes and TV stand, with a red coffee table and red doors in the white furniture, and with a white with blue ripples in the fabric

The original colour scheme of my apartment: balanced but needed one more colour of the four directions. Can you tell which one? (photo by Zachary Biech)

Here’s a beginner’s guide: life is a continual four-part cycle of our physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual selves. Only you know what fills these areas in your life, but rest assured, they all should be respected.  Every Saturday, I spend four hours or so scheduling my week. Though massive, these schedules are balanced in the four areas and allow me to maintain physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual wellness. They’re even colour-coded. Thus, I get more done, I’m healthier in the four areas, and the stress isn’t all that stressful.

A large agenda book with one page of colour-coded daily schedules and the other filled with notes for action items

A relatively light week (photo by Zachary Biech)

A close-up view of daily schedules with colour-coded action items and symbols that only I can understand

When in doubt, colour-code EVERYTHING. My system has become so elaborate, I have a whole new symbol language in there too. (photo by Zachary Biech)

A small memo booklet open to a page with meal plans for each day of the week

An example of my personal management system: The meal plan for this week from the meals section of my memo ledger. (photo by Zachary Biech)

My strategy for balance may not be a perfect match for you, but I think the idea of balance definitely is. If you approach university life holistically, and you fill your days with projects that you love, it’ll go way smoother.

A list of personal action items (music, exercise, ceremonies, reading) and a medicine wheel drawn in my large agenda book

Balance is a big part of my schedule. (Photo by Zachary Biech)

What do you do to maintain your wellness?

pictures of home, cloths for medicines, and a mezmorizing blue lava lamp

Some tools for balance: pictures of home, cloths for medicines, and a mesmerizing lava lamp. (photo by Zachary Biech)

Confessions of a Stress Queen

I’ve previously mentioned that I like to keep busy. I know it seems counterintuitive, but it keeps me at the top of my game!

Throughout this year’s Mental Wellness month at U of T, the campaign has revolved around coping and seeking help if you are experiencing mental health problems, as well as building coping strategies for staying mentally well. Feeling somewhat stressed or anxious about upcoming evaluations is completely normal.

This info card from Health and Wellness sums it up pretty well:

FullSizeRender (1)So yes, I like to keep busy, but here’s my crazy confession #1:

I am not Wonder Woman. I don’t always fly through my tasks with ease, grace and a killer positive attitude. I have been stressed out.

I don’t need to tell you that university can be overwhelming at times. I am on sleep-deprived night #3. The time is currently 4:17 AM. This blog post is due in 8 hours. And I still have to do the works cited page of my paper that was due yesterday.

This may seem like the textbook definition of stressed out, but to be honest, I don’t feel insanely overwhelmed. I mean, I’m stressed about meeting my deadlines, and I’m stressed about not getting any sleep, but even in this last minute, night-before-it’s-due frenzy, I still know I can accomplish the task at hand. I have come a very long way since the days when being stressed out resulted in crying a lot and extreme levels of procrastination. This Tumblr post signifies everything I was about in first year.


Source: http://ernbarassing.tk/post/58314048103/if-im-on-tumblr-more-than-usual-that-means-i-have

Crazy confession #2: I still experience stress all the time. Even without midterms (SHOCKER! I know.) So, when I do feel like I’m returning to that state of tears and extreme procrastination, I use some of the coping strategies I’ve learned along the way. Here are some of my ways of staying calm and cool in the heat of midterms:

  1. Use your support system! – Friends, family, loved ones, school services, professors. You name it. Sometimes all I need is to text a friend and blow off some steam by complaining about things.

    FullSizeRender (2)

    My friends are very supportive and encouraging of me <3

  2. Take a break! – Even with a time crunch, I like to take breaks because it calms me down. I let my mind wander. I watch an episode of my favorite TV show. I go out to eat with friends. Anything goes!


    Food is my favourite break <3

  3. Constantly self-assess – I went to a Mindful Monday session, and the instructor talked about being mindful of yourself. Similarly, I always try to think about where I am in the stress spectrum. Can I handle everything? Do I need to step back and take on less? Do I need to seek further help because it’s getting out of hand?

I know this doesn’t quite make me Queen of Stress, because I’m still coping and learning new ways to manage all the time, but it’s definitely a start! Maybe for now I’ll be the Princess of Stress?

Stacks on Stacks (of books)

In the immortal words of Arthur:

libray card gif

Truer words have never been spoken. Source: http://curiosityquills.tumblr.com/post/65866469434

As U of T students, we get a handy little TCard, which gives you access to numerous services on campus but also, as many of you may know, the TCard also serves as a… LIBRARY CARD!

It opens the opportunity to explore the thousands of books in the 44 libraries on campus!

The U of T libraries offer so many facilities and services both online and in person that it’s a student’s dream! But this post is dedicated to one of my favourite things to explore on campus: The stacks!


What a beautiful sight

For those of you who don’t know, the stacks are basically the main area where the books are held. My first time navigating the stacks was a little overwhelming, but it’s not as complicated as that long call number on the books may indicate!

For example, I recently really wanted to read the English version of the Mahabharata (an ancient Indian epic) but I couldn’t find a copy anywhere. On a whim, I decided to try our own library. Spoiler alert: they had it!!

It didn’t take much effort either! In a few easy steps, I had my book.

1) Search for the title you want, or keywords. I used the website catalogue, but you can often find them using the catalogue in the libraries. You’ll see what the libraries have on the results page. Each book result has the library it’s located in, the call number of the book and also whether the book is checked out or not. Being the nerd I am, I did a tiny bit of background research to see which version I wanted.

Screen Shot 2014-08-27 at 11.30.40 PM

2) Note down the information you need to find the book: the call number and the library it’s located in.

3) Find out where in the library the book is located. For example, if the call number started with PR, it would be on the 13th floor of Robarts Library. This information can be accessed online or will be on display in the libraries (Fun fact: The inside of the elevators at Robarts have one of these signs).

Screen Shot 2014-08-27 at 11.31.01 PM

*Just for Robart’s

4) Use the last few numbers to exactly find your book of choice! 

See, U of T? Easy peasy! So next time you want a reference textbook for that assignment on viruses, a copy of that $200 textbook for that course you have to take or just a modern translation of an ancient epic, don’t hesitate to try out the stacks!

Just don’t let the power get to your head.

dw evil

With great power comes great responsibility. Source: http://elwoodcitythings.tumblr.com/post/15568208227


A New Home Awaits

Last weekend I flew to Vancouver to visit my brother. I have been out west several times, as my mom’s side of the family lives in British Columbia. This time, however, I started thinking more about the experience of coming to a new city, of feeling lost, estranged, but also excited. I thought of all you out-of-town students, somewhere out there, waiting to make a home in Toronto! (#startUofT to tell me where you’re coming from!)

The city of Vancouver is very different than Toronto, set between the mountains and the ocean it is cooler, calmer, and more inviting to a strict diet of salmon sashimi!

Toronto is…bigger, to say the least. It can be a fast city, a loud city, a city of highways and high-rises, a city with a castle and a great lake, a city that can be both menace and mentor to many young people, a city filled with possibility and life, a city that can be home!

My first visit to Toronto: My dad decided that I should see the Royal Ontario Museum. We drove about an hour from Cambridge ON (where I grew up) to Yorkdale Mall, and then my dad took me onto the subway. We sat at the front of the train, watching the dark tunnel appear and vanish in the same instant. We were almost there!

The subway took us south to Museum station (I was completely lost at the time!), and when we came out on Queens Park I nearly fainted. The city exploded around me—up was down, down was left, left was no longer a direction, and right…well, it’s better not to ask.

I had no idea what was happening or where I was. But my dad took my hand (I was only eight years old, btw!) and led me up the street to the ROM. We entered on the Queens Park side, which proves it was a long time ago! I saw the dinosaurs, the medieval suits of armour, the totem poles, and I was the happiest boy you could find that day.

When I returned to T.O for university, at age 19, I remembered the city vaguely. But mostly I was lost again. You can’t help it. A new city will always feel strange and unknown, at first.

My brother moved to Vancouver in April and has since been adjusting. But moving to a new city is fun, he told me, “It’s exciting to walk new streets, and be in a place where you do feel lost at times, but slowly you get used to everything, it all starts to make sense.” My brother was very excited to show me his new city, and more importantly his new home.

And so will you, after a while. If your family and friends come to visit, you will be able to show them your new city. You’ll say things like:

“This is Robarts Library. I’ve been inside 791 times and counting. They say the weight of all the books is causing it to sink, but I think it’s the weight of all the sleeping students.”

The city of Toronto will become a series of landmarks and side streets, short-cuts and favourite places. The University of Toronto, St. George campus will encompass a large portion of it, and at the very centre you will find a home, your home. It’s here waiting for you!

That’s all for me U of T! Stay diamond!

– Stephen


Robarts Library Photo Credit: The Glossaries Blog

What to Expect When You Don’t Know What to Expect

Hey everyone! My name is Katrina, and this year I’ll be one of your Student Life bloggers for Life @ U of T! Welcome to my first post.

I’m an international student hailing from Hong Kong (which is actually where I’m writing from right now!). It’s one of the most cut-throat, bustling cities in the world (and, arguably, the best – I’m not saying I’m partisan to that fact, but I’m not denying it either). When I first decided I’d be attending U of T, I figured that transitioning to another metropolis wouldn’t be a big deal, and I knew college was the right choice for me.

I genuinely thought I was headed to U of T because I finally had it all figured out. I couldn’t be more naïve and wrong. I spent my first few nights here alone in my dorm in self-pity, away from the rest of my floor, so afraid I wouldn’t fit in that I didn’t even bother trying. I didn’t understand why people wore shoes inside their dorm rooms, or why morning showers were so popular (#cultureshock). I spent the majority of my first week of class sitting alone, just a number amidst the thousands of students who, I was convinced, felt like they belonged to this strange new world more than I did.

Nightmare at Rush Hour

Despite the sheer intimidating number of people in Hong Kong, I’ve felt more lost at UofT than I ever did back home.

To say my past two years at U of T have been an absolute rollercoaster of a learning experience would be an understatement (and a cliché). I’ve never been the “que sera, sera”-type, but U of T has made me learn to embrace the unexpected and to let things run their course. My mistake was thinking “que sera, sera” as synonymous to “sit back and do nothing”. Now I understand that what it really means is to make the most with what you have, and the right things will come along at the right time if they’re meant to be.

With the quickest way back to Hong Kong a 15-hour plane ride, I decided to make a home for myself here. I shook my pride and became my outgoing self again during Frosh Week, falling in love with my incredibly supportive and friendly college. I lingered outside dorm rooms longer and longer, which marked the beginning of more than several friendships that I hope will last a lifetime. I even started taking my showers in the morning. I had found my new niche.

I could learn a thing or two about being less of a control freak about my future. (Okay, fine, I could learn a lot about being less of a control freak.)

But I have never been more challenged to push myself mentally, emotionally, socially on both an academic and on a personal level in such a short period of time. Within these two years, I grew out of a childhood dream, hated subjects I thought I’d love, become better aware of my alcohol tolerance level, forced myself to come face to face with exam-induced anxiety, made far too many bad calls in prioritizing with first-year coursework, learnt to cut loose from toxic friendships, did my laundry far less than I should have – and that’s barely skimming the surface. I have grown an exceptional amount, and I don’t expect to stop any time soon.


If you want something bad enough, you’ll make the sacrifices you need to make in order to succeed – and if they’re meant to be, they’ll happen. This was clearly exemplified by Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams in The Notebook, so it must be true.

So trust your instincts in believing that this will be the best time of your life so far. Pursue your dreams, but don’t be disappointed if your goals change, or don’t go exactly according to the way you planned. Work with what you get – and what you’ll get here is a world of opportunity if you’re willing to look, and more than enough chances you’ll need to learn from your mistakes.

Expect your time at U of T to be like nothing you expect, but everything you want to make of it. Make it a good one.

– Katrina

I think I’ve Got the Travel Bug…

U of T’s Centre for International Experience is quite a gem.

Located in Cumberland House, it’s a bastion of activities, adventures and travels from far-flung places in the world. I had the pleasure of sitting down with  Marco Adamovic, who recently took on the role of Program Coordinator at CIE. Marco gave me a sneak peek into what is to come in September. Get ready! Here’s what’s up at CIE in a matter of weeks:

Wake Up Mondays. Connect with other students who have lived and worked in your dream destination. Grab a coffee and get to know other international exchange students or domestic students who have gone abroad while you wake yourself up with a delicious cup of java in hand.

A Wake Up Monday needed here.

Post a Letter Social Activity Club: Bringing the old-school back. Remember the days when you would write your family or your best friend, or even that pen-pal half a world away, using (yes, you guessed it) pen & paper? And how wonderful it was to receive a postcard or envelope in return? You’ll be able to revive that penmanship of yours and write postcards to others at CIE regularly come Fall.

Monthly International Food Event. I don’t know about you, but whenever I travel outside of Canada, I’m always on the lookout for great eats. CIE will start hosting a monthly international food event, allowing you to taste and learn about one particular kind of cuisine each time.

The iConnect International Mentorship Program. Are you an incoming international student and a bit hesitant about your transition into life at U of T? Maybe you would be more comfortable if you could connect with another U of T student who has already transitioned into university? The iConnect program might be just the thing for you! iConnect is a student-led mentorship program where  Mentors and Mentees connect and build a relationship in many different ways – sharing a meal, going for coffee, or maybe checking out events on-campus.

The English Communication Program. This non-credit language skills program allows you to practice your English for two hours a week in many creative ways. You can create a blog in English, discuss and debate key social issues, or discover new neighbourhoods in English with others. These are just a few options that the program offers. If you are a domestic student at U of T and you have cross-cultural, teaching or international experience, you can volunteer to teach classes.

Volunteering at CIE. There are lots of ways that you can get involved in U of T’s International Community. Perhaps you’d like to contribute to social or cultural events that run throughout the year at CIE, teach English (and no, you do not have to be a native speaker, as long as you are fluent in idiomatic English!), or help out in other ways.

Camel Caravan through the Sahara by Cary Ferguson

Of course, I can’t leave out one of the best things that CIE makes possible – travel! Here is where you want to come if you would like to go on an exchange abroad. Europe, Africa, Latin America and Asia: the world is your oyster. If you would like to study at an institution that is not on CIE’s list of partner institutions, you can even request to study at a university of your own choosing with CIE’s Self-Designed Program. So, you really can go anywhere in the world.

Exchanges are one thing – you also have the option of interning, conducting research, or working abroad.These are just a few of the programs and services that CIE has to offer. Check out CIE’s website and Facebook page, or come visit Cumberland House in person to find out about others. You never know what lies in store for you!