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Opinion: U of T’s welcome, virtual orientation have been frustrating and disappointing

A first-year international student reflects on the lack of transparency
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U of T’s virtual orientation left much to be desired. SHANNA HUNTER/THE VARSITY
U of T’s virtual orientation left much to be desired. SHANNA HUNTER/THE VARSITY

When I was initially accepted into U of T in late January, I prepared to live in residence, as not a single person in my home country of Peru had been infected with COVID-19. The news of the pandemic seemed far away. Now, over 600,000 people have been infected in Peru, and it has become evident that I can only attend this fall semester online.

However, U of T’s attempt at virtually welcoming students has often left much to be desired. Since April, I have received vague and frustrating emails saying that the university understood our concerns and uncertainty, all while failing to provide any details or concrete information on how things were going to take place in September. We knew it was happening, but we didn’t know exactly what was happening.

The uncertainty of the situation created stress; my concerns with not being able to fly to Toronto arose as I was unable to get a study permit. There was, and still is, a lot of uncertainty about how international students like me will be included, both academically and socially, at U of T when most of us will not even be able to be present in Canada.

Making decisions relating to university was very difficult. The administration did not assist in alleviating that stress, but rather exacerbated it by leaving its students in the dark for so long. Transitioning would have been a lot easier if the administration had been more transparent in its decision-making from the beginning.

The welcome from Trinity College has been somewhat satisfactory, but there is still a lot of improvement to be made. Since June, a group of older Trinity students has been uploading academic advice to Quercus and setting up social events. I found their academic advice very helpful, though most of the guidance came from their personal experience, which cannot be applied to this unprecedented situation. 

Furthermore, the orientation schedule was only made public on September 2, and this caused a lot of uncertainty among first-year Trinity students before then because of the lack of transparency in the decision-making process.

Additionally, I did not really enjoy the online social events; few people connected to them, and they were unsuccessful in bringing the incoming first-year Trinity students together. This was discouraging to my first-year experience because if I had not made friends in the first-year foundation that I am part of, I would have started my first year at university feeling isolated from the U of T community. Once again, U of T left its students to pick up the slack of their shortcomings.

In my view, separating the 2024 class into small groups and selecting a mentor — an upper-year student — to encourage continuous communication and friendship among first-year students would have been far more beneficial.

Furthermore, transitioning to university would have been a far less complicated process if there had been less ambiguity on how the administration was handling the situation and if Trinity College would have made a greater effort to bring first-year students together by encouraging greater and more intimate interactions between them.

Orientation is an integral part of transitioning to university life, and yet students like me were left in the dark for most of it. This only makes me question how the university plans to handle the rest of the year.

Josefina Novoa Reátegui is a first-year arts and science student at Trinity College.