A Second Year Student’s First Year in Toronto
By Saf Shams
We seem to have collectively made our first steps into the post pandemic world, but I must say that being a student amidst such a historic and unpredictable time was no easy task. Subsequently, I have a few thoughts to get off my mind, especially since the past academic year marked a brand-new chapter of my life.
I completed the first year of university exclusively from the confines of my bedroom…so I was ill prepared when I flew away from the relatively obscure, albeit scenic, island of Newfoundland and threw myself into Toronto with its funky mixture of Victorian buildings side-by-side futuristic architectural art pieces and the ever-present bubble tea shops jutted in between. Never mind the hordes of people and pure amount of stuff, the buildings had me dead in my tracks, having come from a place where the largest apartment building was no taller than six floors.
Before I had the time to come to terms with the city, I found myself running from class to class, from one side of campus to another, all the while wondering if my abrupt exit right at the hour mark had made my English professor more displeased than my History professor would be if I arrived late.
Books were a staple now; I had to obtain and scour through them like a pirate in a gold vault, though I found it was a much easier task to get to after purchasing the odd hotdog or burger from the food trucks that lined the sidewalk outside Sid Smith. For a university student, I doubt that the aesthetics of food matter quite as much as just grabbing whatever luck offers and dashing off to the next task on the day’s to-do list. I am sure my mother would disapprove of such a lackluster diet. “Eat more fish,” she’d say.
No sooner had I completed my studies for the day, my alarm would kindly inform me that I had to catch the nearest subway to work, though my boss and colleagues were wonderful enough that I was not driven insane by all the horrors of a traditional job held by undergrad students. In truth, I found more than enough time at work to get a reading or a short essay done than at home. Plus, the occasional weekend drinks with colleagues never hurt.
I guess the main takeaway is that I never realized life could pick up pace so quickly and that I would have so many things to do.
Back in Newfoundland, there were always people at home to talk to, lots of good food on the table, considerably less responsibilities, and an abundance of free time. Even during high school exams, there was always time to go out for a cup of coffee or have a long chat with friends or go on a long drive with my best friend. We always had a bit of time reserved for one another. But all of those seem to have gone away with this new chapter, and I cannot help but miss those experiences which I took for granted at the time.
Sure, this city has way more people than a lonely island in the middle of the Atlantic, but it really feels as if everyone is in such a rush that there is no time for anyone else. Even the new friendships made after coming here, that I am deeply grateful for, are precarious ones, as it is almost impossible to get everyone together for one venue given the immediacy of our schedules.
I am getting used to it, however. And while most people find the weather a horrible conversation starter, I quite like the Toronto climate. But most of all, it’s the wide diversity that I enjoy so much, whether it is all the different food stalls, the innumerable stores for window shopping in Eaton, all of the museums, or even the array of lights that light up downtown Toronto in the nighttime! There’s a type of life in this city, and I find myself drawn to it like a moth to a flame.
There’s also a lot of restaurants that I enjoy visiting in my downtime, whether to enjoy the cuisine or to just sip on a glass of shirley temple while writing poetry (or maybe the overdue article I promised my senior editor I would get done two days before I started on it). The music is often soft on the ears, especially after nightfall, and, as my dearest friend phrases it, “the vibes are immaculate.”
In the end, if the motif of my first year was dull consistency, the motif of my second year is unyielding change: the constant rush of activity ever since I came to Toronto, an existence full of small, but rapid, events one after the other with no sign of stopping. That step of just relaxing at home to arranging my own apartment, paying bills, studying, working, and filing taxes was a sudden one for me. I would be lying if I said it has not been difficult. At times I have felt like, and definitely have, broken down into tears. Life’s a lot, and as much as I enjoy it, it also tires me out from time to time. But at the end of the day, I think I am proud of myself for making it through and still being able to be somewhat content about it.
I do not believe I shall ever call myself a Torontonian. In fact, I highly doubt I was a Newfie either, despite having lived on the island for a good seven years or so. It always feels as if I am existing in a sort of liminal space, always transitioning from one place to another before I can set down my roots. But there’s a comfort in that. There’s a comfort in the unpredictability and the unfamiliarity of life for me. The one lesson I have come to terms with since moving here to continue my studies, even more so than the constant rush of life, is that I do not think I am someone who could find themselves settling down in one place, with one set of people, forevermore. If life is a mighty river, then I am more than content to be the leaf dancing, swirling, and stumbling along it to the far off sunset.