The One With No More ‘Studying’ on This Study Abroad

Summer, metaphorically at least, is finally here.

I started writing this blog post on my last official day of studying. Last Monday, I swung by the library for the final time, waited an eon for a computer to boot up, and sent all 29 pages of my take-home essays to the printer. Then, I took the lift to the 9th floor of Desmarais, and handed everything in, with no small amount of joy. I also got back my two major research papers, and did better than I’d expected on both; double-joy.

“You’ve been a pleasure to teach these past two semesters Tessa,” said My Number 1 Bae Heather as she accepted my exam paper, “if you ever need a reference or recommendation let me know. Hell, if you ever come back to Canada let me know. I’d love to supervise you if decided to return for a Masters.”

To which I answered, “Honestly Heather, at this point I’m not ruling it out.”

Because I’m really not ruling it out, returning to Canada for further education that is.

But that’s a topic for another blog post.

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The face of double-joy

The study period was not the most thrilling, but started with a suitable bang with the end of year Varsity Athletes Banquet. A girl from the Cheerleading squad was kind enough to do my make-up, I got out the black dress I brought all the way across the Atlantic for this one purpose, and drank far more than was probably advisable with the rest of my teammates. It was so lovely to see everyone out of sweaty kit and messy ponytails, cheering their hearts out for our peers (and coaches) going up for various awards. The evening started with a formal, relatively tame, dinner at a hotel downtown, but quickly descended into a club night from there. In other words, we began the night with a glass of wine on Coach with dinner, but 3am found us eating poutine in an all-night diner in Byward, still very much feeling the effects of our tequila shots. I couldn’t really think of a better way to blow off the end of semester stress, with great music, good food and just all-round lovely company. Boy, am I going to miss those girls.

But the work was not over yet. One two-day hangover later, and we were back to the books for exams. While Emily had a bit of a mad rush to squash in revision and take-home essays in a very short period, I had a fairly kind schedule; three major summative take-home essays due, but staggered over 2 weeks. This meant there was plenty of time for ‘Productive Procrastination’ as I like to call it, i.e. suddenly deciding to extend my jogs to 9km instead of 5km, and carefully researching and constructing an (admittedly pretty epic) playlist for my road-trips this summer.

We were, in typical exam season fashion, also blessed with some truly lovely weather. Good Friday was spent with Emily (because, at this point, who else am I really going to be spending time with), camped out in Strathcona park with our laptops and cups of tea that I’d made in my flat and brought down in the lift. It was a beautiful day and the park was teeming with the wonderful multicultural population that makes up Ottawa; a Jewish family reunion were enjoying a BBQ and a soccer game nearby, a group of students were half-heartedly playing frisbee and ignoring their books, and a Muslim family next to us were having a picnic, their little girl spending most of her time following the ducks around, much to her family’s delight. It was a lovely afternoon, a gentle reminder of the country of migrants that Canada is, and is gradually becoming more and more with each passing year. A country that will be celebrating 150 years since the union of the provinces this year, and how in many ways that’s a celebration of national pride that’s wholly justified.

The city in many ways feels like it has come alive under the sun; it’s so wonderful to wander into the centre without dragging a 20kg winter coat, to see cafés and restaurants tentatively setting tables outside in their patios, to feel that slightly warm, tingly tightness on your face following a day spent just a little too long out in the sun. The Ottawa Sens hockey team have made the playoffs, and after they’d won their latest game, four cars decked out in flags drove through downtown, horns blaring. The bemused smiles and occasional cheers from passersbys was I think a testament to the city’s good mood. The sun is out, the Sens are in the playoffs; life in Canada’s capital can’t get much better than that.

As nice as it’s been however, we’re still a good way off Summer Proper. The trees are admittedly budding new leaves, but very, very slowly. Even now, on May 1st, the trees outside my window are only just beginning to blossom. Never in my entire life have I craved foliage as much as I do presently. The sky is blue (most of the time, today it’s been grim), the sun’s shockingly warm, and the trees remain resolutely barren. It’s hard to remember the mild September that blessed us with shaded walks along the canal and ice cream sat amongst the flowers of Major Hill’s Park. But we’ll get there. These things take time.

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Teastore study sessions in the sun

We kept ourselves sane in-between studying with a whole lot of sessions sat outside the Teastore in Byward Market in the sun, impromptu trips to the National Gallery to see a new photography exhibit, and our last pot-luck dinner with the international girls (and Céline’s apple cake <3). I kept plodding to training to keep my non-existent ball handling skills ticking over and as an excuse to get out of the house, and marathoned Star Trek movies when I got home and felt I’d never be able to move again after 2 hours of sprinting drills. In many ways it’s a shame there isn’t an end of year basketball exam, because most days I feel like I’ve learnt far more on the court than I have in the lecture theatre, but there you go.

But honestly? This whole exam thing? It could have been a whole lot worse. My brother is going through A levels right now, and I’m beyond grateful I’m not having to put myself through that level of stress again.

In my first week of freedom I treated myself. A lot. By day, I went shopping and bought a wedding outfit for the two (Two! I’m entering that era of young adult life and I’m thrilled about it) weddings I’m attending this summer. By night, I went for celebratory milkshakes and pizza dinners with friends, and on Thursday headed to the National Arts Centre to see the Book of Mormon with Emily (which was very clever, very funny, and the songs incredibly catchy.) The feeling of not having to set an alarm in the morning, of being able to spend time with friends in a wonderful but bittersweet way as the inevitable goodbyes are looming, of just taking a moment to not do anything and not feeling guilty for not being productive, is just all such a novelty. Come September I know (hope) I’ll be ready to head back to Exeter and the studying life, but for now, this is quite lovely.

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With the lovely Maartje and Natalie

As well as Theatre Trip Day, Thursday also happened to be the most stunningly warm day Ottawa has seen since 2016. We’re talking 28 degrees warm. It was incredible. Having been watching the Weather Network obsessively, as is now my wont (thanks Unpredictable Canadian Weather for that new habit), we’d planned for a final goodbye picnic with our favourite internationals on Parliament Hill. Céline and Daphne brought iced tea and lemonade, Emily made a salad, Natalie brought pretzels and strawberries, Laura shared the Swiss chocolate her mum had sent her from home, and I swung by La Bottega on my way over to pick up Gouda, Brie and a couple of baguettes. The Dutch were decked out in orange and insisted on controlling the music, as Thursday also happened to be ‘King’s Day’, a major Dutch national holiday. We all packed blankets and towels, set ourselves down on Trudeau’s front lawn, and lounged there eating a stupid amount of cheese and all getting just a little bit sunburnt for a good four hours. These girls are lovely company – funny, sweet and generous – and it was the best goodbye sendoff I could have hoped to share with them.

The weather and having everyone together also, of course, called for a photoshoot, which I think definitely amused the Asian tourists milling around their tour buses:

But the girls have now gone on, either to their respective travels around Canada or on one-way flights home. It’s just really Emily and I left of the Internationals in Ottawa now, but we’re not alone. We’ve got Emily’s housemates and obviously my team, who’ve started in on their off-season training schedule. We’ve also got plenty to do. I’m flying to New York in 15 days, and holy MOLY is there a lot to sort before then. Closing bank accounts, phone accounts, packing, crossing our last to-dos off the bucket list and, not to mention some pretty major road trip planning. I’ve got another post in the works on that front, there’s just far too much to cover here.

All in all, although I’ve been saying ‘goodbye’ a lot in the past week, I definitely don’t feel like this is the end. Instead, it feels more like the end of chapter three of a four part novel. ‘Part 1: The Arrival’ feels like forever ago, ‘Part 2: The Really Shitty Times and the Wonder of Christmas’ has been and gone, ‘Part 3: A Life in Ottawa, Lived’ is now complete – ‘Part 4: What The Hell Did You Think You Were Doing Planning 5 Weeks of Travelling in America and a 3,000 Mile Road-trip You Absolute Eejit’ is still to come.

And I can’t flippin’ wait.

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