A moose stands on a wooden table next to a gramophone.
A moose made of wool. All photos by Nick Iwanyshyn

The Things They Carried

Students far from home show us the keepsakes that comfort them

About one in five students enrolled at U of T come from another country, and many more travel far from home for the opportunity to study at Canada’s largest university. In their dorms rooms and apartments, they have keepsakes from home that bring them comfort and remind them of distant loved ones.

Providence Mapingire
Providence Mapingire
Hand made shorts belonging to University of Toronto student Providence Mapingire
Handmade shorts

Providence Mapingire

BA, economics, first year, Woodsworth College
Home town: Gweru, Zimbabwe

My aunt made me these shorts before I left Zimbabwe and she surprised me with them at the airport.

I get a lot of compliments when I wear them, but I rarely do since I don’t want to get them dirty or tear them. You never know what might happen. I sometimes just wear them inside.

The shorts remind me of my aunt, who helped raise me, my brother and sister in Gweru while my mom was teaching in the countryside. When I’m missing home, these shorts make me feel like there’s someone there with me.

Miyopin Cheechoo
Miyopin Cheechoo
Feathers belonging to University of Toronto student Miyopin Cheechoo
An eagle feather

Miyopin Cheechoo

BA, humanities, first year, New College
Home town: Moosonee, Ontario

At different stages of my life, I was gifted eagle feathers by my aunt, uncle and family friend. They signify that you’re living a good, healthy and honourable life. In Cree tradition, there’s a term for that: milopimatisiwin. It means taking care of yourself in body, mind and soul – your essence, basically.

I brought the feathers with me from Moosonee, just over 800 kilometres northwest of Toronto.

I’ve enjoyed my first semester at U of T and getting the chance to explore Toronto.

But on days when I feel sad or lonely, the feathers cheer me up. They help me remember that there are people who love me and want the best for me, and that I should want the best for myself, too.

Vladyslava Diachenko
Vladyslava Diachenko
A toy moose made of wool, wearing a knitted sweater with an embroidered
A moose made of wool

Vladyslava Diachenko

BSc, computer science and communication, culture, information and technology, third year, U of T Mississauga
Home town: Kiev, Ukraine

I came to Canada with a toy that my mom made for me. It’s a moose made of wool, wearing a knitted sweater with an embroidered “E”. I’m not sure what the letter stands for.

My mom thought the moose represented Canada somehow. And, as it turns out, she wasn’t far off. I often see deer roaming around the woods on the U of T Mississauga campus.

I keep the toy on my desk. It’s a relief to see it there when I’m missing home, and it gives me the motivation to study when I’m tired. It’s a symbol of how much my parents did for me to send me here for university.

Raquel Serrano
Raquel Serrano
A notebook belonging to University of Toronto student Raquel Serrano
A notebook

Raquel Serrano

BA, humanities, first year, Trinity College
Home town: Quito, Ecuador

The pages of this pocket-sized notebook contain photos, ticket stubs and messages from family and friends. My grandmother used to carry a notebook around with her and asked people to write inside, and this inspired me to have my own.

My family wrote words of encouragement and advice inside when we were all together at reunions before I came to U of T. My cousin, who studied in Spain, wrote: “Don’t forget your background. That’s what is going to make you shine.” That’s one of my favourite messages.

Vipul Lalwani
Vipul Lalwani
Keychain belonging to University of Toronto student Vipul Lalwani
A souvenir keychain

Vipul Lalwani

BBA, management, international business (co-op), fourth year, U of T Scarborough
Home town: Mumbai, India

You know those cheesy keychains in souvenir shops featuring a city’s landmarks? Well, one of those is actually one of my most prized possessions.

My parents helped me get settled in Toronto and bought me the keychain the day we arrived. I didn’t know it at the time, but I wouldn’t see them again in person for another year. The keychain held a key to a safety deposit box I got when I opened a bank account here. My mom wrote the locker and key number on the back.

I don’t have the deposit box any longer but I kept the keychain because it makes me think of my family. I don’t get to talk to them as often as I want to because of the 10 ½-hour time difference.

Farzana Azmy
Farzana Azmy
Collection of watches belonging to University of Toronto student Farzana Azmy
A collection of watches

Farzana Azmy

BSc, cell and molecular biology and human biology, fifth year, Victoria College
Home town: Kedah, Malaysia

I’d never been to Toronto until I came here from Malaysia for school. I experienced a combination of feelings: the excitement you feel at the start of a new adventure, and the nervousness that comes with stepping outside your comfort zone.

To mark milestones in my life like these, my dad often gives me a watch. He gave me a white Casio digital one when I was in high school. I got a purple analog watch when I went to preparatory college. And in my second year at U of T, he gave me a sporty G-shock watch. Just by looking at them I can see my life’s story, from high school to the present.

Not many people wear a wristwatch anymore, but it’s an important accessory for me. It’s a gift that tells me that my dad wants me to remember him.

Maximilian Regenold
Maximilian Regenold
Mountain bike belonging to University of Toronto student Maximilian Regenold
A mountain bike

About The Author

Author image: Geoffrey Vendeville

Geoffrey Vendeville

Staff Reporter, U of T News

Maximilian Regenold

MSc, pharmaceutical sciences
Home town: Freiburg, Germany

While I was growing up, the weekends were for hiking or cycling with my family. I still love to cycle, so when I got to Toronto I bought a mountain bike – a Canadian made Devinci – that was very similar to the one I had back in Germany. The bike reminds me of home and helps me explore my new surroundings at the same time.

I made a bunch of new friends through the U of T mountain biking team, and I’ve discovered different parts of the city.

I like the fact that there are nice trails in Toronto, especially in the Don Valley. I go for a ride whenever I’m homesick or want to unwind after a long day in the lab.

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  1. 5 Responses to “ The Things They Carried ”

  2. john says:

    What a wonderful article! It's easy to forget how students from great distances can struggle with loneliness. Thanks for the reminder.

  3. Alyshia B says:

    This was a really neat idea to share these stories. Good job!

  4. Thaddeus C. Ross says:

    How special and wonderful for these young people from far away places to newly find themselves in welcoming Toronto. I wish them fond memories of their passage through U of T. As an engineering grad of 5T3 I still recall the novelty of entering U of T straight out of Toronto's Parkdale Collegiate in 1949. This was just seven years after being welcomed to Canada in 1942 from the ongoing war in Europe and my Nazi devastated home in Warsaw, Poland.

  5. Gi says:

    What a lovely story! As an expat, I truly relate to this. Congrats and good luck to all of you!

  6. Maria says:

    As a U of T graduate who spent a year abroad, I loved this article. It reminded me of how important it was to keep connected with home while, at the same time, enjoying new friendships and surroundings.