The world doesn’t revolve around me?

One of the things about being a university student is that you start to say, “OH SO I’m NOT the only one who…”. When I was in high school, I felt like I was the only one around who cared about the environment or that I was the only one who enjoyed classical music. With a group only 800 students in the whole school and around 200 in my grade, it really was difficult to see diversity. Not to mention, everyone in my grade came from the same neighbourhood and likely grew up there their whole lives so we tended to focus on the similarities between us and our peers while ignoring the parts of us that make us different. 

huron and harbord intersection

When I started at U of T, one of the largest and most renowned schools in Canada, and lived in the city, I truly saw the world from a diverse lens for the first time. Concepts like accessibility, citizenship status, equity and intersectionality were either not in my vocabulary radar or I hadn’t thought about them on a larger scale whatsoever; I had a pretty narrow view of the world which was shaped by what was immediately around me. I also didn’t use the Internet in order to keep up my grades for university. After coming to university, I started realizing my own privilege and found the ways that I could make a difference in the community using that privilege but most importantly, I found communities that eliminated any misconception I had had about being “the only one who…”.

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(Barely) Imparting Senior Student Wisdom

Hello new semester! Don’t you just love the buzz around campus this time of year? You know, its that time in the semester where midterms haven’t taken over life yet, the weather is still amazing and you have a whole new batch of stationary to play with. Okay, that last one only applies to me and a handful of very cool people.

It’s also that time of year where I usually make tons of new goals and try extra hard to get this whole studying thing right.


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International Perspective: A Holiday Collective

Are you an international student missing out on your “home holiday seasons” and family this year? Read on to meet some of U of T’s own international students, and their tips on how to deal with missing family, friends and holiday traditions while studying at university.

Kana sitting on a suitcase at the airport wearing her UofT sweater!
Meet Kana! She is a second year student studying Peace, Conflict and Justice, Contemporary Asian Studies and Environmental Anthropology here at U of T. Kana moved to T.O. from Osaka, Japan. She likes to meet new people and try out cool restaurants in the city!
Logan with a backdrop of the Toronto skyline.
Say hello to Logan! Logan studies Genome Biology, with minors in Physiology and Immunology. He grew up in a small rural town in Indiana, USA, and he spends his free time exploring the 6ix and admires ALL the dogs Toronto has to offer.
Charmaine wearing her frosh week t-shirt at Woodsworth College Quad.
Introducing Charmaine! Charmaine is a first year student, intending to specialize in Neuroscience. She is from Zimbabwe, and loves writing short stories, dancing, singing and watching television series when she is not doing school work.

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Searching for the Bermuda Triangle: English as a Second Language in University

Shrouded in a thick layer of mist, where compasses cease to work and where you see not land or sky, but an ocean of uniform grey, the pursuit to the Bermuda Triangle is a frightening one. Going to a new university, far from home, where the majority of people and courses use a language that isn’t your native tongue might feel a lot like this dizzying journey.

In addition to my experience transitioning from a French immersion school to an English one in middle school, I conferred with a few of my friends whose native language isn’t English and have compiled a list of tips to cope with the sudden transition in languages. Here are a few ideas that came up:

Read any English material you can get your hands on.

Reading a lot will help you familiarize yourself with the written language; in addition to practising your comprehension skills, you will learn a lot of vocabulary and idioms, too!

Some free material that can be found around campus includes U of T’s newspaper, The Varsity, a popular Toronto newspaper, the Toronto Star, music magazines, such as Whole Note, and, of course, this blog (wink wink).

Toronto Star newspaper, The Varsity newspaper, and the Whole Note magazine strewn across my desk.

Grabbed these jewels from just inside University College.

Your college might also print its own publications.

Latest issue of Trinity College’s publication, Salterrae.

Latest issue of Trinity College’s publication, Salterrae.

Not only will you get more opportunities to read, but you’ll also get to learn what’s going on at U of T and at your college!

Don’t be afraid to befriend native English speakers and practice your conversation skills.

I’ve been told that some non-native speakers are hesitant to speak to native speakers because they’re afraid others will judge them for their accent or for their inability to reply as quickly as a native speaker would. Don’t be. Though many students might not understand the extent of language-related difficulties non-native English speakers experience, many do understand the difficulty of learning a second language (read: HIGH-SCHOOL FRENCH), so, as one of my companions states, “Have the courage to speak.” Don’t be afraid to make mistakes when talking, don’t be afraid to ask for clarification when you don’t understand what others mean, and don’t be afraid to take time to translate the thoughts in your head into words.

Sidney Smith Hall common area

One of the best places to chat—Sidney Smith Hall. Comfy chairs, coffee, and donuts–HELLO.

Go to writing workshops.

Writing Plus is a series of workshops that helps with everything related to writing—from how to develop a thesis statement to how to write a lab report or literature review. Here’s a list of their Fall workshops. As well, here are some workshops for graduate students.

Take advantage of your writing centre.

Handing in an essay or report to a professor is single-handedly one of the most nerve-wracking events ever. Probably even more nerve-wracking if it’s in the form of a ten-page university paper written in your second language. An excellent place to visit is your college’s writing centre, and for grad students, the graduate writing centre. All of them offer individual sessions with writing instructors who provide guidance on your academic writing, from composing a draft to revising the final copy.

All in all, don’t be afraid to ask for help, and don’t be afraid to seek out opportunities to improve your English. As a companion of mine says, “Your English will get better if you spend more time on it,” or, put more bluntly by another, “No excuse, just work harder.” All of you are incredibly brave and admirable for taking on this arduous task, and though it may not be an easy journey, it will be a rewarding one. Keep sailing forth in this hazy mist; it will get less misty up ahead, I promise.


Do you have any tips on how to make the linguistic transition to an all-English university easier? Let me know in the comments below or through @lifeatuoft on Twitter!

Direct Quote: “You should vote.”

Walking around Toronto’s neighbourhoods, reading the newspaper or checking the Facebook profile of your poli-sci friend makes it pretty hard to ignore the impending election, which is taking place October 19th ; and frankly, you shouldn’t. At every age, there is a new privilege we are able to take advantage of: at twelve we rush to sign up for the red cross’ babysitting course, thirteen makes you a teenager, fifteen is an age significant enough for Taylor Swift to write a song about, sixteen legally allows you to not only hold the keys to vehicle but actually drive it and eighteen is the age which makes a Canadian citizen eligible to vote.

It truly is a privilege to have the right to vote, and unfortunately many students find themselves too busy to vote, unsure of the process or just plain uninterested in the politics of our country. U of T educates a huge number of international students, many of whom do not qualify to vote in elections – however, I have learned from my politically inclined international friends that it can be exciting to self-educate on current Canadian politics and stress the importance of voting to those who can. Take my dear friend Steven, for example. He is originally from Australia and came to U of T to take a break from all the scary spiders and make friends with a moose or two, and along the way found a passion for Canadian politics. It was Steven who really inspired me to vote this election, by stating in a Facebook status that his friends with a Canadian citizenship would be voting for the leader of the country he resides, that my vote would impact his Canada and to vote, and most importantly vote wisely.

Steven holding a photoshopped bear with "I can't vote but i you can, guurl you'd better. With lots of love from Australia. Oct. 19th."

Steven seemed to know that political memes are a way into my heart.

These words rang in my head as I walked into the Graduate House last Wednesday between classes to vote for the first time. I had decided to vote in the advance polling, after realizing that my vote would have the most punch in my “back-at-home” riding, Grey-Bruce-Owen Sound. I walked into a room where a bunch of U of T student poll clerks sat at stations ready to register, give first-voter pointers, and check IDs. For those of us who are eighteen, you will already know that there aren’t many exciting things that your ID can do for you… sigh no more; voting truly is a thrill (disclaimer: this is my inner political nerd talking). Regardless of the excitement level casting your ballot gives you, if you can – educate yourself on the party options and get yourself to a voting centre and enjoy your 18+ Canadian duty! For all the international students out there, get involved and remind your Canadian friends to take advantage of a right you have not been given. Over 42,000 students voted during the advance polling period, and with numbers like that, we are showing the Canadian government that we are young, present and ready to take action when it comes to deciding the leader of our country. Spread the word, take time to vote this October and help make Canadian history.

Are you planning to vote in the election? If the answer is yes, remember to bring two pieces of ID with your address on them or one ID with a piece of mail using your current address, a lease agreement, etc. to the voting centre. If you need information on where to vote on election day, here is an article from U of T News that has it all!

Tweet or Instagram using the hashtag #UofTiVoted and share your voting experience with us!


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


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


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'


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:

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)