Second Semester

By John Charlton ( McGill University, Canada)

A new semester is well underway, and I begin part two of my study abroad period. Physics students usually take a year rather than a semester abroad as matching courses is key to continue studies in fourth year. I felt that last semester my courses matched very well to those back home, and even those topics I had already learnt were shown in a different way. The new semester courses seem to follow on well and I look forward to the topics.

The winter here stays at a comfortable -20°, and snow piles on every day. Commuting is no problem as roads and pavements are kept immaculately clear of snow. Also, the underground city connects most of the downtown area by heated commercial tunnels, as well as a metro line to get further out. Though there is little snow where people walk, the displaced snow is piled up on the edge of paths and the corner of buildings sometimes a few meters high.

Adorable, sociable squirrels frolicking around in the snow
Adorable, sociable squirrels frolicking around in the snow.

Taking advantage of the Canadian winter, I have been on a ski trip. It was with the McGill International Students Association, with whom I’ve been on trips to Toronto and New York. It took place over a weekend including Friday. We arrived during the evening and after collecting gear went for night skiing. The mountain had floodlit paths that allowed for skiing while the sun was down, leaving incredible views of the nearby towns. During the days even greater views could be had. I had not skied for a few years, but after a couple of warm-up falls I was back on form. The accommodation was at the foot of the mountain where we could watch the skiers while eating dinner next to a toasty fire.

The academics of studying here are, in contrast to what I expected, quite similar to that in Manchester. The workload is the same, but here a bit more emphasis is placed on assignments and the midterm, whereas Manchester would put more on the final exam. Still, I feel the amount of work and pressure of the different sections is still the same, as is the teaching style. The department here is smaller, my classes consisting of between ten people to forty, compared to 200. The classes with only a handful of people in are those I find most interesting, as the learning is more informal and discussions can break out between the lecturer and students. I find these make it much easier to understand topics and gain a greater understanding, as they become more personalized.

Art display of moving prisms casting intriguing colors on the snow
Art display of moving prisms casting intriguing colors on the snow.

I returned home over the Christmas holidays to catch up with family and friends. For the first time in my memory I did not have exams in January looming over the holidays, and it felt good! It is definitely preferable to get exams done before the holidays as it gave time to relax and gloat to friends who do have such exams.

Returning to Canada from England did not bring about the highs and lows of when I first moved here. I feel I have settled down in Canada, and I look forward to what the rest of the semester brings!

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