Five Munk One students smile at the library of the Munk School's observatory building.
Munk One

The Munk One Difference

Around a year ago, I faced the difficult choice of where to attend university, and I was looking into countless programs and universities with hopes of finding where I would spend the next four years. Then, suddenly, I received a notification that led me to choose UofT: the acceptance email to the Munk One program. I instantly knew that Munk One encapsulated precisely what I was seeking: a program with a hands-on focus on addressing global challenges while ensuring small classrooms within such a large university.

Months passed, and it was orientation day, marking the beginning of my journey at Munk One. I sat at the table in a boardroom at the Munk School and looked around the room to see my peers, many of whom would become some of my closest friends. The event promptly began, and Professors Kingsbury and Wong shared their opening remarks. Professor Wong, who shared a very vivid story of his Reach Alliance research trip to Brazil, gave us a piece of advice that strongly resonated with me: “Study what you’re passionate about, not what you’re good at because as first-year students, you’re not really good at anything yet.” I was (and still am) not sure of what I am good at, let alone what I am passionate about, so the timing of Professor Wong’s advice was perfect, as it pushed me to approach my classes and readings from a new perspective from the very beginning, one that focused on exploration rather than expectations. Instead of figuring out what I excelled at, I embraced the idea of using this time to discover my passions. After the Professors left, students played several icebreakers to get to know each other, and as I started to get to know my classmates, I was impressed by the range of backgrounds and experiences of the cohort. From Turkey to Brazil and from international relations to physics, the characteristic linking Munk One students most is their determination to make the world a better place. This diversity was present throughout the year and allowed for exciting discussions incorporating multiple perspectives and a multidisciplinary approach to projects.

The Munk One 2022-23 Cohort at the gardens of the Munk School's Trinity building.Classes began the next day, starting with Professor Wong’s MUN101 seminar at 8:00 a.m. sharp. The first reading of the seminar was titled “Stop Trying to Save the World,” which surprised me as I thought Munk One was about learning how to save the world, not the other way around. The reading criticized international development projects that fail due to the projects’ ambitions to save the world and how many of these projects are out of touch with the communities most impacted by the problems they are attempting to address. To demonstrate this, the author uses a merry-go-round water pump in Sub-Saharan Africa as a case study. The discussion that followed this reading challenged and pushed me to question my understanding of the world as I knew it, and this was true for every other discussion and reading of the semester, whether it regarded the underground economy of Chicago, freedom of speech in the workplace, or the 1854 Broad Street Cholera Outbreak. Beyond the thought-provoking discussions, Professor Wong ensured that MUN101 helped us understand how to make the most out of university and life. Two sessions particularly stood out. The first was when Jason Sealey, the head coach of Professor Wong’s Reach Alliance, visited us and guided us through developing our own “personal philosophy,” a set of guiding principles to become our best selves. The second was when Professor Wong invited a group of accomplished Munk One alums to talk to us. The day before the session, I was reading their bios–Harvard MBA, Columbia Masters, McKinsey, etc.–so I expected a session where they would share how great they were and how they became successful, but it was actually the opposite. They were vulnerable with us and shared many stories that resonated with me, such as being nervous about participating in the same class I was shy about participating in and struggling with the same assignments I was struggling with, which spoke highly about the Munk One community. This session taught me that it is okay to ask for help, it is okay to say “I don’t know,” and it is okay to be vulnerable. Throughout MUN101, the class discussions pushed me to step out of my comfort zone and gain confidence in my speaking abilities, the readings made me question the many injustices present in the world, and the special sessions gave me tools to navigate life more confidently. I am deeply grateful to have taken this once-in-a-lifetime class with Professor Wong, and I am excited to see future generations of students being impacted by his teaching.

Going back to the first day of classes, after MUN101, the cohort walked together to Professor Kingsbury’s MUN105 lab. To be honest, I wasn’t as excited for MUN105 as I was for other components of the program, as, based on the reading list, I expected it to be a boring research methods class. But I was wrong. MUN105 was a transformative experience that expanded my understanding of the world and sparked my research interest. An early highlight of the class was the Ethnography of Kensington Market, in which we were asked to investigate how the sustainable development goal we were assigned on the first day of classes is advanced at Kensington Market. My group and I were clueless about how to approach this assignment, as we were assigned the fourth Sustainable Development Goal, Quality Education, and there were just a few schools in the area. But when we took a trip to Kensington’s pedestrian Sunday and started talking to business owners and community members, everything clicked: Kensington is a hub of cultural learning that seeks to re-connect people to their own cultures and invite those from other cultures to immerse themselves. This was the case for me, as I felt nostalgic when I talked to the owner of a Mexican supermarket while he was showing me many of the snacks I would eat as a kid. However, when talking to the owner of a Peruvian restaurant, she taught me about the variety of dishes they would serve, which allowed me to have a better understanding of Peruvian culinary culture. This assignment sparked my interest in research as I felt immersed in the community and realized that I would not have reached those conclusions without directly engaging with the community. This experience was reinforced later in the semester when conducting the interviews for the intervention assessment assignment, in which I was analyzing the impact of an organization that developed educational programs for inmates in local correctional facilities. While I understood the institutional perspective of carceral education through a literature review, it wasn’t until I talked to stakeholders (in hours-long conversations originally scheduled for twenty minutes) that I understood the importance and impact of their programs. These two experiences in the first semester allowed my SDG group to approach our second-semester project with a perspective of engagement and collaboration with those we hope to impact. Beyond the incredible research exposure, since it was a year-long lab, I am going to miss the little things that routinely happened every week in MUN105, from the conversations I had with my lab TA as we waited for class to start to the weekly group jaywalk across Bloor Street on our way to Professor Kingsbury’s office hours to bombard him with questions on assignments or talk about anything, such as the best taquerias in town, tea flavours, or municipal politics. MUN105, thanks to Professor Kingsbury’s help and guidance, will remain one of the most interesting, challenging, and rewarding experiences of my university career, which I will remember as the class that introduced me and exposed me to research.

The Munk One 2022-23 Cohort having lunch after conducting fieldwork for the Ethnography of Kensington Market.Looking back on my experience in Munk One, I am filled with gratitude and a sense of personal growth. If I had one singular takeaway from Munk One, is that it is the community’s strength, involvement, and passion that make it such a memorable experience. It is having the best Professors and Teaching Assistants on campus committed to each student’s learning, a talented group of students passionate about the topics learned in class that collaborate with each other to make learning more exciting and fun, an incredible work-study supervisor committed to each assistant’s professional growth, and an active alumni network working to strengthen the Munk One community that all make this program so great. As I conclude my journey in the program, I am excited to carry forward the lessons learned and the experiences gained into my classes next year, my research at the Reach Alliance, and my overall personal and academic journey.