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My first-year experience of straddling the line between real and virtual

On the habits that I picked up to manage an altered university lifestyle
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IVAN MILIUKOV/THE VARSITY
IVAN MILIUKOV/THE VARSITY

I have a confession to make: I am terrible at keeping up with emails. I wish I could say otherwise, but it’s true. It starts with ignoring just a couple of notifications until, before you know it, my iCloud storage is entirely occupied by unread Urban Outfitters promotions it’s a vicious cycle.

Nevertheless, a couple of weeks ago, I was attempting to sort through my hundreds of pointless subscribed emails when I stumbled upon an announcement from Melanie Woodin, Dean of the Faculty of Arts & Science. It was on this day that I found out that Toronto had reverted to phase two and fall hybrid classes were moving online; my heart sunk.

Getting to know U of T virtually

You wouldn’t think that this announcement would affect me so strongly. After all, I live thousands of kilometres away from campus, meaning that the fall semester had already been online for me. And yet, it did. For me, time passed in this pandemic-induced Groundhog Day because I almost certainly knew that each day gone meant I was one day closer to my plans to attend the winter semester in person. Now, I swam in Tantalus’ pool: in-person classes moving further from my grasp, just as I had gotten close. It’s been an unorthodox first year.

Where I am from, no one really leaves our Manitoban hometown. Everyone attends the same university, parties at the same bar, and, with time, moves into swanky apartments downtown. While there is nothing wrong with that it’s a great university, a very fun bar, and I love my hometown I have always known that that was not what my life had planned for me. For example, when I was a little kid, I loved reading this atlas; I’d read every city name one-by-one, wondering what my life would look like in each, though I promise I liked normal books too.

Still, after 17 years in a smaller town, the thought of leaving is foreign and nerve-wracking, but it’s nerve-wracking in that butterflies-fluttering-and-you-can’t-help-but-smile kind of way. I knew by the time of my graduation that I wouldn’t be attending the fall semester in person, but I couldn’t bear to free those butterflies that represented the independence that awaited me in Toronto.

Over the summer, I reached out to as many clubs as possible. I browsed the academic calendar for hours, and I slid into the direct messages of people I found on the uoft2024 Instagram page like you wouldn’t believe. 

Come the school year, I invested myself in my studies and in strengthening these summer connections; so much so that, although I was in my childhood bedroom, the more time I spent in virtual Toronto, the larger distance I could feel forming between me and my hometown. 

Weeks later, the fear of missing out took over as my virtual friends made tangible friends in the city and embarked on adventures I could only experience through a Snapchat story. I wasn’t living in Toronto, but I wasn’t living in my hometown either I was living halfway between the two.

With the prospects of an online year upon us, I refuse to let myself become confined to my bedroom until June. It’s time to get back into the habits that make me, me not a U of T student, not a Manitoba resident, but Angelina Zahajko.

Three habits to pick up for online classes

Habit one: breaking a sweat! Ikea furniture is great, but sometimes, it can really do a number on you after a long day of lectures. Although it is already snowing here, I have been getting outside as much as I can, dying as I follow along with a Chloe Ting fitness video, aspiring to make my Fitbit proud.

Habit two: checking in on those around you! With technology, I can hang out with my on-campus friends and learn about Michel Foucault from my bed; however, if I don’t shut myself off from the virtual world, I feel myself fading away in the real one. 

Join me in closing your Quercus tabs. Shut down your computer after business hours all-nighters to write essays notwithstanding and take advantage of this time at home with the people you love, people who you wouldn’t be with physically if COVID-19 hadn’t kept us at home.

Habit three: self-care, baby! Life sucks sometimes, and if self-care is burning through a pumpkin pie while scrolling through #DracoTok on TikTok, then so be it. When everything is online, feelings of isolation are inevitable; however, if you can find a way to remove stressors from your mind and focus, and have that alone time on things that you do just for the enjoyment of doing them, your overall wellness is bound to improve. 

It is a mindset I have always preached, and it is about time that I claim it for myself.

Much like my emailing habits, I am still getting the hang of this online university thing. While it may not be the college party utopia that will be forever frozen in the rose-coloured hue of Elle Woods’ tiny sunglasses, university has managed to still live up to the hype despite its virtual nature. It is stressful and messy and unpredictable, but I promise you, it is going to be okay.

We are going to be okay.

See you on campus soon.