Canadian Winter, Robert Burns & “A’ That”

Well, work is in full-flow now, but there’s still plenty of room to be an exploring student….check it out!

I’m just home from Ottawa seeing their winter festival “Winterlude” over the weekend which opened with an epic fireworks display.  I was, as usual, an extremely excited tourist when I discovered that the sculptural signs on the streets advertising Winterlude were, in fact, ice sculptures!  And that was nothing compared to ones in the centre, we got to actually see the artists at work making gigantic Mermaids, Dragons, Buddha’s, Snakes, and even the Loch Ness Monster!!  We even got hot chocolate and pancakes – free!  Always good when you’re a student 🙂

The best part was ice skating on the Rideau Canal.  And if you’re picturing ice cracking over freezing water (like my mum did), think again.  It’s completely frozen top to bottom this time every year for weeks.  It’s pretty cold!  And hundreds of people would skate to work, take their kids or have a romantic day out in the gorgeous sunshine surrounded by Ottawa’s Hogwarts-like architecture.  We had several Beavertails and Maple Taffy while skating too, (when you pour Maple Syrup on ice then twizzle it round a wee stick – yum!)

By birthday experience here couldn’t be better, I was serenaded by a trombone (by my friend who’s in the Queen’s Bands) in the middle of the Grizzly Grill and surprised by a home-made cake from my friends (which we managed to divide between all 22 of us…Impressive, eh?) followed by a night out.  The most important part is that I am now 21 and therefore legally permitted to drink in the US next time I go – woo hoo!

I also went on a Winter Wonderland trip with the Outdoors Club a few weeks back. It was at Lake Mayo, in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by snow-capped forests.  I had a stab (and somewhat badly) at cross-country skiing for the first time across the lake, and went snow-shoeing through the forest – I honestly felt like I’d stepped through a cupboard into Narnia, it was that stunning! – Oooh, and we also built and slept in a Quincy i.e. an igloo but made with snow, JUST to be able to say we did it…(even if we did bail at 4am due to feeling a little claustrophobic…but we still did it!  Hee hee).  It was an unforgettable experience.

Oh, ROBERT BURNS NIGHT!  Well, a friend celebrated it in true Scottish style since people here are really excited by Scottish culture.  So, we introduced our international gathering and Canadian friends to the full works; Parade of the Haggis (which, um, was, er, replaced.  By a potato.  Due to certain… difficulties… in obtaining a real haggis), Address Tae the Haggis(/potato), a rendition of Auld Lang Syne, The Immortal Memory, Toast to the Lasses and Reply from the Lasses…followed by the consumption of some rather good Scotch and a Ceilidh dance!  It was great fun & we wore our kilts all day.

For reading week, 4 friends and I are renting a car to go to Algonquin Park, a National Park where we can do lots of winter activities and sports AND….DOG SLEDING!!!!  I’m extremely excited as I’ve always wanted to do it!  We’re also heading to Niagra Falls again to see it frozen, and Niagra on the Lake…then back home to perhaps do a little studying to make up for all the fun we’ve been having 🙂

The Vancouver Olympics start this Friday!  So everyone here’s excited and heading to the bars at about 3pm to get a seat to watch it together.  Then on Saturday a bunch of us are heading to Frontenac Park for some snow-shoeing/snow-castle building, and I’ve FINALLY managed to plan a skiing trip!  It can be quite expensive to ski here but I’ve found a $55 deal for transport and equipment.  I am desperate to cross it off my list of “Things I must do abroad”, and hope I haven’t forgotten how to do it!

Right, I’d better get back to the work I sacrificed for Winterlude…and maybe reward myself with a hot chocolate due to the cold weather!  Hee hee, ah the benefits of -25 degrees 🙂

Tim Hortons saves lives

Something you have to learn about Canada. Tim Hortons. The place to go for your caffeine fix, donut binge or a sober up sandwich, 24/7. Lurking behind every street corner, even when you think you’re miles away from home, you can rely on a good old Tim Hortons to point you on the right path. I rave so much about Timmy’s because it’s probably what kept me going through final exam period in December. Even when it was -18oC outside, I’d still get my medium Iced Cappuccino to keep me awake the night before my Anatomy 214 Lab exam. Which was probably the hardest subject I’ve ever done- rewarding, but soooooo much to remember; all the muscle attachments, bone articulations, nerve supplies.

Anyways, exams take over a lot of people’s lives here at McGill. Lots of them are on scholarships were they need straight A’s to be able to afford to pay tuition, others need A’s to get into Med school or Law school, so as you can see it can pretty intense. The library’s open 24/7, there’s couches available in the Science Basement for a little nap, there’s TH’s as you already know. Everything geared towards constant study.

I’ve learnt though that if you keep on top of it during term time it shouldn’t be too bad when it comes to finals. But that’s a lot easier said, than done. There’s so many distractions in Mtl it’s unbelievable.

Intramural sports, Snowboard club (see later),  plentiful supply of Brunch spots, constant House Parties, Varsity games, Shinny Hockey, Beer Tobogganing, Mount Royal, Olympic stadium, Botanic gardens, Biodome, Biosphere, Canadian Grand Prix circuit, Just for Laughs comedy festival, Jazz festival,  Sainte Catherine shopping, Underground shopping (it’s HUGE!), Cheap Tuesdays cinema, Clubs and Bars to suit any tastes, Old Montreal, Notre Dame Cathedral, Chinatown, Le Plateau, eating Beaver tails (i’m yet to try, google it, if you think it’s animal cruelty)….I could on and on and on and on.

Just writing this makes me realise how much I’ve done, but how much more there is still to do. Every day counts, so make the most of your time, you might not have this opportunity ever again.

You simply have to come, if not as a student, a tourist. You’re missing out otherwise.

We are…BC! It’s good to be back

Hello to everyone from a chilly Boston!

I’ve been back in the land of the American dream now for just over 2 weeks and it feels like I never even left the place. Work has begun in full swing already and it has been very busy catching up with everyone and answering the age old question ‘how was your break?’ I don’t know why they insist on calling it ‘break’ but hey, it seems to rub off!  I can definitely say I’m very happy to be back. I went home at Christmas time for a few weeks which was great seeing people and spending time with family, but as I’m sure many of you feel the same way, a couple of hours after the bells on hogmanay and you really cant be bothered with the whole thing any more. I was lucky enough that a few of my friends from Boston came to visit in Scotland for a week, and so I got to show them all the sights and of course how to drink a real pint as well as a few other things! Beer pong is one thing but they just don’t compare to the true British games! After some gallivanting I returned to BC, minus a few close friends who were only here for one semester which is a little sad, but the good thing is we get a whole batch of new internationals to meet this semester too…so far those I’ve met have been great. Not quite as extravagant an orientation this semester for them mind, so I’m very pleased to have come in the summer and gotten the full weeks worth before classes began back in august.

The weather here is definitely not warm, but I have to say, for the middle of winter I had expected a lot worse. Not too much snow at all and not a lot colder than Glasgow was over Christmas. I hope that eases some of your concerns about the climate here should you be thinking of coming in the future, but maybe the worst is just yet to come! This semester promises to go by very fast. There are a couple more breaks than last time, including of course the infamous ‘Spring break’ when I am due to go to Costa Rica with a group of about 15 in a big costal villa! Rather looking forward to that. Of that 15 by the way, there is only one other international student and the rest are Americans…so again for those doubters who say you won’t meet any Americans so what’s the point, it’s simply not true! You just have to make a bit of effort to break the international student mindset. I personally think the more Americans you know the better as they have all the knowledge and know all the good spots. In saying that, I already have plans to go to Australia next Christmas to see my mate Joe from first semester. Unfortunately he is not returning but that’s the great thing about the program, you truly will meet friends for life and they live all over the world…so all the more excuses to go and see these places! Anyway, I digress.

This semester I’m aiming to do a little more travelling, hopefully a trip to Montreal, maybe over easter, of course Costa Rica and then hopefully something at the end too. And hey, New York is less than 4 hours drive so you can do that in a weekend! A lot of people are staying out over most of summer to travel, but I’m due back at the end of may…that should still give me 10 days or 2 weeks to do some travelling after finals though before its back to what will hopefully be a glorious Scottish summer (lets be optimistic)!

Not sure what else I have to say. I hope all the other exchange students are enjoying their time as much as I am. To all you people still undecided whether or not to apply or which university to choose, I genuinely couldn’t recommend the experience more to anyone who remotely has a thought about doing a year abroad, it’s been an incredible experience and Boston College is a fantastic place to do it. It’s one of the best colleges in the country, with the students and lifestyle to match it. COME TO BC!

Cheers

Craig

Home for Christmas and then back to SB!

I think I should start by wishing all of you a wonderful new year! It has been an incredibly long time since my last post…or maybe not that long…but it certainly feels like a while. I should probably ask you, the reader, how you spent your holidays, and the inevitable past 3 weeks of work? This is your cue to leave responses!!! I should also point out, everyone who’s emailed me, I hope I’ve answered your questions! If you have anymore, please don’t hesitate to get in touch again! I’d actually encourage you to leave comments on the website, as they can act as FAQs for everyone else, but email works too 🙂
So this entry involves Glasgow, a $30 purple-pink bike and also the wonders of the theme park – Six Flags, Magic Mountain!

So let me start with some musings about the little time I got in the UK over Christmas. I don’t think I’m one of those people who ever gets home sick. But I’ll let you in on a little secret, when I reached Glasgow International Airport, the rather strong Scottish accent that welcomed me and further still, helped me with my luggage was when I knew I had reached the place where I belong. All the networks of memories attached to Glasgow came flooding back and as I waited in the familiar Starbucks with my dark cherry mocha, I realised how much of the past 3 years in Glasgow had meant to me. In fact, in my first year, I distinctly remember on more than one occasion having a good rant about the weather! During my past 3 months in California, I also remember ranting about the lack of cold weather…I know I’m nuts…but really the weather in Glasgow in beyond unique and it’s just one of many things that I had missed!

The 3 short days in Glasgow that I got with most of my friends really were worth it! Having had troubles with my health, it was good to be among people who understood the problems and everything that came with them! I even popped into the library to the IT Support helpdesk, where I used to work! It was just brilliant to see everyone there and within 5 minutes there, me and my friend (or is it still colleague?) Calum were already involved in some technical debate, and Danielle (other friend at work), just blurted out “I’ve missed you two bickering!”. At that stage I think I realised my amazing routine at the office. Thankfully we were able to organise some needed pubbage! Gosh it was good to have a pear Kopperberg…I know what a girl…but beer has never settled with me! I think I was in dire need of pubbage as we had not actually been to any in California as most of our friends were under 21 😦 So thanks to everyone at work who made that possible! So aside from meeting friends at work, I managed to catch up with everyone from psych in Glasgow as well as my other friends who I’ve known from my maths and comp/sci days! For those of you who didn’t know, I changed my degree from Comp Sci/Maths to Psychology…I would get into the details but I doubt you’d be interested! Christmas and new years was with family mainly. I also managed to see quite a close friend in Sheffield 🙂 She was kind enough to donate her time over a rather busy new year’s eve and I think I had forgotten how much I missed catching up with her! To be honest, my new year’s really did pass with me musing over all the things that had happened over the course of 2009! My biggest plus was still being chosen for exchange in California!

Anyway, after those musings which no doubt were skimmed over and the response “yea yea…get on with it” was probably evoked. I’ll get on to the issue of my purple-pink bike called Dorien. Yes, I’m launching into another story so bear with me. This bike is one of the best entities I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing, synonymous for its original owner, Dorien. As mentioned last time, she’s one of the most enthusiastic dutch girls I had and continue to have the pleasure of befriending. I got if from Dorien the day before I left for home for the exceptional value of $30. I did spend a bit more to get it tuned for my usage so the net cost was $60, but let me assure you that it’s worth more than any sum of money…a bit like my friendship with Dorien 🙂 At this stage, let me stress to all of you who come to Santa Barbara, GET A BIKE!!! Don’t listen to anyone who says otherwise! It’ll make your life easier than you can possibly imagine and you’ll have a lot of fun doing all the bike routes that exist in the Santa Barbara area. Stefan (swiss friend) has been kind enough to show me the coastal route a couple of weekends ago, and the 20 miles of views that we covered are nothing short of breath-taking! We were also lucky enough to see dolphins along the coast as well as at the peer down town. That view, was nothing short of priceless! I would go through the trouble of making a mastercard joke but I’m scared of all of you tiring of my dry humour by the time June comes round 😉 You also get to see what a lot of money can do in the US. Yes, I was being a “peeping-tom” while cycling as the houses were just architectural wonders! Hopefully you’ll get an idea from the photos of the driveways 🙂 So maybe not that much of a “peeping-tom” as I couldn’t actually see the houses 😦 But yea, so a big thanks to Stefan for showing me the wonders of the bike paths that engulf Santa Barbara!

Now, guessing this is the bit where I could go on for hours about Magic Mountain. But all it boils down to is having a great group of friends to enjoy the scary and adrenaline pumping rides! Don’t get me wrong, I love rides! Magic mountain has the reputation of having some of the best rides in the world! I was like a bloody advertisement for Magic mountain during the week of signup! It was organised by the ISA (International Students Association) and as ever we had brilliant fun. Made more new friends like Anjini, Paula, Marta and Annekee! You guys really were the best! The car ride back, again with Sam (President) was as promised worth every minute. The rides started at 11am and even on the way back we were on a ride, given Sam’s driving 😉 We also did a quick stop at In and Out burger which I think I’ve gone on about…but basically California’s best burgers imaginable! Don’t even get me started on the shakes 😛 So yea, despite some of the rides being closed, it was great fun!!! Tatsu was by far the best ride, similar to Air at Alton Towers but on a larger scale!!!

So yea, this term really has taken off to an explosive start! I’ve started meds that have completely controlled all the problems from last quarter. I’ve also engaged myself in badminton 3x a week and all the cycling that Stefan and me are getting into is providing tremendous fitness and fun! Just today, we went on another trip to the Santa Barbara mission and then from there to the hills behind Santa Barbara! It’s always great fun cycling with him and today we had his friend, Arzu who joined us as well. Getting to know more people better and enjoying the views is all part and parcel for me being here. Yes…studies are also another reason, but thankfully they’re not exclusive by any measure! Although, this term they are certainly more engaging given the videos with Dr German for Developmental Psych and the hilarity provided by Dr Revlin in his Cognition lectures. Let’s not forget Dr Cosmides’s passion for evolutionary psych, I would mention the perception course, but still not getting it completely 😦 That reminds me, need to see the teaching assistant tomorrow! Anyway, so after than spell of name dropping, things this term really are going great and I have no doubt they’ll just keep getting better!!!