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.

Perfection

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!

-Aziza

Should I Stay or Should I Go? [Part 2: Staying]

To the delight of my friends here, and detriment, I’m sure, of my family at home, I’ve made the decision to stay in Toronto. To be fair, it had always been in the cards for me to stay here — at least for the immediate future — should the right opportunity present itself. And well, so it has. I have been fortunate to have been offered an internship upon graduation, so, at least for the next few months, I’ll be sticking around good ol’ T-dot. In a way though, the question of whether to stay or not has been answered for me, or perhaps just put in the ‘things for future-Chad to consider’ folder which, to be frank, is bursting at the seams these days.

So what now? Well, one thing’s for sure, there’s no dearth of information for recent international student graduates looking to stay in Canada. And the process is, I’m happy to say, pretty straightforward. As long as you’ve been a full-time student for more than two years, the process is merely a formality to getting your work permit; the one limitation being that you can only work for the length of time that you’ve been in Canada for, and up to a maximum of three years. Here’s the lowdown on the application process, courtesy of the fine folks at the International Student Centre.

What you’ll need:

  • First, you’ll need to be within the ninety days since your notification from the university that you’ve completed your course requirements;
  • You must have a valid study permit at the time of application;
  • And you must provide proof of completion of your program. A letter from your registrar and your official transcript will be enough.

The Process:

You can make your application online or by mail. But first, you’ll have to go to the Citizenship and Immigration Canada website and download the following:

  • Guide (IMM 5580)
  • Application to Change Conditions, Extend My Stay or Remain in Canada (IMM 1249)
  • Document Checklist (IMM 5583)

Then, all you have to do is to pay the processing fee of $150 online or with a fee receipt form (available at CIE) at any bank.

The Future You:

For those of you that are looking to stay in Canada for the long haul, what you’ll want to do is start pursuing is your permanent residency. Coincidentally, there’s an article posted in the Toronto Star just this morning, that outlines how you can go about doing so. But either way, you’ll still need to apply for your work permit like every other international student before you can be eligible.

If you have any more questions, or a personal experience with staying in Toronto after graduation that you’d like to share, leave us a comment below, we love comments! :)

Hasta la próxima semana!

Chad

Should I Stay or Should I Go? [Part 1 - The Question]

I started this post almost two months ago. I am certain that this effectively sums up how difficult it is for me to answer that question and I’m sure equally so for many international students, as they come to the end of their university careers. It’s almost cruel to have to choose: should I stay here, and continue the life that I started here in 2007? Or go back home and return to the one that I left so long ago? After making my home here at U of T and establishing myself in my most defining years, as an adult and as a Torontonian, do I just give it all up? I have no doubts that this is as much a conundrum for the student that has what I call, “a first home,” whether it be a few hundred or a few thousand miles away. There are so many things consider.

Friends vs. Family

Is there really a distinction? My friends at university have become my family, and my family in Trinidad, my friends. But I’ve grown accustomed to a life where I can have both. I have the luxury of being able to fly home two or three times in a year for a few weeks at a time, and more often than not, this is enough to satiate my needs for blood and water. But if I were to go back home, there would be much less reason for me to fly to Toronto twice, even once a year. And as painful as it’d be, I’d be virtually giving up the friends that I have now, who I’ve become so close with. One thing’s for sure, I won’t have mom and pop for pay for it anymore!

Homeland security

If I were to go home, I would have a roof over my head, a car to drive, and food in the mouth. Sounds like a sweet deal, right? Especially when considering that if I stayed in Toronto, I’d be pretty much on my own, having to work for my dollar and keep myself afloat. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m incredibly excited to be financially independent for the first time in my life, but this is also an undoubtedly daunting prospect to face. Especially now that I’m a part of what seems to be the most unhireable generation in a job market that’s not even hiring.

Foreign experience

On the other hand, staying here would likely yield more for me in the long run. I would gain experience in a much faster paced, more demanding work environment than I would if I went home right away. That is, assuming that I am able to land a job. And a good one, too. There’s little sense in staying here for three years more, gaining experience as a bus boy or sales clerk when I could go home and get started pursuing a career.

The deciding factor?

Happiness. Where would I be happiest? On the beach in the sunny Caribbean, swimming and drinking with the little fish? Or in the heart of the big city, chasing dreams and pavements amongst skyscrapers? I’m sure many of you that are tired of battling old man winter will think that this is a no-brainer. But not everything is as simple as beaches and booze. I recently read a passage in a book by a countryman of mine that sums up a sentiment that many of us buccaneers feel about the monotony of the simple lives of our homelands, which only adds to the complexity of the question.

“The traveller [...] was enchanted at his first glimpse of this paradise, in which the ordered beauty of agriculture and prodigality of Nature competed equally for his surprise and admiration. But it was monotonous. Year in year out, day after day, it was the same, a little greener in the wet season, a little browner in the dry. The wilder scenery as constantly magnificent, but for [those] who had seen the same domestic landscape from his earliest hour, it awakened little response. To the emigrant who was at first charmed and exhilarated, monotony bred indifference, which could develop into active dislike, and longing for the seasons returning with the year.” CLR James

So you see, there really is no easy answer. Although, one thing I’ve recently realized, is that I’m grateful to even have the choice, I know that many would love to have such a luxury. It is a blessing as much as it is a curse.

Be sure to come back next week, where I’ll have a look at what I, as an international student, will need to do if I do decide that I want to stick around ol’ Toronto!

Chad

Enter the Dragon…my first Chinese New Year’s Party

On a rainy September night, I drove to Pearson and waited in the terminal for five hours. This wasn’t an exercise in patience, I was waiting for the international student my family is hosting to disembark from her flight from China. It was with trepidation that I stood there wondering if this stranger would know who I was, or if I would know her. I knew very little about her and when she finally came through the sliding glass doors I found out that she didn’t speak English.

The first few weeks were challenging for her and for me as we negotiated the language barrier as I attempted to help her settle into her new life in Canada. You would never know it now, only three months later, that this young lady only arrived in our country a short time ago. The speed at which she is learning English is remarkable. It is reminiscent of when my sons first learned to talk.

As much as we are trying to get her acclimatized to our culture and weather, we have experienced something unexpected. We are also being introduced to her culture. I am learning things about Chinese culture that they just don’t tell you in guidebooks. Little secrets passed down from mother to daughter, tips and tricks in the kitchen that would never had occurred to me if she hadn’t mentioned them.

As January approached I sensed that our student was missing her home. She enjoyed our Christmas holiday, yet I knew she was missing the festivities that would soon be coming to her hometown. She told me about Chinese New Year. I thought I knew all that there was to know about the celebration. I’ve been to some festivals in Toronto, I go to the Mandarin in January and gorge on dumplings. I soon found out what I was missing when I suggested that we have a Chinese New Year celebration in our home, with a menu of her choice and whatever friend she wished to invite.

According to her the entire day of celebration revolves around the making and eating of dumplings. As I said I’ve eaten my fair share of dumplings, but I had never attempted to make them. The funny thing is that she had also never made them by herself. This was something that the older women of the family do, while the children mainly stuff the dumplings or close them up.

 


With the help of Google – and her mother, via Facetime, propped up against a bowl of ground pork on my counter – we managed to perfect the dough and filling. We made close to one hundred dumplings, in an array of festive colours, using different vegetable juices as a dye. The entire process of dumpling making started at 9am and was finished at 4pm. By the time we finished both of our sore hands were stained with vegetable juice and scented with ginger and sesame. The eating of the dumplings was so fast compared to the prep time, but it was well worth it!  One word mmmmmmmmmmmm!!  Check out the dumpling spread below!

I learned a lot that day about how even though our cultures are very different; they are also very much the same. Just as I toil over a turkey with my mom every Christmas, so too does she toil over dumplings every Chinese New Year. The experience of hosting an international student is eye-opening. I’m learning through her how hard a transition coming to a new land can be. I feel as though I am now more aware of those around me on campus that struggle in the same ways our student does. It is so important that these students who are alone and far away from their families have friends to rely on. I encourage you to engage with an international student if you haven’t and try to make a difference in their lives as they settle into life in Canada. You’ll learn as much as them!

Happy Chinese New Year / Spring Festival!
-Lori

Thank You Canada!

So lately, every U of T student and their cat has been posting to Facebook and Twitter complaining that they didn’t get a grant that was, as they see it, owed to them by the Ontario government.

For those of you who weren’t aware, Ontario premier Dalton McGuinty recently pledged to offer Ontario students a 30 per cent rebate on their annual tuition fees. But of course, like many politicians before him, he failed to read the fine print: that part time students, mature students, graduate students, and even students who took a year off before coming to university would not be eligible for the grant.

Now while I in no way wish to seem like an apologist for McGuinty, or the Ontario Liberals, and am myself peeved when politicians so flippantly break or bend promises, I have to say that I don’t really have a great deal of sympathy for Canadian students on this one.

For a group that is given so much, we also seem to complain quite a lot. With this tuition break, we’ve seen the Ontario Government try to reach out and lend a hand, only to be slapped in the face by those of us who feel that they have been neglected. But it is a step in the right direction, a break for students in a difficult time, and one that other members of the Liberal party have claimed that they can’t even afford. What I’m trying to say is, and I sincerely hope I don’t sound too trite: be grateful for what you have.

Why I’m grateful and why you should be too!

As an international student, I pay almost four times as much in tuition as a Canadian resident or citizen. What some people fail to realize is that this massive gap is not due to the fact that tuition for international students is hiked, but that resident tuition is highly subsidized by the federal government. But I’ve been contributing to the economy, holding at least two jobs for my last four years here, and I pay taxes too — probably just as many as you do — and still I pay quadruple what resident students do. So why should you be grateful? Well, here’s why I’m grateful, maybe you can connect the dots and figure out why you should be too!

First of all, with the $25,000 a year that I pay for tuition, I could maybe afford to go to a half-decent state school in the United States. And aside from the standard of education that I’d not be privy to, surely I’d also miss out on the opportunities, success and the prestige that will undoubtedly follow my education here.

Secondly, for a similar level of education to what I’m getting now — at say, Columbia or Cornell (both ranked BELOW U of T in last year’s Times Higher Education world university ranking) — I’d have to shell out between $41,000 and $45,000 a year. No thanks, I’ll stick with my Ol’ Toronto mother ever dear, and save a measly 15,000 bucks! And lastly, on top of the tuition benefits, I could not leave out one of the greatest things on this planet earth: Canadian Health Care. Knock the wait times all you want, but when I needed a life-changing operation two years ago — one that I would not have been able to afford anywhere else in the world — the Mountie and Maple leaf were ready and willing to do it for me, at no cost at all.

So, after all this, I’m going to say what I feel no other Canadian (wait, I’m not Canadian) seems to be willing to say. THANK YOU CANADA! Thank you for giving me a world-class education at a fraction of the cost; for trying to make it easier for students to have access to an education; and for striving to make it even better than it is now.

And if you’re still not satisfied, at least voice your concerns in a forum that can respond to your needs like the UTSU and CFS’ Day of Action; no need to whine all over Facebook ;)

Chad

Happy to be a stereotype!

There’s no doubt that by now you’ve seen at least one of the innumerable videos going ’round the internet, entitled: “Things — insert cultural background/gender/sexual orientation — people say.”

Now, while I think that most of these are hilarious, they’re also a scary representation of the way these groups are perceived, and how uneducated we still are about the world at large. I’m sure a lot of you — our international student readers — will agree, every time you’re asked if you have a particular talent or trait, it just happens to be associated with your ethnicity or birthplace. I’m sure Torontonians are also fed up with international students suggesting that they MUST love hockey and maple syrup and the snow, just because they’re from Canada.

While these videos bouncing around have viewers rolling on the floor laughing; just as many are upset at the stereotypes they are generating. The irony though — and to me this has been infinitely refreshing — is that in almost every case, the people responsible for making these videos belong to the groups that they seem to be promoting stereotypes about. They have been able to turn around clichés about themselves, embrace them and even have fun with them.

So what does this mean? Aren’t stereotypes offensive, oversimplified representations of our culture and heritage, and more importantly, aren’t they wrong? Well, not quite!

I’m from the Caribbean, and in my opinion, there’s no reason I should be offended when someone asks me if my parents work on a plantation with no electricity or internet; suggest that I must live on the beach, drink rum in a hammock all day, and play steel drums. These are things that I’m often happy to talk about, and equally as happy to dispel any myths that may come up. In fact! Let’s have a laugh about them!

The truth is, my mother is an accountant and my dad is a lawyer. We’re all of European descent but we are decidedly Trinidadian. My house is actually built on what used to be a plantation, but we do have internet and electricity — although I’ll admit it does get cut from time to time.

I live only about 10 minutes from some of the most beautiful beaches in the world, although I spend more of my time at home going to restaurants, bars and cinemas. We Trinidadians do tend to spend a lot of time in hammocks and we do drink copious amounts of rum — although I personally prefer gin — and I don’t play the steel drums, but my six year old sister does.

So yes, thanks for asking! I’m proud of my culture and the stereotypes that come with it, and while they’re not always true — and not all there is to me by any means — I’ve embraced these things about myself and where I’m from. I’m glad that we can have a laugh about it together. Hopefully we can both learn something from it.

What do you think? Are stereotypes completely presumptuous and destructive? Or are they just an indicator of the social fabric from which we are each cut: individual and unique, but all from the same cloth?

Just some food for thought,

Chad