Natalie is a proud Northerner studying Classical Civilisation. In August she began her year abroad, confusing Canadians with English slang, 4617 miles away from home at the University of Victoria. Natalie cherishes her Yorkshire tea, happily covers the majority of her food with lashings of gravy and has never travelled alone before. She enjoys music, sitting by a fire, being outdoors and, above all, a good brew. During her year abroad Natalie intends to do everything she would never usually do because, if you’re going to test yourself, where better to do so than the on the other side of the world?
As we begin the inevitable January blues, when the excitement of Christmas and New Year seems like a distant past, life becomes rather strange for the yearlong exchange student. Shortly after arriving in Victoria I found out that, for the most part, only French and British students tend to stay abroad for the whole year. This means that not only am I being chucked unwillingly into the post-new year gloom, I am also missing some incredibly close friends that I had to say goodbye to over Christmas.
Unlike many exchange students I didn’t return home for the Christmas break. Partly down to my own choice but, admittedly, mostly down to the extortionate flight prices around that time of the year (about £1200). Christmas was different but by no means was it bad because I stayed in Canada – if anything it’s probably the most memorable Christmas I’ve ever had. Canadian Christmases are pretty much the same as Christmases in Britain and follow the same general pattern: wake up, open presents, eat food, get tipsy, fall asleep at 7pm from Christmas food coma.
The best thing about spending Christmas in Canada was that everyone tried their hardest to make my Christmas special. There must be something extra pathetic about someone being on the other side of the planet from their family and friends during the holiday period. As previously mentioned in my last post, I have extraordinary Canadian housemates who again excelled themselves in their kindness towards me. Not only did one of their families let me join them for Christmas and devour their delicious food, one of my housemates went to pick up a Christmas tree for me. I had mentioned that I had never had a real Christmas tree before and, armed with his Jeep, my roomie picked the largest tree known to man and brought it home. It’s strange how much things like that can affect your mood when you are away from home and it really was one of the nicest things anyone has done for me. So, in my best Canadian, I’d like to take this opportunity to say “Cheers, bud!”
However as I now begin a new semester at the University of Victoria, I thought I’d reflect on four things I’ve learnt from being in Canada so far:
1) The love of Beer Pong is real and red cups rule
I don’t know what it is about red cups, but there’s something strangely great about having them at a party. It’s almost as if having matching cups instantaneously makes everyone feel more united in their party spirit. That crazy atmosphere seemingly present in cheesy North American movies is in fact real. Red cups are the source of Canada’s two best drinking games: Flip Cup and Beer Pong. Both incredibly fun, extremely competitive and guaranteed to get you unnecessarily drunk with the world’s worst beer hangover the next day, which brings me onto my next point.
2) The award for causing the worst hangovers goes to: Canadian beer
I don’t know what it is about Canadian beer and I can’t properly compare it to any other beer other than the UK’s, but since coming to Canada I have experienced hangovers that have caused my drink of choice to go from bottled beer to rum. Yes that’s right, instead of a few bottles of 5% beer I drink coke and 38% rum – it’s that bad. This valuable lesson was learnt at a house party where they had kegs of said killer-beer and I spent the entire next day horizontal, feeling like I had five vibrating breezeblocks attached to my head. On the plus side spirits are much cheaper here and you get to walk around with them in one of those brown paper bags.
3) Canadian universities are very, very different and so is travelling to them
Most days I travel to university by bus, which is normal except that bus riding is the happiest and most polite form of transport. Here in Canada, instead of being grunted at by a weary bus driver locked into a plastic driving compartment, the bus driver thanks you for travelling with him. Got a question about where you’re going? Ask! They’ll go out of their way to help you find your stop and proceed to thanking you again for listening to their advice. If you sit next to a stranger it will lead to a perfectly non-weird conversation about your day/life/bus journey.
After being thanked for travelling on a bus and having a pleasant discussion with a fellow commuter, you arrive at what appears to be a normal-looking university. However people here are proud to represent and advertise their university. From clothing to notepads to Camelback water bottles, Canadian students come to school clad in their UVIC merchandise and their ain’t no shame in it. School spirit plays a huge role and it’s lovely to see. Unfortunately this means I have now spent a substantial amount of my dollar at the university store and shamelessly own UVIC clothing, notepads and a Camelback water bottle.
The people aren’t the only difference here; the workload is too. Last week I had one exam, one lab report and one short assignment to write, and it’s only week four of term. I am an arts student who is used to four essays per year. Fun fact: Canadian students work really, really hard.
4) I am completely in love with British Columbia
It’s happened, I’m in love. The friendly people, unbelievable landscape, poutine (delicious dish, look it up) and addictive school merchandise purchasing has taken a hold on me and there’s no going back. Devastatingly this love is doomed as it has a time limit. The sh***est thing about coming on exchange is having to leave. Fortunately I have four months left before I have cross that bridge, so I might as well make the most of the rest of this love-affair, eh?
Images courtesy of Natalie Conde