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Campus Dispatch

A student-eye view of university life

Faces of ’14: Senior Students

With a little less than two years left to go, six third-year students share their hopes and fears for the future

November 26, 2012

More than two years have passed since we introduced you to seven first-year students. Now that these senior undergraduates are gearing up for their final few semesters at U of T, they tell us about where their U of T journey has taken them, and how their experience here has contributed to the individuals they have become.

Danielle Julia Klein
Hometown: Ottawa, Ontario
University College

You’re a senior undergraduate now – what area of study have you decided to specialize in?
I am majoring in Jewish studies and English, with a minor in history. I am primarily interested in Jewish literature, which actually combines all my programs quite nicely.

How are your relationships with your professors? Is there anyone in particular that inspires you?
I developed a more mature and grounded perspective of my field of study over the years, which has enabled me to engage in more meaningful relationships with my professors and teaching assistants. One professor that inspires me is Jeffrey Kopstein, the director of the Centre for Jewish Studies. He is a very impressive lecturer and always asks very challenging questions.

What kinds of university experiences have you had outside of the classroom?
This past summer, I studied at Hebrew University through the Centre for International Experience. It was a life-changing experience. I took courses in Kabbalah and the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict. To study these subjects in Israel – where they are relevant and tangible – was simply amazing.

You’re also involved in The Varsity and blogUT – obviously, you love to write!
Growing up, I used to write all these terrible stories and poems. I also filled an absurd amount of journals, which my brother continues to blackmail me with since he always figures out where I’ve hidden them. Writing for The Varsity and blogUT just felt like a natural step for me to start putting my writing out there. In my experience, writing is almost always a pleasure, but certainly never a chore. I would love to eventually pursue a related profession, perhaps as a professor or journalist.

Graduating must seem like more of a reality at this stage – do you have any plans yet?
The notion of graduating still seems like a mythical idea to me. However, I would definitely like to attend graduate school. I love being a student in my field of study – and I am certainly not ready to stop learning.

How do you feel about graduating from U of T next year?
Well, when you put it that way – terrified! I hadn’t even thought of it as “next year” until this question came up. It feels like I just got to U of T. I look through the course timetable booklet and it’s brimming with classes that I want to take – it’s a shame that I only have one more chance to pursue them. I feel sad about leaving, but at the same time, I also feel excited for what’s to come. It’s bittersweet.

How do you think you’ve changed since your first year here?
U of T is full of resources and opportunities, but students have to go after them. During my first year, I wasn’t proactive in taking advantage of these opportunities, but since then I’ve done a research program, studied abroad and been involved in various extra-curricular activities.

Have you developed any “favourite hangouts” on U of T Campus?
I haunt the Junior Common Room in University College. Many of my friends from UC hang out there and it’s a great place (that isn’t a library) to study. I love the wood-panelled walls covered in the names of past council members – oh, and the comfy red couches.

What is one thing you want to do at U of T before leaving?
UC has coffee houses quite regularly. Both my roommate and I have terrible voices and zero musical skills, but we’ve always joked about performing. I think that before our time here ends, we need to get up there and fulfill our dream!

Sophie Summer Qu
Hometown: Toronto, Ontario
Victoria College

You’re a senior undergraduate now – what area of study have you decided to specialize in?
I’ve decided to specialize in criminology and concurrent teacher education.

What advice would you give to students who wish to pursue a similar field?
I recommend pursuing co-op or internships as a way to network with people who share the same academic and career interests as you.

What kinds of university experiences have you had outside of the classroom? How did they impact you?
Last year, I completed a research opportunity program and did some secretary work for the Victoria University Students’ Administrative Council (VUSAC). Next semester, I’m going abroad to Beijing to study and teach English. I think these experiences have taught me more about the person that I am, and will continue to teach me about the kind of person I want to become.

Graduating must seem like more of a reality at this stage – do you have any plans yet?
I will likely take a year off to work or head straight into graduate school.

Have your career goals changed in the last two years?
I have never made any solid career goals – I’ve tried to keep my options open and stay flexible. It’s quite common nowadays to have multiple careers in different fields – there is just so much to do, so it’s very hard to narrow it down to a one ultimate goal.

Have you developed any “favourite hangouts” on U of T Campus?
I am a big fan of Robarts Library. Its atmosphere is very conducive to learning and it’s also near Spadina and Bloor – which means you can take frequent food breaks since there are so many restaurant options.

Since the Concurrent Teacher Education program is five years, what are your goals for the next two years?
I just want to make the best out of my international exchange. I am really excited for Tae Kwon Do in Korea as well as the opportunity to teach my very first class in Beijing. I’m also planning on documenting my experience abroad through a gastronomic photo blog.

Do you think you’ve met any lifelong friends here?
I don’t use the word ‘friend’ lightly, but I definitely found a lifelong friend in Heba. She is the only close friend I’ve made at U of T – I always go to her for advice. Hopefully she feels the same about me, or else this would be really awkward…

So… did you learn to play the ukulele at Hart House?
Unfortunately not – but you can find me attempting to Zumba at Hart House every so often.

George T. Steel
Hometown: Aurora, Ontario
University College

You’re a senior undergraduate now – what area of study have you decided to specialize in?
I’m doing a double major in mathematics and ecology and evolutionary biology.

What inspired you to pursue this field?
Math is like a language, and it’s one that I’m good at. I tend to think of things in mathematical terms, so it’s a subject that I’ve always been interested in.

What advice would you give to students who wish to pursue a similar field?
I would recommend that they take Algebra I (MAT240) in their first year. It may appear to be a second year 200-series credit, but it’s actually a prerequisite that you need for many other math courses! For those who want to pursue ecology and evolutionary biology, there are ravines and parks all over Toronto, so seize the opportunity to get involved with fieldwork. My friends and I actually started an organization called Rewild Ontario, which offers free classes and community events to people who want to learn more about environmental regeneration.

How are your relationships with your professors (if any)? Is there anyone in particular that inspires you?
I took a first-year course in adaptation and biodiversity class with Professor James Thomson from the department of ecology and evolutionary biology, and I still drop by his office hours to just chat and discuss research. He’s a very good professor.

What kinds of university experiences have you had outside of the classroom?
I had a chance to work in a lab analyzing nanoparticles with Professor Gilbert Walker from the chemistry department, but I also do a lot of independent learning on my own time. I firmly believe in the importance of pursuing knowledge outside of the academic institution.

Do you have any plans after graduation?
I haven’t really thought that far yet. They say that these are very uncertain times, which makes setting long-term goals a little tricky.

If you had the chance to redo your first two years again, what would you do differently?
Take MAT240 in my first year! It caused a lot of unnecessary conflicts, such as delaying the rest of my academic schedule.

Have you developed any “favourite hangouts” on U of T Campus?
First Nations House has a wonderful atmosphere – they have a great library, too.

How did you find the change from your hometown Aurora to Toronto? Did you adjust easily?
Actually, I have to make a three-hour commute from Aurora to Toronto. There was this one time when I had a really late meeting in Toronto, which would have been fine if I didn’t have another meeting early the next morning. I ended up sleeping outside at High Park – it might sound crazy, but High Park is much closer than traveling back to Aurora.

You must have done this during the summer, right?
Actually, it was only two weeks ago (in early November)!”

Katherine Elizabeth Castello
Hometown: St. Catharines, Ontario
Katherine made the difficult decision to leave U of T in 2011. “When you go to university, there is this expectation that you must have your entire future figured out,” she said. “But I realized that life is a learning experience, and that nothing is definite.” Katherine took the time to speak with us about what she’s been up to since leaving U of T, and what she plans to do in the coming years.

How have you been since leaving U of T?
Earlier this year, I pursued a three-month volunteer opportunity in Peru, which was incredibly rewarding. Never in a million years would I have thought of traveling to a foreign country by myself – but leaving school gave me the motivation and courage I needed because I felt like I had nothing to lose. I have been much happier since.

How would you describe your experience in the last few months?
I would describe the past few months as very fulfilling. I’ve been working consistently and trying to make mature decisions in regards to my future. My goal is to choose something I’m passionate about rather than going to university as a way to impress my family and peers.

Have your future plans changed in any way?
Yes, my plans have changed drastically. I’ve learned that a strong work ethic is the most important trait any individual can possess – it says so much about your character. Right now, I’m focusing on becoming more involved within my community and advocating for people who have no voice.

Tell me something important you discovered about yourself since leaving academia.
I discovered that not everything in life is a competition. I want to live my life to the fullest and not spend my time running through it.

Are you still in touch with any of your peers from U of T?
Sadly, I’m not. After moving back home, I fell out of touch with most of them. Sometimes life takes you in different directions, but that’s okay because I’ve made new friends in the process.

Do you have any advice for students who aren’t sure if university is right for them?
Be patient with yourself and make wise decisions. Don’t give up because you feel inadequate or insecure about yourself. Make decisions with your heart, but not with your emotions.

Is returning to school in the cards?
Of course! I’m starting to get a little bored and restless already. I love traveling and learning new languages, so when I return for the second time, those things will definitely be incorporated into my curriculum.

Jiawei (Betty) Li
Hometown: Shenzhen, China
University College

You’re a senior undergraduate now – what area of study have you decided to specialize in?
I decided to major in finance and economics.

How are your relationships with your professors? Is there anyone in particular that inspires you?
I recently had an appointment with my strategic management professor, Chris Liu, to discuss my midterm. He gave me good advice on how to approach the course materials. I was very depressed about an exam grade, but he kept reassuring me that he was more interested in my progress than my marks. He also encouraged me to speak up in class, which will help when I continue my studies in the MBA classes.

What would you say was the most difficult thing about settling in at this school?
I would say it was the language barrier – English is not my first language, so when it comes to presentations and participation, I would always feel that I was inferior to the native speakers, which then led to me behaving less confidently.

What kinds of university experiences have you had outside of the classroom?
I attended the summer abroad in Hong Kong this year, and found that it was a great opportunity to explore the local culture while earning a full-year credit. I learned so much from the group research project at the end of the program, where we did our own market survey and analyzed the prospect of starting a new business in an international context. This kind of real-life practice not only cultivated our teamwork spirit, but also enabled us to apply the theories we learned in class to real problems.

How do you feel about graduating next year?
I am more anxious than excited because graduating means that you are finally stepping into society – there is a lot more to consider and worry about. I am still debating between going to graduate school and working – it will be a difficult decision to make.

If you had the chance to redo your first two years again, what would you do differently (if anything)? Why?
I would attend more clubs and sign up for more workshops. I missed out on a lot of opportunities to develop new skills and relationships in my first two years. Fortunately, I have fewer regrets when it comes to my academic life.

How do you think you’ve changed since your first year here?
I became more social in the last two years – I am definitely more outgoing than before. I also joined the University of Toronto Chinese Volunteer Association (UTCVA) this year, which has allowed me to do something meaningful while getting to know new people.

What are your goals for the next year and a half?
I plan to take a few courses in the summer in order to be qualified for part-time studies next year. I hope to find an internship or part-time job, and start gaining some work experience.

In the last interview, you mentioned that you love the Chinese food trucks. Which dishes would you recommend, and from which truck?
There are so many delicious dishes! I personally love the spareribs with black bean sauce and the curry chicken with potato from the KEE’S truck (located in front of Sid Smith) – both are served on top of rice. They have very strong flavours, but they are really good!

Fatima Bella Braimoh
Hometown: London, Ontario
University College

You’re a senior undergraduate now – what area of study have you decided to specialize in?
I’ve chosen to focus on the kinesiology stream of physical education, with a minor in anthropology.

What advice would you give to students who wish to pursue a similar field?
I would advise for them to connect with the course material in a way that they could carry on a conversation about the topics. Retaining information is easier when you’re able to just talk about it rather than spending long hours trying to memorize anything and everything.

How are your relationships with your professors (if any)? Is there anyone in particular that inspires you?
I particularly enjoy Professor Michael Atkinson’s lectures on physical cultures and sport. I forget that it’s a lecture because the material he talks about is so fascinating. His perspective on things is very different, so this motivates me explore my own opinions and actually think about what I’m learning as it relates to the world.

What kinds of university experiences have you had outside of the classroom?
Outside of the classroom, I’ve been lucky enough to play on the Varsity Blues women’s soccer team since my first year here. Being on the team has allowed me to get away from the school books, but it has also pushed me to manage my time better.

What would you say was the most difficult thing about settling in at this school?
The most difficult thing for me was learning how to balance my hectic academic and athletic commitments while maintaining my sanity and social life. I had to know when to study, when to take a break, and when to just take a step back and look at things in perspective – this ensured my success at school, as well as my personal well-being.

Graduating must seem like more of a reality at this stage – do you have any plans yet?
As of now, I don’t have any solid plans. But I do know that I’ll pursue graduate school in the future.

How do you feel about graduating next year?
Thinking about graduating next year makes me excited to get out and start having experiences outside of school – but it also makes me feel alarmed because there are so many unknowns right now.

If you had the chance to redo your first two years again, what would you do differently (if anything)?
If I could redo my first two years, I would have learned about tusbe.com sooner because I probably could have bought and sold a lot of my books – and kept more money in my own pocket!

What are your goals for the next year and a half?
I want to raise my GPA and have a better picture of who I want to be and where I want to go when I leave U of T.

Do you think you’ve met any lifelong friends here?
Yes, without a doubt. The friends I’ve made here are people I could not picture my future without.

Hormuz Dadabhoy
Hometown: Mumbai, India
Victoria College

Hormuz did not respond to requests for an interview.


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