By Lindsay Liu, Staff Writer

The 2023 school semester is in full swing at Trinity College, and many first-year students are dealing with the stress of their first university midterms. As a second-year resident at Trinity, I understand the pressure that comes with adjusting to increased academic demands, anxiety about making new friends, and getting involved in your community. But admittedly, it’s challenging for me to fully grasp the experiences of students coming from other countries, some being far away from their families. It’s likely that many first-year students, especially international ones, are in the same boat, struggling to find advice that applies not only to U of T but also to Trinity College specifically. With this in mind, I decided to interview one of my close friends at Trinity, someone I consider incredibly resilient and strong. I hope her advice and insights, alongside my own, can provide inspiration for fellow international students and other first-years.

Tarushi Kalra is a second-year student at Trinity College, majoring in Economics and minoring in Math and Statistics. Beyond her academic pursuits, she’s a proud Swiftie, enjoys cooking tasty dishes, and loves taking walks in nature. When I asked her why she was willing to endure my pestering for an interview, her reasons mirrored my own: she felt the frustration of not having the information she needed during her first year and is excited to share the kind of advice she wished she’d had back then.

Making friends and finding support

One of the main challenges in first year revolves around making friends and establishing a solid support network. Tarushi understands this well, recalling how she used to “push herself to strike up conversations with random people in an attempt to make friends last year.” While this method can be great for meeting people spontaneously, it’s a mixed bag, as Tarushi points out. You could end up disappointed if you expect to “immediately gel with them.” 

Tarushi suggests trying to make friends in your classes, both within and outside your discipline. In my experience, it’s sometimes easier to initiate a conversation by finding common ground, such as sharing an academic interest. As Tarushi notes, having more similarities can indeed foster a “stronger bond,” and one great place to meet like-minded people within Trinity are the high table dinners. 

We also both want to highlight a wonderful aspect of Toronto and Trinity College: its rich cultural and ethnic diversity is great for finding friends to connect with culturally. Indeed, it can help you “feel less isolated, with people speaking your language and resembling you, especially if you’re very close to your family.” In particular, Trinity College has various cultural societies, like the Trinity College Chinese Student Association, Trinity College Korean Culture Club, or the Trinity Multicultural Society. 

Getting involved: Trinity College edition

Whether you’re eager to expand your social circle, gain valuable experience, or simply take a break from your academic routine, getting involved in your college is an excellent starting point. I can recall drowning in coursework during my first year and having no idea where to begin seeking extracurricular opportunities.

Tarushi offers some advice: keep a close watch on your emails and actively seek out the opportunities that come your way. These opportunities often appear in emails from Trinity College, the UTSU, and other discipline-specific sources. In the same vein, I’d recommend staying updated with Trinity College’s Instagram accounts and club profiles. That’s how Tarushi became an executive member of one of her favourite clubs this year, Rainbow Trinity, which advocates for LGBTQ+ student rights. It has provided her with an “incredible community” and allowed her to form strong connections with some “amazing people.”

As for me, I’ve always been an introverted person, but my experiences in Trinity clubs have significantly broadened my horizons. In fact, one of these experiences includes my role as a staff writer for Trinity Times in its Trinity Life Column! Besides that, I’d also personally suggest engaging with your community advisor and partaking in the array of events they work hard to put together.

Mental health

All in all, the advice I’ve shared so far revolves around a central theme of taking care of your mental health. In Tarushi’s experience, the transition back to residence life after a summer of living with a friend in downtown Toronto brought about an unexpectedly low period for her. One major realization, which I wholeheartedly agree with, is the importance of social interaction and changing your surroundings. Staring at the same four walls in your residence room all day can be monotonous. If studying alone in your room suits you best, that’s perfectly fine. However, having a designated study buddy or gym buddy, as Tarushi and I have been for each other this semester, can be instrumental to your own wellbeing—studying in libraries late into the night has definitely been the highlights of my university experience.

Another stressor that Tarushi highlights is the feeling of homesickness. This is a common experience for many first-year international students at Trinity. It can be an unexpectedly significant change when you “underestimate the shift and find the initial adjustment very difficult.” Tarushi points out that certain times of the year, like Thanksgiving or Christmas, can be especially tough. To help navigate these feelings, she suggests various resources at Trinity College, such as the peer mental health advisors, the Abbott room in St. Hilda’s with the wellness coordinators, as well as the Mindful Moments sessions every Thursday.

To be frank, it’s perfectly normal for university to not always feel like the best time of your life. The university and college experience isn’t always smooth sailing, and I often hear the narrative from many first-year students on feeling like just another number at U of T. But in both my and Tarushi’s experiences, getting involved with your college and making use of the wealth of resources Trinity College has to offer can help you genuinely transform that narrative from within, making your path here memorable and impactful in ways unique to yourself.

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