What Are Fraternities Really Like?

This post will try to demystify frats for exchange students going to North America, and hopefully persuade you to get involved.

By Joseph McCabe (University of Toronto, Canada)

The inner workings of fraternities are often left as somewhat of a mystery for exchange students. Their obscurity and emphasis on secrecy means that infamous stereotypes usually surround any conversation about frats and, by extension, the guys that are members/brothers within them. This blog should give you some insight into what they’re actually about and encourage you (if you’re a guy) to join one because it has made my year infinitely better – girls can join sororities, but you will have to ask someone else about them.

Continue reading “What Are Fraternities Really Like?”

A Practical Guide to Accommodation in Toronto

By Joseph McCabe (University of Toronto, Canada)

There are four main options for accommodation for exchange students in Toronto: University Halls, Private students’ residence, student co-op housing, and Private renting. I opted to go for a private residence on the edge of campus, which was perfect for me, but I will talk about that later. I will give some general advice first; then, I will go through each of these (there will be a sentence overview after each one if you don’t want to read the whole thing) and finish with what I would advise to make sorting accommodation as stress-free as possible.

Continue reading “A Practical Guide to Accommodation in Toronto”

Canadian Transportation Tips

First thing to say is that Canada is massive. Any distance between things you would actually want to see is likely to be the equivalent of going from London to Newcastle – and that’s just within Ontario. Therefore, I would advise against getting the bus between big cities as it just takes too long, and you end up spending half your time away sitting next to fat men on stuffy coaches.

In Ontario, Go Trains would be the ‘go to’ solution (although they are stupidly slow in North America) but travelling inter-province would require VIA Rail. However, whilst the rail-route between Vancouver and Halifax (the whole breadth of Canada) has a global reputation for beautiful scenery and a full Canadian experience, it does take 14 days and costs more than an entire student loan instalment. Whilst it may not be the most environmentally friendly, the only realistic option for longer trips is plane travel.

Planes can be expensive in North America (you won’t find the equivalent of a £20 flight from Manchester to Lisbon), so I’d recommend downloading the ‘Hopper’ app. It lets you track your specific flight and predicts prices so you can get the best deal possible.

(The Hopper App Logo)

You have probably also heard about North American road trips gaining something of cult status in the US, and it’s no different in Canada. Some of the best times I’ve had is whacking on some tunes and driving for hours in the Canadian wilderness. It may be more expensive than other transport, but it gives much more freedom to explore exactly how you want. It also makes COVID-related entry requirements into the US much easier.

Key Take Aways:

  • Don’t bother with buses
  • Download the Hopper app for cheap flights
  • Road trips are unbeatable

Pre-pandemic adventures – Spring Break!!

In the midst of the COVID-19 blues and being stuck at home I thought it would be fun to reflect on one of the highlights of my year abroad…Spring Break! For a week in February students across Canada finally get to have a rest from all the hard work at university and the vast majority spend it going away somewhere. I hadn’t really thought much about what I would do with Spring Break until a couple of my friends started excitedly talking about finding really cheap plane tickets to – drum roll please – Hawaii!! Yep, you heard right, we were going to be spending a week on the tiny island of Oahu in the Pacific Ocean (aka paradise) 6 hours away from Vancouver. If someone had told me before I had ventured on my year abroad that I would get the chance to visit somewhere as cool as Hawaii I would have split my sides laughing. But there ya go, year abroads are full of surprises!

 

We stayed in a lovely little hostel which was about a 5 minute walk away from Waikiki Beach, a beautiful sandy beach dotted with palm trees and surrounded by clear blue ocean. When we arrived we spent the first day walking around pinching ourselves that this was real. I have never seen so many stunning sunsets and rainbows. We soaked up the atmosphere in the evening watching a local hula dance show on the beach front, with each dance telling a different tale.

 

We made sure to pack the week with day trips to explore the island as much as we could – which did mean a lot of long hot bus journeys! It’s safe to say public transport in Hawaii is not as reliable as the Oxford Road bus route in Manchester – but exploring the island is doable without having to hire a car! We visited Pearl Harbour and learnt about the role of Hawaii in WW2; wandered around the botanical gardens and Chinatown in Honolulu; snorkelled in the crystal blue waters of Hanauma Bay where we spotted parrot fish, a Hawaiian Monk Seal and the famous Humuhumunukunukuapua’a fish (and if that’s too much of a mouthful, the Reef Triggerfish!); walked along the Makapu’u lighthouse trail in search of whales; and stuffed our faces with the local Asian-influenced cuisine.

 

One of the highlights for me was waking up at the ungodly hour of 5am to hike up Diamond Head (a volcanic cone) in time for sunrise. We hadn’t realised quite how busy it would be at this time but once we reached the summit and saw the sun rising over the ocean we understood why it was so popular. It was hands down one of the most beautiful views I have ever seen. And soooo worth the 5am start!

 

I also loved spending a day in the town of Haleiwa in the north of the island, with its umpteen food trucks selling pineapples and garlic shrimps, and hundreds of chickens wandering down the streets. We stopped at Waimea Valley and walked through its luscious vegetation (many films have been shot here, from Jumanji to the Hunger Games) to its waterfall where we all donned lifejackets and floated around its 30 ft deep plunge pool. To finish the day off we sat on Sunset Beach to watch the sunset over the ocean and the handful of surfers still out, eating delicious Thai food. I remember sitting there thinking how incredibly lucky I was to be able to have this experience.

 

The trip wasn’t without any mishaps however! A group of us managed to get stranded on the east of the island because we’d underestimated how long it would take to walk around the coast to the lighthouse and we ended up having to get help from some very laid back Hawaiian cops who were chilling in the sun. We also underestimated their public transport system and once spent over an hour waiting for a bus to get back to our hostel – but at least we had the view of Koko crater to enjoy!

 

It just goes to show that spontaneous trips are often the best ones!

 

Montreal, from a foodie’s perspective

One word on everyone’s mind when you think about Canadian food, is poutine. Well, that and maple syrup. Speaking of which, did you know that Quebec produces about 70% of global maple syrup production? I didn’t know that either! That also explains why almost all Quebecois desserts are doused in the sugary substance. Interesting, eh?

One of those would be la tire sur la neige, also known as Canadian maple taffy. As my very limited command of French has taught me, sur la neige literally means “on top of snow”. How it’s made is that boiled maple syrup is poured on top of snow, and wrapped around a wooden popsicle stick once it cools a little, making a golden gooey mass of maple-y goodness. Just be careful not to get it in your hair though! I learnt that the hard way.

La banquise is one of the most popular poutine places in Montreal, and once I had tried it, I completely understood why. Poutine piled high with other toppings like guacamole, drowning in heaps and heaps of gravy and cheese curds… It makes a foodie like me weep. Standing in the freezing cold to get a table was totally worth it for a treat like this.

When my friends and I headed down to Quebec City that one weekend in February, we stumbled across a cute little restaurant that served only Quebecois food. Of course we had to try Quebec dishes while in the old town! Pâté chinois, oddly translated to Chinese pie, is a Quebec style shepherd’s pie. The one that I had the luck to try looked like a deconstructed version of the traditional dish, with the stewed beef resting on a bed of buttery mashed potatoes and a glorious side of preserved cherry tomatoes. It was truly the stuff of gods.

Ah, so many dishes, so little time. It was a pleasure to have experienced all that I have.

Saying goodbye

This was not how it was supposed to end. I was supposed to have stayed with everyone till the end of April, before bidding goodbye to a time well spent in Canada. Unfortunately, life had other planes in store for me, and the pandemic saw me flying back to the opposite end of the world, bypassing Manchester altogether.

Now, I am back home, back in sunny Singapore. Things could not be more different here.

You know, I’ve always had an affinity for islands. Born and raised on my island country, I moved to the UK for my studies about two years back. Then for exchange, I went to Montreal, also situated on another island. Despite being islands, all three places have been vastly different for me. Going from Montreal, where I only saw the streets start to clear themselves of snow when it hit mid-March, to Singapore, where we don’t even have the four seasons. It may sound crazy, but I miss that constant snowy weather that we had in Montreal. Now, I turn on the air-conditioning in my room everyday in a bid to refrigerate myself, very unlike how I would crank up the radiator in Montreal to remind myself of Singapore. They say absence makes the heart grow fonder, and in this moment I cannot think of anything truer.

Saying goodbye to the city wasn’t the only difficult thing. Saying goodbye to my friends, and my housemates, was really hard. As a person who has moved to many places, I should be good at saying goodbye, but I never really am. I get used to it, but I’m not good at it, if that makes sense. Living together with 29 other people, I got used to the continuous presence of friends in my life. It is so quiet now.

They say that you make lifelong friends on exchange, and I think there’s truth in that. From the numerous dinners together, to the road trips and the birthdays, these are people that I will never forget.

Vancouver on a budget

I didn’t anticipate just how expensive Vancouver and BC would be. I could write all about how I wished I’d saved up more money during the summer prior to departure, but an equally strong case could be made for my spending it- which ensured I had a memorable farewell summer with friends who I wouldn’t see for a while. Given the current circumstances- with summer 2020 being CANCELLED and everything- the no-raaagrets approach is even stronger. I like to avoid doing the whole ‘shoulda coulda woulda ‘ thing (Serves 0 purpose), but before I get on to my ‘Vancouver on the cheap’ tips, I will completely contradict that in the interests of prospective exchange students.

SHOULDA COULDA WOULDA

Get your work permit sorted BEFORE you get there

This first one might not apply to you savvy savers out there, but for those of you who do plan to work AND play, I would recommend looking into this sooner rather than later. A couple of days in, I discovered the extortionately priced phone plans in Vancouver (expect to pay at least double UK prices), a bigger tipping-culture (tip everyone, and don’t insult them with a mere 10% ) and RIDICULOUSLY expensive cheese (which is also pretty gross so I would advise binging on this to the MAX before leaving the UK).

It also became pretty apparent that my study commitments weren’t too time-consuming, and with a couple of weekdays off during the week (if you choose SFU over UBC), I defo had time to be earning a lil moolah on the side. So, I had this realisation that I might need some more money to live out my Vancouverite dreams, but I kept giving myself excuses to the delay the work permit process (e.g “I’m still settling in to the city” or “I don’t have a Canadian bank account yet” or “maybe I can fill out LOADS of surveys online and earn p that way”…). When I did finally get round to arranging a meeting with a study abroad advisor, I’d been notified that i’d need to send off my study permit to be amended, which would take 2 MONTHS. Once I had received my study permit and SIN number (Basically like a national insurance number) I had to complete a BC ‘Serving it Right’ course to enable me to serve booze.

I finally found a job that seemed perfect for me with a hospitality and temporary staffing agency, which would allow me all the freedom to earn money according to my own schedule. I did actually manage to get a few shifts accepted for April, but apart from those, none of the employers accepted my shift requests, as I had no stars or reviews to get me going – I was essentially the equivalent to an uber driver with 0 stars :(( If that wasn’t sparse enough, the 2 shifts I did have planned were cancelled due to COVID19 anyway. I think this was a sign from the universe that I wouldn’t be needing this money for the California-Mexico trip that was coming up. Though a bit of extra money would’ve helped me travel around more, I still had enough to go on weekends away in BC, and managed to secure a Whistler season pass, which allowed for plenty of fun in the mountains.

Anyway, the moral of the ramble is… Get that work permit sorted before leaving the UK and you’ll be good to go!

Find your Lidl/Aldi equivalents pronto

The SFU campus is on a mountain, 40minsish away from the more reasonably-priced food shops, which understandably pushes you towards the Nesters Market on campus. However, If you choose to shop at Nesters every week, you could be paying up to double for your food shop. I know its a bit of a trek away, but a 40 minute bus journey to either ‘No Frills’ (can assure you’ll be thrilled with those cost savings) or Walmart (Asda vibes) will help you to save money aside for the more exciting parts of your study abroad experience. Sometimes I had classes at the SFU downtown campus, so I’d try to coordinate my weekly shop with this- Or I’d make a trip out of it, using the food shop as an excuse to get me off the mountain and out into beautiful VanCity.

Soak up that late-summer sun as soon as you arrive

I arrived in Vancouver a couple of weeks prior to the beginning of my exchange, in Mid-august. The beaches (such as Sunset, English Bay and many more around the Stanley park sea wall) are gorgeous. The ability of Vancouver to shape-shift and evolve throughout the seasons is one of my favourite things about the city. When I first arrived, it had a Venice-beach vibe, with people playing beach volleyball and roller skating along the seafront paths. The city then descends into a rainy Fall season, before pulling through with snow outside the city to accommodate for winter sports. Though all the seasons bring with them new opportunities, I would advise making the most of that late summer sun when you first arrive!!

Fun things to do on the cheap

Yoga by donation

My favourite yoga studio is the Karma Teachers centre (45 W Hastings street) – a place you can indulge in all kinds of yoga/meditation at a price you decide. The studio is volunteer-run and is so beautiful- all round good vibes and a great way to mingle with locals (smiling through your legs in downward-dog) from every corner of the city.

Cycle around Stanley Park

You could walk if you wanna save the cash- which would take like 3 hours- but I defo recommend renting a bike (From Spokes or any of the other shops close to the entrance of Stanley park) for around $7 an hour- a small price to pay to cycle round the sea wall and feel that fresh sea breeze in your face. If you begin the cycle from Spokes rental shop, the first section of the seawall cycle path treats you to gorgeous views of the harbour, Vancouver rowing club, the aquarium and totem poles. Around the next corner, you are hit with views of the ocean and snow-capped mountains facing you, before passing under the infamous Lions Gate bride and finishing through a long stretch of beaches. You get to see so much of the city from the Stanley park peninsula along the sea wall, but if you have some extra time, I recommend checking out the interior of the park- which is actually a temperate rainforest (great for a gentle forest bathe).

Go to Deep Cove- buy a doughnut, and do the Quarry Rock hike

I did this little trip so many times- it’s a proper-gem, only a couple of buses away (which you can use your compass card for) and fulfills the quintessential Canadian coastal village vibe that lacks from Metro Vancouver. First, be sure to cop yourself a doughnut from Honey’s Doughnut’s and let that digest (I promise it’ll be one of the tastiest things you ever consume) before proceeding to the Quarry Rock trail head. This trail constitutes a section of the larger Baden Powell trail- which takes you all the way to horseshoe bay if you fancy a day-long hike. The Quarry Rock section is a 1.5hour journey through densely-green areas with giant Douglas Fir trees surrounding you. The trail leads you through higher and lower terrain, before arriving at the rock viewpoint, where you can indulge in insane views of the Indian arm and mountains around Belcarra. You can actually spot the SFU campus across the water at the top of Burnaby mountain.

Stay tuned for charity ride nights at the local mountains

I never actually attended one of these- as they were all cancelled due to weather conditions and Corona- but the charity ride nights (often advertised through SFU ski & board club) offer cheap lift-pass rates (normally around $15 to ski from 5-9pm) and a chance to experience breathtaking night-time views of Vancouver (if you’re blessed with clear skies). You can rent all the ski gear from the Mt Seymour, Grouse Mountain and Cypress mountain resorts for around $40 if you don’t have your own, but if you’re an avid skiier/boarder I recommend purchasing some second-hand (More on this in the following section).

Iceskating in Robson Square

This is a free winter attraction in Downtown Vancouver, though you do have to rent skates for $5 if you don’t happen to have a pair of your own kicking around! Though it might not mimic the Canadian ideal of frozen lake skating (found in the neighbouring Alberta province) , it is a great inner-city attraction to enjoy on the cheap. I think there’s a similar set-up across in North Vancouver in the Shipyard area which is pretty cool.

Sunset at Burnaby mountain park

If you’re at SFU, you might find that this view point will become an important part of your daily routine- the views across the city at sunset are sure to pull you out of any bad-mood, relieving stress and reminding you yet again why you chose Canada. You can see the lights of downtown melting into the peninsula of Stanley park and densley packed forest, and are surrounded by mountains at every angle. You can also peep the ski-resorts at the top of Grouse, Cypress and Seymour mountains, lit for night-skiing.

Go to Lynn Canyon rather than Capilano suspension bridge

Any list of ‘things to do in Vancouver’ will encourage you to go and see the Capilano suspension bridge in North Vancouver. But those views come with a $50 price tag and crowds of tourists trying to get that insta-perfect shot of Capilano Canyon. The cliffwalk section is pretty cool and is bound to supply you with great views, but a free-alternative and less touristy option is Lynn Canyon, which has a similar suspension bridge overlooking the Canyon and waterfalls. There are also swimming holes with ice-cold glacial water which will defo perk you up if you’re feeling bold.

I wish I’d done this more, as it gives you a great perspective of downtown Vancouver from afar and has a quirky but peaceful vibe in the Shipyards area. The Polygon gallery is architecturally stunning, and offers by-donation exhibitions whilst boasting views across the water. Pay what ya can!

More expensive things that are worth your money

Paradise night club (Chinatown)

So Vancouver isn’t exactly renowned for having great nightlife- with the Granville street strip of quite mainstream clubs (top-40 vibes)- being the main destination for partygoers. However, the more alternative scene for Techno and electronic music is existent and is mainly publicized through Resident Advisor. The city – once notorious for having a pretty dead music scene- has experienced a boom in recent years in techno and house events , so if this is your cup of tea, its defo out there! Along with Open Studios, Dolly, the Waldorf and Gorg-o-Mish, Paradise (my personal favourite) will satisfy that itch for a proper dance. It’s located in a China town basement, and isn’t easily identified from the street- with no flashy lights or signage. Once you manage to find it though, the descent into the basement is reminiscent of a house-party, with a pop up bar and an intimate dance-floor setting. Paradise is also one of the only clubs open til late.

The Cambie bar and grill

The Cambie has a lil place in my heart. This place is the closest you’ll get to a British style student pub, as its attached to a hostel (meaning lots of young people) and requires you to queue up at the bar to buy drinks- Most bars in Canada pursue a more formal table service, which doesn’t allow for as much mingling or candid conversations with people. The Cambie gets pretty lively at the weekends, and transforms into a cheesy club night which can be quite fun. Cheap drinks too!!

Guilt & Co – Jazz bar in Gastown

If you want a more fancy evening out, Guilt&Co is such a cool spot for live jazz music and some cocktails. It’s very dark in there with candlelit tables and a mildly sensual vibe…

Buy skis from Sports Junkies

Like I mentioned earlier, avid skiiers/boarders may wish to purchase their own gear for the season and I couldn’t recommend Sports Junkies more. I managed to buy a decent pair of skis, poles and boots for around £250- this’ll save money on rentals in the long-run. They also guarantee a buy-back service at the end of the season, so you can easily return your skiis and get some cash for them if you don’t wanna fly them home.

Go thrift shopping in Mount Pleasant

This area, just outside of downtown Vancouver is full of trendy shops and cafes, boasting some great thrift shops if you wanna cop a bargain!

UBC – a final goodbye

One thing I didn’t envisage when hopping on the plane to Canada last August was having to cut the trip short because of a pandemic – to be honest I would have probably thought a run in with bears or a skiing accident would have been more likely! In all seriousness, coping with the coronavirus outbreak was one of the hardest things I have had to do all year. Within a couple of weeks the place I had started to call home began disappearing: university shut and classes went online, residences became empty, and shops and attractions all around me started to close. It was a lot to take in; I wasn’t ready to go home and this was definitely not how I had hoped to say goodbye.

IMG_6023
A Vancouver skyline – a pretty amazing place to call home

UBC decided to move classes online relatively quickly, meaning I would have no more lectures or discussion groups, and campus, normally home to 60,000 students, soon became a ghost-town. Personally I struggled to keep up with the transition to online learning, because without a structure to my days, and all the uncertainty surrounding the pandemic, it became really hard to focus on my upcoming deadlines and assignments. I was devastated that I was having to leave so soon – there was so much I still wanted to do and see. After my exams I had planned to celebrate with all my friends, show my parents Vancouver, and then travel across the rest of Canada. There were also the little things I’d miss, like seeing the views of the ocean and mountains from my window or having classes with friends. However, part of me was also very worried about not being able to get home. Travel advice was changing every day and Vancouver was heading in the same direction as the UK, with stricter restrictions being announced every day. All the uncertainty and having to decide what to do was very difficult to deal with, but in the end we realised it would be safer (and cheaper – there’s only so many loo rolls I can afford!) to fly home.

After knowing that I only had a week left in Vancouver before heading back to the UK, my friends and I knew we had to make the most of it. Fortunately, professors at UBC were very kind and understanding of our situation and gave us all flexibility surrounding final assignment deadlines. This meant I had time to say goodbye to UBC and the friends I had made there. It’s almost as though the weather gods knew we were leaving because we had a full week of lovely Vancouver sunshine (which trust me is a rarity!). We enjoyed our last few sunsets on Wreck Beach, had group meals and played games, and walked around campus in a desperate search of raccoons – I still can’t believe I never saw one! We also took a few last road trips to some local Vancouver viewpoints to absorb the incredible scenery one last time.

Despite a few teary moments, I had a pretty great final week in Vancouver, and in a weird way it made me appreciate my time there even more. It gave me a lot of time to reflect on the year – all the friends I made from across the world, who I can’t wait to visit in the future once this craziness is all over, and all the incredible places I managed to visit, from the Rockies to Hawaii. I even FINALLY learnt how to ski at Cypress Mountain a couple of weeks before COVID-19 hit, so I can definitely leave on a high. Going abroad really was one of the best decisions I have ever made, and as this shows, one thing you can count on is it never being dull. And what better way to end an amazing year than with views of the Northern Lights from the plane – never too late to tick something off the bucket list eh!

Until next time Vancouver (and the raccoons!) – we have unfinished business!!

 

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.

The premature ending of my Canadian adventure: COVID-19

I’ve been holding off from writing this blog post for a few weeks now, as I knew it would be a little painful to look back on my final days in Vancouver and think about this dystopian film we’ve all been sprung into. As I sit here writing this, it doesn’t even feel real to think my year abroad ended so prematurely, and so abruptly. However, I find some solace in the fact that my final months at SFU were stolen from a global pandemic- one which has disrupted everyone’s lives, in a situation from which no one is exempt. Though I regret not travelling outside of British Columbia (saving money for a California-Mexico trip at the very END of my year) I feel like entertaining such regret is futile. The best way to make peace with this situation is to reflect on all the amazing experiences I did get to have- and the ways which study abroad has changed my life for the long-haul. Firstly, I’m going to document my final days spent in Vancouver- both those during which I was blissfully ignorant to the encroachment of a pandemic, and the ones where I was aware. Then, maybe I’ll talk about the ways study abroad has impacted me more broadly. This all has a very dramatic tone, it’s meant to be nice and reflective lol.

Following on from my previous blog post

A month ago I had written a blog post about the first half of semester 2, including the event I organised for Ban the Bottle and the things I was really looking forward to- most notably, my family coming out to visit (saving the expensive activities I couldn’t afford for this week), and a trip travelling through California and Mexico with some friends at the end.

After my last blog post, a couple of weeks of normal life followed. We were aware that the Coronavirus situation was worsening, but still felt untouched by its reach. The weather in Vancouver was amazing, so naturally we fled the SFU campus and headed downtown. Me and Maddie explored the neighbourhood of Kitsilano – one of the first places I went to last August, when the outdoor pool was open and the bikini-weather flowing. After this, we headed towards the yoga studio in downtown, but were sidetracked by a massive thrift shop and jumped off the bus to have a lil browse. We tried on summery clothes, imagining ourselves on the beaches of Mexico, ice-cold corona in hand. Instead, we were dealt a very different kind of corona, as the situation worsened over the following few days. We hadn’t been skiing in Whistler since reading break, so planned a day trip that weekend- not expecting it to be our last :((

Skiing that day was perhaps my favourite ever. I kept saying ‘lets just assume this is our last time, since this corona thing is escalating’- but everyone brushed it off, already making plans to ski again the following week. The ‘last-time’ mentality helped though, and the day was filled with a combination of off-piste, trees and jumps, with bluebird conditions. We found out that the resort would be closing the following day for the remainder of the season. At this point I began to realise the magnitude of the situation, and started to grapple with the reality that we might be flying home very soon. Everyday, me and my other exchange friends would gauge the feeling of the group- deciding whether we’d risk staying in Canada and potentially getting stuck, or if we should just fly home and admit defeat. Another idea we toyed with for a couple of days was to escape to Mexico for a few weeks, after which we would more willingly return to the UK. Each day, our plans would change drastically, and it was stressful not knowing how much time we had left in Canada. Reluctantly, we all booked flights for the end of the week, with the intention of having a proper send-off- visiting our favourite spots for the final time.

The final days

The final days- I mean the ‘flight booked’ actual final days- were weirdly similar to my first days spent in the city. Me and friends went to see our fav views for the final time, and I went off freely exploring the city on my own just as I did last August. I drank boujee coffee, took way too many photos, and chatted to friendly Canadians. I opened my eyes more, and noticed little things about Vancouver that I had taken for granted (helped by the teasing sunshine).

On our final day together, we walked down the mountain to Barnet Marine park for a chill day and a casual spot of crabbing (??). Another gorgeous day:

So that concludes my time in Canada, how strange. Being home for the last couple of weeks has been weird, almost as if Canada was all a dream. It’s been nice to just focus on my wellbeing and getting fit again (The super-fit, healthy Vancouverite lifestyle doesn’t stretch to exchange students, oh noooo), but this isn’t the return I had anticipated, and its hard not being able to wrap my arms around friends and family who I haven’t seen for ages. However, I haven’t felt the need to wallow in self-pity about what could have been – after all, everyones lives have been impacted by this, and I know I’m incredibly lucky to be in safe position back home. This definitely is not the end of Canada’s influence on me though- it has only given me greater wanderlust to keep on exploring new places. I hope to return someday, but for now, I’m staying home xoxo