Gearing Up

Brace yourselves: exams are coming. Don’t forget about essays and assignments due soon. I know how daunting these tasks can be, especially in first year. But we’re all in this together!

Street-level view, looking up into a snowy night sky amidst the glowing lights of towers and old Victorian houses

In this crazy huge community, we have to stick together to make it through the hard winters (Photo by Zachary Biech)

It’s all in the way you think about working. When I feel overwhelmed, I tell myself to breathe, not to worry and that there are many hours between me and the tests or due dates. When you see how many hours you have, your subconscious can adjust to the overwhelming to-do list and plan how to use that time. The power of the mind is limitless!

I also try to look forward to the holidays. For my holiday, it means flying home to snowy, frigid Alberta for some serious chillaxation. Winter is a great time. It’s a time of rest, peace, and reflection. We just have to get through the fall semester, our peak mentally focused time, reel in those marks and get those jobs done. Then we’re home-free.

Family support is key. I know too many students who don’t have strong enough family connectivity and it’s heart-breaking. Everybody needs a hand sometimes and everybody (including young people like us working hard on our studies) deserves a hand.

I’m a lucky, lucky guy. My parents and I are best pals and our little family stays connected no matter what. My Dad stayed with me last summer and my Mom came to visit me right at the time that I started this blog post! She and I always have a great time together in Toronto and perhaps we can share some of that fun with you too!

A snowy afternoon sky, surrounded by the massive bright signs on all the buildings at Yonge-Dundas Square, with a large silvery ornamental evergreen tree right in the middle

My Mom and I thought the holiday display at Yonge-Dundas Square was pretty cool (Photo by Zachary Biech)

Once she was settled in my apartment after the long flight, my Mom gave me some amazing gifts from the Tsuu T’ina peoples who live just west of Calgary to liven up my place. We also reorganized and redecorated my bachelor-pad. I can’t take all the credit for my home layout; I’ve had an excellent interior designer helping me.

A large dream-catcher with three bundles of feathers, hanging above the bar in my kitchen

A new Tsuu T’ina dream-catcher, chosen special for me by my parents! (Photo by Zachary Biech)

Four coasters, hand-woven beige cloth with rich dark blue, turquoise, and orange  imagery

My Mom also gave me these beautiful Tsuu T’ina coasters, among many other little items (Photo by Zachary Biech)

You don’t need family to do this, and if you’re lonely, a change is as good as a rest. Even the little things can make a world of difference. Little things, like moving some furniture, sorting, and redecorating, can have a big impact.

Fancy blue and red decorative boxes placed in a row, with a Métis sash draped over one, on top of my TV stand next to hilarious little Lego sets

Some new interior design mastery atop my TV stand (Photo by Zachary Biech)

One of the shelves in the middle of my apartment, no longer in line with it's larger neighbour, thus freeing up much more space

Shifting this shelf 90 degrees may seem like no big deal, but for a guy who’s used to it the other way, this is life-changing (Photo by Zachary Biech)

There’s a lot of wintertime fun downtown. While we were window shopping on Bloor Street in the Yorkville ritzy area (my Mom loves the awesome window displays; you can’t get those back home!) we even caught a glimpse of a big holiday parade.

A giant metal reindeer standing in a hall in Eaton Centre, with the big skylight as the backdrop

Eaton Centre has these giant holiday reindeer to terrify us into shopping faster (Photo by Zachary Biech)

But there’s even more to this winter wonderland. We toured all over snowy downtown. We even made it to the Anishinaabe Artists of the Great Lakes special exhibit at the Art Gallery of Ontario. It was massive! Each piece of artwork had a powerful story attached to it and each was more moving than the last. I can’t describe the beauty. You have to see them yourself.

The wavy exterior design of the Art Gallery of Ontario, totally draped in snow

Snowy day at the AGO (photo by Zachary Biech)

The ultra-modern, wavy wooden rafters in behind the AGO's crazy glass exterior

Now we know what that crazy glass part of the AGO looks like from the inside (Photo by Zachary Biech)

Giant printing on the gift shop wall which says "This is the mos important place in the museum"

This giant sign is on the wall in…you guessed it…the gift shop (Photo by Zachary Biech)

We’re entering a time of celebration. Even if you’re on your own, remember: celebrate your home, celebrate what you’re working towards.

Study Time Playlist II: Fall Break Edition

It feels like it was just yesterday when I was playing an active role in our economy by shopping for back-to-school supplies. It was a simpler time. The only things I had to worry about were preparing for Orientation Week, balancing my two jobs, and trying to squeeze in a healthy 8-hours of sleep everyday. Okay, maybe not.

Fast forward a week (or 2 and a half months), and here we are. It’s Fall Break, and while some people are using this break to go to places like New York City, I’m using this break to go to Robarts. What’s more fun than that? I’m very serious. You can have fun while studying. Maybe not as much fun as a vacation to a sprawling metropolis, but pretty darn close.

But how?

A few months ago I shared my Study Time Playlist, and since it’s Fall Break, I thought it’d be topical to make a new playlist! Add some humour to your study session, and I promise everything will be alright!

“You can take everything I have
You can break everything I am
Like I’m made of glass
Like I’m made of paper
Go on and try to tear me down
I will be rising from the ground
Like a skyscraper
Like a skyscraper”

It’s Friday, and you’re looking at your planner. You’re 2 weeks behind on readings, and you have 3 papers due in the next 2 weeks. You get approximately 4 minutes and 5 seconds to be sad. You can do it, you skyscraper.

Nobody’s perfect!
I gotta work it!
I know in time I’ll find a way
Nobody’s perfect!”

Everybody makes mistakes! Life isn’t over because you’re behind on a few readings! Plenty of people have been in your situation, so relax. You’ll survive!

“What shall I do today?!
What shall we do today?!
What shall I do today?!
What shall I do?!”

Now that you’ve spent a good while feeling bad about yourself, it’s time to laugh at yourself. Irony is fun – I promise! What shall you do today? You shall study.

 

“Be a man!
We must be swift as a coursing river
Be a man!
With all the force of a great typhoon 
Be a man!
With all the strength of a raging fire
Mysterious as the dark side of the moon!”

Always remember that while gender is fluid, this song is what you need when mid-study session. You’ve already finished 100+ pages of readings, and it’s only 4pm! You have all the strength of a raging fire!

Stronger than yesterday
Now it’s nothing but my way
My lonliness ain’t killing me no more
I’m stronger”

You’re on a roll. You’ve been studying for hours – you’re stronger. Still, try not to jump on your chair while listening to this song. You might appreciate your “awesome” dance moves, but the security guards at Robarts do not.

“But I keep cruising
Can’t stop, won’t stop moving
It’s like I got this music
In my mind
Saying, ‘It’s gonna be alright.’”

You did good, kid. You proved to the world, and most importantly, yourself, that you can successfully “shake, shake, shake, shake, shake it off.” You’ve studied enough for today, and now it’s time to wrap up, and bust a move in the cafeteria to this sick beat.

So, UofT, how’s your studying going this Fall Break, and even more important, what are you listening to? Comment below, or tweet me @Ondiek_UofT.

Don’t worry, be app-y

I often find that I have the need to be on the grid to be able to keep up with the fast paced student lifestyle. Getting a smartphone was a complete game-changer because it allowed me to be productive while on the go. Over the last few years, I’ve grown attached to a few applications, which make my life as a student SO. MUCH. EASIER.

Some of these do use Internet, so they might not be as accessible for an authentic “on-the-go” experience. But they’ve still been really useful to have because I can complete some of the tasks I need to do, without actually having to physically be at a computer!

So without further ado, here are some of my favourite student-friendly smartphone apps:

1) TTC Bus Map (And other related TTC Apps)

Screenshot of phone screen showing map with red indicator of 510 Spadina streetcar

For commuters who take buses or streetcars on the TTC, this app is a godsend. It has a real time map of where all the buses or streetcars on any given route are located. This app specifically is for iOS devices, but there are dozen of other TTC apps with similar functions that are available for both Android and iOS.

2) Adobe Reader

Phone screenshot of Adobe Reader App "add note" function. Note reads "I can add notes!"I love this app for those days when I forget to print out my lecture slides and I’m too lazy to bring my computer to school. If you go to your phone browser and open .pdf files with the app, then you can highlight, add text, underline, draw and even add notes to the file!

3) Google Drive

Phone screenshot of Google Drive App "add to my drive" page.

I only recently found out about the Google Drive app but it’s been so helpful, especially for some of the student groups I’ve been involved in! It’s great to be able to pull up files while on the go, and if you download the corresponding Google Docs/Sheets apps, then you can even edit files!

4) Any Calendar App

Phone screenshot of iOS calendar app. Reminder reading "Library time"

My calendar app of choice is the default one that’s on my phone and it is my number one organizational tool. My entire schedule is at my fingertips so I’m constantly aware of deadlines. I once thought it was a Wednesday (it was Thursday) and I didn’t finish my Thursday blog post, so yeah, calendars are my best friend.

5) Urbanspoon

Phone screenshot of Urbanspoon App homepage. It shows options for search, reserve table and hottest in Toronto.

You had to have known this was coming. I love food, and having Urbanspoon lets me look for different varieties of food at different price ranges in whatever area of the city I happen to be in. GOD BLESS.

Maybe one day, humanity is doomed because technology will turn on us and the robot uprising will wipe us out completely. But until that day, I will still trust my smartphone to be a fairly reliable companion in my life.  So remember all: be app-y.

Cycles of Change

November has arrived and fall is in full swing.  For me, everything seems to have changed all at once. Over the weekend after my latest midterm, I got back into my housekeeping and admin routine. Though my tasks were fairly straightforward, things just seemed different. It’s hard to describe.

Looking up at the main Victoria College building, towards the dark green coverings on the scaffolding. The building seems to be undergoing some lengthy renovations

Everything needs change every now and then (Photo by Zachary Biech)

I felt new energy starting to lift me into the new month. Even little things were ready for change like my decision to clear out some of the year-old sticky-note reminders I had left myself about lists of CDs to buy (yes I still buy CDs) and miscellaneous ideas for cheesecake baking.

Two shelves full of CD cases, with everything from Jeff Beck to Van Halen, in alphabetical order of course.

I think I’ve listened to these ones about 1000 times each… (Photo by Zachary Biech)

Rarely does the shift into a new month or season feel so abrupt in university as the days and weeks often blend together amidst the midterm madness. I’ve been trying to figure out where this new energy is coming from or more importantly where it’s leading me. After reflecting on the semester so far, I quickly realized that this rejuvenating feeling is definitely no accident. I’m simply completing a cycle, and launching into the next one.

I think it’s important to recognize the cycles we experience in life. For most U of T students, I think the cycle may look like this: Wake up, eat, studystudytstudystudy, sleep, repeat. Hmmmm. That doesn’t seem very healthy does it? Read my earlier posts about balancing and time management if you want to break this cycle.

Cycles are larger in scope than we realize. I’m not sure what’s all in the cycles of university life but I can tell you that to complete your cycle, you really need some social time. September and October have been very social for me and I think the positivity of nurturing relationships with friends has really contributed to the momentum I’m feeling.

For Thanksgiving, a friend was very kind and invited me to Mississauga to have lunch with their family and friends. What a grand feast! And I have to add that it’s well worth it to hop on the Go Train and get out of downtown if you’re stuck down there like I am. I made sure to soak in some refreshing new sights and spent some time exploring some of the peaceful neighbourhoods in Port Credit too. Good for the mind.

Halloween was also a brilliant final piece to finish off October. Me and a big group of friends all dressed up and headed to the Hart House of Horrors Halloween event.  Rest assured, we were terrifying.  Let’s just say that every Halloween from now on, U of T students will remember the fear that overtook them when the lord of the night, Count Zachula, first appeared from the shadows…

A selfie of me nad my terrifying fake vampire fangs.

Count Zachula strikes! With a selfie… (Photo by Zachary Biech)

The Debate Room in Hart House, only lit with a faint red glow, with many strange clown creatures lurking in the shadows

Some of the rooms in Hart House were turned into a freaky carnival, complete with the clown monsters (Photo by Zachary Biech)

A large clown mannequin, with a particularly snarly smile

This is my friend Fred, we met at the Hart House of Horrors. When I asked him to show me around, all he did was shrug and glare at me with murderous intent… (Photo by Zachary Biech)

A small archaic looking switchbox sitting next to a monstrous fellow in a straight-jacket and hooked to a starnge machine, with a sign that reads "Pull Switch...If You Dare"

One of my friends dared to flip the switch. We thought the mannequin in the chair would do something, but instead the switch-box flipped open and a monstrous Jack-In-The-Box began cackling at us maniacally (Photo by Zachary Biech)

First Nations House is a great place to stop by every week if you need a little socializing. Every face is friendly and every conversation is worth every moment. Just sayin’…

What do you do to socialize? When’s the last time you finished a cycle and entered into something entirely new?

Me staring aimlessly into the background (wearing my fangs and cape),in front of a photobooth backdrop

Count Zachula, blissfully unaware that the photobooth machine was still taking pictures (Original Photo by Snapshot Photobooth)

hold up, wait a minute

When I nervously sit down for an interview, and the interviewer asks me the inevitable question of how I manage my time, I smile, sit up really straight, and confidently state: “I’m great at prioritizing my work!”

Selfie of Api.

My very rehearsed “I’m great at interviews” face.

It all started back in high school, when I faced the challenge of being in an internationally recognized advanced high school diploma program. I wasn’t doing amazingly well, so I had the option of dragging through the program and learning advanced material at a faster pace while risking the marks that universities would see, or, I could switch out into the regular academic program and get good grades for university (which is all that mattered to me in high school apparently).

It was one of the first big decisions I had to make about my education, and my parents left it completely up to me! I decided to prioritize my university career and I dropped the program, eventually letting my marks bring me to U of T. This experience made me realize that there’s a fine line between quitting when the going gets tough, or making the right decision for myself at the right time. (I choose the latter.)

Fast forward to about a month ago when all my responsibilities got the best of me. I got overwhelmed with school, student groups and two jobs. So, I knew it was time for a little bit of prioritization. So here’s my handy guide on how to make lemonade, when life starts whipping fastball lemons right at your face:

I wrote down all of my responsibilities and listed:

  • Why I’m involved with each?
  • How much time they take up?
  • What kind of commitment have I given them? (Did I sign a contract? Is a team relying on me?)
  • What were the consequences of taking said responsibility out of my life?

This series of questions, give or take a few, really helped me put things into perspective. I ended up quitting my second job, which, yes, is literally quitting, but it really helped me get back up on that horse! I had more time to devote to studying and extracurricular activities. I finally had some breathing space, and it made a huge difference!

Screen shot of Api on giant screen at Convocation Hall with text cap on the photo reading "who dat"

Rule 1: Always prioritize Community Crew. Or things like might stop happening.

So tell me U of T, how do you prioritize your work? Let me know down in the comments, or on Twitter at @Api_UofT

When the Time is Right

I need to catch my breath! Just when I think life will slow down, I realize how wrong I am. If it’s not tests, essays or readings, it’s meetings, volunteering, events and the list goes on. In a perfect world, we would always get everything done. Wishful thinking, right?

Looking straight upwards through the yellow leaves of a large tree in Queen's Park, towards the blue sky above

We can sometimes have many things hanging over our head, and we aren’t sure exactly when they’ll fall on us (Photo by Zachary Biech)

University can be hectic though. We’ve already discussed balance, maintaining health, mental rest and the like. Sometimes however, this means things don’t go exactly according to plan.

Brown and golden maple leaves lying on the lively green grass of Queen's Park

All of a sudden our schedule can fall to pieces like so many leaves (Photo by Zachary Biech)

Looking East over the red and yellow trees of St. George Street  towards some of U of T's largest and craziest buildings all stacked on top of each other

“Campusopolis” really is a bustling place, it’s no wonder things can get so hectic (Photo by Zachary Biech)

I attended the You Beyond New student leadership conference on October 24th which ran from 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. but I had to maneuver around classes as well. Despite having to run around campus like a hummingbird on Red Bull, it was worthwhile. I had meaningful conversations, learned about managing groups and even found insight on my future studies.

http://www.newcollege.utoronto.ca/studentlife/leadership/

Yeah, I had to pull out all the stops to make that crazy day work. But so what? It still went great. I actually like when things go awry and the plan goes out the window; that’s when things get a little more exciting, don’t you think?

My name tag from the You Beyond New conference

(Photo by Zachary Biech)

It can be daunting to wade beyond the shallows of your schedule into murkier waters where you can’t see the bottom. Don’t worry; I want you to know that it’s alright if things don’t go as planned.

Peering through crimson red maple canopies up at Soldier's Tower

Something just felt so right about this view, though it was only by chance I looked up at that moment (Zachary Biech)

At First Nations House, I attended a Lunch and Learn session with Learning Strategist Bonnie Maracle about Indigenous perspectives on time management. At U of T, time is money, time is a tool and time is short. Sounds a bit rigid, right?

Looking North up St. George, with a very dark sky looming above in the distance

Sometimes there is a darkening sky before us, yet we have no time to prepare for the storm. These even happened while I was taking pictures! (Photo by Zachary Biech)

Luckily, we can apply a different perspective. We don’t use or spend time; we only live in it. What you do is the real key. We can schedule all we want, but we can’t control everything. When the time is right, things work out. When the time isn’t right, we just have to accept it. Sometimes all we can do is roll with it. Go with the flow. Make it up on the fly.

One of the great big cannons sitting next to the UTSU building

This big old cannon rolls with it when it blasts away, hence the wheels (Photo by Zachary Biech)

For example, I stayed overtime at the Lunch and Learn and showed up a bit late for a tutorial. I would’ve loved to have made it when class started, but the time wasn’t right. I was busy having valuable discussions and connecting with peers! Though the original plan went the way of the Dodo, I learned about this important life strategy, enjoyed new friends, and was thus reenergized by the time I made it to class. See??? When things don’t go according to plan, it doesn’t mean it didn’t go the way it was meant to…

http://www.fnh.utoronto.ca/Current-Students/Academic-Support.htm

(Monday – Friday 9:00am to 5:00 pm Learning Strategist Bonnie Maracle is available to see students)

(Thursdays 9:00 am to 5:00 pm Elder Andrew Wesley is available to see students)

(Mondays & Fridays 12:00pm to 5:00 pm Traditional Teacher Lee Maracle is available to see students)

Red, orange, and green vines climbing up the wall of a Victoria College residence

If it’s good, it’ll grow when the time is right (Photo by Zachary Biech)

Remember, it’s alright if things don’t always go as planned. When something doesn’t work out, it wasn’t the right time. We can’t control everything, and sometimes we just have to roll with it. Though it may not happen when you expect, things eventually go how they’re supposed to when the time is right.

The real fun begins when we discover what’s really meant to be

A canopy of vines completely covering the wall of a Victoria College building, but with one odd patch of the vines coloured green instead of orange like the rest of the canopy

When something good grows, it might not look exactly like you’d expect! (Photo by Zachary Biech)

Holistic Living for a Busy Schedule

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Second: My schedule is balanced.

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

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

http://www.ncct.on.ca/giftshop.php

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

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

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

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

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

http://www.fourdirectionsteachings.com/main.html

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

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

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

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

A relatively light week (photo by Zachary Biech)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What do you do to maintain your wellness?

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

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

Confessions of a Stress Queen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FullSizeRender

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

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

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

    FullSizeRender (2)

    My friends are very supportive and encouraging of me <3

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

    IMG_5473

    Food is my favourite break <3

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

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

Looking Ahead, and Choosing a Path

Dealing with your program can be stressful. Choosing your degree can be hardest. This question can be easy for some people, but asking yourself what degree you want can force you to ask bigger questions as well.  For me, choosing my degree was a long process and was transformational as well.

Looking our from a small ridge towards the dense foliage of Philosopher's Walk, with a gleaming tower in behind

In the forest of life, there are limitless numbers of pathways you can choose from (Photo by Zachary Biech)

At the beginning of my second year, I declared my Public Policy major after much deliberation with minors in Political Science and Philosophy. I also took a Russian Language credit and loved it. Long story short, philosophy wasn’t right for me and the Political Science minor was redundant. So what do you do when you realize you want to switch POSts?

Looking west towards Trinity College, with the foliage of Philosopher's walk in front and the stone citadels of the college poking through in behind under a bright blue sunny sky

U of T is a big place, with many different opportunities; finding the one best suited to you is a whole other story (Photo by Zachary Biech)

Don’t worry, it’s easy. For me, the Russian Language minor was a no-brainer and I had always known in my heart I should be in Aboriginal Studies once I had the courage. So I changed my minor POSts the summer after second year, took an ABS summer credit to catch up and voila! A personalized degree path suited to my interests.  You have to do what interests you or you’ll never get the most of your program. So think hard and ask those tough questions: Are you really doing what you love?

A single great tree on a large green lawn with red flowers at it's base, and sunlight shining through it's leaves

Sometimes in the forest of opportunity, one small piece can shine itself on you, and make your pathway clear (Photo by Zachary Biech)

So what about grad school? Wow, tough question. The earlier you start asking yourself, the better. And whatever you do, don’t lose hope. There are many reasons not to enter grad school but even more reasons to go for it.

A pathway of green grass winding through a partially lit, partially shadowed greenspace of shrubs and trees

What happens along this pathway? Well, there’s only one way to find out… (Photo by Zachary Biech)

Disclaimer: I am still undecided on where, when and what my further education will be. The how is always a tough question with no real answer. But the why? Well, here’s how I think of it: why not?

looking through an open iron gate, down a shaded cobblestone path with grand overhanging trees and bushes, towards the bright sunlight beyond

We may not know what’s at the end of the path, but the door is open, and it’s worth every step (Photo by Zachary Biech)

I have a few findings to share. ULife has a career mentorship program to get you connected with someone who can answer your questions. First Nations House has Aboriginal Law Mentorship services for undergrads interested in law school. The FNH staff can offer excellent guidance.

http://www.studentlife.utoronto.ca/Mentorship-Resource-Centre.htm/

Law Mentorship Program: Are you considering law school? Join the Law Mentorship Program and get connected with a current Aboriginal U of T Law student mentor. You will learn about the law school experience and better understand the application process. Undergraduate contact: shannon.simpson@utoronto.ca Law student contact: promise.holmesskinner@utoronto.ca fnh.utoronto.ca

FNH Law Mentorship Program

Unfortunately, U of T has no graduate Aboriginal Studies program so if ABS is your direction, you may wish to look at other schools like Trent or York. However, Indigenous students in grad school at U of T still have the support of SAGE to keep connected.  Also, The Aboriginal Studies Department has a unique Collaborative Program in Aboriginal Health which is definitely worth exploring.

http://aboriginalstudies.utoronto.ca/propective-students/graduate-opportunities/

http://aboriginalstudies.utoronto.ca/centre-for-aboriginal-initiatives/supporting-aboriginal-graduate-enhancement-sage/about-sage/

Now back to law. U of T’s law program is very interesting. There’s a welcoming pathway for Indigenous students, status or non-status, through the Aboriginal Law Program which can include a Certificate in Aboriginal Legal Studies. There’s a huge array of scholarships, bursaries, and grants, and the faculty began offering a free LSAT course for students with financial need in recent years.

A view of the front of Falconer Hall, with a trimmed lawn, large garden, and leafy vines covering the Victorian-style brick building

Falconer Hall, Faculty of Law (Photo by Zachary Biech)

The four large white pillars of the main entrance to Flavelle House

Flavelle House, Faculty of Law (Photo by Zachary Biech)

http://www.uoftaboriginallaw.com/

http://www.law.utoronto.ca/student-life/student-clubs-and-events/aboriginal-law-students-association

http://www.law.utoronto.ca/student-life/student-clubs-and-events/aboriginal-law-club

http://www.law.utoronto.ca/admissions/jd-admissions/aboriginal-applicants

http://www.uoftaboriginallaw.com/FinancialAid.aspx

http://www.law.utoronto.ca/academic-programs/jd-program/financial-aid-and-fees/bursaries-and-scholarships/complete-list

It may seem overwhelming early on but that’s all part of the process. All you need to know is there are many good options out there and many supports to help you achieve your goals.

A doorway into Falconer Hall, with aged stone facade with leafy vines draped on the top

The door is open; all’s you have to do is walk through it (Photo by Zachary Biech)

What different degrees have you considered?

Does the path you are on allow you to do what you love?

 

Getting [back] into the swing of things

Hello UofT! My name is Charles, and I’m the student blogger for the Centre for Teaching Support and Innovation (or the “CTSI”, to save a mouthful). That means I’ll be mostly blogging about things that relate to my experiences with student-faculty engagement, both inside and outside the classroom. But we can talk more about that later. Let’s start with a proper introduction. This is me:

Photo of Charles pondering

“Whatcha thinking about?” “Oh, just bear stuffs

Some things about me: I am a nerd about many things. Thankfully, I’ve managed to “focus” my nerdery down to degree interests in philosophy, psychology, and bioethics. This is my fifth and final year here at UofT, and it’s starting off a little different than the rest: this is the first year where I’ve taken the summer off from studies. By the end of my fourth year, I had spent nearly forty-five consecutive months in school. I deserved a break, and I enjoyed it. But summer’s gone, and now I must deal with something entirely new: learning how to get back into the swing of things.

Photo of A.A. Milne books, photoshopped to read "Now We Are Fifth Years"

This lesser-known A.A. Milne book has really helped me out.

Whether from summer vacation or from life events, I think everyone faces a moment where they’ve fallen out of step and need help to get back to their studious peak. But, how do we go about doing that?

Others will tell you it’s all about time management. About getting time to sleep and time to relax. It’s about visiting your professor’s office hours, and getting help at the math aid centres or the many writing clinics. And absolutely those are things that you should be doing. But, maybe you want to try something a little… different.

Photo of women dancing with umbrellas

Well, at least not umbrella-convulsively ‘different’. [source]

In the past few years, I’ve collected a few weird “brain hacks” to help me stay productive and get the most out of my studies. These aren’t just habits I picked off the street: they’re supported by science. I’ll even link to some articles; that way, if anyone asks why you’re biting the pen they just loaned you, you can confidently say: “Science told me to“. (Just don’t blame me). Here are some of the “hacks” I use:

  • Go Green. Get yourself a cactus or another easy plant: keeping a plant near your workspace can boost your creativity and your  health. Can’t afford a plant? Buy a green pen! The colour green in general might help you relax and be more creative. Hanging around abstract art also works.

  • Bite, Pull, and Cross. Have trouble paying attention in class? Tug on your desk. It tricks your brain into thinking you’re engaged, and helps you relax and pay attention! If that doesn’t work, try crossing your arms. Still stuck? Try sticking the end (not the tip!) of your pen in your mouth to make you feel relaxed and happier.

  • Lay down. While studies show sleep frequently helps with problem solving, those of you too lazy to even sleep might like to know that just physically lying down can help boost your problem solving skills.

  • Study with Strangers. If you’re having trouble breaking through a tough problem, try bringing somebody new into the mix. Studies suggest that switching up members of a group makes the whole group more creative.

  • Just Get Started. Finally, if you’re a procrastinator like me, it may help to know that just getting started a little bit on that assignment (even for one minute!) can help with your motivation to complete it. Science.

Have any tips of your own? Share them with everyone in the comments below. I know I could use the help!