by Michelle Park, former Residence Advisor at Ryerson University; Projects Officer, Brookfield Institute
Residence at Ryerson was not only my home, but it was where I became who I am today. It’s where I found my best friends and had some of the best memories. This is my journey.
I grew up in Vancouver, BC. I was born in South Korea, but I moved to BC when I was 5 years old. Everyone always asks me why I left Vancouver to come to Toronto, and it’s because of Ryerson’s Retail Management program; I wanted to pursue a Commerce degree that wouldn’t be entirely focused on business.
I moved into residence on my first day in Toronto. I headed to O’Keefe house in my uncle’s soccer van with my mom, and (literally) all of my belongings; I no longer had a place to live in Vancouver, so I hadn’t left anything behind. Pulling up to the house, I was immediately surprised by the sound of yelling and cheering. As soon the car stopped, students in yellow t-shirts that I’d never met came by and took all of my suitcases out of the car. Soon enough, my uncle and mom were cheering along with the students, and all of my belongings were gone, out of sight.
You can just imagine how terrified I was. It was already terrifying to see my mom and my uncle dancing, but my entire life was moved out of that van into this strange new building.
To be completely honest, I didn’t feel completely at home during my first year in residence. My first year really ended up being about adjusting and getting used to the university life (a.k.a eating pasta for every meal). For my second year of university, I applied to be a Residence Advisor and ended up getting the position. That was where everything changed. I can say with confidence that I would have dropped out of Ryerson my first year if it hadn’t been for Residence and the experiences I had with the Ted Rogers Management Conference. I was lucky to be a part of the conference for 4 years as a volunteer, events associate, VP Events, and Chair. I have gained an immense amount of knowledge and connections while being a part of this conference and it is one of the reasons why I have the job I have now with the Brookfield Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. You can read more about my experience with the conference here.
I met my best friends on the Residence staff team, who I later ended up living with after graduation. That team was incredible. It was everything that I needed: a community of like-minded individuals who were passionate about helping other students and driven in their own careers. I was lucky to be a part of the staff team for three years and a student for one, for a total of 4 years spent living and working in residence!
One of the most rewarding parts of being a staff member was watching my students grow. I met such amazing students along the way, and the opportunity to have watched them grow up and mature into incredible people is something I’ll never forget.
Residence taught me about empathy and patience. I learned how to act in emergency situations and how to address mental health issues head on. I learned how to confront my own mental health issues, and that asking for help is okay. I learned to accept people for who they are, because everyone’s story is different. I learned how to be independent and most importantly, I discovered who I want to be.
To be blunt: in my experience, you truly meet the best people in residence. You get to be the best version of yourself, and best of all, you get to make a ton of mistakes without anyone judging you!
If you ever consider being a part of residence, I encourage you to learn more. There are opportunities at residence that have the potential to equip you with skills that you didn’t even know you could learn. For example, the “Your Neighbour” program, which I was lucky enough to be a part of since its inception, is available to members of the residence staff community. It provides the staff team with a chance to connect with various partners and organizations outside of Ryerson and the residence community altogether. I found this opportunity to be extremely important because in my experience, Ryerson students rarely keep to themselves. We like to venture outside our comfort zones, and stay aware of what is happening outside our school. Overall, the Your Neighbour program aligns with Ryerson’s values to expand community and student engagement. The connections I gained through completing the program have been extremely valuable. Learn more about Your Neighbour here.
As I mentioned, residence has been a positive change for my university career, but I’ve also gone through some of my toughest challenges here. It’s not always easy. I struggled with mental health issues in my time at Ryerson, going to counseling for the last two years of university for my anxiety and panic attacks. When others went home for the holidays, I was constantly reminded of my own family struggles and the fact that my parents’ separation prevented me from seeing them during the holidays. It was hard, but I was lucky to have friends back home and friends from the staff team to take me in. Thanks to the Davie’s, Chervatin’s, Villemaire’s, and the Starkman’s for always housing me.
I was also struggling with my staff role in residence. After my first year as staff, I started to lose motivation, and became frustrated with the restrictions we faced. We were in what they called “a fishbowl”: constantly looked at as leaders and role models, and tasked with setting an example for our students. Although this is certainly an amazing opportunity, it can also be mentally exhausting when you’re also a university student and you sometimes just feel like taking a day to do whatever you want to do. I’ll admit, I think I stayed in residence too long. It became harder to take care of myself as well as my students, and I started building a resentment towards my position because I was getting sick of being in the fishbowl.
Through all of this, I told myself to look at the bigger picture. Residence allowed me to help hundreds of students adjust to university life and inspire them to create meaningful change in the community. The amazing part about being a staff member is all the support you receive from your fellow peers and professional staff. I was lucky to be close to my supervisors that was always there to support me if I needed it. The professional staff always remind us that we needed to make time for ourselves. In order to improve my mental health, I would schedule in time in my calendar to take some time for myself. Even if I was having a difficult day, I knew that I had people who were there to support me.
My mentors and supporters in residence – to name a few, Brittany Starkman, Danielle Chervatin, Luke Villemaire, Jaclyn Patterson, Alya Singh, Cole Deakin, Alexa Muir, Dan Cantiller, Simon Finn, Brandon Smith, Ann Le, Valerie Bruce, Jenny Owens, Ian Crookshank, John Austin, Shaun Ono, Tiffany Tam, Jen Gonzales, Kait Asquini, and many more – all had something in common. They were always willing to listen. These people helped shape my career and my life in general, and I will be forever grateful to all of them for their continued support and guidance.
I think that as university students, we go through innumerable emotions on our respective journeys, and it’s important to look beyond and take a step back from the chaos. Now that I’ve graduated and am happily living life outside the fishbowl, I can now truly appreciate looking at the bigger picture. Residence provided me with lifelong friends and memories that I will never forget. Residence also taught me patience and perseverance. I learned that nothing great in life comes easy, so always prepare for the worst but never fear the future.