Journey to the Heart of the YU Jungle

What's up people?

A high school graduation photo of Yerro, before coming to York University.

Yerro's Graduation

This is Yerro, 4th year Political Science major, Kinesiology minor and Team Lead at the RED Zone. We are a group of student ninjas,I mean ambassadors, dedicated to student transition and community engagement. This is my second year working here and I absolutely love it! I get to work with awesome people, do amazing things and meet great people. We operate the kiosk in the middle of Vari Hall and in the summer we also have a student transition program that brings hundreds of future students through our First Year Experience programming. We are part of the Student Success Centre (formerly Student Community and Leadership Development) under the division of students, which hosts several other programs. As I edge closer to completing my York U journey I get emotional and reminisce about how I got here, the roller coaster that University was, and the apprehension/anticipation of what the future holds.

My journey to York was quite unpredictable. I was born and raised in the Gambia, but due to my dad's work in international affairs, my family would move every few years. I had already lived in six different countries before coming to Canada and York University! I didn’t always love this lifestyle. It was often difficult to be uprooted. I needed stability in those earlier years. Making new friends, going to new schools, learning a new language, and adapting to a new culture was often daunting and difficult. I eventually learned new ways of coping with my ever-changing surroundings. I would find out how to get involved with sports and arts (soccer, martial arts, music), make friends, learn about the culture, and focus on my academics. The formula was: survive the first year and continue to thrive in the next. The moving process really helped expand my mind, my worldview and my appreciation for different cultures. After about eight schools and five countries (Gambia, Senegal, Uganda, Switzerland, Togo), we landed in Ethiopia where I finished high school. When it came time to apply to universities, both my dad and counsellor (obviously Canadian) told me to accept an offer from York University. Toronto is an awesome city and multilingualism would be an asset in Canada. A degree in political science made the most sense since I liked history and didn’t mind essay writing. It didn’t really hit me that I was going to University until I boarded the flight from the airport in Addis Ababa to Toronto.

A photo of Yerro's high school graduation class before coming to York University.

Yerro's graduation class

What do you do on a 14-hour flight when your mind is racing and all you can think about is starting university? For starters, I spent the previous day charging all my electronic devices to ensure I had enough entertainment, but there were only so many movies and TV shows that my brain could handle. My mind was whirling with thoughts and questions. What does the university look like?  How am I going to handle the workload? What are the people like? Am I going to fit in? Will I even survive this?

After we landed I was expecting a straightforward trip from the airport to the University. I had Googled it and everything. So, you can imagine the look on my face when the cab driver stared blankly at me after I asked him to take me to York University. After an uncomfortable moment of silence he replied, “Ok, where at York?”

"Uhhh,the main place? The office? Maybe reception?" I stammered as I showed him the address, 4700 Keele Street.

In the end, he dropped me off at the Bennett Centre and it was from there that I began my seemingly endless process of learning to navigate the campus. It a huge place!

I asked around and visited various offices until finally happening upon the RED Zone. It was here that I was finally able to put down my heavy luggage and get the instructions I needed. The team at the RED Zone first sent me to the William Small Centre where, after quickly wiping the sweat from my brow, I had my everlasting YU card photo taken. After this, I got directions to the housing office where I was shown to my dorm room and I was finally able to settle into my new home.

The RED Zone team posing for a photo in front of Vari Hall, York University.

The RED Zone team

First year started off on a good note thanks mostly to Orientation week. It was a very busy and tiring week, but also so much fun and completely transformational for me. The Orientation Leaders were hype and very helpful. They taught me how to navigate the York U jungle and make it a place I call home. I would soon realize that this journey was truly my experience and I could make it what I wanted.  At times when I felt alone or confused, I knew I wasn’t the only person going through this journey and there were many supports and resources for me.

I had high hopes for the second term, but it would prove to be another challenge all together. I experienced my first ever winter blues. I felt like I had no energy and just wanted to sleep all day. Campus started to become a bit of ghost down during the dead of winter. The worst were the weekends because almost nothing was open and I felt very isolated. The meal plan money on my YU Card started running out because I developed a habit of swiping but not tracking my spending. I was feeling overwhelmed and lost in a swirl of randomness, not sure what to do. I felt like I was looking to others to see what they were doing, but none of my peers were quite sure how to handle the newfound independence and freedom either. To be honest, it was quite a burden being accountable to myself, setting my own standards, and figuring out what to do with my life. This proved to be a depressing time because I was faced with so many questions, challenges, and felt I had little guidance.

In my second year I took a lighter course load in an attempt to re-center, reflect, refocus, and gain some skills and experience. I wasn’t sure if the choices I was making were good or bad. I joined the Martial Arts Club and the York U Sports Business Association. I also started working off campus and met some people that added a lot of value in my life. When I came back for third year I was focused and energized like never before. I added kinesiology to my minor because it fell in line with my passion for sports, the human physiology and performance. I built enough momentum and finally felt like I had built an environment conducive to a more balanced and fulfilling lifestyle. Things didn’t necessarily become easier overnight, but reflecting on my time at York, I realize that this experience helped me develop a compass that showed me the path I wanted to follow. I wanted to learn about my potential and myself. I set my sights on those rotating chairs behind the kiosk in the Vari Hall rotunda and learned that peer leaders like the RED Zone Ambassadors worked there. I was determined that I would apply this time. I had thought about applying the year before, but got intimidated. I took my time making the creative assignment that is a key portion of the application, put together my extra-curricular activities and resume, and pulled it all together in a presentation.

Then I waited.

Members of the RED Zone hold a team meeting in a classroom at York University.

The RED Zone team meeting

When I received the call for an interview I was ecstatic. I was nervous about the interview, but believed in myself because I knew I had decent interview experience. Starting RED Zone was, in many ways, a pivotal moment. I believe it was at this point I truly found meaning and enjoyment in what I was doing. It had a ripple effect in the other parts of my life and acted as a grounding zone.