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Going Abroad: Canada

A busy airport on an early Monday morning is how my exchange started. The nerves of going so far away from home, and away from everything you are used to, are pushed to the background by the excitement of a term at another university, meeting new friends and hoping to have the time of your life. Well, those expectations have surely been met over the course of the 4.5 months I spent at Queen’s University in Kingston, ON, Canada.

When I thought about going to University in Canada, I could not help but think about the stereotypical things you see in movies. The first time I set foot on campus I could not help but compare it to the movies. The fact that I was one of the fortunate ones to be living in residence was only the start. Living in a building with about 1,000 other students is not something we are used to here in the Netherlands. Sharing long corridors with 25 rooms connected to them, a small kitchen, a common room and several bathrooms immediately creates a bond, especially since there is only so much room for you to put your groceries and dirty dishes. However, this is not something most people are unfamiliar with when living in coop housing. The fun part about living in residence is that there is always someone up and running around to talk to, have fun with or have a late night dance marathon with. Plus, you practically live next to the university buildings, which is very fortunate when you have early classes.

The study system at Queen’s University is somewhat similar to the system used at the English department at Leiden University. The classes I took were mostly in seminar form but lasted for 80 minutes rather than the 45 minutes I was used to in Leiden. At first, that was quite difficult for me to adjust to. After 45 minutes, I had a hard time keeping up my concentration since there is no break in between. However, in 3 weeks time I was used to it. Professors were very helpful and the concept of TAs was very encouraging. If the class was somewhat bigger, the professors had students from upper years assist them in grading essays and help students with their problems to take some of the pressure of the professor. Also, it makes it less intimidating and easier to seek help if you are struggling. The TA has fewer students to address than the professor and thus has more time to do so.

The other thing that is very different at Queen’s University is the way the grading works. During the term, there are multiple assignments that have to be done. This can include essays, multiple choice tests and presentations, on top of a midterm and endof- term exam. This way, you can make sure that you keep your grades up and that a low score for your midterm exam, for example, will not affect your average grade too much. This construction is very handy and is put in place to encourage the student to realize that there is no need to cry in despair if they fail one part. This system also ensures that there is at least one deadline every week for one of your classes. Having deadlines every week should not be a big problem normally; it would work for me here in Leiden. As an exchange student, however, you want to see the country you are visiting. So I worked on my deadlines and schoolwork during the week, while the weekend was for doing fun stuff such as traveling to Niagara Falls, Toronto, Montréal, camping, and celebrating homecoming. You probably can imagine that this sometimes resulted in longer hours of work during the week to make sure that I could go away for the weekend. Midterm week was crazy; classes were proceeding so I had class during the day and midterms in the evenings, while simultaneously some deadlines were scheduled during that week.

Fortunately, taking classes was not the only thing I did while in Canada. As mentioned I went to Niagara Falls, which is something you have to see when you are in Canada. I went there twice, once in summer and once in winter and I cannot tell you which of the two times was better. The snow adds something magical to the Falls, but going there when it is still warm and taking the Maid of the Mist, a boat, over the water to stand some 50 meters from the falls is quite spectacular as well.

The weekend after my first time at Niagara Falls, we went camping in one of the many state parks in Ontario and throughout Canada. We rented some canoes from the Outdoors Club of Queen’s University and went peddling away with all our stuff in the afternoon sun. Swimming in Lake Ontario once we arrived was somewhat chilling but refreshing and the campfire at night really was great. That weekend was one of the best weekends I had in Kingston. We were on an island with 15 people and stayed there till morning, which makes you bond with the people around you pretty quickly.

Queen’s University celebrated Homecoming this year for the first time in 5 years, as it had gotten out of hand last time. The event was spread out over two weekends, which basically meant two weekends full of sports, food and parties. Alumni, of whom some even graduated 50 years ago, came to Queen’s to see their university and relive their memories. After the day activities, the university shut down and the students got ready for the main event. The main street in the student area – the area where all the students live – was filled with students. Music came from everywhere and alcohol was passed around. Those Canadians know how to organize a proper street party.

City trips on weekends were great. I have only seen Toronto and Montréal because of the relatively short time I was in Canada, but I would really recommend going there. Staying in hostels, sightseeing all day and enjoying the good weather made the weekends great. The peculiar thing in Canada is that you travel by coach almost constantly. Taking the train is very expensive and renting a car is almost impossible if you have not reached the age of 25. The travel from Kingston to either Toronto or Montréal was around 3 hours by bus, which is a short distance for Canadians. When I would explain to them that a 3-hour drive here means that you are across the country, they could not comprehend completely that the Netherlands is that small. This difference caused funny misunderstandings as ‘close by’ means something completely different to a Canadian than to a Dutch person.

My time in Canada has certainly been the time of my life; I got to live in a different country and experience the Canadian culture up close rather than through playing the tourist. My fluency in English has improved tremendously because there is simply no other language to speak when you are surrounded by Canadians and other internationals. Also, it was a completely new experience to live on a campus where every building is within a 10-minute walk of each other and to actually live on campus. All in all, I would not trade my time in Canada for anything in the world!

by Anouk Vroegindeweij