Obligatory Reflection on My University Career

I’m one day old as an alumna of the University of Toronto – Erindale College, and I cannot sleep. Anxiety and excitement intertwine and braid themselves into my bones.

I am old. Not as old as others, but older than I have ever been.

I’m not the six—year-old who boasted riding mountain bikes originally for the teenagers, who wrote her name in cursive letters on her kindergarten periodical test, who cried whenever she couldn’t sleep, whose first independent street-crossing was when she escaped from the clutches of her mother’s students’ hands and zoomed across traffic.

I’m not the 17—year-old who stood outside “Where on Earth?”, my first university class, at 9a.m. on a cool September Monday morning wearing black capris shorts, a long white-sleeved shirt matched by my Dalmatian shoulder bag and flats, surveying other awkward and some confident first-years. (I used to try to make fashion statements, but I always came out a question mark.)

I remember my first year: I was awkward (I still am, but even more so back then); I was insecure; I was embarrassed to pull out my Tupperware of crackers or fruits during break in my evening Intro to Classics class because no one else brought packed snacks and I already felt like a friendless loser in a class of 75 without having to take out the Tupperware—biting into that sliced apple would have been a thumbtack into my forehead on a Polaroid picture under the label “Loser”. I did it anyway.

I finished my requirements for Science and Social Science credits during first year, as well as enrolled in courses that I thought I might be interested in but was unsure of. Because of that, I didn’t ground myself in the English program, or even the Humanities.

I coursed through my first year with acquaintances rather than friends, forcing me to constantly go back to my high school friends. “At least they know I’m cool. Or if not cool, at least relatively fun.”

(That’s not to say that I’m ready to ‘trash’ my high school friends as soon as I find other friends. I love them, and no amount of new friends will replace the bonds I’ve created with my older friends. Lifelongs, as Sam has dubbed her own set of those-kinds-of-friends.)

I remember my second year: I sat beside a tall, square-headed Chinese girl, who told me that she will never leave her bag outside of the UTM Bookstore again because that same day she had panicked about losing her bag to a police officer who flatly replied that the university held no responsibility over lost or stolen goods outside of the Bookstore. She became my first real friend in university. I looked forward to British Lit every week, where she always saved me a spot next to her. Then came my next evening class of second year: Critical Approaches to Literature. I made another friend, whose name I vaguely guessed at after realizing we had Philosophy together the year before. Thank goodness I guessed right. We ate dinner together, did the readings together, studied together. We grew into friends. She became my first (and only) real Filipino friend in university.

The summer following second year, I finally enrolled into ‘Expressive Writing’. I have never made a better decision throughout my university career than when I decided to enter Professional Writing and Communication. I have never been luckier throughout my university career when I ended up getting Professor Guy Allen, the director of the program, as my teacher that summer.

I learned the foundations of effective writing and the common mistakes that make up poor writing. More importantly, he built up my confidence as a writer, as a writing student. He respected his students, encouraged us, and genuinely believed in our capacities.

My favorite year in my university career has to be my third year. After finishing the requirements for my English major, I took on Professional Writing full-time. Four portfolios at the end of one semester? Piece of cake. Chocolate cake, might I add. It was tough work finishing it all, like in Matilda when that kid got detention for eating Ms. Trunchbull’s cake, but it was still sweeeeet.

Three portfolios and a published book at the end of the second semester? I would learn how to swim so I could swim in questionable chocolate goo to do it again! I met the most amazing people, overcame my fear of confessions, befriended good people, got A’s.

The Professional Writing Program requires students to meet teachers on a one-on-one basis, so I received plenty of individual attention from my professors. We had seminar sessions in classes where the whole class came together to critique and give suggestions to a particular student’s piece. Outside of the classroom, we had peer editing groups which enabled us, the students, to not only get to know each other and learn from each other, but to ensure that we revised our works regularly and received ample feedback on our work.

I didn’t feel like a loser anymore.

It’s always dark in the beginning, Joy San quoted.

It really was for me.

Now the interesting thing is my fourth year. This is when I truly felt how much I’ve grown –matured, if you will.

You see, I completed my requirements for my double major in English and Professional Writing by the end of third year. By senior year, I had nothing left to do but take electives that were supposed to be “bird courses”. Either I’m stupid or courageous, because I opted to pick up a minor instead.

I pursued Classics, like I had originally planned coming into university; however, I did not have the prerequisites for the upper-level courses I needed to pursue a minor in Classical Civilizations. Consequently, I had to start all over again.

I went back to first year: I took first year History, I took 200-level Roman courses. I sat with first and second year students, blending in with them with my short frame, young face lacking in makeup and playful attitude.

Yet, though I’m sure many mistook me for a 17—year-old university noob, I strutted down the halls of North and South Buildings, the IB, the Student Centre, with an air of cool non-chalance. I was finally secure in myself, in my identity. I didn’t need to impose my superiority on everyone I encountered. I didn’t feel the strong need (because the need still exists, just not as strongly anymore) to somehow prove to people that hey, actually, I’m pretty cool though I may not look it at first glance! I never got into caking my face with make-up, but even more strongly I felt the uselessness of hiding behind or ‘enhancing’ my features with powder and gloss. I threw on clothes that I knew, at the least, matched and looked easy on the eyes. I didn’t need to coordinate black-and-white-and-black-white to feel like if anyone looked at me, they’d at least know I put effort into looking decent that morning.

It isn’t that I stopped caring; rather, my focus shifted on more important things in life: building my career, contributing to my aging parents, helping my family, establishing my independence, giving back to the world.

I may still act playful and facetious even toward the most serious subjects, but I feel like I’ve matured. It’s scary. I can eat at a mall food court without worrying what others think of me. I still feel anxious talking to people behind the counter, but that’s just irrational fear that isn’t covered by the faculty that governs maturity.

I’m not a kid anymore. No class in university taught me that, but dang, university experience really does transform you, raise you, mould you.

It dawns on me that University of Toronto – Erindale College is not just a place. It’s a setting of many stories waiting to unfold, and many characters waiting to be shaped.

In an attempt to tie this post back to the theme of literature/fashion, let me list the books I read for classes during my time as a student at U of T that I loved:

  1. A Clockwork Orange, Anthony Burgess
  2. The Things They Carried, Tim O’Brien
  3. Northanger Abbey, Jane Austen
  4. Alias Grace, Margaret Atwood
  5. Rape of the Lock, Alexander Pope

among many others.

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