‘So Long, Winter!’ (or, ‘Later, Midterms!’)

“English summer eating up the atmosphere
Day-time bathers sleep in the shade
Clouds crawl over dampening our attitudes
People run for shelter from the pouring rain”

– ‘English Summer’, by The Moons

Well, we did it. Mild or not, our first winter here in Toronto has come to pass, and we’re in one piece! With one final flurry of tests, I’ve wrapped up midterm season, too. It’s a peculiar feeling – one on hand, having so many evaluations has made time pass by awfully slowly. On the flip side, it feels like freshman year has passed me by entirely too quickly.

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It’s Still Reading Week…Right?

With the passing of reading week, somewhat begrudgingly, this past Monday marked the restart of classes. While the break definitely provided a much-needed period of rest, trying to get back into a school mindset the past couple of days has been quite the challenge. When we were in high school, spring break was the closest equivalent, but the difficulty levels of the courses puts the re-adjustment period on a level of its own.

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Finding my Flow and my #JoyAtUofT

Hi team!

“Happiness is not for the faint of heart”. These are words I remember from a life-altering lecture I attended this past August.

Over the summer I had the opportunity to attend the Canadian Fitness Professionals conference, a multi-day event with the biggest names and faces in the fitness and health industries. With hundreds of educational sessions, workshops, and classes to attend, it was a wonderful opportunity to be immersed in new ways of thinking, moving, and being healthy.

My favourite speaker of the day, Petra Kolber, spoke at a panel discussion titled “Mind Before Muscle” and again in her own lecture called “The Happiness Epidemic: Catch It If You Can.” As a fitness professional and positive psychology guru, Petra introduced me to a concept called FLOW. This term describes the moment in time when time disappears, when we are challenged in a way that matches our skills – when we are in what we often call “the zone”.

She explained that being in a state of FLOW is one of the most important things we can do for ourselves to contribute to being happy. Happiness, she said, is not a steady state, but something that we have to train ourselves to achieve. She recommends a minimum of two hours of FLOW a week as our basic training exercise.

Finding FLOW, or recognizing the activities that bring me peace and joy, is something I have been trying to identify ever since. Whether or not I appreciate them as FLOW-inducing exercises, there are tasks that I complete in my daily life that make me feel whole.

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Discover #JoyAtUofT in the Little Things

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New Year, New Me!

“Woke up this morning I was laid out flat on the dark side
With the moon and the room on the wrong side
I took a needle, sewed myself right back at the seams

I saw my universal gleam” – ‘Flick of the Finger, by Beady Eye

Liam Gallagher might not have the same vocals he did back in Oasis’ heyday, but his last effort to bring back the glory days with his (now disbanded) Beady Eye did bring back some of the open lyrical interpretation the band was known for instigating – but I digress. Nevertheless, it makes for a great quote that can relate to the idea of starting the new year with resolutions. It’s a time of year when – for whatever reason – you can see your errors more clearly, and when you decide to pick up the metaphorical needle and attempt to sew yourself back together again. I’m not typically one to fall into the societal norm of setting resolutions specifically to ring in the new year – but given that this will be my first full year as a university student, I decided to give it a shot.

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Reflections on 2015

Hello!

There’s no doubt, this time of year can be full of emotions.  We are reminded of all the things we witnessed and experienced over the past twelve months. Google is reminding us of what we Googled. Facebook is sharing our top moments. We count down 2015’s top songs, movies, sports moments, inventions, new stories, and of course, funny memes.

This time of year also calls on each of us to consider our personal Year in Review. I love counting down to the New Year, and feeling all the hope that comes with a fresh start. Looking forward with a vision for the next year can be daunting, however, I believe it’s important to reflect on our accomplishments and milestones from the past year.

Two familiar faces I spend New Years with each year. Courtesy of www.adweek.com

On New Year’s Eve, I normally find myself lounging on a couch, babysitting, and reflecting the past year with these familiar faces. Photo courtesy of www.adweek.com

Once exams are over, I often take some time to check in on how things are working in my life. I encourage you to try doing this too – patiently, thoughtfully, and truthfully. I like recording my thoughts down on paper so I can get a visual se. What were my ambitions for 2015? Did I achieve them?

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The Breaking Point

As I was walking down St. George the other day, I heard snippets from other peoples’ conversations. I promise, I wasn’t eavesdropping; I just forgot my headphones and I was bored. Anyways, these are the kinds of things I heard:

“Blah blah blah blah stressed blah blah blah failure blah blah forget blah tired blah blah I can’t blah blah blah…”

UofT, it seems we are in a sorry state of affairs at present. Of course, it’s to be expected at this time of year. We’re all just trying to put in that final hustle and make it to winter break.

As I mentioned in my last post, I’m actively trying to face my final assignments with a more positive outlook; I’m trying to use my stress as a motivator. I want to appreciate every moment that I have as an undergrad student. However, I want to make something very clear:

None of that makes the work easy, and it certainly doesn’t make it go by any faster. Continue reading

First-Year: A Mid-Semester Review

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

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

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

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

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One Blogger, Two Introductions

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

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

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

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

Wait, what?

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

Hello?

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

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


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

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

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

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

Look! A hiding place!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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