Archive | September, 2013

Decisions, Decisions

27 Sep

I’d like to take a moment to discuss perhaps the most serious decision a first year student such as myself has to face: front, or back of the class?

I know what you’re thinking…that is not a tough choice.

But where you’re going to sit is the first thing that you think of every time that you enter a classroom.

Are there advantages to sitting up front? Are you missing things by sitting in the back?

Well, judging from what I’ve heard, people seem to think that it makes a difference.

Is it an unfair stereotype to say that the kids that want the best marks and that are the most eager to ask and answer questions sit in the front? Is it untrue that students that just want to have a nap sit in the back? Hmm. It is one of life’s great mysteries.

Well, it is a mystery that fascinates me.

Generally, I’m a sit-at-the-back-and-don’t-call-too-much-attention-to-yourself kind of girl. I don’t take a nap, but I just like to be able to see the whole room in front of me, and not have people stare at the back of my head.

That being said, I sat near the front of the room today. It felt wrong. I never sit near the front.

What did I learn? Well, it’s a lot easier to hear the Prof and the questions asked by the people sitting in the front rows. The lighting was better. I could see the board better. And yet, it didn’t feel right.

So am I crazy? Or can the decision of where you sit effect how well you do in the course? What do you think? Front, or back? Does it even matter?

Maybe who you sit beside is more important than whether you’re in the front or back. You don’t want to sit beside someone that eats their lunch during the lecture (especially when you happen to be really hungry yourself). You also don’t want to sit beside the people trying to catch up on their sleep (who would’ve thought that snoring is distracting?). Oh, and you definitely don’t want to sit behind the person watching YouTube videos that happen to interest you (i.e. NBA highlights).

So maybe front or back isn’t the only decision that you have to make. Maybe there’s more strategy involved in the classroom than everybody thinks.

And then again, maybe not.

Let me know what you think!

It’s only been 3 weeks you say? Really? Wow.

27 Sep

I’m feeling slightly overwhelmed here.

(And when I say slightly, I really mean TOTALLY).

I have a little bit of work to do.

(Replace the words A LITTLE BIT with A LOT OF).

It’s been three weeks since I’ve become a university student and I am just now realizing how much work I actually have to do. It’s pretty easy to tell yourself that you just have to read one chapter in the textbook, or it’s just one test….but what you don’t realize is that the chapters in some of these textbooks are GINORMOUS, and that one test covers multiple GINORMOUS chapters plus content from lectures. Not to mention the text in those books is way too small for me to stare at for long periods of time! (Man, I feel so old saying that).

I’m trying to figure out the best possible ways to manage my time. But what I’ve found most important is being able to RELAX. I’ve been using some strategies that generally help to make me feel better when all I want to do is throw my laptop or books at the wall out of frustration. So hopefully by sharing them, you can avoid frustration as well. Here they are:

1. Take breaks!

It is impossible to sit for hours on end studying one subject. You need to give your brain some downtime. So go do something less productive for a       few minutes, then go back to studying. You’ll be surprised how refreshed you actually feel.

Warning: You might take a break and end up liking it so much that you don’t actually go back to studying. So it’s really important to time your breaks to make sure that they don’t last forever….(I know, I know. It would be nice if they could last forever…but they can’t).

2. Give yourself a little credit!

Getting bogged down with assignments, tests, and homework can really affect your confidence level. As a basketball player, I know that when I get in a slump and I’m having a bad game, it just gets worse and worse because I get down on myself. Achievement is just as much about the mental game that you play with yourself, as it is about natural ability and talent. So just remember to think positively. Say to yourself, “Hey, I got into a top-notch school like UTM, I must be pretty smart!”

That doesn’t work for you? Well, go on Facebook and take a look of all of your friends that are still stuck in high school. That’ll make you feel better about yourself!

3. Stress release is a must!

Your whole life should not be dedicated to schoolwork. Weekends and the few free hours you have during the week need to include the best possible activity: doing nothing. Activities that require no thought are the best stress relievers!

When I have free time, I like to go for a walk, go to the gym, make myself a little snack….the list goes on and on. But something to keep in mind is: take advantage of your guilty pleasures! Watch Twilight or one of those really awful reality TV shows! Eat an entire bag of chips or bust out some chocolate! Put on some One Direction or the Backstreet Boys! Just be sure that you can stop once you start…so don’t go on to watch the whole Twilight series, or open up another bag of junk food. And please, PLEASE, do not listen to One Direction so many times that you know all the lyrics to all of their songs. Boy band fandom is one of the hardest habits to kick. (Seriously, I think there’s like a 12-step program or something).

So there you have it: the ways that I, as a first year student, am relaxing during these days filled with assignments and tests. I can only hope that it’ll get better and my homework load will get lighter….(Please, someone tell me it gets lighter!)

Do you have another way to relax? Tell me about it! I’ll take all the help that I can get!

OH AWKS!

26 Sep

Calling all you UTM first-timers! I need to know: Have you had any awkward first year moments yet?

If you answer “NO”, you’re lying.  (We all have them from time to time).

But in a new place, in a new city, in a new life…things can get awkward more easily than usual.

You can get lost. (Which I did. But wandering aimlessly until I found the right room seemed to work….eventually).

You can meet someone new, then realize after talking to them for 2 minutes that you’ve already forgotten them name. (Which I’ve done, multiple times.)

You can walk into a lecture hall and see the one guy in the back of the room sleeping from the previous lecture. (Which I did. What do you do? Nudge him? Let him sleep? What?)

You can pull and push on a door a million times before you realize that you have to scan your T-card for it to open. (Which I did.)

You have to admit that even though you are in a program that is all about social media and communication technologies, you don’t have Twitter. (Which I don’t, and I’m supposed to be in CCIT).

And a classic:

You can awkwardly trip up the stairs. (Which I haven’t actually done yet, but I expect it to happen in the near future. It always does.) 

So what awkward situations have made you feel like a first-timer, even though you’re trying your hardest to look like your more experienced than that? Share them with me! (I need some way to feel better about my own awkward moments!)

 

 

The Things People Say

23 Sep

So I’ve spent almost two weeks on campus now, and I’m hearing the same warnings and tips about surviving university life over and over again. I’ve found that I don’t necessarily agree with all that I’ve heard…but I’m also a university rookie. This is all new to me, but here’s what I’ve gathered so far:

            1. You will see a lot of deer around campus. Now up until yesterday, I would’ve said that there is only a slim chance that you will ever see deer on campus. Lots of people walking around tend to scare them off. So of course, the universe decided that this disbeliever needed a reality check, and I had my first deer sighting.

What I found most amazing about this deer, however, was its popularity. Man, could it draw a crowd! Lots of students were standing on the edge of a path, staring into the trees, looking very much like tourists with their phones out taking pictures. The deer just stood there, staring right back, probably either really confused or secretly loving its five minutes of fame.

Where I’m from, deer are common; they aren’t things you stop to take pictures of. But this crowd of people was so fascinated. I understand though; I’m in Mississauga now where you just don’t see deer crossing signs, (for all you city-dwellers, that’s the yellow thing on the right!). So I don’t blame anyone for thinking that the deer was a cool sight. But trust me, once you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all. Maybe if I actually see Bambi one day, I’ll stop and take a picture.

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            2. The average grade for first year students in any class is about 65%. It was very comforting to hear this on my first day and then a few more times this week, because, hey, my worst nightmare is failing a course. A 65% may not be very good, but it’s still better than my worst-case scenario!

That being said, I’m still going to aim a bit higher. It’s hard for me to imagine that students that have been accepted to U or T are going to be slackers in their first year. Most people already have their priorities straight. But this constant warning makes me think that it could be easier to slip into bad habits than I thought. Should I be scared? I don’t know. Only time will tell.

            3. Participation is one of the best ways to learn. I’ve found that most Profs are big on participation. I have always been the type to sit in the back against a wall (it’s good to lean on if it’s a long lecture) and to just listen. I don’t like to be the centre of attention, so raising my hand in the middle of a lecture hall with 500 other people is not even a possibility for me. But I don’t feel like I’m at a disadvantage. I can be engaged in class without feeling singled-out.

           4. Classes are easier to get through with caffeine. The line-ups for Tim Horton’s are always incredibly long. I’m not a coffee drinker, but I know a lot of people that like their caffeine in the morning (or afternoon, or night, or anytime). Does coffee really help you stay awake during a lecture? I guess it makes you more alert. But I thought caffeine made you jittery? Wouldn’t that be bad when you have to sit still for an hour or two? There’s nothing worse than sitting beside someone constantly tapping their desk or clicking their pen. Stick to water people!

           5. There is a right way to read, and you’ve been doing it wrong.

You want to know what the right way to read is? With no distractions! It’s so simple! You don’t need any fancy strategies to get through all those huge textbooks, (çcheck out my stack), just log out of Facebook! And Twitter! And put away your phone! And your laptop! And your iPod! Oh, and I guess you should get rid of all those snacks you hide in your room too.

Man, really? Even my Goldfish crackers? Huh. I didn’t think this one through. That’s a lot of potential separation anxiety. You know what? I change my mind. Take your Profs’ advice and try some new reading strategies.

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So are all these warnings worth worrying about? Is there any truth to them at all? Let me know what you think!

There’s a First Time for Everything.

16 Sep

This has been a week of “firsts” for me. I have discovered that there is so much more truth to the old saying, “there’s a first time for everything” than I had ever before realized. I know now that there really is a first time for everything, that that “time” seems to be now, and when they say “everything”, they really do mean everything. This week, I moved out of the house for the first time. It was the first time I had ever sat in a university lecture hall. It was the first time that I sat in a classroom with more than thirty other students. It is my first time living in a city consisting of more than nine hundred people. I rode a city bus for the very first time. I used an oven for the first time. But most apparent to me, and perhaps the most tragic of all, it is the first time that I have gone more than a week without having cable TV.

I have to admit, all these changes have been difficult to get used to. But feeling a little overwhelmed was something that I expected. However, when I first moved in to residence at UTM, I discovered something that I had not expected. You see, I was told that I would be living in a townhouse with three other girls. I was excited to hear this news because I figured that living with other people would give me three new instant friends that I could go to the various residence orientation activities with. Basically, I was trying to be really positive. I pictured myself arriving at UTM, moving into my townhouse, and getting to meet my three new housemates. But instead, I arrived to find that I would be the only one in my townhouse moving in that day. I’m not going to lie to you, it was nerve-wracking being in a new place, all alone, when I had comforted myself with the thought that I wouldn’t be alone. But it worked out well enough; the residence orientation consisted of fun activities that I got to do with my neighbours and community members. My Don was also very nice and helped me to feel a little bit less lonesome. So all in all, I am not sorry that I chose to move into residence. It was a good experience and I would recommend it for any prospective students out there.  

So once this little residence fiasco was over and done with and the rest of my housemates had moved in, my anxiety level dropped significantly. I was getting used to my surroundings and comfortable living within my community. But then came that day that most students dread: the first day of classes. The night before, I was nervous. The morning of, I was nervous. I felt a bit like I was back in grade nine again. You know, that time when you bravely journeyed from a life of cubbies and crayons to those crowded, bustling halls of high school? When I flashback to my first day as a new “niner”, I remember feeling pretty small and like I didn’t quite belong in that new environment. I was excited by a new challenge, but I was also a little sad because the friends that I had known for my whole life were in none of my first semester classes. And that is exactly what I felt like during my first day of classes here at UTM: a little nervous, a little lonely, and a little small. But, I am comforted by the fact that within a week or two of high school, I had made lots of friends, went out of my comfort zone and joined a sports team, and the building felt very familiar. So the main thing that I’m taking away from this memory is that it only took a couple of weeks for me to feel at home. I remain confident that like high school, the strangeness and newness of UTM will wear off shortly and I’ll feel more at ease.

Even with a comforting memory to recall, I still found myself having to deal with these pesky nerves. The good news is, on my anxiety scale, I moved from about Level 7 Anxious on my first day of classes to about a Level 3 near the end of the week. That first day was a little rough. I found it more difficult than I had expected to switch my brain from beach/sun/tanning/fun mode to study/work/academics/class mode. I also found myself dwelling over the fact that I was starting a four-year period in a brand new place, with brand new people, brand new teachers, and brand new classes. Not to mention that those classes held hundreds and hundreds of students, which is very intimidating. I even became a little paranoid sitting in front of rows and rows of my peers in these giant lecture halls because I just felt like everyone could be staring at the back of my head, or my laptop screen, and I would never know it. This led to me feeling a bit distracted, and so then I became stressed-out thinking that I wasn’t paying enough attention to what the Professor was saying. But, luckily for me, I paid attention enough to hear from more than one Prof that the average grade for a first year student is about 65%. Needless to say, none of these experiences helped to ease my nerves.

So it’s time for the million-dollar question: how did I finally relax? Well, besides treating myself to my comfort food of choice, (extra cheesy pizza), I came to an important realization: I was officially a University of Toronto student. That first day of classes marked the start of my academic career at one of the best schools in the world. It honestly feels pretty good to be a student at a globally recognized and world-renowned university. One of my housemates is from Nigeria, and it is amazing to think that one of the reasons why she chose to come to U of T, (on the other side of the world let’s not forget), is because she was aware of its reputation for being one of the best schools out there. There are lots of students from other countries that I have met here, and it just proves that the University of Toronto is a prime institution with an outstanding global reputation. To think that I am a part of this school and its legacy makes me feel incredibly proud. All the stress and the changes that I went through seem worth it when I think about what they actually meant; they were like initiation into the best kind of exclusive club, and only by working through them was I able to gain access to a world with many exciting possibilities.

There have been a lot of first-time experiences that I have had this week, but now I know that I have also had one last-time experience; it is the last time that I will think of myself as simply a university student, instead of a true UTM student.

University Here I Come: What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

10 Sep

Well, it’s official. I, a girl who has spent her entire life sheltered in a small town, is about to leave the safe, protective care of her parents for the thriving, bustling world of the University of Toronto Mississauga. Or, for all you fans of tired, overused clichés out there, this fish is leaving her small bowl behind and heading for the vast, undiscovered depths of the ocean.

Now, it may be trite, but this fish metaphor is actually quite relevant once you think about it. That fish, like myself, is probably imagining its trip to the ocean going one of two ways. Firstly, it could meet lots of other fish and end up going on exciting adventures that it would never have had the chance to experience within the confines of its tiny fishbowl. It might be extremely grateful to finally get its chance to be free and independent. As a result, that fish could flourish and grow in its new habitat and never look back. Or, in an alternate and very different scenario, it could be eaten by a shark.

Although I realize that I probably won’t be eaten by anything at UTM, like that fish, I do have my fears. Like every other first year student moving away from home for the very first time, I’m nervous about how I’m going to adapt to a new environment. But a small comfort at least, is that I am not the only one that has these kinds of doubts. We all play the “What If?” game. What if I can’t find my classes? What if I don’t get along with my roommates? What if my dad is right and the only professionals that the world actually needs are plumbers? We also get really good at visualizing worst-case scenarios. There are times when I swear that I can practically see the look on my parents’ faces when I have to tell them that I flunked out my first year. Or, I picture myself lost and alone somewhere on the mean streets of Toronto after taking the wrong bus. And lastly, one of my personal favourites, I see myself becoming wracked with so much homesickness that I spend the duration of first year curled up in the fetal position in my dorm room quietly sobbing into a pillow.

However, when these fantasies subside and I become slightly less dramatic, I stop worrying about these more understandable fears like homesickness and getting lost, and I start obsessing over the more trivial, and well, just plain ridiculous ones. These inane sources of my anxiety include, but are certainly not limited to, the following:

1. A lack of closet space.

2. Ruining my clothes during something that I’m told is called “laundry”(No, I’ve never done it before in my life).

3. Being kicked out for wearing a University of Waterloo sweatshirt that my brother gave to me for Christmas last year. And lastly;

4. Note-Taking: Laptop, or pen and paper? Which one? WHICH ONE? (It’s truly astounding how much time I’ve spent thinking about this, but truth be told, I’m just glad I was able to move on from the highly contentious Pens vs. Pencils debate).

I am smart enough to realize that my obsessions with these ridiculous fears are just a result of nerves. But as much time as I spend thinking about what could go wrong during my first year of university, I spend just as much time thinking optimistically (and hopefully realistically) about life at UTM. I realize that I have already been provided with solutions to some of my imagined problems. First of all, I am part of a community that includes distinguished professors, other professionals that specialize in career advice and academic assistance, and my fellow students who all want to succeed as much as I do. With these kinds of people surrounding me, I find it hard to imagine myself failing. Secondly, in a campus filled with thousands of students, the odds seem to be in my favour for finding at least a couple of friends. I also have access to Wi-Fi everywhere on campus to be able to email my parents back home to stave off some of those gnawing feelings of homesickness (or if I need money, of course). As far as getting lost, well, maybe by providing me with a Mississauga Transit bus pass is just UTM’s way of telling me that the best way to explore a city is to get lost in it.

Ironically, what I’m most afraid of is that I will give into my fears and I will not have a positive university experience. But, logically, I know that having fears are normal, and I will not allow mine to ruin the next four years I spend at UTM. I won’t be too afraid to talk to people that I don’t know, or to join a club or sports team. I won’t be too afraid to ask questions, or to take advantage of the resources and facilities available on campus. If I do, I know that I will regret it.

As a mature student worthy of admission to a prime institution such as the University of Toronto, I must be practical and intelligent enough to realize that I will survive my transition to university life, and that my fears will be allayed probably within the first few days that I spend on campus. Millions of students before me have succeeded in making the transition and have gone on to graduate and do great things. Among them is a man that I happen to admire very much: Tim Long, a writer for the television show The Simpsons. Why do I admire him? Well, he has helped to create not only one of the most memorable television characters of all time, but also one of my heroes: Mr. Homer J. Simpson, the one person that I can trust in this world to give me sound, well-thought-out advice. May his inspiring words comfort you as much as they have comforted me: “The only danger is if they send us to that terrible planet of the apes.” Truer words have never been spoken.