To Credit or Not to Credit?

As I write this post I have officially finished 4 out of my 5 exams! (Promptly after I have submitted it I plan on passing out for a nap and then spending the rest of my day watching Christmas movies) However today I also wrote my first exam for a credit-no-credit course. 

At the University of Toronto, Arts & Science students have a unique opportunity to use the credit-no-credit option on up to 2 full credits in their undergrad. This option allows you to take a course in your undergrad without having the final mark appear on, or effect, your transcript. It can’t be used for any courses that are a program requirement, however you can use it to fulfill your breadth requirements! There are a lot of other conditions to take into consideration before you CR/NCR a course, so make sure to visit this page, or talk to your registrar first. 

a computer, notebook, and cup of coffee all placed on a fluffy white duvet in a studying setting

See, maybe if I could make studying as cute as Amie, I wouldn’t have these problems!

Now unfortunately, it’s too late to CR/NCR a course at this point in the semester (at least for 1/2 year courses) – but I wanted to share my experience CR/NCR-ing a course, in case it could help you make a decision next semester! 

This year I decided to take an “elective” of sorts – basically a course that wasn’t in my department but that seemed really interesting to me. Come the first test I was loving the course! I felt that I really understood the content and it was actually interesting to me. So I was not very impressed with myself when I got back my first test with a very discouraging mark. 

I was loving the course, but I knew that a mark like this one would bring my GPA way down. (Especially since the test was worth 30% of my final mark!)  

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All this studying, and nothing seemed to be paying off

I had heard of people credit-no-credit-ing a course, but I didn’t know exactly what it entailed, or if it was really a viable option for me. So I did some research, and on the day before the deadline, I chose to CR/NCR on ROSI. 

The next week in class, I immediately noticed a difference. I wasn’t spending every minute trying to write down everything the professor was saying and I didn’t feel the need to scour through my readings for all exam-worthy information. I was actually enjoying the course content.

Who would have known, but as soon as the pressure of getting a good grade in the course was gone, I actually started to do better. My mark on my next assignment improved and walking out of my exam today I couldn’t help but smile thinking I had done pretty well. 

Life was so much easier when it was just me, my bib, and a cat

Life was so much easier when it was just me, my bib, and a cat

I know that a lot of people utilize the credit-no-credit program for courses they’re worried they might not pass, but for me it was just a great opportunity to take a subject I was interested in without all the pressure of marks. 

It encouraged me to branch out into more subjects that aren’t in my program and re-ignited my love of learning. It’s even made me look into options such as auditing a course, which Life@UofT blogger Elena wrote about in the summer.

So this was my first experience credit-no-crediting a course, and I really couldn’t be happier with the results. But how about you U of T? Have you ever CR/NCR a course? Do you prefer to save these for emergency cases, or utilize them for new learning experiences? Let me know in the comments below or on twitter at @Rachael_UofT

Another Year Wiser

December has finally arrived! I always love this time of year. December is a special time when we welcome winter into our lives and focus on getting away from the cold crazy world out there and curl up inside where it’s warm. Winter is also a time of reflection.

Looking out from a dark tunnel in a St. Michaels residence into an open courtyard with a large fountain

Almost through the passage, into bright newness (Photo by Zachary Biech)

This post is my last of 2014! Can you believe it? This semester has flown by so fast! I’ve learned so many new things, met many new people and had many new experiences.  I can honestly say this has been one of the most exciting half-years in my life.

The tangled wilderness and fallen leaves strewn around a secret garden behind the Victoria College library

I’ve done so much exploring, and yet I finally just stumbled into this park at Victoria College (Photo by Zachary Biech)

So much has changed and I have changed as well. I’m still the same old Zach but university life changes everything. I finally embraced that change and even caused some of it on my own.

A notebook page with "thanks" written in Anishnaabemowin, Russian, and English

These are all thank-you’s to my friends and family for their birthday wishes, in the three languages I use these days (I recently turned twenty, just to add more change into the mix!) On my birthday, I wrote a syllabics test for Anishnaabemowin, studied Russian, and submitted an essay which had Russian Politics AND Indigenous studies… (Photo by Zachary Biech)

To cap off the year, I’ll share some key points of my success this semester.

Key #1: Balance.

Balance balance balance! In my first blog, I shared my journey towards balance and how that journey has shaped my university experience. In short, all you need to do is recognize the four areas of your life, (body, emotion, mind, spirit) and give them each equal attention. Trust me, it works.

Key #2: Do what you love.

You are the only person who knows best what you are interested in and how you want to live and work. Celebrate those interests; they are what make you so special! It’s tremendously hard work to be a university student between classes and everything outside of class so it’s important to choose things you are comfortable pouring your heart and soul into (I think you’ll find the hard work feels much easier this way!)

Key #3: Change is as good as rest.

It’s amazing how big an impact you can have on yourself by changing things up. Try getting away from campus for a while, explore new areas and even rearrange some furniture if you have to. Change it up, it really helps!

Key #4: Get involved.

There are so many different groups you can engage with at U of T and in downtown Toronto, there’s bound to be something you’d love. So try going to a couple of meetings and choose groups that you feel you can connect with. The networks and projects you can build are limitless and the skills and energy you develop in those groups is invaluable.

Looking out into a large gymnasium, with many tables of Indigenous artworks and handmade crafts

As promised, here’s a view of the NCCT craft sale I volunteered at! (Photo by Zachary Biech)

A table with huge baskets of colourful candies and crafts, which were the prizes for the raffle

Here’s the raffle table from the NCCT craft sale, where I was stationed (Photo by Zachary Biech)

For instance, being a part of the Student Life Blog has been hugely helpful in my life. I get a lot more writing and editing practice which helps me with essays and assignments.  I get to expand and share my experiences, all while connecting with my Blogger peers, who are all amazing friends I am thankful to have!

Looking south over all of the awesome buildings of campus, towards all the huge towers down by Toronto's waterfront (including the CN Tower)

An awesome view of campus from the OISE Nexus Lounge, during the Indigenous Winter Social (Photo by Zachary Biech)

Keep these 4 keys in mind in your life at university and your path will become much clearer.

That’s all from me for now! Wait for my next blog in 2015!

Accommodations for Exchange Students

Depending on how familiar you are with your host country and its language(s), finding accommodations abroad might seem like a daunting task. But it doesn’t have to be. The University of Tokyo, for instance, offers three categories of housing to its international students: university-funded dorms, private (for-profit) dorms, and private apartments. All of these categories can be explored in both Japanese and English. I applied for housing while I was still in Canada. Hence, I didn’t have the luxury of being able to explore each option in person. I entered a university-funded dorm mainly because they received a significant amount of positive reviews online. The other options weren’t reviewed as extensively.

This image shows trees featuring yellow leaves lining a walkway. More trees can be seen in the background. It is an image of one of the university of Tokyo's dormitories.

The entrance to my dormitory.

Dorm life at the University of Tokyo is dramatically different from that of the University of Toronto. Unlike many of U of T’s collegiate residences, rooms here feature individual kitchenettes and washrooms. There is no dining hall. This sort of self-sufficiency makes the rooms feel more like miniature apartments (13m2)— by Japanese real estate standards, they are apartments.

This image shows my room at the University of Tokyo's dorm. There is a desk and desk chair in the left side of the image. A laptop and plant can be seen on the desk. A window can be seen beyond the desk. There is a bed in the right side of the image. The walls are white.

My room.

This image shows a kitchenette featuring a burner, a sink, and a pantry.

My dorm is significantly less social than what I am accustomed to at Trinity College. The absence of communal spaces, like dining halls and washrooms, makes interaction with other students unnecessary. There are no parties either. Student interaction is rare. But it’s not as bad as it might sound. In a way it enriches my exchange experience, as a social person, by encouraging exploration. Social students have to travel outside the confines of the dorm, in order to find places where they can hang out. My time in Tokyo is limited; I would like to see as much as I can.

This image shows Tokyo's Roppongi neighbourhood at night from an aerial view. Neon-lit skyscrapers fill the image. A river intersected the clusters of buildings.

There is a lot to see. [source]

There is another way in which the University of Tokyo’s undergraduate dorms differ from those of U of T: they are all off-campus. At the University of Toronto, I was used to waking up an hour before class, and making it to lecture with plenty of time. Living here has made me appreciate the convenience of living on campus. But, on the bright side, living away from campus allows me to see two different parts of the city every day, the areas surrounding campus and my dorm, both of which are exciting neighbourhoods. Moreover, my train pass allows me to get on and off at any of the stops on the route to and from campus, which is great for checking out new locations. Thus, similar to its relatively anti-social attitude, the dorm’s distance from campus encourages me to explore different areas of Tokyo.

Students interested in studying abroad at the University of Tokyo can check out its dormitory offerings here.

If you have any questions about dorms at the University of Tokyo, please comment below! I’ll conclude with a brief preview of what I’ll be writing about in the coming weeks. My Winter Break starts on December 24, at which time I’ll be taking a trip to a few cities in West Japan: Kyoto, Kobe, and, my second home, Hiroshima. I look forward to sharing my travel experiences here. In the meantime, good luck on finals! 期末試験頑張ろう!

Exam Survival Guide!

It’s that time of the year again! Your favourite library starts to get a lot busier, your notice everyone you pass has bags under their eyes, and the line at your favourite coffee shop on campus is suddenly three times longer than normal. Welcome to Exam Season!

Whether you’re an Art-Sci in full-year courses writing mid-terms, or an Engineer trying to comprehend how you’ll be able to finish all these final assignments, exams are stressful for everyone.  While I don’t have any secret tips to help you guarantee a hundred in all your courses, I do have some vital tools to making surviving exams a little bit easier!

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1. Trail Mix – nothing is worse than mid-studying munchies. Don’t let your blood sugar drop, and keep this protein-packed snack in your bag! Eating something like trail mix can also help your concentration and focus by occupying your tactile senses.

2. Noisli App. – sometimes you just need to listen to something while studying – but Beyonce can be a bit too distracting. Try noisli.com, it lets you create the perfect custom ambient noise, or offers pre-made mixes for relaxation and productivity.

3. Backup Pens & Highlighters – this is a basic. Don’t let the convenient excuse of having a highlighter run-out justify your 3 hour study break. Pack some backups.

4. T-Card – you’ll need this to get into the stacks at Robarts, or to stay in a library after hours. It also has the double bonus of being able to be loaded up with flex dollars for those emergency Starbucks runs.

5. Earphones – this goes along with the ambient noise player. Earphones are the perfect way to shut out the world around you, or let you enjoy a study break by watching some youtube videos.

6. Water Bottle – hydration is key! All that extra caffeine and the dry library air can really dehydrate you and your skin. Drinking water keeps you stay hydrated, and more alert and awake.

7. Flashcard App. – this app is a gift to University students everywhere! You can create your flashcards online, then transfer them onto your smartphone and take them with you everywhere you go! It’s convenient and environmentally friendly!

8. Extra Chargers – finally, don’t forget your device chargers – after all, thats what all the outlets built into the tables are for!

Well U of T, did I miss anything? What are YOUR go-to exam essentials? Let me know in the comments below or on Twitter at @Rachael_UofT – and happy studying! 

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.

Studying Near and Far: U of T Exchange Opportunities

One thing that has always been on my bucket list has been to travel across Europe.  Practically however, I’ve decided I should get this whole “education thing” done first. 

So when my friend mentioned that she was applying for an exchange next year, it hit me that hey – maybe I can kill two birds with one stone!

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This week the Centre for International Experience held their Exchange Fair.  Representatives from dozens of different partner schools around the world all gathered in the Cumberland House to hand out information to prospective exchange students.

While some representatives were ambassadors of their Universities, many were students from the schools currently here at U of T on exchange! It was really unique to get to talk to actual students – versus someone who’s being paid to promote their school.  You got a more genuine account of what the school was like, as well as the experience of being on exchange.  I also felt that since many of them had been here at U of T already for 2 months or more, they were better able to understand the situation U of T students were coming from, and how the exchange school would differ from U of T.

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Since I’m a Political Science and History major, most of the schools I looked into were in Europe.  However I did talk to fellow community crew member Michael, who was scouting out schools in Asia for engineering exchange opportunities.

Something that I only found out after attending the fair was that if you go on an exchange through the U of T program, you continue to pay tuition to U of T.  You don’t have to worry about paying international student fees or dealing with pesky currency conversions.  You pay your tuition fees as normal, and U of T takes care of the rest.

IMG_0691I also learned about the self-designated programs, which is for students who want to attend a school that’s not on the approved U of T list.  In this case, the CIE helps you to work individually with the University to design a program that works for your credits and your budget.

After visiting the exchange fair I realized that going on an exchange is a big deal.  It’s not just something you can think about and apply for a couple weeks before the end of the summer.  It’s an academic and financial commitment that you want to make sure you’re ready for.  My advice would be to check out www.cie.utoronto.ca, or make an appointment with someone at the CIE who would be more than happy to assist you!

IMG_0694While I still have a big decision ahead of me, and a stack of brochures to get through a mile long, I feel as if I know that the people and resources at the CIE will be there to help me every step of the way.  If you’re looking for more about U of T exchange experiences, make sure to also check out the CIE blogger Brett who’s currently blogging about his exchange experience in Tokyo! 

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)

Reading, Writing, and Relaxation (They Can Go Together, I Promise)

When brainstorming ideas with the rest of the blog crew this week, we were discussing libraries and using academic resources.  I made a joking comment that you could, hypothetically that is, actually get a book out for pleasure reading.  The crew laughed and made comments about all the spare time they don’t have, but it got me thinking.

As a humanities student I spend about 90% of my time reading and writing.  While that’s allowed me to develop great skills, it also takes away the pleasure and novelty of those two activities.  It turns something that provides most people (non-students at least) relaxation and comfort, into a chore or a cause of stress.

So over my last two years here at university, I’ve mad a conscious effort to not let this be the case.  I’ve continued to find time to read and write recreationally. 

Picture of two adorable grey tabby kittens leaning their heads against one another posing on top of  large open textbooks

How could this NOT make you want to read?!
[Source]

Everyone knows that reading has benefits.  Not only does it keep your mind active, but reading expands your knowledge in a natural way.  Even reading works of fiction educates you in certain subjects, or at the very least helps to inspire your creativity.

For this reason, I read every night before I go to bed.  Even if it’s just a few pages, reading a magazine or a book is one of the sure-fire ways to relax my mind and help me fall asleep.  I would have just been spending that time scrolling through instagram or tumblr anyway, and the added bonus of not being on a LCD screen means that I’m also giving my eyes a break before bed.

Picture of book that reads "The Bang Bang club by Greg Marinovich" laid out on a bed spread with a pair of reading glasses on top.

The book I’m currently reading/loving – The Bang Bang Club by Greg Marinovich. I picked up this gem used at the U of T Bookstore!

Many of the U of Libraries on campus carry fiction books, or like at the Laidlaw Library, feature a “new and noteworthy” section of books you may interested in reading for pleasure.  I also find it fun to scour through the College book sales or the U of T bookstore to see what catches my eye.

A selection of magazines stacked on top of one another. Titles include various publications such as vanity fair, vogue, and fashion magazine.

Reading magazines (even fashion magazines) is better for you that taking that last minute scroll through Instagram before bed!

While reading before bed has become a natural part of my routine, incorporating creative writing has definitely been a struggle.  This year, I’ve found two solutions that seem to be working pretty well:

Firstly, I keep a journal and pen next to my bed at all times.  I don’t give myself a schedule or force myself to write in it every night, but I do keep it there for any times I feel inspired.  Sometimes I just write a journal entry about my day, sometimes I write a poem, or other times just a lyric or phrase that’s been stuck in my head.

Picture of two paperback journals stacked on top of each other. They're sitting on a wooden dresser next to a white bed with a bedside lamp shining of them.

My trusty bedside journal and inspiration/work book! I keep it nearby at all times just in case inspiration hits!

It’s amazingly cathartic to write in a journal and realize all of the little things that my mind has been holding onto throughout the day.  Often, I’m surprised by what comes out and how relieved I am to have it on paper.

The other form of creative writing that I do is letter writing.  Every month or so I write a letter to my grandmas letting them know what’s been going on in my life lately, how I’m feeling, and what I’m looking forward to in the next couple of weeks.  My grandmas love receiving them, and love being able to write back.

Picture of hand-written notes next to envelopes and a package of Canadian stamps

For selfish-reasons it also helps me to put my life into perspective.  It forces me to look back at everything I’ve done in the month, good and bad, and decide what the highlights are.  Even better is it forces me to look into the future and prioritize what I need to get done.

Overall, continuing to read and write for pleasure has made reading and writing for school feel like less of a chore. It’s also expanded my vocabulary and now I feel more comfortable participating in conversations, because I feel like I know a little bit about a lot of different subjects.  But mostly, reading and writing has helped me to disconnect from technology and the world around me and create time for myself.