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Parting Thoughts (Dreams Can Come True)

I have graduated.


Graduating felt so good that honestly, I can’t imagine why someone wouldn’t want to attend their convocation. Okay, I can imagine a few, but the feelings of pride, happiness, accomplishment, and fulfillment was so overwhelming that two days ago I actually starting crying a little bit after I walked across the stage. Being recognized for all your hard work and shaking the hands of your favourite professors who are so proud of you is just so powerful.

As I sat in the Chan Centre on Wednesday, I thought about all the things that have happened in that hall. Hearing the Dean of Arts speak on Imagine Day and chanting our faculty cheers. My first orchestra rehearsal in which I was so scared I missed pretty much all of my entrances. Playing an opera in second year. Playing my very last orchestra concert, Mahler’s second symphony, receiving two standing ovations. Convocation. And later in the evening, playing a solo in the Baccalaureate Concert.

It has been such a wild ride here at UBC. If you’ve kept up with my blog, you’ll know that there have been bad times, including homesickness, disappointment, injury, and anxiety. But so many of the things I wanted from UBC came to me. I wanted to go abroad; at first I thought I wouldn’t be able to but was given the opportunity to go to Belgium for two weeks with the UBC Laptop Orchestra. I wanted to make the lifelong friends that everyone talks about making in college. It took me about six months but I found the friends that have been like family the last four years and who I am sure I will stay friends with for a very long time. I’ve always sort of imagined in the back of my head what it would be like to be a valedictorian, and although I wasn’t one, I was asked by the director of the School of Music to give a short speech at the music reception after the graduation ceremony. And since the first time I saw a picture of the Chan Centre, I wanted to play a solo on that stage. And I did on Wednesday night.

I would like to end this final post with a message to incoming students, or anyone who is a few years along and maybe feeling a bit lost:

Your time at UBC will be many things. It will be hard, it will be fun, it will be challenging, rewarding, lonely, and full of friends. There will be lows, yes, but there will also be such amazing highs! UBC really is a place where you can make your dreams come true, as corny as that sounds, if you know what you want and go for it. You might be homesick, or lonely, or be struggling with your schoolwork; you might even decide that UBC is not for you at all. Whatever your situation is, UBC has resources to help you and things always get better. There is so much opportunity for growth here; enjoy it while you can because it will be over before you know it.

When I arrived at UBC four years ago, I didn’t know a soul in the city and I was homesick and so scared I could barely eat. At my Imagine Day rally, President Toope said that he hoped UBC would become our home, or at least our second home. I thought, “That is NEVER going to happen.” Well, it did. It did, and now it’s time to say goodbye.

So long, UBC. It’s been rad.


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I’ll Miss You, Vancouver

I will be moving back to Winnipeg at the beginning of June. The thought fills me with many feelings, some good, some bad. So I thought, why not make a list? So here it is: Things I’ll miss about Vancouver, things I won’t, and things I’m looking forward to back home.

Things I’ll Miss About Vancouver:

  • The warm, green winters. Not sure how I’m going to deal when next March Winnipeg is still under snow.
  • The huge amount of small businesses and variety of independently owned restaurants and shops.
  • The cherry blossoms. And rhododendrons. And magnolias.
  • The transit system. People like to complain, but we generally get a lot of bus service for a reasonable price! Winnipeg’s transit system isn’t nearly so nice.
  • The mountains and the ocean.
  • The lack of potholes on the roads.
  • How active everyone seems here.
  • Seeing the skiing trails lit up against the night sky.
  • BURGOO! And Dentry’s. And Grounds for Coffee. (Those cinnamon buns!!)
  • My friends. Although; my friends are all actually moving away from Vancouver this year as well, so it’s not like staying would fix this problem.
  • How well dressed everyone is here!
  • How walkable the city is.
  • How much cheaper the produce is.
  • No mosquitos!

Things I definitely will NOT miss:

  • The rain. I hate rain. So much.
  • How much it costs to live here.
  • The fact that everything I want to go to is so far away. Seriously! It takes so long to go anywhere!
  • Getting passed by the bus.
  • That wet, wet cold.

Things I’m looking forward to back home:

  • Prairie sunsets.
  • Prairie autumns. I haven’t been home in the fall in FOUR YEARS and I am so excited for this September! Fall on the prairies is the best.
  • Snowy Christmas season.
  • Reconnecting with old friends.
  • Having my boyfriend in the same city.
  • Not paying rent and saving money by living with my parents.
  • Having a tub-shower (in my apartment they are separate and I don’t like it).
  • Having actual natural light in my bedroom (again, my room here is very dark).
  • Some of my favourite Winnipeg haunts.
  • Being able to take gigs because I’ll have access to a vehicle.

I’m sure there’s more that I can’t think of at the moment, but I think you get the picture; leaving a city and moving back to another is a mixed bag of emotions.

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My final graduation recital was last Monday, and my goodness did it feel great. I think I played really well and really musically, I know I made mistakes but I’ll have to wait until I get the audio recording to decide how noticeable they were. My immediate family flew out to see the recital, plus a couple aunts and my boyfriend. My closest friends from the past four years were there, some of my boyfriend’s family, classmates and coworkers from the School of Music, and even some people I didn’t know were there too. I got enough applause that I received a second bow, and I was given a big bouquet of flowers and a friend brought me fancy chocolates.

I felt totally supported and very proud of what I have accomplished since I arrived at UBC. When I played that last chord I knew that I was done, I was free, I was an educated woman! I mean, I have loved my time at UBC but knowing that was the very last thing I would do as part of my degree felt very momentous and liberating. Thinking back to those last moments of applause puts a smile on my face even as I write this. It’s just – this is what I was striving for for years, you know? This is what I’ve been hoping for since I applied to UBC. I guess this is what it feels like when a dream comes true.

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Photo Obsession

While I was visiting Australia’s Red Centre a few weeks ago, there were stretches around the base of Uluru where you are asked not to take photos. This is because the land is sacred to the Aboriginal people and it’s sort of like scripture, and is meant to be viewed in its original location. It struck me that our culture (What does that even mean? Who is “our”? I don’t know!!) is obsessed with photographs. When I take a step back, the hordes of people all with their cameras up do look a little silly.

I'm also guilty of taking plenty of photos... (At Uluru)

I’m also guilty of taking plenty of photos… (At Uluru)

During the very long bus ride back to Alice Springs (the Australian desert is massive!), all I could think about were photos, and why we take them. Should we take them? Is it good or bad? Does it matter? I thought of a few reasons why we take photographs:

  • Vanity, and as trophies to show off.
  • To garner more likes and popularity on social media.
  • To remember experiences.
  • To fit into a culture which is inundated with photos; everyone has pictures, they’re in ads and in the media, shouldn’t you also have some?
  • To make art.
  • For fun.

I’m sure there are a bazillion other reasons, and if you can think of some, please post them in the comments.  Then I thought of some reasons why photos might be considered as a bad thing:

  • They can be obtrusive, for example if you’re in someone’s way.
  • You are not getting the full experience by viewing through a camera screen.
  • In food pictures, you may be holding up the restaurant and your food may get cold.
  • It can be disrespectful if you’re taking a picture of something someone doesn’t want you to.
  • On one of our tours in Australia one fellow was taking gratuitous pictures of the bus, and it nearly left without him.

I was talking to a friend of mine about it, and she said, “If someone wants to take pictures, I’m not going to hate them for it. And I don’t buy into the whole idea that if you don’t put your phone away you’re going to have an incomplete life experience.”

Overall, I’ve come to the conclusion that although some reasons for taking pictures may not be as “noble” as others, as long as you aren’t being obnoxious to someone else when you are taking photos, it’s okay. It’s not illegal for you to want to have some nice looking photos of yourself, or to show your peers or colleagues what an awesome vacation you had. Taking pictures is not really a good thing or a bad thing. It’s just a choice for a person to make.


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Return from Oz

Hello there! ISo far this summer I’ve been taking a break from blogging because I wanted to stop thinking of how to turn my life into a text post for a while. I just got back from a family trip to Australia, which was AMAZING. The whole experience was unforgettable and just, wow. What a beautiful country.

A few of my favourite parts:

  • The World Harp Congress in Sydney –  This was, in fact the reason for us going to Australia. It was inspiring and I learned a TON. Hoping my new practicing skills will give me an edge this year.
  • The Penguin Parade – We went to an island near Melbourne and saw hundreds of little penguins waddle right past us, out of the water and into their burrows on land. Magical.
  • A wild cockatoo landed on my shoulder – We were at a place were you could feed them and there were about four of them on me at one point.
  • The outback – We saw Uluru, Kata Tjuta, and Kings Canyon. The red desert is so beautiful, and I got to learn a lot about the aboriginal culture, which was my favourite part of the outback. One thing I thought was interesting was that there were very few plants in the desert, but nearly all of them were very powerful and nourishing, whereas in the rainforest there were tons of plants but most of them would kill you if you tried to eat them.
  • Snorkelling on the Great Barrier Reef – I did not expect snorkelling to be as crazily beautiful as it was. I just stuck my face in the water, and BAM I can see clearly through the water and there’s fish and coral right there, and hey that fish is like ten centimetres away from me. WOW. At one point our guide led us through a shallow area and I started drifting and the coral seemed about a foot away from me and I swear if I moved any of my limbs I would have wrecked EVERYTHING if the guide hadn’t come and towed me away. That was a bit scary. But gosh, coral is so beautiful. It makes me so sad that worldwide it is dying due to climate change.

This summer has been a restful one. I decided not to work because of my long-ish trip, which I’m okay with because it meant during my last real summer vacation ever I got lots of time to relax and have fun.

Now that I’ve bragged enough about my summer, how was yours? Let me know in the comments. :)

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How Much is Too Much?

When it comes to involvement, I have always whole-heartedly supported the idea that getting involved really makes your time at university meaningful. Under-involvement isn’t something I’m really a fan of. But, when deciding to become involved in your university experience, how much is too much?

Well… I’m not entirely sure of that answer, at the moment. I’m sure that it’s different for everyone. I think that you have to figure out how much time you need to go to class and study while also taking good care of yourself, and the time that remains is game for extra-curricular activities. What if your course load is so heavy you don’t have any time? Well, try to do something small, something with a very small time commitment. Or do things over reading week or summer break. Get involved within your own faculty so it relates to your studies. Just avoid the “go to school, go home” trap that honestly is a total downer.

This year, I’ve upped my involvement because last year I felt like I wasn’t doing enough. This year, in addition to playing in more ensembles and having to put on a recital, I’m now the treasurer of an AMS club, I’m still blogging, I’m working a Work Study position, and I’m part of a research course that will be doing a Go Global Study Abroad trip in February. My plate is feeling very full. I’m not quite at the point of being overwhelmed just yet, and I’m hoping that if I do get to that point I can handle it. (Time management skills, FTW!) And, if I do find that I took on too much this year, I can always scale it back next year.

For now, I’ll take things one day at a time and just keep loving this experience I’m so privileged to have.

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My Plan

I thought I’d take a bit of time and talk about some of the dreams I have for the future; hopefully that’s of interest to someone. This may end up being a long post; I have a lot dreams and plans for the future.

What can one do with a degree in harp performance? Usually people assume that I want to play in an orchestra, but although I’m not totally closed to the idea, I really don’t see myself doing that as a career. Before I actually played in an orchestra I thought that that was what I wanted to do, but I discovered in the last two years that I find playing solo music in performance and in my own home more rewarding than playing in orchestra. Plus, I want to live in Winnipeg (since my family, many of my friends, and my long-term boyfriend live there), and being set on orchestra playing would mean I’d most likely have to move somewhere else. So basically, if the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra had a spot, I might try out for it, but that’s about it for orchestra.

Once I graduate, I hope to go to Chicago for a year to the Lyon & Healy harp factory and do an apprenticeship to learn how to do harp maintenance. That way, I can maintain my own harps, fix other peoples’ for money (there isn’t anyone in Winnipeg or the prairies that I know of that does maintenance), and potentially travel to Vancouver to service the many harps in the city and visit my UBC friends at the same time.

That won’t be a lot of income though, so I plan on doing a lot of gigging; that is, playing at weddings and private events, etc. That means I get to play fun music. I get to pick the songs I play (for the most part, anyway). And the appreciation people give for your playing in those situations is just so gratifying and it makes it incredibly meaningful. And in case you were wondering, there is actually quite a lot of this type of work for harpists, and since there aren’t too many of us it shouldn’t be too hard to get hired!

I also see myself doing a lot of teaching. I’ve loved the teaching I’ve done in the past, I love connecting with students, and I loved the idea of being my own boss. I have this dream of buying up used harps and renting them out to people – many of whom could be my students. The harp is an expensive instrument, so renting them will make it more accessible to those who want to learn, thereby drawing in more students, and also bringing in revenue for me without trying too hard.

One other thing I’ve been doing is making harp arrangements and posting videos of them on Youtube. I’ve started to get a bit of a following, so I’m excited to see where this takes me in the future as I continue to make more videos and (hopefully) improve as I go along. Once I garner enough arrangements, maybe I’ll publish a book of them! Or a book of my own compositions, or a teaching book! Or maybe I’ll be able to record an album and sell it on iTunes, or go on tour! There are so many possibilities and it’s so exciting!

So no, playing in an orchestra is not the only thing you can do as a musician. That’s my plan and dream for the fear-inducing “after graduation” that everyone seems to dread. Except that for me, I’m really quite excited.


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Switching Syndrome

Apparently I like making up fake disease names, but Switching Syndrome is the name I gave to the feeling I get whenever I switch locations. I have a solid community in both Vancouver and Winnipeg, and each has different strengths and weaknesses. Whenever I go to school in the fall, or back home in the summer, it takes a bit of time to adjust to the new place and social setting.

Even though I’m always excited to see friends I haven’t seen in months, I also feel sad because I’m leaving people behind. It dampens my excitement and in general I get a wash of emotions that are a bit confusing.

I thought I’d be extremely happy to be back in my parents’ house and not have to cook anymore, but I’m finding that I don’t always like the way they cook (they really need to use more green vegetables!), and when I try to cook my mom hovers over me and tells me I’m doing it wrong. I also miss having the control of living on my own, not having to ask permission to go out, and having a clean space. My family is redoing the flooring in the kitchen, so the house is full of kitchen boxes everywhere, and my parents also moved their computer into my room so their clutter has moved into my room. So much clutter makes me feel like I can’t relax, and not even being able to do anything about it since it isn’t my stuff makes me miss my tidy room in Vancouver!

There are good bits to being home, obviously. I have a summer job lined up since the store I worked at last summer wanted me back, so there’s money. Transit isn’t as efficient as Vancouver, but it’s cheaper, and I have access to a car here. I also don’t have to pay for groceries, internet, or electricity. My lever harp is in Winnipeg, so I can go busking (street performing) on nice days. Not to mention my boyfriend is here :P That’s the biggest plus.

I’m more or less adjusted at this point, but I still miss my Vancouver friends. I’m sure that when I go back in the fall I’ll have conflicting feelings again, but that’s the way it is! Just don’t ask me to think about what it’ll be like once I graduate!

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What To Do With Your Life

The dreaded question: “So, what do you plan to do after university?”

I have to admit that I’m guilty of asking it myself; probably because I’m one of those annoying people who have an actual plan for their life after university.  I attribute that fact to my childhood days in which I HAD to have a plan or else I couldn’t sleep at night (yes, as a ten year-old I had to have my life planned out). As a result I cycled through dozens of plans until I decided on the one I’m pursuing today. But, today is not about what my plan is, because that isn’t particularly relevant.  What I want to talk about is how pretty much every twenty-something year old I’ve ever talked to (besides me) has no idea what they’re going to do with their lives.

I am here to tell you: it’s okay to not know right now. Pretty much no one does. (Again, me being the exception.) If you don’t believe me, go talk to your friends. I will bet you five bucks that they don’t have their lives planned out either.

Also: you don’t have to know even by the time you graduate. You can change your major a bajillion times, you can even go back to school after graduation if you discover your true passion later on. Plenty of people don’t find their “thing” until they’re forty or something. If that seems depressing to you, a) take heart in the fact that you aren’t the only one that’s unsure at the age of 20, b) be encouraged that your passion is in fact out there somewhere, and c) if that’s not enough just go try as much stuff as you possibly can to try and find that one thing that you love and want to spend your life doing.  If you don’t go looking, you aren’t going to find anything.

I would like to present to you a story: the story of my mom (her career, that is).  My mother graduated from high school a year early and completed a bachelor of business or whatever it is called at the University of Manitoba. She then went on to McMaster University and completed a BMA so that she could become an accountant.  She had several accounting jobs but never stayed for more than two years because she just found the work so incredibly boring. Then she had me and my sisters and she stopped working for twelve years (in which she was a full-time mom). She enjoyed that time, but when I started junior high school she started studying library science at a local college. She started working at the city library at the bottom of the chain, which was boring at first. She moved up the ranks as she stayed there for several years, and she liked some branches she worked at more than others. Now, she is working at a couple of schools, as a librarian and also as an educational assistant for the band, theatre, and art departments. Pretty far from accounting – but she loves it! She gets hours she’s happy with, she has fun at her job, she loves her coworkers, and she gets Christmas and summers off, too. Took her a long time, but she found a job she loves.

It just goes to show that your university degree doesn’t necessarily define what the rest of your life will look like – and also that you’ll find the job you love if you keep on looking, even if you don’t know what it is right now.

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Stress Management via Mindfulness

It’s true, I’ve written a lot about stress.  However, over the past six weeks I’ve been involved in a Mindfulness Skills group/class-thing through Counselling Services in Brock Hall, and since doing that I’ve learned a lot of valuable skills for managing stress.

First of all, I’d like to talk a little bit about the group itself: everyone there is open minded, non-judgmental, and there for the same reason you are: to learn to deal with stress better.  Confidentiality is expected from everyone, so I will be talking just from my own perspective and share with you some of the things I’ve learned. They’ve helped me a lot!

We all have our coping strategies, whether it’s to distract ourselves with TV or video games, taking time for ourselves by taking a walk or exercising, or chowing down on some comfort food. At some point, all of these things have made us feel better and less stressed out. But sometimes, those strategies don’t work; this is where mindfulness can be very handy.

What is mindfulness? Well, I can’t exactly condense six weekly of sessions into a blog post, but this is the gist of it: you pay attention to where your thoughts and emotions are, be present in the moment, and suspend judgment.

So for example, try holding a random object that has no particular meaning to you. Notice all of the details you can see and touch, focusing all your attention on that object. Your mind will wander; it was built to think after all. Just notice those thoughts and allow them to pass, and return your attention to your object, without judging yourself (berating yourself) for your mind wandering.  Congratulations! You’ve just practiced mindfulness. By being totally present in just paying attention to details in your external surroundings, you can ground yourself when you start to feel overwhelmed and think with a clear head.

You can also focus on internal sensations. Imagine a circle of light is around the top of your head. Now pay attention to all the feelings in that part of your body, and as you imagine the band of light moving down towards your toes, focus just on the parts of your body that are in the range of the light. Notice any tightness in your muscles or anything your skin is touching. Or, you can focus on your breath, and how your ribcage will expand and contract as you breathe in and out.

These are two great ways of calming your mind when you start to feel your stress spinning your thoughts out of control. Another one following these principals that really helps calm me down when I start feeling stressed out or upset is called “5 4 3 2 1.” Basically, you name five things you can see, five things you can hear, and five things you can touch. Then four things you can see, four things you can hear, and four things you can touch. And so on until you reach one.  If you’re feeling upset, it brings your attention away from  that emotion what was causing the distress. When I’m done, I usually find that I can think a lot more clearly and the tension that builds in my chest releases.

Mindfulness can really be applied to anything.  Basically it’s about being in the present, paying attention to details and your thoughts, and not judging.  So let’s say you start stressing out because you got a bad grade on a test. First, you notice that your thoughts are starting to obsess over this grade. You think, huh, I’m pretty disappointed by that grade. My thoughts seem to really be thinking about that a lot. Maybe I’ll pay really close attention to my surroundings so I can calm down. Okay. Now I’ll look at it objectively: This is the mark that I got. I can’t change the past, but I can change how I react in the present so I can shape the future. I’ll accept this grade, and try to identify how I can do better for the next test.

Granted, this is all easier said than done. You have to practice at it. And to be honest, I’m not sure if I’m getting my point across! I am by no means an expert in this. If you are interested in mindfulness and/or want to get a handle on dealing with your stress, I strongly recommend checking out the Mindfulness Skills Group at Counselling Services in Brock Hall. There are way more aspects to this that I can’t really get to and way more exercises that they can give you.

Since attending the class, I’ve been able to deal with stressful situations a lot better: when I’m upset with someone, I can calm myself down. If I make a mistake at orchestra rehearsal, I can be objective about it and practice more for the next time rather than beating myself up for it. If I start getting overwhelmed and exaggerating the situation, I can bring myself back. This class was probably the best thing I did for myself this year.

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