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.
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.
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.
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?
We seem to have a Schrödinger’s reader dilemma on our hands, assuming there is a “we” at all…
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.
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.
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?
Ondiek’s amazing post last week about how our lives start to resemble sit-coms really resonated with me, because as I’ve mentioned in past posts, I am a TV enthusiast.
My problem though, is that the binge watching tends to take over my life during finals because it is my brain’s number one method of procrastination. So, I’ve taken the liberty of putting together some my go-to tricks for TV-watching in a safe, productive and not-at-all harmful to your education kind of way.
If you’re one of the stronger few who are able to resist TV all together while studying, then kudos to you my friends! But if you’re like me and you’re weak, then enjoy some structured TV time. YOU DESERVE IT, U OF T.
1. Don’t start any new shows. – The age of online TV streaming from Netflix, Hulu, Shomi etc, means that I will have all ten seasons of Grey’s Anatomy at my disposal, waiting to be watched. My worst set of finals was the semester that I decided to start watching it while studying. Yes, I know all the reviews of Orange is the New Black are amazing, and I know that my friend has been recommending House of Cards for like a year now, but IT’S A TRAP.
No matter how great the teaser, be strong my friends:
2. Use it as a pick-me-up or reward – For my last essay I used an episode of the Mindy Project (one of my favorite shows) as a reward for finishing each page of writing. The episodes are only 20 minutes long, so it doesn’t cut into my productivity, and Mindy is so funny that I go back to my essay writing in a better mood.
Don’t let your breaks be great. Let them be GRRRREAT.
3. Re-watch episodes you’ve seen before. – This is a where I feel the most guilty about my TV watching. Sometimes I’m so bored that I just feel like watching while studying. Or I like to have background noise. To slowly curb this terrible habit, I got into re-watching episodes or scenes that I’ve seen before. This way, I don’t feel the need to give all my attention to the episode, and I can actually get work done. But I don’t recommend this for anything other than note-taking/ transcribing, because otherwise you might start thinking about Troy’s fan-boy meltdown on Community, instead of the five principles of Medicare, and that is mildly problematic (I’ve been there).
So there you have it. Happy watching, and happy finals everyone! If you have any tips on how to curb this TV procrastination even more, then let me know down in the comments!
We made it! April has finally arrived! I just survived three essays and four exams all in the last two weeks and I don’t even want to know what percentage of my final grade all those tests and assignments were worth.
“Good thing I just had three final exams in the last three days, now my final exams can actually begin.” Unfortunately, this is not an April Fools joke.
Seeing as how April has arrived, this will be the last First Nations House blog for the 2014-2015 school year! Can you believe it? This has been the fastest, craziest, most exciting and ridiculous year of my life and I’m honored to have been able to share my experiences with you.
Last week, I attended a Ulead workshop which focused on legacy and transition in leadership. I had a great time and I really enjoyed all the people who attended and who facilitated the workshop. The topic of legacy was very intriguing and makes me think of what legacy I hope to leave with the First Nations House blog this year.
First, I’ll take some time to reflect on where I was when I started last September, and where I am now. Or rather, who I am now.
In September 2014, I had never written a blog before. I was also still new to the WordPress program. In September, I had never been to 98% of the events I went to this year either. I had only barely started learning Cree, and had never spoken or written a word in Anishnaabemowin. I had never been a co-chair in an Indigenous student association before either.
In September 2014, I had never given an on-air interview at a radio station before, and I had never had an Indian Taco from the Native Canadian Centre of Toronto. I never made a snow-Zach on campus before, and I had never shared my secret rye biscuit recipe.
I had never mentored a Toronto Catholic high school class from an Indigenous perspective, and I had never really publicly talked or written about much of my physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual journey. I had never made so many friends and spent so much time in one place like First Nations House. I had never felt so comfortable with who I am and I had never felt like I had a home away from home on this campus.
I also had never told the story of my cactus, Jose!
Now, because of First Nations House, the people I met there and the balance I have found within, all of this has changed. I can honestly say I am a better student and a better man because of First Nations House and this blog. For that I am grateful.
The primary message I wished to send this year is the importance of balance in university life. Take care of your physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual self and I guarantee you will find a pathway through U of T into your life beyond.
I have also learned from my time in First Nations House this year what community and leadership truly means. Community means inclusivity. People from all backgrounds and walks of life have important experiences and talents to share, and should always be welcomed into the circle.
Leadership means respecting that circle and everyone in it. Leadership means taking all perspectives into account, and recognizing the effects of the group’s actions on others. Leadership means responsibility, accountability, transparency, and building balanced relationships which are mutually beneficial to all those who are involved.
Leaders cannot be followers and have the right and responsibility to protect their circle even from imbalances within the circle. When the circle is broken, true leaders stand up to defend the circle and the pursuit of balance. Sometimes, standing up for the sake of a balanced circle means leaving a broken circle behind and moving forward towards a better future.
Leadership means always striving to find and protect the circle though finding that circle can be a long journey. But once you find your circle and community, I can honestly say the long journey is worth every moment and every single step.
Finally, I can talk about legacy. It is my greatest hope that my blogging this year leaves a legacy which empowers you to engage with U of T and First Nations House and to balance your university life and a legacy which shines a light when there is only darkness on the path ahead. Be brave and be yourself. There is always hope and there is always a path worth exploring.
I’m not very good at goodbyes, I’ll admit. Writing this last sentence may or may not have made me a bit teary-eyed!
So for now I’ll just say niawen:gowa, mii-kwec, спасибо, and thanks!
I’ve been writing non-stop all week so I’m typing this blog with sore fingers. I don’t think I’ve ever had so much work to do in such a short amount of time! What’s the biggest assignment you’ve ever had to write?
This week, I wrote three essays for Urban Politics and Globalization, Indigenous Spirituality, and Economics, for a total of 21 pages plus another 11 pages of references. Yes you read that correctly, I had to write an essay for Economics. You may be wondering what the point is for having essays in a math-based class but if you read an article in an economics magazine, you’ll realize why we need better economics writers…
In all honesty, I don’t recommend writing three big assignments in only a week. It’s taken years for me to learn how to research, write, edit and cite my essays correctly and even longer to learn how to do it all quickly. In extreme times like this I can make it through but it’s a rough ride. I don’t want you to have to go through it!
My first recommendation is to do your research first. Give yourself a few weeks to begin researching because it takes a long time and you’ll need the time for the rest of the essay. I have found that researching before I decide on a thesis is really helpful for informing me and giving me direction.
Check your assignment guidelines for what type of sources you need (including course readings and outside sources). When your assignment has a suggested number of sources, my rule of thumb is to use twice as many as suggested. Good essays have a ridiculous amount of cited research so get as many as you can! Also, using peer-reviewed academic sources is always the best route. I use the U of T libraries website and I go into the ‘subjects’ database. From there, you can get specialized databases tailored for your course subject!
First Nations house has an awesome library too, I highly recommend it!
For taking notes on your research, I use the queue card system. Write the name of the author or document, the page number of the detail you’re taking a note on and only include a few details per card. With this system, you can mix and match cards like building blocks however you need and you’ll have the referencing info you need for your citations later on.
Work hard on your thesis and make sure to follow it the whole way through the essay. There are plenty of resources and people at First Nations House and elsewhere in U of T to help you if you get stuck. For example, I use the University College Writing Centre one-on-one appointments all the time! At First Nations House, you can meet with Learning Strategist Bonnie Maracle and she can help you with essays as well!
Next, you’ll encounter the editing stage. Here’s where A+ papers are made or lost. Edit, edit, then edit some more. When you write stuff out for the first time, it will usually be pretty bulky and confusing so go over it a few times. I’ve had essays in which I was able to edit away two whole pages without removing any of my content, so trust me when I say there’s always a shorter way to say what you want to say! Also read your essay out loud! I find that reading my work aloud helps me quickly identify awkward statements.
Lastly, you’ll need to do your citations. It’s super important to get these right, so check and double check that you’ve got them all done correctly! I always use the OWL Purdue website–it has APA, MLA, and Chicago styles spelled out excellently.
Now, time to get writing!
Being prepared for tests is a complicated art. Exams are the most individual task you will do in university. It’s just you and the test, so don’t let your mind go rushing onto all your other responsibilities. Your soul must be centered. Physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual balance are key to preparing and working on all those areas in advance when you still have time and strength is the best failsafe.
Before and during tests, you have the opportunity to fight for every mark. One helpful trick I’ve found is to do practice tests, quizzes and review at the time of day when your exam will be. Exams can be held at strange times, so it’s good to get into the habit of working on the specific material on your test at those weird times.
Eat a healthy, large meal before your test so you don’t go hungry or have an upset stomach. Bring everything you need for the test and bring spares if you can. Pens, pencils, sharpener, eraser and your T-card are must-haves, and depending on your course, you may need a non-programmable calculator so bring one with batteries! Also, bring a watch! Most test rooms at U of T don’t have clocks. The worst feeling in the world is when your exam invigilator says you only have 20 minutes left and you’ve only done the first tenth of the test because you couldn’t keep track of time!
Be 100% sure of your test location because you don’t want to show up to the wrong room. If you’re not familiar with the location, check it out a few days in advance so you know where to go and what the room will be like. Exam rooms here can be very large, strange and intimidating at first so do yourself a favor and get used to it beforehand.
Leave early when you are going to the test because you never know what can happen along the way. Traffic, construction, and many emergencies can stop you from getting there on time and can cost many marks.
There’s also an art to the moments before tests begin. First, make sure you use the bathroom before you go into the test room!!! I’ve written too many tests where I couldn’t think straight because I had to go so badly!
Second, you have to keep centered when you’re waiting to get into test room with all your classmates. I’ve found that students can hugely destabilize each other outside test rooms. Some people are so stressed that they’re shaking, unclean and sleep-deprived and their behavior can rattle others.
The other thing you have to watch out for students who try to rattle you and your classmates. I’ve played plenty of games with such people. They may try to shake your confidence by asking you if you reviewed obscure topics just to make you worry, and suggesting that weird questions you’ve never heard of will be on the test. They also act overly confident and may try getting you to lend them pencils or erasers just to bother you and to eliminate your spares.
Avoid those people as best you can and remember that you only need to trust yourself and your instinct. I remind myself to expect that behavior so I can shrug off their nonsense. They are laughable so you might even be able to get a good chuckle from them if you need it!
When you finally begin the test, you’re near the finish line! Listen to your exam invigilators and follow their instructions carefully so you don’t break any rules. Monitor your use of time and leave yourself with enough time at the end to check your work. Stay for the whole duration of the test. You may wonder, “why am I the first one done?” or, “why am I the last one done? Why is everybody leaving already?” Don’t worry about what everyone else is doing, only focus on your test. Use every minute, fight for every mark. If a question is about something you didn’t prepare for, you may feel a jolt of panic. Breathe, and keep centered if this happens. Skip to a different question if necessary and come back at the end.
Don’t give up on any questions! Finish all the questions you know the best and use the time you’ve left yourself at the end to squeeze as many marks from the difficult ones as possible! You will surprise yourself with how many marks you can earn yourself with this extra effort and you definitely deserve those marks! Leave all the energy you have in that test room, and your result will be the best reward you can give yourself.
Fighting for every mark is hard and takes lots of motivation. I attended a talk by Chantal Fiola–a Métis scholar of identity, politics, and spirituality–on March 16th. I was even given the honor of conducting the smudge for all attendees at the beginning of the presentation! Chantal shared many invaluable lessons and insights from her life’s journey and also shared key Anishinaabe teachings, including the Seven Fires prophecy.
Her explanation was an immensely helpful reminder for me of those teachings and of what our role is at U of T. We are the seventh generation. We are a new type of people with many precious gifts as well as an immensely difficult task. The path we must navigate is very hard but the hope and potential we can nourish by fighting for every single mark is worth every moment. What we do here every day at U of T, in every classroom and with every test, will cause change more positive and productive than anything that has yet been seen in the world.
I wish I could’ve thanked Chantal for reminding me to fight for every mark. The tests and assignments and endless workloads may drive us nuts, but we can always remember that we’re lucky to have the opportunity to be driven nuts by such important material and invaluable experience for the journey ahead.
“I can’t believe this year’s already over!” we all say to ourselves in disbelief. In just over a month (even sooner for some people) we’ll be done with exams and will be free for four months. Now I know many of you have likely started figuring out your summers already, since jobs, travel plans etc. are often best planned in advance. But, if you’re like me and have procrastinated on post-exam Life: Have no fear – Api is here!
I have compiled a list of my summer options, which are my alternatives to the summer endeavours that I should have (probably) started a few months ago…(I’m only human.)
Hopefully this will help me decide on what to do this summer, and will offer some inspiration to a world of procrastinators and beyond:
1. Employment: Okay to be clear, with jobs, EARLIER IS ALWAYS BETTER. But don’t fret my friends, because it is not too late! Many places around the city are still hiring and continue to hire into the summer. Places with high traffic in the summer (such as tourist destinations) tend to hire progressively throughout the summer as well, based on need. Realistically, it might not be exactly what you wanted, but if money is the motivation, then you have plenty of hope!
Special Tip: Check out the U of T Career Centre (aka my life and soul), either in person on online for job postings, resume building and more! A few other personal favourites for job postings include TalentEgg or Indeed.Ca!
2. Travel: Unfortunately, I don’t have a lot of experience planning large trips abroad, so I know that’s likely out of the question for me this year. BUT did you know Ontario is kind of an amazing province? A weekend up north at Georgian Bay or a Toronto Staycation is exactly what I need this summer (and it won’t disrupt school, work or anything else I want to do!
3. Study: The schedule for the summer term came out fairly recently, and as always, there’s a wide array of courses being offered. Ah, summer school. It may help you finish your course requirements faster, or let you take a more intensive course without the distraction of other classes. And it probably has many other perks for some! But alas, it is school. In the summer.
Special Tip: If you’re taking 1.0 credits continuously from May-August, then you’re eligible for the summer work-study program! Yay for more employment options!
Bonus Suggestion: Binge-watch things. I’ve barely kept up with my TV shows this year. I think that justifies watching ALL of 2014/2015’s TV gold AT ONCE, right?
So that’s a little peek into my summer, folks! What is your summer looking like, U of T? If you have any tips for what I can explore for the next third of my year, let me know down in the comments!
Spring is coming very quickly this year!
Spring is like a sunrise in the East and it feels like a new beginning. Spring is also a time for revitalizing, rejuvenating and getting back to basics. It is a time for first steps. First Nations House Elder-in-Residence Andrew Wesley is giving a teaching about Omushkego Cree Naming Ceremonies for babies on March 26th, one of the first great steps in a child’s life!
For me, springtime is the signal to take off the heavy winter jacket and defrost myself. I start with physical defrosting. Winter requires rest and more eating, so gobbling up more goodies over the holiday is totally natural but it can leave you feeling a little rusty once the weather starts to warm up. This beautiful weather means it’s time to get the running shoes out and get active!
I love exercise. Ever since I started getting fit in 2011 (I dropped 100 lbs. by the time I reached my peak condition) exercise has been a key part of my life.
It can be incredibly hard to get in shape. Trust me, I know. However, motivating yourself to exercise is related to so much more than physical fitness.
Exercise releases tension in your body, and also creates positive emotions in your brain. I’m always happier when I’m exercising regularly. In addition to boosting your energy levels so you can function better in everyday life, exercise also boosts your mind. Your senses are heightened and your thoughts are clearer and deeper.
Spirituality is also connected to fitness. The simplest example is music. I always need good tunes when I’m at the gym and my relationship with music is very spiritual. Exercise also makes me think much deeper about my own musicianship. See the reciprocity? Your physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual areas all help each other out. It’s amazing how big the impact of fitness really is!
I’ve started hitting the gym again this week and the boost couldn’t come at a better time; I’m about to get hit with the end-of-semester test/assignment avalanche so I’ll need the energy to push on through!
I start with a warm-up run. They can be exhausting if you’re still building your cardio capacity and they can be mind-numbingly boring if you’re on a treadmill. I always compensate by listening to my favorite Van Halen albums at full volume. You can watch movies or TV too if you have a tablet.
Follow that with weight training. I focus on one area like upper-body or legs, per workout. It’s important to give each area a rest for the best results! Don’t forget though, you can work your abs every day.
I choose weights that are heavy enough to make me sore, but light enough that I can comfortably manage them. I always do full extensions when lifting any weight and I go slowly. By doing those things, I get the best exercise from each repetition. The only way I know how to make progress with weights is to go until I can’t possibly do another lift. That way, my body knows its limit and responds by building bigger muscle to prepare better for next time. The body adapts and is very smart!
Follow your gym trips up with lots of high-protein foods, like cottage cheese or chicken, and you’re good to go! Don’t work out too hard and take rests when you need them. Don’t give up either; your fitness is worth every moment!
Warning: this post may contain material that makes you question a lot of things. Proceed with caution.
I’m in the library, writing a paper on health and social policy (you know, a typical Tuesday night activity). While performing an expert analysis on the state of health care, I start to ask questions. Why is the social structure set up this way? How did millions of years of evolution lead us to this point?
A steep downward spiral later, I hit the emotional wall that is the demise of human productivity: apathy.
And what may have caused this apathy, you wonder?
Questioning the very foundations of life – value, meaning and purpose, also known as existentialism.
In various Internet subcultures, the idea of the ‘quarter life crisis,’ or the ‘existential crisis’ has become fairly common. A twenty-something wasting their life away on Netflix, caused by an utter lack of purpose, is an instantly recognizable and relatable illusion.
Personally, I think just being a student makes me vulnerable to the creeping embrace of existentialism. I have to make important decisions that will seemingly impact me for years to come, and that’s a lot of pressure. This is the general “I don’t know what I’m doing with my life” kind of problem. A minor lack of motivation, purpose and meaning spirals into more intense thoughts. We are conscious beings who have the freedom to do what we want, and to make meaning of this life that we’re living. The part that baffles me is the utter absurdity of it all.
It becomes difficult to focus on school, when you’re questioning the very meaning of your existence. We’ve been searching for the meaning of life for millennia. Ancient philosophers like Socrates, Plato and Aristotle have questioned the universe and it’s existence.
Spoiler alert: we haven’t found it, which is what I remind myself when I start getting existential. They weren’t the first, nor will they be the last to ask these questions. I’ll avoid preaching about finding your love and inspiration (I do that enough).
But where does this leave me? What is the meaning of life at U of T? (Get it? Like the name of the blog? No?) Have I resumed fetal position and accepted that life is meaningless?
I realize that in university, and in my program especially, we’re taught to question and analyze why things are they way they are. It’s inevitable that some of that thinking leaks into everyday life (those sneaky profs!) So, after a long discussion with my friends about motivation and purpose, I return to my essay with a strangely renewed interest in what I’m passionate about.
Disclaimer: Although existential thoughts might be manageable for some people, I don’t want to invalidate what anyone else has experienced. So, if you have persistent feelings like this, don’t hesitate to talk to someone or to connect yourself with resources on campus like Peers are Here, Mindful Moments, Health and Wellness and more.
Let me know about how you deal with this down in the comments, or on Twitter at @Api_UofT!