The One With the ‘Study’ Part of Study Abroad

I’m currently sitting on a bench on Tabaret Lawn soaking up the last of the afternoon sun with a book in one hand and a white chocolate mocha to the other (#aesthetic). It’s just gone 3pm and still surprisingly warm – in fact, about 20 feet away from me is a guy sunbathing with his shirt off. In October. In Canada. Incredible.

But who am I to judge the ways of North Americans. Keep on keeping on anon six-pack dude.

While the last two weeks have been a rollercoaster of emotion, I’m feeling pretty content right now in this moment, kinda buzzed on coffee and shaded by autumnal leaves. (Which sounds lovely and all until one falls perfectly into said-coffee which is literally just what happened to me. Sentiment slightly ruined.)

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I’m not kidding

This last weekend was dominated by going to watch the Panda Game against Carleton, and though we lost (badly, lol, the final score 43-23) it was a really cool atmosphere and definitely a must-experience for anyone studying in North America. Especially as the Panda Game is one of the oldest and biggest rivalries in Canadian university football.   Jen from the basketball team was able to offer Emily and I the chance to volunteer with the Pre-Game reception set up in exchange for lunch and free tickets, so it was an early start but a low cost day, which I’m definitely needing more of. The game itself was a sell-out (23,000 people!) and the chants (“F- YOU, CARLETON U!”), signs and uni pride were more important in many ways than the Lame Rugby (as I’ve taken to calling it) going on in front of us. It took me pretty much the whole game to get the rules, but by the end I was standing and cheering with the rest of the stand. A Good Day all in all, despite a not so great week.

Regardless of Not Great Week, something I have noticed in Skype chats home with family is that no matter how I’m feeling when the question ‘how are your classes going?’ is asked, I always have heaps to say. And I guess that’s good because really, when all is said and done with basketball training and weekend trips to Montreal, I am here at university in Ottawa to study.

Although my experience thus far hasn’t been dominated by hard work as I’ve been busy getting a foothold in the whole independent expat living thing, I have obviously been attending regular classes. I’m taking 4 this semester, and I thought in this post I should perhaps focus a little on the ‘study’ part of study abroad and give a rundown of how they’re going. I’ve inevitably chosen modules focused in the last two centuries of history as is my modernist wont, there’s still some decent diversity going on:

Introduction to Aboriginal Societies and Cultures

I always knew that as part of my studying in Canada I wanted to learn more about the Indigenous experience. Partly because I’ve been aware and keeping note of the unprecedented levels of depression and suicide in young people in Native communities across the world (this case in particular really struck me) and am keen to try and understand the historical explanation as to why this is happening. And partly because as a history student of mainly European and British history, I’ve never looked at the complications of an indigenous population and how that’s affected contemporary politics. There’s no real point of comparison for the UK population of an original population (unless you’re talking to UKIP supporters).

So this class seemed like a good place to start and as a first year class it’s also definitely got a solid ‘Introductory’ feel to it. Emily is also taking it so I have a friend too, which is an extra bonus. Mainly because we get to send passive-aggressive Facebook messages to each other when the Prof messes up on his European history facts:

Emily:  I mean I think claiming that there was no other democracy expect this (Indigenous early Peace Agreements) and the US is a bit far-fetched…  I mean… C14 Italian republics… C15 Poland..

Me: The English Witenagemot? Iceland’s early viking democracy thing that was around in like 900? i mean i’m no expert but

But so far it’s really, really interesting. The prof starts each lecture with talking about ‘Indigenous Issues in the News this week’ which I really appreciate to keep focus on the contemporary situation (it’s not technically a history class), and there’s plenty of multimedia stuff like videos and mini documentaries to keep us awake at 8:30 on a Friday morning. Kinda staggering how much cultural appropriation slips through the net (Lana, what were  you thinking with this!? Skip to 6:20ish) and how terribly Indigenous people have been treated. We haven’t gotten onto Residential schools yet but I’m looking forward to it? Interested to be properly educated on it anyway.

The other additional interesting element of the class is the definite anti-British sentiment. Obviously this goes hand in hand with the subject matter – we’re essentially taking a 101 Class on Why Colonialism is Terrible, but Emily and I have both noted there’s a distinct separation between the ideas of ‘Canadian’ and ‘British’. Perhaps it’ll change as reach more contemporary stuff, but for now it’s a slightly uncomfortable and culturally fascinating experience being the only Brits in the class.

Emily via FB Message: did he just compliment the British??

Me: honestly i had a minor heart attack

Emily: he even had a moment of silence afterwards like he couldn’t believe it

(You see – I’m one class in and have managed to write 3 paragraphs. The classes are cool here guys! Yay to education!)

The United States from 1945 to the Present

I love this class. I LOVE IT.

America is so weird and fascinating and complex and although this is a second year class the Prof is powering through the material at a rate of knots. We’re covering everything;  FDR, the atomic bomb,Vietnam, 50s housewife depression, ‘dating culture’ – you name it. I have very quickly fallen behind on the reading, but so much is covered in the lectures I feel like I need to focus keeping up on that!

One of my favourite parts of this class is that I really like the Prof – Heather Murray. I have her for my Medicine class as well and she is one of those educators who obviously loves what she does. She’s more than happy to derail her lecture schedule to answer questions, is always bringing up her personal experiences in Hiroshima and research into UFO cover ups (and holds a personal grudge against North Korea for not granting her a tourist visa), and is also quite clearly a fan of Young People. I’ve always respected this, as it goes against the ‘hurr-burr technology is scary Thomas Edison was a witch young people spend too much time on their iPhones and are lazy and self-entitled’ vibe which hangs around a bit in mainstream feeling. She’s interested in our opinions – almost like she’s studying us, and has expressed multiple times the sympathy she feels for our generation growing up with difficult access to rent and the dilemma of ‘useful’ degrees.

Another plus is class discussion. It’s my biggest class by far (about 60-70 when everyone turns up) but post-Clinton and Trump debate she asked for our opinions. Cue a very lively Trump-bashing session and everyone turning around and to stare at the guy who had the balls to admit he was a Trump supporter. (Everyone also stared at me when I spoke but I feel that was probably the accent as opposed to my ground-breaking point on the candidates’ body language.)

Final plus point is that the required reading is honestly fascinating. We had a choice of two books to write our analytical essay on and having already done African-American history last year at Exeter, I went for the option on America’s white working class, so am currently reading Hillbilly Elegy by JD Vance. A New York Times bestseller, Vance has been attributed with explaining the reason Trump has such support from white workers – but he also writes really, really well. It may be required but I would read it out of interest anyway.

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The ‘Living Wall’ in the super shiny Social Sciences building aka where I do all my work (lol ‘all’ she says)

Selected Topics in American History: Medicine and Modernity

So this is my second class with Heather Murray and it’s also massively improved thanks to her. Our first class she made us listen to this clip  of an anesthesiologist slagging off an unconscious patient and launched a debate on ‘gallows humour’ and the doctor/patient relationship which quickly got the whole room involved. Last week during our lecture on the rise of alternative medicine, she brought in Graham crackers and a 19th century recipe for cayenne pepper and ginger tea that she’d made (which was so hot it hurt.) Thank you Heather, for reminding me how cool learning can be.

But on a serious note, this class is absolutely fascinating. I’ve always been interested in medicine (hello, child of two doctors speaking, nice to meet you), and there’s always been debates around surgery, hospital horror stories and medical ethics around the dinner table. My brother and I used to make despairing eye contact when Mum or Dad started in on a rant about healthcare legislation, but in all honesty it’s always interested me. If I’d ever shown the slightest interest in science I think I would definitely have been drawn to the medical profession.

So going through the history of it in the US in all it’s nitty, gritty, gory detail – from surgery to 18th century asylums – is awesome. And because it’s a humanities course, there’s obviously a major focus on the ethics and philosophy too. Is to feel pain to be human and does anesthesia distract from that? Should doctors be allowed to make dark humour jokes or does this affect empathy? To what extent is the commercialisation and capitalisation of medicine an ethical enterprise? How was medicine racialised, and how did it help/hinder the civil rights movement with regards to humanizing African-Americans?

I have to submit a project proposal for my research essay in this class next week and I honestly don’t have a clue what I’m going to do because there’s so much I want to do.

Contemporary Canada

Saved the best till last!!

Not. Unfortunately. I thought this class would be a great background knowledge opportunity to fill me in on Canada’s 20th century history, but so far it’s just been a whole lot of fairly dry powerpoint presentations on Canadian election results and that one battle in WW2 lots of Canadians died in. (Sorry to be cynical – it’s not fair to those who did die, but the 900 killed at Dieppe doesn’t quite compare to the 11 million of the Holocaust.)

The worst part of this class is the upcoming ‘Leadership Assignment’. When the Prof was going through the syllabus she asked jokingly how many people hated her for setting it – without a seconds hesitation the entire class had put their hand up. Awkward. But honestly, with that unanimous a consensus of hatred surely you’d realise your syllabus might need updating.

On a plus note, the other assignment is choosing a ‘Heritage Moment’ of contemporary Canadian history you feel deserves more recognition, and I think that could prove to be pretty fun. Partly as it’s so flexible and I can completely avoid Canadian politics!! Because I just don’t care about Brian Mulroney, I’m sorry.

(True story: we were told to discuss our ideas for the leadership assignment in small groups, and I could hear the girls behind bemoaning how terrible theirs was going to be. “You don’t get it, I know nothing about politics-” “Same! Oh my god this is going to be so hard” to which I turned around and said “hey, I’m a Brit. Who has been here a month” which earnt me a laugh and considerable sympathy. Pros. I’m going to miss being able to claim exchange student ignorance.)

Anyway. That’s my classes! I should probably stop waxing lyrical about them and get back to studying for them now. I’ve been sat here so long a spider has started a web between my laptop and the nearest tree. Sorry buddy, I got places to be.

 

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