The One With Keeping On and Making the Most of Winter

Alternatively titled: The One With An Escape to the Country, A Trip to the Theatre and a Whole Lot of Free Cheese

I honestly struggled for a title for this, as you can probably tell. ‘Keeping on’ implies a certain mundanity, a dogged day-to-day existence, plowing through the necessities because sometimes that’s what life is; just keeping on. That alone is certainly not a wholly accurate image of how my first month of 2017 in Canada has treated me, but it is partially true. Those January blues? They’ve been tough to shake, and have required some pretty persistence determination to keep on. My classes for the year aren’t nearly as exciting as last semester (more on that later), and as I’m now training 5 times a week with the team for 2-3 hours a day I am shattered too. Emily, bless her, (and I hope she’ll forgive me for sharing this), has had a particular rough time. While I had my real low point last semester, she’s definitely struggled more recently, what with an injury that stops her going out with her lovely Ottawa running group, and having to return to Canada after a family-filled Christmas holiday in the UK. It has been Emily’s turn for the tears, for the hugs (which I am told I am very good at it and am always willing to provide); but she’s getting through. That girl is one tough cookie, and I respect and love her enormously.

All this being said, I have had some truly lovely, exciting and awesome moments over the past month, and in part to remind myself of just how far from merely ‘keeping on’ January has been for me, I thought I’d document them here. They were all a little too small and unrelated in their own right, but they work well as a ‘feel good’ list, as well as proof of what a good job Emily and I have done at maintaining our motivation to get out and do things. Honestly, I’m not the type to blow my own trumpet, but I’m so proud of us. It’s still around 5 months till we’re back home with family, our class assessments are piling on, the winter shows no sign of letting up, there are meals to be made, roommates to be reconciled with; and yet we’re still trying our damnedest to do something ‘touristy’ at least once a week.

We’ve done good Emily, and we’ve had a bloody great time doing so.

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A List Of Cool January Things And Why It Didn’t Totally Suck As A Month

  • An Escape to the Country

The only family I have here in Canada is my Aunt who lives a bit of a way away over on the West Coast near Vancouver. Fortunately, one of my Dad’s good friends through work lives in Ottawa. Even more fortunately, he’s also one of the nicest human beings you’ll ever meet, and that’s by Canadian standards. Andrew and his wife Mary work in Ottawa, but they also are slowly transitioning to their retirement home, a cottage they built from the ground up on Amherst Island, just outside of Kingston. They also have two gorgeous labradors. Me being me, (i.e in a continual state of denial over how much I miss my own dog) I was all too enthusiastic to accept an offer from Andrew a few Fridays ago to go and spend that weekend with them and the dogs. Continue reading

The One With A Bit of a Highlight

This won’t be a particularly long post – I have other more far more lengthy, ‘useful’ and better-prepared posts sitting in my drafts – but I just wanted to take a half hour to sit down and record this moment while it’s still relatively fresh in my mind, this snapshot experience that I think I’ll take away as one of the absolute highlights of this year.

I’ve talked about basketball before, and I’m afraid for those of you who really could not care less, this is going to be another one of those posts. My experience of training with the varsity team here has been one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, requiring major commitment, insane amounts to learn, and a whole lot of courage and determination to keep at it. It’s quickly become one of the most central aspects of my life here in Ottawa, it’s a daily experience of drills, sprints, shoots and game plays to learn.

And that’s just been the practices. Because for all I’ve talked about basketball, and despite all the assumptions of friends and family back home, I haven’t actually morphed into a sporting superstar over night, making the starting five by week 2 of being in Ottawa. The standard is so much higher here than in the UK, the competition all the more intense; I quickly realised that having no game-time at all for the entire year was a quite feasible reality. And I was totally okay with that. I’ve come to feel such a part of the team that I genuinely want their success far above and beyond my own contribution; these girls work so hard, I want them to do as well as they can, even if that only involves me training with them at practices.

This changed last week however. I was given the heads up, completely out of nowhere it seemed to me, that if I was going to be ‘dressed’ (i.e. put in official kit on the bench), it would be the following week for the Saturday game. This both terrified and absolutely thrilled me. I had initially put ‘Represent the Gee-Gees!’ on my bucket list here on this blog, but after the first month of brutal practices and realising how much I’d have to catch up on, I took it down, thinking it was unrealistic. Now I was being given not just a ‘maybe’ but a ‘potentially’. Wearing the kit was enough of an honour, to get 30 seconds on the court would be amazing. Continue reading

The One With A Guide to Studying in Canada

We’re only halfway through the first week of second semester and I am already prepared to sleep for approximately 4 years. My timetable is giving me an absolute headache (who thought it would be a good idea for students to build their own timetable, WHO I ASK), being back in the swing of 2-hour daily basketball practices is a toughie, and on top of it all the weather is all over the place (-19? Sure. Plus 4 the next day even though you’re dressed appropriately for the Arctic? Why not.)

Fortunately, Light Of My Life Emily has returned from England, and we’re setting about trying to motivate ourselves to plan ahead Fun Things. That has so far taken place in the form of booking our flights and accommodation to Boston for February reading week (!!), and Emily looking up weekend day-trips to Mont Tremblant. January Blues are definitely a real thing, and with the prospect of an entire semester stretching out ahead of us and a seemingly-infinite amount of time until I see my family again, I’m feeling them all the more this year.

Nonetheless, I know this is a transient time. I’ll get over it. The weather probably won’t improve for a while yet, but my class situation will (eventually), and I really am actually very excited for the basketball season ahead.

This time of year is also a pretty major one for future year abroaders. It’s around now that you start submitting your applications; Emily received an email only the other day from an Exeter student asking for more information about Ottawa. With that in mind, I thought it appropriate to draft a brief, practical guide on studying in Canada to anyone out there considering it. I may not be a born and bred Canadian, but having lived in the country for going on 5 months I’m pretty well acquainted at this point, and know what aspects coming from the UK I found particularly challenging.

Please note: I’m by no means an expert! This guide is based entirely on my personal experience, and although I say a guide to ‘Canada’ it really is specific to Ottawa and Ontario. I’m making a few assumptions that the educational experience and cultural nuances I’ve picked up in the capital are broadly similar across the country.

Why Canada?

Incredible scenery, enormous variety, thriving culture, immense diversity and a pretty hot liberal PM to top it off – Canada is in many ways the #NationGoals of the Americas as Scandinavia and the Netherlands are in Europe. There’s a reason Canada has topped multiple rankings (from both the New York Times and Lonely Planet) as the number 1 country to visit in 2017; it’s beautiful, sprawling, and a darn sight cheaper than the US. It’s an officially bilingual country, so English-speakers feel at home with a healthy dose of French on the side, and from Niagara Falls and Lake Louise to Vancouver and Quebéc City, there’s plenty to see and explore for nature and city-lovers alike. I have been lucky enough to visit BC many times, and it’s honestly one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been, but I am loving living in Ottawa too. Being in the capital especially has made me aware of several subtle notions of national identity. Namely, Canada feels uniquely different to the UK as there’s a feeling that as a country it’s just getting started. This year will see the Canada celebrate it’s 150th, which by European standards is pretty young, but there’s a strong sense that the 21st century is going to be Canada’s time to really shine.

Now, enough nice adjectives and ~feelings~ in favour of some more practical advice. Continue reading

The One With A Christmas Catch-Up

(Alternatively titled, in Which I Write An Incredibly Long Blog Post To Make Up For A Month Off.)

I took a break from blogging over the exam and holiday period, but with classes starting back on Monday and my need to procrastinate Actual Work with literally any excuse I can find returning in full force – I’m back! Hi! Hope you all had restful and enjoyable Christmasses and New Years  ❤

The end of semester flew by in a whirlwind of essay deadlines, revision note-cards, countless cups of tea at the Tea Store in Byward (where Emily and I are close to maxxing out our loyalty cards and now know all the staff by first name), and a stoic attempt at attending Christmassy events despite it all. Emily being the ever-keen year abroader she is, as well as an enormous fan of all things festive, made sure we fitted in homemade mulled wine accompanying a Love Actually viewing and didn’t miss out on Christmas events in the city. We froze our fingers off at the annual light-switch on at Parliament Hill, queued in Arctic temperatures outside Notre Dame for the EU Christmas Carol concert (which made us feel as post-Brexit Brits decidedly glum), and, on my final day in Ottawa before the break, I joined my Canadian friend Sarya ice-skating on the free rink at the town hall.

Exams and take-home essay deadlines were not a walk in the park, but they weren’t a complete nightmare either. Props to Canadian assessment, the focus in all my modules was definitely summative – ‘prove you’ve learnt things this semester’ being the main aim. And there’s no doubt I have learnt a lot this semester,  in a variety of different areas of history, most of which I was completely ignorant to before. As a result, the exercise of essay writing utilising all of my lecture notes and assignments from the past 4 months was actually very satisfying. I sometimes feel weeks of hard work at Exeter can be made redundant if a certain exam question doesn’t come up; but here I used pretty much everything I’ve learnt, and had to craft it all into a coherent, thematic argument. This is when essays are most academically enjoyable in my mind – when everything falls into place and you get to use lots of seemingly unrelated bits of trivia to build to a good, original conclusion.

(Anyway, nerd time over.) Continue reading

The One With Basketball Life Lessons

A year and a half ago, I forced my long-suffering housemate Molly to join me at a Freshers’ week basketball taster session. “It’ll be fun,” I promised, “mate – we’re gonna be good without even trying, we’ll be the tallest there.” And we were the tallest there, but we certainly weren’t any good. It was fun, in a slightly cringey sort of way, and we decided to sign up to for the development team. It wasn’t until the end of the session that a man who’d been standing on the sidelines called me over and gave me his card. He was from the local National League side and wanted to let me know they’d be interested in having me train with them. I may not have played before, he said, but I had ‘potential.’

Fast-forward to Ottawa and I’m currently training with the varsity women’s team here. I could not be more grateful for that business card interaction with Keith on the university court sidelines; he introduced me to a sport I’ve grown to love far more than I ever thought I could, and I can’t really imagine my life without at this point. Basketball was a huge part of my second year at university, and continues to be a large part of my life in Canada. In that year and half since I picked up a ball I’ve learnt an awful lot, far more than just basketball, and I thought I’d share some of those life lessons here.

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1.Being a 6’3” girl is okay. And in fact, it can be better than just ‘okay.’

I will not bore you with the sob story, but it doesn’t take a genius to work out that growing up in the image-obsessed and body-comparison culture that we live in as a girl who passed 6 feet by the age of 15 wasn’t exactly a walk in the park. If you ask me about it in person, expect a minor rant. To save you from that here, I’ll just direct you to an entire article on the subject I wrote for the student paper. I have fortunately been saved most of the self-hating trauma that a lot of young people go through, mostly thanks to the fact I was surrounded by an equally-tall, loving and down-to-earth family. But coming to terms with the fact I was never going to fit into conventional ideas of femininity, no matter how much makeup I put on or cute dresses I wore, was a tough pill to swallow as a teenager.

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The One With An Ode to Snow and Solitude

There is nothing more festive, nothing, I tell you, (at least, in terms of my track record of festive experiences anyway) than buttoning up in a knee-length sleeping bag coat,  donning mittens, plugging in your iPod and stepping out of the fire escape of a stuffy, artificially-lit apartment building to the blinding white of a world blanketed in fresh snow – Michael Bublé crooning through your headphones that it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas.

It was 9:20am on a Monday morning and I swear I’ve never smiled so hard to myself in my life.

It’s finally happened. Snow has hit Ottawa in full-force, and with that winter feels like it’s has officially begun. I remember in emails to previous year-abroaders from Exeter who had spent their year in Canada’s capital that one my questions focused around the highlights and lowlights of their year. The replies I got back focused on travelling, on being immersed in a new culture, meeting new people etc, etc. One response however, was clear – “the day the snow came.”

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I was a bit scathing at the time (it’s snow? And also we’re not actually 5 years old anymore) but the cynic in me died a very certain death last Sunday when Emily and I met up to walk into town to study and ended up battling through a veritable blizzard. There was a noticeable lack of other people around (for good reason) and though our hands and noses were numb and our phones died 10 minutes into photo-taking from cold, we loved every second of it.

Fellow British year abroaders have so far been less than keen, which has made me a tad frustrated at this national insistence on being pessimistic that we seem to take a grimly determined pride in. That being said the Canadians aren’t much better. “Just you wait,” my teammates have warned me somberly, “you won’t love it this much in February.” And maybe they’re right. Maybe, after experiencing the most snow I’ve seen in at least 4-5 years for several months on end, I’ll be tired of it. But maybe I won’t be. Maybe I’ll fully embrace the Snow Life for this season before pootling back across the pond for another decade of rainy Decembers and mild festive holidays. For now, it’s not February. It’s late November, there’s snow on the ground, Christmas songs playing in the shops, lights going up everywhere and I’m seeing my family in less than a month. If there was an inverse condition to Seasonal Affective Disorder I think I’d probably be experiencing it. Continue reading

The One With President Trump

It feels ridiculous typing those two words next to each other, but I guess it’s the reality of our news-headlines for the next 4 years, so we should probably start getting used to it.

Urgh.

The day following the election, I traipsed into class trying desperately to stifle a yawn (I stayed up till 3am to watch Donald’s victory speech because I still didn’t quite believe it) to be met with my American history professor doing exactly the same thing.

“Morning everyone! Seem to be a bit thin on the ground this morning. I got 2 hours of sleep last night so not bad. Now,” she said, clapping her hands together, “let’s talk about depression.”

It’s true that we’d reached the booming age of anti-depressants in the late 70s in our medical history course, but it was also a painfully appropriate topic. The class just generally felt flat; whether that was just plain tired, boredom, or a helpless resignation to the political trajectory that America has now set upon, it’s hard to say.

I wish I could say I wasn’t surprised, that I’d seen this coming, but somehow, despite Brexit, despite proof that the polls never tell the whole story, I’d still assumed I’d be waking up on Wednesday to a female President-elect.

As it was, Emily, Natalie and I sat down at 8pm the Night Of armed with tea and snacks, but barely 2 hours later we were up and pacing, panic beginning to set in as the votes were counted. By 11 we’d sat back down, third cup of tea brewing, the homemade popcorn I’d thrown together in a slight hysteria burnt and sour-tasting.  Continue reading

The One With Residential Schools

On my Bucket List (link in the main menu bar above) for this year abroad, one of the to-dos is ‘Write an essay on Canadian history.’ This, I appreciate, is a bit of a cop-out, bearing in mind I’m a History undergrad. Studying in Canada. But anyway.

As it stands, I haven’t actually written that many essays on Canadian history, as my Aboriginal class doesn’t really involve essays and two of my other classes are US history. However, in my Contemporary Canada class I have been getting some essays in. The most significant being the frankly TERRIBLE leadership assignment (which I still haven’t got the mark back for yet and I’m honestly dreading), but also some ‘reflections’ on films we’ve watched in class. I thought for the sake of proving I’m ticking off that Bucket List ‘to-do’ and because it might be of interest, I’d share one of my reflections on a film that really had an impact on me.

I have never been completely naive enough to buy into the ‘all Canadians are lovely!’ mentality and stereotype. Personally I think it’s a bit cringey and also I’m a cynic, and a History student cynic at that. No ‘nation’ collectively can be ascribed such an attribute, positive or negative. Before coming to Canada, I was well enough aware of mistreatment of indigenous peoples, but my understanding was limited to quite a vague ye olde colonial idea. Obviously they’d been attacked and killed and forcibly moved from their homelands – but my appreciation of the true extent of systematic abuse and oppression that First Nations, Inuit and Métis faced stopped there. Through my Aboriginal class however I’ve started to begin unpacking the treatment of indigenous peoples – and how truly awful it was and in many ways continues to be. Continue reading

The One With Québec City

Thursday was a very exciting day here for us year abroaders in Ottawa.

It was our first snowfall! On the 27th October, 4 solid days before Halloween, fluffy white flakes fell from an ominously grey sky and covered the autumn leaves still scattered everywhere you go.

(You heard that right. October 27th.)

Although I was a bit shocked (I’d been hedging my bets for the first snow being in mid-November – I realise now this was a bit naive) it was also super cool. Heading to Walmart hoover-shopping in the ‘freezing rain’ (decidedly not snow according to Natalie) and then walking out of the store half an hour later to a genuine blizzard was an awesome experience.  Selfies were taken. I had a frolic in the park opposite our apartment and Natalie took photos. The excitement at the start of my first proper Canadian Winter was real. The snow was just enough to settle on the ground and trees and was still there on Friday morning, but quickly melted after that.

A brief first encounter with the proper white stuff, but it certainly won’t be the last. Still, it was more snow than I’ve seen in about 4 years (a fact that left the basketball team aghast), and Emily and I have amped up the urgency to go winter coat shopping.

Winter coats we definitely would have made use of in Québec City last weekend because oh my GOODNESS was it cold. Continue reading

The One With a Weekend in Algonquin

It’s a 9:30pm on a Saturday night and I am in bed; scrambled eggs for tea, groceries reorganised, washing done, loo bleached, teeth brushed, the whole schabang.

This is not standard of a Saturday night I might point out, but apparently in Canada there’s these pesky things called midterms and I am slapbang in the middle of them. As a result the studying procrastination is strong and my bathroom smells divine.

Reading week is a week away and it can’t come soon enough. This past week has, unfortunately, not been an easy one. Essays and essay proposals and revision on top of standard readings and reading responses on top of a very gruelling 7:00am hike through the rain to basketball – it hasn’t been my favourite time, and I’ve struggled to weigh up the responsibilities to my academics and to myself.

It’s staggering to think that this time last week I was standing on a lakeside in the bone-shuddering cold of a Canadian autumn night, with fog drifting eerily across the water Harry-Potter-Dementor-scene style. Around me, the most diverse group of people I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting, joking and teaching each other insults in their native languages, our necks cricked looking up at the endless stars.

Despite the fact that it literally was freezing and I definitely could have done with a proper thermal, I’d give quite a lot to be back on that lakeside right now. Because although the past week hasn’t been fun, last weekend was quite comfortably the absolute highlight of the past 50 odd days I’ve been in Canada.

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