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Month: December 2015

2016, It’s a New Year!

Yes, it’s that time of the year again! The year is ending, it’s holiday season, winter break is here, exams are starting and 2016 is about to begin! The past year has gone by in the blink of an eye and I cannot emphasize its importance in my life. It has made me stronger, smarter and a much better person then I was in the beginning of the 2015, as I’m sure this is the case for a lot of the GEMgirls.

I’ve lost family members and friends but have many additions to the family and made even better friends then I had before. My mom always tells me “Patience is the key to success. Just give it time.” This year, specifically starting grade 12, has taught me just that. Time doesn’t stop for anyone; the most important thing however, is how you decide to spend it.

I’ve figured out my priorities and stopped over thinking all my decisions which, hands down, is my biggest accomplishment and the main reason I’m happier. The year had a rough start because of a death in the family and that affected my grades but second semester, I told myself I have to start working harder for what I want- which is getting into a good university. I realized that I don’t have a lot of time left with my friends and family because I’ll live on campus, so I spent the summer with them and I’ll remember every single moment for the rest of my life. Towards the middle of summer, I applied to GEM because of a friend. And look what it’s meant now! I’ve got so many new friends, an amazing mentor and a lot of women I can look up to. With grade 12 starting, I diverted all my attention to my marks and extra-curricular and now with the semester ending, I’m focusing on applying to good universities. The point I’m trying to make is, through all of this I was extremely stressed and didn’t think it would ever get better but in the end, it has all worked out. I’m positive that I’ll say the same thing at the end of 2016 too and laugh at stressing to get into a good program.

Being a senior, everyone expects me to have everything together- from my personal life to my marks and getting into coveted universities. Sometimes I don’t have it all together and I’ve learned to accept that. Sometimes I get confused too. So what do I do? I turn to my friends and my family. They’re my real treasure, my most prized possessions and even if I lose everything else, I’ll still have them. Not just in 2015 or 16, but for the rest of my life.

And to all the GEMgirls, we’re just in high school and there a lot of thing we haven’t figured out yet but all I’m going to say is that it doesn’t have to make sense right now. Our careers and even our lives have just started. Eventually the puzzle pieces will fit. Have an amazing year!

Shanzah Zulfiqar is a grade 12 studen at Marc Garneau C.I., a GEMgirl and Creative Writing Intern at GEM.

Top 5 FUN and FREE things to do over the break


You have two weeks off of school. You relax, you sleep, you relax some more, you make some pizza, you eat the pizza, you watch all six seasons of Modern Family and now you’re utterly bored. You even did your homework- okay, we all know you didn’t do your homework. If you’re like me, you’re going to quickly run out of things to do, and three days into the holidays, you’ll be staring at your ceiling, wondering why you’re so boring. Fortunately for me, this year will be different, this year I did some extensive research and found the best things to do during the break in the big city. And all of these things are free, so bring your mentor and as many friends as you want.

Ice Skating. Nathan Phillips Square is located in front of City hall; the beautiful setting is enjoyed by people all year long. But in the winter, the Christmas lights go up, and the reflecting pool becomes a skating rink. The best time to go would be the evening, when you can skate underneath the decorated arches, and enjoy the Christmas lights. Remember, that the rink can get very crowded so avoid peak hours. For a less crowded venue, try the Natrel Skating Rink at Harbourfront, which offers a great view of the C.N Tower, and is set right by the waterfront of Lake Ontario. The great thing about the Harbourfront Center is that it is a 10-acre site that has something for everyone.

Home Ground. The Aga Kahn Museum is holding an exhibition that will only remain open till January 3, 2016. The exhibition in collaboration with the Barjeel Art Foundation, features 12 Arab contemporary artists. The theme is focusing on how politics in the Middle East and North Africa intersect with the inherent struggle of being an artist. Free on Wednesdays from 4:00 p.m to 8:00 p.m.

City of Toronto Christmas Concert. The annual concert features three choirs and runs from 11:30 a.m to 12:30 p.m on December 24. Features All the King’s Voices, Toronto Beaches Children’s Chorus, Toronto Mass Choir. Is a great place to take younger siblings to as a visit from Santa is expected to make an appearance.

Sledding. No matter how old you are, if it snows you might as well take advantage of it and go sledding- even if you do end up with a face full of snow. Centennial Park, offers a very steep, and thrilling hill for sledding. The steep angle, guarantees fast sledding. If you’d rather go with something a little bit smaller, but still steep, and smooth, try the hills at Withrow Park. It’s safe enough to take children on, but still thrilling, and the plus side of Withrow Park, is that they offer steps to climb up, so you don’t have to trudge up the hill. For more variety, go to Christie Pits Park which offers hills of different sizes and steepness.

The Bay Windows. Every year, Hudson’s Bay goes all out for their holiday window displays. The beautifully decorated and masterfully crafted holiday displays run the length of the windows, with their train sets, moving Santas, and mechanical mice. The nostalgic displays take you right into all the good Christmas stories. (176 Yonge Street (Yonge and Queen)

Make the best of your vacation, and remember to spend time with your family, and catch up with friends you haven’t seen in awhile. Happy Holidays.

Tabassum Lakhi is a Creative Writing Intern at GEM and also a GEMgirl.

GEMinar #4 and the Power of Mind-Mapping

The human brain is probably the most complicated thing in the entire world ; even more than physics and calculus! People have been trying to understand how it functions since the beginning of time and yet find something completely new every day.

Have you ever wondered how many thoughts and ideas go through your mind all day? More importantly, how to you deal with them? The truth is, with all the school work and extracurricular activities, most of us don’t pay any attention to it.

We have these plans in our heads about how our future should be and we want to accomplish them but we never think of the steps we need to take for us to be able to reach those goals. In order to do this properly, all of us need to learn to make mind-maps, get a sense of what our priorities are and things we should start changing.

Luckily for us, the team had a GEMinar on mind-mapping, which, personally, was extremely helpful and helped me clear up a lot of things. For those of you that don’t know what mind mapping is, it is a graphical way to brainstorm ideas and concepts and the GEMinar was focused more on ideas about our future. One of the first activities we did was brainstorming our future goals and the steps we need to take in order to accomplish them. This is something all of us should do every once in a while. Here a few tips:

  • Come up with a central idea- the basic problem you have that you want to solve.
  • Write down your goals/ dreams/ aspirations no matter how difficult they might seem – the mind map doesn’t work unless you do!
  • Now jot down the steps you’ll have to take, in order to achieve that goal.
  • Be sure to think about how each of those steps will affect other things in your life, ie living on campus and finding a part time job to pay for it.
  • Go out there and do it!

After creating our maps, we were asked to explain it to a friend first and then a stranger. Something very interesting I learned was that the more I explained it, and the more I talked about it, the clearer it all got for me.

Since we need to be relaxed to make our mind maps, the GEM team gave out yoga mats towards the end of the program. What better way to take a break from all the busy things going on?

Overall,like every single GEMinar in this year, this was amazing as well. As GEM girls, we are getting opportunities that many other students wished they had- Lets make the most of it!

Shanzah Zulfiqar is a grade 12 studen at Marc Garneau C.I., a GEMgirl and Creative Writing Intern at GEM.

Overcoming Obstacles

“Obstacles don’t have to stop you. If you run into a wall, don’t turn around and give up. Figure out how to climb it, go through it, or work around it.” ~Michael Jordan

Obstacles present themselves in all shapes and sizes. Some are so small that we don’t think twice about how to tackle them, while others seem so big that they can be overwhelming. How we perceive an obstacle ultimately leads to our success. Determination and persistence are key ingredients in overcoming obstacles – as is the willingness to try, even if there is chance of failure. Fear of failure stops many of us of pursuing a goal when faced with an obstacle. Fear is the enemy of our ability to overcome challenges. We must be open to failure and to learn from those experiences in order to succeed. Problem solving can be a game of trial and error. There is no “one-fits-all” solution and it may require patience and multiple efforts to overcome the obstacle that stands between you and your goal.

I work in the investment industry and several years ago I decided to pursue the Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) designation. The program consists of three exams and each exam requires roughly 6 to 8 months of preparation. I was warned it was difficult. The failure rate is high – roughly 10% of those who start the program pass all three exams to earn their CFA charter. I wanted those three little letters behind my name and I was ready for work for it. However, there were many times I wanted to give up and I came up with many excuses of why I should: it was too difficult, required too much sacrifice, I was not smart enough, and the list goes on. I also encountered a major obstacle – the second exam, which I failed three times. I struggled. How had all that work amounted to nothing? Did I really just spend three years studying and had nothing to show for it? I was exhausted and my confidence was destroyed. Funny, how our own perceptions and attitude can be our worst enemy or our best ally. I decided I was not going to let this exam beat me and I picked myself up, which was not easy, made a plan of attack and I got back to work. I was more determined than ever. Turns out 4 times is the charm for me. I passed! The following year I passed the third exam and today I am a CFA charterholder. I am no different than you. I am in no way special. I have certain strengths and weaknesses just like anyone else. What I do have is a strong will and an aversion to not achieving my goals, whatever they may be.

Making a plan is instrumental, especially if you feel overwhelmed with the magnitude of the problem you are faced with. Breaking it down into smaller steps will make it more manageable. Several small obstacles always look easier to solve than one large one, which tends to be more intimidating. Lastly, deciding if you can work out the problem on your own or if you require help will affect the process.

Each of us has the ability to overcome any obstacle that stands in the way of our success. Believe in yourself, don’t give up, and never be afraid to ask for help.

VPeric imageThis article is written by GEM Mentor, Vanja Peric, CFA and Assistant Vice President at Bell Kearns & Associates Ltd. She’s a mentor to GEMgirl Maryam Hasam, avid traveller and loves to help others through mentorship and story telling.