The Winter Break and Ways to Spend The Final Days of 2016!

The papers are mostly handed in, the exam studying has begun, and classes have stopped – for the first time since September, we’re all able to kind of chill. And yes, exams are coming up, and they’re stressful too. But, in the coming days of winter break, there will be a whole week of nothing. No classes to get ready for, no readings to do. The university is even closed. So… What exactly are we supposed to do until things start back up again?

Think about it. For the past three months, there’s always been homework to complete or a paper due within the next week. There has always been something to work on – even when I was “relaxing,” I was usually putting off an assignment of some sort. I’m not sure I totally remember how to function when I don’t have school to take up my time. But, having heard all sorts of different plans from different people, I’m sure me – and all of you – will figure something  out.

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Now, hearing from some of the people I’ve met in this first term, my winter break is pretty lackluster – I’m getting my wisdom teeth out, so there won’t be much to do anyways for me. Some of them? They’re going around the world to visit their families for a bit before school starts again. Some are even just going see friends, out of a lack of desire to fly so long for such a short stay. And that sounds so cool!

Others are taking the time to go and see friends from high school, or to see friends who live in different towns in the area. Me, I even had a friend coming home from University of Victoria. It’ll be like one of those reunions in some post-high school movie. Only, you know, more festive and less bitter and dramatic.

Others – and I would include myself in this group – are taking a more quiet approach. Catching up on the Netflix queue, watching movies for fun, reading books that have been piling up. I’ve personally got all the seasons of House of Cards to catch on, and have three new books to read. And of course, there’s the new Harry Potter movie to watch – can’t forget about that, right?

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And these are only three of the ways in which you could spend your winter break. There are any number of ways to chill when that little break from all the university stress comes around. Of course, if you’re anything like me, there’ll be a lot of thinking going on over the break too. Because, the truth is, just half a year ago, many of us were finishing high school.

Needless to say, a whole lot has changed since high school. Most of it for the better, too, actually. I mean, I used to not study… at all… for tests in high school. I cannot even fathom doing that here. Or, well, I can, but I would not be prepared to handle the anxiety of getting a bad grade, no way.  Can anyone else relate, or was that just my own really bad habit?

Another thing is the independence that comes with University. Whether you live on residence, at home, or somewhere else, there’s this feeling of adult-ness. Like I can actually kind of handle the grown up world of taxes and whatever else grown ups handle. Or at least, I can sort of fake it until I make it. Either way, I’d live with my parents hanging over my shoulder any more and that’s fun in its own way.

Regardless, there’s a lot to take in with the end of this semester. Whether you see it as a time to reflect on changes, or a time to relax and visit family and friends, it’s going to be good. So, I wish you all a great winter break, and I look forward to all the shenanigans waiting in 2017!

 

 

Exam Time Do’s and Don’ts

It’s the most wonderful time of the year…

For you to truly enjoy the upcoming holiday break, make sure to take a look at my personalized do’s and don’ts list. Hopefully it will help you get through that final fall term exam hurdle. We can do it!

DO spend at least a little time each day studying the subjects for which you have exams!  Even if you spend just fifteen minutes looking over a particularly complicated concept, give every course time. Your brain can only take in so much information per day, so trying to cram everything into the last minutes probably won’t go so well. Instead, if you do a little over a longer period of time, you’re sure to remember more information. Which will certainly help – especially if your exam has lots of multiple choice questions.

DO take frequent (but reasonably long) breaks! Believe it or not, even when under exam stress, you still need to eat, drink water, and have down time. Even if you just take ten minutes out of a long day of studying to eat a decent meal and scroll through facebook, it’s worth something! Trust me, a little break will give you a chance to de-stress a little, and to stay (somewhat) healthy as well!

DO sleep (or try to sleep) for seven to eight hours before your exam! I know that’s not always easy. Me, I usually become a vampire the night before a big exam – night falls and am I ever awake. But, that doesn’t mean I give up on resting! So, if you can manage it, go to bed early and get a good night’s sleep before the exam. And if you’re like me, too stressed to sleep, at least lay down and rest for a bit. Having some sort of rest might allow your mind to work a little more smoothly – too many hours without sleep does not do anything good to the brain.

DO complete the suggested review provided by your professors or TAs. This probably won’t apply to every course, but if it applies to one of yours, make the best of it! And even if the review is looking through old exams for the course, do use what is provided by people who know what might be on the exam. Better yet, if your course has an exam jam or some sort of exam study session, take advantage of it!

DO ask questions when you need to – whether you ask your friends in the course, or you email your professors or your TA. Be sure to clear up anything you’re uncertain about, or at least try to do so. After all, having clear information on everything your exam is about will surely help you answer your exam questions! And, if you are the kind of person who really likes to ask a lot of questions, make use of office hours and study with a classmate!

DON’T pull a bunch of consecutive all-nighters. NO! Do not do it – even if the library is open all through the night, you don’t necessarily make use of those extended hours. One night without sleep isn’t great, but doing it a few times in a row? It’s not a good plan, friend! Instead, leave yourself plenty of time during the day to study, so you can get your sleep in at night.

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(The dangers of stress)

DON’T binge watch a television series or a bunch of movies online. Maybe a few episodes here and there isn’t too bad, and a movie on a Saturday night won’t do any harm. But watching an entire series instead of studying is a no-go. Take it from someone who’s done it – I watched the entirety of The Office during my grade 12 exams last year and it didn’t do much good for my studying. I crammed and ended up a lot more stressed than I should have been. So, words of wisdom, Netflix is not your friend during exam time.

DON’T change your normal healthy habits dramatically. Part of staying mentally and physically well is being somewhat consistent, especially with your better habits. Exam time is not a time to mess with those sorts of things. Changing things around might give you additional stress, cause short-term health troubles, or might just distract from study time. So, be sure to keep things fairly consistent. Change is something to save for the new year, believe it or not.

DON’T come late for your exams. In fact, come early for your exams, give yourself time to get there (especially if you commute – account for traffic or late public transit). And remember too that exams start on the hour, not ten minutes after – which means if your exam is at 9:00, then it will start at 9:00, not 9:10 like a class might. Every minute late is a minute lost for exam writing, so be sure to get there in a timely fashion.

DON’T be too stressed out about it! Easier said than done, right? But, if it somehow is possible, try not to be too worried about your exams, because I am sure you will do awesomely! Don’t let the ‘Big Exam Scariness’ get to you, because at the end of the day, an exam is just a long-form quiz. It counts for a lot, sure, but if you keep calm and remember not to get intimidated, maybe some of the stress will go away. Either way, do your best, and best of luck!

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The Must-See Musical For Your Winter Break

Let’s get one thing straight – there are not a lot of Canadian musicals out there. And even those made in Canada by Canadians usually don’t feature it all that much. This is only the first thing that sets the new musical Come From Away apart from most other shows. Created and work shopped at Sheridan college, and currently playing in Toronto’s Royal Alexandra Theater, this is probably the best show I’ve ever seen – which is really saying something.

Come From Away tells the story of the town of Gander, Newfoundland, whose population doubled when 38 planes were diverted to its airport following the attacks on September 11, 2001. With limited supplies and an unwavering sense of hospitality, the town’s residents house almost 7000 passengers from around the world. They feed them, clothe them, invite them into their homes, all free of charge. Through the eyes of a number of narrators played by a cast of 10 actors, we see something begin on the day the world stopped – and (spoilers!), it’s not all good.

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(The cast of Come From Away, mid-performance)

Though broken by many moments that were so funny I nearly fell out of my seat, a heart-wrenching tale comes to light. A woman desperately tries to contact her son, a firefighter in New York City. A pilot reassures her husband everything is fine, even though she’s definitely not. An Egyptian man is put through search after security search. In those moments when I wasn’t laughing, I was on the verge of tears… talk about an emotional story.

Moreover, this musical is based on a bunch of true stories.

10 years later, those who met in Gander returned for an anniversary reunion. The stories collected during that reunion make up what you see on stage. Stories like that of Beverly Bass, the first woman to make captain of an American Airlines plane, who flew the 36th plane to land in Gander that day. The character based on Beverly at one point sings a song called “Me and the Sky,” which took her description of her life almost verbatim and put it to music.

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(Beverly Bass. Read her version of what happened in Gander here.)

Then there are stories like that of Nick and Diane, who met as they were stuck on their plane at the Gander airport for 28 hours straight. After it was all over, they eventually got married, in spite of the circumstances under which they met. It’s the sort of love story that gets all the emotions without hitting any of those typical Love-Story-in-a-Musical cliches. Why? Because it’s real.

I don’t think I could stress enough how amazing it is to bring real stories like this to the stage. Not only is is a great way to learn some history, but it’s a first hand way to see how this played out – almost straight from the people themselves. If there was ever a medium made for different perspectives, it’s musical theater. Just as well, we see how these peoples’ stories fit together (or didn’t fit together so well at times)… and that’s just so cool.

But the stories aren’t just there alone; the music they’re put to is played by a live, onstage band. Traditional instruments such as the bodhran, the fiddle, and even the ugly stick (just google it, because it’s kind of awesome) take to the stage. And those songs will be stuck in your head for days to come – me, I’m still humming the show’s opening number, “Welcome to the Rock.” It’s all just so well composed and well performed on stage, it makes it easy to get lost in the 100 minute long musical.

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(The band is specially featured during a musical number)

If you’re not already convinced that this is the greatest musical (ever), here’s something that really struck me about it. Come From Away brings alive a story that, frankly, I had never heard before. And it’s terrible, the circumstances under which these narratives were created. Yet at the same time, is beyond uplifting.

It shows this prevailing of the human spirit that I had almost forgotten about.

I mean, needless to say, we stand pretty divided right now. Polarized by the election, there’s just this feeling of separation. Like humanity is kind of coming apart. I won’t say Come From Away totally dispels that, because it doesn’t. Yet, at the same time, there’s an uplifting quality that made me feel as though there is still some hope for unity in the world.

In the end, I felt like things might be okay. Even though there is a tough world out there right now, there’s still some human decency. There’s still a compassion amongst people that can pull us all together. I needed to hear a message like that. At this point, I’m not even sure I have the words in me to describe what this show did to my spirit. Whatever it was, it was absolutely necessary.

What else is so cool about it? It was made at Sheridan – whose theater program has a partnership with UTM! It was university students who first put on this show, who were the first to bring these stories to life. All this was done by way of an awesome initiative called the Canadian Music Theater Project – meant to foreground Canadian theater written by Canadian authors. People just like you and me participated in putting a story in need of telling onto the stage. That just makes me smile.

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(Come From Away’s original Sheridan cast)

So, if you can find tickets (they are going fast), and need something to do over your winter break, head down to Toronto and catch Come From Away. It runs until early January, before it heads to Broadway in February. I promise, this is totally worth the trip – don’t miss out!

(For information on the show and tickets, check out Come From Away’s official website.)

Can The Procrastination Problem Be Solved?

When you have homework but don’t want to do it, you usually will:

  • A) Clean or do other chores
  • B) Watch a movie or watch TV
  • C) Practice a time consuming hobby
  • D) I don’t usually try and avoid homework.

If you answered A), B), or C), then congratulations! You, my friend, have procrastinated at some point. If you answered D), then good for you, that is some great self-control.

Because when it come to procrastinating – I’ve done it all. Cleaned my messy room. Practiced for outside of school activities. Watched the entirety of my YouTube subscriptions. I’ve even started watching a new show on Netflix (it’s House of Cards and it’s fantastic). None of these activities has succeeded in doing anything more than to cut down on my homework time. Not a single distraction in the world could eliminate the fact that, when all is said and done, homework needs to get done.

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When you’re a hard-core procrastinator with a fear of failure – much like myself – that list there has to be finished. And that includes the last item. The problem is, who really wants to hunker down and get stuff done when, really, it’s hard and movies are fun. I mean, I find school pretty rewarding, I like learning. But that won’t stop me from choosing almost anything over essays on any given weeknight.

See, the thing is, when you’re procrastinating, there’s a whole new mindset: Most of the time, deadlines are coming up and projects… NEED TO BE DONE SOON!!!! When you’re putting things off, what should be given a good number of hours for completion, will miraculously be finished in the wee hours of the day it’s due on.

Doesn’t usually feel that great…

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(When your essay’s due tomorrow and you’re only halfway done)

So how do we beat procrastination? I mean, it’s not something I see being solved by study tips. You can say don’t procrastinate all you want, I’m inclined to bitterly mutter “try and stop me” under my breath as I click on a new hour-long YouTube video. In fact, having tried some of those study tips (write in an empty room, listen to white noises, etc) I still found myself procrastinating anyways – there’s always something else to do.

Instead of trying to focus on one thing for a long time, which sounds un-fun, let’s try something new. Something to erase that panicky essay writing but also to avoid just sitting at a desk and working for waaaay too long. In the words of Hannah Montana, we have to get the best of both worlds. A  little distraction, but also, a little work – preferably work that isn’t done at 3 AM the day the paper’s due.

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Let’s look back at that opening question. If you answered A), then maybe your way to get to work is to alternate – do one task, then put that down and do a little homework. Once you’re done a homework session, go on to the next chore you have. If you answered B) then maybe you watch a half hour of whatever you’re watching, then pause to do a piece of homework. Once you’re done, repeat that cycle. If you answered C), then maybe set a goal to reach with your hobby, and once you’ve reached it, but that down and do homework. Again, repeat the cycle.

(If you answered D), then you’ve already got your system down, and I wish I had your ability to just go and do work. You just keep on doing you!)

The bottom line is, it’s not going to be easy to get out of the habit. I’ve been doing it for a long time, and I only sometimes can win over procrastination. Things get done, of course, but I always wish I had more time for them. Which, of course is sadly ironic: it was me who gave myself so little time in the first place, after all. But, I think after a lot of time and practice, I’ll be able to figure it out. And so will all of you, for that matter! We’re all capable of figuring out just how to overcome to want to not do homework in a timely fashion.

Let’s just hope that’s figured out sooner rather than later, right?

Quiz Yourself! What’s Your Ideal UTM Study Space?

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That’s right – the first term of classes has come to an end, and that means, exam studying is beginning. Which means it’s time to get those notes together, hunker down, and get studying! There’s a lot that goes into a good study session – a good deal of hours, many cups of coffee/tea, probably a couple tears (I speak from experience) – and if there’s one thing to make it all come together, it’s choosing the right place.

Whether you love absolute silence or can’t stand studying alone, either way there’s a place for you. So answer these 7 questions, keep track of how many times you answer each letter, and find out the best place on campus for you to study for your exams!

What do you think about studying with friends?

  • A) It’s great!
  • B) It’s pretty good.
  • C) It’s okay at times.
  • D) I’m not a fan of it.

What is an ideal energy level for a study space – do you like having a lot of people moving and talking around you?

  • A) High, busy energy that can keep my mind going. I like movement and sound, it keeps my mind going.
  • B) Medium-high energy with some busyness. I like to have a little going on around me.
  • C) Medium-low energy that isn’t too noticeable. I’d rather not be alone, but I find people moving around distracting.
  • D) Low energy that is minimal and unnoticeable. The less movement there is, the better.

What do you think of complete silence when you’re studying?

  • A) I cannot stand it – it’s actually more distracting then people all talking around me.
  • B) I don’t really like it, there has to be some white noise in the background in order for me to focus.
  • C) I don’t mind it, but then a little talking isn’t too bad either.
  • D) I absolutely love it. No noise during study time really lets me stay in my study-zone mentally.

Studying by simply reading over notes is:

  • A) Really not my way of studying.
  • B) A basis for studying, but not a method that fully works for me. I like to start by looking over notes, then have discussions about the topic.
  • C) A pretty good way of studying, so long as it can occasionally be broken up by some conversation and questions.
  • D) An ideal way to study for me!

Studying by quizzing yourself and others, or using flashcards to study is:

  • A) My favorite way to study!
  • B) A pretty good way to study.
  • C) An okay way to study, though I’d rather have it mixed in with other methods.
  • D) Not my way of studying at all.

Would you considered using a Peer Facilitated Study Group (offered by the RGASC) to  help you study?

  • A) Totally, it sounds like a great format for me!
  • B) It’s highly likely that I would, sure!
  • C) Maybe I’d try it out a couple times and see how it goes…
  • D) Probably not, but I would maybe try it once to see what it’s like.

What are you most likely to be distracted by?

  • A) Off-topic conversation.
  • B) Social media or YouTube.
  • C) Other people talking, especially to me.
  • D) Pretty much any noise or movement.

Results:

If you mostly answered A): Choose somewhere busy, with a lot of stimulating movement and conversation. You like to study with friends and talk about the material – having constant silence is kind of uncomfortable. Lots of noise and movement can inspire your mind, and allows you to talk if you want to. And, if you need to, putting in headphones and focusing in is possible too, without much chance of being distracted by the others around you. Just remember to stay focused on your topic! Suggested locations: the Gathering Place or the Temporary Food Court in the Davis Building, or any of the common conversational spaces around campus, like IB or CCT.

If you mostly answered B): Choose somewhere with a moderate amount of noise, but not enough that you’ll find yourself annoyed or distracted. Maybe you like studying quietly with a few friends, so you can focus and ask the occasional question, but then maybe you also like studying alone with some white noise in the background. Either way, busy energy is too much be having nothing just feels a bit weird. Be sure to keep your mind from wandering, though – social media isn’t exactly a good way to cement your course knowledge! Suggested locations: the Kaneff Center, the ground floor of the library, or (if you have a few friends to study with) a study room in the library or in IB.

If you mostly answered C): Choose somewhere that is almost or completely silent, but that isn’t totally isolated. Whether you like to put in your headphones, work with a friend, or just get down to it, you like to be without background noise and you don’t like a lot of movement. But, you’d rather not be completely by yourself. Focusing on what you’re doing without having the chance to let others distract you works best in your study time. Remember to stick to it and not to get too stressed – you got this! Suggested locations: the upper floors of the library or of IB, or in Deerfield Hall.

If you answered mostly D): Choose somewhere that is absolutely silent and where there is no one around making noise or moving a lot. You like to have absolutely uninterrupted focus on what you’re looking at, and even the slightest thing can throw you off a bit. Instead, it just has to be you and your notes, where all your mind has to think about is what you’re doing. You keep your head in the game – just remember to take a break every now and then. Suggested places: a personalized study space where you reside, the Silent Study Zones on the first, third, and fourth floors of the library, maybe Deerfield Hall (ideally earlier or later in the day).

Which study location is your personal favourite and why?