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The culture of a commuter school

By Freeha Anjum, September 27 2023—

As someone who grew up in Calgary and went to a junior high and high school that was only a 15-minute walk from the University of Calgary (we loved getting lunch from Mac Hall back then), I wasn’t really all too excited to go to U of C. I had done a deep dive into Reddit to see what people thought of the experience to gain a better understanding of the campus culture and I hoped the results would be convincing and positive.

However, all the comments repeated the same things — U of C is a commuter school: most people don’t live on campus, so the students just head home as soon as they can after classes end. Subsequently, everyone claimed the university had absolutely no culture or student life. In light of this, I prepared myself for a pretty mundane university experience that would feel like an extension of high school — just with more people.

But man, was I wrong — and so was Reddit.

There are many things that we don’t stop to think about when we’re rushing from our three-hour lab to our next 75-minute lecture. But if you ever take a moment to really take in everything, there’s a lot more to the university’s culture. Here are some of the things I personally found really contributed to adding a culture to the school:

  1. Stor: I love seeing people walking around with big glass bottles of maple coke, seeing the huge square of Rice Krispies bars and knowing that I can get a Godiva Hedgehog Chocolate Ice Cream whenever I want. There are a lot of unheard-of brands and unconventional flavours at Stor that make it really unique to the university experience. I also totally love having to gamble my money away to buy a cheese string because there isn’t a price tag in sight.
  2. That one ICT place. You know the one — between the Konz shop and Good Earth that’s constantly changing. I love walking in to see what new ethnic cuisine is just going to pop up there for a week before they close again. Honestly, all three of the ICT places have a little quirk (how is Konz still running anyway?) And speaking of ICT:
  3. The Good Earth Guy. If you’ve ever been to the ICT Good Earth, you likely know who I’m talking about. He’s the guy who’s somehow rizzing up every soul on campus by just asking for your order. I’ve heard so many people say they don’t even like Good Earth, but they’ll go to meet this legend.
  4. Uofconfessions. The Uofconfessions and Ucommunitea Instagram pages are a blessing and a curse. Scrolling through confessions and sending them to your friends asking “this you?” is just a critical part of being a Ucalgary student — and so is being the friend who is now trying their very best to remember if they were wearing a white sweater on Monday. You’re also not a true Ucalgary student until you either start to feel bad about the fact that nobody has posted a feelsday Friday about you, or you did something insanely embarrassing at school and thought “Man, I hope nobody posts about that.”
  5. The Breakdancers: If you have late labs/classes or just like to study on campus until the late evening, you’ll know about the dancers at the front of Mac Hall. I don’t think I’ve ever missed seeing them there in the evenings: every single day, including weekends and the spring/summer semesters. Their upbeat music brings a little life to Mac Hall at a time when only Bake Chef and Carl’s Jr. is open
  6. The Engineering scarves (that you should definitely wear): Every year, some poor confused Engineering student gets convinced that these scarves are cool to wear to class. The Engineering scarves have become a symbol of narcissism on the Ucalgary campus and telling first years that they need to wear them is a bit of a cruel joke but it also brings the community together.
  7. Ghosts and legends: I used to believe the giant spinning screw in science theatres would bring me luck, but I have yet to do well on an exam taken in that part of campus. Anyhow, I heard it’s bad luck for engineering students (is it true someone actually broke their arm in there?) so maybe it’s a sign that I have to switch majors. I don’t want to go into Arts, though, because then I’ll have to deal with the Phantom Sh*tter and school is tough enough without that fear. 

These are just some examples, but everyone will get something different out of the university experience. Sometimes, it can be nice to just look around at the students and take everything in. To embrace whatever free things are being sold in front of TFDL, check out what the bake sale in earth sciences is selling, or look around at the stressed kids during midterm season. 

It can be hard to build community in a commuter school, but not impossible. The University of Calgary campus has a lot of little things that make it what it is. Sitting here in the middle of the Hunter Student Commons, it can be a bit euphoric to look around and see other people studying. It feels like there’s a sense of unity with us. I know, for example, that I could leave my laptop at this table and walk away, and nobody is going to steal it. I know that if I’m standing in line waiting for my SPCxSHEIN merch in front of TFDL, I can bond over how cold it is outside with the person in front of me. I also know if I order Tim Hortons during lunch hour, there’s a 95 per cent chance that I’ll have to fight with someone over whose iced coffee just got stolen.

At the end of the day, the U of C has a culture, even if we don’t always take the time to appreciate it. I came in here thinking I’d just get my degree and get out, but I’m grateful for the experience of being a part of campus.

This article is a part of our Voices section and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Gauntlet editorial board.

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