It’s the start if term, which means the University of Toronto campus has swapped its hordes of Camp U of T youngsters for only-slightly-older youngsters wearing colourful college t-shirts and looking confused. I want to pat those students on the shoulder and say, “it’s not you, it’s us.”
I can’t help but feel nostalgic, though I didn’t actually enjoy the beginning of my own university career. It’s been ten years since it started! Ten years since I moved into that first ant-infested apartment on Rue Lambert-Closse, since my teary-eyed dad took me shopping at the Atwater Market then drove back to Ontario, since I first wandered onto the McGill campus wondering what I would do there.
(I was seventeen, and still very afraid of being myself. I was interested in history and literature in a vague sort of way, but ‘being thinner’ remained my number one priority. Everyone said I would study English, so I was resolved not to study English [in the end, I studied English].)
Since I didn’t live in a dorm, I first encountered the university on day one of Frosh week, actually a three-day Arts and Sciences frosh (theme: boot camp), followed immediately by a three day student-society frosh (theme: the Matrix). I knew I was supposed to enjoy this week (sponsored by Molson! Unlimited free beer starting at 8 AM! Sean Desmond concert!), but mostly found it stressful because I didn’t know the difference between the two events I was a part of and all the other events going on that week.
I don’t meant that facetiously: I mean I literally did not understand that I was part of the Faculty of Arts. I didn’t get that I was taking part in one set of events for students who might have classes together, and that I was also part of the student society, which ran a larger, separate event to bring students together across disciplines.
In retrospect, this sounds really…stupid. How could I not have known? How could I have had so much confusion over being put into these two relevant, reasonable categories of student-dom? I had two parents who went to university, and a lifetime of expectation that I would go, and I still did not understand how I fit into the system in the most basic of ways.
This week U of T’s newest cohort is roaming Robarts Library, trying to figure out how to get their T-Card, how to make a new friend, and what they’re going to do with the rest of their life. Ten years after my own bumpy start, I wear an AskMe sticker and the friendliest smile I’ve got. I give directional questions and nod empathetically when students express frustration at the wait time, at the weird elevator system, at the massive system they feel right on the edge of.