Spotlight on UofT Cressy Award Winner: Jody Chan

In September a brand new set of students will be joining the University of Toronto community. That is cause for celebration! In the next few posts we are going to share the experiences and insights of a few of our graduating students. These students have all been very involved with the University of Toronto and the University has acknowledged their involvement by awarding them with The Cressy Award.

The student experience at the University of Toronto is more than classes and books. It is life on campus, in the community and in the world at large. The Cressy Awards recognize graduating students for outstanding contributions to improving the world around them and inspiring others to do the same.

Please click here to view the 2015 Gordon Cressy Student Leadership Award Recipients.

Incoming students, if you are reading this, welcome to UofT! I encourage to get involved and find your fit here just like these amazing grads did!

DSC_0021

 (That’s Jody on the right!)

Cressy Award Winner: Jody Chan
Program: Specialist in Philosophy and Physics, Minor in Mathematics
Involved with: CCP, Student Voice for Democracy, Varsity Blues Badminton, Varsity Board, Trinity College Orientation, Dig In! Campus Agriculture, UofT350.org fossil fuel divestment campaign
College: Trinity

A question I get asked a lot by incoming students is, “How do you balance academics with extracurricular activities?” I don’t think I ever answer this question properly; the truth is, having a healthy balance in my life has always helped me with school. I learned to manage my schedule and prioritize my work because there were always at least five different projects I wanted to be devoting myself to at any given time.

Honestly, even if my grades had suffered a little, I wouldn’t have given anything up. In my opinion, there is so much to be learned from being immersed in the community around you, in real life experiences that can’t be re-created within the walls of the classroom.

Throughout my first three years of university, I dedicated at least 20 hours a week to training and competing in badminton, serving as captain of the Varsity Blues team for two of those three years. Practically, I knew I’d eventually have to stop training at that level – the time commitment was just too much – but letting go of it was still really hard. I never would have been able to, without having developed other facets of myself that I came to see as being more core to my identity than my long-held image of myself as a badminton player.

The experience that quite literally changed everything for me was getting involved with the Centre for Community Partnerships. After participating in Alternative Reading Week in my first year, I was hooked. The CCP quickly became the defining part of my time at U of T. I think a lot about how lucky I am to have had an opportunity to be a part of that community, one that empowered me as a leader, gave me the courage to take risks, sparked my passion for self-growth, and taught me the importance of reflection in that growth process.

The most important lesson I learned at the CCP was the importance of integrity and authenticity. Now, I try my best to match my actions with my values and belief system, and make my decisions based on being true to my own identity (which is not to say that I don’t still make a LOT of mistakes). This commitment to personal integrity led, among other things, to my choice to become a vegan, as well as to devote myself to climate justice activism. Next year, I am going to be pursuing a graduate degree in Philosophy and Education in New York, where I will continue to put my passion for education and social justice into action.

For me, my experience at U of T was a thousand times more valuable for the personal growth that happened outside of the classroom than inside it (though my degree definitely gave me important critical-thinking skills that I continue to use). Though I haven’t quite figured out what I want to do in the world, I now have a little bit of confidence, a clear understanding of my own values, and, most importantly, a support network of the most amazing, passionate, intelligent, and inspiring people to help guide me through that ongoing learning process. Every experience, whether positive or negative, was an opportunity for learning that ultimately contributed to my current identity. All in all, I wouldn’t, and couldn’t, change a thing.

Spotlight on UofT Cressy Award Winner: Kaylah Krajnc

In September a brand new set of students will be joining the University of Toronto community. That is cause for celebration! In the next few posts we are going to share the experiences and insights of a few of our graduating students. These students have all been very involved with the University of Toronto and the University has acknowledged their involvement by awarding them with The Cressy Award.

The student experience at the University of Toronto is more than classes and books. It is life on campus, in the community and in the world at large. The Cressy Awards recognize graduating students for outstanding contributions to improving the world around them and inspiring others to do the same.

Please click here to view the 2015 Gordon Cressy Student Leadership Award Recipients.

Incoming students, if you are reading this, welcome to UofT! I encourage to get involved and find your fit here just like these amazing grads did!

Cressy Award Winner: Kaylah Krajnc
Program: Double Major in Conservation Biology and Psychology, and a Minor in Environmental Biology
Involved with: The Centre for Community Partnerships, Hart House, Veg Club, Student Voice Committee, Office of Student Life
College: Woodsworth


We asked Kaylah to share her experience with incoming students. This is what she said:

My university journey started with a whole first year of only focusing on academics… it was quite the dreary existence. Not wanting my entire university experience to be reflected by my coursework and GPA, immediately after my last exam I went to talk to someone at my College about how I could get involved in campus life.

kaylah

That’s Kaylah in the middle!

This first step sparked a whirlwind of diverse and awesome experiences getting involved in the university; I went from not being involved at all, to being involved way too much, to finally striking a healthy balance between the two. But I loved each step of the journey because it was a continuous self-learning process. My first year taught me that I don’t feel fulfilled learning only in a classroom, my times of being way too involved allowed me to explore different avenues of myself and learn what I was passionate about, and throughout it all I was able to meet amazing people and become a part of some great communities.

In the last couple years of my university journey I committed myself to a few experiences that really aligned with my passions and values. In particular I poured a lot of myself into my roles at the Centre for Community Partnerships (CCP), Hart House, and the Veg Club. And maybe this sounds super corny, but my experiences with these communities really made me who I am today, in a variety of ways.

Through the CCP I grew comfortable with self-reflection, and I discovered that I am really passionate about community-engaged learning and initiatives. Though Hart House, I learned the values of challenging myself to push past my comfort zone to experience self-growth. And with the support of the Veg Club I really developed my passions for animal and environmental activism.

Even though these learning experiences are all different, what’s important is that they shaped me to be the person I am today, and they enhanced the learning experiences I had in the classroom. It allowed me to take the knowledge I was learning through my courses and explore ways to apply it in my future life experiences after university. And the people I’ve met along the way have made these experiences even greater; I’ve gained life-long friends, amazing mentors, and have met just plain cool people that have inspired me simply by living their amazing lives.

These experiences have made me fall in love with UofT, and I’m sad that I’m finished my degree, but at the same time it has given me memories, stories, connections, and self-knowledge that leave me feeling super excited for the next phase of my life. I’m not quite sure what that phase is yet, but I’ve struck a balance between rooting myself in my values and passions, and embracing the unknown so that I can always continue to grow – this, I know, will leave me feeling fulfilled on whatever path I choose to take.

Youth Mentorship Program – Reflection by Jovan Glenn

Youth Mentorship Program – Reflection by Jovan Glenn

Prior to this school year I honestly had no idea what the Centre for Community Partnerships was. The first time I heard about the CCP was around the beginning of the school year, when a good friend of mine by the mane of Yusuf told me he was getting involved in a community project. He explained the bare bones of the project – an opportunity to mentor younger kids and show them that University is not out of reach, but my interest was piqued when he mentioned that the program would take place at Rockliffe Middle School. An opportunity to get involved in a school in my community, and work with one of my greatest friends seemed like an opportunity too good to pass up.

Then, as if by means of fate (if you believe in that kind of stuff), the program switched from Rockliffe Middle School to Potage Trail Community Middle School, meaning that I was going to be volunteering at the school I used to attend. My disappointment in not meeting the Rockliffe kids notwithstanding, this was probably the most excited I’d ever been for a project. Although I’ve visited my high school every year since I graduated, and have even dropped by my elementary school every so often, I had never returned to Portage since I left. Mind you, this wasn’t out of my disdain for Portage or anything of the sort, it’s just that I never really had the opportunity. I believe that my time at Portage had an enormous effect in shaping who I am today, and to be able to roam those halls again, see teachers whom I still admire, all while giving back to the school was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up.

Our first day at Portage as mentors was fantastic, and a surreal experience for myself. As Ms. Broomfield (who coordinated this program on Portage’s end) walked us through the halls I knew like the back of my hand, I couldn’t help but remember little moments that happened when I was a Middle Schooler. It was as if actually seeing those tiny blue chairs and tiny water fountains triggered memories of friends whom I still keep in touch with to this day. Which brings me to another point: everything felt much smaller! I know I might’ve grown a bit since middle school, but when I was younger I thought Portage was a pretty large school. I guess it’s all about perspective.

The kids at Portage were a delight to work with, and honestly reminded me a bit of myself and my old classmates. There were kids who were initially shy yet inquisitive, there were kids who were a bit more outgoing and hyperactive, and you had kids who were bit of both – shy at first but then more vocal as they got more comfortable around us. They were mirror images of ourselves as kids, and honestly probably a lot smarter. I saw kids using Microsoft Office tools much more effectively than I could when I was 13 years old. The kids had bright ideas, and as mentors we were surprised at the end of it how energetic they could be at 8 AM, a task that was nearly impossible for us on most days. Those students were a joy to work with, and they may or may not know this, but they are extremely fortunate to have a teacher like Ms. Broomfield. There is an authenticity to her love for the students, and the work she puts in to ensure that they are well prepared for the future exemplifies that. As most students know there are only a handful of teachers you’ll ever experience who genuinely care, and I can definitely say that Ms. Broomfield is one of them.

I want to personally thank everybody involved in this project, from my good friend Yusuf and every mentor who was a part of this! I want to also thank Kristina Minnella, who coordinated this program from the U of T end, and who is as caring and thoughtful as any teacher you’ll ever meet. I want to also give a quick shout-out to the kids at Portage, good luck in High School and make the most of your time there! To Ms. Dehal, thank you for building my appreciation for Science (although I may never truly understand it) and to Mr. Patel, sorry for being as blissfully ignorant as I was in middle school, but let’s be honest here, 7A was (and will always be) your best class! Thanks again!

Jovan Glenn
University of Toronto, Class of 2016
Economics and Political Science Major

Student Voices: ARW Reflections from Ibrahim Alhaq

Project Name: Conversation Circles with Newcomers
Community Agency: North York Community House
Project Leader: Winnie Lieu
Project Description: North York Community House is a dynamic neighbourhood centre offering innovative programs and services to newcomers & residents, helping build strong, healthy communities. Students will support their formal and informal language programs with newcomers at different language levels. They will facilitate English Conversation Circles and participate in an evaluation/focus group to determine participants learning. http://www.nych.ca/
Featured image
UofT students and LINC students engaging in conversations at North York Community House
Reflection written by Ibrahim Alhaq
I heard about Alternative Reading Week through Lead with Pride. At that time I was interested in applying because of the fact that it would be something interesting to do during my reading week which I usually spent at home doing nothing of impertinence. It also coinciding with a goal I made for he 2015, that I wanted to help out more in the community and give back.

The experience was interesting; during the orientation I was actually hesitant on what the whole program was about. I was worried that I may have gotten involved in something that I may not be ready for nor what I expect it to be.

When I got to the first day of my project at North York Community House I was actually very eager to the next few days. I loved the centre, and was very interested in helping out. My experience was good I got to talk to fellow immigrants that shared stories about their lives and personally warmed up to these students that were talking to them. I learned that many of their stories that they had were similar to the stories my parents had. It gave me an appreciation for my parents as well as more affinity for them. I was also proud for them in actually taking a step for their education and seeking out education even at their age, with family and other impeding socio-economic issues.

From this experience I learned that even people who may seem different from you in many ways you still share many similar features and have opportunity to learn new things from one another.  I learnt some Mexican cuisines and words from various languages.

Lastly one big lesson that I would take throughout my life is the idea of making conversations and progressing them so that they go deeper into understanding fellow human beings.

Student Voices: ARW Reflections from Yalda Mehran

Project Name: Video Creation

Community Agency: Unison HCS

Project Leader: Lorin Ouyang

During the 2015 Alternative Reading Week, our team created a documentary/promotional video for Unison, Health and Community Services, which is a branch of Unison Organization on Keele Street. To be honest, I wasn’t sure how the work within the new environment and with new people would go.  But that uncertainty changed to great excitement when I saw all the energy and friendly attitude within the host organization. The work began almost immediately. We started planning the video the first day, and filmed and edited the following two days.

We divided the tasks, I planned the video, and made sure the right and appropriate content was chosen, while the others filmed, gathered and categorized hundreds of old pictures and edited.

The experience taught me that group work was much easier and that deadlines can be met on-time as long as each member knows what her/his responsibility is. I also learned that I don’t always have to be in charge, but to contribute and have fun. From this experience I realized what I am good at, and that is management. Therefore, I plan to participate in the Alternative Reading Week again next year, but this time as a project leader.

Yalda Mehran,

First Year Student, University of Toronto

Click the link to see the video that Yalda and her team created during Alternative Reading Week https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q-QnbxsxYbI&feature=youtu.be

Begin Again.

IMG_4543Sorry to disappoint but, this won’t be a blog post on T-Swift’s song. I felt incredibly inspired after seeing the photo on the left. We had taken it after our last combined ARW reflection back in February. The photo summed up my year working at the Centre for Community Partnerships (CCP) quite nicely. Yes, it’s blurry, and perhaps it could have been angled better, or edited to adjust the lighting, but that wouldn’t be true to the joy and connectedness that our team exemplified throughout the school year. Coming to the office and working with our team didn’t feel like work at all. To say the least, it was an inviting, nurturing and positive space to come into, not just for us, but also for everyone who walked in our door. In so many ways, it felt like a haven filled with laughter, friendship, encouragement and of course infinite warm fuzzies! Rest assured, we worked hard on organizing ARW as well as other collaborative events on campus, regulating serve & learn programs, discussion groups, ARW Project Leader training sessions, creating this blog and overall engaging students with how they can get involved in the community.

So, what now? I refuse to think that this is the end because I don’t necessarily think it is. Let me tell you why. This year’s theme for ARW was, “What makes communities strong?” and to answer that question, I would have to say bonds. We started the school year identifying with our individual positions/roles and tasks but something along the way, in between the vegan gluten free cupcakes, multiple cups of tea; inside jokes and open ears and arms we found cohesion. Getting to know each other and learning from one another helped me further understand what it means to build communities and how we can sustain its strength. I started at the CCP as the Promotions & Communications Assistant and leaving as a part of great team, a community.

Thank you for jumping on a fantabulous year with us! 😉

Written by Kaye Caronongan

Student Voices: ARW Reflections from Kaylah and Jody

To cap off the final installation of this reflection series, I thought who better end it than these two amazing ladies who have dedicated countless hours and effort to put on an amazing ARW experience for all of us. They are walking, breathing, laughing, poking, dancing, and living warm fuzzies 🙂 11063254_10155341375525323_410556990_n

Oh ARW, parting is such sweet sorrow…

What? Four years ago, we stumbled upon an opportunity called Alternative Reading Week (ARW). Little did we know that it would take over our lives (in the best way possible #CCPlove5ever). So what exactly was so magical about ARW that made us stick around for so long? We’ve obviously each had different experiences, but they’re similar in a lot of ways! What connected both of us so strongly to ARW was the opportunity it gave us to become part of such a great community, and to expand our own communities at UofT. Our experiences working with amazing student and community leaders have taught us a lot of things we wouldn’t have learned while sitting in a class room. Really, our entire Centre for Community Partnerships (CCP) experience has been a constant learning process – we’ve learned about ourselves, about others, and about all of the amazing communities around us.

So what? 11001940_900737289948852_2547824666671520939_n

Everything we know, we learned at the CCP (literally everything #truestory). In all seriousness, though, the self-discovery that has happened here has influenced every part of our lives. Over the last two years especially, as our involvement with the program has deepened, we have really come to understand the value of reflection. Not only does reflection allow you to integrate the experiences you have had into learning, but it also allows you to use that learning to challenge your own assumptions and explore new directions for growth. After lots, and we mean lots, of self-reflection, and a mildly concerning obsession with StrengthsQuest, we’ve been able to clarify important aspects of ourselves like our strengths, values and goals. Most importantly, we have come to see ourselves as individuals who are part of one big and connected whole, through our connection with our communities. And what would those communities be without the superfantabulawesome people with whom we’ve shared laughter, stories, and tears? We are endlessly grateful to have had the opportunity to learn from such inspiring and passionate people. A huge part of our self-growth came from being exposed to so many different and diverse perspectives, and practicing how to be respectful and inclusive of people and situations we are not familiar with. 1621984_900737526615495_4981939294167642052_nIt is hard to separate learning about others from learning about the community, especially when so much of that learning happens within the community. We’ve experienced firsthand the value of experiential learning – there is so much growth that can happen outside of the classroom (so put those books down)! Above all, we’ve really learned to appreciate the strength and power in community-based initiatives and movements that comes from starting with what we have, instead of what needs to be fixed.

Now what?

We’ve learned so much over the past four years and it’s really influenced how we approach everything we do, as well as our goals for the future. After becoming so integrated within the Toronto community, we are really excited to explore new possibilities to take more active roles in our own communities. We can volunteer with community organizations, become more civically engaged – heck, we can even run for City Councillor if we want (#jodyandkaylahformayor)! 20507_900737213282193_8355724971339743921_nBeyond getting directly engaged in community initiatives ourselves, we can also play a role in connecting people to each other, to the physical space around them, and to the great resources and support services that each community has to offer. We’ve both seen firsthand the unbelievable things that people can do when they work together to create the amazing communities that they envision. Regardless of the concrete actions that we take on in the future, we’ll both stay open-minded and welcome new experiences that will give us the opportunity to learn more about ourselves, our communities, and how we relate to our communities. Whether the steps we take now are big or small, we both know that the Centre for Community Partnerships has helped us grow into the people we are today (#socheesy). Thank you Kaylah and Jody for…(the list is WAY too long!) EVERYTHING! ❤ DSC_0023

Student Voices: ARW Reflection from Chuan Liu

Project Name: Neighborhood Outreach

Community Agency: Unison HCS

Project Leader: Alice Pan & Tracy Pan

Project Description: Unison delivers accessible and high quality health and community services to communities in Toronto. Students will be doing outreach in the Bathurst-Finch neighbourhood in small teams to connect with residents about the programs and services offered at the Bathurst-Finch Hub. Based on their outreach activities, students will develop ideas about how the Hub can best promote its programs and services to neighbourhood residents. Students will also develop draft promotional material. This work is valuable to Unison’s ongoing efforts to promote its programs and services in the community and to solicit resident feedback that can be incorporated into Unison’s communications strategies. It is important for Unison to invest in students for their learning about health and community services. unisonhcs.org

Chuan Liu,

After my project leader introduced our project, I expected the experience to be talking to the residents in Bathurst Finch community to collect their comments on the service at Unison Bathurst-Finch Hub. I expected a lot of talking during the three-day activities. It turned out that the purpose of our work was the same as what I had anticipated. However, the actual work we did was different. Our two main jobs were outreach and survey. We were divided into two groups. One group of us went to the public areas such as hospital and library, local businesses and condos around Unison Bathurst-Finch Hub to distribute flyers and newspapers of Unison Bathurst-Finch Hub, so that more people would know about the health and community services at the hub and utilize them when they need. The other group was responsible for giving out surveys on the service at the hub to collect feedback from the clients at the hub.

One thing I learned from the experience is that communication is really important in community services. When we were asking local businesses whether we could leave some flyers at their places, some of them refused us at first. After we explained to them that distributing these flyers were aimed at letting more people know about the nice and free healthcare service at the hub and we were doing this for the community, most of the people who originally refused us agreed to keep the flyers and show them to their customers or whoever need the services. The importance of communication was also demonstrated in the fact that the hub hired volunteers to distribute their flyers because there weren’t many people aware of or using their services.

Another thing I learned about myself is that if I want to make progress, I have to push myself out of my comfort zone. I discovered this from the experience of asking the clients at the hub to do surveys. At first, I was not used to asking someone I had never met to do things for me. However, after I tried several times, I felt more and more comfortable and confident in asking people to do the surveys. My chance of successfully getting people to do the surveys increased gradually.

Last but not least, the idea of the hub enlightened me. Unison Bathurst-Finch Hub houses a variety of community services and programs in one hub, and healthcare experts in different fields in one clinic, which increases the efficiency and quality of their services a lot. For example, they have diabetes and foot experts particularly for elderly people. They have different programs for newcomers and mother with children under 12, and they also have legal and dental services for community members who can’t afford those services. Therefore, the basic but various needs of the community members are catered for at one single hub, which is very convenient and efficient.

I will apply my learning in my study and my life. In my study, I will set my goals slightly higher than my ability, which can encourage myself to make more efforts. In my life, if I encounter conflicts with others, I will try to eliminate the misunderstanding between us and reach consensus. I will also try to make wise plans to increase my study and work efficiency.

Thank you Chuan for your reflection! We hope to see you at ARW 2016!

Student Voices: ARW Reflection from Victor Muthomi

 Project Name: Sneaker Drive Challenge

Community Agency: Toronto Loves Kicks

Project Leader: Angelica Alfonso

Project Description: Toronto Loves Kicks uses Youth and Sneaker Culture to design and deliver community events, educational programs and creative opportunities for brands, institutions and organizations to engage a unique and substantial demographic. Students will support the Sneaker Drive Challenge, which has the goal of engaging the dynamic demographic that the sneaker culture attracts, drawing attention to how “donating stuff creates jobs”. Students will help with research, outreach, and a social media campaign. torontoloveskicks.com

IMG_8560Victor Muthomi,

When I first heard of ARW, I was instantly curious and started researching more about it. Learning that it was a community-centered initiative around the city was very appealing and right then, I knew that it was ultimately something I wanted to be a part of. I applied for a research project and was honored to be assigned to one, the Sneaker Drive Challenge. At first I had many expectations including going out to the field and getting views about the challenge from people; conducting surveys; visiting Toronto Loves Kicks; assessing some of their previous projects; visiting Goodwill; learning firsthand how they conduct their drives or having a look at items previously donated as a benchmarking tool for the current drive (an important approach we use in our engineering projects) among other things.

Although most of what I expected did not come true, I had a fantastic time. The partners, Dion and Curt, were very welcoming, friendly and enthusiastic people. They had done their due diligence on the drive and ours was to supplement with more creative and ingenious ideas and helping them find potentially influential people/organizations on social media who would help start off the challenge at a high note. We worked in twos on the mainstream social media platforms, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. This turned out to be incredibly exciting, especially to me, since I learnt navigating through Instagram which I had never used before. That was fascinating! Afterwards was intense free brainstorming and idea generation, which is normally not my strongest suite due to the structured brainstorming and lateral thinking approach that we use in class projects, and that was a downer for me but I tried in various capacities. The atmosphere was relaxed, informal and exciting, which made the experience even better.

I learned a lot from the experience. One of the lessons was the value of teamwork in whatever capacity. This was a testament to the notion that a team is as good as the sum of its members. I had an amazing team including the partners and by the end of the experience we achieved a lot. The second thing that I came to appreciate greatly was the amount of nitty-gritty considerations and preparations go into the realization of such projects. Honestly, I never came to appreciate the logistics behind these humanitarian or goodwill causes until ARW, from looking up potential contacts, narrowing them down to those who best fit, coming up with ways to reach out to different groups of people, identifying appropriate incentives and structuring them so as to appeal to the largest demographic, identifying convenient locations for holding the drive, catering for the interests of the management such locations and seemingly the greatest, credibility of donors and staff in charge among others. This was an invaluable learning experience for me which I strongly believe changed my view and appreciation for such causes. Simply, it was priceless.

Now that it is behind me, I plan on following up on the drive after it is unveiled in mid-March onwards to keep track of its progress. I would also like to get involved in more CCP programs from now onwards to experience more of such or even better times. Honestly, I would not have spent my time more wisely than participating in that project last week and I am most certain that if I were to go back in time, I would still do the same thing all over again! Thank you for such a wonderful opportunity.

Thank you Victor for your reflection! We hope to see you at the CCP soon! 🙂

Student Voices: ARW Reflection from Mandy Yuen

IMG_8430Project: Diabetes Prevention Program

Community Partner: Learning Enrichment Foundation

Project Leader: Saadia Tuyyab

Project Description: The Learning Enrichment Foundation provides integrated and holistic community responsive initiatives that enable individuals and families to become valued contributors to their community’s social and economic development. Students will work with the Type 2 Diabetes Prevention group to raise awareness of diabetes and promote healthy living. www.lefca.or

Mandy Yuen

ARW15 075During ARW, I participated in the Diabetes Prevention program, located at LEF. Going into ARW, I had little expectations, as this was the first time I had ever participated. We were not given much information beforehand, so I was worried that things would be very disorganized, but our community partners ended up providing all of the resources and explained things to us. Our focus was to inform the community about type 2 diabetes, potential future health effects, and ways to prevent it or to how to generally live a healthy lifestyle. We set up a booth in the main eating area at LEF with assorted informational brochures about diabetes and healthy living. For the first two days, people who were visiting LEF or those who were taking classes there stopped by our booth to gather pamphlets and discuss with us any particular questions or concerns they had about diabetes and prevention of type two diabetes. We also helped some people conduct a diabetes risk assessment test, where we calculated their BMI from their height and weight, took a waist measurement, and asked a series of generalized questions to allow them to gain a sense of their risk of developing type 2 diabetes in the next 10 years. Although I’ve had previous volunteer experiences of interacting with community members, I’ve never had to interact with them in such a personal way, that is, discussing their weight, diet and their overall lifestyle. I was surprised at how curious and eager every person who came up to our booth was to learn about diabetes prevention, and I was especially surprised at the openness of the individuals who took the risk assessment survey. People genuinely wanted to know about diabetes and how they could adjust their lifestyles to live healthier and put less stress on their body. Many people also shared stories from their lives; I was constantly reminded that “every day” people all have extensive backgrounds and their own private lives that we normally would never get to see, and I felt very privileged to hear some of their amazing stories and experiences. However, a difficulty that came up was an apparent language barrier. Many of people we encountered were students at LEF taking English classes, and thus some did not have a strong English vocabulary and pronunciation. Diabetes is a difficult topic to talk about without incorporating some scientific language, such as blood sugar and blood pressure. Everyone we talked to, however, tried their best to understand what we were saying, and understood the basic message that a balanced, healthy lifestyle is what is important at preventing diabetes, and overall good health. On the third day, rather than sitting at the booth, we visited a few classrooms to give short presentations on diabetes prevention instead. This was more difficult than simply chatting with passersby, as we were inside classrooms of students learning English, and had to make sure that the majority understood. I often take the ability of language for granted, as being surrounded by native English speakers all the time makes me forget that a large portion of the public actually do not speak English as their first language. I realized how difficult it is for immigrants, like my parents, to adapt to Canadian culture and to learn both English and about other things, such as diabetes, which may not have been a problem in their homeland. From that experience of being in the adult classroom, I also learned that education should not be taken for granted, and that there will always be opportunities to learn no matter how old you are.

IMG_8526From this overall experience, I became more aware of my own strengths, such as my ability to speak in public and give clear presentations. While also recognizing my weaknesses, for example, having a tendency to sit back and be passive instead of taking more initiative. ARW provided me with an opportunity to go beyond my comfort zone and to be more courageous and proactive, so that the program ran smoothly and was able to reach the audience in a personal but professional manner. These social skills are applicable to future endeavors, such as in interviews, group projects, or simply in daily interactions with peers to create deeper connections. As well, I have learned a lot about diabetes and how to prevent it while talking to others about it, which is definitely applicable to myself and my own family members who are at a risk for diabetes. I am very grateful that I was able to participate in ARW; even though the program ran for a very short 3 days, I was exposed to a new environment, new situations, and made new connections with my fellow group members. It made me feel like an integral part of the ARW program, and proud to be a student from the University of Toronto. This renewed confidence encourages me to apply myself more in the future and perhaps became a project leader or even simply a better, proactive, determined student.

Thank you Mandy for your reflection! We hope to see you next year!