100 Days Left

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It feels like I’ve only just got here, but I can’t believe that I’ve actually been here almost exactly 6 months. I’m getting used to seeing snow on the ground almost constantly, living in negative temperatures and constantly hoping for a Chinook wind so that it’s -5 degrees instead of -25. I’m not here for that much longer, but I’ve decided not to think about that, and instead try to do as much as I possibly can to make the most of my last few months.

The start of a new semester means new courses, which is a little strange, seeing that at Durham we have the same courses throughout the year, but I think is great for a year abroad because it means I get to study a wider range of tropics. I’m only doing three classes this semester (the least I can do), because I chose almost completely science and maths courses, which I’m finding pretty different and difficult as I haven’t done pure science for over four years. I’m still really enjoying the opportunity to study new things, especially this semester where I’m doing biomechanics for the first time, and I have a two hour cadaver lab every week – where we find anatomical landmarks on donor bodies. This is one of the things that
has led to me finding my classes difficult, since it’s something I’ve never done before and is pretty daunting, but such an amazing opportunity I felt like I couldn’t really

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One of my favourite
Ice sculptures

pass it up. Since post Christmas means that Canada is officially in winter, I thought I’d write this blog about the winter activities you can do here in Calgary. 

Lake Louise Magic Ice Festival

Lake Louise held an ice carving competition in January, and Banff had some snow sculptures. It was pretty amazing to see how intricate ice carving can be, and it was crazy to see Lake Louise again in winter. The last time I’d been had been in summer, but now the lake was completely frozen and covered in snow, so it looked completely different. Unfortunately it was really cold the weekend we went, so we watched people skating on the frozen lake but didn’t actually do it ourselves. F1504667-3F9D-45C4-BBC3-62890AA011D5We did walk on it, which has become a relatively normal activity here, despite all of the ‘danger, thin ice’ signs. The Ice Festival also included an ice bar, which was pretty awesome.

Calgary Hot Chocolate Festival

Throughout February Calgary has been holding a Hot Chocolate Festival, where loads of cafes around Calgary each have a speciality hot chocolate and you vote for your favourite. They have some amazing flavours, like Honey Lavender, Thai Chilli, Coconut, Gingerbread etc., and each purchase goes towards a charity that provides meals to those in need in and around Calgary. Me and a couple of friend went on a

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All the hot chocolates we tried

hot chocolate crawl recently to try as many flavours as we could – even though we only got through four places. My favourite was a dark chocolate base with vanilla, almond and cinnamon flavour.

Snowsports

With all the snow we get it makes sense there are a lot of ski hills in the nearby Rocky Mountains. Before coming to Canada I’d never skied before, and my first proper skiing trip last semester didn’t exactly go amazingly, so I’ve been quite apprehensive about going again. Setting out skiing again was pretty daunting, but luckily I went with amazing people who helped me

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Snowboarding next to the
Eddie the Eagle ski jump

and we also went to a much better hill than my first trip (in my opinion at least), so I had an amazing time and am already planning more trips. I also gave snowboarding a go with a couple of friends which was so much fun, even though we were only on a small hill. A lot of the days here are amazingly sunny, even if they’re ridiculously cold, so the views from the top of the ski hills are absolutely incredible!! I also want to try out cross country skiing, and ice skating on one of the many frozen lakes and rivers that surround us.

Hiding Inside

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A kitten at the Cat Cafe

January and February seems to be the coldest months in Canada, with constant negative temperatures and snow on the ground, even though it doesn’t actually snow that often, it’s just so cold that it never melts. Therefore a great way to be entertained while staying warm is finding activities to do indoors. We went to the Cat Cafe, where you can play with rescue cats are kept before they are adopted, and the Rec Room, which is a kind of arcade centre. And of course because the Winter Olympics are on its quite fun to be able to cheer on a country that can actually do quite well (however much I love Team GB).

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Flat 209

Rez Gala and Crowchild Classic

Me and my flatmates were intrigued and excited about the Residence Gala event, which seemed to be similar to Durham formals and balls. Even though it wasn’t as fun as the events I’ve been to at Durham, it was fun to experience a similar event across the pond, and really nice to dress up with my flat and have a 3 course dinner cooked for us. UofC also held the Crowchild Classic in January, an ice hockey varsity match against Mount Royal University. It was really fun to go down to the ice hockey arena and watch the match, with everyone dressed up in red and gold and cheering for UofC – I love how big

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The face of someone
 who’s just been 
presented with a 
surprise birthday sundae

university sport is here, there’s some university sport to watch most weeks and it gives a real sense of pride to UofC

Celebrating my birthday abroad

My 21st birthday also came in January, which wasn’t my first birthday away from home, but it was my first so far from home. It was definitely a pretty strange birthday, not having seen my family or friends for 5 months. Fortunately I have made some pretty awesome friends in Canada who gave me a great day. I never imagined I’d be celebrating my 21st birthday in Canada, but it’s definitely one one I’m going

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Great decorations by Bea, Flora
And Anna

to remember. Since it was a weekday most of the day was filled with classes as usual, but I had a great lunch (with a few surprises) and $5 wings for dinner, followed by homemade birthday cake, presents and card games with my flat. It was also really nice to receive cards and presents from friends and family back home, although Canada Post doesn’t seem to be very efficient, as I am still waiting for one parcel to arrive almost a month after my birthday.

 

At this point in the year I’m feeling pretty confused – all the things I’m missing back home are adding up and after 6 months away I can’t wait to see all my friends and family again. But at the same time I’m aware that I’m not here for that much longer and I want to do as much as I can out here, and I definitely am not ready to leave!

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Christmas in NYC

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Christmas is probably my favourite time of the year. I love the Christmas vibe that lasts the whole month, decorating, carols, concerts etc. I obviously also love the food and laziness of the holiday, meaning all I have to do is sit around drinking tea and eating mince pies for at least a week. I also know that it’s guaranteed that all my siblings (who are in the country) will come home for Christmas.

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Canadian Pacific Holiday Train

This meant that one of the things I was most worried about when coming to Canada was what to do about Christmas. Since we only had 2 weeks break I decided it wasn’t worth it to come home, so had decided from August I would be staying. I expected to stay in Calgary with my flatmates, but I was extremely lucky and grateful to be able to stay with some relatives in Boston and New York over the holidays.

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Christmas in Flat 209

This led to me ‘adulting’ – I successfully sorted out my flights, transport from Boston to NYC, travel insurance and visa myself, which may seem pretty standard but there’s a first time for everything. After successfully getting through customs in Calgary (where I declared my sweets, chocolate and tea, making the border agent laugh) I survived my first solo flight (managing to get stuck in the window seat for 4 hours while my two neighbours fell asleep) and promptly started panicking because everything I had read online about coming into the US hadn’t happened (in case you don’t know me, I stress very easily)

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Canada covered in snow

 

Boston

I stayed with my cousins in Boston for a couple of days between finishing my exams and Christmas Eve, which had terrible weather but was still great. Here are a couple of things I did:

  • Seeing Harvard University
  • Walked around Cambridge: It still creeps me out a bit seeing British names in North America, so going to Cambridge was a little confusing. I loved walking round a small, old, red brick town, which made me feel nostalgic and very similar to home, especially after 4 months of living in a city
  • Boston Common: This was beautiful, even in the pouring rain, with statues, trees and an ice skating rink
  • Chinatown

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    Boston Common

Christmas in Brooklyn

I moved over to Brooklyn to stay with some more relatives on the 23rd. I really enjoyed getting to know different sides of my family (obviously as they live in the US it’s hard to see them, and until now I’ve spent a grand total of one afternoon with them) and they knew everywhere to show me around. We did a lot of Christmassy stuff (lots of tea, films and late mornings), and also went to a lot of cafes, restaurants and ice cream places, which suited me perfectly, as well as doing some sightseeing. I spent Christmas here, with loads of my extended family, which made it a really nice first Christmas away from home. Some of my favourite food I tried include:4DB36FAA-711F-4FF6-ACCC-2B25011DBDE4

  • 10 Below Ice Cream: Rolled ice cream with unlimited topping
  • Grilled Cheese at an American diner: This is basically a fried cheese toastie, but seems to be a must have in America
  • New York Bagels: They’re basically big bagels, but again a must
  • Frozen Yoghurt: My cousins were baffled that I’d never tried this, and I have to say it was pretty awesome
  • Cake Pop: I don’t know if this is an American wide thing, but cake pops to me mean a small ball of cake on a stick, but I experienced three layers of cake, ‘frosting’ and topping, which was also incredible
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NYE Fireworks

New Year in Manhattan

After spending nearly a week in Brooklyn, I moved to my Great-Aunt and Uncle’s in Manhattan. It was really cool to be able to stay in different areas of New York, and I was staying next to Central Park and with easy access to basically all the sights in Manhattan, which was awesome. I mostly spent my time here going to museums and sightseeing, and being fed extremely well by my aunt and uncle. I managed to meet up with a friend from home and I spent New Year with her and a couple of her friends watching the fireworks in Central Park, which was incredible but extremely cold. Some of my favourite things I did (other than the fireworks) were:

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This felt like a very NYC view

  • Seeing and going over the Manhattan and Brooklyn Bridges
  • Taking the Staten Island Ferry to look at the Statue of Liberty and the amazing view of downtown Manhattan from the water (and pretending I was in Spiderman: Homecoming)
  • The view of Manhattan from the top of the Freedom Tower, and the 9/11 Memorial, both of which were extremely humbling
  • Ridiculous Christmas lights in Dyker Heights
  • Wandering through Central Park
  • The Cooper-Hewitt, The Met and The Guggenheim

Overall, my break was pretty incredible, and something I definitely did not expect when I decided to come on a year abroad. It was quite tough being so far away from home and seeing all my friends meeting up back home, but I am so glad I decided to do something different, and I’m especially so glad I managed to meet some more of my family. As well as doing my first solo travelling, it was also the most amount of time I’ve lived in the centre of a city (other than Durham, which is quite anomalous) and I loved exploring on my own, even though it was strange not having a white Christmas after being surrounded by snow for most of the last 3 months. New York at Christmastime was pretty awesome, but spending time with family (even if they were different family to those I’d normally spend it with) was my highlight of Christmas for sure.

 

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Surviving Week 1

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I’ve now come to the end of my first week living in ‘Rez’ (Calgary equivalent of halls) and the end of Orientation Week (or O Week), so I thought it was time to update everyone. O Week is basically like Durham’s Freshers Week, but a bit more substantial. There were sessions with your department (or faculty as they call it here), sessions for being on exchange and fun activities throughout the week.

After unpacking on the first day I discovered, again, that I had packed extremely poorly. Due to my desire to have a beautiful holdall (which I seem to be mentioning every blog), instead of a giant suitcase, I couldn’t pack everything I wanted to, meaning my cupboards and walls are quite bare. I’m planning on collecting things throughout the year, but at the minute my rooms pretty empty. I’ve also discovered my new favourite shop of Dollarama (similar to Poundland surprisingly, but with so much stuff and such a variety that it’s incredible, and I’m finding things in there to decorate. I also packed mostly winter clothes, but no one told me that it was actually 25-30 degrees until about September – Tip: bring stuff for your room that reminds IMG_0376you of home – I’ve got some photos, but not enough, bring posters, cushions, bedspread etc., just to help you settle in. This stuff is pretty important so take out that fifth jumper and don’t skimp out on decor.

The first day of O Week started by meeting your faculty and learning chants for the Pep Rally (my first real North American ‘school’ experience). This was an extremely bizarre experience of sitting in a giant gym on bleachers and having a faculty cheer off… basically we all learnt chants about our subject and had to shout them as loudly as possible at all the other faculties. It was pretty strange but also strangely fun (the Kinesiology faculty was obviously the best, with our three part chant). This was followed by speeches by a number of people, including the president of UofC, the

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Pep Rally!

students union, and the keynote speaker of Sheldon Kennedy, a former NHL player. We also met all the ‘profs’ (not lecturers) – it was interesting to see the similarities and differences between the Durham and Calgary departments – I’m starting to think that part of the training to become a physiology lecturer is how to talk extremely fast.

There were lots of activities throughout the week, ending with Kick Off, the

UofC Dino’s first American Football match of the season, with a carnival type build up with face painting, inflatables etc. called Tailgate. With a Canadian near me I

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Had to get a photo with the Dinos mascot!

actually understood some of how it was played and enjoyed it a surprising amount.

Here are some differences I’ve found about Calgary vs Durham as well as some things about Canada in my first week on campus:

#1 A lot of things have different names – aside from Rez, O Week, jumpers and Football/Soccer, lectures are called classes, lecturers called professors (or profs), essays are called papers etc.

#2 Jumpers are not a thing. I’ve confused numerous people by calling jumpers jumpers – here they are called sweaters, which encompasses jumpers, hoodies, wool jumpers etc.

#3 Stash is called swag and there is soooooo much of it. I don’t know whether this is just at UofC or it’s a North American thing but it’s pretty excessive. So far I’ve got a scarf, water bottle, lunchbox, universal plug converter, two t shirts, two pairs of sunglasses and numerous stationary with the UofC crest on. To buy you can get jumpers, hoodys, shirts, t shirts, wool jumpers, bags, cropped jumpers, hats etc. I’m a little overwhelmed, and am having to restrain myself spending my entire student loan on stash.

#4 Kinesiology (Sport Science) is really big here. It has it’s own faculty instead of being put with science or social sciences, there are two giant KNES buildings and everyone knows what it is when you tell them what you’re doing

#5 Canadian money is confusing! There aren’t any 1 or 2 cent coins, so everything gets rounded up or down. The $1 coin is called a loonie and the $2 a toonie. The 5 cent is bigger than the 10 cent coin. Plus the price everything is isn’t actually the full price – you have to add on taxes!

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Almost there…

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It’s now less than one week until I leave for my year abroad in Canada. It’s finally starting to sink in, after a busy summer where I didn’t really have time to think about it. I am now in the middle of a two week period of attempting to make sure I have everything done on time – before I left to do my various summer activities I was pretty sure I was on top of preparations, but now I’m not so sure… Continue reading

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words: My Year Abroad in Pictures

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I’m back in London!! It’s fab being home but god, I forgot how grey it is over here. I’m definitely missing that gorgeous Canadian sky.

I wasn’t quite ready to write my last ever year abroad blog post, so I thought I’d make a collection of all my favourite photos from my time in Canada.

So here you go!

Song Credit- “Everywhere” Fleetwood Mac (Just for you Anna xx)

 

Hope everyone is awesome!

To all you fab folks in Durham, I’ll be visiting super soon and can’t wait to see you!

To my Canada fam, I miss you so much already!!

Lots of love,

Sonia xx