UofT Guide: The Munk One Experience

Want to know how to take your first year at the University of Toronto to the next level? Consider applying for the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy’s One Program! This article is about my experience in the Munk One program, and how it made my first year at UofT amazing.

When reflecting on my first-year experience, I couldn’t help but notice how unconventional it was; the opportunities I was afforded in my first year of university were unlike those of anyone else I know, and I can credit almost all of them to the Munk One program.

What is Munk One?

Well, honestly. What is Munk One, anyway?

The Munk One Program is the most exclusive of the University of Toronto’s eight First Year Foundation Programs (aka the One Programs), accepting only 25 students annually. Munk One is an interdisciplinary seminar program that gives first-year students in the Faculty of Arts & Science at UofT the opportunity to brainstorm real solutions to global problems in a hands-on, interactive learning model.

The program is composed of three courses: MUN101 and MUN102, which are both small, discussion-based seminars, and MUN105, a global affairs research lab; all three cumulatively take up 2.0 FCE in your first-year schedule. These courses count toward breadth requirements and can also count toward program requirements for some social science programs such as Peace, Conflict, & Justice and International Relations. The 25 students in the cohort are handpicked through a series of interviews, essay questions, and writing samples, and all students from all colleges and programs of study are welcome to apply. In my cohort, there were students ranging all the way from Engineering to Rotman Commerce and Humanities!

This means that for three of your first year courses, you will be engaging, debating, and bonding with 24 other students who are just as passionate about solving the world’s problems as you are. At a massive institution like UofT, with over 40 000 undergraduate students, it is so easy to feel isolated, and it may be difficult to make friends in such an academically charged environment. That’s why programs like Munk One are so helpful – they allow you to carve out your own little community in UofT’s massive one, providing you with access to upper year mentors, graduate students, and some of UofT’s top professors simply because you’re part of the club. Especially in first year, when many of your classes will have hundreds of students, being able to spend time with a smaller group of people is invaluable to feeling less like a number.

Now that you have a general gist of what Munk One is, here are some of my experiences in the program!

Global Classrooms

In my first month at UofT, I was already participating in academia beyond the classroom. Global Classrooms are a model first introduced to the University of Toronto by Munk One director and professor Teresa Kramarz, and the program was integrated into the Munk One curriculum because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In MUN101, my classmates and I spent a month working with students from the Monterrey Institute of Technology and Higher Education in Mexico, analyzing and comparing global impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. In my group, that meant researching how trust in government evolved in various democracies as a result of the pandemic, and whether or not that change was related to the society’s culture being collectivist or individualist. While the project itself was extremely interesting, the truly fulfilling part was being able to bond with students from Mexico and learn just how much we had in common. As opposed to simply making academic connections we made friends and the experience culminated in us singing karaoke together over a Zoom call!

In MUN105, we participated in another global classroom, this time with students from Universidad Catolica de La Plata in Argentina, where we compared Toronto and La Plata’s policy responses to the COVID-19 pandemic. MUN105 is guided by the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, and as I was involved in the SDG1: No Poverty group, we compared the efficacy of each city’s government’s policy responses to aid small and medium-sized enterprises (SME’s). We presented our findings to representatives from both city’s governments, as well as other industry professionals.

The beauty of global classrooms is that they encourage you to broaden your worldview and understand how the same forces (such as COVID-19) can have impacts that manifest very differently depending on where you are in the world. Munk One encourages students to search for the bigger picture, and global classrooms are an unparalleled opportunity to do so.

Questioning Everything

If there’s one thing you’ll take from your first semester in Munk One, it is that nothing in the world is black and white; you’ll be forced to confront your internal biases, your preconceived notions, and the frightening reality that very little about the world’s extremely complex problems can be simplified.

Professor Joseph Wong would often play devil’s advocate, forcing us to consider opposing perspectives and find evidence to support our beliefs during our weekly seminars. An example of one of my favorite class discussions stemmed from one week’s reading about global warming. In North America, global warming is often perceived as a black and white issue, and our class discussion was reflecting that. While everyone was discussing how dangerous, reckless, and consequential global warming is, the assigned reading pointed out that similar to how North America industrialized two centuries ago, some of today’s top polluters such as China and India are in the process of doing the same. As a result, millions of people have been lifted from poverty and given the chance to live better lives; while China produces double the emissions the United States does today, the USA has still cumulatively emitted almost 200 billion more tonnes of CO2. The key question was how is it fair to sit at the largest university in Canada, benefitting from past industrialization and the resulting economic success, and criticize developing countries for doing the same and wanting better for themselves? More than anything else, the discussion taught us the limitations of perceiving complex global issues solely from a North American standpoint, and that there are always other experiences and viewpoints to consider – rarely are these kinds of issues black and white.

Academic Autonomy

A huge benefit of Munk One that is rare for first years at any university is the ability to tailor your learning and evaluations to your interests; the entire year, almost every single one of my Munk One evaluations was personalized to the topics I’m passionate about. Professors care about allowing you to explore your interests, and the evaluations reflect that.

As someone who’s interested in the intersection of poverty, violence, and trauma, I was able to do a culminating project evaluating the Community Healing Project in Toronto, an existing intervention tackling these issues. Other students who are passionate about anything from environmentalism to hunger were able to integrate these into their assignments, so that the work they’re doing is personally fulfilling as opposed to feeling like a chore.

SDG Labs

The MUN105 class is heavily focused on the Sustainable Development Goals, and students are put into groups in the SDG of their choice; I was in SDG1: No Poverty. The last, and most anticipated, assignment of the year is the Dragons Den-inspired Competition, for which students prepare the entire second semester in their groups. Students conduct in depth research on an issue related to their Sustainable Development Goal and come up with their own intervention to help solve the problem at hand!

We experienced taking massive, global-scale problems and learned how to tackle them on a local, high-impact scale to help make the world a little better of a place. We made connections in the field, unravelled incredibly complex webs that create systemic issues, and put ourselves in the shoes of those we were trying to benefit. At the end of the semester, each group presented their intervention idea in a Dragons Den-inspired Competition in front of highly regarded judges who chose a winner! From here, students can apply for and win funding and resources through The Carey Projects to actually implement and bring their intervention idea to life!

All in all, while UofT is infamous for having massive first year classes and a lackluster social life, opportunities like Munk One can enhance your academic experience and allow you to make meaningful, lifelong connections. If you’re passionate about global affairs and solving complex issues, I would highly recommend that you apply to the program and change your university experience for the better!

Published on August 29, 2021

About Zaiboon Azhar

Zaiboon Azhar is a second-year student at the University of Toronto, double majoring in International Relations and Peace, Conflict, & Justice! She's an aspiring lawyer and self-proclaimed foodie who loves to spend her free time at the gym and trying out new Toronto food spots!