One million views for student blog project

Social Sciences, Science, Humanities

- Lindsay Gagel

(L-R) Kyle Moodley (chemistry), Talen Rimmer (marine biology) and Ben Wonnacott (English, professional writing) at a monthly blogger meeting and workshop. Photo: UVic Photo Services.

500 posts in, MyUVic Life provides a first-person perspective on the UVic student experience

What’s it like to be a UVic student? Will I fit in? Is university for me? For the past two years, there’s been a resource that provides first-hand answers to these questions and many more.

MyUVic Life is a blog for students, by students. A diverse team of undergraduate student bloggers create first-person stories—articles, listicles, videos and/or photo essays—that are posted to the UVic-hosted website as an accessible and widely read collection.

Since the project launched in January 2015, there have been over 500 blog posts uploaded, 63 student voices featured and one million pages viewed by visitors.

Among the most popular posts are Rachel François’ “My First Memorable Moments of Residence: A Flashback,” Leat Ahrony’s “Seven things I wish I knew before coming to Canada” and Jess Neilson’s “The Value of Varsity Athletics: A Rebuttal”—a varsity athlete’s perspective on balancing academics and sport that was shared widely by Rugby Canada.

Everyone has a unique pathway to future careers. Mine just happens to involve a love for a sport paired alongside academic pursuits. . . . I can do both—successfully. Many do. You don’t need to choose. They augment each other. Still not convinced? Just watch me.
—Jess Neilson (political science) from The Value of Varsity Athletics: A Rebuttal

The elements of success

The project is an ongoing partnership coordinated by Crystal Bergeron, a communications officer in Student Recruitment and Global Engagement and Cathie Walker, a web content strategist in University Communications + Marketing.

Walker, who uploads the students’ stories to the website and makes minor copyedits when needed, emphasizes that she and Bergeron don’t censor the students as long as they follow the general guidelines. “We tell them, ‘what you write goes up, so make sure it’s something you’d be proud to have a potential employer read.’”

From Bergeron’s perspective, this is why the blog is so successful. “People read the blog because it’s authentic, it’s real,” she says. “And that’s the beauty of it. It shows how it is to really be a student here.”

Bergeron’s role in the project is to manage the bloggers and organize monthly meetings. She explains that prospective students are looking to see that they’re going to fit in here. Can, for example, an international high school student interested in athletics see himself here? Can a domestic transfer student interested in traveling abroad see herself here?

“As part of the student recruitment team at UVic,” says Bergeron, “I try to think about everyone who may want to come here, and I do my best to make sure they’re represented.”

And the UVic blog certainly delivers. The 63 students—including writers who submit blog posts throughout the year and guest writers who submit only one—represent all faculties on campus. And that’s just the beginning. International students, transfer students, co-op students, exchange students, athletes, artists, foodies and so much more have all offered their unique perspectives on life as a UVic student.

Emily Beaudoin (recreation and health education) is a nature enthusiast whose artistic designs have been printed on ski and snowboard topsheets. Talen Rimmer (marine biology) is a spoken word enthusiast and cross-country athlete who wants to taste a food from every country. Kyle Moodley (chemistry) has his sights set on med school and has a passion for art. And then there was the time he played Thunder the Mascot.

“Being a UVic blogger offers the opportunity to share your own unique perspective on topics that you’re passionate about,” says Ricky Watts, a former MyUVic Life blogger and UVic alumnus.

“Through this team,” explains Watts, “students from diverse backgrounds can come together and share stories, experiences, perspectives and form new relationships that might not otherwise have been formed.”

Writing from the heart

The posts offer a lot of positive messages and encouragement to future and fellow students, but sometimes it’s tough being a student. The bloggers are encouraged to write about anything they want, including the hardships and struggles.

“Prospective students, the ones looking to see if UVic is a good fit for them, appreciate that honesty,” says Bergeron.

We’re never going to get our ‘grown up’ badges and suddenly have that perfect life we wanted. I think growing up is having to ask yourself what makes you happy, what makes you enjoy waking up in the morning, what can’t you live without and what you can.
—Rachel Smith (English) from On Growing Up

Kate Hiscock is a MyUVic Life blogger who has written several posts sharing her personal experiences, from why she chose UVic to her contributions in the community to traveling abroad.

She explains why she loves being a blogger: “It’s kind of exhilarating to be able to share your experiences with students. It’s a reflection of me, but I also want what I write to be applicable, relevant. If it keeps me up at night, it’s probably worth blogging about.”

She gestures to a print-out of her blog post, “Everything is not okay, and that’s okay,” in which she shares the loneliness and isolation she felt while on an exchange semester in France. “That’s a part of me.”

In addition to being a valuable recruitment tool, the blog is a way for current students to communicate with one another, to share ideas and thoughts and to show fellow students that they’re not alone in what they’re feeling or experiencing. Hiscock says that her fellow bloggers’ posts are validating. “Reading their blogs make me feel better about where I’m at in my own life,” she says.

Before joining MyUVic Life last year, Hiscock had never shared anything personal she’d written. The project seemed like a good fit for her, especially she was already involved in the UVic community in other ways.

“I love this place so much,” she says about UVic. “I can grow and contribute without disappearing in the masses.”

In order for something to be ‘life changing’ you have to go through some really uncomfortable emotions, emotions that don’t go away overnight.
—Kate Hiscock (chemistry) from Everything is not okay, and that’s okay.

Shaping our future

There’s a kind of contagious energy shared among the bloggers. When so many young, talented and creative minds get in a room—which they do on a monthly basis to brainstorm ideas, learn, socialize and share a meal together—it’s evident that these may well be the future leaders of our communities and beyond.

Both Walker and Bergeron don’t hesitate to say that working on the MyUVic Life project is the best part of their jobs.

“I typically get to work with staff,” says Walker. “The bloggers remind me why I’m here. They’re all so awesome. I don’t think I was that awesome when I was that age!” she says with a laugh. She’s read every one of the 500-plus posts but couldn’t possibly choose a favourite. “It changes every day! It would be like picking a favourite child. We have some really beautiful writers.”

Despite their different backgrounds, hobbies, interests and areas of study, there’s one thing that seems to unite the student bloggers: the desire to make the world a better place.

“I keep learning from them,” says Bergeron. “They’re passionate about this place and the world and what they can do. It’s inspiring reading their blogs and watching their videos. Just read what they’re saying, read what they’re doing. These students are going to make a difference in the world.”

The key is to be kind to yourself, which means cutting out the judgement. Toss away the labels. Instead of telling yourself you are ‘bad at tests’ after a few bad tests, remove that thought and just enjoy the process of learning.
— Rachel François (history) from Cut the Self-judgement

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In this story

Keywords: blog, student life, writing, community

People: Jess Neilson, Rachel Smith, Kate Hiscock, Rachel Francois

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