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.

Returning home and thoughts for my final year

It’s taken a few months to readjust to life since returning home, partly due to the time difference but mainly due to the lack of independence since moving back with my parents. Although the grass is always greener on the other side, with home cooked meals and a clean house being two things that are greatly missed as a student, I’ve always greatly enjoyed the freedoms of student life particularly after living 5000 miles from home.

London life is so vastly different from Vancouver’s slow-paced and outdoorsy lifestyle which I found suited me well. It’s taken a while to remember the things I love about suburban life in West London and not wince at the cost of transport every time I hop on a train. However, after catching up with close friends and heading up to Manchester to hear all the stories I’d missed while away, I’ve noticed how the year abroad has benefitted me in terms of my motivation and positive outlook on life. After living somewhere where mountaineering sports and coastal walks were a regular part of my free time, I’ve found myself prioritising daytime activities over nights out (potentially a sign of old-age) which has helped me to cope better with work-related stress and anxiety.

As the summer flies by I’m having mixed emotions about returning to uni. While the prospect of the final year work-load is daunting, I can’t wait to be properly reunited with my uni family and also with those Manchester students I’ve become close with in Vancouver. Given the regular assessment at UBC, I feel I’ve developed a stronger work ethic and an ability to manage multiple deadlines which has equipped me well for fourth year. Furthermore, the ethos at UBC to become an active member of the community has inspired me to get involved with student volunteering groups and, in turn, utilise student resources to build my CV and career prospects.

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my year abroad and can safely say it has benefitted me in ways I cannot begin to list. I’ve found writing these blogs a helpful way to summarise the highlights of the year and am sure I’ll take pleasure reading back on them in years to come. I hope that after speaking to UBC students about UoM more positions become available to go on exchange to Vancouver as it’s such an inspiring city that provides an ideal environment for student life.

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Life in the Six

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Living in Toronto has been one of the greatest experiences of my life.

Its a diverse city with an abundance of culture, food, nightlife, attractions and hidden treasures, but it has also been a second home to me. Because of this, I want to not only talk about what makes life in the Six fantastic for anyone, but also what made Toronto special for me during my time there.

Location

I cannot communicate just how important where you live in Toronto is to your experience of it – living near wonderful restaurants, bars and public transport links makes all the difference when strolling outside means facing -40c and 20 inches of snow on the ground in the depths of the Canadian winter around early February!

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Walking to class in January and February often looked like this!

I lived in a shared apartment in a student housing building that also happened to double up as an Estonian cultural centre (I really can’t explain that one) in Downtown Toronto on Bloor-Spadina. Firstly it was what I, or indeed I think anyone, would call ‘a steal’ in terms of rent for Downtown or the GTA (Greater Toronto Area) – around $500 cheaper or more than the average per month – while secondly being on an intersection such as Bloor-Spadina placed me right in the heart of ‘The Annex’, a bustling student area of the city – similar to Fallowfield in Manchester.

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Bloor Street hosts hot dog stands (on the right) alongside a world famous shoe muesuem (on the left), whats not to love?

Bloor Street itself has also been dubbed Toronto’s ‘Cultural Corridor’ due to the sheer volume of bars, restaurants, nightclubs and niche artisan and ‘thrift’ stores, all designed for a student population on a budget in an otherwise expensive city. Also boosting the profile of Bloor-Spadina is its proximity to not one, but two Toronto Subway (TTC) stations, making it an ideal base to explore and navigate the city from as well shielding you from some of its pricier and wintery elements.

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I think I took this photo of the St. George campus as it was the first time no snow or ice had been on the ground since I’d been there as Winter turned to Spring!

Alongside all of this, and of course most importantly, my apartment building lay a short 5-10 minute walk from the University of Toronto (U of T) main Robarts Library and the downtown St. George Campus, although the exact time this journey took during much of my time in Toronto depended on the strength of the wind and the level of snow being blown in my eyes, ears and any other crevice of my body the weather found its way into.

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Robarts Library, where I’ll admit I spent more than one night typing away under the shadow of a deadline!

However for daily commutes, late night study sessions and last minute ‘I just woke up and class is in five minutes’ sprints to campus, living on Bloor-Spadina was ideal, allowing me to mostly move around the city on foot if I wanted to, a rarity in Canada and even in some parts of Toronto, liberating me to leave the Uber bills to nights out and days where the winter cold got the better of me.

Things you should, could and definitely will do

As I’ve already partially mentioned, my location in Toronto meant I was close to so much in the Six and I think that now qualifies me as a expert as to the ins and outs of what, as a student there, you should, could and definitely will do if you end up hopping over the Atlantic for exchange at U of T.

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The quirky wall murals and street art of Queen Street.

Bloor, as well as surrounding streets such as Queen, King, College, Harbord and Dundas West host a fantastic array of cheap eateries, attractions and spots for a memorable night out. My recommendation for an all out 24 hour tour of Toronto would be to start by going for breakfast or brunch at The Federal on Dundas West, before browsing various art, craft and music stores on Queen Street, hopping onto College in order to allow yourself to fall into the fantastic, hippie-style chaos of Kensington Market.

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The Federal – A breakfast and brunch heaven.

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The wonderfully bizzare entrance posts to Kensington Market.

Proceed then to pop into Papa Ceo’s on Harbord for a gloriously delicious and highly affordable Pizza experience for lunch, friendly staff thrown in, heading afterwards as the sun dips in the sky to the intimate and quirky ‘Red Room’ bar on Spadina to enjoy your favorite tipple (not neccessarily alcoholic!), finally finishing your whirlwind of a day by going long into the night within the confines of CODA on Bloor-Bathurst, or alternatively getting a good nights sleep.

Sports

So people that know me well, or indeed to any extent at all will gasp at the title of this section. Sports is usually my last port of call in life, understandbly if you’ve ever seen me play/attempt to play pretty much anything, however in Toronto you can’t help but be sucked into the reality that sports is a way of life, and I’m not just talking about Hockey!

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My first Varsity game at U of T, which fittingly we lost.

Firstly at U of T we have ‘Varsity’ level sports, where Universities from across Canada and the USA come to see what they’ve got against Toronto’s ‘Varsity Blues’, with games being free for current U of T students and heavily discounted for visiting family and friends; I attended Hockey and Basketball Varsity events during my time in Toronto but Swimming (Competitive and Sychronised), Water Polo, and I’m sure a million and one other events were also crammed into a single semester at U of T!

Varsity events are fantastic way to integrate yourself into life at U of T and into that of Toronto itself as the University, along with its younger downtown rival Ryerson University, go a long way to giving Downtown Toronto a student-heavy and busy atmosphere, dominating the cultural and demographic environment and forming a major component of life in the Six.

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I genuinely have no idea why I’m trying to be a pirate in this photo from a Blue Jays game?

Alongside Varisty sports at U of T, be sure to check out sports within Toronto itself; A Maple Leafs hockey game is obviously the golden ticket, but unfortunately it is quite literally that and so didn’t fit into my student budget. However, you can go see the MLB Toronto Blue Jays play baseball at the Rogers Centre (the big stadium next to the CN Tower) from March onwards for $15 for the cheapest tickets, which are some of the best if you ask me!

Things to look out for

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Signposts on the Toronto Islands pier act as instagramable attractions rather than giving actual directions!

To conclude I want to mention a pair of things I particularly loved about Toronto that you might not think or even hear of on a typical tourist whirl around the city.

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Be at the back of the ferry to the Toronto Islands to glimpse the postcard view of the skyline!

Firstly, make sure to head over to the Toronto Islands about a 1km off the city shoreline in Lake Ontario; an oasis of calm in a busy metropolis and a great place to take a leisurely walk or cycle looking across the water to the USA or back towards the Toronto skyline, especially once Spring has sprung, catching a 5 minute ferry from Front Street.

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By the time we’d looped around the rink for an hour, my rookie skater friend was already better than me?!

Secondly head on over to the Bentway overpass just back from Front Street to ‘Skate the 8’! Skate round a figure of eight ice rink completely for free, skate hire included, in January or February – great fun whether you’re a Robin Cousins style skate pro or taking to the ice for the first time, as my friend in the middle of the photo above was!

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I loved my life in the Six, and I encourage anyone who goes to embrace this wonderful, albeit often cold city and the University of Toronto within it with both hands. I hope this can be a small guide for when you do go, from one part-time Torontonian to another.

Coping With Anxiety Abroad… And From Home

By George Davies – The University of Calgary, Canada

The topic of mental health is commonly discussed in the realm of studying overseas. So whilst I may not be contributing anything new to this topic, I wanted to share my experiences with anxiety during my year away. As well as the coping mechanisms I tried to deploy and useful links available during your time away.

Continue reading “Coping With Anxiety Abroad… And From Home”

5 Things I Wish I Had Known Before Studying and Living in Calgary

A brief, yet concise list of things to look out for when studying at the University of Calgary. From tourist checklists to insurance considerations.

By George Davies – University of Calgary, Canada


Since reflecting on my time in Calgary, I have accumulated a list of things I wish I understood before boarding my plane at Gatwick. From knowing the best spots to explore in town to accommodating for a truly Canadian way of life. Hence, the list below should aid Albertan-, and hopefully some Canadian-, bound students. Continue reading “5 Things I Wish I Had Known Before Studying and Living in Calgary”

How to enjoy a post-study abroad adventure on a budget

By Ruby Smith, University of British Columbia, Canada

Prior to my arrival in Canada, I had ambitious plans to travel before returning to the UK. However, due to a series of unfortunate circumstances relating to my visa I was unable to get a job and was therefore was left with a very small budget to travel with. Regardless of the troubles I faced trying to get a job, I eventually found some great options that didn’t leave me broke and ended up having a sweet end to my year abroad.

Continue reading “How to enjoy a post-study abroad adventure on a budget”

Skiing, Hiking and Whatnot in Alberta

By George Davies – The University of Calgary, Canada


Studying in Calgary should definitely be at the top of your list if you enjoy being outdoors. Home to the fastest ice in the world, as well as the stupendously stunning snow-capped Rocky Mountains, Alberta ticks every box for any alfresco adventurer. After spending almost seven months in this corner of the world, I’ve had my fair share of experiences. From carving down heavenly white powder to scrambling up unrelenting rock faces, I have accumulated a string of thoughts on the best places to visit and investments to avoid as a travelling student. Which I hope may be of some sort of guidance for those new to the Albertan scene. Allowing you to make the most of your time in the province and beyond.   Continue reading “Skiing, Hiking and Whatnot in Alberta”

Should I Stay or Should I Go? Reflecting on my trip back to the UK

A post for students planning to study abroad for the ENTIRE year.

By George Davies – The University of Calgary, Canada


Before the start of my study abroad experience, I had not planned on returning to the UK until the following summer. I had assumed that my schedule in Calgary would not be able to accommodate for any time to take a trip home. Moreover, it seemed to me that it would have only be a backwards step. Coming all this way across the Atlantic and half of the North American continent, it seemed foolish and a waste of time to venture back to where this story began. Continue reading “Should I Stay or Should I Go? Reflecting on my trip back to the UK”

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly of Studying Abroad

By George Davies – The University of Calgary, Canada


There is no doubt that going away for a year to a foreign land can be remarkable. The endless stream of Instagram posts and vlogs are clear evidence of this. From the shots of students lost in the urban paradise of Hong Kong, to my fellow Mancunian travellers taking snaps in the idyllic rural landscapes of South America. For those that want study abroad, there is certainly enough substance out there to tickle your taste-buds and inspire you to go on an adventure.

Continue reading “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly of Studying Abroad”

The UoC’s Solution to ‘Weather Sensitive’ Students

By George Davies – The University of Calgary, Canada


Dropping to around -15.1 degrees Celsius during its harsh winter months, the weather in Calgary is a little different to that in Manchester. Although I don’t miss the soggy Mancunian weather a great deal, the gruesome stories I have been told about frost bite, as well as the violent arctic winds that sweep across campus, has me slightly worried.

Continue reading “The UoC’s Solution to ‘Weather Sensitive’ Students”