I arrived in Toronto in late August and was very nervous but excited before my arrival since it was my first time travelling abroad on my own and the first time I would be living in a foreign country.
The first few days in Toronto were challenging, since the accommodation I was staying in was not yet ready for ‘move-in’s’ so I spent the first few weeks hopping from hotel to hotel. Although this was difficult since it meant I could not settle down and meet everyone I would be living with, it was also quite a fun experience as I met lots of cool people in the hotels. Similar to first year, I initially had some negative feelings and felt quite homesick during the first few weeks in Toronto, but as I had learned from first year as long as I got involved and made an effort to speak to people and engage with them, I knew I would begin to relax and enjoy myself more. I kept involved in the CIE’s (Centre of International Experience) activities, meeting lots of interesting people and immediately started to feel more comfortable.
The CIE at Toronto was very good upon arrival and they organised numerous activities and meet-ups for all the exchange students. Our first trip was to Niagara Falls which was an amazing experience and one that I am glad I had the opportunity to see. Also later that month we went to Algonquin Park for a weekend camping trip which was fantastic. Algonquin Park is a beautiful provincial park in Ontario and was an amazing experience. We went hiking, swimming and canoeing which were all great fun and I met lots of really nice people that I would go on to spend more time with.
I remember at the study abroad meeting the head organisers were saying that the year abroad is not a holiday and that you are essentially there to work. This does obviously have elements of truth to it for sure, but to not take advantage of these activities would, for me, defeat the object of studying abroad. My older brother said to me before I set off to try be a ‘yes man’ as much as possible. Meaning that he wanted me to say yes to all opportunities that were presented to me. At times this was obviously not possible due to things like finals and midterms but I tried my best throughout the semester to stay active and involved and it definitely helped me get the most out of the first semester!
For me one of the most rewarding parts of the study abroad experience so far is having so many opportunities to speak to people from different countries and completely different cultures. Never before have I had such a great opportunity to engage with people from so many different places, this is certainly one of the best things about studying abroad. I have spoken to Danish students, Spanish students, Swedish students, French students, German students and last but not least, Canadians.
I am a person who has always loved watching and playing sport, in England this has primarily involved Cricket, Football, Tennis and Boxing. In Toronto it has been really refreshing to experience a completely different sporting culture. I was lucky enough to go and see Toronto’s basketball team, The Toronto Raptors play against The New York Knicks. This was great fun and as an added bonus we were able to watch Carmelo Anthony play, a very highly rated American NBA player.
I also went to watch Toronto’s baseball team, The Toronto Blue Jays play at The Rogers Centre. Although they lost I was really happy to watch my first baseball match and the throwing and fielding was amazing to watch. The Blue Jays also got into the playoffs for the first time in over 20 years so watching them on TV was fantastic and the excitement in the city was palpable and infectious, people were even watching the post-season games in lectures. Ice Hockey is also really popular here and I had great fun watching U of T’s first team play. At some point I would like to go watch The Maple Leafs, Toronto’s Ice Hockey team play. Overall this change of culture was great because I learnt lots about sports I previously knew very little about such as Baseball and Ice Hockey. One other popular activity in Toronto is ice skating and there are a number of places in the city where you can try it such as Nathan Phillips Square and downtown by The Harbour Front. Unfortunately I did not manage to go before leaving for Christmas but I look forward to giving it a go when I come back in January!
The exchange student page on Facebook is really helpful and there is always posts from other exchange students regarding events and interesting things to do in Toronto. I found this very helpful because it informed me of countless opportunities to meet up and socialize with other exchange students which I took full advantage of. With all these events going on I was busy the majority of the time which was great as I was never bored or lonely. The Facebook page alerted me of an Exchange Student Soccer Team which I joined and had great fun playing in. Social media also informed me of Nuit Blanche, a hugely popular yearly art festival in downtown Toronto which I was lucky enough to experience with lots of other exchange students.