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.

Working Abroad in the USA

By Nicole Rankine (University of Toronto, Canada)

Hi everyone!

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So, whilst my semester in Toronto has sadly come to an end, the adventure has continued. Since leaving Canada I have found work in San Francisco for a marketing internship. This has so far been an incredible and valuable experience, though admittedly a little daunting at times. To help you decide on whether working abroad during the summer is right for you, I will go through some crucial points worth considering.

1. How do you find a job?

Whilst you may find the idea of working abroad attractive, it can be hard to find the right job, and this can be made even harder by the fact that you will need to sort out a working visa. Unfortunately, I am unable to comment too much on this aspect of working abroad, as due to the fact that I was born in New York, I am technically an American citizen, and didn’t need to go through the process. However, whilst searching for work here I did find that there were many options available for foreign students wanting to work in America. For instance, one of the websites that had caught my eye was called ‘InterExchange’. This site looked great, as it offered jobs in a variety of businesses and pretty much made the whole job-searching process a whole lot easier to handle. If you are looking for a job in a specific field, and don’t mind dealing with the process of getting hold of a work visa, then I would suggest that you start searching for your target businesses as soon as possible making sure to contact as many as you can. In the harsh world of business a lot of companies will fail to respond, so it’s better to contact too many rather than too few. It is also important to perfect a resume (CV) and cover letter, just to make it harder for them to say ‘no’.

2. What are the struggles?

Now, in all honesty, working abroad is far tougher than studying abroad, especially if, like me, you decide to find the work independently. Here, you do not have the support you would find at university, whether this means teachers advising you on what to do, or the company of fellow students. At times, this can feel quite scary. Furthermore, after already spending one or two semesters away from family, friends, and everything familiar, the extra summer abroad can lead to major home sickness at times.

3. Is working abroad necessary?

Overall, I can say that this experience has already been so valuable to me. My time working in America has opened my eyes to life in the ‘real-world’, and even if at times it may be hard, I feel that I have grown stronger and more independent because of it. Plus, as a keen traveller, I’d be lying if I told you that I haven’t enjoyed exploring North America, and I now feel confidant in travelling or working elsewhere in the world.

Nicole Rankine

TOP 5 THINGS TO DO WHILE IN TORONTO… ASIDE FROM STUDYING.

By Nicole Rankine (University of Toronto, Canada)

So, yes, my time in Toronto is sadly over, but as my next post will focus on, my journey is not yet over as I am about to begin an internship here in San Francisco. First of all, however, I want to properly say goodbye to Toronto by listing five of the many things I loved about living there, and recommend that other people do to enjoy their time abroad.

  1. GO TO NIAGARA FALLS

Going to Niagara Falls had been a must on my ‘to do’ list in Toronto from the very beginning. Not only is it one of America’s great natural wonders, but it is also conveniently only an hour and a half away from downtown Toronto, and thus many tours offering to take you there from the city are available. On first seeing Niagara Falls I felt a mix of emotions; whilst the Falls themselves were spectacular, the town was a little disappointing as it had been heavily commercialised and plagued with casinoniagaras. This I thought had reduced some of my overall amazement with the beauty of the Falls. Saying this, however, the town did not have an impact on the fun I had during my visit. First of all the nearby town, Niagara on the Lake, gave me the beauty and charm I was expecting to find on my visit, and secondly, the ‘Maid of the Mist’ tour, a boat which takes you right up to the Falls, was an absolutely unforgettable experience.

4.  EXPLORE THE MANY NEIGHBOURHOODS OF TORONTO

Toronto is the perfect city for taking a peaceful stroll, with the city offering many interesting neighbourhoods worth taking a look at. I think my favourite 11059691_1646446108923744_4114482238886053344_nplaces to walk through in the city were Bloor Street, Yorkville, Yonge Street, and down by the Habourfront. To me, each of these areas  offered something different. For instance, to me, Bloor Street represented Toronto at its most glamorous, with massive skyscrapers and pricey shops, such as Prada and Gucci, surrounding you. Just across from Bloor Street was Yorkville, which gave you a completely different scenery, one more old-fashioned, as if you had just stepped back into the 70s. Yonge Street always offered an unpredictable and interesting walk, whether you were just strolling past the bizarre shops there, or perhaps a fake plane crash (in this case the film-set for the upcoming ‘Suicide Squad’).

  1. RELAX ON TORONTO ISLAND

It is first worth mentioning that you should do this when it is warm: trust me, you will find it hard to relax here if you visit in January or February, but in the spring it is the perfect place to grab a book, have some ‘me time’, and escape from the liveliness of the city. Unlike the rest of downtown Toronto, and many cities in general, this island offers you a large area completely car free and packed with trees; in fact my tour guide told me that the islands were a ‘tree museum’. In addition, there are many nice sand beaches to visit here (but just a little FYI, a few are nudist). Apart from the tranquility of the island, however, the reason why going to the islands is a must in my book, is because this is where you get your postcard picture of the Toronto skyline, and it is genuinely a breathtaking sight, especially at sunset.

  1. EAT, EAT, EAT!!!

This one’s for fellow foodies. Toronto is the most multicultural city in the world, with 50% of its residents originating from somewhere else other than Canada. For this reason, the city supplies you with an unbelievably massive variety of cuisine. After I finished my hall meal plan, I was able to make the most of this, and I can’t stress enough how much I loved going out every night searching for a new place to have dinner. Whether it was a sushi buffet, a Canadian restaurant, or a Norwegian café, I found that I got to experience foods that I had previously never heard of, nevermind considered trying.

  1. TRAVEL AROUND
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Looking a little pale…

The number one thing I would recommend doing whilst studying, not only at Toronto but at any university in the world, is to make the most of your new location and explore the surrounding areas and cities, or further if you want, as much as possible. After my stay here I feel like I have now experienced a good variety of the cultures and landscapes that Canada’s east coast has to offer; whether it was visiting Quebec, seeing it’s European-like architecture and trying to remember my GSCE level French skills, or seeing the beautiful scenery of Algonquin National Park (where I finally saw a moose).

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Moose-chic

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Travels in Canada: Ottawa, Montreal and Quebec City

By Nicole Rankine (University of Toronto, Canada)

Studying here at the University of Toronto has not only enabled me to experience a different style of education, but it has also allowed me the chance to explore many other cities, which I previously would have never considered ever visiting. This is one of the many reasons which makes me so thankful that I decided to study abroad, and that I chose Toronto as my destination.

It was during reading week that I and a friend (who is on exchange from Japan) decided that we wanted to make the most of our lecture-free schedule to go and discover more of Canada, and so we ended up booking a four-day tour that took us to Ottawa, Montreal, and Quebec. A tour seemed like the best method of travel as it came complete with a guide who filled us in on the history of each destination, along with ideas on where to get good food and sight-see; perfect, considering that neither I nor my friend had ever visited the east coast of Canada before.

So, our first destination was Ottawa, but first we had to make it to the tour bus. This in itself was a massive challenge. The bus was due to leave at 6:30am, so I, in recognition of the fact that I would probably sleep in, no matter how many alarms I set up, decided to pull an all-nighter just to be on the safe side. We had left our residence at 6am, as we had found that the bus was parked only a few stops away on the underground. As it turns out, however, there were construction works blocking our passage, and after an intense 30 minutes of sprinting through Toronto with our suitcases, we made it with one minute to spare. Memo to self: Leave at least an hour before your mode of travel is due to depart.

Ottawa itself was pretty great to see, although, despite being the capital city of Canada, I couldn’t imagine spending more than a day there. Here, we spent most of our time in the market place, in which I bought myself a ‘Beaver Tail’. I should emphasise that this isn’t at all what it sounds like, but rather it is a load of carb and sugary goodness, and a tick on the checklist of ‘all things Canadian’ to do. Although we spent most of our time in the market, we did find the strength to go outside and explore the city a little, seeing sites, such as Parliament Hill. Yet, considering the temperature was -40 degrees (yes, really!) this was more of a ‘seen it, done it’ type of situation, and so we didn’t spend as much time outside as we would of wanted to had the temperature been 60 degrees warmer.

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Notre-Dame Basilica of Montreal

The next destination was Montreal. I had heard so much hype about this city, in that it was considered to much more comparable to Europe than to North America. So, I have to admit that I was pretty intrigued to see if the comparisons were true. I can say that whilst Montreal did feel a lot like a trip to France, I found it more similar to Calais than to Paris, and so ended up feeling a little underwhelmed. For instance, the Notre-Dame Basilica, although beautiful, was like a much smaller and overall less impressive version of the Notre-Dame in Paris. In spite of this, Montreal did have its own qualities that made it a wonderful visit. For example, one thing especially worth doing was going to Mount Royal Park, which provided us a fantastic view of the city.

Chillin' in an Ice Castle (literally)
Chillin’ in an ice castle (literally).

Our final destination was Quebec City, and never has the saying ‘saving the best for last’ been more true. Whereas Montreal had reminded me a lot of Europe, I felt that it lacked charm. Quebec City on the other hand had tonnes of it, and felt even more European than any European city I have visited so far; in fact, I had heard that 97% of its residents spoke French. The city was founded over 400 years ago and had maintained all of its old architecture, with not a single sky-scraper or cement building in sight – even the Starbucks was quaint. Plus, here we found the one benefit of doing this tour in winter; we got to go to Quebec’s Winter Festival. This was one of my most enjoyable experiences so far in Canada, as we went tobogganing, explored ice castles, and ate frozen maple syrup. Unfortunately, as this was a tour, our time here was limited, with only two and a half hours to spend, and so we were unable to do the other activities available, which included outdoor hot tubs and tube bumper cars on ice (don’t really know how else to explain it). We were given far too little time to enjoy the festival and explore the attractions of the city, but fortunately for me, my non-stop praising of the city has paid off, and so I will be visiting again in May with my family.

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City wall of Quebec City
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Tube bumper cars at the Winter Festival

University of Toronto Exams

By Nicole Rankine (University of Toronto, Canada)

I realise that it’s been a very long time since I last posted about my time here in Canada, and honestly I just completely forgot. However, since my last blog I have had a busy, busy month, and plan to make up for that lost time by detailing everything about Torontonian life, as well as my travels outside of the city. Today, however, I want to focus on the academic side of things, particularly looking at the exams here, and how they differ from exams back in Manchester.

Now, the first thing to mention about University of Toronto exams is that revision almost seems constant, with mid-terms appearing around the corner every month or so (although this might just be for my course). However, I think it is worth highlighting that this isn’t necessarily bad at all. In fact, I find that after having several mid-terms throughout the semester so far, I have been forced to keep up with my work, which has thus prepared me for my upcoming final exams. This has, therefore, saved me from enduring the end-of-year stress that would usually arise after slacking off on studying throughout the rest of the semester.

Another point worth making about academic life here is in regards to the exam format, which, in my opinion, is far easier than the exams back in Manchester. For instance, rather than writing a massive essay on a topic, here you are given a paper with a series of multiple choice and short answer questions. This format is particularly helpful when it comes to completing the exam on time, whilst also giving you a greater understanding of how well you did after finishing. For me, this takes out a lot of the suspense that comes around when getting your papers back.

Despite the increased work-load here, I have found that it hasn’t prevented me from having a life outside of my studies. In fact, with the temptations of nearby shops, a gym (free for University students) with an Olympic size swimming pool, and all the other attractions that this city offers, I hardly ever seem to spend a whole day stuck in my room with only textbooks for company. My time here is flying by so fast, and I will definitely be sad to say good-bye.

My next blog, which I will try to post later this week, will focus on my travels to Ottawa, Montreal, and Quebec City.

University of Toronto: My first few weeks!

By Nicole Rankine (University of Toronto, Canada)

Hello everyone!

I’ve now been in Toronto for about three weeks and so far I am loving every minute of being here… well almost.

Annesley Hall
Annesley Hall

One of my favourite things about studying here in Toronto is my new halls of residence, Annesley Hall. The building resembles something of a palace, and my room is not only massive but also contains a view of the CN Tower and the Royal Ontario Museum, in addition to ghosts, as the building is apparently haunted. On top of this, the residence is located just off of Bloor Street aka the ‘Oxford Street of Toronto’. Although, I must admit that this has not been good news for my bank account. Perhaps the absolute best part of staying here, however, is the fact that it has allowed me make many Canadian friends, who, yes, do seem to love the English accent, particularly my pronunciation of the word ‘butter’.

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CN Tower

 

The excitement of moving to a new city has, however, made me forget that I am supposed to be studying during my time here. While I am mostly enjoying my courses at Toronto, I have found them to be rather more intensive than the courses at Manchester. For instance, one of my courses this week asked that I read the whole of The Iliad. To those not very familiar with the epic, this is an entire 443 pages.

 

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My first Varsity ice hockey game

The fact that my first mid-term exam is taking place next Wednesday has left little time for procrastination. Despite this, I have managed to find room for it in my life. For example, last Saturday saw me take a trip to a varsity ice hockey game, with the University of Toronto’s Varsity Blues playing against the Western Ontario Mustangs. Whilst I had doubts over whether I would enjoy ice hockey, I have to admit that the game was actually very entertaining. Still, I found the result of the game, 4-3 in favour of Western’s Mustangs, to be a little disappointing.

In addition to fast-paced academia, the weather in Toronto has provided me another struggle, with temperatures last week reaching lows of around -25 degrees. I found this change in temperature quite difficult during my first week here, especially after losing my gloves on arrival. However, I have found that the cold weather is now something that I am adjusting to. Also, the fact that it is far sunnier here than in Manchester is one change that I am enjoying very much.

Well, I guess I should now get back to reading the next 300 pages of The Iliad. I will, however, be uploading another post following my mid-terms, and this will largely focus on the differences between Manchester exams and those of Toronto.