By Josh Wingrove
I left the promised land.
I left the booming Alberta economy — my PST-free place of birth — and came to Ryerson. Last Saturday night I bid an abundant adieu over a few pints of Big Rock’s Grasshopper wheat ale. Sunday I ate an Albertan breakfast of “Ham and potaduhs.” I got on a plane — you guessed it, WestJet — and was weaving down the Gardiner by midnight.
The thing is, this is my third year. In first year, I didn’t know what the Gardiner Expressway was. I didn’t know whether Pickering, Ajax, Scarborough or St. Catherine’s were within streetcar distance or not. I didn’t know which terminal to fly out of. I didn’t know about the Airport Express Shuttle. I certainly didn’t know where to find a pint of Grasshopper, though I’ve since discovered the Esplanade Bier Markt.
Each year, there are hundreds of new Ryerson students just like me. We come for the programs, we come from other provinces and we know as much about Toronto as the international student from Dubai. Too many of us never make it to convocation.
Out-of-province Canadian students are stuck in no-man’s land. That Dubai student has orientation for international students and priority for a residence room, a rare find at Rye-High. And while Albertans, Easterners and the silver spoons from West Van have advantages (legally able to work off-campus, access to Canadian student loans, cultural knowledge), they are met head-on by homesickness, a housing crunch and lonely weekends alone for Thanksgiving.
Rachel Barreca is Ryerson’s facilitator of first-year programs. In her former position at the University of Guelph, Barreca oversaw a program that recognized the independent needs of students from Northern Ontario and other provinces. Ryerson has no such program.
“You need to provide cohort-specific space where people of the same experience can get together … they’ve got to connect and they’ve got to feel like they’re a part of a community that cares and wants to help them,” Barreca said. When training her orientation leaders this year, Barreca told them to assume nothing, using the example of rock-paper-scissors as a cultural game that isn’t universal knowledge.
“It’s even little things like that. Not making assumptions is key,” she said. There are programs to help. Ryerson’s Tri-Mentoring program pairs first-year students with upper-year students and career mentors, and West Coast born first-years can request a mentor from West Van if there’s one available. Counselling services are also available to those plagued by homesickness or struck by family tragedy. Few first-years even know about these programs.
I’ve met five friends from the West Coast in my time here. Two have since dropped out. The other three live together — a mini-coalition of West Coast love in the heart of the cold, cruel GTA. Unless you make those connections, it’s virtually impossible to make it on your own for four years. A friend of mine from rural Alberta left abruptly during the year, apparently desperately homesick. She hadn’t made the connections. I’ve never heard from her since.
Barreca encourages students to take part in orientation events, meet as many people as they can, join clubs and be aware of the programs out there. Intramurals, residence groups, religious groups (and, of course, the campus press) are just a few of the clubs out there. Rye-High also boasts the Association of Ryerson Role Players and Gamers (aka ARRG). There’s something for everyone.
In the meantime, Barreca is preparing a list of recommendations for improving Ryerson’s orientation. An orientation for out-of-province students is one program she hopes Ryerson would explore.