Postcards from Abroad: Toronto, Canada

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Charlie Courtney is a third year Economics and Politics student currently undertaking a year abroad at the University of Toronto. He is no stranger to travelling having had the opportunity to volunteer with the Leeds RAG Uganda Project in 2014 before leading the project in 2015. He is passionate about sport and is a keen Chelsea FC supporter and is currently part of The Burkina Faso Wildebeests exchange students soccer team that plays in U of Ts intramural league system.

Chips, Gravy and Cheese Curds – My Year Abroad Experience So Far

Being from the south of England I had never really shared the same level of enthusiasm for chips and gravy as my northern housemates. They really loved it. This short sightedness was swiftly corrected when I arrived in Toronto. For those of you that don’t know, chips and gravy are two of the three ingredients, including cheese curds, that constitute the fine Canadian cuisine that is Poutine. Ideal for a mid morning snack as well as a finish to a drunken night out, Poutine really is one of the most versatile dishes that I have ever had the luxury to enjoy. Versatility that I very much enjoyed indulging in up to my 21st birthday. Unfortunately, Poutine does not have the same appeal when you wake up to a portion of the spicy chicken fajita variety marooned by the side of your bed, not remembering throwing it up. I don’t remember the night, but I’m struggling to forget that sight every time I go near a Smoke’s Poutinerie.

Like my love-hate relationship with Poutine, Toronto has not failed to surprise me. As with any fresher going to university for the first time one of the more prominent questions that was running through my mind whilst I was making the 7 hour journey across The Atlantic was ‘What is my accommodation going to be like?’.Deciding to avoid the accommodation that the university provided mainly because it was in Mississauga, a completely different city to Toronto, I decided to plump for an Estonian, privately run student halls called Tartu College. Arriving at Tartu for the first time, I immediately felt at home due to its uncanny similarity to the Roger Stevens building back in Leeds. Like many things in Eastern Europe and indeed certain lecture halls in Leeds, Tartu really is quite industrial. Whilst I cannot say that Tartu is the most aesthetically pleasing building I have ever seen, I can say that it is a very welcoming residence. So welcoming in fact that even a family of cockroaches have been allowed to move in from the streets of Toronto and enjoy the good life in my flat’s kitchen…


Despite several professional attempts to remove them and one humorous DIY attempt by one of my flat mates the cockroaches remain and show no signs of leaving anytime soon. In light of these ‘minor’ indiscretions, 310 Bloor Street West has provided me with an excellent base for my time in Toronto and will continue to do so.

One of the main reasons for this is the number of international students that live here. One group that I am particularly close to live on floor 18, in flat 18.1. The flat contains two lads from Britain (really branching out), with the others coming from France, Switzerland and Canada. We have shared some great moments together, one such moment being when we all decided to dye our hair for no apparent reason apart from the fact that it would be ‘really nice’ to do so. I have to say that my year abroad would not have been the same without them and I am looking forward to moving in with them after Christmas.

Everyday life at the University of Toronto is quite different to what it is like in Leeds.

Firstly, it is not called university, rather school, and this name is apt considering that many of the Canadians who go to ‘school’ here go home in the evening and do not live in halls. Despite attending the University of Toronto my campus is not actually situated in Toronto. My campus is in Mississauga and it takes me about forty minutes to get there using the free shuttle bus that the university operates. Mississauga is a lovely campus with a real suburban feel which provides a vast contrast to the manic city that is Toronto. The campus even has its own tortoise that roams around a nature trail. Sadly, I have still not spotted it.

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There are more extra-curricular activities on the St. George Campus, which is in the heart of Toronto, and it is here where I participate in the Men’s Open Soccer League with The Burkina Faso Wildebeests. Proud to say I came up with the name. The BFW enjoyed a strong start to the season with a competitive 17-0 win against a team with only seven players, one of whom announced they were partially blind at the end of the game! I have a good feeling about this season.

As for Toronto (or ‘Turronno’ as the locals call it), I can safely say that it one of the most culturally diverse and entertaining places I have ever had the pleasure visit. There is always something to do, whether it be a trip to Toronto Islands or an evening at the
Air Canada Centre watching the Raptors in action. A particular highlight for me was going up the CN Tower and taking in the views of the city all lit up at night. The CN Tower is right next to the Rogers Centre where the Toronto Blue Jays play baseball. For the first time in 22 years the Blue Jays made it to the play offs something that could not be ignored when walking around the city. Everywhere you went, everyone was wearing Blue Jays gear with the ‘I (heart) BJs’ t-shirt particularly noticeable. It really has been great to see a North American city get behind one of their teams, support that culminated in the Blue Jays winning the American League Division Series 3-2 after being 2-0 down against the Texas Rangers. This was effectively a quarter final and after defeating the Rangers, the Blue Jays went onto play the Kansas City Royals in the American League Championship Series. Unfortunately for the city of Toronto, the Blue Jays lost this best of seven series 4-2 meaning the Blue Jays will not be participating in the World Series, a fact that I am still struggling to come to terms with.

For me the Toronto Blue Jays epitomise why everyone should go on a year abroad. Before I came out here I had a very limited knowledge of baseball and an even smaller knowledge of the Blue Jays. Now, I walk into Pizza Pizza and get a buzz out of seeing Jose Bautista’s face on the pizza boxes (he hit the homer that won the deciding game against the Texas Rangers). As sad as that may be, the fact remains that I will leave Toronto with a new interest which is exactly what I wanted to get out of the year abroad. For those who may be struggling to decide where to go, I cannot recommend Toronto highly enough because, unlike Poutine, you can never have too much of this place!


Charlie Courtney

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