“If an experience has the ability to give you the bliss of belonging, it is an experience worth having. This is how I feel about my journey at the University of Toronto, where I completed a combined specialist degree in French and Italian”
“Do I belong here?” is potentially the greatest question that one asks when finally deciding which university to go to, and one’s program of study. Though I personally had skipped this question and jumped ahead to the future, there was a moment in my university career when I realized that where I am is exactly where I am supposed to be. Like a bulb lighting up, showing me that everything is in place and putting on hold those pesky questions lurking in my mind about what is to come next. Those of us who have experienced university life can share that, at times, there can be a strong sense of alienation. Day-to-day uncertainty is simply a part of the process. But if an experience has the ability to give you the bliss of belonging, it is an experience worth having. This is how I feel about my journey at the University of Toronto, where I completed a combined specialist degree in French and Italian.
A little ‘off-beat’ can be said about my choice of program, but thankfully U of T offered it; and that too with a variety of courses, never making me feel like the ‘odd one out’. For me, going to U of T was a rational decision, a prestigious university that was close to home and offered a program in the direction that I eagerly wanted to pursue; French. French was something I had been learning since grade four and I fell in love with the moment I first heard the sound of it. But to say I was nervous on the first day of university might be deemed an understatement, and walking into my very first French class in first year was an experience I will never forget. We had gone a long way from repeating the names of classroom objects and the recitations of the verbs “avoir” (to have) and “être” (to be) of the younger years. As if walking into a different world, French words, sentences, and unique expressions echoed through the walls of the lecture hall as the professor spoke.
Walking into this new world was daunting and nerve-wracking, yet presented a deeply and inexplicably glorious feeling to be exploring the language in ways I had never heard of before. All the professors challenged us to transform our second or third languages into our first. The syllabi were crowded with verb tenses used commonly by the intellectuals, literature that scholars had been studying and unravelling since centuries and intricacies of the culture that were present in all their forms of art. But this was not even the entire picture of what my university career would look like! In a way, first year was designed like a map where I, as a student, belonged nowhere. Whilst fulfilling my university requirement of taking one humanities, one science and one social science course, along with other electives, and I explored courses such as Economics, Astronomy, Italian studies and even English Literature. Very different from the French degree I endeavored to attain, but this requirement and year of exploration allowed me to expand; teaching me a lot about myself. Moreover, I learned that it was not just French that I loved; it was a love of learning languages that occupied a space in my heart.
“From all the ups and downs; feeling confused to feeling nervous to feeling like you’ve had an epiphany, this was an experience I’m so glad I had”
When we finally had the opportunity to choose and apply towards our majors for the three years that were to be completed, I was at cross-roads. I had come in with somewhat of a ‘plan’, but the array of options in front of me left me lost. By chance I stumbled upon the perfect option that I was willing to risk, because I had loved my weekly three-hour Italian lectures; a combined specialist in French and Italian. This was the best decision for me, because from there onwards, I took courses in French literature from different centuries, Italian literature with a course entirely focused on Dante’s The Divine Comedy, cinema courses in both the languages, history of the languages, creative writing in Italian (which ended up being one of my more treasured courses) and the list goes on. The professors I worked with, the peers I met, the classes I attended, the exams I took all really pushed me to reach my highest potential. In four years, I accumulated knowledge worth centuries from lands entirely foreign to me.
From all the ups and downs; feeling confused to feeling nervous to feeling like you’ve had an epiphany, this was an experience I’m so glad I had. My ‘eureka’ moment happened sometime during an Italian lecture in the later years, where I could not believe that I was sitting there listening to words that I had never understood before, opening portals for me that I could never have imagined for myself. From that moment on, my university experience was heightened and the map of my career had pin points to identify destinations. In the end it can be said that – although it may take some time, finding your space and claiming your sense of belonging makes the ride smooth and worthwhile!
The interview was originally published in Career Ahead January 2021 issue.