Kasha Yip, University of California, Santa Barbara, USA
(TL;DR at the end.)
You really don’t think a worldwide, society-stopping, economy-crumbling, mass panic-inducing virus would become a big problem in your lifetime, especially not when you’re studying nearly 5 and a half miles away from home for a year. Luckily for us, the coronavirus came to say hello for who knows how long.
So… how do you prepare? What do you do?
Honestly, that’s the question I’m asking myself right now. The past week has been so turbulent with the various updates either from UCSB or about how other countries are doing.
On Tuesday 10th, the Chancellor told us that the rest of Winter quarter (dead/the last week and finals week) and Spring quarter until the end of April were turning into remote instruction. Between then and Thursday 12th, I found out 2 of my finals would be online, my last final would be optional and we could use midterm grades if we wanted (yes), and the musical production I was involved in would be cancelled.
Sure, okay, I have 2 weeks spring break now because my finals end early, and then 4 weeks of home schooling with no commitments because everything is cancelled. Doable. My aunt lives in DC and asked if I wanted to stay with her during this time, but my grandparents are also staying with her so I told her I’d think about it.
On Friday, it came out that there might have been suspected cases in Isla Vista (IV). Some people went to a music festival in San Diego with their friend who just came back from Italy, and they were now self-quarantining. I was definitely not going to stay with my grandparents, and it was probably for the best to stay put here just in case.
Just yesterday, Saturday 14th, the Chancellor updated us that the whole of Spring quarter would be remote instruction. “Students who can safely leave are urged to do so.”
Excuse me? What on earth do I do? I can’t go to DC or go home – I don’t want to have or catch the coronavirus in the airport or on a flight and give it to my family. But what if all my housemates leave and I have to stay here by myself? How depressing and isolating is that? And what if I stay here and then get stuck here, because who knows how this will develop by summer? Should I go and stay with my family when it’s the end of the world? So much overthinking, so many questions…
In a time where it can already feel lonely and away from so many people you care about, not having any choices to do anything and being forced to stay inside and away from people really hits hard. It’s isolating, feels hopeless, and gives you so. much. anxiety.
It’s hard to talk about; everyone’s affected in different ways. Some people have sunk (back) into depression, some people have overwhelming anxiety, some people have immunocompromised friends and family, some people don’t care and think everything has been over-exaggerated.
I definitely did not expect this to happen on my year abroad. There is no way to prepare. There is nothing you can do.
I still don’t know if I should go home or if it’s better for me to remain in IV and just not leave my house. Things are changing so rapidly, and there’s no way to predict what will happen next. At this time, we can only wait and see.
So, yeah, “it won’t happen to me” until it does. But I was thinking more of, you know, an “I broke my leg, and now I have to pay a lung and a kidney to deal with it” type situation, or maybe a “there are campfires and we should evacua—”. Oh wait, that already happened the week of Thanksgiving. Never mind. You know what I mean.
I have no useful information in this post besides to tell you all to practice social distancing and stay safe. I know this has affected everyone around the world, including home students. I don’t know how other students abroad are dealing, or what’s happening with them (I know a girl who has to go back to the UK from Toronto in the next few days), but this is what’s happened in the little old town of Isla Vista this past week.
I’ve tried to keep this as neutral and panic-free as possible, and I’m sure there will be updates along the way. Stay safe everyone! (And don’t let a global pandemic stop you from studying abroad. It’s great apart from this. I promise.)
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 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,
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.
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 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.
By Noor Namutebi (Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, USA).
Driving from Newark Airport to my accommodation (Easton Avenue apartments) was surreal as 1. I was extremely sleep deprived 2. This was the first time I had ever stepped foot in the USA and it was, for lack of a better word, crazy. The drive was not entirely representative of what my university area would look like, as it was mostly the outskirts, but I got incredibly excited when every 10 minutes we would pass a well-known American food chain (like Olive Garden).
Growing up in the hustle and bustle of London has skewed my ideas of what a ‘city’ entails, I admit. I would describe (the very little I have seen of) New Brunswick more as a college town. Imagine if the main university campus was in Fallowfield, almost. New Brunswick is one of three, big university campuses of Rutgers, the others being Newark and Camden, with Newark being the more metropolitan campus I believe (and where the airport is). What I didn’t entirely grasp before I came was that New Brunswick was split into another 5 campuses. I live on College Avenue which is considered quite social (it has the frats, bars, if you’re 21, and has the train station which is one direct train into New York) but there are others including Livingston, where I have two out of four of my classes. There is a free shuttle bus system which operates between the campuses and has peak and quiet periods depending on the time or weather. Whereas this was difficult to get used to at the beginning, as societies were are held on different campuses and I was making friends who did not live on my campus, it can be quite refreshing. The other campuses are way greener and calming than the hurry of College Avenue and therefore I would recommend either taking a class on another campus or joining a society based there, for a change in scenery and to get out of the bubble that can come with living so close to your classes. Plus, the bus to/from Livingston passes by the Raritan river which goes through New Jersey so sometimes, if you’re on it at the right time, you can get a good view of the sunset on the journey home and make people on Snapchat jealous.
Having a roommate
Having a roommate is not a thing at all in the UK so the idea of having one in a completely foreign country was quite daunting, especially after hearing horror stories online. My roommate, luckily, is lovely and easy to get along with but the first couple days was quite an adjustment. It felt like someone kept walking into and sleeping in my room but I couldn’t do anything about it because they paid half the rent. However, it feels more normal over time and when she goes home at the weekend the room feels unusually empty and I wonder how I used to spend extended amounts of time in my room alone before!
Goodbye to lectures and seminars which now come under the umbrella of one ‘class’. One interesting thing which I found out upon arrival and going over the syllabus of each of my classes is that active participation is a big deal in America. In one of my classes, up to a third of my overall grade is based on ‘participation’ which includes attendance and punctuality as well as vocalising your opinion in front of your peers. This has been good so far as not only does it absolutely force you to go to every class unless you are on your actual deathbed, it forces you to think about the topic at hand more, in order to ask questions or say something smart.
Side note: Speaking with a British accent in front of an all-American class kind of feels like you’re obliged to say something interesting because they’re already paying close attention to the uncommon sound.
I have dedicated a whole section to Walmart because I genuinely think a whole book could be written about how it is an allegory for the whole United States.
At the end of my orientation day they had ushered us into a coach to go to a retail park to shop for some essentials as it was impossible to walk to any of the bigger supermarket chains. Everyone automatically flocked to Walmart as it is, truly, one of the biggest cultural exports of the country. The coach driver told everyone to come back to be picked up in either an hour or an hour and a half. I had written a shopping list so I thought I would be in and out in 30 minutes, at a push. Really, how am I going to fill an hour? I thought naively.
From the moment I entered, my senses were ambushed. Not only did it have the size and feel of an industrial factory as well as tens of people running around, there was a McDonald’s inside to your right as soon as you entered. That was the first time I had truly felt like I was in America.
I walked around the store approximately 5 times trying to balance buying food as well as necessary things I needed for my apartment. Table mirror? Check. Tortillas? Check. However, I was not prepared at the sheer amount of choice that was presented to me. In the UK, when going to buy kidney beans at Tesco, for example, I expect there to be maximum of three, maybe four, options. In Walmart, and the country which is the number one defender of free market capitalism, there were at least 20 (I wish I was exaggerating).
I had so many ideas for healthy dishes which I had made at Manchester (in cooperation with Lidl) and would hopefully prevent me from gaining the dreaded ‘freshman fifteen’ or supersizing myself. However, these ideas suddenly seemed so drastically distant when the news dropped that this Walmart had. No. Vegetables. They had drawn me in with the beans but apart from those that were in a can, vegetables were not present in the building. I looked in shock at the worker who informed me that you had to go to a ‘Super Walmart’ for that rare, rare produce. Why is it the vegetables, and not the Mcdonald’s or the film section or the clothes section, or the thirty different ice creams, which makes a Walmart ‘Super’? I thought to myself. Oh America.
I eventually found vegetables in a local Hispanic supermarket and an Aldi nearby but I will never forget that Walmart experience, a cautionary tale which I tell every American when they ask me how my experience has been so far. And now I pass it on to you, it’s my first amendment duty.
• In the UK: You’ll need to organise this through the Mexican embassy (all information can be found online) and make a trip to London to bring all your documentation. There they will then take your passport and hold on to it for a few days to process all your documents and put a temporary student visa inside.
• On the flight: you will be handed a migration form so just follow the instructions and make sure you fill out the bottom part aswell (which is a repeat of the same information because one of them is your copy)
• Arrival in mexico city: in immigration just hand them the migration form and your passport, they will then give you back one part of it which you MUST KEEP SAFE and hand to UDLAP when required.
• In terms of getting your temporary residence card, udlap will then sort everything. In your induction you’ll be told at what point to bring your immigration form and then don’t worry about how close to the 30 day limit it appears, the student services will sort all the paperwork for you and even drive you to the embassy, just keep an eye on your student email for updates.
• Flying to mexico city is most likely much cheaper (and direct) than flying to the nearest airport, Puebla. You can then get a coach directly to Cholula (more on that in the transport section)
• Aeromexico (is usually the cheapest but skyscanner.com is a really good website to compare flights and is great for internal ones. (P.s. the baggage policy for Aeromexico is confusing but to make the most of it, take a big suitcase in the hold, but also a small one in the cabin as well as a backpack in the cabin).
• The currency is mexican pesos (mxn) and for ease of conversion i always approximate $25 =£1, although obviously this may change
• I would recommend getting either a Monzo or Revolut card while you’re in the UK- they have lower charges for withdrawing cash then most major cards, and the apps are really useful for managing money or instantly seeing the conversion of what you’ve bought/ withdrawn. However, the fact is that for either of these cards you will go over your £200 limit/month of free withdrawals in another currency, however after that limit, the charges are not extortionate and I just consider it as a foreigners tax.
• Once you’re there: try to use BBVM and Santander cashpoints as they seem to charge the least to withdraw and you can also often select if you want to withdraw the pesos in terms of pounds from your account to avoid charges.
The majority of international students live in big shared houses. I would strongly recommend this as it’s super sociable, especially since houses are often linked, and its a great way to meet people from all over the world as well as Mexicans
If you choose to live in halls, you are much more likely to live with all Mexcian students (great for Spanish) however you will be subject to the strict rules such as in terms of having guests in your room, curfews, noise restrictions etc..
Good options for international houses include:
• Casa Roja: my home. Luis the landlord is super sweet amd the rent is really good value (i pay 3800 for a big double room en suite) you can enquire directly from their instagram (casaroja.housingcholula) page, and will most likely be speaking to someone living there currently who will then pass on the whatsapp of Luis.
• Casa Naranja: the landlord Ray is lots of fun and super friendly. He is also the boss of Cholula Capital, a student travel company, and runs a number of trips during the semester https://www.facebook.com/casanaranjahousing/
• Another housing company, which admittedly I am less familiar with, is ‘changapachanga’ and other houses such as casa condor, and casa olimpus, which can be found online. All residences thus far are part of an event called ‘Thirsty Thurs Preocupeo’: the houses take turns to host parties every Thursday which are really popular with international students and open to all students.
• Casa Real houses https://www.facebook.com/Casa-Real-587225684727415/: here you will find a number of houses run by the legendary Oswaldo, owner of a rival travel group, travels life. Most of these houses are all in a little community right by UDLAP. The Casas Reales also have their shares of events, ‘Peda Reales’: ticketed house parties with themed music rooms, organised every month or so, and of course which are free for residents to attend.
I would recommend you buy a ‘Telcel’ pay as you go sim once you arrive (a quick search on google maps should show you where your nearest is, often inside corner shops – i would advise buying it once you reach Puebla as otherwise you will have a foreign state’s area code which may make it confusing for when you add Mexican contacts)
You can then choose how you want to top up your phone, and can do this in store but i find it much more convenient to do through this link: pqtmex.telcel.com. You can choose different packets including calls and texts if you wish, but i usually prefer to just pick the ‘internet amigo’ as almost all your communication in mexico will be through whatsapp (‘por whats’), and these packets also mostly include unlimited social medias -although beware this does not include online calls so i try and save these for wifi. I usually by the £300 of 3.5MB for 33 days top up and the internet usually lasts me, as long as i’m careful.
In short, don’t drink it – from the tap. I’ve had absolutely no problems using it to brush my teeth, wash dishes, and for hot drinks or cooking food when fully boiled. For your drinking water, you’ll be buying large tanks of water. If you have a shop super close, as in Casa Roja where we have one downstairs, you can just go and get it as and when. Otherwise, it’s about equal price (35 pesos) to organise a drop off, whereby within a 2 hour selected time frame they will carry the water right to your room. You’ll also want to buy a pump (from Walmart or Bodega) to put in the top because pouring straight from that full bottle is nigh impossible. Whatever form you buy it, make sure to save your empty plastic tank and swap it for your new one with a big discount. You’ll be saving money and the planet.
Coaches: for long distances, i.e. from the airport at cdmx to cholula, i would recommend Estrella Roja or ADO coaches. You can book both of them from your phone or at the desks in airports and bus stations and they will take you safely and comfortably. The only issue mind is that they have a great habit of not shouting out the stops, so its good to keep an eye on google maps if you’re not sure, or as we did in on our coach from the airport to cholula, get off when you realise you’re the only ones still sat on the coach.
Taxis: i would highly recommend uber. It’a super cheap, you have an online trace of where you are and is really convenient. However, as with any countries, you hear one or two stories of people having strange drivers, so best not to travel alone if it can be avoided (although i have always felt super comfortable when alone in ubers here). Didi is a Chinese version of uber which often works out cheaper but requires you to pay in cash, and is useful for areas such as Yucatan (i.e. cancun) where they don’t have uber. Avoid hailing taxis on the street, as a foreigner you will most likely be ripped off and its less secure. If you have to take a taxi from the street, in mexico city only take the official pink taxis, and in other areas try and book a taxi from inside a bus or coach station where you can prepay.
Blahblah: this is an app for sharing a person’s car who is already taking the journey you wish to make. I have had a good experience with it so far, and the driver has to present valid documentation. You can also personalise your profile to include things such as whether you’re comfortable with pets or how talkative you are during journeys – although it appears that our ‘rarely speak’ election was largely ignored by our very talkative driver.
Hire cars: can be very convenient and cost effective when travelling with a group. Just keep in mind that there will be additional charges per day for any driver under 25, and also that the deposit is required on the credit card of a driver, although we have found on one occasion that Monzo, although a debit card, has worked for this purpose.
BUYING THE ESSENTIALS
For fruit and veg there are lots of independent fruterias where you pay based on weight. Then most other essentials bread, milk, simple toiletries etc can be found in little independent corner shops or in oxxo and superroler (small chain stores). For everything and anything else there’s always a walmart, bodega or a soriana not too far away.
At UMass we were lucky enough to be given a 10-day break for the Thanksgiving recess, so a group of 8 other students and I decided to head down south and embark on an 8-day road trip across America. We travelled to 7 different states, driving for over 40 hours in total and were lucky enough to be able to see lots of amazing sights.
Day 1 – New Orleans, Louisiana
We began our adventure by all meeting on campus and catching the Peter Pan bus to Boston Logan airport. We caught a short flight to New Orleans, where we picked up the car and minivan that we’d hired to drive us around the country. After stocking up on some essential road trip snacks and with a long drive ahead of us the next day, we checked into our air bnb and decided to get an early night.
Day 2 – Nashville, Tennessee
Waking up bright and early, we began our long drive to our first destination. Driving through Mississippi, we stopped off in Birmingham, Alabama for some typical southern BBQ food before heading on to Nashville. After exploring the city, we ended up on a dancefloor being taught how to line dance whilst being accompanied by a live country music band!
Day 3 – Chattanooga, Tennessee
We began the day by heading to a full-scale replica of the original Parthenon in Athens, situated in a park just outside of Nashville. We explored the city centre some more before stopping for some brunch on a rooftop restaurant. We broke up the drive by stopping at a waterfall in Tullahoma, then headed to our wood cabin where we’d be staying for the next two days.
Day 4 – Exploring the Smoky Mountains
We spent our fourth day discovering the Smoky Mountains and its beautiful surrounding national park. The views whilst driving through the winding roads were breathtaking and provided lots of great opportunities for photographs. We stopped off at a typical American diner for dinner, where the food was delicious but the portions were enormous!
Day 5 – Charlotte, North Carolina
We travelled to a small historical town called Cherokee in North Carolina for a pit stop on our way to Charlotte. We had many interesting stops on our drives, my favourite of which was the Peachoid, which is a 135-foot-tall water tower that resembles a peach located in South Carolina.
Day 6 – Montgomery, Alabama
The morning of our sixth day was spent discovering Charlotte, famous for museums and the NASCAR Hall of Fame. We hired electric scooters to whiz around the city and explore the local attractions. We made a slight detour to briefly visit Atlanta, Georgia where there was a Christmas lights festival in the botanical gardens, as well as Christmas markets situated in the Centennial Olympic park. We then headed to Montgomery, where we’d be staying in a treehouse for the night, surrounded by acres of greenery and trees. Being out of the city meant the stars were fully visible and were amazing to gaze up at.
Day 7 – New Orleans, Louisiana
We completed our round trip by driving back to where we started. Our 7th day happened to be thanksgiving, which meant the roads were very quiet. However, disaster struck when the van got a flat tyre in the middle of the highway and we had to be towed to the nearest shop that was 30 minutes away! Nevertheless, we eventually made it back to New Orleans and spent the evening exploring the busy and vibrant city.
Day 8 – Boston, Massachusetts
We ended our exciting trip with a flight back to Boston, where we visited local museums and indulged in a bit of black Friday shopping, despite the shops being very busy and chaotic!
Overall, despite a few mishaps and alterations to our original plans, we had an incredible trip and felt very fortunate to be able to travel to so many spectacular places.
I genuinely have no idea what I’m doing or why this photo was taken in Guanajuato, Mexico
By May last year not only was the Toronto cold beginning to lose its bite as the snow melted into a optimistic Spring, I was all done and dusted studying at U of T. Home time? Well no, not quite yet. The explorer inside me, (Insert a hilarious Dora the Explorer joke here) had some unfinished business to attend to.
I wanted to share a small trip I went on before Christmas. I had been feeling a bit lost and confused. Sitting exams in another country was stressful and I was simultaneously feeling both proud that I’d got through almost half my time away and scared that it was slipping through my fingers. The threat of snow was also looming ominously so I needed to enjoy autumn while I could. I decided to visit Montreal’s Botanical gardens which are almost an hour away from where I live and are recommended as one of the best places to visit here.
Like everything else in Montreal they were beautifully extravagant but also surprisingly peaceful. It was an intensely Autumnal day and there was something about that that made me feel really nostalgic, it reminded me of walking through paths of fallen leaves back home and the crisp sunny air which has always been my favourite weather. You can never really predict what’s going to make you feel homesick and I didn’t think I’d find it here, amongst these cute statues and carefully curated landscape. But it makes sense, autumn here mirrors autumn back home both the in climate and aesthetics. It was fine that the homesickness hit me here, where it was peaceful and I could walk on my own, I could ground myself, just focus on taking these photos. It gave me some quiet space.
I think this could be said of this first semester in general. I’ve had a space away from much that was familiar, both the bad and the good, and I’ve had a chance to work out what I am without it. I’ve been lucky enough to have the opportunity to sort my mental health a bit and really focus on doing and thinking things I had no time for before. I’ve realised that even the best things in your life can act as day-to-day distractions and while that’s not a bad thing it’s strange to find what you are without them, what suddenly takes priority when there’s none of the usual expectations of you.
I think this is a pretty cool aspect of a year abroad because it’s one you can control, it’s not place or people dependent and most importantly it can help to counter that encroaching feeling of homesickness. Just find your own strange botanical garden away from it all.
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!
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.
*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.
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:
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.
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!
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
Tims 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”→