I really wanted to write this blog to give anyone thinking about studying abroad at U of T some kind of breakdown of the academic system and the differences to expect in academic culture. The most notable difference between Lancaster and U of T is simply the fact that the volume of work here is much greater than Lancaster. Prior to departure I was told to expect more homework by my study abroad advisor which I can now confirm was an understatement. During the first semester the workload was sometimes overwhelming and it took a while to make the adjustment. Weeks without deadlines are very sporadic and I will almost always have some kind of work due each week whether it is a homework assignment, an essay or revision for a quiz. There are positives to this since you tend to spend less time revising for exams because you are learning more continuously as opposed to just cramming everything in last minute. However it can get pretty brutal especially around finals.
In the winter semester I did find the adjustment particularly difficult since I obviously needed to complete the work to a good standard but I also knew the importance of maintaining a social life. The strange thing about U of T is that the actual work itself I would argue is easier than back at Lancaster, it is just much more frequently handed out. Exams here are so much more relaxed than at Lancaster which is really nice and most of my midterms were done in tutorial with a much more chilled atmosphere than I was expecting. I am no stranger to spending 5 minutes at the beginning of an exam freaking out before I eventually settle down but here I have been surprisingly relaxed in exam situations which has made them slightly less intimidating. Much like my first year at Lancaster final exams typically constitute about 40% of a module’s overall mark which is nice and coursework, assignments and midterms typically make up the rest.
As a second year student from Lancaster my year abroad is worth half of my degree. Whenever I tell other exchange students this they seem quite shocked. This is because many of my friends here from the exchange student community either do the year as an optional year abroad where it doesn’t count towards their degree or it is worth somewhere around the 20% mark. I must admit I am slightly jealous of these students who can afford to relax a bit more. Anyway, I just wanted to inform potential exchange students of what academic differences to expect so they do not come as too much of a shock. Despite the high workload there is always plenty of time to socialize and have fun as long as you make a conscious effort to do so and stay involved. It is not all so bad!
As a student in linguistics I am aware of the language situation in Canada. Canada has two official languages, French and English; however English dominates in almost all Canadian provinces with the exception of Québec. During reading week I spent four nights in Québec skiing with U of T’s Ski club as I thought it would be nice to get away from the city for a bit. I tried my best to speak French- the local language while I was there. We visited Québec City which is a really beautiful city and while there we ate traditional Québécois food in a really nice restaurant in the old town. My friends and I gave French a good go for the most part. I studied French at GCSE level and in the first year at university so I am reasonable at speaking although I struggle with listening quite a lot.
I think it is nice to give it a try and I am certain that our waitress appreciated the effort. For a native English speaker it would be so easy to just speak English as practically everyone in Québec seems to have some kind of Bilingual capacity in both English and French. However I felt bad doing so in a province which shows such a strong preference for the French language. People in Québec are really proud to be French Canadian which you soon become aware of with the never-ending presence of the Fleurdelisé. I feel English people, me included can be quite bad with this. Although sometimes we simply lack the knowledge of the language, we could certainly make a bit more effort. I think French people; specifically French Canadians in this case appreciate you giving their language a try. I remember in my first week in Toronto I tried speaking French almost jokingly to a French girl that I live with and she really enjoyed it. It is a nice thing when someone makes the effort to speak to you in your own language even if you are not the best speaker.
Things literally as simple as going to the local store and saying ‘bonjour’ to the shop assistant and ‘merci’ goes some way towards doing this. After all most of the language used in everyday contexts such as restaurants, shops and bars is really simple to acquire and requires little thought. French is also a really cool language to speak so you might as well give it a go. I think living in Toronto has made me quite determined to learn another language since in some of my classes it seems as though I am the only person with no multilingual capacity. During one of my lectures before Christmas my teacher did a survey to establish the range of languages spoken by people in our lecture. There was 20+ languages spoken in total and monolingual students such as me were undoubtedly in the minority, which is really cool in a way but it can make you feel slightly inferior.