Expanding the Boundaries of My Heart (Reflections From Seven Weeks In)

Every day, my love for this city deepens.  I always thought the boundaries of my heart started and ended in Vancouver, but the past seven weeks have taught me that this is not the case. It is possible to hold multiple loves within you, and this openness to new and different things enriches your life and strengthens your love of each individual thing as a result. It’s been an astonishing, life changing revelation. I feel like I could live anywhere now, (or at the very least, can imagine myself in more than the west coast in the future) and am not as hesitant to try new things.

And now that I’m feeling more settled, I feel like I have so much to share about my adventures thus far!  A complete summary is impossible, but it’s been a rich and learning filled few weeks. I’ve fasted the last few days of Ramadhan on my own, celebrated my birthday away from family for the first time, set up my new room (yay IKEA!), met lots of interesting people (and possibly a few kindred spirits), missed my brother’s birthday, befriended the TTC and the GO train, went to the U of T’s Graduate Student Orientation, celebrated my first solo Eid  (and went to Eid prayer for the first time), explored campus, caught a cold, went to a Shakespeare play, went to Nuit Talks, attended an incredible dialogue session with the Governor General, attended the ballet, participated in Word on the Street, went to Friday prayer for the first time (minus conferences), visited Montreal, attended many campus lectures, consumed heaps of tea, wandered a great deal, and in sum, while doing the million and one things involved in settling and becoming used to a new place, have been learning new things and confirming old things about myself every day.

It’s been a challenging, fascinating, frustrating, and beautiful experience, and since it  was my seven week annniversary in the city a few days ago, in no particular order, here is a bit of what I’ve been thinking about since I’ve arrived.  (Amazing how time goes so quickly).

On Toronto..

My first night in Toronto, I looked at my empty walls and my twin bed and the unfamiliar view from the window and nearly booked a ticket right back to Vancouver.  It was a moment, an evening of thinking ‘oh dear, where have I arrived?”, and why did I want to leave home?” and I think if it wasn’t for the fact that returning home would equal being teased for life, it’s quite possible I would have just grabbed my bags and turned back around.

I’m so glad I stuck around though! Toronto is very different from Vancouver, and although when I first arrived the comparisons were fast and furious, after a bit of time I realised that to compare is to be miserable, and each city has its own unique charms and appeal. And that realisation has helped so much with the adjustment. I still have lots of learning to do, but judging Toronto on its own merits, it is an amazing place, and Ontario to my great surprise is actually quite beautiful. Much more about this later.

On the University of Toronto..

When it came to applying to graduate school, I only applied to one place: the University of Toronto. Why I chose the planning program in particular is a story for another day (it’s a story about tea) but when it came to picking a university, there wasn’t really any other school I wanted to be a part of. The first time I visited Toronto was when I was 15 years old (I described the plane journey in an earlier post) and though I came to attend a conference, I arrived a day or so earlier and saw small glimpses of  Toronto before it began. And for part of that day, I walked through different parts of U of T and fell in love with ivy covered buildings and carved archways and students saying ‘when you see the building that looks like a castle turn left’ in response to requests to directions. I knew I wouldn’t be at U of T for my undergrad education, but felt sure that if I was ever going to attend graduate school, it would be in Toronto or I wouldn’t do another degree at all.

Thankfully, U of T has managed to live up to my considerable expectations. It’s not perfect, but it’s pretty darn wonderful. I love how the university is integrated into the city, I love love love the old stunning buildings, I love how the University is aware of diversity in the student body and offers lots of halal food and women only swim and workout times and is just overall wonderfully accommodating,  and I’m amazed at the vibrancy of the school.  From incredible public lectures to beautiful art to marvelous faculty members, it’s all slightly overwhelming, and incredibly inspiring. Though I’m sure I’m actually aware of only a tiny bit of the University’s resources, I’m excited to keep discovering, and am trying to find a balance between devoting lots of time to studying and also making the most of the university as well.

On the Planning Program

Ah planning. Coming to geography from political science, I am quite new to everything we’re studying, but I love school so so much! At first the unfamiliar subject matter and the new analytical lenses and the unknown theorists and the spatial thinking was a bit intimidating, but every day I realise that my political science training is really useful, and since poli sci is naturally the way I approach everything, my undergrad education can actually support my developing planning skills.

What is fascinating though, is how that they are similar analytical tools that are used in both disciplines, but much attention is spent on the fine grained nature of city development in planning, whereas political science is much more macro in nature. The problems differ, but some tools (at least on the policy analysis side of things) remain the same.

I have four courses this semester, three which are required, and then one elective. The three required courses are  Issues in Planning History Thought and Practice, Planning Methods 1, and Planning and Social Policy. All three planning courses are superb and both professors have a wealth of experience and knowledge to share with us (I have the same prof for two courses), and I leave each class with much to reflect over further. The readings we have are quite interesting, though the assignments are challenging and each course is a fair amount of work.  But I can literally feel my mind expanding and opening up every day, (hurrah for exhilarating intellectual adventures!) and I’ve been trying to remind myself that the work is the whole point of the program and is meant to sharpen our minds and give us an improved ability to read and write and think and reflect and be effective change makers in the world, so I shouldn’t  complain. =)

Of course, school isn’t just teachers and readings, it’s about the community of students you study with as well. And the rest of the students in the first year cohort are wonderful. Everyone has done such interesting things before coming to U of T and has heaps of academic and professional experience, that I feel really blessed to be in such intelligent company.

So much more to tell; so much more to discuss. Till next time dear readers, keep well.

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