Let’s take a trip down memory lane. Let your mind wander back past last semester’s exams, your summer vacation, that last birthday—let’s go way back to your very first day at UTM. Feels like ages ago, huh? You’re pumped, full of energy, and you can’t wait to begin! It’s a whole new beginning—what’s not to like? But then, disaster strikes on the very first day. You’re about to be late for your first class because, let’s face it, those two letters—be it DV or NE—aren’t exactly a map to where your class is. It’s 10 past the hour and you’ve just flat-out sprinted to class, and lecture hasn’t started. (Wait, what?)

We’ve all been through this; it isn’t a new story. The first few weeks are a nerve-wracking experience, but we eventually adjust and adapt to our new lives. The transition to university takes more than the first few weeks, though—we have to develop a wide range of core skills from perfecting time management to crafting essays. It’s even more stressful to adapt or find the relevant resources to help you, especially if you’re new to the country or if English is your second language. It’s this exact sentiment that propelled Laura Taylor of the Robert Gillespie Academic Skills Centre to start compiling a survival guide for first-years with the help of the International Education Centre and current UTM students.

Taylor earned her undergraduate degree in economics, but following a few years in the financial sector, she decided to switch gears and enter the teaching stream. She spent several years teaching abroad in both Japan and South Korea, and then went on to achieve a MA in teaching English to speakers of other languages (TESOL) and a PhD in education.

“I never planned it out, but it all worked out in the end,” she says. “We’re in an age where we don’t necessarily have to stick to our degree—we come to university expecting certain things to happen, and sometimes they do and we know what we want to achieve when we’re 19, but sometimes we don’t. But if you don’t, university can act as a learning experience.”

Today, Taylor is a lecturer at RGASC, where she works primarily with English language learners to assist students not only with their English but also to develop core skills through workshops, seminars, and meetings.

“The ESL/ELL population has never had a concentrated effort here at UTM,” she says. “I’m new here; students are new […] By us all working together to tell their stories in the survival guide, I’m hoping that I’ll develop relationships with current students.”

The survival guide isn’t a guidebook advertising UTM’s many facilities and resources, which is what many university resources boil down to. Instead, it will consist of personal stories from over 100 UTM students on a variety of topics, ranging from Orientation Week, how to survive group projects, dealing with culture shock, and more.

“This resource won’t just be limited to UTM students,” says Taylor of its future. “The goal is to create an e-book accessible to all. We’re planning on giving it an ISBN and to possibly put in on a platform such as Amazon, so that it’s publicly available free of charge to all incoming first-year students, wherever they may be heading to study.”

The survival guide also provides a unique opportunity for current international or ESL/ELL students to contribute stories about their own experiences regarding their first year at UTM. “I’d like to work with current students in order to help develop their writing, to get to know them, and to get them published in something useful,” says Taylor.

Submissions for the survival guide are currently being accepted. Students will be credited.

The guide will be edited over the summer and released at the end of the summer for the beginning of the Headstart sessions and in time for the new school year.

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