What Studying In A Pandemic Taught Me

What Studying In A Pandemic Taught Me

As I have finally accomplished one of the biggest goals in life i.e. graduating from university, I believe that a little essay to acknowledge it is obligatory. You see, my whole journey culminating to this hasn’t been easy and has been very unpredictable to say the least.

My last year, which I expected to be the most fun-filled and defining moments of my university experience, involved watching mostly pre-recorded lectures, in my mismatched pyjamas with little to no social contact with my other classmates (or the world in general). It definitely sucked that I wasn’t able to get ready for class, meet new people at the beginning of each new semester and engage with them at a more personal level, eat out after a class and so on. 

I’m not going to sugar-coat it because it would be utterly dishonest and disrespectful to all the other students who struggled with the same issue this year, so I am going to make it official. I definitely had the worst experience while studying at home alone.

I am very tempted to write more about all that has been bad and horrible but what’s the point when all that could be understood with the few sentences above. Life definitely threw curveballs, not that I wasn’t expecting any but a PANDEMIC? Oof. Anyway, what has happened has happened and I suppose I have earned some bragging rights, right?

I suppose I should enlighten people with some very obligatory “Don’t do this, cause I did and it sucked.” I have done some mental gymnastics to work out a little list of the things I wish I knew better about and some mistakes that I saw my friends make so here it goes:

  1. Dress up everyday even if you have nothing to do.

I never turned on my Zoom camera because I didn’t have to and I definitely felt no need to dress up. In retrospect, I was dumb. One of the biggest joys that I had came when I was getting ready for my in-person classes. The little ritual everyday was the biggest boost to the quality of my day and my confidence. The past year or so, I just found myself more and more disconnected from the person I was and I 100% agree that not keeping up my ritual made me more sad and unproductive. Now that I think back on it, I should have turned on the camera more often because, when I did, I had the most fun and fulfilling experiences, similar to my in-class experiences. I wish I could have gotten that push from somewhere but it’s okay. At least now I know.

2)   Talk to your classmates/professors more whenever you get the opportunity. 

Now this is something that I saw a lot of people struggle with pre-COVID, and post-COVID times gave them a safe haven for not communicating. This is one of the most damaging aspects of having online classes. Many people are okay with studying alone and passing, but I think that they often lack or risk losing the confidence that is crucial in the real-world. Something that they will have to do once everybody gets to see each other in-person.

Be active in your class’s Zoom group chat and get to know other people. Type out your questions or responses and most probably the whole class will read it and try to help you out. What’s even more interesting is that you will actually make a bigger impact on your friends and professors because they will see your name every time you speak up and will probably end up recognizing you more. This is something that I found to happen very rarely in-person. Many students end up being scared of speaking up because they feel the whole class’s eyes on them and get scared that they will make a fool of themselves. So if you have your camera off, go ahead and ask away all your questions because NOBODY knows what you look like and the probability that all your classmates will see you in-person one day and recognize you are slim. Might as well make some use of that “anonymity.”

3)   Attend Live Lectures

Having pre-recorded lectures has been extremely helpful to me and many, many other students. There is absolutely no denying that being able to go back to certain topics that you were unable to understand and rewatch them without anyone counting is very helpful in building a better foundation of that subject. I certainly did that many times but now that I look back at it, I should have been present for the live lectures whenever possible.

Nothing can beat the experience of being in the same boat as your other classmates at 8 in the morning. Sure you will need to learn to be punctual and dedicated but you will also feel much less lonely. I have seen a lot of friends complain about feeling alone or left-out of the class and most of the time it’s because they miss the live lectures and the group discussions. Don’t be lazy and miss out because all these little things are supposed to make you feel better about studying at home and this is why you should take the opportunity.  

4)   DO NOT STUDY IN BED

Yes, this needed to be capitalized. I have been guilty of it and many, many others are. Studying in bed is counter-productive and very unhealthy in the long run. You basically become a slob and unknowingly channel all slob-like tendencies in your work and personal life. Make yourself a designated work-station and force yourself, if you have to, to go sit there. Make your bed the sacred place to watch Netflix and sleep but please don’t be writing your biology papers there at 3 a.m. when you actually should be sleeping in it.

As I conclude, writing this made me feel a little better because at least I learnt what I should never do in the future. Lessons learnt one way or another are lessors learnt. So hopefully you will take some of my advice and have a much better and fulfilling time at on-line school.

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The Joys of Biking

The Joys of Biking

Ever since I was a young child, I always loved biking. In fact, it is my favorite sport. I love biking to new areas of Montreal, discovering new parks, streets, and bike paths. An exhilarating sense of adventure overwhelms me as I bike, since I never truly know what will be around the corner. I am quite a simple person. Even finding a new tree or chair excites me. I take each new experience as something valuable.

At the same time, nature itself is beautiful. As you may have guessed from my winter sports blog post, I absolutely adore the outdoors. Being with nature brings me a sense of peace, especially when I bike through the nature parks in Montreal. There are times when I am biking on my own and no one is around. Only the expansive trees, the singing birds, the tall bushes, and the warm sunlight surround me. It is wonderful to be alone in this kind of environment.

The biking itself is enjoyable as well. I love the fact that I am propelling myself forward through my own efforts. I especially like cycling very quickly, the speed is very fun indeed. I do think that biking is a good way to get exercise while exploring the city. It is definitely a great experience that I would recommend everyone to try.

For some background info on me, I personally grew up in a pretty overprotective household. My grandmother is quite scared of the outside world and never let me go out often when I was younger. Even now it is a struggle to go for a walk without an argument. It felt really restrictive, especially since I love the outdoors so much. I’ve seen the inside of my house enough; I’d rather be outside. And so, when I go biking, I gain a sense of freedom. I get control of where I am going and at what pace. Biking allows me to travel quite far away from home and discover so many new places. It feels so nice knowing that I can go anywhere.

Okay, now that I have fully explained how much I absolutely love biking to my core, I now need to explain how it was taken away from me for 3 years. As a warning, if you are a bit squeamish, I would suggest skipping the next paragraph. So, the last time I went biking was in August of 2018. At the time, I was getting a bit bored of biking honestly. I felt as though I biked through Montreal and that there were no more new areas to discover. But then, on January 2nd 2019, something happened. My back began to hurt. Then, by January 4th, I was in excruciating pain. My lower back had turned purple and started expanding in size. I had a hard time sitting or even walking. Then by the end of that day, I noticed that the bump that had developed on my back started bleeding. It was at this point that my mom and I decided to go to the hospital. At the hospital, the doctors told me that it was a quite large pilonidal sinus.

This is when an ingrown hair becomes infected and starts to produce pus, which creates a cavity underneath the skin. What the doctors had to do was cut an opening in my back and suck out all of the pus that had accumulated underneath my skin. I was thankfully asleep for this procedure. This led to a 4cm deep hole to be left in my back. And so, for the following 5 months, I had to frequent my local CLSC to change my bandages. The nurses would take a wooden stick and push a cloth (called a ‘mesh’) into the infected hole 3 times a week. It honestly felt like my flesh was being scraped. It was so excruciatingly painful, I hated it. This was the most painful experience of my life. And as if things couldn’t get worse, I would need to pull down my pants for the nurses to clean my wound, as my infection was on my lower back, which was kind of embarrassing as well. I am definitely not accustomed to being so exposed in front of strangers. After the 5 months, I needed an additional surgery to cut out an 8cm long (6cm deep) hole in my back, which was even more painful than before. This new wound took an additional 9 months to heal. Apparently, even after the wound is closed, you need to wait an additional year to do any strenuous exercise, and so now finally, spring 2021, I was finally able to go biking again. I am sorry that this fun blog post became a bit gross, but it is all part of the story. I am also telling you guys this because it is important to be aware of these kinds of medical issues, since this is a common condition in young adults and teenagers. If caught early, only antibiotics may be needed as treatment, and you will avoid all of the pain I went through!

Right, so now I would like to tell you about my first-time biking in three years. It felt amazing when my foot finally touched the pedal for the first time. I felt so powerful in a way. I pedaled as fast as I could, which to be fair, wasn’t especially fast as I am out of practice. For my first bike ride, I traveled to Parc Maisonneuve. This is actually the same park I went cross-country skiing in for my winter sports blog post. Time does fly. As you can see from the photos, the snow has completely melted to reveal the green grass that was trapped beneath it. You can also see the Olympic Stadium looming overhead. There were many people biking, running, skateboarding, scootering and picnicking at the park. Many families joined together to celebrate the return of the warm weather. The scenery was so breathtakingly beautiful, I had so much fun just looking as I rode my bike around the park. I used to be quite sad when I was younger, and so even when I was surrounded by such picturesque scenery, I wouldn’t really feel anything. I couldn’t appreciate it because I just felt so miserable. But now that I have grown into a much happier person, I was finally able to appreciate it! It was great.

I’m not sure how else I can describe my experience. It is now up to you, the readers, to experience biking through Montreal for yourself. As the weather becomes warmer, I definitely recommend you guys go biking. There are so many bike trails around Montreal, many of which can be found at: https://exo.quebec/en/trip-planner/bike/bike-paths. If you guys do decide to take my advice, I hope you have as much fun as I did!

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Coming of Age During A Pandemic

Coming of Age During A Pandemic

I often think about how children, and young adults now view their future in a post Covid-19 world. Much like the world changed when I was a kid, before and after September 11th, 2001. I believe it has similarly been rocked on its axis by the World Health Organization’s (WHO) pandemic announcement of March 11th, 2020. In a world of social distancing, global vaccines, and increased job automation, I ponder how our younger cohorts are envisioning their futures? Are their career aspirations as unrealistic as mine were in grade school (based solely on my hobbies, toys, or favourite shows)? Or, as out of touch and limited in choices, as the aptitude tests I received in high school? Or has the advent of social media, ever faster internet service, and smartphones, allowed their dream careers to be much more in line with the current and future employment sectors than ours could have ever been?

One thing that I don’t think has changed in our rapidly evolving, technology-driven society, is our youthful assumptions of being settled as adults. Regardless of whether the top dream job has shifted from being an actor or a doctor, to that of a social media influencer or reality TV star. Children and teens still assume that by a certain age, they’ll have their lives pretty much figured out. My generation sure did, and so did our parents’ and so on. For example, when I was a kid, I couldn’t wait to grow up because I thought growing up would be just like it was portrayed in popular culture. Everything that was awkward about you in your youth would magically straighten itself out. Transforming you into this beautiful, well-balanced finished project of a person, that made the world “your oyster.” Those are some of the nonverbal messages I took in from the popular makeover teenage movies, magazines, and TV show segments of that time.

What you eventually figure out is that being a well-adjusted adult is a continual balancing game. You get older every day, and you keep being faced with varying challenges to overcome, while maintaining the accomplishments you’ve accumulated so far. May they be professional achievements, such as a new position, promotion, or business endeavour. Or maybe they’re personal feats, like a new relationship, marriage, or expansion of your family unit. Or even emotional milestones, such as; the loss of a friend, family member, or acquaintance. Or, the deteriorating health of any of the former.

Being an adult really means, constantly learning how to maneuver and withstand the challenges that life will continue to throw your way. All while staying on an either steady or upward path of professional and personal development. It isn’t always easy to manage. And, not being perfect at it, or always successful at juggling all the “balls you have in the air,” doesn’t make you a failed adult. It just makes you human. Adulthood, also means remembering the child you once were, and giving yourself some grace. It means being kind to yourself, especially when things get tough. While being self-aware enough to acknowledge when you are not sufficient. Identifying the situations where your team-of-one isn’t strong enough to manage it alone, is an important part of growing up. Figuring out what aid you might need to eventually “turn the tide,” is a skill you never stop sharpening. As, the hurdles you’ll clear may require wildly different solutions from one to the next.

Despite being much older, and no longer as easily impressionable, part of me still wants to turn into a more glorious version of myself. I think that it’s okay to continue to strive for growth in every aspect of your lived experience, to really get the most out of this life. And yet, I still have to consciously fight the small corner of my psyche, that somehow believes that a Hollywood version of myself could show up, at any moment, to save me from actually doing all of this self-work. I know that it’s silly, and unrealistic, but I also understand that that’s my inner child. Before I could grasp all these more adult concepts of self-help, and sustainable growth, I just dreamed, hoped and pined for the moment when I would feel that I’ve arrived. That I’ve finally moulted into the person I always fantasized I could be. With maturity, and understanding of societal marketing and consumerism culture, I’ve changed. Not in where I want to be as a person, but in the steps that are required for me to get there. I have veered away from dreams, and wishes, influenced by popular culture. Instead committing to goals, actions, and effort that I expect to bear the fruit of an accomplished personhood, and a fully realized life.

I hope that today’s teens and young adults are able to come to these realizations ages earlier than I did. So that they can really enjoy every part of their transition into adulthood. Without discounting experiences, as I once did, just because I wasn’t quite who I wanted to be yet. Along with the difficulties that growing up can engender, today’s youth also has to contend with the changes that Covid-19 brings, and the negative impacts of social media. That is quite a tall order, but I’m confident that our future generations are smarter, and even more capable than those that came before it. What might seem to be a huge feat for someone in my generation, will likely just be a “rite of passage” for those coming into their own.

                                                                        An original blog by:

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Why History Matters

Why History Matters

How do you know when a Netflix documentary is groundbreaking? The answer is when it’s available for free for everyone on YouTube.

I never planned on watching “13th”. That’s actually because I never knew it existed. Now, what matters is that I have watched it and I cannot not share what I’ve learned from it.

“13th” is not just a documentary about the prison system in the States and racial discrimination prevalent right now. It is a plea in disguise asking for people to remember and learn from history. What exactly was so elemental about it? You see, the history of the North American continent is not very pretty. While most of us all have somehow decided to move forward towards the future, we are still carrying the wounds and scars from the past that have never been addressed, critically read and discussed. The struggles of our Black communities in the US are inevitably reflected in Canada and many other countries. To overlook the impact and connections of this would be incredibly naive and harmful. 13th, whilst painting us a heartbreaking reality, didn’t shy away from connecting pieces of traumatic pasts to what people have/are facing today.

Law & Order

I’d never heard about it before I saw Trump rage-tweeting about it randomly, multiple times. I always found it comedic because I believed that he just didn’t want to type out complete sentences. Turns out, thanks to the 13th, the phrase is actually dating back to the Nixon-era in America and was used with a malicious intent to paint communities of Black people as being dangerous to the peace and harmony of America. The phrase was a clever way to talk about other races in a negative light while being completely ambiguous.

My issue is that the phrase is not ambiguous anymore. Considering this part of history took place 50 years ago, we would have learned something. But it turns out many haven’t. If you use this phrase now and fail to acknowledge the baggage or somehow are unaware of it, history has failed us. Not only that, it’s not just the words that can be twisted but actions too. If you see a person talking viciously about how to punish people today and paints the imagery from violent, racist incidents from the past, you can tell that he is doing so with no fear because he knows many won’t understand. The alarming part is, those who he wants to understand, surely will. When someone tells you to look back at the “good ‘ol days” it’s important to know the history he is pushing you towards. 

George Bernard Shaw famously quoted,

“ We learn from history that we learn nothing from history.”

I never liked this quote because I always found it to be pessimistic but now that I look back at it, it’s not mistaken.

My love of history makes me realize that the collective ignorance towards our past and I mean not just knowing something, but rather the very intentional absence of critical thinking and reading has somehow made our history books just a bunch of boring textbooks with thousands of words stringed together. While some may find them interesting, interest is not enough. Students haven’t been taught to look at subjects through a critical lens and that reflects in various aspects of our societies.

To make that G.B.S. quote just some rambling, there needs to be a collective initiative. While I know very well that I can’t change the education systems all around the world or how we teach history alone, I believe that documentaries like the 13th tell a very persuasive argument to rethink and relearn all that we have learnt. Don’t think that it’s only just the history of the US that is up for discussion, apply this to everything that you have seen happening today and try to trace it back to your books or wherever you learnt from for similarities and differences.

History isn’t boring or redundant. It is the key to our present and very directly influences our actions of the future. Our failures to not want to think critically will often times come back and bite us. It won’t be very tolerable in the future.

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Making Pasta With My Italian Grandmother

Making Pasta With My Italian Grandmother

I’ve always had a very strong bond with my grandmother. Since my parents always worked when I was a child, it became my grandparents’ responsibility to take care of me and my siblings. I’ve spent countless hours at my grandparents’ house, even to this day. While my grandmother mainly speaks Italian (and I cannot), we still have fun together and keep each other company. One thing my grandmother is famous for (at least in our family) is her pasta. I think she has cooked pasta almost every day for dinner for the past few months. She usually uses store-bought pasta for dinner, which is quick, easy and tastes fine, but she sometimes makes pasta from scratch, which tastes so much better. It was for this reason that I got excited when my grandmother invited me to help her make pasta today. I would like to recount my experience to you guys as well as give you some instructions to follow so you too can make some pasta at home.

Before starting, you will need:

Ingredients:

  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil
  • 1/3 cup of water
  • Around 2 cups of flour

Utensils:

  • A pasta maker, pot, bowl, spoon, and measuring cup

Okay, so I will now explain what I did (with the help of my grandmother) to make some homemade linguini. First, I put 1/3 cup of water, 2 eggs, 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil and 2 cups of flour into a mixing bowl. I then mixed it all together so it became a sticky homogenous mixture (see photo). Once the ingredients were mixed, I then began to knead the dough in the bowl, which basically means I gave the dough lots of punches and squashed it a bunch. I also slowly added more flour during this process. Going forward, the dough shouldn’t be sticky. Instead, I added flour until the dough was smooth and firm. I am not exactly sure how much flour I added at this step, but I guess it was around ½ a cup. Once I was done kneading, I took the ball of dough and cut it in half. This recipe makes 2 large plates of pasta, but as I was the only one that was hungry, we only used one half of the dough I made for the rest of the recipe. Anyway, next we took the cut ball of dough and flattened it a bit with our hands, and then flattened it further using the pasta maker.

Our machine has a hand crank that turns the rollers and flattens the dough. My grandmother showed me how this step was done. First, she pressed one side of the flattened piece of dough onto the roller and then rotated the crank. What resulted was a longer and thinner piece. After the piece was flattened, she proceeded to fold the dough onto itself, and then repeated the processes of flattening it. Once I was familiar with the technique, I took over. My grandmother and I continuously flattened and folded the dough until it became as long and thin as seen in the picture. Once the dough was sufficiently rolled, my grandmother cut the dough into 3 different segments. We then put these segments through the linguini part of the pasta maker. This cut the dough into long strands of pasta. Finally, I put the strands of pasta into boiling water for 10-15mins. Once the linguini was cooked, I strained it and put some of my grandmother’s homemade tomato sauce, cheese and basil on top. And there we go, a great plate of pasta!! 

My grandmother, brothers and I tasted it and we all really enjoyed it. It was so yummy! My brother proclaimed that the flavour and texture of my pasta were much more superior than store-bought ones. He could even taste the eggs we added and said that it greatly improved the flavour. I personally have store-bought pasta almost every day, and I agreed that my pasta tasted much better than usual. I am quite proud of myself. It was also pretty quick and easy to make.

However, I will say that cooking with my grandmother was a bit difficult. She is quite the perfectionist and never wanted me to make any mistakes. Especially at the beginning of the day, she wanted to control my actions and maybe even do most of it herself. It was a bit stressful honestly. Yet, by the end, my grandmother saw that I was capable enough and performed well, so she relaxed a bit. We ended up making a pretty good team. I am very glad that I had this opportunity to cook with my grandmother. It was nice to spend some quality time with her while making a dish so tied with the Italian tradition.

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