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!

Best Thrift Stores in Montreal

Winona Newman, Concordia University

Montreal’s a pretty expensive city when it comes to bread, butter and beer but you can really start saving money by thrifting. What with the social and environmental implications of fast fashion it can be a really great way of supporting local organisations too. I’m a massive thrift store fan so I was delighted to find thrift stores on a whole different level to those you find in the UK, even in Manchester. Montreal’s thrift stores are massive, almost department stores, carefully organised, well stocked and extremely well priced.

When you’re first moving to a city you’ll probably need some bigger ticket items, especially moving into Canada’s harsh winters. It can be tempting to freak, get ahead of yourself and order things online or buy from well established stores. But if you can bear to hold out slightly longer you’ll find thrift stores starting to fill up with all your winter essentials. I bought myself a massive winter jacket (it feels like wearing a duvet) for £14 and I’ve seen many a pair of snow boot for less than £20 which, when bought from a ‘proper’ store can set you back 100s. Just check the quality of everything you buy, google the makes and check for rips and broken zippers.

I’ve compiled a list of some of my favourite thrift spots here, most of which I’ve bought jumpers, tops, shirts and trousers from all for about £3-4 so they’re definitely worth checking out, whatever you’re looking for.

Fripe-Prix Renaissance

5500 Boul Henri-Bourassa E, Montréal-Nord, QC H1G 2T2

A massive charity shop located in the Plateau. They sell loads of clothes as well as books and home-ware.

L’Armée du Salut

1620 Notre-Dame St W, Montreal, Quebec H3J 1M1

This Salvation Army thrift store has almost everything you could want, a great place to grab kitchen utensils and furnishings as well.

Eva B.

2015 St Laurent Blvd, Montreal, Quebec H2X 2T3

Eva B is more of a vintage shop, they sell really interesting clothes and they have a cool cafe with amazing vegan cake. Definitely pop by, it’s an experience in itself.

La Maison du Chainon

4375 St Laurent Blvd, Montreal, Quebec H2W 1Z8

This is a really nice little shop selling a range of interesting clothes for really good prices, including snow coats and boots.

Have fun, shop sustainably and save money:)

Maryland Dhoom: A home away from home

*Maryland Dhoom is The University of Maryland’s competitive South Asian Fusion Dance Team.*

Dancing used to be a hobby and now it’s a passion of mine. Therefore, before travelling to America, I knew I wanted to join a dance team.  However,  I didn’t know whether to carry on doing Bollywood and Bharathanatyam (Indian classical) or experience every American college girl’s dream- getting on to the cheerleading team.

I decided to audition for a few teams before auditioning for Maryland Dhoom. Pretty much all the teams rejected me because they required at least one year commitment and I am only there for a semester. It was upsetting because I spent so much time and effort to prepare for the audition (especially the cheerleading one) and for that to be dismissed for a reason that I have no control over.

Due to the previous experiences with auditioning, the first thing I asked at Maryland Dhoom’s teaching day was “Can I join even though I am only here for a semester?”

“Of course you can!” said one enthusiastic Maryland Dhoom member.

After this moment, I felt so excited to dance! I took off my hoodie, placed my phone in my bag and started to stretch a bit.

“Before we start teaching you the dance, let’s sit in a circle and introduce ourselves” said one of the captains. I sighed. (There was about fifty people in the hall). When it was my turn: “ Hi, my name is Thul-”, the biggest reaction happened. A lot of gasps, a lot of “oh my gods” and a lot of “ she’s British!” When I tell you the Americans love the British accent, they LOVE the British accent.

Other than that, the audition process went smoothly and our team had our first social the following week. I felt like a grandmother at the social. Everyone apart from the captains were freshmen (first year students). But it felt wholesome. I felt like I was going to be part of a family.

Rehearsals were taken pretty seriously. Every week I had ten hours of dance rehearsals. It was very organised too because usually they use Fall semester to prepare for competition season ( Spring semester). Unfortunately, I would not be able to travel to different states and participate in competitions as I was only in America for the Fall semester. But I still had a few exciting events to look forward to: dance team photoshoot, audition filming day, Dhoom Venmo challenge  and an exhibition performance in Washington D.C.

A few of the photos from the dance shoot.

You’re probably thinking what ‘audition filming day’ is. We dedicate a day to film our audition tape. The audition tape needs to perfect as it determines Maryland Dhoom’s competition season. There are more than 100 bollywood/ fusion competitions in America. And the more you attend and place, the more points you get and the more likely you get to the Nationals (the final stage). This is the overall picture, obviously there are more rules.

Let me be honest, audition day was stressful. If someone made a mistake midway through, we had to start again. And after a few times, it did annoy people. Also, it was humid that day too; that did not help at all. But it was a good bonding experience. * A few hours later * we got two perfect takes!

You’re also probably thinking what is “dhoom vemo challenge”. It’s such an innovative method to raise money. So, Maryland Dhoom came up with a few dares with prices (the more daring the higher the price)  and posted it on their social media. Friends and family of Dhoom members can venmo (the American version of Paypal) money along with the dare and who they’re daring.

Here are a few:

A few of the venmo challenges

When November commenced, rehearsals started to become intense as we only had a couple of weeks left until show day. The week before show day was called ‘hell week’. (Literally hell week for me because I had two mid-terms that week too!) We had practise every evening, and we would rehearse until the captains were satisfied. Ex-captains and the captains’ friends would come in too to help out. A variety of things were involved during hell week: improving stamina by repeating routines with 30s breaks, improving techniques by getting into partners and criticise.. costumes, last min changes to the routine and formation, and a lot of drama ! The hell week was worth it though, I could tell that everyone improved dramatically!

16th November 2019. It was show day! But to me, it felt like a girls’ day trip and night out! It was so fun. We spent the morning getting ready together, drove to get lunch together, and then got to the venue. Everything was going so smoothly, and then it came to our turn to have the stage rehearsal.

A couple of the dancers slipped on stage and injured themselves, formations weren’t perfect, and it didn’t meet the captains expectations. So obviously there was some tension in the room. However, we pulled ourselves together and did last minute touch ups on both our dance routine and make up. We sat in the audience before performing, and boy, I was so excited to see the performers. I was literally on the edge of my seat. The energy levels were INSANE! The costumes and the use of props were too phenomenal. I didn’t want to stop watching but then they called up our team.  I remember being so nervous backstage, especially after watching the other performances. But when I got on stage, the vibes were surreal! Soon after our performance we hurried to get to the after-party. It was a fun night out with the girls but my legs were dead by the end.

Maryland Dhoom doing the “Dhoom face”.
A snapshot of the performance in D.C.

After the performance we did not have any rehearsals but we had a Christmas special social event. It was so wholesome: we watched Wizard of Oz (that’s Dhoom’s competition theme), did Secret Santa and had ordered take away. We undertook secret Santa with a little twist, instead of writing the person’s name on a tag we had to imitate our person and the others had to guess it. When it got to my turn I got so emotional because they gave me a goodbye present too. It was so heart-warming and honestly I will miss them so much.

That’s when I realised: joining Maryland Dhoom was one of the best things I did whilst studying abroad. I made some good friends outside of my class and it made me feel less home sick.  It gave me an opportunity to carry on doing what I love, on campus. Also, in hindsight, I saved a lot of money too, because if I didn’t join the team I would have spent my free time travelling around America, splurging on sightseeing activities. (I have a few friends complaining now that they spent too much on travelling).

I loved being part of Maryland Dhoom and I will cherish the memories I made with my Dhoomies. To those thinking about studying abroad, join a society – it’s worth it!

PS if you want to watch our performance, here’s the link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N7ywDo_K9LU

Goodbye presents from my Dhoomies! ❤
Hope you enjoyed reading my blog!

10 Things I miss about living in Toronto and studying at U of T

By  Paul Alex Treadaway, University of Toronto

After six months away from the University of Toronto and the city itself, here are just some of the many things I miss about the city and my time studying there!

1. Tim Hortons

tim hortonsTims is an institution – its hard to explain why. It’s simply always there for you when you need it, morning, noon and most of the night. Coffee, TimBits, surprisingly addictive Chilli where you’re not entirely sure what all the ingredients are but somehow that doesn’t matter, it has almost everything you could want in the vicinity of fast food. Continue reading “10 Things I miss about living in Toronto and studying at U of T”

Hello to the Golden State

Kasha Yip, University of California, Santa Barbara, USA

Week 5 has come to an end, and so has my first set of midterms. After 6 weeks of experiencing life on the West Coast, it’s time to share a few of my first impressions of UCSB and the little, neighbouring town of Isla Vista. (I have pretty pictures at the end.)

1. People say “hi” to you on the street.

In England, it’s not a usual occurrence to strike conversations with strangers around you (or at least during the day). Now that I think about, I don’t even smile much at people when I’m going about my day in Manchester, never mind greet a random student I walk past around campus.

But the moment I stepped out of my Lyft in Isla Vista, a random girl walked past me and my suitcases and said “hi”. I’ve come to realise that you can walk or even bike around IV, and people going past might smile at or greet you, or even chime a passing sentence into your conversation.

2. My timetable is so empty…

You need to take a minimum of 12 units a quarter to be considered a full-time student, and at UCSB, that generally means taking minimum 3 modules each quarter.

My current modules only consist of 2 lectures lasting an hour and 15 minutes each a week, which altogether adds up to 7 hours a week of contact time. Compared to my ~16 hours a week at Manchester, I’m practically never in classes. (Note: some modules do come with sections, which are like seminars that complement the lectures, that are around 50 minutes long.)

Don’t let the small amount of contact hours get you excited though…

3. Readings are compulsory.

In Psychology at Manchester, majority of the set readings are supplementary and optional. Though there are some modules that will test on the reading (Social, I’m looking at you), most lecturers will only test on the lecture content.

At UCSB, though, reading is compulsory, and you can bet there will be a question on your exam that delves into an article you were set in Week 2. If you don’t keep up with your readings, you will end up having to at least skim through them the day before your exam.

4. Exams in Week 4 and 90 is an A?!

So Midterms are a thing in the US. It felt like I’d only just started school and then suddenly I was having 2 exams a day after each other 2 weeks ago and then another one just last Thursday. I now have 2 weeks “off” (I have a paper due next Monday and a 500-word blog for Friday) before I have another 2 Midterms and then Finals 3 weeks after that.

From the perspective that 60% is a 2:1 and you’re doing really well, it might seem that getting 90% is impossible. Even further, the equivalent 70%/1st in the UK is not easy to get. But, and I’ll get into it more in a separate blog, I personally think getting a 90 here is easier than getting a 70 at home (for my classes at the moment, at least), so I wouldn’t worry about passing! (I didn’t say don’t revise, though.)

5. Wait, I’m broke.

Food is expensive. Everywhere. But compared to the prices at places like Lidl and Aldi, grocery shopping here is not cheap. My first shop costed $100. Granted, that included necessities such as shampoo, toothpaste, detergent, suncream, etc., but I definitely cried a little inside when I saw the total.

My average shop will cost around $40-50 at the cheaper supermarkets, which is not that expensive considered this is Santa Barbara (rich people) and it’s equivalent to around £30-40. But Aldi gives me my weekly shop for £20 if I’m indulgent. And $50 doesn’t even include snacks. You can understand why this makes me sad.

6. Oh yeah, the beach!

So 5 would have been a nice number to end on, but I couldn’t have gone this whole blog post without talking about the beach. If you’re planning to come to UCSB, it’s probably one of the things you’re most excited for, and I don’t blame you.

Where Campus Lagoon (right) borders Campus Point Beach (left).

Everyone living at UCSB and in IV is within a max 25-minute walk and 10-minute bike ride (if you’re slow) to the beach. I’ve even been lucky enough to live in a house on Del Playa Drive, where my balcony overlooks the ocean.

The view from my balcony! Further in that direction, just around the cliff, will take you to Campus Point Beach, which is actually on the university.

Whether you want to tan, swim, surf, or watch the sunset, the beach is the place to go. It’s beautiful and it’s amazing, and it still doesn’t feel real that it’s my back garden for the year. Just to inspire you (and because I have like 50 pictures of the sunset so far), here are a few pictures. Like, have you even been to IV if you haven’t taken at least one sunset picture?

3rd October
24th October
2nd November

I don’t think I’ll ever not stop mid-cooking to take multiple sunset pictures. Maybe one day I’ll wake up early enough to get a sunrise.

It’s only November, and it feels like everything is going so fast already (thanks, quarter system). But Thanksgiving is coming up soon, and I definitely know what I’m thankful for.

Montreal: Market’s, Metro and More

Winona Newman at Concordia University, Montreal

After spending the last few days in sweatpants revising and writing essays I was craving a change of scenery. So I finally submitted my essay late last night so I’d have today free to explore. This morning I consulted my list of places I really should visit and headed to Petite Italie – Montreal’s Little Italy, home to a number of independent cafes, second hand shops, art work spaces and one of the largest open-air markets in North America; Marche Jean Talon. The trip also allowed me to test my metro knowledge as it was the longest journey I’d done so far.

The short video hopefully gives a feel for the area, which I’d definitely recommend visiting for anyone studying in or visiting Montreal. As with many places here the aesthetics of the of ‘Little Italy’ sit on that slightly strange line between European and American archiceture and urban landscape, making it an interesting place to visit in itself. However, the real selling point is the market – packed with fresh fruit, veg and flowers. Apart from PA (the best and cheapest supermarket I’ve found) this is definitely the best place to grab your greens, especially if you live slightly outside of downtown or have a metro pass (which are really good value, especially if you’re riding everyday for uni). It’s also a really fun experience and there’s a great atmosphere. I’m excited to go back and see what it’s like when the snow comes!

A typical day in my life at UMass Amherst

7:00am – Rise and shine

My alarm is usually set for around 7:00 as my classes here can start as early as 8:30am. Attendance is recorded so there’s no sleeping through my alarm! I’ll shower, get ready for the day and head to one of the four different dining halls on campus for some food. 

7:45am – Breakfast

As if it isn’t mentioned to us enough, UMass dining is rated number 1 in the whole country, so unlike the catered halls I was used to in my first year in Manchester the food is actually enjoyable! There’s a lot of variety and so many options to choose from. Today I resisted the tempting chocolate banana bread and opted for fresh fruit with granola instead. 

8:30am – Classes

After breakfast, I head to my first class of the day which is around a 10-minute walk away. The college campus here is gigantic and can take up to 30 minutes to walk from end to end. Luckily all my buildings are grouped close together so it’s never too far to get to. I had four classes on this day back to back, so I didn’t finish till 2:15pm. I had a surprise pop quiz in one of my classes, meaning the professor decided randomly to give us a mini exam on concepts we had learnt in the previous few lectures. I’d never had one of these before, so it caught me by surprise (as I’m sure they’re intended to!). It has definitely taught me to stay on top of all the work and assignments I’m given and to be prepared for the unexpected. 

3:30pm – Studying

After picking up a quick lunch from the grab and go at one of the dining halls, I head to the library to make a start on all the homework, quizzes and projects I’ve been given. It’s non-stop work and assignments here! I think this is the earliest point I’ve ever been to the library during a semester – typically I only venture to the library in Manchester in the final few weeks of the semester in the approach to exams. One of the benefits of studying in the library is the incredible view! It’s the third tallest library in the world, with 28 floors making it a great spot to study at.

W. E. B. Du Bois Library

5:45pm – Yoga

After finishing some homework, I meet up with a friend and head to one of the free gym classes at the recreation centre on campus. This day I went to a yoga class, which is a good way to unwind after a long day of classes and take my mind off all my assignments. The sun was beginning to set during the class, which provided the most incredible view to look out on to!

7:00 – Dinner and chill

After grabbing dinner with friends, we decided to have a card night and watch a film. Despite the intense workload, I find there’s still the opportunity to enjoy spending time with friends and meeting new people. Finally, I head back to my dorm ready for the next day. 

College in America Vs University in England (Seven differences)

I study Chemical Engineering, and I am only taking Chemical Engineering modules at UMD. So the differences listed below are based on what I have experienced. (It may be different for other courses at UMD).

1.Everyone writes in pencil here! Over the past few weeks, I have realised how much I cross out with pen and waste so much paper.

Let me tell you a funny story. In one of my classes, I decided to take notes on paper using a pencil instead of pen. I had to erase something, but I did not have a rubber in my pencil case. So, I turned to the person next to me and asked quietly if I can borrow her rubber. She stared at me weirdly, and obviously I was confused. What did I do wrong? Oh, maybe she didn’t hear me I thought. Hence, I repeated myself “can I borrow your rubber?” and pointed at the end of her pencil. She gave it to me like she didn’t want to give it to me. For the rest of lesson, I was just baffled. My next class was in the same room; I sat next to my friend and I told her about the awkward situation. She burst out laughing! I was even more confused. She immediately went on her phone and showed me a page on urban dictionary: “ Rubber: (American English) a condom, (British English) an eraser”.

Now it all made sense! From then on, I am very careful on what words I use, yet I am still curious if there are other words like this!

2. As a chemical engineering student, you are expected to be good at unit conversions.   As a US chemical engineering student, you are expected to be good at unit conversions both in imperial and metric system. The conversions that my Year 7 teacher told me to memorise have finally become useful.

3. I feel like I am back at school! We get homework every week, and they get graded and count towards your final grade! (There is no such thing as catching up/cramming for exams during the holidays here :’) ). Also, during the semester, we have mid-terms and presentations to do… so you really have to be on top of your work. One of my friends said that a lecturer said, I quote: “if you’re not ahead you’re behind”.

4. In most UK Universities to achieve a 1st class you need to obtain an overall grade of more than or equal to 70%. Whereas to get a grade equivalent to a 1st in the USA, so an A+, you need to obtain an overall grade of 94%. I have realised when I was studying at The University of Manchester, I was not aiming for perfection, I just wanted to get a good understanding of the topic and be able to answer questions. But here, I am driven to be a perfectionist. My work ethic has changed because of the different criteria.

5. You are allowed to bring your dog to class here! (If the lecturer and all the students in the class are okay with it). In my Protein Engineering class, most of the students are dog lovers, so we’ve had at least someone bring their dog to class a few times so far this semester!

6. I assume that Universities all over the world take cheating in exams or homework very seriously. In my opinion, I feel like UMD are a little over the top with “academic dishonesty”. For every mid-term exam or quiz I have sat, as well as writing my name and module on front of the paper, I have had to write “I pledge on my honour that I have not given or received any unauthorised assistance on this examination/assignment”.

7. Being a chatterbox is fine in the US! You get credit for it. It counts towards your final grade. At the University of Manchester I am used to having 80% of my final grade being based on my exam and 20% based on my coursework. Whereas at UMD, (it varies from class to class) the grades get weighted as: 30% final exam, 20% homework, 20% midterm, 20% presentations and 10% participation.

People have asked me which education system I prefer….  during the start of the semester I said I liked the UK system as I am used to it. However, now that I am half way in, I am starting to like this system; I have immensely improved my work ethic and time management because of the consistent stress throughout the semester. Moreover, it has made me into a perfectionist which in my opinion is a benefit in the workplace (let’s get them bonuses!). Best of all, I do not need to spend this year’s Christmas break revising aka cramming for January exams (except for one distance learning module). #onemonthoffreedom

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?!?

Bienvenue au Canada

Phil Tugnait, Univesity of Calgary, Canada

Before embarking on my year away in Canada, I was met by a flurry of excitement, a touch of nervousness and an echo of the same question from family and friends, “Do you know it gets very cold out there?”. This led me to looking forward to my departure date even more as I would finally hear this familiar phrase for the final time.

Leaving the comfort of Oxford Road and jetting off to a faraway land, coated with mountains and maple syrup made me glad that I had elected to leave the bustling city of Manchester for a year and experience something completely new and different.

I arrived a couple of days before move-in day which meant I had plenty of time to sort things out before campus started to get busy. I am living in residence on campus in a flat of 4 and I have already found a great group of global friends ranging from Australia to Switzerland. One of the great perks of being on exchange is the variety of different people you can meet and connect with, which was made easier by living on campus.

My first week in Calgary started with an orientation day spearheaded by a ‘pep rally’. This ceremony pits all the faculties against each other by making as much noise as possible with their own chants. Being in the engineering faculty, which is one of the biggest, made it more fun and already made me feel like I was part of a community at the university. There was also a very heavy focus on how important the indigenous communities were in Canada, especially in Calgary as they were the first people to inhabit the city. This was an interesting side to the culture that I had not experienced before and it was very interesting to see the respect and care that the university held for these communities.

Orientation ‘pep rally’

The next day I had my first skate session on the Olympic oval hosting some of the fastest ice in the world. Having never skated before, it made the experience more enjoyable for my friends who were in stitches of laughter watching me slip and slide around the ice. This was followed by a hike to the Bow river which runs all the way through Calgary, providing some lovely scenery. It is amazing to have clear water flowing such a short walk from campus and is surrounded by the peaceful Edworthy Park. After walking through the park, the setting and wildlife made me feel like I had truly arrived in Canada.

Olympic Oval

The opening week also presented an event called Kick Off, which is the first varsity football game for the uni. This is a large event where everyone gathered to support the Dinos, which is the name of the university team and was a great opportunity to raid the bookstore for some supporting merchandise. The stadium was a short walk from campus and has a capacity of around 35,000 which makes it the fifth largest in Canada. The game had a great atmosphere and presented a great spectacle as the Dinos won the game 24-10.

After orientation was finished, we decided to head off campus into downtown. It takes around 25 minutes on the C-train which is a tram style train that takes you straight into central Calgary and is free for students. The first thing to notice was the huge skyscrapers that towered over the streets in the centre. The roads were also in a block style structure which makes them easy to navigate and leads to an absence of roundabouts. We headed towards Chinatown where we had a tasty dinner followed by a lesson in how to tip in Canada. A common tip would be around 15-20% of the bill as if no tip is given the staff will be paying this portion out of their own pocket. This was an important to learn as it seems to be taken as a given rather than a choice in the UK.

Edworthy Park

The weather was a surprising aspect of my opening week as I was unprepared for a warm wave of temperatures in the high 20’s. This was time to appreciate the city without a blanket of snow before the cold temperatures arrive.

Cholula: a new chapter

To begin, a few photos of the place I can now call home: Cholula. It is truly a beautiful place to live. On every turn there is street-art, brightly coloured buildings and taquerias. However; don’t be fooled by the weather in the photos. It’ll be cool when you wake up, boiling by midday, ominously cloudy late afternoon, stormy in the evening and then the skies may clear by the time you go to bed. What to wear: everything.

Casa Roja: My new home

1. The terrace at night. 2. My 14 housemates and I with our landlord, Luis, at his birthday meal.

I am living in a 15- person student house about a half hour walk from uni, and I am so lucky to have such a big ‘mexican’ family here. Although we are actually very international: French, German, Mexican, English and Spanish, so communication can sometimes be a challenge. But it’s nothing that a bit of translating, googling or if it comes to it, mime, can’t solve. We’ve already been on a trip away together to Oaxaca, as we’d had a whole 3 days of uni so we definitely needed a holiday…

1. Hierve el Agua (boiling water). 2. A bumpy ride down from the former

A few bumps in the road:

As expected, I experienced some anxiety and homesickness coming up to and during the first few days of living here. Although you could feel very overwhelmed in the first couple of days, it helps to remind yourself that you will settle in, in time, and that everyone feels the same way.

An emotional goodbye: I promise that my parents weren’t actually that pleased to be rid of me for the year.

Despite now feeling very settled and content with my life here, I have had other small hurdles to overcome also. Firstly, it takes a few days to not jump out of your skin every time cannons are fired from the churches on the hilltops the multiple times at any hour day or night. But soon that just becomes part of the soundscape of life here, along with the barking of stray dogs and the ‘do you want the gas’ song. Moreover, the fixtures in my bathroom have had to be repaired 4 times. Luckily my landlord has been really prompt, responding instantly and getting my fixtures fixed the same day on every occasion: we love Luis. Also, on our trip to Oaxaca, the bottled water provided in our AirBnB turned out to be contaminated with mosquito larvae, meaning we then had to take medication. But at least I’m trying new things…

There are also some cultural differences to be aware of, for instance tipping in restaurants and toilets seems to be the norm here, student or not. Moreover, I would advise any Spain-Spanish speakers coming to Mexico to look up some of the words and phrases that aren’t the same here, for instance if you ask someone if you could have intimate relations with the bus it might raise a few eyebrows (‘coger’ does not mean ‘to take’ here..).

Overall, I’ve loved my time here so far and am really excited for the year ahead.