My Top 10 Most Valuable Experiences at UVic

Classes are now over, and many UVic students are reeling from the changes that the last few months have brought. Graduation plans, summer jobs, and even next semester’s courses seem nebulous.

With the future so uncertain, I thought I’d look back on my favorite and most valuable experiences in my degree program here at UVic. These decisions weren’t always the easiest for me to make, but they are the ones that led to the most growth.

Although this post may not give a lot of comfort to those who still need to complete their degree partially online, for those who are graduating into the “real world” now so affected by COVID-19, it can be helpful to look back and recognize the amazing opportunities that a degree provided, despite its abrupt ending.

Here are my top ten most amazing, growth-inducing, and valuable experiences at UVic.

1. Joining a themed floor in first year

Joining the Arts Collective floor in first year exposed me to amazing people. It’s where I met one of my closest friends and brought me into the UVic campus life in a really fun way.

We went on field trips, hosted Bob Ross paint nights, and even planned our own haunted house for Halloween! Having a built in community from day one made me feel a lot less nervous about my first year, and being around other artistically-minded people was a great way to stay creative and social.

If I hadn’t been in the Arts Collective, I know I would have felt a lot more isolated, especially in that first month.

2. Studying abroad

The decision to go on exchange was literally handed to me when my Spanish 250 professor handed the class notices advertising a study abroad information session.

It was a moment that almost felt like fate, seeing as I had just transferred into that class from a lower level Spanish course, and I wasn’t even technically registered yet.

I’d always wanted to go on exchange, but when I was in high school, I just didn’t feel ready yet. In fall 2017, my second year, I spent a semester in Alcalá de Henares, a Victoria-sized city 35km northwest of Madrid.

My time in Alcalá de Henares was an incredibly dynamic and sometimes challenging time. I pushed myself academically by learning entirely in an immersion setting. I met students from all over the world at Alcalingua, the Spanish immersion branch of the University of Alcalá where I studied.

I befriended young people from as diverse locales as China and the Dominican Republic. I got used to eating dinner at 10pm and racing home after class to buy produce at the market before it closed for the afternoon siesta.

I was lucky to experience a completely different lifestyle, one that was so much more exuberant, nocturnal, and wild than my normal life in Canada, and I can’t imagine my UVic experience without it.

Hiking above the Alhambra in Granada, Spain, featuring my water bottle. Photo by Stas Betance.

3. Volunteering with my major’s course union

I did student government in middle and high school, and then I stopped because I didn’t like the ego and politics that sometimes came with it. Deciding to run for Self-Directed Representative on the Theatre Course Union came from a desire to make change and understand more about my department.

I often felt that I didn’t fit into the group dynamics of the rest of the board, but I loved helping with the theatre’s student activities, and generally getting to know my classmates better.

I also got the opportunity to meet with the chair of the theatre department monthly and share the students’ concerns in my focus. It was exciting to hear directly from the chair what kind of changes the faculty was implementing, and it was extremely valuable to build those relationships with the chair and other faculty members.

Although I didn’t choose to continue with my term in fourth year, I was still glad that I decided to serve and get more deeply involved with the theatre department.

4. Signing up for work-study

Work-study was something I considered for my first two years of my degree, but I was hesitant to take on too much too quickly.

In my third year, I worked in the Phoenix Theatre box office, and got to meet so many of our wonderful patrons in the community, as well as help them with their tickets and orders over the phone.

In fourth year, I joined UVic’s Communications + Marketing team as their work-study assistant. Although this experience was cut short due to COVID-19, the university was generous enough to pay out my full billable hours, even though I wasn’t able to complete them.

If possible in the future, I would recommend everyone check out the opportunities in the work-study program. The office has tons of billable hours to give out to students, and it was a great way to meet new friends, network with campus employers, and earn some money at the same time.

5. Submitting my stage play to SATCo

My journey towards playwriting, like many parts of my degree, flourished in my last two years. I wrote my first play in first year, and I submitted another play to the Student Alternative Theatre Company (SATCo) in the spring of my third year.

Submitting to SATCo gave me a great deadline to work towards, and the experience of having my script produced in the theatre department where I took my classes was unreal.

I loved working with the cast and crew in my capacity as playwright, and I was so inspired from the production that I immediately got to work on the next draft, and even submitted the work again for a slot in the Victoria Fringe (alas, we did not get it, but that’s okay, seeing as there may not even be a Fringe this year due to, you guessed it, coronavirus).

Me with the poster for my play, Knife Skills at UVic’s Phoenix Theatre. Photo by Ashley Richter

6. Taking courses outside of my comfort zone.

The best experiences I’ve had at UVic weren’t always the ones I enjoyed at the time. I learned just as much from what some may call failures, as I did from the successful ventures. Once, I attempted to take ART 106, a digital media course in Sketchup, Adobe InDesign, and Photoshop.

I thought this course would be a practical and great course for any person in fine arts to have on their resume. I also thought it would be easy, since it was a first-year course. Wrong! This course was really difficult. With 5 other courses already, I didn’t anticipate just how fast the course would move, or how much of my precious time it would gobble up.

I pulled many all-nighters on this course until finally, I had to drop it. At the time, I was extremely upset and discouraged. I really wanted to take the course, and I was disappointed that I couldn’t make it through. But eventually, I realized it was only an elective, and it wasn’t a reflection of my talent that I had to drop a course.

Now, I’m happy I challenged myself to take it. I know now that those skills take an incredible amount of dedication and time to learn, and that next time, I would attempt a course like this when I wasn’t doing anything else, so I could dedicate more time to it. I would recommend everyone take a course outside of their comfort zone at least once.

7. Going back to dance again at CARSA

I have always loved to dance, and I took the opportunity to take ballet in first year, and contemporary dance in second year at CARSA. I loved performing in the annual spring showcase, and I adored my instructors.

In third year, I felt too busy to have time for dance, but in fourth year, I missed it enough to make it a priority in my schedule.

Thursday nights became my favorite night of the week. I’ll never be a professional dancer, but dance makes me happy and it’s a great stress relieving activity.

The goofy dynamics of our Class in Sass, the fun choreography, and our amazing instructor kept me coming back week after week, even when it was hard to leave my pile of assignments on a Thursday night.

I love to dance, and I’m so glad that I took the opportunity to take it up again in my final year.

8. Exploring greater Victoria and Vancouver Island

As someone without a car on the island, exploring at first was difficult. I did most of my exploring on Reading Breaks, with my family when they came to visit, or when my friends with cars let me tag along.

I’ve road-tripped up to Sooke Potholes Park, camped overnight in Tofino, spotted the Goats on the Roof in Coombs, hiked through Little Qualicum Falls park, saw petroglyphs up by Nanaimo, and stopped for oysters in Fanny Bay.

I’ve even been to Port Renfrew, on a beach-cleanup trip with the Surfrider Foundation in my first year. There are still many places on the island I have yet to visit (floating down the Cowichan River on an inner tube is on the top of my list), but I know that after this pandemic is over, the nature of Vancouver Island will still be there for me to explore.

Little Qualicum Falls, Parksville BC. Photo my own.

9. Doing the Jamie Cassels Undergraduate Research Award (JCURA) program

Without going too far into my project, applying for a JCURA was a great way for me to get the last 1.5 credits of my theatre degree that I needed via a directed study, and combine that with a $1500 scholarship.

My project drew on my major and minor (theatre and Hispanic studies) as a study of new play development and production in Franco-era Spain. I would recommend it for any upper-year student looking to dive deeper into research in their field and build a mentorship with a faculty supervisor along the way. (Shoutout to my amazing JCURA supervisor, Silvia, and my incredible directed studies professor, Sasha!)

I was also able to tie my work into my directing class, where I staged a scene that I translated from Spanish to English for my directing final project. It was a lot of work but seeing my poster at the research fair and my scene in class made it all worth it.

My research poster at the Jamie Cassels Undergraduate Research Award fair. Photo my own.

10. Applying to join MyUVic Life

After 3 years of writing for MyUVic Life, how could I not end my final post for them with a little shameless plug?

I saw the wanted notice for bloggers in my second year, and actually joined while I was in Spain. I didn’t write quite as many posts from abroad as I could have, but when I came back, I joined a great community of UVic students from across campus.

We can be so sequestered in our individual programs and departments, and it was great to meet and befriend students from a variety of different programs and hear about their experiences at UVic.

The monthly meetings were catered with amazing food, and they were always on a Friday, which made it a great end to the week. I’m sad that we couldn’t have our final barbecue, but not having that last experience doesn’t negate three years of learning, insight, and blogging with the team. If you want to write for MyUVic Life, keep an eye out for posts on the University of Victoria Facebook page. We could use your voice!

Like me, I know many 2020 grads are now sitting in their childhood bedrooms, classes finished, and finals completed, asking themselves, “Was that it?”

I hope that other 2020 graduates can find solace in the fact that just because our degrees haven’t ended the way we wanted, doesn’t mean that there isn’t 4+ years of great life-changing experiences to look back and reflect on.

The last month of a degree is only a small part of the overall experience; I’m currently thankful that I graduated when I did, with the majority of my degree completed in-person, especially now that the fall semester is changing as well.

We’ve all grown so much in our time here, and we deserve to celebrate ourselves, even if it’s from home. If you have a little celebration on your own with family, try making a slideshow of your time at UVic. It may help you feel better when you realize just how far you’ve come since first year. With luck, our convocation will be awaiting us after this is all over, and we can celebrate how far we’ve come in person.

Until next time, UVic. Photo my own.

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