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Faces of ’14: After First Year

What six first-year students have to say about their experiences at U of T so far

June 2, 2011

In August 2010, we introduced you to seven first-year students we called the “Faces of ’14.” They told us about their hopes and expectations for university, what they planned to study and where they thought their careers might take them. Nine months later, with first year under their belt, we interviewed them again. Has much changed? Read for yourself…

Photo by Suzanna Chang

Hormuz Dadabhoy
Hometown: Mumbai, India
Victoria College

Any second thoughts about your planned area of study?

When I started university, I thought I would do history, political science and economics. However, two of my Vic One profs were very inspiring and caused me to rethink my decision. Now, I am planning to do Asia-Pacific studies, anthropology and Mandarin.

Tell me something important you discovered about yourself here.
I really love the academic world. If I could, I would be around academia all the time. I am now seriously considering becoming a professor rather than a lawyer or a journalist.

How do you think you’ve changed since September?

I have become far more independent.

What’s the one thing you did not know when we talked last time that would have been most helpful to know?
How awesome residence life really is. Living on campus really completes the university experience and allows you to form great friendships.

What are your plans for the summer?
Working for Stats Canada on the 2011 Census, taking some beginner Mandarin courses and volunteering at the Vic One orientation day. I also hope to get a job as a U of T tour guide. I would love the opportunity to show off my university to prospective students.

Tell me about a situation last year that made you nervous.
When a professor handed me back an essay with a very average mark and one comment: “You have far better ideas than this essay shows. I expect something much better next time.” It was the first time that I had handed in something substandard and I felt terrible about doing so. I put a lot of pressure on myself to make the next essay outstanding.

What was your favorite thing about U of T?
Far too many to mention: the architecture of Knox College, UC quad, Burwash dining hall and all the late-night conversations and discussions. One of my closest friends put it perfectly: “Being in the dining hall for so long that string theory, Tolstoy and the Treaty of Versailles come up in the same conversation.”

What was the strongest impression you got of your peers?
Uniquely quirky, weird and brilliant in so many interesting ways. They have made university for me.

Did you have a social life?
I had a lot of fun going to concerts, open mic nights, Hart House jazz, all the impromptu gatherings in my room, the trivia parties. School work took up a lot less of my time than I’d anticipated.

What advice would you give to a first-year student?
Live in residence. It is a wonderful and enriching experience. And if you can’t, for whatever reason, get involved with the university community. It has the potential to become a second home. Also balance work and fun. The conversations that you have with your peers can be as – if not more – enriching than lectures.

You mentioned in our last interview that you felt apprehensive about the large class sizes at U of T; what was the experience actually like?
I found large classes to be both daunting and exciting. The professors who lecture the big classes are unbelievably charismatic and kept me engaged in spite of the overwhelming number of students.

Photo Courtesy of Betty Wei
Jiawei (Betty) Li
Hometown: Shenzhen, China
University College

How were exams?

Pretty good. I did well enough to raise some of my grades!

Any second-thoughts about your planned area of study?

Nope. It is still commerce.

What stands out for you as the most challenging moment from the past year?

I got only 65 on my first economics term test – lower than the requirement for second-year Rotman commerce. My best moment was when the professor announced he would be adding seven points to everyone’s mark!

What was your favorite thing about U of T?

The delicious Chinese food from the food trucks on St. George.

Your least favorite?
Really high tuition fees for international students.

What, if anything, will you do differently next year?

I will not push myself so hard in order to achieve my academic goals.

Which course did you enjoy the most?

Astronomy. I am interested in the universe and the professor was great.

What advice would you give to a first year student?
Take courses related to your field of interest besides the ones that are required – and not only the easy ones!

Before the year started, one of your goals was to balance studying with other activities. How did that go?
I still felt stressed with my studies, maybe because I pushed myself too hard. And I wasn’t very successful at expanding my social network. I’ll keep trying to do that.

Photo Courtesy of Danielle Klein
Danielle Julia Klein
Hometown: Ottawa
University College

How were exams?
Exhausting! Students should be excused from all activities unrelated to exams during this period.

Any second-thoughts about your planned area of study?
I have given my original program a total overhaul! I came to U of T expecting to be an international relations student, and now I am a double major in English and Jewish Studies and a history minor.

Tell me something important you discovered about yourself here.
I perform best when my goals are based on my true desires rather than what I consider practical.

How do you think you’ve changed since September?
I’ve learned to control my stress level to maintain my sanity! I’ve learned that it’s impossible to always be ahead; sometimes it’s best just to be on time.

What was your best moment from this year?
Receiving my first A on a paper. I am very self-critical and detail-oriented with respect to my writing, so to receive such a good grade was extremely gratifying.

The most challenging?
My first low grade. I was devastated, and assumed this would end my university career. However, I quickly realized that all students occasionally get low grades.

What’s one thing you did not know when we talked last time that would have been most helpful to know?
That half-year courses are much more manageable than full-year courses when it comes to final exams and midterms. Half-year courses also cover less material and keep you interested.

What are your plans for the summer?
Relaxing. I think every U of T survivor deserves at least a week of post-exam hibernation. An old friend is visiting from New Jersey, and later I’m travelling to exotic Nebraska to visit another friend. I’m planning to start work in June, but I’m not sure where yet.

What was your favorite thing about U of T?
There are a million wonderful things about U of T. Forced to choose one, I’d say the Great Hall in Hart House. It’s a beautiful place to study and is rich with the history of the school. The stained glass windows, the passage written around the room in calligraphy, the portraits – it’s breathtaking, bright, and inspiring.

What most impressed you?

Every professor. They publish extensively, travel and have real-life experience with the subjects they’ve mastered. Every lecturer is thoroughly knowledgeable and highly regarded in their field, and it’s an honour to learn from the best.

What course did you enjoy the most, and why?
Jewish Religious Tradition with Professor Green. The course viewed Judaism from a variety of perspectives: historical, political, religious. The essay topics were difficult and obscure, and the research process was rigorous. It was tough but I really enjoyed it. It encouraged me to major in Jewish Studies.

What advice would you give to a first-year student?
Stay calm and enjoy yourself. Stress is a waste of time and energy. You are living in the best city in Canada (in my humble opinion), so don’t limit yourself to campus. Enjoy your courses, but also enjoy the city.

One of your goals was to explore the many clubs and associations U of T offers. Did you end up joining any?
I got involved with the student-run BlogUT (www.blogut.ca). I wrote an advice series for first-year students and next year will be a featured blogger, so will contribute more. I also intend to write for more publications next year and to join more clubs because my experience with BlogUT was so positive.

Photo by Jing-Ling Kao-Beserve
Fatima Bella Braimoh
Hometown: London, Ontario
University College

How were exams?

Exams were tough. I think the most difficult part was the schedule. There were times when I had back-to-back exams, or only a day or two between them.

Any second thoughts about your planned area of study?
Definitely. I am way more confused now than when I started, but I’m intrigued by the physical health and education stream. I had no idea there were so many topics that fell under this program. Now, I see myself pursuing sport psychology and sport development abroad.

Tell me something important you discovered about yourself here.
I’m emotionally stronger than I knew. Sitting out my entire first season of soccer due to an injury was tough, but I avoided dwelling on that, and focused on what I could control – and on my recovery.

How do you think you’ve changed since September?
I’ve become more open-minded. Toronto has many different cultures. I’ve become more aware of the different insights people have.

What’s the best moment you can remember from this year?
The bus ride home from the Physical Health and Education orientation camp. I sat beside this girl I had met only days before, but as we made awkward small talk on what seemed like an eternal trip home we found that we were actually really similar. From then on we were basically inseparable, and she became my closest friend at school.

What’s one thing you did not know when we talked last time that would have been most helpful to know?
When the lecture slides are posted for a course on Blackboard it is extremely useful to print them off before coming to class

What are your plans for the summer?
I will be working as a camp counselor, training to get back playing soccer and spending time with family and friends.

What are your goals for second year?
To organize my time better, sleep more and try to absorb more information rather than just memorizing to get by.

Did you have a social life?
My social life was pretty limited during the majority of the school year, especially when it got closer to exams. Because I study and work really slowly, I often felt I didn’t have the time to go out.

What advice would you give to a first-year student?
Organize your time! Don’t invest too much time or energy into assignments or exams that have a low weighting. Eat well and sleep! All-nighters are not the answer.

Photo Courtesy of Katherine Castello

Katherine Elizabeth Castello
Hometown: St. Catharines, Ontario

After reflecting on her first semester at U of T, Katherine decided to leave school in February. “I just didn’t feel motivated, which is a really strange thing for me,” she said. “It’s like no matter how hard I tried I just couldn’t get into the curriculum.” However, Katherine still answered questions about the months she spent at U of T.

You clearly had a change of thinking this year about university. Tell me about it.
Before coming to university I thought I had my life figured out – all the steps I would have to take in order to become the person I thought I was meant to be. But then I realized that “I” don’t really know anything, and that life is about so much more than a plan.

Tell me something important you discovered about yourself here.

It might sound cliché, but I discovered that you have to follow your heart.

How do you think you’ve changed since September?

I have definitely become more confident and secure in who I am.

What’s the most challenging moment you had this year?

The decision to drop out of school. Sometimes it’s hard to ignore the silent expectations that are put on your life. But part of growing up is figuring out who you are – not who everybody else wants you to be.

What are your plans for the summer?

To find a job, preferably not at McDonald’s.

And for next year?

I am planning to get a full-time job and do some volunteer work.

What was your favorite thing about U of T?

Probably the library. It’s a good place to get revitalized.

What most impressed you?

The availability of the professors and how down to earth some of them are.

Your least favorite thing?

The reading, mostly because it’s never ending.

What was the strongest impression you got of your peers?

Stress, stress, stress.

What course did you enjoy the most, and why?
Film was a lot of fun because you got to screen a different movie each week. It’s certainly a class that encourages imagination.

What advice would you give to a first year student?
Life is too temporary to get caught up in all the details, so don’t worry about grades, tuition or crazy roommates.

Your goal for this year was to stay true to yourself – were you successful?
U of T was one of those experiences that pushed me to embark on my own journey and for that I’ll always be thankful. And although I didn’t find what I was looking for, I know that thousands of students on campus are fulfilling their destinies and attempting to change the world. My goal was to stay true to myself, not just at university, but for the entirety of my life. Hopefully one day I’ll look back and see that I did that.

Photo Courtesy of Sophie Qu
Sophie Summer Qu
Hometown: Toronto
Victoria College

How were exams?

They went surprisingly well. You can do a lot with no sleep and a lot of coffee!

Tell me something important you discovered about yourself here?

I’ve a lot to learn.

How do you think you’ve changed since September?
I’m more self-aware.

What’s one thing you did not know when we talked last time that would have been most helpful to know?
Fish are the only pets allowed in residence.

What are your plans for the summer?

I’m currently working 12-hour day and night shifts for Mars [the candy-bar company] I’ve gotten a lot of free chocolate and I love my boss (Hi Andrew!).

Tell me about a situation that made you nervous.

Going through Queen’s Park in winter on crutches.

What most impressed you?

The wet sauna at the athletic centre.

Your least favorite thing?
Having to pay to see final exams.

What are your goals for second year?
Learn to play the ukulele at Hart House.

What would was the strongest impression you got of your peers?
They’re disciplined.

What course did you enjoy the most, and why?

Chinese. I am no longer illiterate.

What did you do to take a break from studies?

To be honest my breaks were often longer than my total studying time. I spent a lot of time Googling, eating and napping.

What advice would you give to a first year student?

Do what you love and screw the rest.

George T. Steel
Hometown: Aurora, Ontario
University College

George declined to participate in this interview.


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