10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4 …

The countdown has begun.  I finished my last assignment at Queen’s University a few days ago, and  swiftly delved into tackling the biggest and most difficult packing sesh I’ve ever faced.

This is just one of the hard parts of the last 2 weeks of exchange.

Admittedly, this is probably the most stressed I have been all year.  I’m tossing up the fact that I’m going travelling for 3 weeks with my sister so hostels and attractions are chasing each other in my head, and the trip overlaps with my dissertation proposal deadline, which adds the completion of my dissertation proposal before I go to the balance; I’m also trying to work out the cheapest way to send some of my belongings home, get rid of clutter, sell my furniture and books, and all the while make the most of my last 2 weeks in Canada by seeing my friends and saying goodbye to various people already setting off on their travels.  And, to top it all off, there’s also the speculation about whether anyone will get anywhere with the Volcanic Ash stopping all flights in Europe and spreading to Canada, which will also affect the sending of my stuff!

So, as you can imagine, these concerns whipped together makes one rather stressed individual.

It turns out it’s much more expensive than I thought to send stuff home and Canada Post seems to be the cheapest as it’s about $150 for a 10kg 50x50x50 box, which is the best I could find.  It’s surprisingly hard to choose between clothes, key rings, souvenir glasses and other memorabilia I seem to have accumulated over the past 8 months.  What’s strange is what you find yourself attached to, what you consider sentimental but will appear strange to your friends back home who will ask, “So, tell me, why have you got a decapitated children’s Snowman toy?”  Aaah, but look at facebook dear friend, it will explain all….

So my major predicament is that I now have a nice collection of winter clothes from the Canadian coldness which I would use back home, but there’s no room.  Not to fret, though, I’ve discovered the marvels of vacuum bags.  They’re awesome.  Shove your stuff in, sit on it and before you can say “Abominable Snowman”, it’s about ¼ of the size – marvellous!  Also exceedingly useful for my travels during which I’m sure I’m going to achieve an ultimate accumulation of utterly useless but fantastically fun stuff.

Ah, well.  I’ll manage and things will work out some way or another.  I’m getting there, it just takes time.  The trick is to start early, really, I mean, I sort of started a month ago, but I still don’t feel nearly packed enough – although I’m not sure how much that’s just me…being crap at packing…yup, that’s probably the case.  I fear my last week will be full of scales, cases whose contents are being carefully rolled and placed in the most space-saving way possible only to be yanked out again and tossed about the room as the case is exceeding its weight limit, trips to the charity shops with bags full of junk, travel documents and flight confirmation details being printed all over the place, vacuum bags being blown about the place in the attempt to cram more into them, as well as lazy picnics at the lake, frantic visits to places we’ve wanted to see in Kingston but left it all year thinking we’ll get around to it, snatching last opportunities to enjoy the Canadian clubbing scene, teary goodbyes and, most of all, happy memories.

Doesn’t sound half bad actually…eh?

Right, I’m off to do some more packing before enjoying ice cream in the beautiful Canadian sunshine  🙂

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Dancing for New Zealand!

Since I last wrote, I’ve become addicted to a style of dancing called Ceroc (mixture of modern jive with a bit of salsa and ballroom thrown in) since joining a beginner’s class run by the student association here at Otago Uni. This Saturday, I will be COMPETING in the South Island Ceroc Champs competition in the beginner’s section!!! Got dress, got shoes, got sparkly jewellery… got the moves? Hmmm, now there’s a question!!! I’ve only been learning for 6 weeks but  I thought why the hell not enter and make the most of this amazing opportunity?! The Champs run once every 2 years, and this is only the second one, plus it’s being held in Dunedin this year. I thought it would be a lot of fun, and something to remember my time here by as the whole event is being filmed, but I am soooo nervous now!

Apart from dancing I haven’t done anything exciting really because I have a trip planned to visit the Bay of Islands (beautiful part of NZ in the North of the North Island) in 2 weeks and will also be visiting some relatives in Perth, Australia, during the “study period” so I’m saving up all my spare cash for those trips and for my 2-month back-packing tour of South East Asia on my way home. It’s a common perception that Australia is close to New Zealand, but my flight to Perth will take about 16 hours! I’m hoping to visit the stromatolites in Shark Bay, see some native snakes and swim with the world’s largest fish, the whale shark, while I’m there 🙂

May is a busy month. I have my driving test to get a full license and will also celebrate my 28th birthday in New Zealand. How weird – I’d never have imagined it 18 months ago! Can’t believe there’s only 2 months of this exchange year left. I try not to think about it, it’s been the best year of my life without a doubt! I haven’t done half the things I’ve wanted to do, even though I’ve done so much! But it’s good to know I have a reason to come back!

Life in Brissy

Hey there,

Another month on and Oz is still going good. At the moment I’m in the middle of my mid-semesters when everyone back home is doing their finals which is kind of wierd. Since last time I blogged easter has come and gone and now its starting to get cold out here. Yeah i know I’m calling mid twenties cold. I have changed.

Easter was fun but quite uneventful as my money transfer was delayed so I was having to do everything at cost but it does allow you to see what great things there are to do in Brisbane for relatively little cost. I quite quickly realised I wasn’t the only one low on funds so there was a good crowd kicking around Brisbane so there was lots to do. I pretty much spent my time at the “fake beach”. They like to call it a lagoon but its pretty much just as big swimming pool with sand in Southbank but pretty cool nonetheless and I did get to top up the tan. Quite a few people also went away, a few friends went to Fiji where they had an awesome time so if you can go further afield I would urge it but there is always Gold and Sunny coast within an hours train ride away.

Since uni started back again its been kind of the same as living back home. I’m routinised again with classes all week and living for the weekend which is pretty good out here. Last week I went to see the rugby where the Reds beat the Bulls which was really good to see and can be done relatively cheaply at $22. The week before I went out for a rugby social thing was equally good so there is always something to do you just need to get involved in something that interests you. The uni has so many clubs its should be easy – anything from beach volley ball to triathalons you can do anything. Even for the non sports, there are plenty events. In the business school I attended corporate cocktails with many employees of big accounting and financial services firms present to ask questions but equally have a good night.

Yesterday, I attended to study abroad fair here and was pleasantly surprised to find so many aussies wanting to come to Scotland or those who are already coming in September this year. Australia and Scotland are so different, for example UQ had its centenary at the weekend Glasgow Uni must be approaching its millenia in comparison. But thats what exchange is about – going somewhere new and different and the experience has taught me so much. Luckily I stilll have a few months to go but its still weird to think about going back to Glasgow and sitting in classes back there.

Michael

Skiing in Canada

Video Compilation of a Ski Trip to Mont Sainte Anne with the McGill International Society Network.

I also joined the McGill Snowboard Club for $90. http://www.mcgillsnowboardclub.com/

This price covers Transport costs to and from the Ski slopes. I managed to rent Skis,boots and poles for the season for $130, compared to $30 a day. Plus, because i’m so tall, the owner gave me a brand new pair of skis!!!  Because the McGill Snowboard Club takes over 200 students to the slopes every Saturday, they’re able to get huge discounts off ski passes. Typically, ski passes were around $25 for the day. Bargain!

Ski season ended a while ago, but that’s how I spent most of my Saturdays. This was one of the reasons I chose to come to Canada, and it didn’t disappoint. The slopes aren’t the best I’ve ever been on, but for the proximity to the slopes, the price, the social aspect- I couldn’t recommend it any more.

Next Winter- the Rockies? To check out some proper Mountains!

Buy Milk in Bags

So if there’s one piece of advice I would pass on to any soul coming to Canada, it would be the title of this little blog.

BUY MILK IN BAGS!!

Trust me.  For 8 months I bought cartons of milk and thought ‘wow, what a funny idea, milk in bags?  Never, milk has no place in a bag, it belongs in a carton.  A POURABLE carton.’

Wrong.

This would be the voice of a very unwise Scot.  As it turns out, everyone else had caught on to this rather brilliant scheme long before myself.  You see, the benefits of milk in bags are quite immeasurable.  Here’s a wee taster of the milk-purchasing experience in Canada:

First, you get 3 WHOLE BAGS in one big bag.  > Quantifiably Efficient.

Second, you’ll find that (you’ll never believe this) it is the EXACT same price as one cardboard carton, which holds 1 bag worth of milk…(pathetic, I know) …(although they’re still bigger than the milk cartons back home – but that’s understandable, EVERYTHING’s bigger in North America – cars, cookies, milk bags, movie theatres, maple syrup cans, CAKES…) Anyway.  > Financially Practical.

Third, how do you use a milk bag you say?  Imagining pouring it into your cereal bowl to find your already scruffy student clothes only made worse by the addition of unwanted splashed milk decoration?  WRONG AGAIN.  Canada has solved that problem.  You must buy a wee plastic milk-pouring jug (alright, not ‘wee’, everything here’s big, as established) which you just pop the milk bag in to find it fits like a glove.  > Sensible Packaging.

Fourth, ah yes.  The predicament of opening said milk-bag.  This part’s tricky.  I’m still working on the whole ‘opening’ thing – usually ending up requesting my Canadian housemate who must’ve been born opining milk-bags to use his skill for me to prevent the usual disaster which ensues.  However, a solution for this is the purchasing of a specific little baby knife which cleverly slots into a hole on the milk-jug for safe-keeping.  However, if you’re like me and still struggle with this nifty wee trick, simply get a knife and make a wee slit in BOTH top corners – (my Canadian housemate watched me for a whole 5 minutes while I attempted to pour some milk with only one slit before he felt the need to intervene).

> Potential Hazard.  BUT, when done right, Highly Effective.

Fifth, when you’re done, simply remove the bag, rinse it out, pop it in the recycling box, retrieve another of your 2 left over bags, and start the cycle all over again; comforted in the knowledge that if anything happened to make you housebound like sickness, or a nuclear disaster, you have made a wise, cost-effective choice and your fridge shall be well stocked with Canadian milk for…well… a very long time.

Spring Break!

Having finished my last exam, that was at a horrible time of 7:30pm and went on till 10:30pm…I felt like screaming SPRING BREAK!!!

The following day I went to LAX to take a flight to San Jose!!! On route to LAX, an insightful conversation with a friend made me realize how much I had enjoyed winter quarter! All the trips, activities, bike rides and just general random + spontaneous fun made me smile as I reminisced. And no, I wasn’t trying to score 😛

But yea, my spring break started in San Jose at my Aunt’s place. She invited me over to San Jose and was more than happy being a tour guide 😉 It was great to see the face behind the name after 21 years! She spoiled me by taking me to the most amazing places to eat! Of particular note would be the Afghan restaurant which served this pumpkin dish with a yoghurty meaty sauce on top. Besides the amazing food, we also went to Fisherman’s Wharf, Market Street (man shopping street!), Lombard Street (crooked street) and obviously the Golden Gate Bridge. It felt kind of strange to actually drive on a bridge that I had seen in countless movies and Charmed (spare me girly comments!). No matter how hard I try, I never tire of saying the phrase “I’m in California!”. The bustle of the city really did surprise me…traffic similar to LA…nutty streets and on top of all this figuring out navigation! I guess I’m lucky that my aunt was driving and not me…although I would have enjoyed driving on the crooked street 😉 All in all, the trip to San Jose and San Francisco was amazing fun and I may just end up going there again to finish off some other touristy things. Just a tip, when you do actually visit SF, be sure to pop into the Ghiradelli chocolate place and stuff yourself with the delights that are sure to make the sweet part of your tongue hyperactive 😛 Let’s not even think about calories 😉

So that was one part of my spring break. The other part was bike rides. I know…I keep going on about them and I suppose you are getting tired of me seeing Dolphins as I cycle along the coast but it always excites me! This time, my dear mum called when I was just sitting in front of the Pacific taking a break. As I was listening to some the things she was going on about, a pair of dolphins just jumped out of the ocean and I screamed down the phone “look mum! Dolphins!”. We made a pact at that point that whenever we get time for California, we’ll see Santa Barbara with bikes!

Besides that, my flatmate’s friend, Emma/Fanny also visited us at the end of spring break. She’s been here for just over a week and she and Nicola have made Isla Vista and Santa Barbara amazing again. You know you get that feeling where you’ve seen everything there is to see in a particular place, but then you show someone round and they point out things that you never noticed and the place feels new again? No…too bad! But that’s exactly what happened! We really enjoyed showing her around the place and it was great having lots more banter!

On top of that, it was also my birthday! And “boo” to those that forget and “woo-hoo” to those that remembered! To be honest I didn’t expect anything on a big scale for my birthday as I don’t think I’m the type who makes a big fuss about it. Last year I did, because it was on that very day that I got my welcome to UCSB letter! So that was a phenomenal birthday surprise and it’s kind of strange to think that I’ve already celebrated my birthday here! As ever time flies! On the day itself, my mum had sent me this huge hamper full of chocolate, snacks and vouchers that were very cute and necessary 🙂 My friends from Glasgow were kind enough to send me PG tips and rich tea biscuits. The things that I dream of waking up to…due to the lack of/expensiveness of such comforts here and on top of all this my friends in Isla Vista baked me this huge Ghiradelli Brownie cake! I swear this is a conspiracy to fatten me up…but by God the brownies were goood!!! Nicola, Emma and myself on the day itself went for some amazing mexican food as well as Margaritas! But the big event was the party! It was originally a bowling party that turned into a BBQ party! Don’t ask about how that happened…but suffice to say I started stressing with numbers! The BBQ went really well in the end and all I can say is that it was night full of presents, chocolate, burgers, drinking, drunkenness, tipsiness and everything else synonymous for these activities! It’s certainly my most memorable birthday to date which ended with me drunk and being thrown into our pool… which seemed to have a french guy who was apparently naked! Only in Isla Vista is all I’m going to say!

I’ll finish by saying that this quarter has been amazing and I truly feel settled in Isla Vista! My health has been in great shape, grades have been good and generally I’ve had a lot of memorable moments! With just 2-3 months left, I’m really going to miss this place! I want to thank everyone who came to the party, flipped burgers as well as those who sent me b’day wishes from home! I also want to thank Emma/Fanny again for joining me on the bike rides as well as taking me whale watching! It was amazing fun having you with us for the past 2 weeks! I’ll leave you with some of the b’day pictures!


Canada, St Paddys and a whole whack of fun

Merry Easter everybody!

I trust everyone is enjoying tucking into their chocolate eggs and what not. I meanwhile have just crossed the American border after a few days up in Montreal where the very generous Andy Davidson put me up for the small fee of a few beers – I was more than happy to accommodate! I have a 5 day holiday from BC life so I decided a venture northwards was in order. Had a great time sampling the Montreal lifestyle, which incredibly featured 25 degree temperatures, meaning shorts, flip flops and a smattering of sunburn were all in attendance! Montreal is a definite recommendation for anyone going to be at BC next year. Return bus tickets were only $125 for a 7 hour journey door to door. The city is very walk-able, with some great places to eat and have a few drinks outside. The nightlife was really good with all the bars on the main streets packed, especially with the good weather meaning all the beer gardens were brimming contributing to a great buzz about the place. McGill itself was a very scenic university, resembling some sort of a Glasgow uni feel in some parts. But I can let Andy fill you in on the details of all that Montreal business!

Back at BC the semester is flying by. Week 10 is in the books and there are only about a month of classes left before exams begin, meaning I’ll be home in less than two months. I really feel at home at BC so it’s going to be hard to leave the place behind, as well as some great mates I’ve been lucky to make along the way. It’s testament the students at BC, as well as the international programme and all those who help out with it. I honestly can’t speak highly enough of them.

Since my last post after Spring break things got back to usual with a few more midterms and the usual camping out in the libraries. March madness (the national college basketball tournament) took America by storm, and I have found myself watching about two games day, completely hooked on the stuff! BC didn’t make the tournament but their hockey team is in the national semi finals on Thursday so let’s hope we get that national title back! The weather has been a lot better though and I’ve managed to get out for a few games of golf, which has been great, and I also have my first ultimate Frisbee game on Sunday. So we’ll see how that one goes.

There continue to be loads of events on every week. Last weekend I attended a dance group showdown in the basketball stadium and it was incredible. The talent of some of the groups was really impressive, and it was just such an American thing to do. With pretty much the whole school come out to show their support. St Paddys day was also great fun, especially with Boston having such an Irish contingent. The ‘celebrations’ started fairly early doors and there was a great buzz about the whole campus, which of course had everyone clad in green clothing. I also recently found out that the Fray are coming to BC for the spring concert and Girltalk came a few weeks back too. Back in August we also had Akon with support from Mario so they certainly know how to put on a show for their students!

This week my family is stopping over for a visit so that will be nice to see them and show them about the place. I’m also expecting to see a mate from home the following week and just learned that a couple of mates are coming over after exams, so we are heading to California and New York for a week or so which will be a good send off before its back to Glasgow for summer.

I don’t really even want to think about leaving yet though as I have had such a brilliant time, meeting so many great friends and experiencing things I never could back home. I will always remain a great advocate of the exchange programme and especially with Boston College. For anyone who is thinking of going on exchange, or especially to Boston at some point in your university career PLEASE DO IT! And don’t be hesitant to send me an email with any questions or concerns.

Hopefully all my other exchangees are having as much fun as I am and I will see you all back in Glasgow soon!

Craig