Tag Archives: Toronto

Building from scratch

When my roommate and I walk into Fran’s at one in the morning, our favourite waitress greets us and asks me about that one teaching assistant who I’m terrified of. This ritual feels like home to me.

But this familiarity is relatively new. This is not how things were a few months ago. Like a lot of students, I had high expectations for my university experience and living the adult life that I had always envisioned for myself. Inevitably, however, after the ‘glamour’ of orientation wore off, and midterms and assignments began piling up, the loneliness set in.

When you are in a new city, with no support system in place and no idea how to handle things you don’t even know about, it is very easy to burn out. As I had thrown my University of Toronto Students’ Union health insurance brochures away in September, I had no idea that I could access affordable mental health care until this January. The health plan covers $125 per session for 20 sessions a year with a licensed psychologist. Knowing this would have made my first semester a lot less of an isolated nightmare.

If the infamous Instagram confession page @uoftears__ is to be consulted, an alarming number of first-year students find themselves in situations similar to or even worse than my own. It is comforting, however, to know that what you are experiencing is not anomalous.

Hannah Green, a first-year student, finds it hard to see Toronto as her home. Despite the comfort of living with a close high school friend, she describes her first semester as “okay” and she still doesn’t think the university is “communal” or “friendly.”

She is not the only one who feels that way. Dania Asahi Ogie, a first-year commuter student, found herself becoming closer with her friend group from high school, as they all struggled to make new friends and ended up talking to each other more. She found it harder to make friends at first, because of how big UTSG and its classes are. “You start getting used to sitting alone in a big lecture,” she remarked, “I mean, I wasn’t expecting U of T to be this warm, friendly, school-spirited community, but when I visit schools like Ryerson, I feel like it’s much more warm.”

However, this has not been the case for Joshua Varughese, an international student from Australia. As an engineering student, he met most of his friends in the first few weeks of the fall semester, and because they were all in the same program, most of them were in all his classes. Furthermore, as most engineering students end up living at Chestnut Residence, Joshua included, it helped him build a community that may have made his experience easier than that of other first years. Despite his positive experiences, Joshua agrees that Toronto is not a very communal city. “Living in a city just doesn’t give me the same homely feeling.”

Community building seems to be the hardest obstacle for incoming students. Megan Pham-Quan, a second-year student who is part of the Innis College Student Society, faced the same challenge. “It was extremely difficult to find a community for myself in first year. While U of T is brimming with opportunities, this environment can be overwhelming for an incoming student thrown into a new academic and social context.”

Ravinder Hans, another first-year student, lived off-campus for the first month of the fall semester and experienced this same difficulty. She ended up moving into a residence because it was much easier for her to meet people and build a community there. Megan, like Ravinder, also found a lot of support through her residence as a lot of emotional guidance and resources are offered through residences.

Sophie Shah, a second-year international student from Texas, dealt with her loneliness by connecting with family whom she hadn’t realized were in the area. As she had a huge family base in her hometown, building a relationship with her aunt and cousins in Toronto helped to comfort her through the homesickness and isolation that she was experiencing. “The fact that they were related made me feel secure.”

For Dania, comfort and support came from joining Han Voice UofT, a non-profit that spreads awareness about the plight of human rights in North Korea and advocates for the rights of North Korean refugees. Joining the organization allowed her to meet upper-year students who have helped her settle in and feel less lost in the vastness of the crowd.

On the other hand, Austin Smith, another first-year student, found it easier to build a community by putting himself out there. He said, “Toronto, in general, isn’t super friendly. U of T can be — but it is kind of difficult. Try finding someone you share a big common interest [with] and you can start to connect with them over that. Also, it never hurts to try and make them laugh.”

Eventually, all of them did manage to build their own communities, both in the city and at U of T. Sophie likes to visit Shoppers Drug Mart at the Eaton Centre at random times. Joshua and his friends bonded over a shopping trip to Iqbal Halal Foods before going camping. Ravinder loves Black Market Vintage on Queen Street West, as everything in the store fits her aesthetic well. Dania and her friends have a local Chatime they always find themselves at.

By having their own spaces outside of the university, they feel more attached to the idea of Toronto as home — even if it’s only a temporary one.

The student’s guide to Toronto

Visit the AGO

JENNIFER SU/THE VARSITY

The Art Gallery of Ontario — also known as the AGO — is one of North America’s largest art galleries, housing more than 90,000 works. The AGO puts on a variety of events, including movie screenings, musical performances, and curator discussions.

Distance from UTSG: 15 minutes by foot

Cost: Free on Wednesday nights from 6–9pm, $11 for students other days

Stroll through Baldwin Village

Are you hungry, but don’t want to eat campus food? Baldwin Village is a food haven for students. For those craving ramen, the area boasts authentic Japanese restaurants such as Kinton Ramen; for sushi enthusiasts, there is Konnichiwa for sushi enthusiasts. Other options include the new Taiwanese restaurant Charidise and Asian-fusion restaurant Mo’Ramyun. Finally, students have a variety of desserts to choose from in the village, such as Arctic Bites for ice cream rolls, Light Café for coffee and waffles, and Kekou Gelato House for gelato.

Distance from UTSG: 10 minutes by foot

Cost: $5–$30

Shop at the Eaton Centre

As the mother of all malls, the Eaton Centre boasts over 250 stores covering any and every need you may have.  From fashion to technology to food, the Eaton Centre is a fun, touristy getaway from campus. Food options include eight dine-in restaurants, as well as a large food court offering vegetarian, vegan, and halal options. Don’t feel like shopping? Check out the annual unveiling of the Christmas tree in the atrium at the mall; the event draws large crowds every year due to the tree’s beauty and massive size.

Distance from UTSG: 15 minutes by subway Cost: Free — unless you shop

Check out Graffiti Alley

PEARL CAO/THE VARSITY

Toronto’s Graffiti Alley is the perfect place to take your next profile picture. With the graffiti always changing, this spot is one of the best free places to explore in the city.

Distance from UTSG: 20 minutes by streetcar Cost: Free

Visit Nathan Phillips Square

Located just steps away from the Eaton Centre, Nathan Phillips Square features the rightfully famous ‘Toronto’ sign, which now has a Canadian maple leaf added on in celebration of Canada’s 150th birthday. Torontonians and tourists alike gather in this area to enjoy the scenery and the hustle and bustle at City Hall. During the winter months, the pond doubles as a skating rink, making Nathan Phillips the perfect go-to spot regardless of the season. Food options include burgers and food trucks to suit everyone’s tastes.

Distance from UTSG: 20 minutes by subwayCost: Free

See the ROM

LIZABETH AYOUB/THE VARSITY

So close that it’s almost on campus, the Royal Ontario Museum is a staple for UTSG students. As Canada’s largest museum, it has 40 different galleries and exhibition spaces featuring over six million objects. If you have money to spare, be sure to check out their Friday Night Live events, which feature DJs and great food.

Distance from UTSG: One minute by foot

Cost: Free for students on Tuesdays,

$15.50 for students other days