By Paige Chu
This time last year, Gloria Ilunga was already feeling ready to graduate. Adela Jeon had just been accepted to UofT. Though three years apart, the two UC students reveal in their respective interviews that although the end of a year always feels like the most notable conclusion, big changes are always happening at any point in time.
“I’m okay with change, I like this kind of change,” says Gloria about getting kicked out of the UofT bird’s nest. “For me, I know I need to move on to something else when I feel like I’ve learned what I needed to prepare for the next thing and I feel like I’m reaching that point where I’m getting tired because I’ve gotten what I needed in order to move on.”
Meanwhile, Adela was just adjusting to university and trying to find her place in such a large setting. Though her high school years were spent in Thornhill, a neighborhood close enough for commuting to be possible, it was just far enough for some panic to set in. “I think that was one of the hardest parts — adjusting and coming terms with the fact that my family’s not just downstairs and I’m literally here by myself. I remember the first week having a few freak outs, realizing I’m actually alone.” She also goes on to say that though she’s left home, she’s also found a new home at UofT where her good group of friends hold her accountable by dragging her to Robarts and making sure she’s eating dinner on time. Now, of the biggest things concerning her is declaring her POST. Having come into university with such a clear idea of what she wanted, realizing she could change her mind has been unsettling. “I guess the only thing that really makes is nervous is what I’m going to do with my future. I don’t want to be that person that wakes up everyday and be like ‘ugh I don’t wanna go to work’. I want to do something I love.”
While Adela’s upcoming semester is riddled with decisions and planning, Gloria spent the latter part of 2017 preparing for the final stretch, and is now taking 2018 to smell the roses. “I’m so excited for my last semester and I’m so excited to just take everything in. Going through your university career, you’re moving from one thing to the next really quickly and you’re just trying to get good grades. I just want to make sure I stop and enjoy things a little bit more and that I’m more present.” She may be closer than a first year to entering the big, big world, but she’s living in the moment as of now. She says “I’m really excited to work on the friendships that I have. I’m excited to just finish,” and calls it “tying the bow on the present.”
But she’s still no stranger to the stress than many freshmen are facing in university today. After four years of undergrad, two donning experiences, countless work and volunteer opportunities, and having one foot in life science and the other in social science, Gloria is still not done with change and experience. She explains that her post-grad plans are drastically different from her first year ideals, and they’re still in some ways under constant moderation. Just goes to show that sometimes we never stop making same big choices.
When asked whether her courses were what helped guide her to the current path she’s on, she pointed out a few key courses — a ONE Program, a bioethics class that she enjoyed but didn’t love — but didn’t attribute her growth to it. “It’s more so the people that you meet and the experiences that I’ve had outside a classroom that are kind of showing me a certain path or compelling me in a certain direction. I think some of the professors are playing a role. The people are helping me more than the course content, or there’ll be this one reading that’s incredible and I’ll be like, ‘Okay, I need to explore this further’ and it’s the reflections that come from that and the conversations I have that come from that are what help me than the courses themselves.”
Even after a short four months in university, Adela shares the same opinion on the community being a strong influence. Like many of those fresh out of high school, she spent the weeks leading up to move-in day worrying over the tough reputation of UofT being number one in Canada, and the vast campus that may make friendships a difficult matter. But she’s confident that her time here spent with people that used to worry her with their accomplishments have already shaped her. “It’s changed me in a way where I’m a more vibrant version of myself. I just feel like in high school there’s just so much going on that you want to suppress parts of yourself to fit in, but coming to UofT, everyone here is so different, everyone is so diverse, they’re from all over the world it’s just kind of, like, the inspiration to be myself because everyone’s so comfortable with who they are — or at least it looks like it. The people that I’ve surrounded myself with are just so open and accepting so it’s so I feel safer to be.” With regards to being surrounded by some of the brightest minds, she says that she’s learning to simply be comfortable with herself and her own achievements. “I didn’t know if I could compete. But once you get past that you realize honestly everyone else is going through the same thing as you are, everyone is just as lost as you are. Usually I’m such an overachiever and I always want to be the best, but now it’s just about realizing that there’s always going to be someone better than you and you just gotta do your best and that’s about it. I haven’t fully embraced it but I’m coming to terms with it. In such a big school, there’s always going to be someone better than you in some way and you just have to be okay with that.”
Compared to Adela’s recalibration to fine tune her point of view and make the vast craziness of Toronto her home, Gloria’s undergrad experience is plateauing and coming to a finish.
“That’s a scary thing about your last year of undergrad: knowing that you pretty much finished,” she says. While some things never change — she still asks her professors what “10% participation” REALLY means (“If I put my hand up is that, like, one?”) — she finds these next few months to be a time of acceptance. “It’s kind of just accepting wherever you are whether it’s GPA or friend-wise, it’s just accepting what’s happened to a certain extent. It doesn’t mean that’s what it has to be for ever but it’s recognizing what has been done has been done and that you can do something different every single day, you can make improvements, you can make changes, cut things out, add things, but this is it. This was your experience.”
For those of us who aren’t quite as close to the finish line, take it from Adela, “Now that I have university experience ‘in me’ I kind of want to look into other opportunities. Before I just to be in high school but now I’m at university, at UofT, and I can use that to my advantage to be trusted with more responsibilities. So I’m just going for a lot of different things this upcoming semester.” As Gloria says about changing settings and leaving what’s familiar, “I’m gonna have to make new friends, I’m gonna have to make new connections, and maybe I become a completely different person and maybe I won’t. But I know I’ll be a lot stronger person.” While starting, being in, and finishing up university seem like three distinct phases of one larger journey, the anticipation for what’s to come and the nostalgia over past experiences seem to stay with you regardless of where you are in time or space.