Dear First Year Me

by | May 1, 2018 | Jewish Life at Ryerson | 0 comments

Dear First Year Noa,

Here are 10 things you should know upon entering your first year of university.

  1. That other new student sitting beside you in class? They’re just as nervous as you are! Don’t be afraid to introduce yourself, and hopefully make a new friend. You can never have enough people to exchange notes with, especially around finals.
  2. Get to know your professors! Just saying hello and thank you at the beginning and end of class is a great way to start. Let them help you do your best, and build that relationship in case you have any problems during the semester. They’re also a great resource when you start exploring what you want to do after you graduate – it happens faster than you think!
  3. That class you’re thinking about skipping? Don’t do it. Get in the habit, from the beginning, of thinking about university as the job you have to do now – you’re a student! You wouldn’t want to skip out on work, don’t skip out on school.
  4. Don’t be afraid to use your connections! University is the best time to start working on those networking skills – your new friends and profs will be more than happy to be part of your journey.
  5. Thinking about studying abroad? Do it! Take this chance to explore a new place, culture and language, with the added bonus of an awesome support structure at your host university.
  6. Get involved! That can be anything from attending an event or joining a planning committee. There are so many amazing organizations both on and off campus who are looking for someone with the skills only you have. Show them what you’ve got!
  7. You know how great pulling an all-nighter looks in movies? It’s almost never worth it. Keeping on top of your workload won’t always be easy, but maybe skip that party the week you have something big due. An amazing teacher of mine once said, better to keep up than to catch up. It’s even more true in university!
  8. Don’t be afraid to ask questions! You aren’t the first person to be  starting university, and you won’t be the last. Learn from the people around you, practice your writing and learn how to reference – it’s a skill you won’t regret.
  9. Not quite sure where you’re heading with your degree (or your life)? Find someone who you look up to! It doesn’t even have to be in the industry you think you’re interested in. People are more generous with their time than you might think – reach out! Worst case scenario, you don’t hear back but in the best case, you get a coffee with someone awesome and you can learn about how they got where they are.
  10. Most importantly, remember how lucky you are to be here! Though it may not always feel that way (read: tests and papers), enjoy this amazing opportunity to totally immerse yourself in your learning, and be a little selfish!
The Sukkot Wellness Challenge

The Sukkot Wellness Challenge

I love the holiday of Sukkot and look forward to it every year. While often overshadowed by the High Holy Days, I find that it offers us a chance to relax after the intensity of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. For a week, we are invited to enjoy the outdoors, to celebrate abundance, and to express gratitude (going back to the holiday’s roots as a celebration of a successful harvest season). 

Yet, accessing the joy, the gratitude, and the togetherness of Sukkot seemed almost impossible given the challenges posed by the pandemic, and the fact that we as a Hillel community remain scattered across the GTA (and beyond!), spending most of our days connecting only virtually. 

At the same time, perhaps the most important word of our season has been “wellness.” We, students and staff, have been particularly attuned to the need to care for our mental, physical, spiritual, and emotional wellbeing. To state the obvious, it’s a tough time. As a Hillel community, we knew we had to try to meet the moment. 

Students from York, Ryerson and UofT gathered to brainstorm together: What did they need most right now? What did their friends, classmates, and peers need? How could we find a way to both celebrate Sukkot and care for ourselves across virtual time and space? 

What emerged was Sukkot Wellness Week, a menu of experiences that spanned the week of Sukkot, offering multiple ways to mindfully care for ourselves and each other.

First, there was a daily instagram prompt, alternating between thoughtful and silly questions about Sukkot, inviting students to think about their favourite fall comfort foods, Sukkah decorations, and what special guests they would welcome into their metaphorical (or actual) Sukkah. 

Second, we offered a different experience each day, focused on a different area of wellness.

  • Spiritual: on Tuesday, students joined me in learning Jewish texts related to the deep connections between Sukkot and wellness.
  • Mental: on Wednesday, students hosted a Wellness Wednesday check-in, a preview of what we hope will be a regular fixture in our Hillel calendar. 
  • Physical: On Thursday, a student prepared a meditation to offer us a chance to breathe and to pay attention to how we were feeling in our bodies. 
  • Emotional: On Friday, a student led trivia and other games as a way to destress from the week. Much laughter ensued.

By design, there was something for everyone. More importantly, Sukkot Wellness Week set the stage for an ongoing conversation about how we care for our full selves, and how this is deeply grounded in what it means to live Jewishly. Our work is far from over, and while Sukkot only lasts a week, it’s themes can help power us through the year ahead. 

Rabbi Ariella Rosen, Senior Jewish Educator

My First (Virtual) Year at University

My First (Virtual) Year at University

The pandemic has caused school to feel very different compared to what I’m used to. I used to go to class and make friends in person. Now, all of my courses are online and it’s significantly harder to do things – even ask questions in class. Times have changed, so the way I make friends has changed too. One method I’ve used is to talk to people through the chat feature on Zoom during class. This way, I can still connect with new people and form new friendships.

Hillel has also helped me adjust and make friends at Ryerson University. Hillel invited me to many events where they displayed a lot of positive energy toward me and other students and made sure we felt welcomed and included. I attended a few virtual hangouts and met other students from Ryerson and UofT at the in-person hangout at Earl Bales park. They even sent me a welcome bag, which included a Hillel blanket, a toque and a water bottle.

Ever since I was accepted to university, I’ve wanted to be involved in the Jewish community. And, being a social person, I always loved being around and meeting people from around the globe. From the first day, the staff have welcomed me with a smile on their faces and have been excited to hear about my origins. My story feels different compared to other Jewish people, being from Romania. But the staff at Hillel have encouraged me to share my history with others and have helped transform my story into something to be proud of, and to learn and grow from it. 

Hillel cares a lot about people. The way they treat you makes you feel wanted and valued and it’s obvious that the organization is here to help students. Hillel has provided an amazing experience and I recommend them to any student that wishes to get involved in the community. I feel lucky that an older Jewish friend told me about Hillel and I’ve been part of the community ever since. 

Erwin, Ryerson University ’24

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