The beginning of my September this year has been markedly different than ones past. In first year, I was an anxiety-ridden frosh, trembling as enthused, well-meaning, bandana-wearing leaders thronged my car and carried my luggage to my residence room in Whitney Hall, and wondering without a clue what the upcoming year had in store. In second year, my parents dropped me off at my new apartment, with my father carrying up masses of my furniture in a Herculean feat and, again, I wondered, what this new step of living truly on my own would be like.
This year was different. This year, I crushed my roommate in a hug, brought just a few bags up the stairs, and then jumped happily on my bed, home again in my little apartment in the big city. This year, I ambled along St. George St., passing a confused, smiling mass of frosh with a smile to match. This year, I’m settled at the University of Toronto, no longer foreign to me, but familiar, warm, and my own.
In conversation with my quite wise roommate, we both observed that, for on-campus students like ourselves coming from outside of Toronto, each year of your undergraduate degree has its own milestone. First year is of course the beginning of your career at U of T. Second year often brings the move out of residence, and a big jump in the demand of your courses as you zoom in on your program requirements. Fourth year is the end, deciding what the next step will be, and tying up loose ends if the next step means leaving Toronto behind. Third year, however, might be considered the time to soak it all in. By third year, hopefully, you are at least a bit settled, whether it’s with with your academic pursuits, your social life, your involvement, or just your routine. Sitting here, writing my third start-of-the-year post for blogUT, I feel comfortable, settled, right at home where I belong, shedding the awkwardness and uncertainty that comes with being ‘the new kid’. That’s not to say that I think the upcoming year won’t be full of challenges; indeed, I anticipate it will be my most difficult yet academically. However, by third year, we’ve done this twice before, and we take that confidence and experience into our lectures and tutorials, and we know all about the particular trials faced by U of T students.
Being settled in third year offers some room for reflection, to re-examine some of the advice I gave over the past two years through my discerning third-year lens. In September of first year, I wrote this article with a few tips for the start of the school year. I think, for the most part, I provided legitimate, helpful advice in this article. I was a little harsh on Frosh Week at that point from my experience. I also wrote an article at the beginning of second year providing alternative activities to Frosh Week. In each article, I made the still very true point that Frosh is not for everyone, and that those who enjoy it should participate, and those who do not should feel no pressure to take part. Since then, watching my friends have a grand time as frosh leaders (which I’ve heard, by the way, is a far superior experience than the often awkward experience of actually being a frosh), I’ve wondered if I gave up on it a little too readily. I maintain that Frosh is not a requirement and is certainly not for everyone, and is probably still not for me. However, I think it’s worth it to try to go out of your comfort zone a little more than I did, and push yourself to participate in the activities that make you uncomfortable, and see if there’s a job for you somewhere in there, or a friend to be made, or a surprising amount of fun to be had. It’s an arbitrary experience depending on your leaders, your fellow frosh, the activities, and so on, but your attitude has a great influence on it and I know I could have tried harder to enjoy myself. Ultimately, I have a lot of great friends, very few of whom I met during Frosh, so I know that Frosh is not the be-all and end-all of your social experience at the University of Toronto, but I concede that an effort to enjoy Frosh Week is definitely a worthy endeavour.
In that first article, I also advised readers not to have an odd computer background that might attract attention: I totally retract that statement. Don’t have an offensive background, obviously, but have an awesome and hilarious one such as my Zach Galifanakis gem, because maybe you will make an awesome and hilarious friend who sees it over your shoulder. Maybe, if I had just left the Zach Galifanakis background up, I would have met my soulmate who also saved that particular picture, and I’d be in love and watching The Hangover with him right now. It’s not impossible.
I wrote this article at the end of first year. The first piece of advice I gave was to care every day, even when you don’t, meaning to put your heart and soul into your work every day of the year so that, at the end of the year, you can rest easy knowing that you tried your hardest. Since then, my definition of trying my hardest has been altered by a new appreciation for personal wellness. You can’t be 100% on every day; some days, you have to take a break and walk away from school and let loose and relax. We are students, not robots. It can be damaging mentally and physically to overwork yourself. By third year, I know that sometimes the key to a productive study session is taking a walk around Robarts midway and getting some good old fresh air: make sure to give yourself time to breathe.
I also gave the advice to look out for yourself in that article. I still think it is important to put yourself first and not compromise yourself for the sake of others. However, since writing that piece, I think that it is quite important to look out for others as well, and that it can be quite gratifying. At this big university, and in life, you have to advocate for yourself, but advocating for friends, for your student body, and for people who need help, is also very important. It allows you to establish a community here. There are some people who can’t compromise or who you just can’t work with but, when you give people the benefit of the doubt, sometimes they will surprise you and you’ll see the merits of cooperation and compromise.
Each year of undergrad has its own milestones and its own feelings and experiences. Your knowledge and understanding of how to navigate your time at U of T will continue to grow and change. Like almost anything in life, it goes by shockingly fast. That I’m 50% done my undergraduate degree seems completely absurd to me. My new piece of advice, then, for this year’s first article, is to maintain a healthy dialogue with yourself, and be willing to change your perceptions as you go along. Everyone changes all the time, but don’t forget the way you used to be, the habits you used to practice. Account for the ways you are evolving. Look back on your experiences at the end of the month, the semester, the year, and examine your mistakes and your successes and your interactions, and don’t be afraid to challenge your behaviour and be critical of yourself.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, there is a mouse in my apartment, and I need to scream until it runs away. Hopefully, by next year, I will have better advice about how to deal with rodent invaders.