Lessons Learned Part 3: look forward

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Figuring out who you are is hard work.

I’ve always thought that I would “arrive” at some point. Where? At adulthood. At happiness. At completeness.

It has turned out that life is less about waiting for any of these things, and more about fighting for them in the present.

Finding out who you are seems to be just as challenging as wrestling an angry water buffalo in a large, muddy puddle. In my own experience, it has required:
– failure
– embarrassment
– pondering the worst parts of my character and my past

University has provided ample opportunity for all of the above, because it has pushed me academically, tested the strength of my will, and stressed my emotions.

Yet, every challenge has been an opportunity to grow: into adulthood, into happiness, into completeness.

Here’s a reminder for you and for myself. When discouragement begins to weigh heavily in the midst of struggles, don’t dwell in the past.

Look forward.

Fin.

End note:

I was hasty in writing that “Lessons Learned” would last “a week or so.” Although I had every intention of writing it in that span of time, I had a lot more to write about than I thought I would, and it took a lot more out of me than I anticipated. In spite of my tardiness, thanks for sticking around.

And I still want to know. What lessons have you learned this semester/year/day?

Hope you’re having a swell break.

Lessons Learned Part 2: relationships of convenience

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Relationships of convenience: shallow friendships that come out of seeing someone around often; the type of friendship you would never inconvenience yourself to maintain.

I have a theory. The major difference between relationships in high school and university is the number of “relationships of convenience” that we keep. In high school, we spend lots of time with the same people. The result is an accumulation of lots of “friends” who aren’t really our  friends (let’s be honest). In university, circumstances change. There is less class, we might be commuting to school, and people are generally busier with life. It’s harder to see people regularly, so we end up with fewer and deeper friendships.
It’s tough to overcome the transition. A lot of people (myself included) have found themselves facing the brick wall of loneliness in the first few months of school. Since I transferred to Glendon from Keele this year, I found myself starting from the ground up once more, as I was finding my place in a new school community.
Finding friends in unfamiliar situations is a daunting task, but it is conquerable!

I’ve learned that I need to be intentional. Relationships die when they’re neglected, but flourish when we take risks, give our time to others, and put our hearts on the line. It can be uncomfortable, but it’s worth it.

I thought some of my closest friends might have something useful to say on the subject of relationships and intentionality, so I asked them what they’ve learned about relationships in their second year of university.

“Time just flies by and university can be really overwhelming. It’s really easy to shove making friends by the wayside, so it’s important to make time for socializing the same way you would for going to the gym and finishing your readings.”

“If you want friends or acquaintances in university, you can’t be afraid of being judged or always think about what other people think about you. Don’t be afraid to initiate contact with people!”

“What’s useful is thinking more about the other person as opposed to you. ‘I’d really like to talk to them,’ instead of ‘what are they going to think of me?’” 

What are your thoughts on friendships and relationships?

Lessons Learned Part 1: free to fail

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For the longest time, I have been afraid of failure.

I wasn’t cognizant of this until November, when I realized how much of a hold fear had on me. I handed in what I knew was an awful essay. I think a normal person would have resolved to “do better next time” and moved on, but I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I kept imagining my T.A. reading the essay and reviling me for being stupid; I couldn’t resist berating myself for being so lazy with my work; I was slavishly considering whether I should rewrite the darn thing and suffer a late penalty.
On top of all this, for the entire week leading up to the deadline, I was filled with dread, knowing that I was bound to do an awful job. I was constantly asking other people if I could finish it, looking for assurances.
All the while I was thinking, why is this such a big deal?
It was a big deal because the stakes were high. Somewhere along the line, I started believing the lie that who I am is what I accomplish. This fear was the product of my “fake self” fighting for its survival. For it to live, I needed to avoid failure at all costs so that the lie its existence was founded upon could be preserved.
But it happened anyways. I failed.
I handed in an essay that was totally sub-standard, and so I braced myself for all the unpleasant consequences that were sure to follow. After all, my incompetence was now confirmed. This was it! It was only a matter of time before I would start failing in every other course, my parents would disown me, and the principal of the school would crown me with a dunce cap and kick me out of Glendon.
Right? …right?
Obviously none of these things happened. Failure had quite a few pleasant effects, specifically, it dispelled the irrational beliefs that I had been carrying like burdens.
My “fake self” suffered a fatal blow and I realized that it was not me.
I met failure, and now failure is becoming a friend.
How do you think about failure? Do you hate it or love it? What have you learned from failure in the past?

It is finished. (Boo-yah!)

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She emerged from the room, hair bedraggled, nails long and yellow, coffee stains on her dress. “Who on earth are you?!” they shrieked. She turned her head and hissed “Essstherr afterrr exam weeek!”
(a typical scene following past exam periods; specifically those of spring 2007, winter 2008 & 2010)
As you might guess, exam periods have hit me pretty hard in the past. In first year, especially, I was incredibly nervous about all of my examinations because I fell behind in my readings at the very beginning of the year.
This year I lucked out because exams weren’t bad at all. I only had one panic attack (sort of), I slept for 8 hours every night (there’s no point in cramming late at night for my brain, anyways), and I think that I did pretty well on most of them. The overall lack of misery this year was probably due to the fact that I actually kept up in most of my courses throughoutthe semester, so by the time exams rolled around, I was actually ready to be tested (Hah! Take that, procrastination!).
It’s hard to believe that a semester of my new school life at Glendon has already passed because it’s so easy to let time go by without realizing it. From time to time though, I have this hankering to uncover what time has taught me. Otherwise, I feel like I’m letting all of my experiences go to waste. Life has a funny way of repeating itself, and I don’t want to have to learn the same hard lesson twice (e.g. worrying is pointless, procrastinating = pain in the long run, dairy does not cooperate with my digestive system). It’s actually the same kind of principle I apply to school: prepare yourself now so that you’ll stand when you’re tested later.
Seeing as the semester is over, I’ve decided to release 3 mini-posts about the “life lessons” that I’ve learned. I’ll be posting one every few days for the next week or so. My hope is that you’ll start to think about what it is that you’ve been learning in your own journey.
By the way, I’d really love to learn from your experiences, so feel free to share them with me as the series unfolds.
Thanks for reading,
Esther

What is International Studies?

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If you’re confused about the difference between politics, international relations, and international studies, you’re not alone.

So what is the International Studies Program?

“International Studies examines how governments, law, politics, and businesses relate on the international stage.”
[The official Glendon International Studies program webpage]

“International studies is an increasingly common major… [what] unites all these programs is that they try to interpret major global trends…”
[Introduction to International and Global Studies, Shawn Smallman]

It’s hard to pin down what the international studies program is about specifically, because it is a multidisciplinary degree. In other words, it combines many different disciplines including political science, economics, and history. This is an advantage, because it allows the student to cultivate a “big picture” understanding of the world. In international studies, a wide range of topics are covered like globalization, peace/security, human rights, and culture.

Why Glendon?

Taking the international studies degree program at Glendon offers some pretty nifty perks.

1. Second (or Third) Language Education + A More Immersive Experience
First and foremost, Glendon gives you the opportunity to develop a second language, regardless of what level of ability you’re at (the last time I studied French was grade 9). Knowing a second language sets you apart in the working world, and is particularly useful if you want to pursue a career in diplomacy, development, or anything else abroad. I realized this when I worked at an international development organization this summer. Many of the people working there were speaking French! Language skills also make your degree practical, improving your job prospects, and likely raising your pay in the long run. Plus, bilingualism opens a lot of doors on a personal level (e.g. it will enable you to speak to that very attractive French guy/girl! I kid, I kid…)

Other advantages: Glendon offers courses in Spanish, has an excellent language certificate program, and runs a Salon Francophone where students can go to practice their French skills with other students.

[Read more about the iBA]

2. Summer Internships
York University offers amazing summer internships with $2000 bursaries every year to dozens of students. Two of my friends have already applied and gone to Costa Rica and the Congo. York has dozens of international exchange opportunities as well.

3. The Opportunity to Make Your Degree International
Glendon offers different variations of the international studies major. One way to customize your degree is to make it international, by taking higher level language courses, and going on exchange to another part of the world during the year. Doing this kind of specialization is another way to add depth to your degree.

Why I decided to study international studies.

Put simply,
I love the world and I want to understand it, so that I can do something to change it for the better.

More complicatedly…
More than ever, the local is tied to the global. The ethnic composition of my community has been influenced by international migration push/pull factors. The coffee that I drink represents complex trade flows and workers’ rights. My human rights are dictated by national and international levels.

In this increasingly globalized world, ignorance is not an option!

 
I wanted to study something that would give me the understanding I need to live as a globally aware citizen. It’s a plus that international studies will help me pursue a career in diplomacy, policy-making, development work, or law.

If you think you might be interested in international studies, there are a couple things that you might want to do next.
1. Check out the international studies webpage (or scour the internet for more info).
2. Chat with me via twitter, blog comment, or formspring. If you’re interested in the iBA, check out eAmbassador Drew, who’s getting his in political science!
3. Sit in on an actual university lecture at Glendon through our Shadow Program. This is a great experience regardless of what major is interesting you, because it will give you first-hand experience with the university lecture. Find more info about this here.

So those are the basics.

If you have any more questions or something needing clarification, please don’t hesitate to ask.
I’m looking forward to hearing from you!

Fwinter

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I already griped about this in my Lunik post, but I feel the need to say this again. The transition from fall to winter is a cruel, cruel purgatory. Behold: fwinter.
Complaining about the weather is easy, but I’ve realized that there is real beauty in a person who can find joy in all of the seasons. Like lately, my friend has been telling me about her mom, who she says has always anticipated winter instead of dreading it. I respect that kind of optimism.
So here is my attempt at being a more content and optimistic person – I’ve thought up some ways that “fwinter” is special.
The first thing that comes to mind: Fwinter is the ideal time for brisk walks. It’s not too cold, but not too hot. There’s something uniquely refreshing about taking one; it clears out your lungs and your mind. In fact, Glendon is an ideal location for a fwinter walk (nudge), because it’s surrounded by forests.

Side note: tromping through the leaves makes me feel like a kid again.

Fwinter is excellent for drinking lots of deliciously warm homemade beverages. Chai tea, milk tea, hot chocolate with a frothed top… satisfaction is holding one of these babies and wearing an itchy sweater. It’s no mystery why the milk frother is my favourite non-essential kitchen utensil…  
Fwinter is an ideal time to start looking forward to winter. I find that it’s really easy to let a season slip by if you don’t set some goals. So I’ve already decided what I want to do when winter comes, before it comes.

[This is my list so far. Do you have one? Comment below!]
Fwinter is the time to give. It’s right before the holidays, so there are lots of opportunities. This year my family/church is doing Operation Christmas Child, so we’ll be filling up shoe boxes with toys, practical things, and candy for a kids around the world. It’s a small thing, but sweet nevertheless. 
Lastly… fwinter is for Fall Campus Day! (This is technically a fall thing, but for the sake of this post I’m going to pretend that it’s not.) I actually just came from FCD, where I spent the day (wo)manning the popcorn machine. It was an awesome experience, but if you missed it, don’t worry. More events are forthcoming, and you can book a campus tour anytime! 
So the season is good.

Brisk walks. Hot chocolate. Seasonal planning. Giving. Fall Campus Day. What do you do during this time of year? Leave a comment below; I’d love to know!

Ideas for creativity …

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Let me tell you a secret. To produce art, you have to produce garbage first – a lot of it. If you want to write something amazing (and you’re not a genius), most of the time you’ll have to churn out a few bad ideas before brilliance hits. This isn’t to say that sometimes artistic genius isn’t struck on a whim. This is to say that moments of artistic genius usually follow many other failed tries.

This realization has helped me with my school work, creative projects, and just about everything in between. When I’m about to start a project, and I want it to be perfect, I’m probably setting the bar too high for myself. The fear and procrastination that result from this get nothing done. But starting something and failing at it is constructive in the long run.

I’m always trying to find ways to be more creative, because I like to write and I dabble in design as well. These are some of the things that I’ve learned from other people that I’ve found useful.

The creation of good art follows many, many, many unsuccessful tries.
In other words: When you create something, don’t expect that it will be amazing the first time you put any effort in. Be patient with your work and yourself. Don’t get discouraged.

Sometimes a good idea isn’t obvious.
In other words: Don’t underestimate the potential of your ideas. Amazing ideas may not look amazing, or even sane, on paper. Take a lesson from da Vinci, Thomas Edison, Steve Jobs, and the slap chop guy.

[da Vinci’s famous helicopter sketch]

While it is good to be humble about your work, and to be open to criticism from others, don’t give up on an idea that you believe in when others don’t. Once I was listening to Glenn Marais, a songwriter, speak about creativity. Apparently the first time he played his song Everybody Wants to be Like You for his band, they all thought it was awful. Yet he kept working at it and it became the fifth most-played song in Canadian history.

The more ideas you come up with, the more good ideas you’ll come up with.
Write everything down. Carry a notebook (find the perfect one here) so that you can catch every stray idea that enters your mind. On top of developing your creative thinking skills, you’ll be archiving doses of inspiration for later use. Boo-yah.

[My pretentious Moleskine notebook.]

You are what you consume.
In other words: Read, watch, and listen to good stuff, because these things will be reflected in your thoughts, abilities, and ideas. Stretch yourself occasionally by tackling a book/movie/album that you find intimidating or strange. In grade 12 I decided to read Little Dorrit, and while all 850 pages were slightly painful to read, I ended up really liking the book and learning a lot from it.

So that’s all I have. What ideas for creativity can you share? Tell me in the comments!

[Also! Read my fellow eAmbassador Juan’s personal, honest, and sort-of-related post about inspiration.]

*Ideas stolen from Brooke Fraser, Glenn Marais, Eric Courtney, Annalise Huynh, Thomas Edison, the slap-chop guy