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Last week I had an end of year dinner for Common Ground (CoGro), the coffee shop on campus I started working in back in October. I’d never really thought of it as any more than a job when I applied, but I realised last week that I’ve made a whole family of Canadian friends and had a really great time working on campus. I’ve never worked during the Durham term time so I didn’t know if I’d be able to juggle a job alongside academics and, of course, the exchange travel attitude. I knew, though, that exchange would involve a lot of travel, and gigs and weekend trips and meals out and shopping in North American shops that we don’t have in England, so I applied for CoGro back in September purely as a way of earning some serious dollars to be able to eat. As an exchange student you’re given priority at the first stage and guaranteed an interview because you can’t work out in the town on a student visa, only on campus. The interview was very scary and very different to interviews I’ve had in the UK. It involved five managers, sitting across the largest desk you’ll ever see from little old Beth with the funny British accent.

Just two of CoGro's offerings

Just two of CoGro’s offerings

I got the job, though, and assigned to be on ‘prep’; working out the back, making sandwiches, prepping veggies, cleaning, basically doing everything I do at home but getting paid to do it! At Ontario minimum wage I was concerned that I’d have to work endless hours to make meaningful money, but working 4 hour shifts twice a week easily paid for my groceries and a meal out each week. And the time commitment was no stress. I’m not sure if this is universal across Canadian or North American Universities, but during term time Queen’s students live for university. When they’re not studying they’re in the gym or playing for the school team, or taking part in university drama clubs or outdoors clubs or working or campus! Students here love their university and spend literally only the hours they sleep away from it. It was actually nice to pick up that attitude and absorb myself in university life while at Queen’s. CoGro is one of the hubs of campus so all the time from 7.30am to 10pm there are students milling around or open mic nights going on or people flyering their upcoming events in the lounge. Having an excuse to spend several hours a week in CoGro was a bonus all on its own. Oh and the CAKE!

The cakes, honestly, oh my goodness the cakes. It’s an acceptable thing at Queen’s to approach a stranger and ask ‘Have you tried all the CoGro cakes?’, apparently. They have these 4 tier high cakes, covered in caramel and chocolate chips and frosting and I just want to buy them all and build a fort of cakes and live inside and never leave! Honestly, the cakes are good, I’m sorry you’ll never get to try them…

While working at CoGro I got to know most of the 100+ staff they employ and I now I can honestly say that Canadians are some of the nicest people you’ll ever meet. I’ve never had a bad day at work because, even at 7.30am, they have this attitude where they just want to listen to your problems and make your day better! So no wonder I almost cried at the end of year dinner last week watching a slideshow of some of our funniest videos and photos taken at work, knowing that just in a few days I’ll leave my CoGro family behind. Yes, I love having the extra spending money, and I love being on campus rather than wasting time at home, but mainly I love my CoGro fam who were really welcoming to me in my first few weeks in this big new country (and in return they loved me for the way I say ‘tomato’ – which gets said upwards of 20 times every shift). So my advice to incoming exchange students would definitely be to work on campus if you can. The money is VERY helpful and staff discount is great, but mainly you’ll get to meet so many more Canadians than you otherwise would as part of the exchange community.

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