Munk One

Reflections of a first year student: Joel Ndongmi

An email on March 13th spelt a definitive change for the rest of the year. Due to COVID-19, my classmates and I wouldn’t be able toJoel Ndongmi at a street fair. finish this school year on campus. With this sudden goodbye to academic life, I wasn’t able to say proper goodbyes to my friends, my professors and to the place that has been a source of so much growth this year.

I remember feeling a surge of joy but also being perplexed at the thought of navigating the rest of my courses online. At the time, I remember finishing my Caffiends shift (a student-run café at Victoria College), grabbing a cinnamon bun, and heading to The Cat’s Eye (Victoria’s commuter student lounge).

Reflecting on my first year brings mixed emotions. While this year has been a tough adjustment academically and socially for myself, it also provided me with opportunities and insight into potential fields of study and careers I would want to pursue. Coming into my first year, I didn’t know what I wanted to major in. Part of me wanted to study something related to political science, while the other wanted to study linguistics, English literature, or perhaps music history. While my course selection gave me more exposure to these topics, they definitely did not narrow my potential scope of degree options; rather, they made me more excited about the prospects of studying different subjects.

As I talked to upper-year students about their program choices, I realized (in the best way possible) that they were also clueless at what they should pursue after their degrees due to the broad range of their interests. This led me to understand that uncertainty regarding the “practicality” of my degree will always be a defining part of my undergraduate experience. While others would see this as something to worry about, I see uncertainty more as the flair, or in other words, the spice of life. After all, a career wouldn’t be appreciated without some of the risks it entails! Beyond that, being unsure can act as a motivator to find enriching opportunities. Those opportunities will hopefully push me towards a set of more tangible career options.

The University of Toronto campus at sunset.My first year of university has also reassured me that paths to your final destination are not necessarily linear. And, given the right circumstances, it’s possible to switch into a different degree or different career path.

Part of me realizing this is due to the student diversity in the Munk One program. These students were hoping to major in fields such as computer science to global health to political science all the while providing interesting points of view in class. The Munk One classroom environment invited me to consider the intersections between different schools of thought and work disciplines. To some extent, that empowered me to understand that there is a lot of career flexibility if one looks for those intersections.

Another defining factor in my first-year experience has been commuting to campus. Commuting (and having a part-time job) can make it difficult to find a sense of belonging at a school as large as the University of Toronto. Thankfully, various facilities gave me a second home on campus. Those include the Cat’s Eye and Caffiends at Victoria College. The Cat’s Eye is where I met the bulk of my friends and did most of my “studying.” (If that’s what you call it when you have your notes spread open while socializing with your peers...)

The sudden change in education format also made me realize that the university had gained a special place in my heart. I attribute much growth and development to my first year. In September, I wasn’t ready to leap from high school to university. I remember coasting the first two weeks without realizing that, I would soon have my first wave of midterms. And, after that, the year began spiralling with endless assignments. Not only did the endless assignments refine my time-management skills, but they also improved my ability to ask for help when it was needed.

I would be remiss to not mention the beauty of the campus in this reflection. On my long walks between classes,  what captured me was theVictoria College at the University of Toronto, a blue sky in the background beauty of the campus. I often found myself stopping my stride to admire antique buildings (somewhat anachronistically) paired with newer structures. You’ll find my amateur photography content throughout this reflection!

Although these times are puzzling, I think that they helped me rediscover a simpler life. This is not to romanticize life in quarantine, but it’s simply to say that I’ve been reacquainted with a slower pace of life. I’m no longer worried about my commute or making it to class on time. This quarantine season, I’ve rediscovered my appreciation for writing and nature walks. Most importantly, I’ve rediscovered my appreciation for being surrounded by my family.