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Four Things I Learned as a First-Year Commuter

Edited by: Sophia Savva

Of all the new and exciting experiences I’ve had this year, few have been as important as my newfound ability to get across the GTA quickly, effectively, and with fewer mistakes than ever. The distance between my home in Mississauga and the St. George campus, in the heart of Toronto, seemed immeasurable, but it didn’t take long before chaos became routine, and routine became enjoyable. Here are four things that I have learned as commuter student!

1. The Train is a Place for Reading 

Who needs to schedule time in your day for reading when you commute? Spending two hours round-trip a day on Go Trains has proven to be a fantastic incentive to read. It may have helped that my first text of the year was Don Quixote (940 pages, anyone?), and that I was scared out of my mind that I wouldn’t have time to read the entire thing. But, after spending weeks on the train doing nothing but reading the incredibly enjoyable adventures of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, I realized that an unbelievable number of pages could easily be read in comfort and relative silence on the Go Train.

Pro tip: sit on the second floor of the train car. It’s usually much quieter than the first floor, but you can still have a snack or rustle through your notes/backpack without getting death stares by the good people trying to catch some extra sleep in the Quiet Zone on the top floor. 

2. Sleep, Sleep, Sleep 

Speaking of sleeping, in high school, I never understood how some of my friends could fall asleep on the city bus on our way home from school. It’s only four o’clock, I thought. We’re only on this bus for half an hour, I thought. Less than a year later, you can now find me sleeping like a baby no matter if I’m on the 4pm Go Train, or the 9:00pm Go Bus. While I can’t vouch for how easy it may be to sleep on the subway: there are days where I struggle to stay awake from the moment I hit that comfy blue seat, and more often than not, I take a much needed nap. On days where my motivation is a nap on my way home from class, you can find me up in the Quiet Zone…so don’t sit up there if you’re not planning on being silent!

Pro tip: make sure to set your alarm for about five minutes before your stop and put your headphones in. You’d be surprised how deep you can sleep on a vehicle moving at 150km/h with hundreds of people constantly getting on and off.


3. Confidence in Navigating the GTA

Toronto used to be a place of special occasion and chaos to me. I’d only ever be in the city for a concert, performance, or rare trip to Yorkdale or the Eaton Centre. But of course, I’d never go by myself. I always went with a friend or family member who knew Toronto inside and out. I had no idea what streets I was on or where the subway was going, and it seemed like too large of a task to figure it out. Come September (and getting lost at least once a day all month), I was forced to figure out where I was, where I wanted to go, and how to get there. Shout out to Google Maps and the Transit App for helping me in times of need, as well as the Go Transit and TTC personnel who listened to my ridiculous questions and helped me find my way. When people would ask me for directions, I went from “I have no idea where that is” to “take the subway Northbound to Finch” in no time. It’s a real life skill to be able to utilize public transit to its fullest extent, and I am happy to say that I’ve mastered it. All it takes is time, repetition, and the realization that if you get lost, there’s always a bus/subway/train to get you back to where you started.

Pro tip: don’t be afraid to ask for directions! There are always people to help you get where you need to go. 

4. Time Management 

I rode the TTC only a handful of times prior to September. There’s a sharp learning curve between riding it once or twice a year, and hearing “Attention customers on Line One: we are currently experiencing a delay…” way more often than is desirable. Because of the frequent issues and delays on the subway (and to a lesser extent with Go Transit), I’ve learned to schedule my commutes in a way which leaves room for error and time for the TTC to figure itself out before I’m supposed to be in class. In some scenarios, I get to Union Station and find out that the subway isn’t running, hop on a bus, and get to class on time because I’ve given myself a time buffer. In other scenarios, I arrive on campus an hour before class begins, but have the time to treat myself to a Starbucks and write some e-mails in the morning. By learning how to budget my time as a commuter, I can confidently get myself downtown without worrying about being late or getting lost.

Pro tip: figure out how else you can get to campus if the subway is down. Check the bus and streetcar routes around campus and see if you could use them in the event of a subway service suspension. 

My biggest takeaway from being a first-year commuting student is that commuting isn’t a negative thing. I have learned so much about the city through my daily commute, and can use my experiences to get around Toronto with confidence, finish my readings on time, and catch up on my sleep no matter if I’m at home, or (more likely) on my way in or out of the city. Happy commuting!

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