Victoria College Comm-O 2017: My Experience

Edited by: Carol Eugene Park


It was a sunny, Saturday morning. As I stood behind the bright yellow line, luggage pulling me down from both arms, a family waited in absolute excitement for the train to arrive. The kids ran up and down the platform guessing where the train would stop and how loud it would be. When the train finally arrived and their excitement reached its peak, one of the adults turned around to me and, with slight embarrassment, said:

“They’re first time train riders.”

“Well, it’s very exciting,” I replied, smiling as the kids waited in anticipation for the doors to part. He smiled back, helped his kids up onto the train, and they all disappeared into the car. I meant what I said to him, because I too was sharing this feeling of child-like excitement. While it wasn’t my first time riding a train, it was my first time riding a train on my way to university. I was on my way to Commuter Orientation at Victoria College. 

I had debated for weeks whether or not I was going to go. Being a naturally nervous and shy person, I was considering skipping out on the opportunity because I was worried I wouldn’t be able to meet people, or that I would feel out of place as I'm not usually one to spend nights away from home. I didn’t know anyone at Vic, and that alone filled me with so much nervous energy that it almost prevented me from going. Nevertheless, I persevered, and looking back, I am so glad that I made the decision to go to Commuter Orientation.

The view outside my temporary room in Upper Burwash.

When I was directed towards Upper Burwash to see my name pinned to the door of a dorm room, it was a bit of a surreal feeling for me. Once I went inside and took a look at the view out my window, it made me feel certain that I made the right choice. That seemingly simple moment set the tone for a weekend full of new experiences, independence, new faces, and a perfect introduction to life as a commuter at UofT. It was so much fun for me to get the experience of staying in a dorm room, even if it was only for a night,but my personal favourite activity of the weekend was the scavenger hunt. In groups, we got to explore the expansive campus and discover all of the cozy nooks and cute crannies that the university has to offer. In my scavenger hunt group, I met two amazing people: Michelle Nguyen, a first-year student at Vic in the Humanities program, and Iqra Mahmood, a first-year student at Vic in the Life Sciences program. The three of us spent lots of time together over the two-day orientation and we immediately connected over being commuters, even though we all come from different corners of the GTA. The fear of meeting (or not meeting) new people quickly went out the window, and that was due in great part to the amazing leaders who encouraged us to socialize and get to know each other.

Michelle Nyugen (left) and Iqra Mahmood (right).

“All the leaders were very welcoming. They encouraged mingling and set their activities up really well. I really enjoyed how they made everyone feel like they [sic] were all equals. It’s a nice welcome to adulthood and UofT,” mentioned Iqra. 

“It was a lot better than I expected and the leaders were very welcoming and outgoing,” added Michelle. “It made coming in as a nervous first-year a lot easier. They would talk to you, and they would welcome you and share their experiences. I liked the idea that the hierarchy from high school breaks down. Your age doesn’t really matter, your year doesn’t really matter; it’s about sharing experiences and talking to each other. Now I don’t think I’m going to be as scared talking to third or fourth-years as I would have been had I not come to this.”

Stephanie Spagnuolo is a third-year student at Vic studying English, History, and Education and Society, and she was a leader for Comm-O 2017. She led our scavenger hunt group and listened to all of our questions and worries throughout the weekend, giving us some very important advice about being a commuter student:

“As much as it’s impossible to say ‘don’t stress’, don’t worry yourself too much. Residence is a privilege, but many people can’t have it for whatever reason. It doesn’t end with that. There’s so many commuter-based communities around UofT—whether at Vic, or other colleges as well—to get involved with. If you start to feel like you might be a little bit overwhelmed, or you’re starting to feel homesick because you’re not with your support system, recognize that that’s a really common feeling and it’s okay to go to talk to someone about it. Don’t try to take everything on yourself. There’s no one perfect first-year experience.”

Stephanie was so welcoming and easy to talk to; she was a perfect fit to be a leader at Comm-O. 

"I’d never been to Comm-O before and now all of a sudden I’m a leader in it," she said. "It was a new experience for me much like it was a new experience for the first-years, and I really liked the connection I made with a lot of students. It was very one-on-one, not necessarily a dynamic like ‘leader and frosh’, but just as equal friends, and I really liked that."

We all had such a great time together. An amazing evening trip to Ripley’s Aquarium allowed us to really get to know each other, other commuters, and our lovely orientation leaders and executives as we invaded the TTC and chanted our cheers throughout the streets of Toronto.

Stephanie Spagnuolo (left), Jayde Jones (centre), and Melinda Hector (right).

Jayde Jones and Melinda Hector are both third-year students and were Orientation Executives for Comm-O 2017. Jayde studies Ethics Society and Law, Criminology and Socio-legal Studies, and Equity Studies, and Melinda is studying Neuroscience, Psychology, and Immunology. These two lovely ladies were so kind and helpful to me and all of the other first-years, not to mention the fact that they planned and executed the events for the entire weekend flawlessly. Melinda talked about the success of the scavenger hunt:

"My favourite moment was a favourite feeling, because being one of the people that planned the weekend, I was just like: ‘you know what, I wasn’t stressed at all on Saturday’. Everything turned out great. The scavenger hunt turned out great. I was just so happy about that."

My thoughts echoed Melinda's words: "everything turned out great." I couldn't imagine a better experience than the one I had at Comm-O. It was engaging, exciting, and filled with opportunities for exploration and for meeting people from all over the GTA. However, I couldn't help but think about other first-year commuters who may not have had the chance to come to Comm-O, or those whose college didn't host a commuter-specific orientation. I asked both Jayde and Melinda what their number one piece of advice for any first-year commuters who weren't at Comm-O would be, and both of them really encouraged everyone to get involved in the UofT community.

“Get involved,” Jayde said. “It’s the number one way to make friends. It’s the number one way to feel like you have a community, and I think that coming out of high school, it can be really overwhelming. Pick one thing, do that one thing, and go meet people. From there you can branch out and try other things. Just get involved. It’ll make your whole university experience the best ever.”

“I feel like as a commuter, you feel left out most of the time compared to your residence friends because you have to be home at a certain time, and you’re just tired most of the time,” Melinda added. “There is a way, just plan your schedule around it. Don’t take on too much at once, but please, do get involved.”

Then, as quickly as the weekend had begun, it was over. Just like that, I had fallen in love with Vic, UofT, and the amazing people I met. I asked my new friends what the most important thing they took away from our weekend was.

Iqra’s response: “You guys.”

“If you are having a struggle that has to do with being a commuter, there’s a solution, because there are people who’ve come here before you who have dealt with the same things,” said Michelle. “Finding solutions to those problems is going to be made a lot easier by talking to the people who’ve done it before. I think that was the main idea of the entire commuter orientation: to make sure that all the commuters know that we’re together.”

That’s exactly how I felt as I rode the train back home. I felt like all of us commuters were in it together, and I couldn’t be happier to be a part of Vic's amazing commuter community. 

All image sources were provided by the writer.