University

Thoughts and Feelings: University, Take 2

This semester I transferred to a new university. Career-wise I don’t really need a degree, but immigration-wise I need to attend school full time to remain in Canada. So, on a whim, I decided that it’d be fun to study theatre. I enrolled in a course of study that my University calls “Performance Creation.” The program combines different elements of theatre into a nice little bundle that they have the audacity to call education.

Never in my life have I spent so much time running around a room screaming as I have in the past 3 months. Just to clarify, this was not a stress relief method that I employed to cope with the rigors of the program. It was the program, the go-to method for acting, research, and analysis. I paid a semester’s worth of tuition to run around a room and scream.

To be fair, my professors did try to impart their knowledge. This semester, I learned about human body parts, their meanings and how to use them.

From the twelve lectures that I attended in my “Arts Across the Disciplines” course, I learned one thing and one thing only. In the middle of a lecture, my professor showed us a painting of a bare foot. He said, “Students, look at the toes. Toes are a phallic symbol.” It was true enlightenment, a conclusion that I would have never reached on my own, because nothing about a toe makes me think “dick”.

The next day I had my acting class at 8:30 in the morning. We were running around screaming, an activity that we perform barefoot, and let me tell you, I was seeing everyone’s toes in a very different light. At least until the professor gave me something entirely different to think about. “Raise one limb,” he instructed, “Now a second, third, fourth.” We all did as he commanded, because we’re basically cattle. “And now a fifth,”he said. The room went still. I, for one, was thoroughly confused.  95% of the students in that class are girls, therefore 95% of us don’t exactly have a fifth appendage. And why are all my professors obsessed with everything phallic? I settled for raising a finger. “Now a sixth limb” he demanded to everyone’s shock. I raised another finger, deciding that he had to be testing us. Humans only have four limbs.  “You are all wrong” our professor informed us, “Biologically speaking, humans have six limbs, but we often forget about our heads and our tailbones.” I don’t know why anyone would ever study anatomy when they can study theatre instead.

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Two of our “six” limbs are arguably more useful than the rest – these are our arms, which more often than not, end in hands. Hands are powerful communicative tools. However, it’s important to realize how traditional hand gestures come across to others. In one of my courses we were taught that clapping is not always appropriate at the end of a performance. Apparently, clapping is not even a true form of appreciation. In fact, appreciation is its own action…who knew? It consists of rubbing one’s hands together, vigorously. When discussing or covering material on sensitive topics we weren’t allowed to clap, only appreciate, lest we offend.

All this knowledge about the human body taught me to be self aware. Do my movements reflect my emotions? Are they appropriate in the context? Do my character’s objectives come across clearly in my physical portrayal? And more importantly, in real life how does my personality come across to others? In theatre courses, the professors can and will hold your personality against you. In my design class, both my friend and I were making wire trees. Our professor, an elderly man, indicated my friend’s tree and declared, “That looks like a uterus.” He then zeroed in on my tree: “Very nice,” he said, “your tree does not look like a uterus.”

“Gee” I said, laughing, “That’s the nicest thing that anyone’s said to me all day.”

He blinked at me in surprise. “You know,” he told me, “I thought that you were a really nice and quiet girl, but you’re actually a total smart-ass.”

“Yeah I’m not really all that quiet,” I said, wondering what exactly had made me appear so.

Here’s the thing though, we presented projects to this professor all throughout the semester and he never once wrote anything down, not our names, not our presentation topics, nothing. He didn’t even keep any of our presentation materials. So how does he remember everyone’s grades? When we were presenting our final projects, someone finally asked him.

“I remember your grades because they correlate with your personalities,”he told us.

I thought about how he had completely misdiagnosed my personality earlier in the semester. “But what if you don’t like our personality?” I wondered…

…out loud. It wasn’t one of my finer moments, and it did not go over well. In fact, he was quite offended, which may or may not have impacted my final grade for the course. So I guess I also learned to keep my mouth shut?

It all boils down to connectivity really–with oneself and with others. Basically, theatre is a very spiritual artform. Not only do courses encourage you to summon deep and dark feelings, but you’ll have to perform rituals, like a cult. In my performance creation course each class opened and closed with a ritual. The closing ritual was the worst. It consisted of the following steps:

  1. Stand in a circle with your hands on each others’ backs.
  2. Breath in the people around you. Supposedly, it’s very possible to breath someone up your nose, although I have not yet mastered this particular skill.
  3. Lift your hands above your head, twinkling your fingers. Rain them down to the ground following with your body until you are in a squatting position, perfect for tinkling if you’re a girl.
  4. Tap your fingers on the floor to create the sound of rain as members of the group shout out what they took away from the nonexistent lesson. Good examples include “cult,” and “cult.”
  5. Scoop it – “it” being the words – up as a cohesive unit. As one, rise to a standing position and release “it” into the air.

There’s no denying that I learned a lot from University, Take 2. But the principal lesson was this: run. Running and screaming is all well and good, but I’d also like to learn something. I dropped all of my theatre courses for next semester, trading them out for somewhat more promising options. Let’s gear up for University, Take 3.

Photo Credits: Peter Lewicki at Unsplash.com

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90+

The first month of University is peppered with pep talks and ego boosters. It creates a definite contradiction, a clash. One minute the Profs are discussing proper behavior, and the next they’re going on about how we’re the chosen people. It’d be awfully confusing, except I know that we’re not the chosen people, so at least I have some clarity.

The profs are constantly saying things like, “ You guys should be so proud . The program that you’re in requires one of the highest grade point averages in the entire school! Most of you are 90+ students….”

I got into the program with a whopping 91.5% grade point average that I earned by taking 5 art classes in Grade 12 and dropping math. True academic excellence right there. Either I’m an imposter or there’s a flaw in their admission process. Based on student contributions to the class, I’m inclined to believe the latter.

“Does anyone have questions about the program?” One prof asks the room.

A boy raises his hand, “How is the program going to help us work as a cohesive unit?” he asks.

A hush falls over the room, as my peers whisper to one another, “Wow, he sounds smart!”

I wait to see if the prof will fall for it too. He doesn’t, “That’s actually not my job, it’s the responsibility of all of you to work well in groups,” he deadpans.

I grin. The class continues. There’s  a powerpoint on the screen about when to, and when not to email the Prof. This power point came into being because in the first week of school alone our poor prof almost drowned in emails. The next twenty minutes are spent explaining that it’s not the prof’s responsibility to change our diapers, so only email him for legitimate questions.

The class closes with “ You guys are all 90+ students and we know that you’ll do very well.” I look at my schedule but there’s no math class for me to drop.

The following day we have a Seminar in which receive another pep talk, but this time it’s from our TA, accompanied by yet another powerpoint. She informs us that University is going to be a transition, especially for us, the creme de la creme of High School grade point averages.

It’s really quite simple she informs us–simple math–have we heard of the freshman 15? Yes? “Well what that means is not only will you gain 15 pounds your freshman year but your grade point average will also drop by 15%.” She pauses, “But wait, that’s for most people, you guys came in with much higher grade point averages than the average. The majority of you are 90+ students and that just means that you have a much longer ways to fall.”

I look around the room at the worried expression of my peers, noting that my expression doesn’t match their’s in the slightest. I have trouble mustering up excitement for grades. I refuse to be contained in a number. Afterall, I dropped math on moral grounds.

The TA opens the powerpoint. Each slide contains a stupid quote that students, like us, have said to TA’s and Profs. Indicating one quote, she shakes her head, “Nope, just because you pay for University doesn’t mean that you deserve good marks. Our job at Ryerson isn’t to give you good marks. Our job is to make sure that you don’t turn into a whole bunch of little Donald Trumps.”

I choke on my water. She continues to talk about how Donald Trump is a prick and we really wouldn’t want to be anything like him.

I almost forget that I’m in Canada, and not the States.  The politics feel so close to home…but then I remember: back home we only gain 10 pounds freshman year, and in Canada we gain 15. It’s always the exchange rate that gets you. Even I know that, and I dropped math.

International Student, Eh?

I start University tomorrow. It’s exciting, although, I’m not really getting off on the right foot with the administration. I don’t think that they’ve noticed yet, but it’s true. I even feel a little guilty. Most of them are so nice, and they really want to help, but they don’t. They feed me wrong information and make me jump through hoops, over and over again, just because I’m from a minority group that they don’t understand. I’m an American Canadian. That is, an American living in Canada without permanent residency.

My relationship with the administration began back in June. To apply for my study permit, I needed my fees to be changed to the domestic rate, along with a letter stating that they had indeed been changed. Documents in hand, I went to the Student Service Centre at my future University.

The area is very modern looking and they’re very tech savvy there. They have these machines where you type in your business, and then it spits out a ticket with a letter and a number on it. Then they have this T.V. thing that calls out the letter numbers and tells you which desk to go to. It’s very fancy and looks like it costs a lot of money. Suddenly,  I know why they take away academic based entrance scholarships from gap year students, like myself. If they gave me my scholarship, we’d all have to stand in line.

Making good use of my money, I grab a ticket and sit. My number is called and I’m instructed to go to Station 4.

“Hi, how are you?” I smile at the lady sitting behind the desk.

“Fine, what do you need?” She answers.

“My parents are here on worker’s permits and pay taxes in Canada, so I qualify for the international tuition fees exemption. I came to get my fees changed to the domestic rate. Once they’re changed, I’ll also need a letter stating my fees in order to apply for my study permit,”I explain.

She scowls, “You should have brought your parents with you, and you need to go to the International Office.”

“Oh,” I say, not quite sure as to how my parents factor into the equation, “My sister’s already a student here and she came here to get her fees changed. I called yesterday too and the lady that I spoke to said to come here as well.”

“Just because your sister had her fees changed doesn’t mean that they automatically transfer over to you. Besides, we can’t do anything until we have your documents,” She snaps.

“ I actually brought all my documents,” I smile, “They’re right here,” I add indicating the folder that I’ve been holding.

She scolds me again for not bringing my parents, emphasizing that they really can’t help me if I don’t have all my documents.

“I really did bring all my documents,” I insist.

“Fine, you can scan them at the front, but you’ll still have to go to the International Office,” She says.

“Okay…thank you?” I reply. She leads me to the front desk, before marching off.

The lady at the front desk is super nice. She tells me that I am in fact in the right place. However, unfortunately, I will have to come back to apply for my letter,  as the person in charge of changing fees is on vacation.

After receiving email confirmation that my fees have been changed, I return to the Student Service Centre. This time, I speak with a completely different woman. After checking with her supervisor, she informs me that they just don’t write letters like that, and recommends that I go to the International Office.

I do so. Beth, who works at the International Office, is very nice, and tries to help me hunt down who could possibly write the letter for me. This process leads to several dead ends before we are informed that the International Office does indeed have the power to write me my letter. A fact that only took them several weeks to discover.

Days later, I receive an email from the International Office requesting my presence for a mandatory check- in appointment for international students. “Ridiculous,” I think. After all, I’ve been living in Canada for two years. I graduated from a Canadian High School. I’m practically a native.

So, I tell them that, very nicely of course, in an email and ask, “Is it still necessary for me to come in?”

“Yes…yes it is,” They write back.

I roll my eyes at my computer screen. I hate technicalities. Sighing, I decide that I might as well make the most of the situation–I prep a list of questions.

  1. Please explain Canadian currency to me. Seriously, there’s no pennies and it’s confusing as hell.
  2. What’s the best brand of maple syrup?
  3. Is moose common fare?
  4. What the fuck does “eh” mean?
  5. Do you offer classes to learn Canadian? I only speak American.
  6. Why are there no restrooms?

Unfortunately, I don’t get to ask any of my questions at my mandatory check-in appointment. Upon arriving, I am greeted by the same Beth who helped me get my letter.

“Hi, I’m Beth,” she says cheerfully, “It’s so nice to meet you!”

I stare at her a moment, confused. Has she forgotten about me already? No…that can’t be it–I’m unforgettable. So, I decide that since she lead me around in circles, she must just want a fresh start.

I smile brightly and shake her hand. She leads me into her office and gestures for me to take a seat. Ever obedient, I do so.

“When did you arrive?” She asks.

“Two years ago,” I state.

“Oh, okay. I know that you came in earlier to get a letter for your visa application. Were you able to get your study permit?”

I say yes, noting that she does remember me after all.

For lack of anything better to do, I smile. Beth asks me more questions.

“So are you navigating Toronto okay?”

“Yeah, I’ve been living here for two years,” I inform her.

“Do you have a place to live?” She questions, looking a little worried.

I tell her yes, that I live here with my parents. I have Toronto down to a tee, I work and everything.

Her eyes light up with some kind of hope upon hearing the word, “work”, and I realize that it was probably the wrong thing to say, but it’s too late.

“Great!” She exclaims, “Let’s talk about working as an international student.”

“Ummm…okay,” I smile weakly. I’ve been working in Canada for two years, but I politely wait for her to impart her knowledge.

She informs me that I’m allowed to work on or off campus for up to 20 hours a week, and as much as I want on breaks. Things that I already knew.

“Have you signed up for any orientation events?” She asks changing the subject.

“I went to the one for my program, but I’m really busy this week so I’m not planning on attending any others,” I answer.

This makes Beth frown. “There’s an international student welcome party on Thursday, that you should really come to.”

“I have friends visiting from out of town that day,” I tell her.

“Well if you have extra time you’re  welcome to bring your friends,” She says gently.

I just smile. I like smiling. It’s noncommittal.

“On Friday, though, we do have a mandatory international student workshop,” she plows on.

“Does everyone have to come?” I ask.

“Some people can’t come because they arrive late, but then they have to meet with us separately,” She explains, her meaning clear.

I shut up, and sign up for the workshop on the electronic form that she’s pulled up on her computer.

“Are you gonna get to see your family soon? Are they planning on coming up to visit?” Beth asks. I can tell that she’s already worried about me because I didn’t want to sign up for their orientation events.

“Yeah, I actually live with them, so I get to see them every day,” I say cheerfully.

“I keep forgetting,” she gives her head a little shake, “Before you leave, we have a little gift for you.” Beth grabs an envelope out of a box. Setting it on the table, she slides something out of it. It reveals itself to be a six piece puzzle labeled, “Five Factor Model of Resilience”.

“This puzzle shows the five steps of resilience,” Beth explains, “Each piece is labeled with a step, Gratitude, Compassion, Grit, Optimism, and Mindfulness. So, if you’re ever feeling stressed or sad or overwhelmed, you can put it together and it’ll make you feel better. Because if you can put this puzzle together, it means that you have all the ingredients to be resilient.”

My smile slowly grows until I’m beaming. I just can’t believe them, “Thank you so much” I tell her.

Beth smiles back at me. We say our goodbyes and I skedaddle.