50 Days Across the Pond

I’ve made it to day 50! So what have I been up to…

Well, studying abroad is definitely a bit of a roller-coaster that’s for sure, the last 50 days have been full of travelling to some of the most incredible places I’ve ever been to, ‘studying’ a bit I guess and yes a bit of crying too…

I’ve been into the Rockies twice, been rafting on the river that runs through Calgary, gone Ice skating and I’ve experienced my first thanksgiving (all while trying to stay on top of my work 🙁 )

One of the first trips I went on was to Lake Louise which was just as beautiful as I had been told. It was the first time I had seen snow here too which was a bit surreal seeing as it was still September!!

         
I went to lake Louise with the centre for international students, it was stunning and snowed for most of the day.

The Rocky mountains may be one of the most incredible places that I’ve ever been to, but the city itself and the University have lots to do too. The Olympic Oval (used for the 1988 games) is less than 100m from my building and all the facilities here are free to use too, so I’ve been going skating lots and even to the gym and bouldering (I never normally do exercise at home!!). I also went rafting down the Bow river that runs through town with some of my Canadian friends and we got to walk over the peace bridge to downtown. There is also a really cool area in the city called Kensington, which has loads of restaurants and is a really cool place to walk around, due to it being the ‘hippy’ area of the city. The most recent event that I’ve been to in the city was illuminations at the zoo (just like being in Blackpool, a bit prettier though!!)

              
Lights at Calgary zoo, Ice skating at the Olympic oval

         
The peace bridge and rafting with my Canadian friends Ruth and Morgan.

I definitely made the right choice picking Cascade halls; most people living here are international (mainly Aussies!!) so we have all formed a big friendship group to travel with and do activities with in Calgary. The accommodation itself is really nice too; the only downside is that they like doing practice fire drills at 6am :(.


My friends from Cascade (minus a few!!)

I also have been to my very first Canadian house party. It was just like in the movies; a beautiful house (basically a mansion) with a massive basement that had been turned into a games room. It had a table tennis table, an air hockey machine, a cinema screen and even a traffic light for lighting!!! We played beer pong with the famous ‘red cups’ and then all went in a limo to the club!


The cool traffic light

I got to experience my first thanksgiving with a Canadian family and it was so lovely. We had a traditional roast with homemade apple sauce and then pumpkin cheesecake (so much better than pumpkin pie!!).


Thanksgiving dinner with this bunch!

The second thanksgiving dinner I had (I know you are only meant to have one a year!) was at a hostel when I went on a weekend away to Banff with my friends from the halls. I got to try pumpkin pie here which was surprisingly nice (doesn’t beat the cheesecake though). The weekend was lots of fun but very tiring (I was getting up at 7am and hiking 20km a day and then going out at night til 3!!). The views from the top of the mountains I hiked up were the most incredible views I’ve seen in my life and there was so much snow (it was so slippery when we walked down though). Luckily (I think) we didn’t see any bears, but we had our bear spray ready and played music from our speakers to scare them off!

          
Banff and the hostel (I’d never stayed at one before, it was alright but weird staying in a room with strangers)

            
View from tunnel mountain                                     At the top of sulphur mountain.

What else did I learn from the weekend….
1. Poutine is so good and beaver tails are amazing (especially maple syrup ones!!)
2. Greyhounds are full of some interesting characters to say the least
3. Sticky Fingers (an Aussie band) are really good
4. It’s so much fun going in hot springs when its -2 and snowing (though its weird being outside in a bikini in the snow!!)


The hot springs in Banff with my friends from Cascade, the pool was 40 degrees but it was -2 and snowing!!

So I bet you are thinking she is having an amazing time and it doesn’t sound like she’s doing much work. Well… I have to admit the ups are incredible but like any ‘roller-coaster’ (which is what I feel like I’m on being here) there are downs too and they can randomly come out of nowhere. I had never been homesick before, (I never even normally cry) but it turns out that, despite me thinking being 4,000 miles from home is the same as being 70 miles from home (being away from home is the same however far right?) it turns out I was very wrong.

Some days I just can’t stop crying for no reason and often skyping people at home (especially when your friends are at a social for your Lancaster society, BIG MISTAKE) only makes things worse. For some reason, sometimes you just feel like you are missing out and in that moment all you want is for everything to go back to the way it was before (don’t worry you’ll get over this).


When you miss home there’s always the Great British Bake Off and a full English to fall back on.

I am also doing some work; there are so many assignments here, but luckily the grading is more lenient than at home. The other difference from at Lancaster is that there are no clubs to go to on weekday nights :(, which I miss because as long as I can remember I have been part of a club. I wanted to try and join a netball team at the start but it turns out no one knows what netball is here!! I am managing to go to the gym, skating and bouldering though so its not all bad!!

To conclude I have had the craziest 50 days of my life, full of ups and downs, but I promise you its worth it!! (even if sometimes you wish you were back home).
Here’s to the next 50 days in this beautiful place 🙂

10 things I’ve learnt in orientation week

1. Jet lag, Jet lag, Jet lag
It took me a lot longer to adjust to the new time zone (7 hours behind UK time) than I thought it would. The day after I landed I woke up at 5 and had unpacked, and decorated my room with photos all before 10am!

2. How to survive without kitchenware and food
When I arrived all that was in the kitchen were a few glasses, a travel bowl and some plastic cutlery. The first few days were so busy that we had no time to go shopping, so we just had to collect plastic cutlery, paper plates and survive off as much free food as we could to get by! On the first day the only thing I had to eat was some microwaveable popcorn!

      

My survival methods; Be inventive with the limited kitchenware you have and eat everything out of your welcome pack even if it is popcorn for breakfast!!

3.’College’ is very different the University
For a start university is called college and you don’t attend lectures you go to class. My classes so far are more like being back in high school; they are in classrooms and there are only about 60 people in a class as opposed to the 200 in a lecture at Lancaster. The lecturers (*profs) are very down to earth and really friendly and seem to try and make as many jokes as they can per class!! Also, students here study a range of classes, much like high school, but just have a major that they hope to graduate with instead of following a strict degree program like we do in the UK.

My first experience of how Canadian universities differ from those in the UK was a PEP rally that I attended with my orientation week group. Each faculty had its own chant and everyone was getting involved, it was so much fun! (If you asked people at home to do that they would look at you like you were stupid!)

“Who are we?” Science S.C.I.E.N.C.E
“Who are we?” Science, we are the best faculty
“Who are we?” Science, we are who you want to be,
Science, Science, Science, Science

Once the chanting was over the deans from each faculty and a few special quests paraded down the middle aisle, preceded by a man playing bagpipes. The ceremony was really interesting; everyone stood to sing the national anthem (which I need to learn!), an aboriginal elder (wearing full headdress) blessed everyone with a tribal prayer and then each dean stepped forward and their faculty went crazy (It doesn’t take much to get a crowd going here!!). We then heard talks from the chancellor of the University (who is an astronaut!) and a Stanford University professor on stress management, which was so interesting.

4. They love the Wild West here
From the moment I stepped off the plane and saw locals wearing cowboy hats I realised that they like their wild west culture here. The first club that I visited was called Knoxville’s and as soon as I walked through the door I realised it was a country club; there was a tractor by the door, a rodeo bull, a giant glittery cowboy hat and some classic country music playing. After also visiting Cowboy’s (another club in town) I have realised they love their line dancing here (I’m rubbish but it’s so much fun!)

The Rodeo bull in Knoxville’s, I was amazing (really wasn’t, I’m too weak!!)

5. The weather in Calgary is very bizarre
The saying here is;

“If you don’t like the weather in Calgary, give it 5 minutes”

I agree completely with this statement; I’ve never been somewhere before where one minute it’s 20 degrees C and the next it’s 4. The other day it was really sunny and warm and the next minute there was a huge hailstorm and the loudest thunderstorm I have ever experienced!

Earlier the same day it was 24 degrees and sunny and then suddenly there was a massive hailstorm which left the ground looking quite white!

6. Apparently I have a strong British accent
In one of my first classes we had to say our names and why we were studying Environmental science: I must have said 20 words and the lecturer said ‘You’re from England?’. All the Canadians in my orientation group keep commenting on my accent and how I call things by ‘weird’ names;
‘Lift’ not ‘Elevator’
‘Crisps’ not ‘Chips’
‘Bin’ not ‘Trash can’
‘Maths’ not ‘Math’

7. Thrift shops
After failing to acquire anything for the flat at a free giveaway (they opened an hour early 🙁 ) we were left with no kitchenware. Luckily we found thrift shops, which are just charity shops but they are much bigger than you find at home and they have so much kitchenware (and everything is so cheap).

8. American football matches are exactly like you see in films
I’ve never really been a massive sports fan but I have always thought American football matches look like lots of fun. The match was exactly as you see in films; a massive stadium, cheerleaders, cheering and a huge screen to watch highlights of the match (apparently matches are a lot bigger in the states though). The only thing was the match wasn’t that exciting, it kept stopping every 10 seconds (not sure I’m going to be a massive fan anytime soon!).

McMahon stadium is massive, holding 46,020 people! No surprise that the stadium wasn’t even half full for the Dino game!

9.Bubble soccer is so much fun
Now this is a sport I could get into; rolling around a field, flipping upside down, so much fun (although my team lost).

  10. Shopping here is so confusing
You are probably thinking what is she on about! Everything about shopping here is different from at home. To start with, the currency is different and it took me until the end of the week to find out that $1 does not equal 50p; it’s not that easy 🙁 . Then they don’t advertise things with tax so I got a shock at the checkout for the first few times when they charged me more than the advertised price.

And so the adventure begins

After only a few hours sleep, I was too excited to sleep (and very nervous), I set off to the airport with my headphones round my neck, my body warmer over my arm and my snow boots in my backpack (I had over packed, nothing new!) My suitcase weighed 33.0kg exactly so luckily I didn’t have to take anything out!! Before I knew it I was on a plane about to travel thousands of miles away from home to live in Canada!

            

The plane and the prosecco, headphones and travel kit that I was given!

I had never been on a plane like this before; it was 9 seats wide, had three sections and each seat had its own TV! I have always hated flying so the thought of being on a plane alone for 9 hours had been scaring me for a while. The flight wasn’t as bad as I thought though; I could choose from a selection of movies and TV shows, got loads of free things (prosecco, a blanket, a pillow, headphones and lots of food and drink) and got to see amazing views of volcanoes in Iceland, glaciers in Greenland and large mountain ranges.

I landed in Calgary at 4pm local time (11pm in the UK). The first locals I saw as I walked through the airport were wearing cowboy hats (I loved the place already!)! After being allowed to enter the country I collected my bags and headed off to find the University. I was very lucky to have a local contact and so Sally drove me to the University and had even picked up my bedding (which I was glad about as I was ready for bed!)

On my journey to the flat I quickly realised how different Calgary is to any city in the UK; the roads are so quiet and all the buildings are very spread out so it doesn’t feel like you are in a city at all. The first building I saw as I approached the University was the Olympic Oval (A large ice skating rink used for the 1988 Olympics). The campus is really pretty, but it’s massive and there are so many multi storey buildings (luckily they like their ‘elevators’ here).

I arrived at my 4 bedroom flat to be greeted by my orientation week rep and my flat mates; Amy, Louise (who both go to the University of Leeds) and Kelsy, who is from Australia. The flat has a kitchen and a lounge (we have sofas 🙂 ) and a ridiculous amount of storage (it’s crazy!!).

       

My room and my walk in wardrobe 🙂

By the time I reached my flat, jet lag was starting to hit me and I just wanted to go to bed! I decided to join the others though and I went with them to a barbecue where I met a lot of other British and Australian exchange students. This is when I realised how bizarre the weather is here; at 4pm I was in a t-shirt and I was boiling and by 6pm, even though I had my jacket on, I was shivering and my hands went numb! Once I had warmed up I fell asleep, I was shattered it had been a very long day!

Things I miss

Living abroad can be lots of fun, but you soon learn that it’s not all pretty and there will be things that you miss;
Here is a list of the weird and wonderful things I missed while in Canada!!

 
1. Friends and family
This one is a given but I have to admit I had really overlooked how hard time difference can be. At night sometimes I just wanted someone to talk to when everyone in the block was studying and everyone at home was asleep. The one thing I had though was Ashleigh in Oregon, which really helped us both to get through on those nights!

2. Fish and chips
Ahhhh I wanted fish and chips so much! I wouldn’t even mind but I never eat them in the UK, this craving however, lasted for the whole 4 months…

3. Sainsbury’s
I admit I actually cried because I missed this place so much… Ok, so by this point you are probably thinking ‘she’s actually lost it’, but every time I went to Safeway’s (saying the word again freaks me out..) I use to have a mini meltdown.
I could never work out the price of anything because THEY ADD TAX WHEN YOU GET TO THE TILL (AHHHHH), all the products are different and if I tried to ask for something they couldn’t understand my accent or didn’t recognise the British name for it. Then there was the fact that it was so expensive and I couldn’t deal with how much I was spending on food!
I think though, the main issue I had with Safeway was just the lack of normality anywhere and really brought home the fact that I was living in another country and hadn’t got a clue what I was doing!!

          

4. British sterling
I spent the whole 4 months totally confused about the exchange rate :(. I still do not understand how you use the silver coins and hey, how do you get the correct change ready if you don’t know how much something costs because YOU DON’T KNOW HOW MUCH TAX THEY WILL ADD!

         

5. Multi-pack crisps (yes CRISPS not CHIPS)
I have many issues with this. For a start they are not called chips, that’s what you eat with your fish from the fish and chip shop (cry 🙁 ), they are crisps people!! Secondly, where are the multi-packs?? All I wanted was to take a small packet with me for lunch, but oh no we only do share packets??

6.Green Grass

Well I know I had snow, and beautiful as it was I started to miss seeing rolling green hills. When I came home everywhere looked so green that it was like the world had some weird filter on it, it didn’t look real!

7.Brass band
I hadn’t thought too much about this before I left but I have played in brass bands for the past 8 years and it’s become such a big part of my life. It was so weird not to go to band on a week night and I really missed it!

8. People understanding me!
This was a nightmare. My international friends couldn’t understand my accent and no-one understood my British words.
When I said ‘tea’ (as in the meal) everyone though I was going to drink tea (because that’s all British people do apparently 🙁 ). Then there were all the weird names for things; ‘washroom’, ‘thongs’ (not the underwear, flip flops, see the confusion), ‘soccer’, ‘toque’

9. Chocolate
Ok I wasn’t in Antarctica they do have chocolate but it’s really not the same. I tried a mars bar in the first week and it tasted vile, it was nothing like the stuff at home!!

10. Roast dinners
What I would have done for a good Sunday roast with Yorkshire puddings, roast potatoes and stuffing! One thing I was surprised by was the lack of English food over there, especially Christmas food; no mince pies, no Christmas cake, no Christmas pudding :(.
I used to make myself a full English breakfast though, but Canadian bacon is just not the same :(.

            

11. Brick buildings and cobbled streets (and history!!)
Ok, Canadian buildings are pretty and colourful but you can’t beat  a little cobbled street and a building that is older than the people living in it!! I couldn’t wait just to see a normal British street again and a castle and a cobbled street wouldn’t go amiss either!!

12. Rain…
Haha jks, I didn’t miss the grey clouds and constant rain back in England. I love the snow and deep blue skies, it’s so beautiful!

          

So lets just say studying abroad isn’t the easiest of journeys, but it’s an amazing experience and even the hard bits are funny in hind sight!!

Don’t Forget to Smell the Roses

Not all those who wander are lost.

~ J.R.R. Tolkien

 

Study Abroad is an experience – that much at least should be clear by now. Well, actually it’s more like a collection of little experiences that will all eventually come together to make up the bigger picture, just like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. That’s why no two people will ever go on the same exchange, even if they go to the same university, in the same country, even at the same time. Moreover, the experience – how it unfolds, what you take from it etc. – that part is all up to you. I think it was Albus Dumbledore who once said our choices define us much more than our actions and, you know what? He had a point!

I think one of the biggest choices I made (in terms of how it’s affected my Study Abroad experience so far) was my decision to not get a new plan for my mobile phone. There were several practical reasons for this, most of them to do with money (I’d have had to pay to break my contract, phone plans here are much more expensive… the list goes on and on), but finances aside, the more I thought it over, the more I decided to give it a go. I’ve been the proud owner of my own mobile phone since I was eleven-years-old, and I got my first smart phone when I was sixteen. In other words, for the past four or five years, if ever I’ve needed to know something – be it the local bus timetable, the name of the last five Prime Ministers, or even detailed instructions on how to mop a kitchen floor (don’t judge me, but I genuinely did once Google that) – it’s only taken me a few moments to find it out. We really do live with the wealth of humanity’s knowledge at our fingertips, and the prospect of taking that away was more than just a little daunting for me. Which of course only made me more determined to do it.

 

I should point out here that I haven’t gone completely cold turkey. I keep my phone on aeroplane mode most of the time, but I can still access Wi-Fi and, living in a city such as Montréal, I’m rarely without a good connection. But this has made the process of getting from A to B a whole lot more interesting – especially when I don’t have the foggiest idea where B is. Which is most of the time seeing how my sense of direction is determinedly backwards even on a good day.

I have no idea where I am going.

You would be surprised at how many people react with horror upon hearing that I don’t have a Canadian phone number, meaning I don’t have access to 3G which leaves me permanently stranded between Wi-Fi hotspots. I frequently get asked questions such as ‘how do you manage?’ or ‘don’t you think you should just get one?’, which to me only further reiterates how dependent we have become on the Internet to solve all our problems for us. The point is, we as a species managed perfectly well before Tim Berners-Lee came along and though I shall be eternally grateful to him for doing so (that floor wasn’t going to mop itself), it is more than possible to exist without being permanently connected to the World-Wide Web.

In fact, I would argue that it makes life (and certainly my Study Abroad experience) a lot more interesting. Not being able to rely on my phone to tell me where to go forces me to look up for a change, meaning I see so much more of what’s around me. Montréal is one of the most beautiful cities out there, but sometimes you have to go looking for the best bits, and I can tell you now that you won’t find them on a screen. Things like watching the sun set over the Olympic Stadium, seeing Downtown all lit up at night from the other end of Rue Sherbrooke or catching sight of the tip of a racoon’s stripy tail as it dives for cover behind a wheelie bin (sorry, trash can). Moments like those are fleeting; if you blink, then you can miss them just like that and if you’re too busy scowling at your phone screen because Google doesn’t have a clue where you are either, then you won’t even realise they were there in the first place.

The Plateau by Night

It’s true that not all those who wander are lost, but sometimes getting lost is half the fun of wandering. Don’t get me wrong, having 3G can be a lifesaver – especially when you’re stuck outside your friend’s apartment having to resort to throwing stones at their window Romeo-style because their buzzer isn’t working and you don’t have the Wi-Fi password to message them – but you don’t need it to survive. So, the next time you’re somewhere new, take the road less travelled by and remember to look up from your phone screen every now and then. Because you never know what you might see hiding just around the corner.

Given how big it is, the stadium was surprisingly hard to find.

 

Missing Home

“The ache for home lives in all of us, the safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned.

~ Maya Angelou ~

What makes home, home? That feeling of belonging – the inherent knowledge that we are where we should be, like a book put back on the shelf in its correct spot: where does it come from? What makes it?

I never really got homesick during my first year at Lancaster. Of course, I missed my family (once the dust from Freshers had settled and I was left facing a looming stack of laundry, the reality of having to buy my own food and the dilemma of fighting off about three colds at once) but in terms of my ‘home’ – the town where I am from – I didn’t really miss it. I have no family ties to my hometown; it just happened to be where we lived. So when I moved away the first time, I found it was the people (my friends and my family) I missed the most, and not the place itself. Therefore, upon arriving in Canada, I didn’t quite know what to expect. I knew there would be aspects of the UK that I would miss, but as to what extent I honestly had no idea.

Tentatively, I spent my first few weeks in Montréal waiting for the nostalgia to kick in. I joked to my new friends about the lack of ‘proper tea’ (only Yorkshire will do, thank you); I dutifully complained about how the weather here in the city can reach 30˚C in the summer, but will then drop to -30˚C in winter compared to England’s average range of 2-16˚C. But though these were undoubtedly things that I found took some time and effort to get used to, I didn’t experience true homesickness and almost began to wonder if I ever would. My doubts, however, were soon put to rest at the start of this week.

UK universities go back much later than on this side of the Atlantic, and for some reason, Lancaster always goes back a week or two after everyone else even then. For the past couple of months, I’ve been the odd one out, and started to look forward to the point when my friends would no longer be able to tease me about having schoolwork whilst they were still enjoying their last few weeks of freedom. But as more and more posts started to pop up on social media about ‘Freshers 2016’, I suddenly found myself yearning to be back. At first, it was easy to dismiss the feeling as simple first-year nostalgia; after all, who wouldn’t want to go back to that time of blissful ignorance during which you remained stubbornly convinced you won’t leave every deadline to the last minute, truly believe you’ll keep your new room perfectly tidy and are still to discover the nightmare that is Circuit Laundry. But as the week went on, I realised: I miss Lancaster.

Maybe it’s the ducks, but there is something about Lancaster that makes it part of my home. I miss being surrounded by the rolling hills, with the Bay of Morecambe just visible in the distance when you take the 2A through Bowerham (a.k.a Narnia): I miss trying and always failing to be the first in the never-ending queue for Greggs on a Monday morning; I even miss – and you can call me insane here if you want – the abhorrent Lancastrian weather that was the main reason why none of us realised Storm Desmond had struck, because in our minds there was nothing unusual about the amount of wind and rain we got hammered with that weekend. These are the things I couldn’t bring with me to Montréal, as trying to smuggle ducks across the Canadian border tends to be frowned upon.

So, what do I do about it? I’m able to compensate for not being with my friends and family by talking to them regularly over Skype and FaceTime, and my room is littered with pictures and other mementos to remind me of all the different elements which come together to form what is, for me, my ‘home’. Having my family send Yorkshire Tea to me is also a huge help, but I can hardly expect them to send the rest of England out by Canada Post. For the most part, I need to go out and explore, and find new things that will help me make my home here in Montréal. In Lancaster I used to love going for random walks around campus and getting lost in the rambling countryside; here, I have the whole of Mont Royal to amble up (and consequently stagger down). One of the reasons I came abroad was to experience a new culture, and sometimes that means you have to let go of one or two aspects of your own. So, whereas I may not be able to get a decent cup of tea, I can substitute it with Poutine instead, and that is pretty much the next best thing.

poutine is love; poutine is life

Poutine is love; poutine is life

Carpe Diem

“The world is big, and I want to have a good look at it before it gets dark.

~ John Muir ~

Midterms are not fun.

I remember once being asked by a LUSU volunteer if I thought Lancaster should implement January exams, and replying that I couldn’t really say, having never had to take them. Well, here at McGill (and pretty much every other university this side of the Atlantic), you don’t just get January exams; you get October ones, November ones and of course, December finals. And I can tell you now, it’s a big step up. The workload here can get rather intense, and these past few days as I holed myself up my favourite corner of Second Cup (the Montréal equivalent to Costa), I found myself yearning to get out of the city for a bit. And so, that’s just what I did.

During my Orientation Week, I connected with a handful of other exchange students all hailing from various corners of the globe, and a group of us (five including myself) decided to take a weekend trip down to the States. It being the middle of autumn, New England was on all our bucket lists, so we hashed together a rough plan to drive down on a Friday afternoon after class, spend the weekend hiking in the White Mountains and then hit the road again on Sunday and be back in the city in time for tea (or, in my case, my final midterm on the Monday). To me, my brain ready to melt from constantly revising Marxist Critical Theory and Nuclear Deterrence, it seemed like the perfect respite.

They say even the best laid plans go awry, and we definitely encountered more than our fair share of bumps in the road (and I’m not just talking about Québec’s pothole epidemic). A misunderstanding with the car rental caused a three-hour delay into our four-hour journey, but nonetheless we eventually made it and, after yet another slight hitch (which involved flagging down a kindly local at 12am on a deserted road in the middle of the woods to borrow her phone so we could email the owner of our Airbnb and get the code to unlock the door) I was ready for a fun but chilled-out weekend during which the only thing I needed to worry about was not falling down the side of a mountain, something I seem extraordinarily prone to doing. And I have to say, New Hampshire in the fall is truly spectacular.

One does not simply walk into Mordor

One does not simply walk into Mordor

In the week leading up to the trip, I had begun to wonder if I was making the right choice in going. With my final midterm looming ominously on the horizon, I couldn’t help but worry if perhaps I should stay behind and study for it just like everyone else seemed to be doing. But I found that the more I considered dropping out, the more I felt like I needed to go. After all, I didn’t come all this way just to see the inside of a library. I’ve wanted to go on exchange ever since I knew it was possible to do so – even before I had chosen to come to Lancaster! It’s part of my whole reasoning for studying Politics and International Relations as a degree; when I graduate, I want a career that’ll take me around the world and give me the opportunity to explore its many wonders. Of course, I know I’ll never see everything our planet has to offer, but for me that’s the beauty of it. I can see and experience a thousand different places, and there will still be a thousand more.

Hella Atmospheric

Hella Atmospheric

And now, I can tick another place off my ever-growing list. And though I’ve already said it, New Hampshire was breath-taking. I know now why some of the treks are known as the Fire Trails; I have never seen such a magnificent, blazing ensemble of colour in all my life. And, despite a slight delay that was primarily due to me being incapable of making it down a mountain without falling over at least a dozen times (plus one or two issues with directions that were most definitely not my fault), we still made it back before midnight on the Sunday, in time for me to get a good night’s sleep ready to nail my midterm. In fact, looking back this evening, I think I might even have done better in the exam than had I spent the weekend cramming. Getting out into the woods refreshed my perspective on things, and standing on top of Mount Lafayette surrounded by clouds and listening to the wind roaring in the valley below, you remember that there really is more to life than one exam that, in hindsight, is only worth 20%. The world might be full of amazing opportunities, but if you’re not paying attention you can blink and miss them just like that. So even though it’s important to take your academic (and other) responsibilities seriously, there’s nothing wrong with cutting loose for a weekend and getting lost in New England with some new friends (plus the occasional chipmunk).

Autumn Colours

Autumn Colours

 

Making it down without falling

Making it down without falling

The Journey Begins

Eleanor Roosevelt once said “Do one thing a day which scares you”, and recently, this has resonated with me more than ever. Since leaving the UK a few weeks ago to start my Study Abroad adventure, I have had to do multiple things which scared the hell out of me, but I survived and I am still surviving – even if I’m not quite sure how. Given that studying abroad has always been something I wanted to do (hence why I chose to come to Lancaster), from the moment I arrived it seemed like all of my focus was geared towards spending my second year in another country. And, as of such, I sort of forgot to think about what would happen afterwards. As an example, somehow the fact that I would have to make the journey from England to Canada alone was something I never contemplated until it actually happened. It made me think about how, during the build-up to going on exchange, there are a lot of things you forget about, and then when you remember them it can sometimes be a little scary. This piece is about how it’s okay to be caught off-guard by certain things – especially emotions you weren’t expecting to have – and how at the end of the day, it’s just another part of the experience.

For some reason, I never thought that I would be struck quite so emotionally. I’m not really the sort of person who wears their heart on their sleeve – at least, not when I’m in public and surrounded by strangers. And besides, for the past six months or so, the fact that I’m spending my second year of university abroad in the beautiful city of Montréal, was a source of excitement. Don’t get me wrong – there were always nerves – but when I imagined the moment I finally said goodbye to my parents at the gates to airport security, I always envisioned myself striding stoically off into the distance, ready to meet adventure head-on.

So when instead my mum and dad turned to hug me for the last time, and I felt the tell-tale sting of tears behind my eyes, a part of me was shocked. The other part of me – the bigger part – was terrified. In those moments as I walked away, I suddenly found myself wondering if perhaps I was making a huge mistake. Thoughts such as “what the hell am I doing?” followed swiftly by “I can’t do this!” ricocheted around my brain in such chaotic fashion that I’m still surprised I managed to make it through Heathrow Security without any mishaps.

Now, this doesn’t sound like a promising start, and probably makes this post sound somewhat depressing, which is possibly why no one ever mentions this side of going on exchange – the side which involves frantic nerves, copious amounts of stress and a healthy dose of anxiety (in some cases). But also because, even though it doesn’t always feel like it, this feeling of being stuck at a loose end with no idea what you’re doing, where you’re going or how you’re going to survive the next few days (let alone an entire academic year) is not permanent. As soon as I was through Security, and found myself staring out over the labyrinth that is Heathrow Terminal 5, I realised that I couldn’t afford to panic. Switching off and going to find a corner to rock in wasn’t an option; there were things which needed to be done, such as finding out which gate my flight was boarding from. And, since then, I’ve found myself falling into a very similar pattern. If I only focus on what is immediately in front of me, whether that’s the whole day or just a certain part of it, everything suddenly seems a lot less daunting. As soon as I let myself start thinking about all of the things I need to do over the next couple of weeks and worrying over how I’m going to do them, that same panic starts to set in. And, once it has, it can be quite difficult to shake off.

sitting-at-the-airport

In short, what I’m trying to say is that feeling scared is not a bad thing. It’s what you do with that fear, and whether or not you let it control you, that matters the most. I didn’t think that I would get emotional saying goodbye to my parents, and the fact that I did genuinely concerned me, as it made me question whether or not I was going to be able to cope being on the other side of the Atlantic to them for nine months. But though I had my fears, I didn’t let them stop me, and now here I am, sat in my new apartment in Downtown Montreal, ready to start my adventure at McGill University. So, yes, Study Abroad is an intimidating experience – especially in the beginning. And I don’t expect that to suddenly change overnight. But so long as I keep pushing forwards, and I don’t let my fears and my worries get the better of me, then I have every faith that I’ll make it through these next nine months, and quite possibly be all the better for it once my exchange is over. Because it’s okay to be scared. Being scared just means you’re about to do something brave.

Reflections

I’m not kidding you when I say the nature of this summer programme underwent a metamorphosis. (Note: This programme is brand new this year) When I applied for this summer programme, the title of the offer says “internship in Ghana” and it says it’ll relate to tropical diseases and maybe some public health work. Upon acceptance into the programme, I found out we were going to get some classes. We were also told that this placement that was tailored based on what we wished to do. A few days before leaving, we received the list of placements that we were going to do and most of us got something other than what we expected. In the end, I had a lot of lectures, coursework and a placement at an NGO that advocates for road safety, tobacco control and drinking awareness.

My placement saga goes as follow: In the first placement, I was supposed to be doing laboratory work. It turned out that I had to rely on the kindness of my supervisors’ fellow researchers to actually get any  lab work, even though it was cleaning Petri dishes for the first half of it (re: half a day). Nonetheless, thank you Vaida and Felicia for taking care of me (and Maria). In our later and “permanent” placement, we got to meet students from different schools in Accra, even the schools in Nima, the most impoverished area of Accra. We also had our office time, which means we sat around with little to do most of the time. This is most probably because it was their first time having an intern from Boston and Lancaster University and they hadn’t fully agreed on the extend of the responsibilities they could give to the students.

I don’t usually feel like I’m a lucky person, but this time I’d say I am. The people that I met in my placement are truly inspiring. On top of a furniture shop, sits VALD, Vision for Alternative Development, an NGO filled with people who believe in the cause they are fighting for and are willing to do the hard work. They also gave me a rare opportunity to teach in the schools; not any school, but the schools in the rough area of town and being inspire by the passion of the students and the teachers for education in the schools we visited. I even received a lot of support from them for teaching and they corrected me if necessary. Thank you Salomon, Hajarah, Labram and Bright for making us feel so welcomed and embracing us as a part of the VALD family.

 

vald

This might sound like a cliché, but I do feel really lucky that I got to meet new people through this programme. I’m not the most outgoing person, so I consider myself very lucky to meet and be roomed with Lisa (my karaoke partner and beach buddy :p ). I felt that lucky to meet her to the point where we (and Maria and Hanna) caused quite a scene when we parted at the airport (silly Lisa chose a flight after most of us left so we had to bid farewell when I was leaving Ghana).

As a realist who experienced parting with friends by thousands of miles, I know how hard it would be to stay in touch with someone, especially someone who you had only known them briefly. Even better, we are both really awkward at Skyping or Face-timing or whatever – technology doesn’t always erase the distance, actually it never does. Thankfully, being the two peas in a pod we are, we vowed to each other to stay in touch and that she would go to the UK for Easter break. And you know what, even with the eleven hours difference (West Indonesian time), we still message each other everyday (yay!). It was really nice to meet all of them, other special mentions to Jenny and Amber; I hope you’re all doing great! And the buddies from Lancaster Uni Ghana, thank you for taking care of us, Diane, Nana, JFK, Akua, Angela and Big John!

All in all, it wasn’t always sunshine and happiness, or to follow the earlier analogy that I used, it wasn’t always the ‘happy-go-lucky caterpillar stage’. But fortunately for me, at the end of the trip, I gained a lot from these unexpected things that I got. I thought I was going to work at a lab, which is quite familiar for me, but instead I got to encounter people who have very different backgrounds from mine. I thought I was just going to room with my best friend from the UK and I wouldn’t be able to share a toilet with a stranger, but I got an additional roomie, who turned out to be my new best friend. Like in Pokemon Go, your unexpectedly ugly Metapod will be an unexpectedly badass Butterfree (in a less nerdy way: it was worth it)!

This trip was supported by Santander.

4 days, 6 hours, 3 minutes, 20 seconds and counting

Back in 6th form like many other students I was really confused about what to do after A levels: everyone seemed to be going to university and I had no idea if this is what I wanted to do and if it was; What would I study?, Where would I go?

After looking at many different courses I decided that I wanted to study Environmental Science, but I still had to decide where I wanted to go. I have always loved to travel and so when I read the prospectus for Lancaster University the opportunity to study abroad in my second year was too good to miss. All I had to do now was to achieve AAB in my A levels and 60% in my first year at Lancaster.

It didn’t seem like I was at Lancaster two minutes before it came around to end of exam celebrations and now after achieving the grades I need I am going to be flying out to Calgary in less than a week! I keep telling  people that I’m going to Canada on the 4th of September (I feel like I’ve said it a million times) but I still don’t believe it! I keep saying that I’m so excited but the truth is I don’t really feel like it’s actually going to happen! There’s been so much to sort out this summer; flights, accommodation, visas and trying to decide what I need to take with me!! I’ve just been making so many lists and hoping that I don’t forget anything important!

After barely having any room left in the car when I went to Lancaster last year I didn’t think I would fit all my stuff in a suitcase! I haven’t quite managed to fit everything in a suitcase but here are the two I packed this morning!!!

Lydia Cowell_Suitcase

I have been a bit unsure on how cold it’s going to be, temperatures in the winter can fall to -10 degrees but everyone seems to say that it’s a ‘different’ cold to Europe (Whatever that means!?) Anyway I know there is going to be lots of snow so I have my ski jacket, my salopettes and these snow boots that I got the other day!!!
Lydia Cowell Sallopetts

I am going to be flying out to Calgary on Sunday (my first ever time going abroad on my own!!), I’ve managed to get a direct flight from Manchester which I’m glad about. I am going to be 4,222 miles away from home, a lot further than the 1.5 hour journey to Lancaster!!

I’ve never been to Canada, or even North America before so I don’t really know what to expect but I’m very excited to travel into the Rockies and maybe even learn how to ski!! Calgary is known as ‘Cowtown’ for the Wild West culture and the world-famous stampede that happens every July (Unfortunately I won’t be there for it though 🙁 ) I am really excited about exploring the city, there’s quite a lot to see; Calgary tower, the zoo, the Olympic park….

Lydia Cowell_Calgary

This week is going to be full of goodbyes and the stress of getting ready to go but hopefully it will all be worth it!!
I’ll keep you all updated on my travels
Until next time,
Lydia x