Today is officially my one week anniversary of being in Ottawa; and two weeks since arriving in Canada. So a round-up is definitely long overdue.
Good news! I made it the capital and moved into my shared flat with Natalie. It’s even more lovely and spacious than the pictures suggested and my room is genuinely the largest one I’ve ever owned. Plus an ensuite! All to myself! uOttawa’s campus is huge and concrete-y and slightly intimidating compared to Exeter but I feel it’s going to be very manageable once I get the hang of it. There’s a nice student vibe to the neighbourhood we’re living in, Sandy Hill, and I get to watch the sun set on the Rideau River from my bedroom window each night. I’ve also had a chance to quickly explore downtown and from what I’ve seen it’s beautiful and busy and bustling with lots to do. On top of all this I joined Ottawa’s women’s basketball team’s pre-semester training camp this past week and although the standard is incredibly high and I’m going to have to work VERY hard (a. to catch up and b. to keep up), they are a really nice group of people and I’m so pleased I can keep playing the sport I love!
Bad news! The ‘minor cold’ from my previous blog post developed into a horrible, gross, beastial thing that has crippled me to such an extent I have struggled a bit to fully appreciate many of the above things until recently. I thought I was developing a stomach bug as a part of it (‘stomach bug’ being a nice way of describing intense nausea) but my parents’ diagnosis (they’re both doctors) is that the queasiness is probably just from the vertigo of being completely deaf in one ear! Yay for shitty sinuses! Honestly, it’s so typical, but the only thing that could have hampered this week from being anything other than smooth-sailing was physical illness – so of course, that’s what fate dealt me. Fate, and a helping hand of hostel germs. And maybe lingering jetlag.
But hey. It is getting better, and there are so many good points here that even listing them, despite the staggeringly disconcerting semi-deafness I’m still experiencing writing this, has made me realise how lucky I am. Ottawa is so far treating me very well and I am on the whole very happy to be here and setting up.
My apartment is lovely and set away enough from the campus to feel like I’ve ‘escaped’ uni, but I’m also only a 10 minute speed-walk through the neighbourhood from my classes. Natalie has been great giving me the rundown on local places to go and things to see and even though I know Ottawa is ‘small’, from her ideas of things we could do throughout the year (“How do you feel about going to a trampoline park? Zip-lining? I really want to do the Tree Top Trail too actually”) I feel there’s more than enough to keep me busy. Also it’s important to remember the city is also built with winter in mind so there’s going to be lots around in the colder months too. It’s great to have a local to hand (and even more of a luxury to have a local with a car) as although I have entered into this whole year with a bit of an independent go-getter attitude, it really doesn’t have to be a solo thing. And in fact, I think it’s going to be so much less stressful and more fun with trial and error mostly removed from the equation.
Getting here a week before classes start I’ve had a chance to explore campus a bit by getting jobs done like picking up my student card and checking out the international office etc. Plus, I’ve also been introduced to the GeeGees Womens’ Basketball team. The team and coaches are all very friendly and have made me feel very welcome which I’m hugely grateful for. I have tried to make it clear that I’ve only got one year of experience, despite how varied that experience has been, but I do feel that everyone tends to be a bit distracted by the whole ‘6’3” how bad can she be’ thing. Height is handy, but it’s sure as hell isn’t everything. And these girls have been playing and training since they were at primary school. My first training session with them was, to put it mildly, terrifying. And I was pretty awful. That being said, since then I can already feel myself getting back into the swing of things, and I’m trying to take in all the advice I’m getting because it is so, so useful (when I can hear the advice through my one functioning ear hahahahaha (I wish I was kidding)). Coach has promised whatever happens I’ll go home a better player than I arrived, and I can definitely see that happening. Good news is that season doesn’t start properly until November – so I’ve got time to find my feet! And my fitness. 15 hill sprints after 3 months off from intense exercise was NOT fun.
Speaking of feet, the sprained ankle is also proving to be in better shape than I could have hoped for. Coach referred me to the team physio and after ultrasounding my ankle and strapping it in an ice-blanket-pressure thing she has assured me that as long as I’m careful over the next two weeks I will be able to take on the season just fine. I will be training pretty much every day, in and around scheduled weights and conditioning sessions, but although I’m still nervous about messing up and adapting to the schedule I’m also really excited. Playing a varsity sport is definitely a good way of embracing North American university life I feel. Plus I now have an insane amount of uOttawa stash. There is just so much more investment in the sport out here than back home it’s unreal.
But moving on from basketball – fellow Exeter student Emily and I have been getting up to some decent touristing this past week as well and I’ve already been able to tick things off the bucket list. Emily had a bit of an Ordeal to say the least during her trip to Kingston (which involved the police turning up at the Airbnb she was staying in and her feeling decidedly unsafe) and the situation wasn’t helped when she arrived to a disgusting, uncleaned apartment for her on-campus accommodation (although we learned a British girl Crying A Lot is an incredibly good incentive for university management to Sort Things.) So she stayed her first night in Ottawa with me and we’ve been looking out for each other a bit and finding our feet together which has been really nice. Surrounded by New Things it’s such a reassuring comfort to know someone who is so lovely and is in exactly the same boat as me (and someone who is equally willing to go for the tourist trap things.)
It has been a week of stunningly beautiful weather so we’ve done a lot of outside wandering to be honest. We’ve meandered around Byward Market, stopping to try incredible cheesecake and then even more incredible ice cream (Sweet Jesus – look it up friends). We’ve been up to Parliament Hill more than a few times now, and joined another Exeter student and the Canadian friend Sarya to watch the Northern Lights, a summer light show projected onto the the Parliament buildings of Canada’s history and heritage. We’ve been across the river to Quebec, popped into Notre Dame and been very impressed by the gorgeous ceiling, scouted out museums we want to visit and talked about plans for the rest of year travelling wise. At the weekend we went up the Peace Tower in Parliament and into the Memorial Chamber; though we missed out on the free tickets for a tour. Still, there’s another time for that. It is such a novelty to see all this stuff and start to get a feel for the place, while at the same time knowing we have time. There’s no rush. We’re here for a year, we can come back another day 🙂
All these beautiful pictures aside however, truthfully it hasn’t been the easiest of weeks. I didn’t expect it would be really, but still. I’ve had more wobbles than I’d have liked, especially at the start of the week, which I am blaming mostly on the fact I was feeling so ill and mainly wanted to just be mothered and looked after. Which just wasn’t an option. So I’ve powered through and gone through the motions of all the things I needed to do regardless; I have a phone plan and a bank account, I have a student card and a functioning Health Insurance, I have a fridge full of strange Canadian food and my legs are still aching from training with a new team. I’ve said yes to things even when the introvert inside me is saying ‘pls god can we just go home and chill now’ and I’ve really pushed myself to make the most of this time before term. And I think that effort has paid off?
I’ve had a couple of really awesome moments already here; moments that I couldn’t have predicted, but are nonetheless things I just wouldn’t have experienced anywhere else but on a year abroad here. I’ve bought homemade lemonade from a little girl manning her own lemonade stand in my neighbourhood (which is just so the North American cliché it’s unreal); I went to a BBQ with the team at Coach’s house and drank chocolate milk out of red solo cups, played with the conditioning coach’s golden retriever puppy and complained about the Quebecois accent while watching the sun set; I’ve been stopped for directions and a selfie on campus while in my basketball kit (the selfie was for a scavenger hunt which needed a photo with ‘varsity athlete’ – I never would have imagined that term would ever apply to me). And then yesterday, Natalie, Emily and I made the most of the beautiful bank holiday and road-tripped out to Gatineau Park for a hike. We may have joined the world and his wife as everyone else had the same idea, but Pink Lake and our hour and a half walk were stunning. This country is honestly so beautiful.
Classes start in full swing tomorrow – so naturally I’ve spent the evening planning a weekend trip to Montreal with Emily. There’s so much I want to get out of this year, and I know I’m going to have to pace myself at some point, but right now I’m going to just keep doing what I’m doing. It seems to have been working out for me alright so far!