First Things First

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Whether it’s that final walk you do before you leave your college for what might possibly be the last time, the plethora of obnoxious eloquent farewell notes & super corny heartfelt Facebook statuses, or just the sheer number of hugs and embraces witnessed, dorm life (or ‘hostel life’ as we like to call it in India) evokes a special charm. Actually, I wouldn’t know so I suppose I could say living vicariously is more bane than a boon. Gladly, (or am I getting ahead of myself?) the tease is over and University housing is no more just a distant dream.

Coming from India, where facilities aren’t exactly, for the lack of a better word, ‘comprehensive’, it sure is easy to rationalize not ever having lived in a hostel atmosphere as a blessing in disguise. But the grass on the other side always looks greener and I sure as hell carry with me expectations 😉

The first thing you notice about Grad House’s exterior is something of a life philosophy – It’s never as good as in the pictures. But truth be told, the common area is fantastic, replete with ping pong, pool and Foosball tables, the rooms not so bad themselves – seeming far more spacious than you’d have imagined, with more drawers than you’re ever going to need. Just know that if you’re bringing more than three large suitcases, you might not get cupboard space to store them all (and no, there isn’t a common luggage room or anything of that sort Grad House provides)

Also a bit of a rude shock was when I realized that only the common area in the basement had WiFi. An Ethernet cable would have come in handy, a router even more so because let’s face it nobody likes being chained to their table. It defeats the whole point of owning a laptop. Infact I usually like mine to lie beside me on bed (still talking about my laptop!). Plus, a router means you can connect your phone too.

Tip for future generations: Your towels/clothes are going to double up as your pillow for your first night here depending on what part of the day you arrive at and how jet lagged you are to go shopping. Get a thick blanket if you’ve got the space for it as it’s centralized air conditioning in each suite.

I said it to all my classmates and I’ll say it again. For your T-Card, head over to the School of Graduate Studies to get your status changed by showing your study permit. Then head over to Robarts library, that towering building which looks more like an evil sorcerer’s Bastille (‘Brutalist architecture’ Wikipedia says). Take a comb or two so your id for the next 2 years won’t display a sleep deprived face like mine will now 😉

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Robarts Library: Designed to look like a peacock, some say.

Error no.2: Not getting a calling card and banking on international roaming. Thankfully, I got my T-Card in time which served as my second piece of id (in addition to my passport) to get myself a local SIM. In line with the austere lifestyle I envision myself adopting in an expensive place like downtown Toronto (as a student, without any earning capacity whatsoever, AND a large sum of debt to boot) I got myself a WIND sim card that made my wallet lighter by only $30 each month. Time will tell if the $15-20 of monthly savings will be worth the dropped calls and lack of signals.

The next most important thing would be your Social Insurance number. If you couldn’t get your SIN at the airport, no need to fret, there’s a Service Canada Center less than a couple of kilometers from campus on College Street. And the process itself takes an hour at most (I must boast mine got over in less than half)

For those of you who don’t have a driving license or don’t intend to get one in the near future, or just plain outright don’t know how to drive – you can apply for an Ontario Photo Card. Your T-Card’s got no date of birth and it’s not like you can carry your passport around to the nearest pub or liquor store, so this comes in handy. Service Ontario (again on College street) is where you need to go.

Monies: If you haven’t opened a bank account already remotely over email, you can visit one of the 5 big banks of Canada that have plenty of branches in and around the city. (RBC and Scotia are arguably the best but BMO and CIBC aren’t too far behind. TD sucks!) ­Just ensure you apply for a credit card too because it’s important to build a credit history here.

Shopping: There’s a Walmart that’s accessible by subway. Walk to Spadina station and head to Kipling (get off at Dufferin and walk for a bit). There’s an IKEA too but it’s a tad distant. For all electronics, you can head over to the nearest Best Buy that’s also got a Canadian Tire right adjacent. And be sure to check out Dollarama too, for some really nifty and useful stuff.

Metro is the 24×7 superstore on Bloor street west, where you can buy your groceries. It is said that wise men learn from other’s mistakes and only fools learn from their own. So be wise and be cognizant of the student discount that Metro offers on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

Moment of truth no.7678: GPS is a basic necessity, unless you’re really looking to lose some weight (which losing your way and having to walk more than required will certainly do for you)

What seemingly started off as a post about college life, I now realize has tapered off into a tips-for-newbies-in-Toronto piece. So I’ll end it with this. Student life is hard. It’s even harder when you’re on your own in an alien country and have to start from scratch. You go through a lot. But just because you go through it, doesn’t mean you need to do it alone.

And you must love hostel life for that.

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The most expensive water bottle + bag combo in the world? Only cost me a $100k tuition fee 😉

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