Being a commuter student while studying at the University of Toronto has its daily struggles. Believe me, I know. I commuted approx. 1 hour and a half, often in rush hour traffic, each way for all four years of my undergrad. Here is a list of commuter problems I think it’s safe to say U of T commuter students have in common.
As an aside note, I loved my postsecondary university and am so fortunate for my education there. These are just some quibbles of what I believe are relatable situations that have happened or thoughts that one has had during their time as a commuter student of U of T.
1. Transit System
Oh, the good ole Toronto Transit Commission. Toronto’s transit system usually gets you to your destination quickly and efficiently, but then there are those days (you know the ones…) where it feels like every single disruption falls in your path. And it’s often on the day you need to be in class on time. On a day with signal issues or the sudden stops that have no clear reason, there is no telling how long it might take you to get from A to B. During my undergrad, I started leaving the house well in advance of when I had to, thinking it would be better to arrive earlier than later. Yet, when certain TTC disruptions strike, often no amount of planning will ensure you get there on time. However, I learned to accept and make peace with the fact that I would be late to class, or not make it at all, rather than stressing out about something I couldn’t control. Commuter Problem #1 somewhat resolved?
2. Long Breaks and Nowhere To Go
As an undergrad, I would have large breaks in-between my classes, so that I could often have 3 or 4 hours where I’d sit at the library trying to get my work done or walking around aimlessly because home was too far of a commute. I also couldn’t get my work done at a library; I needed to be at home, surrounded by silence, so that made the struggle even worse. I also didn’t want to buy lunch everyday so that meant I had to have a whole day’s worth of food, clothing, and homework essentials to carry me through my day. Most definitely a commuter problem we all can relate to. As a graduate student, I comparatively lived on campus, and, let me tell you, it felt so good to just go home to freshen up after a long morning, take a cat nap, or fit in some work. I know that several of the colleges at U of T had a “Commuter Don” program so that you had people, resources, and space to help aid you during your time at U of T. I didn’t ever use these resources, so I can’t speak to whether or not they provided the kind of sanctuary I yearned for on those long days.
3. A Lot of Work and Little Play
When I had my first class at 10 am and my last at 5 pm, I had very little interest in sticking around after my last class finished. I was tired, likely hungry, and knew I had assignments and essays waiting for me. All I wanted during these days was to get the heck outta dodge, as the saying goes, and go home. The downside to being so tired was that it meant I had little social time outside of classes. I did not have the energy to schlep places to meet people carrying my heavy backpack. Living in a dorm would have meant being able to engage and make plans or hang out with others without even stepping outside the dorm. As a commuter, I never felt things were that simple.
4. Making Lasting Friendships
I always said that when you meet someone if your class and get to chatting, if your friendship last beyond the summer, you’ll stay friends. I can probably count on both hands the number of people I met in university and with whom I remain close friends. It’s just not easy as a commuter when you only see your peers in class, unless you find someone you really click with. No matter your good intentions, the majority of people you meet are in your classes and, from my experience anyway, most classmate friendships start to fizzle out once classes finish. So, when you find that person you click with, hold onto them tight and cultivate that friendship. For me, it was a redheaded girl who spoke to me in my first-year English tutorial — and five years later, we’re still best friends.
5. Places to Sit and Eat On Campus
I don’t know about you but when I was a student at U of T, I found that there were more students than places to sit and eat on campus. In the spring and early there is ample space to sit outside in one of the college squares, but during the late fall and winter it takes a lot of searching to find a place to sit and eat. U of T is situated in the middle of the city with food places peppered around the large campus but little seating to allow for a relaxing lunch, and as a commuter student you don’t have the opportunity to go home for lunch. I remember many a time when I had lunch on the basement floor of the Sidney Smith building waiting for my midday class to start. I felt like I was reliving high school all over again. Not fun, I must say. Hopefully one day U of T will be able to build a larger student space for students, both commuters and those living on campus, to enjoy a bite to eat or take a breather between classes.