Making a Triumphant Return from Break

Sage Advice from a First-Year Student (Part 4)

It was a brisk Tuesday morning when I walked out of my last exam of first semester.  I would equate the feeling to how I imagine it would feel to find out that you’ve simultaneously won an Academy Award, the lottery, an iPad, and a marriage proposal from George Clooney – no exaggeration, of course. It took a lot of self-control to contain my urge to break into an elaborate song-and-dance number on St. George Street, obviously accompanied by a full parade including a marching band and a variety of entertainers including acrobats and people on stilts, likely to the tune of “Walking on Sunshine,” or “You Make My Dreams” (a la (500) Days of Summer).

Following my immediate and overwhelming joy, and subsequent evening of celebrating with friends, I was struck by a feeling of confusion. My life for the past four months has been work, work, work. But I did it. And although there were moments of absolute desperation, I survived – and best yet, it was not that bad. I can do it again for sure – and I can do it better next round. Now what? I’m free! I have no obligations, no deadlines! I just have time! Following this revelation, I once again resisted the urge to express my joy musically, although I may have indulged in a small happy dance when no one was in sight.

Winter break was and remains a time to revel in your free time. It was hard-earned and should be cherished. I spent my winter break shopping, hanging out with friends, eating real food (because residence food is NOT real food, it is just plain sad when it’s all you’ve had available to you in four months), sleeping, going to the gym, not going to the gym and sleeping in instead, etc.

However, and I hate to be a Debbie Downer but it must be said that, it is, without a doubt, a great idea to get ahead on some reading over the break. You want to enjoy that first week back to school with friends, and it will free up your time to do so if you’ve already done some reading. However, be wary of getting too far ahead of yourself. I’ve capped myself at three weeks ahead as my limit for getting ahead on reading. The point of the reading, after all, is to supplement the lectures. Getting too far ahead defeats the purpose of the exercise (although there are exceptions i.e. courses where the reading is irrelevant to the lecture – it seems preposterous but I’ve seen it before – in which case you could do it all over break without it affecting your understanding of the lectures at all).

I don’t recommend getting ahead on second-semester essays over break (presumably in full-year courses), unless you’ve had your topic pre-approved. It’s not worth it to begin researching intensely if your topic is not guaranteed. However, doing some preliminary googling to get a vague idea of what you would like to write an essay on never hurts.

The most important advice for winter break is to enjoy every minute, and to make a triumphant return back to school! You’re back from break, your head is clear of all your first semester stress, and it’s time for round 2. You know how to play the game now (if you’re in first-year). If you take the wisdom you gained first semester about how to study, how to take lecture notes, how to write tests and essays, etc., into your second semester courses, you will push your average up.

A triumphant return is not difficult to make because of the knowledge you obtained first semester about how to “work the system”. However, there is one cardinal rule – keep your pants on! Things will have eased up upon your return, but it is important not to let your guard down and party like Lindsay Lohan just because you have more time now. Sure, this is a good time to take advantage of your “low” work load (I put “low” in quotes because you are still a U of T student after all) and spend time with friends. But it’s also a good time to start getting ahead, because you know that the storm is coming once again in March! Stay focused and do what you need to do to be on top of your work – even if it means skipping out on a few parties in the first few weeks of school.

Going into second semester, I feel like (get ready – I’m about to make a Star Wars reference!) Yoda. I’m relaxed and at peace with my grades and my classes (picture a meditating Yoda), but at the same, I intend to kick some ass this semester (in terms of doing well in my classes, of course – picture Yoda with a light sabre.) And on the basis of the high quality of that metaphor, I’m already well on my way to doing great.

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