One Thing You Shouldn’t Do on Your Commute.

Commutes can get pretty dull. Ranging anywhere from 10 minutes to 2 hours, there’s a lot of time to kill at the beginning and end of your day. Then, what do you fill this time with? Here are a few ideas from a fellow commuter.

 

WHAT NOT TO DO:

In my humble opinion, here’s what you shouldn’t do on your commute:

WORK.

Yes, yes, I’m aware it’s a very unpopular opinion (after all, shouldn’t you be using your break to organize your day and catch up on readings?) but this is honest advice I believe people should heed.

Put it into perspective: you’re doing work all of the time.

That lunch break you have? You’re planning to do your physics assignment while eating.
That two hour gap after sociology? You’re planning on studying for your psychology test.
Those ten minutes before your math class starts? You’re going to flip through your biology notes for a quick refresher.

Then…when will you give yourself a mental break?

See, commute time is a time when you can zone out with absolutely no consequence. There isn’t a teacher or a TA or a group member breathing down your neck, waiting for your assignment. The rest of your work can happen when you get home. Commute time is like limbo: you’re suspended in time, waiting until you can either get home or go to school. It blissful, it’s relaxing, it’s wonderful.

On a bus, the only thing on your to-do list should be to let your mind drift and clear your thoughts. A rested mind will accept information readily, while a prepared but stressed mind will reject more information.

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Exactly!

I use the very strange analogy of a trash can. Over the course of a few days, the garbage can in the kitchen can get REALLY full, but everyone in the household is too lazy to empty it out. You know it’s overflowing but you’re not ready to empty it, so the next time you need to throw something away you futilely shove it in the garbage in an attempt to make room. You keep doing this until you realize that the bottom of the bag has actually ripped and the garbage is coming out. This could have been avoided had you taken out the trash.

Same with knowledge. Over the course of a few days, your brain is filled with information, thoughts, and daydreams that haven’t been processed. You keep trying to shove in more information, which works until you realize you’re starting to forget more important things.

Your daily commute is the perfect time to “take out the trash” and process your thoughts to keep you refreshed throughout the week.

WHAT TO DO

  1. Listen to music

    This one’s a pretty obvious one. Download your favourite tracks the night before so you don’t eat up data during the commute, and make sure to invest in a good pair of headphones. I recently bought wireless headphones for $30 online with free shipping, they’ve really made my commute better!

  2. Sleep

    They should really make 8AM classes illegal since it means I have to wake up at 5:40AM to take a 6:40AM bus (no one should have to wake up this early!). Thank goodness the seats are cushy enough to support my falling-asleep-on-the-bus habits. Bonus if you bring a mini blanket with you!

    (No joke, I’ve literally brought blankets with me to school before. Absolutely no regrets, and you’ll be the coziest one in class!).

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    Cozy over cold, right?

  3. Read

    I know, I know, it’s not like you don’t have enough reading to do already, eh? But there’s a huge difference between recreational reading and academic reading; the former is WAY more fun and interesting than the latter and can even be refreshing.

    Mosey over to the library and sign out your favourite genre of book or manga, it’ll be great to bury yourself into a good plot and great character development again!

  4. Audio books

    I’ve never tried this, but I’ve been told by many people that it’s an amazing and relaxing thing to do. So, there you have it!

  5. Stare out the window and contemplate the mysteries of the universe

    Where else do deep, philosophical, mind-blowing ideas come from? Contemplation breeds contentedness and nourishes the soul.

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    “Is it considered guacamole if you just add salt and pepper?”

  6. Have an existential crisis

    As defined by good-ol’ Google:

    “An existential crisis is a moment at which an individual questions the very foundations of their life: whether this life has any meaning, purpose, or value.”

    What better time to do this than your daily commute? The occasional existential crisis does help you become a lot more self-aware, and helps you in your growth during university.

    (Of course, I mean this jokingly).

So, lay back, pick your favourite song, and close your eyes for a bit during your next commute. Your mind and body will thank you!

Got any other commuter tips or advice? Leave a comment below!

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How UTM’s Nature Trail Improved My Uni Experience

University has been great so far.

With good friends, a great campus, flexible schedules, cool assignments, and interesting opportunities. It’s everything the brochure said it would be…but

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These are the things that keep me up at 2AM in the morning apparently (from owlturd.com)

…recently, I’ve been feeling like something is missing from my university experience. Sure, I’ve tried joining clubs and I’ve made some new friends. I joined the program LAUNCH last semester to help ease my transition into university, which was interesting. I’ve tried not to limit my time to just studying, and am trying to incorporate some of my hobbies into my day. Even so, as I go about my regular routine, there’s something nagging at me. There’s something missing…

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It was only a few days ago in a conversation with my twin sister that I finally figured out what it could be.

I feel like this creeping feeling is the slow realization that I’m not using my university experience properly, where is my change? Everything is the same: I hop on the bus for an hour long commute, I go to school, I go home, I study, I sleep, and the cycle continues-nothing new.

Why does everything feel the same? Will it be this way forever? Mindless routines? Two lab reports a week, a pre-lab quiz every Friday, a club meeting on Monday, routine after routine after routine?

The answer: I needed a change. And fast.

Like many things, I have the ability to control and change this. I don’t have to be in this limbo forever. So, with an open mind, my sister and I went to try out the on-campus nature trail by IB in the fall, the one I kept hearing stories about from my LAUNCH leader.

At first, while I tried to keep an open mind, I couldn’t help but have expectations. I mean, it’s an on-campus nature trail available to everyone. I had no doubt it would be interesting and new, I just didn’t think its appearance would surprise me very much. I mean, at the end of the day, it’s just a forest. Right?

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When we reached the beginning of the trail, I was excited to see a sign that said “THIS PATH IS NOT MAINTAINED”. Oh! That could mean a lot of things, but what it screamed to me was “THIS IS AS NATURAL AS IT GETS”, which was one thing that pleasantly surprised me: I love the unbeaten path.

The first few steps in, I brushed past long branches and picked at leaves that stuck to my clothes. The entrance was narrow, and I was already feeling a thrill. This was new, this was different.

We turned the corner, and I couldn’t control the quiet little gasp that left my mouth.

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Now, I know the concept of autumn. Leaves change colour. Leaves fall. Leaves get smushed on the ground. Sure, I know it’s supposed to be really pretty in the country, but since I live in the suburbs, I’ve never really experienced the so-called “colourful wonderland” that the movies say it should be, especially in Canada.

Nothing prepared me for what I saw:

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It was like something straight out of a fairytale. The first thing that hit me was how bright everything was: the leaves, the colours, the moss, the tree trunks, the sky. The light shone through the leaves and made it seem as though the tips of the branches were on fire, as they were a bright yellow-orange. Sunlight changed dramatically; one minute, you felt like you were walking through a magical fairy world, the next minute you were trudging through a darker, more somber walkway.

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It was like something straight out of Final Fantasy VII’s Advent Children

It was a mystery I never knew existed, the change in pace I needed.

Needless to say, I enjoyed that walk very much.

Now, whenever I’m feeling a little wistful or when I’ve got a bit of extra time, I’ll grab a friend and head over to the trail that captivated my on first glance. It’s a refreshing escape from the perils of university life for a number of reasons:

  • It helps you reconnect with nature
  • It helps you reconnect with your spirituality, like a form of meditation
  • It gives you a breather from school work
  • It provides you with some exercise (you know, the kind you’ve been neglecting for the month because assignments keep piling up and there’s no time to go to the gym)
  • It rests your eyes (greenery and the colour green are therapeutic for your eyes!)

Here are the rest of the pictures. It was a great experience for me, and I highly recommend you all check it out when the weather gets warmer!

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“Is _____ a Bird Course?” Part 1: What Exactly Is a Bird Course?

“I need to raise my GPA. Is ______ a bird course?”

Ever heard yourself or your friends uttering these words? Perhaps you’ve made a Facebook post, or even commented on one with some suggestions.

It’s understandable to want to lower the course load burdening your shoulders by taking a simpler course. I’m definitely taking advantage of this. In fact, someone even recommended it to me.

And then, I heard this statement:

“You just need to get into your program.”

While I understood what they meant, those words irked me to no end. I understood the truth behind them, and it was probably valuable advice, but there was something in me that just wouldn’t accept the implications behind the statement.

It’s likely because in high school, I saw university as this institution that highly respects learning, that holds experience and growth and challenge on a pedestal. I thought I would finally be able to escape the high school mindset of “grades are all that matter” and “take the easy path to an A”. Hearing those words smashed this image and made me feel as if I’d been propelled back to this high school mindset.

But back to the problem at hand: what exactly IS a bird course? Is it biology related? Do you learn how to fly?

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Labelled as such because you can supposedly “fly through the course” with minimal effort, they’re sought out for distribution requirements, raising GPAs, and lightening course loads. At first glance, bird courses have all sorts of benefits and draw backs that immediately come to mind:

BENEFITS/PROS

  • You might get an A
  • You might be able to skip the lectures
  • Studying last minute might be enough to pass
  • The lectures might be easy and understandable
  • The textbook is cheaper

DRAWBACKS/CONS

  • You might get bored easily
  • It might turn out to be really hard
  • It might not have tests, but tons of assignments that are actually harder
  • You might be wasting your money (each course is expensive, remember?)
  • Many bird courses may make you look directionless

As you can tell, the amount of “might” in those sentences prove how much of an educated guess one tries to take when picking a bird course.

But enough about that. Here comes the important question that everyone wants answered:

What courses are bird courses?

I’ve noticed that it’s typically the social science and humanities courses that get labelled as such. Here are some examples I’ve gotten from Facebook (some might be from previous years):

  • Sociology
  • Anthropology
  • BIO152
  • Video Game Design
  • Creative Writing
  • Communication Technology
  • Education Studies
  • Religion
  • MAT133 (no trigonometry)
  • Planet Earth
  • Astronomy

After reading this list, ask yourself this question: were there any courses you scoffed at, giggled, shook your head, disagreed? Did you ever mumble to yourself, “Hah, she put that down? Pfft, that course was so hard!” Was there anything that stood out to you?

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Now I’m making you think, eh?

As a fellow student put it:

“Everyone says a certain course is brutal and it’s not…[and] a bird course can be a snake when u try it.”

In other words: the course that gets labelled as “super hard, avoid at all costs!” might turn out to be one of your strengths (for me, this is physics), and a course that people tell you is “super easy, a GPA booster!” might turn out to be your lowest average (for me, this is biology).

Now that I’ve got you thinking, I’ll let you steam over that idea for a little while…

But not too long-if you’d like to know how a bird course can be harmful, check out part 2!

 

 

Tea Time is Me Time

University can get pretty stressful.

I found that out barely a few days into the first month. I’d entered school with my survival kit: a laptop for labs, three coloured highlighters for readings, a few good pens, and a bottle of white-out to ensure note-taking perfection. I’d planned out my breaks and laid out what I was going to do in the next month using the handy-dandy syllabus.  I thought I was prepared. But suddenly, the two quizzes and one assignment I thought would be really manageable became three lab reports, five quizzes, math problems, chemistry problems, a sociology test, two midterms, and the CRA. I thought I’d never see light again.

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In the world of the work clock, when there seems to be time for nothing, it’s hard to find a few hours to ourselves. When things get hectic and the mental stress becomes overwhelming, I run to my safe refuge, the one thing that can calm my nerves:

Tea.

To be particular, chai. And not just any chai, but a nice, creamy, hot cup of what Pakistanis affectionately call “dhood pati” (literally translating to “milk tea bag”) which is literally just a tea bag boiled in milk. I have a cup every evening: no sugar, tons of milk. It’s the most calming sensation on the planet. All headaches are gone. There are flowers and rainbows. Chemistry suddenly makes sense. As Henry James says in ‘The Portrait of a Lady’, “There are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea.”

If you’re like me, who logged in literally (not figuratively) a millisecond after my enrollment time and found all of my courses to be full, then your schedules are really long and you probably end class at around 6PM. Because of this, coupled with my 1-2 hour commute, the school days can get really, really long. I also have this weird medical condition where long days cause me to get really bad sinus pressure headaches (something about my sinuses being sensitive to small changes in weather, who knows) which make me feel like I’m drifting through fog.

Long story short: school days can suck sometimes. A hot cup of tea in the middle of the day can do wonders for pain: mental, physical, and emotional.

UTM has some pretty interesting places to get tea. We’ve got that cool Chatime bubble tea place opening up in October (they’re hiring, by the way!). We’ve got old, reliable Timmy’s, which sells great but slightly watery steeped teas. We can’t forget Starbucks, with its vast assortment of fancy teas courtesy of Teavana. There’s also Second Cup, which is the perfect balance between Timmy’s cheap prices and Starbucks’ fancy quality. Personally, I always go for a medium steeped tea with two cream at Timmy’s when the day’s gotten too long. It’s a basic staple drink I can always rely on, like an old friend. Really hits the spot!

I’ve noticed that caffeine consumption (whether tea, coffee, or another caffeinated drink) peaked for a lot of my friends in university. Whether they have fallen into the cliché ritual of grabbing a cup every morning, or whether they just like the aesthetic of strutting around with a $5 Starbucks latte, I’ll never know. Maybe they legitimately need the caffeine to stay awake every morning, to which I would just shake my head with disappointment. Either way, it feels like university comes with it a mass coffee drinking culture that sucks all tired, disoriented students in its abyss. It’s like we only consume caffeine to keep ourselves alive, to borrow energy instead of creating our own.

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But evening tea! With just the subtle hints of caffeine and the creamy undertones of milk, it rejuvenates the mind and soul. And it doesn’t just have to be chai; caffeine-free varieties (or should I say, varieTEAS) like chamomile and rooibos work wonders and help with sleep. A warm glass of milk, with its creamy base and light sugary taste, is another great soul-cleanser. For the coffee drinkers, a light evening java may also be a great choice, provided it’s not too close to bedtime. It’s the hot drink coupled with the mental breather that helps alleviate stress and lets us develop a quite appreciation for life.

Tea time is me time. It’s a time when all worries are out the window and I can let my mind wander. When I can forget about my assignments and focus instead on cultivating my thoughts. I can write in my notebook, or watch a funny show (Dragon Ball Super again, no shame). I can sketch, paint, doodle, and be creative. I can delve into a good book, or skim over the editorials in the newspaper. Heck, I can even stare at a blank wall and just empty my mind, just breathe.

But this isn’t only a discussion about tea. It’s a discussion about something much deeper, something inherent to many students, something intrinsic to university life:

Stress management.

This is something I struggle with, and I know a lot of others do, too. When you’ve got five assignments, three lab reports, and a midterm coming up, it’s easy to forget about focusing on you. I find myself forgetting to eat, nap, and pray when I’m locked up in those math problems or on a roll typing my essay. That’s why I drink tea: to take a break from life. I don’t know how I would complete anything without this mental break in my day. It’s like we’re all swimming, holding our breath under water, and we need to resurface and breathe or we would start drowning.

So the next time you see someone purchase a steeped tea at Tim Horton’s or buy a peach-lemon green tea from Starbucks, give them a thumbs up. Because while we may have different tastes, be in different programs, and come from completely different backgrounds, there are a few things that bond us during times of struggle. Tea is one of them.

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“If you are cold, tea will warm you;
if you are too heated, it will cool you;
If you are depressed, it will cheer you;
If you are excited, it will calm you.”
(William Ewart Gladstone)
(Photo credits to my sister, Faiyza Alam. She drew this herself!)

What do you Mean, Summer’s Over? 3 Ways to Prepare for University

Ah, summer.

The smell of sizzling sausages on barbeques, the feel of summer wind through your hair, the ocean breeze in the air, the total freedom of thought and expression and procrastination. Lazing around without a thought, earning some money at a summer job, catching up on favourite shows, heading to the beach, and— hey, wasn’t yesterday course selection?

It’s easy to forget about school when you’re having fun, but like they say, “all good things must come to an end”. It seems harsh: your body has already gotten used to doing absolutely nothing, and suddenly you’re supposed to catch up with five deadlines, two payments, and ten unread emails. Your brain, which for two months held nothing but song lyrics, has to cram knowledge of the bus schedule, room numbers, and your new syllabus. It’s unfortunate that our brains don’t have a button you can press to turn on “school mode”. It takes time to adjust, time it seems we just don’t have.

Gathering the motivation to get prepared is the hardest part. How can I go shopping when the new episode of Dragon Ball Super was just released, or when my friends made a spontaneous plan for the park?

There is no secret to finding the motivation for school. Realistically, the more you do, the more confident you feel about university. Even buying a pack of pens makes you feel one step closer to rocking the first day of school. The other day at Walmart, on a whim, I purchased a backpack that was on for a good price. When I got home, I found myself thinking about how it would feel as I walked through the halls, how it would look filled with textbooks, what I would decorate it with. It was small and cost me less than 20 bucks, but it was enough to get me excited for a new school year. You may have purchased a pack of gel pens, or a new water bottle, or maybe even a cool-looking eraser that has done the same for you.

Once you get past school preparation, though, things get a little more complicated. What if you can’t make any friends? What if your teachers are boring? What if you show up late to your first class? Worries begin to plague your mind and keep you awake at night, only adding to the stress already burdening you. You join every social media account, are on three different UTM groups on Facebook, and have a hundred people added on Whatsapp, but still feel overwhelmingly lonely. It seems this bundle of pre-university nerves just won’t go away.

However, there’s hope! There are plenty of things you can do to de-stress, relax, and get in the right mindset for university.

1.Know that everyone is in the same boat: it’s hard to make friends sometimes if you believe that everyone has already created a friend group. I originally struggled with the simple act of saying hello to a group of people, feeling like I was interrupting their “important friend time”. I always thought that I was the only one feeling lost.  When you realize that everyone is feeling just as nervous and lonely and unprepared as you, and longs to make friends like you, then it’s easier to connect with others. While I haven’t shaken off these pre-conceived notions just yet, these new perspectives are beginning to make it easier to say hello, and I definitely notice a difference when I approach others.

2. Stay informed: keep up with the emails and stay on Facebook to catch up with any events, information, and conversation. I felt incredibly lost before I discovered these groups, having the creeping feeling that there was important information out there that I was missing. Joining a Facebook page made me feel more grounded and gave me the opportunity to meet wonderful fellow first-years. While I personally found it difficult to keep up with multiple social platforms, the amount of information I received is priceless! When you’re well informed, you feel a lot more confident and prepared, and can register earlier for events.

3. Find time for yourself: self-health is important. I always find it hard to take care of myself when I have lots to do because I get very lost in my work, and I know many students also struggle with this. By the end of a massive pre-university review session, my muscles are stiff, my head is pounding, my stomach is grumbling, and nothing feels done. Just by trial and error, I’ve found that having a cup of tea, reading a book, taking a mental break, and writing in a journal are some things that will help calm my nerves, but everyone has different strategies. It also helps reduce the tension we tend to feel in the first month of school. While a bit of adrenaline is okay, being too stiff will lower your performance and make you lose confidence.

Remember: every first year student is struggling with something, whether it be grades or family or money or anything in between. We are all bonded together in our struggles, but also in our victories. Most importantly, through all of the nerves and stress, there’s certainly a sliver of excitement bubbling through the minds of every freshman. Focus on that sliver and you’ll find yourself skipping through the halls in no time!