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  • Writer's pictureThe Mentorship Spot

International Relations at the University of Toronto

Tomer Zaidman

Hi, my name is Tomer and in this article I’ll be discussing my first year at the University of Toronto (UofT) in the International Relations Program.

Tell us more about the program you’re in and what you are currently doing?

I’m currently doing a double major in mathematics and international relations, and considering a minor in political sciences. The great thing about UofT’s International Relations program is that the first year is generalized, you are simply meeting course requirements, and some experimentation is permitted. As of right now, I am taking courses in the history of empire, macroeconomics, global trade and political sciences, as well as mathematics related courses. I get an equal balance of everything, since I am writing papers, as well as math tests in terms of assignments.

Since when did you know you wanted to specifically enter this program?

Most of high school was math-centric for me. This all changed after Grade 11 history, as well as my involvement in Model United Nations (Model UN). These experiences made me realize history might be a field of study I was interested in. I found it encompassed a critical thinking side that I didn’t find in mathematics . I’ve always liked political sciences because they have the right integration of history, politics and human behaviour. They tell us things about how we as humans organize and the implications of this. I also love nerdy things like reading newspapers and watching math videos. So when it came time to pick an undergraduate degree, I was confused as to what I exactly wanted to do. I chose to go to UofT because this program allowed me to take courses pertaining to both my areas of interest. Other undergraduate programs may not have the same level of flexibility.

What are your extracurriculars?

I am part of The Toronto Youth Wind Orchestra (TYWO) as a clarinetist, although COVID-19 has shifted everything online. I also organize and participate in Model UN conferences; specifically I am part of the secretariat team for the North American Model UN conference. There is also a UofT chapter for ALPHA, which has many history related projects. Last but not least, I am a teaching assistant for a first-year calculus course.

How is residence life and the student community?

I had a slightly different situation than most first year students. I lived in an apartment building with a few of my upper year friends. However, if you choose to live in residence, you will be a part of a college, and each college is like its own student community. Each college has its own boundaries, which for me gave it a homey feeling. Each college also has its own reputation built for itself. For example, I was part of Victoria college, which had a liberal arts feeling to it. The biggest benefit to having these colleges is that there are many community activities and events where you get a chance to meet new students, and also form some valuable connections with upper year mentors.

Which extracurriculars have you been involved in, and how did they help to shape your university experience?

One particular activity I was a part of in first year was a G7 research group. The main objective was to create a report evaluating how countries comply with commitments that they made in conferences, in this case, the G7 conference. It’s a great place to gain writing and research skills, such as finding pertinent information and communicating said information effectively. Other than that, I’ve carried on with the extracurriculars I was a part of in high school, such as TYWO, Model UN, and ALPHA. It’s really important for students to realize that academics alone is not the way life works. You need these extracurriculars for the experience they bring forth.

What is one piece of advice you would give incoming university students interested in programs at UofT?

The biggest thing about UofT is its breadth and its flexibility, and I strongly encourage people to go anywhere and try anything. There are so many extracurriculars, and experimentation is key. This is moreso general advice, but the people who suffer in first year are the people who get scare of it. Once people start stressing out about academics, associated successes and the future, they lose the idea of university being a place for experimentation. Many people face a grade drop in university. It’s something that you have to accept, and remember that your grade isn’t the most important aspect of your undergraduate career. It’s important to prioritize what you want to get out of your university experience.

With that said, it is also important to find a good work-life balance in such a fast-paced environment at school. Some people prefer being busy over being bored, some people prefer time for themselves. Find the time that you want to allocate to being busy, and divide that time for schools and extracurriculars.

Last but not least, be excited! It’s the biggest barrier for some people; people are afraid of university instead of being excited. Once you overcome that barrier, your undergraduate experience will be awesome!

Where are you seeing yourself in 5 years’ time?

My idealized end goal is to be working in diplomacy, making tangible differences. However, I’m still unsure about where I will end up, and where school will come to an end. I’m looking into grad school as well as research opportunities, we’ll see!

Interviewed and transcribed by Divya Balendra

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