My Roommate Turned Great Friend: Aileen Zhou

Over a year ago, during the summer going into my third year of University, I was faced with the onerous task of looking for a place to live. Searching on the U of T housing website, I was aware of certain risks. Living with a complete stranger can have its consequences. Nevertheless, I came across one advertisement that seemed acceptable and up to my mother’s standards.

So we met. I saw the place, and, more so because I was tired and no longer had interest in searching around, I accepted without considering other options. Yes, it was a risk. But in the words of Miss Frizzle: “Take chances, make mistakes, and get messy!”

And out of that mess over a year later, bloomed a beautiful friendship and this worthy Campus Cutie article.

Meet Aileen Zhou: My roommate, gal pal, and third year student who transferred to U of T from Queen's in her second year, whose excitement for life transcends that of your average cheerleader, spunky colouring book, and morning coffee.

1) First and foremost, what was your initial reaction when you heard that you were a campus cutie?

Who, me? What? Oh shucks.

2) How was the transition from Queen’s University to the University of Toronto? And why’d you do it?

The transition from Queen's to U of T actually went incredibly smoothly! I was super excited for the change – to be honest, it felt more like I was coming home than anything else. I grew up in Toronto and I absolutely adore this city. The challenging part of the transition was probably going from a small-campus, school-community focused school to this beautiful, but giant and sometimes isolating environment. It was a nice challenge, though. The change definitely pushed me to put myself out there more, to talk to the people around me, to join clubs, and to reach out to my peers to make connections and (hopefully) lasting friendships. I would say I've done a pretty good job of that so far. There are some incredible individuals at this university. I'm happy to have met them and I'm happy to be at U ofT ! 

I transferred schools because of the diversity of courses and programs available at UofT. I mean seriously, all those subject POSt combinations?? I can do a double major AND a minor here, which the nerd in me finds super cool. I'm excited to learn and UofT does a great job of facilitating that.

3) What is your program, and why did you choose this?

I'm a third year undergrad student working on a double major in neuroscience and psychology and a minor in philosophy. Why? Because the brain is awesome, the mind is awesome, and questioning the relationship between the brain and mind is a synergy of awesomeness.  

4) How do you manage a 120% course load while managing to volunteer at hospitals and join clubs?

I find that the trick is to stay excited, interested and curious about everything I do, as I'm doing it. The most important thing is that I love everything I do – if I don't genuinely love it, I find ways to at the very least appreciate it. Getting myself hyped up about a task or subject is enough to trick myself into thinking I'm enjoying myself. From there, the interest comes naturally. It gets stressful (especially during midterms and exams!) when I take a step back and think about all the stuff I need to do within the given time limit, but as long as my focus is 100% on the thing that I'm working on in the moment, I can power through. Everything always works out in the end (especially when you have an awesome roommate who does all your cooking for you) so I try to tell myself there's no use wasting time stressing over anything!

5) What’s something you think you’ll do in your last year/is there something you want to try and do at this midpoint of your university career?

I’d like to get to know my profs and TAs more. I used to think they were some next level humans, but I’m realizing more and more how they’re just people like you or me. It’s really inspiring, actually, to listen to their stories and learn about how they got to where they are. So I guess the main thing I want to work on for the 2nd half of my undergrad is to get out to those office hours and get talking to some professors! 

 6) Was it difficult finding a work-life balance? And how did you come about it?

Is life synonymous with 'fun' here? I'm going to assume so. Finding a balance is tough. Balance is actually my key goal for this school year. In the past, I feel like I've weighted the 'work' side of the balance a lot heavier than the 'fun' side. It's funny though, because I think that a lot of the things I do are fun, even though most people might not agree with me. Learning and gaining experiences are fun, and those are two things that I've had the opportunity to expose myself to by keeping busy. I also love what I've gotten myself involved in, so it doesn't even feel like painful work or anything. My work is a challenge and it's a fun challenge for me.

7) What’s the best thing about living in Toronto?

There is a surprise awaiting you at every corner! I feel like there's always a new thing to explore here. Definitely lots of room for adventure in the city, and lots new that I want to try.

8) Do you think UofT was a good decision in the end?

Best decision ever. I'm really happy with where I am, how things are going and the opportunities that could come up in the future! Life is great.   

9) To have this outlook can be difficult to attain. When do you think you realized how much you were enjoying life, at Uoft, in the city and regarding your general experiences?

To say that I'm enjoying life would be an understatement. I'm in love with life right now. I realized this just recently, probably about 2 months ago when I pretty much made the decision to be happy. And I’m sticking with that decision. Instead of spending time dwelling over the past or being anxious about the future, I’m putting a lot more emphasis on enjoying the present. As I said earlier, I try to find ways to appreciate everything I do. I find that that strategy works really well - being thankful and focusing on the bright side of things makes a huge difference in my own happiness!  

10) I recently took you to karaoke for the first time and you surprised me with some groovin’ dance moves. Thoughts?

Definitely will be back! I also like hanging out with my awesome roommate, Bianca Hossain. We both get really excited about things like agendas and pens and hand vacuums. She also likes to cook and bake and she's taught me everything I know about that kind of stuff.   

There you have it folks. Spunky, outgoing and an enthusiast about the simple act of living, getting to know this Campus Cutie was one of the best adventures Miss Frizzle ever prepared me for.