In my fourth year of undergrad, I have mixed feelings about graduating. Life is moving quickly as I return dusty library books, interview for jobs, and say goodbye to friends — some of them for the last time. 

To capture this fleeting moment of an end and a beginning, Spencer Lu and I asked three fourth-year students to reflect on their time at U of T and to talk about what they hope for the future. We learned about the a-ha! moments, the rock bottoms, and key resources that got them through it all.

– Jesse McDougall

Hellos and goodbyes

Our first conversation was with Natasha Aust, who studies political science and anthropology. In 2019, a memorable year living at St. Michael’s College propelled her into all kinds of on-campus involvement. 

“I’ve been an orientation leader [and marshall] for three years, [and] this year I became the senior copy editor at The Mike,” she said in an interview.

Aust began her education considering a degree in economics, but a first-year anthropology course made her double back. “I’m [now] working on a research project… studying linguistic racism [around applicants] for Danish citizenship,” she said. 

Despite her taste for rigorous academics, Aust wishes she cut herself a bit more slack early on. “It was a hard transition [from high school to university], but I found more balance as I went along,” she said. 

Extracurriculars also played an important role in Aust’s experience of places like the historic Hart House beside the back campus fields. “Yoga, [High Intensity Interval Training] HIIT, and Zumba are always a lot of fun, and I appreciated the college writing centers where people could proofread my essays,” she said. 

Aust is now considering a career in international trade law after a summer internship in D.C., but the allure of new opportunities is dampened by the friends Aust said she will miss. “It’s hard because you want to make the most out of the time when people are still close together, [and you have] to figure out how to maintain those connections,” she said. 

Nonetheless, Aust is thankful that her friends and classmates significantly improved her university experience. “I’m in an international security class [where] we have an foreign exchange student from Ukraine… It’s been interesting just to hear her perspective,” she said. “There’s so many classes like that, where there are people who have [a] personal connection [to the subject].”

Next, we spoke with Elaine Lok, who grew up in Hong Kong and now studies international relations. As a newcomer to Toronto, Lok initially felt lonely in the new city but found support through the friends she met in residence. “U of T creates this bubble where you can latch onto people [and] see them all the time,” she said.

Academically, Lok appreciated that her professors, especially in later years, encouraged critical thinking. “I’ve had a lot of professors who were like, ‘question everything, critique everything,’” she said. “It made me look at things from so many different perspectives and never trust just one idea.” 

Lok strongly encourages her peers to make better use of professors and their office hours as resources. “There’s always this fear [about] going to office hours, but you’d better go since you’re paying for that,” Lok said. She reports having “picked their brains” on numerous occasions while asking meaningful questions during her conversations.

Another resource that Lok advocates for is student health care, provided by the University of Toronto Students’ Union’s Green Shield, the satellite campus student unions, the graduate student union, the part-time student union, and U of T, for international students. “I got psychotherapy through that,” she said. “You need to see what benefits you can gain from massage therapy [too]. I think therapy has helped me be more in touch with my values, my time, and who I should prioritize in my life.”

After the graduation ceremony, Lok plans to take time for herself, travel, and explore her career options. She’s interested in environmental advocacy but doesn’t want to dive into a masters program right away. “I realize that school takes a lot of discipline, so I’m giving myself some time to really think… but I definitely want to go [to] graduate school,” she said.

Our third interview was with Vera Frantseva, who grew up almost 7,500 kilometres away from Toronto near Moscow, Russia. It was a spontaneous decision that brought Frantseva to Ontario in 2018, when her parents suggested she look at Canadian schools. 

“I was already preparing my applications for [schools in] Moscow,” Frantseva said. “But when my parents proposed [the idea of Canada to me] I was like, ‘Okay, why not?’ And [now] I’ve been here for five years.”

Overcoming cultural shock and the language barrier was not easy, but Frantseva says that moving to Canada had its perks. “I got to go to prom twice!” she joked.

In her first year at U of T, Frantseva met a group of supportive friends who became her roommates when she moved out of residence. Despite courses moving online in 2020, Frantseva stayed in touch and even took trips with them outside Toronto. “COVID gave us some free time to drive together to Tobermory, Ontario,” Frantseva said. “We got to do cliff jumping and it felt like we were finally able to breathe!”

Rotman Commerce played a big part in shaping Frantseva’s experience at U of T, and even led to a paid position. “If you want to get into a Rotman club, you gotta show your resume and cover letter plus go through a series of interviews because they’re trying to prepare you for life,” she said.  

Frantseva spent two years as the marketing manager for Rotman’s Entrepreneurial Organization, and soon after she was hired at a digital staffing company where she worked part time during the semester. 

Now it’s health-care technology that’s caught her eye. “I started volunteering in long-term care at Kensington Health three or four weeks ago,” Frantseva said. “It’s definitely a great experience seeing what personal support workers do.”

“Ideally, I would stay in Toronto,” Frantseva added. “I feel like I’ve established connections. I think it’s too early for me to move away, [and] these days I’m thinking of the ways I can prioritize certain things I can do now [at U of T].”

For Frantseva, that means going to more of the fitness classes that U of T offers and watching Varsity Blues games, where she enjoys the popcorn. “You know the movie with Jim Carrey where he’s saying yes to everything? I’m trying to do more of that,” said Frantseva. “In first year I never went because I was studying, so now I’m just trying to say yes.”

Onwards and upwards

The students we interviewed followed three out of an innumerable number of unique paths at U of T. I hope these conversations feel relevant no matter how far you’ve progressed through your education, and that some insights might even spark inspiration and the motivation to try something new at U of T. 

With graduation rapidly approaching, I find myself immersed in final assignments while fitting in whatever social and extracurricular activities that remain on my bucket list. But in less than a month’s time, our last exams will be finished and we will face the culmination of the past few years of working, socializing, and growing, before stepping into a new and exciting chapter of our lives.

– Spencer Lu