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!!

Canada is Cold!

“What good is the warmth of summer without the cold of winter to give it sweetness?”

~ John Steinbeck ~


Before I embarked on my journey abroad, there was one aspect of my exchange that potentially scared me as much as it excited me, and that was the prospect of winter. It is well-known that Canada is cold, and I got my first hint of just how much so by the fact that my university here has only two terms: a Fall one and a Winter one. There is no spring. Saying that, don’t be fooled into thinking that Canadians spend all their time bundled up indoors – when I first arrived in Montréal at the end of summer, the average temperature was around 30˚C! Unfortunately, that didn’t last long. By the end of November, there was enough snow on the ground to have warranted a week off school and work had we been in the UK. But this is Montréal, and everyone here is somewhat more resilient in the face of a few snowflakes.

However, since coming back from Christmas, ready for the fresh start of a new semester, I’ve realised that there is a lot more to winter in Canada than just snow and ice. People don’t hide from the cold or the wet here, they embrace it. Right now, there is so much going on in Montréal – possibly more than there was during the summer! Winter fairs, festivals, ice rinks, cross-country skiing… the list is endless and as I reach the halfway point of my exchange, I want to experience as much as possible. And so, the other week, a friend and I decided to head over to Lac Aux Castors (or Beaver Lake for all you Anglophones) on the other side of Mont Royal, which has been transformed into a mystical winter wonderland for the season. Every Friday night, skaters can have the pleasure of gliding along beneath a canopy of coloured lights whilst fittingly seasonal music is played in the background, turning the whole lake into a scene straight out of a Hallmark Christmas film.

The first stage of our escapade, however, revolved around just getting there. Beaver Lake is roughly a half hour walk away if you choose to go around the mountain, possibly less if you feel athletic enough to go over it. However, that estimate usually refers to the journey being made when the route taken is not covered in about a foot of snow that has, over the Christmas holidays, frozen literally into solid ice. I kid you not: at one point, my friend and I were forced to pretty much climb up at steep slope of solid ice (hiding under which there were allegedly some stairs), using the handrail as leverage and making sure we wedged our feet against the ice to stop us from sliding back down. And all of this in the pitch black because, it being winter, the sun sets at 4pm and neither of us could spare a hand to use our phones as torches. Frodo’s journey into Mordor probably required less effort, and by the time we made it to the top both of us were laughing too hard to feel too cold.

Eventually, we made it to the lake and, after having to slide down the hill on our backpacks because it too was frozen over, we were ready to (literally) get our skates on. I think the last time I went skating was possibly about five years ago, and even then I’ve only been twice in my whole life. Amazingly, however, I managed somehow not to fall over, apart from the first time I tried to stand up of course (tip: it helps if you remember to straighten your legs instead of just sliding straight from the bench to the ground… at least I did it gracefully). Skating beneath the stars, in -10˚C temperatures whilst the ‘Hall of the Mountain King’ played in the background (no song has ever epitomised my skating style more) is definitely something I have never experienced before, and in short, it was amazing. It’s moments like this one that characterise study abroad, making it something you’ll remember for the rest of your life.

It’s crazy to think that this time last year, I was only just starting to fill out my application for McGill, and at times hardly daring to believe that I had been lucky enough to get assigned my first choice of destination. Sometimes I find myself wondering how things might have turned out if I had either stayed at Lancaster for my second year, or perhaps gone somewhere else, such as Australia or Hong Kong. Needless to say, however, I am grateful that I was given the opportunity to come to Montréal, as there are things I’ve experienced here I wouldn’t have got the chance to anywhere else – such as clambering over enormous snow drifts that have frozen solid. With only half of the year left before I return to the UK, I’m excited to see what Canada has in store for me next…