Part II of Excalibur’s 2020-21 wrap up: Lessons learned

(Image by Riddhi Jani)

Diego Vargas
Communication Studies, 4th year
York University


Only weeks after the first lockdown, I was whisked out of Toronto and back to my parents’ home in the Philippines. Having to adjust to living with my parents again was quite an experience. Between all the family movie nights, chores, and heated arguments — not to mention the countless promises of returning to Canada that would be left unfulfilled by yet another wave of COVID — it was definitely a turbulent time for me emotionally, with intense ups and downs.

Once it seemed like Canada was returning to some semblance of “normal”, there was finally a window for me to return. But I found myself somehow unable to face the prospect. What’s the point in going back if I felt comfortable at home? I wouldn’t have to worry about paying the bills or eating within my budget, and the thought of flying in the middle of a pandemic was still scary to me. 

At the same time, I felt like if I stayed any longer I’d be once again sacrificing my agency and independence. I was comfortable, but not completely happy in the Philippines. On the other hand, I didn’t have that much of a support system in Toronto; it’d be like hitting the reset button on my life. 

Here in this dilemma, I found the biggest lesson I’d end up learning in the pandemic — a mantra that I’d needed for the longest time: “Let go.”

We tend to cling onto familiarity and given all the stresses of modern-day living, having something in your life that you can actually predict and count on gives you a sense of security. That’s part of why living in Toronto can be so alienating at times, especially for people who are new to the city; it feels as if everyone’s wrapped up in their own routines and social circles that they don’t really have the time to seek out new people and new experiences. 

Oftentimes, the things we stick to inhibit our personal development. Yet the mere thought of having to be alone or try something new is inconvenient or terrifying for many, and that’s why we choose to hang on to our toxic relationships and old habits. I personally had a lot of trouble adjusting to university life since I always clung to habits and relationships that did not work for me anymore in the new environment.

But taking that first step — stretching your boundaries further so you can figure out what’s beyond the walls we erect amongst ourselves — puts you in uncharted territory that can be both grueling and exciting. Once you find what works for you and cultivate your interests and relationships accordingly, it becomes easier to reflect on and shake off our toxic traits and bad influences. It also reminds you of what things are worth keeping, and what aspects of your life you can work on to make them more fulfilling. 

I made the decision to go back to Toronto and hit that reset button. Though it feels like I’m starting again from the ground up, I’ll never forget the memories I’ve made in the Philippines and the lessons I’ve learned.

Munzungu Nzeyedio
Political Science & Public Policy and Administration, 3rd year
York University


In the midst of adversity comes the opportunity to demonstrate a spirit of resiliency!

When traversing the trials and tribulations that life brings, it takes a certain degree of strength, courage, and wisdom to make it on the other side of victory. The COVID-19 pandemic has imparted significant lessons of value which cannot be taken for granted and for such a reason, I choose to see it as a blessing in disguise. We have all been navigating the pandemic with unique challenges that have arisen from work-life balance to preserving our mental health. 

My experiences have all been centered on what I call the three Gs: Grind. Grow. Glow. As a student entrepreneur, this thing called life has forced me to wear multiple hats simultaneously and to embrace the uncertainties with a fervent heart of faith. On the other hand, I’ve been able to develop unique skill sets I didn’t know I had, master the art of Zoom networking via online social events, and strive to maintain balance while juggling competing responsibilities. 

Although the pandemic has presented social, political, cultural, and economic disruptions, I believe it has cultivated a resilient spirit in all of us by teaching a valuable lesson: we are better together. 

The words of wisdom I must share is to trust in your power to achieve the greatness you envision, to build for the future by planning the life you desire, and to prioritize your health for it is your wealth. 

Mahdis Habibinia
Professional Writing, Hons. BA, Alumni
York University


The COVID-19 pandemic taught us many things, from lessons in the political and health arenas, to the importance of having strong support systems during tough times. Here are my top three:

1. Approach chaotic obstacles in life as challenges to overcome so as to have it under your belt once you do, not as hindrances. This one will differ from person to person, but I personally thrive under pressure. I will always be glad that I went through a wringer even if I never want to go through it again.

2. It’s important to celebrate the small victories just as much as the big ones. Being a perfectionist, I often don’t give myself a lot of credit for my hard work or diligence or even my perseverance. A loved one taught me this past year that it’s not always the large achievements in life that solely deserve praise, but the small victories as well. I’ve realized that, for me, focusing too much on the former is a recipe for enabling imposter syndrome.

3. The importance of compatibility within your circle should not be overlooked. The older you get, the less time and energy you have to explain your soul to people. This goes for values, principles, and even ethics too. You want people around you who celebrate your accomplishments, who listen and don’t just hear, who lift you up and allow you to bask in the spotlight without dimming it. You also shouldn’t have to convince people that who you are is just as valid as who they are.

Javeria Rana
English, 2nd year
York University


I think all of us have said one of the following phrases at one point or another: “I don’t have time”, “I have too much work” or “I’ll start tomorrow”. Often, this becomes a habit — an endless cycle which consumes and prevents us from introducing any change into our lives. In other words, procrastination leads us to be over-engulfed in entertaining-yet-less-productive tasks. 

During the pandemic, I had all the free time I could ever get to implement any change or break out of any bad habit, but time went by and I told myself everyday, “I’ll start tomorrow”. TikTok, Netflix, and reading Stephen King novels became my daily routine. More productive tasks such as being physically active, learning something new, or creating art (which not only relieves me from my stresses but also helps me develop a greater meaning to my life) I ignored. 

When my last day of online high school arrived, I felt something in me change. I cannot exactly pinpoint what it was, but I grew angry with myself and recognized my procrastination. Cinematic changes didn’t happen right away but now, a year later, I can see myself getting back to my inept habits to prevent the cycle of procrastination from consuming me again. 

This pandemic taught me that even when we have all the time in the world, we look for excuses to delay tasks. Procrastination is all you; by avoiding activities which will make you grow, you become your own nemesis. You have to make time, you have to do everything you need to for yourself because no one is going to do it for you. So now, a year later, I have found the motivation, strength, and agility to not only create art but also share it with the public because doing this makes me feel like my life is a bit more meaningful and a little less dull. 

As I write this, a quote from Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone spoken by Dumbledore is painted on my wall which states: “It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live.” It is you who has to make your life worthwhile. 

Isabella Iacoucci
English & Creative Writing, 2nd year
York University


During the pandemic I have learned an abundance of new things about myself. For one, I learned that I can be resilient and persevere through any challenge that comes to me. When the pandemic first hit, I was devastated that I couldn’t finish off my senior year in high school the way I would have liked, but I did end up finishing on the honour roll so I would say everything turned out fine. 

Come fall, I started at York University during the pandemic amongst many other students. Doing online school as a first-year definitely had its fair share of challenges. For example, I didn’t get to participate in any of the traditional first-year traditions like touring the campus, frosh week, getting to know students in person, etc. I didn’t even get to visit the campus which, as you can imagine, was extremely strange! I was presented with the hard task of transitioning from high school to university and everything felt new to me, not to mention we were also in a worldwide pandemic stuck inside. 

On top of all that, I was struggling with my mental health which added more stress to my plate. To say it was hard is an understatement. However, this experience has taught me that I can’t expect to adapt to new situations overnight, I need to give it time. Eventually, I was able to get organized with all my work and finally felt as settled in as I could participating in online school. 

Furthermore, another amazing new thing that I learned about myself was that I can work through my anxiety using strategies. I have always struggled with anxiety, and it just seemed to get worse during the pandemic as I’m sure that was the case for a lot of people. Although there were many panic attacks, I was finally able to work through the anxiety on my own and get a handle on myself. I am proud of myself for learning how to cope with it instead of continuing to let it happen. 

Overall, I feel like the pandemic allowed me to improve myself and become a better person even though it was obviously a bad situation. In my opinion, the pandemic has been both a blessing and a curse, and I now feel ready to go back to school and get the university experience I’ve always dreamed about, as I’m sure is the case for many students. 

Maryam Nihal
Kinesiology, 4th year
York University


These past two years have forced me to learn a new lesson every single day. The ones I am about to share are perhaps the most important to me: Where you start may not be where you end up, and do what makes you happy.

I have dreamed of entering the medical profession since I was four years old, but am I going to medical school? Nope. I have done a complete 180. This pandemic taught me the system I wanted to be a part of is broken, all because we do not have policies in place to protect both the frontline workers and us. By changing career paths and applying to law school, hopefully in the coming years I will be helping to heal the system instead of healing patients.

Now this does not mean I’ve closed the door forever on writing the MCAT. But neither does it mean that I should go through with it if I won’t be maximizing my happiness. Rather, it means to allow myself the room to be human. Mistakes turn to lessons and these lessons force you to think about why you make the decisions that you do. And who knows, maybe thinking about it results in a 180 on the trajectory of your life.

So go ahead and consider that career change. Question the existential purpose of your daily routines. Get those curtain bangs you have been scared to get or buy those ‘capsule’ wardrobes. Be trendy or don’t. Just be happy, because at the end of the day it’s about you and the happiness that those things bring you. There is arguably nothing worse than living the rest of your life with regret.

Part I: Zoom stories

Part III: Skills and hobbies acquired

Part IV: Then and now

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By Excalibur Publications



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