Deja Vu- Almost

Deja Vu – Almost

Returning to Glasgow is harder than I expected it to be, I must admit.  Having become used to home again over the summer (Nairn, in the Highlands), moving to Glasgow – although I love it – is still another upheaval, with a new set of things I have to get used to.  As I said before, at home, things are usually much the same.  But when you go back to Uni it’s more obvious that while you were away gallivanting across the world with your new friends, your old friends have spent time here without you, bonding, having fun and enjoying different experiences that you weren’t part of.  It’s a bittersweet feeling; having done so much, but also missed out on things here.  It’s also funny, as some of my friends feel like they’ve missed out by not going abroad, while I think there’s an unavoidable feeling you’ve got to expect yourself when you come back – that you’ve missed out.

Getting used to the academic style is also a challenge.  Sometimes I get confused between what I’ve learned at Glasgow and what I’ve learned at Queen’s, even how many courses I’m supposed to take and how often I have to submit assignments.  So I suppose you can feel a bit weird and out of place sometimes.  On the other hand, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by finding that some things I’ve done or learned in Canada are similar to what my classmates learned in 3rd year here.  It’s a pattern of weaving in and out of feeling alien to things and like I’ve always been part of things here, which I guess will take time to smooth out.

I suppose this is part of the whole Reverse Culture-Shock.  I sometimes picture where I’m going to find a computer in the library, get to it and realise I’m imagining the wrong library.  It’s like that weird thing when you wake up thinking you’re somewhere else, and it takes you a few seconds to remember where you are.  It seems silly to have to adjust into something you’ve been used to for 20 odd years, and I didn’t expect it, but it comes down to small things like the fashion, the hairstyles, the lifestyle, the humour, the names of painkillers, the number of courses you take per semester, the style of the lectures and tutorials, the shops, the character of the city which can throw you.  And although I miss things from Canada, it’s the little things I’m so grateful for here; like calling my course ‘Joint Honours’ instead of a ‘Medial’, having ‘New Look’ and, most importantly, BOOTS THE CHEMIST!!

Overall it’s like a double-edged sword.  It’s tough to settle-in, but you’ve just got to consider one question:

Was it worth it?

For me, there is no question:  Returning to Glasgow I can get used to.  But studying abroad was irreplaceable.

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Homecoming

Home again, home again…and highly jet lagged!

Strange, very strange – but not in a bad way.  It’s just the contradiction that’s strange.  It feels weird being where you were before your year abroad, with people who didn’t share your experiences physically with you.  Then again, it also feels so wonderfully normal, familiar and comfortable.  It is like everyone says, you do seem to fall back into things, but you do so being the person who learned so much from your exchange year.

I haven’t even been home for 2 whole days yet but in a strange way it feels like I’ve never left.  In fact, as soon as I saw my parents and a friend of mine at the airport it already felt lovely and normal.  I do, however, have jet lag – which sucks a bit.  LA has an 8 hours time difference so I kind of feel like I’m in a dream, it’ll take a while to readjust I think.  Anyway, now I’m trying to keep up with contacting people I’ve left and I find myself wanting a bit of peace and quiet now that I’m back for a while.  I also, while feeling too exhausted at the moment, am really looking forward to seeing everyone here, but think it will take a few days before I have the energy.

A few things I’m enjoying about being back are having proper bacon, ‘normal’-tasting bread and milk, being in a familiar house and climate, seeing people I’ve missed, rediscovering my old clothes (you forget half of what you had, trust me!), having familiar plug sockets, discovering a few new things around the house and being completely surrounded by Scottish accents J

A few things I’m missing are my friends, the Canadian lifestyle, my bedroom in Kingston, hearing the Canadian accents (and American accents) everywhere, TRAVELLING, being faced with new things all the time…and the sun (it’s Scotland!)

Overall, it’s just another part of the journey of being abroad, and one of the great parts.  I love seeing my family and it’s nice to take a breather after travelling to random places and sleeping in random beds.  And I love getting to know everyone and everything again from a different perspective.

Between Worlds

Wow, the end of the year already!  I know it’s clichéd when people say good times fly past, but it’s true.  Flying away from Canada today, I remember the feeling of the girl who, 8 months ago, was flying away from home for a year abroad, not knowing what to expect.  That feels like only last week.

I’m actually in JFK airport just now trying to get internet connection, but there’s none so I suppose you’ll get this when I get to my hostel!  I’m sitting waiting for my sister to join me from Scotland and can’t wait since I haven’t seen her in about 9 months – 9 MONTHS!!

Leaving Kingston was a strange, overwhelming bombardment of everything: celebrations, finishing exams and essays, packing, sending stuff home in boxes, saying goodbye to those who left early, tying loose ends here and there, cancelling phone accounts, selling furniture and possessions not likely to fit into my suitcase, good times, sadness and excitement for what comes next.  The most amazing part of being abroad for me was meeting such amazing people who I hope to keep in touch with as much as possible.  Ironically, it’s this amazing part that makes you extra emotional and sad when it comes to parting ways.  The great thing is, though, although it’s hard to say goodbye to the people who have become like a family to you and the place which has become your home, there’s the lovely feeling of knowing what you had together was special and that you have friends all over the world, so you’ve no better excuse to keep travelling.  And don’t forget, there’s also the magical miracle of SKYPE!!!

Everyone left in a scattered kind of way really, whenever their exams were finished or they’d planned their travels.  Most people are going travelling for 3-4 weeks now, most going to the West coast of Canada, some to the East, some to the North, and some travelling around America.  Some people have gone with friends they’ve met here and some have family or friends coming out to travel with them.  I’m one of the latter, and once my sister Lucy and I have spent a few days in New York, we’re heading to Las Vegas where we’re gonna rent a car (after a wee try at a the penny-slots of course…maybe a Poker table or two…) and have a road trip round California for 3 weeks ending in LA, then it’s back to bonnie Scotland for me!

It’s a lot to take in, reflecting on the fantastic times I’ve had this year, as well as some of the harder ones, being sad to leave friends and happy I met them, excited for another trip and also looking forward to going home to see my family and friends and worrying about a kind of backwards culture shock when I go back.  It’s a little strange being in a transition period where I’m travelling, but with family, between being with my friends and home in Canada and my friends and home in Scotland.

If I had to summarise this year, it would be that it was an extremely educational, exciting, challenging, enjoyable, unbelievable, interesting, incredible, enlightening experience, all crammed into only 8 months – It’s like an intensive course on life and yourself, and brings a new meaning to the word ‘cool’.  You find out how you handle yourself in situations, how to be independent, learn about different cultures, lifestyles, countries, languages and look at your own culture and life from a different perspective.  It is a learning experience in every way possible, as well as a chance which gives you such an incredible opportunity to travel so widely whilst living the student lifestyle.  In every way it is worth going.

Personally, one thing being abroad has taught me (amongst many, many other things) is that the possibilities of life are often as wide-ranging as you make them.  There have been so many random things I’ve done this year which I would have never even considered before, like going to Tennessee for Christmas or going dog sledding or cross-country skiing or planning a road trip round California.

One of the things I liked and laughed about most was the difference in colloquial lingo.  Words like ‘gutted,’ ‘chuffed,’ ‘ned,’ ‘numpty,’ ‘hoodie,’ ‘trousers,’ ‘fresher’s week,’ and ‘bin’ all caused a great deal of hilarity for me and Canadian or international students.

I think the hardest part for me was being away from my support network.  It was challenging to deal with stresses or worries without my family at hand.  But, I have to say that Skype is a brilliant fix for that problem.  It’s fantastic and so easy and cheap to use (it’s free unless you call phones which are extremely cheap anyway) and has helped me to get over these difficulties.  Also, you’ll realise that you build a family wherever you are as well, so when I needed someone there were plenty of people here willing to help out or listen or give me a hug and understand.  All in all though, I think I was very lucky with my time here as the hard times were very rare; and kind of overshadowed by the extent of the good times.

Right, well, I’ll give an update on my travels as soon as I can get some internet connection, but for now, I’ve got to meet my sis coming off her plane…6 minutes and counting – WOO HOO!

Party in the USA

Wow, the end of the year already!  (Well, almost) I know it’s clichéd when people say good times fly past, but it’s true.  Flying away from Canada today, I remembered the feeling of the girl who, 8 months ago, was flying away for my year abroad, not knowing what to expect, and it felt so close I could touch it.

I’m actually in JFK airport just now trying to get internet connection, but there’s none so I suppose you’ll get this when I get back to my hotel!  I’m sitting waiting for my sister to join me from Scotland and can’t wait since I haven’t seen her in about 9 months – 9 MONTHS!!

Leaving Kingston was a strange, overwhelming bombardment of everything: celebrations, finishing exams and essays, packing, sending stuff home in boxes, saying goodbye to those who left early, tying loose ends here and there, cancelling phone accounts, selling furniture and possessions not likely to fit into my suitcase, good times, sadness and excitement for what comes next.  The most amazing part of being abroad for me was meeting such amazing people who I hope to keep in touch with for a long time.  Ironically, this best part makes you extra emotional when it comes to parting ways.  The great thing is, though, although it’s hard to say goodbye to the people who have become like a family and the place which has become your home, there’s the lovely feeling of knowing what you had together was special and that you have friends all over the world who you can visit.  There’s also the magical miracle of SKYPE!!!

Everyone left in a scattered kind of way really, whenever their exams were finished and they’d planned their travels.  Most people are going travelling for 3-4 weeks now, a great deal going to the West Coast of Canada, some to the East, some to the North, and some travelling around America.  Some people have gone with friends they’ve met here and some have family or friends coming out to travel with them.  So, I’m one of the latter and once my sister Lucy and I have spent a few days in New York, we’re heading to Las Vegas where we’re gonna rent a car (after a wee try at a the penny-slots of course) and have a road trip round California for 3 weeks ending in LA, then it’s back to bonnie Scotland for me!

Again, it’s a lot to take in, reflecting on the fantastic times I’ve had this year, as well as some of the harder ones, being sad to leave friends and happy I met them, excited for another trip and also looking forward to going home to see my family and friends, who are at this point already demanding trips to see them and time to catch up – and the same in return.  It’s like it’s got to that point that your year’s finished, so you feel like everything should be finished and go back to square one, but there’s a little more to go luckily for me!

So if I had to summarise this year, it would be that it was extremely educational, exciting, challenging, enjoyable, interesting, enlightening experience, all crammed into such a short period of time in your life – It’s like an intensive course on life and yourself.  You find out how you handle yourself in situations, how to be independent, learn about numerous cultures, lifestyles, countries, languages and your own culture and outlook on life.  It is a learning experience in every way possible, as well as giving you such an incredible opportunity to travel so widely whilst living the student lifestyle.  In every way it is worth going.

Personally, one thing being abroad has taught me (amongst many, many other things) is that more is possible than you realise.  There have been so many things I have done this year spontaneously which I would have never considered before, and I’ve learned to manage my time effectively so that I can mix studying for University with travelling and discovering new things.

One of the things I liked most and laughed most about were the differences in colloquial lingo.  Words like ‘gutted,’ ‘chuffed,’ ‘ned,’ ‘numpty,’ ‘hoodie,’ ‘trousers,’ ‘fresher’s week,’ and ‘bin’ all caused a great deal of hilarity for me and others.

I think the hardest part for me was being away from my support network.  It was challenging to deal with stresses or worries without my sister at hand, but I have to say that Skype is a brilliant fix for that problem.  It’s fantastic and has certainly helped me to get over these difficulties.  Also, you’ll realise that you build a family where you are as well, so when I needed someone there were plenty of people here in the same boat willing to help you out or can understand what you’re going through.  All in all though I think I was pretty lucky with my time here as this happened pretty rarely.  I don’t think you can help but miss your friends or family when you’re away for such a long time!

Right, well, I’ll give an update on my travels as soon as I can get some internet connection, but for now, I’ve got to meet my sis coming off her plane…6 minutes and counting – WOO HOO!

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  🙂

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.

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 🙂