Such a sudden end

I was in New York only a month ago, and now it’s on the news.

Every now and then I start to realize I’m in a science fiction movie, I feel like the world is grinding to a halt around me. It’s a very surreal feeling.

I’ve had to emotionally turn on a dime so many times these last weeks. When Guelph first announced that they were closing for a week to organize online classes, my housemate and I talked about taking a spontaneous trip to Montreal or New Brunswick. Four days later she had flown home.

In the last five days I’ve had to say goodbye to so many people who have made this year amazing.

These are scary times. Our everyday lives have changed in ways I wouldn’t have believed three weeks ago. It seems like the only thing anyone can talk about.

Let me acknowledge; I’m lucky. I always felt safe in Canada, life was still relatively normal when I left, and now I’m home safe.

I made the decision to come home. It wasn’t an easy one, and a rebellious part of me wishes I had stayed.

I’m finally home, after a long & stressful week. It’s more than a little silly when I think about it; I left Guelph, where there are no cases, in a country that was handling the crisis very well, with possibly a much better medical capacity to population ratio. I’ve transited through three airports, come into contact with numerous people transiting from all over the world without checks, and been squeezed onto a packed plane.

I don’t get particularly home sick. I had a plan, in case I could not get home for months; I’ve used wwooofing & workaway before, and I was ready and prepared to find a farm to work on over the summer.

Why then, did I not stay?

Mostly because of insurance. There is no guarantee that I’ll be covered, especially if I were to get stuck in Canada for months. I also don’t want to spend all my savings on surviving there, especially if I’m stuck in my room rather than taking advantage of being in the country.

I also have family aged 65 and up. If they did fall ill, I would hate to be stuck halfway across the globe.

Every situation will be different, but I think it’s important to acknowledge; these things do happen. When these choices need to be made, and all any of us can do is make sure we get the information we require, and then consider the practicalities frankly & realistically.

I’m guessing, if you’ve been on the internet in the last few days, you’ve heard people urging you to self-isolate. If you go to Manchester, you’re smart enough to realize, this is more serious than the flu. This isn’t the time to be brave or rebellious. It’s one of those times you do the boring, practical, sensible thing.

Stay safe out there.

Guelph; why you should come here, even though you’ve likely never heard of it.

When I found out I was coming to Guelph I was a little underwhelmed. Here are some of the reasons you should consider a town whose name sounds like a cough.

The eco-friendly vibe

I have got a free reusable mug, free metal straws, and a free menstrual cup within the first month being here. The farmers market is one of my favourite places, and if you get food on campus you can either get a plate, or get food in a reusable container which is then returned and washed.

Small size

Small is boring right? Wrong! In a big university you can feel a bit like a small fish in a huge lake. Being in smaller classes makes it much easier & much friendlier to get involved in different projects & initiatives. This also means I have the option of talking to professors about assignments and lectures, and a lot of support. I know all the physics students in my year,

The location

I went to New York for spring break. I never thought I’d go to New York; it’s expensive, and it’s far away. Now it’s only one of those things.

I’d say that, in general, the whole of the US and Canada is quite awful for travelling in; everything is so big, and far away; even crossing the street sometimes seems a bit daunting, but Guelph is in a pretty good spot; Montreal, Ottowa, New York, Detroit and Chicago are all either few hours or a night-bus away.

The price

It’s hard to comment on the places I didn’t go, but I’d guess Guelph in on the cheaper side. For me, living expenses have been comparable to Manchester (but a little more expensive). In some of the more northern parts of Canada, groceries can be very expensive, and rent here is more accessible than the more famous cities like Toronto.

The climate also means I didn’t have to buy any of the new clothes I budgeted for; I’ve survived all year in my doc-martens and coat from superdry. I wear two pairs of socks, a bobble hat, scarf and gloves, and I’m happy and snug and warm.

The weather

The autumn leaves are a beautiful, surprising shade of red and gold. I love the snow. Snow is amazing; it’s soft and clean and its so satisfying to walk through a pristine layer. Icicles fascinate me; they’re so sharp and glassy.

Canada is a beautiful place, and a big part of that is the weather. Don’t be too scared of the cold however; the southern-most point of Ontario is further south than the northern-most point of California. Guelph is pretty temperate; this winter we’ve had mornings of -15 to -23 degrees, but the cold doesn’t bother me as much as -1 in Manchester, because the air is drier.

In short, I love Guelph. It’s a wonderfully friendly, supportive university, whose small size makes it really easy to explore. I’ve had a great time, there is so much discover in the locations around the town, including Toronto and Algonquin Park, and I’d highly recommend Guelph to anyone who wants to go on study abroad in Canada.

Back to Canada and an exercise in tech independence

Being on a completely new continent, it would be a shame not to take advantage of the opportunity to travel. It can be hard however to find the time to visit all the places you want between assignments.

On my way back after Christmas, I decided to stop off in Toronto to spend a day exploring. There are several ways to discover a city; one of those ways is to wander around, alone, without a plan. I’ve already been to Toronto with a group of friends, but I feel like it’s nice sometimes to just wander around a place on your own terms, without having to please everybody.

Having got off the plane and made my way through customs and out into arrivals, I sat down to google where I had to go.

That’s when my phone decides to die (at 75% battery)

I was supposed to check into my hotel in an hour and I had no idea where to go. I asked about four different people along the way for directions and luckily, Canadians live up to their reputation of being super friendly. (Although, one group gave me directions which; when I looked on the map, would have sent me to the opposite side of town, but fortunately I couldn’t find the subway station they were directing me to.)

So once safely at the hostel, the stress and jet lag caught up to me all at once, and I want directly to bed, at six PM, with an awful headache.

I woke up at five in the morning and decided I wasn’t going to let a broken phone ruin my plans. I don’t know my way around Toronto very well, but people used to travel before smartphones were a thing, right?

I spent a few hours looking up interesting spots in Toronto; the unique foods and specialties especially and created my own personalized guide to the city on a paper map. I highly recommend this process; this becomes a souvenir, and really gives you a sense of making the city your own and realizing what you love about it.

I set out at 9, and I’m really happy at the unique perspective I got of the city that early in the Morning; I was surprised to find that at 9 Toronto was just waking up; the people in the streets were locals or employees, setting up shop fronts or popping down the road.

I had two goals for my day; get bubble tea and get lunch. Bubble tea is one of my great loves, and Toronto is one of the best cities in the world for bubble tea. My map was a list of the best and most unique food and bubble tea in Toronto. Otherwise, I was free to walk around Toronto.

The rest of my day I ended up visiting the Ontario government buildings, (they’re big, and made of brick… different architectural style to Europe, but not that interesting) and the Allen gardens. The Allen gardens were beautiful, not to mention a nice warm retreat from the snow falling outside. I also sat in a small park a little way outside the centre, and watched families skating around a circular skating track while I waited for a bubble tea shop to open.

It as a long and tiring day, and I was happy to get on my greyhound bus at 5 to go home, and even happier when, an hour late, I arrived home in Guelph.

On the importance (and unimportance) of grades (for me) (in hindsight)

So, I tend to overthink things. A lot. Before coming to Canada, I was worried about how study abroad fit into my university career. Would I be behind when I got to Canada? Would I be behind when I got back? What if I dropped marks? I have the whole of the rest of my life to travel, so maybe I should wait?

Let me take a moment to walk you through a few reasons why I shouldn’t have been too caught up in how study abroad would affect my academics, and why you might not need to worry too much either:

Unsurprisingly, like a good number of other students, I have anxiety and I normally have difficulty giving myself time off. The first advantage of study abroad is that it gives me an excuse (an excuse to myself that is) to take time out to explore. Changing my environment so drastically also gave me an opportunity to change my habits; there were fewer expectations and routines attached to my new space, so I have been able to construct healthier and more productive study habits, based on what I’ve learnt about my learning style in my first two years of university.

Surprisingly, the difference in structure has also been a big help. I was worried before coming to Canada about the heavier workloads and the more frequent assessments, but far from being a problem this has actually been very beneficial; going from 100% exams in Manchester to grades split between finals, midterms, assignments and quizzes has had an amazing effect on my anxiety. I’m much happier, and my grades reflect this. Over this first semester I’ve engaged more deeply with the lectures and understood more as a consequence. I’m still a little nervous that I will struggle when I get back, but I’m hoping I’m putting down a firm foundation to work from when I return for my final year.

Another reason not to worry too much is that grades aren’t everything. In the longer term, study abroad can improve resilience, independence, and the ability to work with diverse groups of people, as well as other skills that employers look for. It also lets you explore the diversity of cultures within your field; if you want to stay in academia, you can use this experience to explore what atmosphere you want to be in. In physics for example, Guelph and Manchester are worlds apart; I’ve gone from a class of 250 to classes of 12-20. I know everyone, and everyone knows me, including the lecturers. I’m much happier asking questions, and when there are four deadlines on the same day and it’s just not going to happen, it can be resolved with a simple conversation.

So far, this experience has had an amazing effect on my anxiety, which has in turn had a positive effect on my grades. Study abroad is an enriching opportunity, and I’m happy I was able to look past my academic worries. Every story is different, but I think there is always a lot you can learn from challenging yourself, even if it’s just that being away from home for so long isn’t your thing. If you have the grades & skills to succeed, and if it feel right, just go for it!

Four things I wasn’t expecting about Canada

I have been in Canada for two weeks now, in a small university town called Guelph. (Pronounced Gwelf: It sounds a bit like the feeling of making mud pies as a kid.)
I’d like to think that I’m a pretty organized person. I spent hours upon hours researching when I first got accepted onto the study abroad program. Perhaps part of the fun however, and certainly the things you learn the most from, are the surprises you can’t predict.
That’s why I’ve decided to discuss some of the not-so-obvious shocks I’ve had since arriving.

Flying over Labrador (… I think)

Immigration
The crowd control barriers are endless at Toronto airport, and there was a confusing moment where I had to pick up a ticket and then turn around and go backwards before proceeding.
I’m a pretty anxious person, and in my mind, I imagined being ushered into a small grey room with a desk, and then grilled about my return flights, my funds, the few countries I’ve visited in my life and my political swing.
In reality, the process was much less scary, but took way longer.
It’s worth reading up on the restrictions on what you can bring into the country before travelling. This way you can avoid panicking about being deported for bringing in an egg sandwich, like I did (Spoiler alert: they didn’t care about the sandwich).

Jet-lag
The day I traveled to Canada, I woke up at 8 in the morning. My seven-hour flight left at 12.30. Immigration took ages, and then I had to wait four hours in the airport for one of the university organized buses. By the time I got out of the terminal it was dark, and by the time I got to bed that night I’d spent over 20 hours awake.
It doesn’t sound that bad right?
It wasn’t half as bad as I thought it was going to be.
Until I woke up at three the next morning and couldn’t get back to sleep.
And I’ve been told it’s worse travelling in the other direction. Ugh!

Sunburn
I’m pretty pale, but I still didn’t expect to burn in my first week in Canada.
While I haven’t needed my big fluffy coat yet, I’ve been surprised how many different temperatures I’ve had to deal with in the past week.
The temperature the first few days was around 25 degrees outside. A decent British summer day, but nothing to get too excited about. You might be surprised to learn however, that Guelph is just slightly further south than Toulouse in the south of France, meaning that it receives the same amount of sun. It just doesn’t get as hot because of winds coming down from the arctic. This means the sun is much stronger you expect it to be. Locals even warned me that you can get burned from the sun reflecting off the snow in winter!

Toilets
Why is the seat so low down?!?
Why is there a gap between the door and the cubicle frame?!?
Why is there a foot of space between the bottom of the cubicle and the floor?!?
Why do they flush unexpectedly while you’re sitting on them?!?