By Ros Harwood (Queen’s University, Kingston, Canada).
It is 2 weeks since I arrived in Kingston for my exchange and it has been very hectic with a lot going on, a lot to do and sort out but I am already loving it. The first week I spent sorting out a lot of basic needs such as a phone, bank account, supplies for my room and the house, my student card, meeting other international students, buying a bed! Unfortunately Canadian students do not have the luxury of having furnished rooms in student houses without paying ridiculously high rent, so they all provide it for themselves. For an exchange student like me, it is therefore often the case that you arrive at your new house after a lot of travelling and some jetlag to an empty room with a hard wooden floor… not the most welcoming when all you want to do is sleep. However I was lucky to have made some family friend connections before I left the UK and as a result had a local friend lend me an air mattress and bedding to get me through the first few nights. Even luckier was that I found a bed for sale very soon after.
The other downfall with that first week was losing my luggage en route to Kingston from Toronto. The plane I took only had capacity for 18 people and since it was a full flight and considering the small boxroom size of the hold luggage compartment, as well as missing my originally planned flight due to immigration hold ups, it was not a surprise that my two bags did not make it on the same flight. Fortunately, through a helpful housemate, her boyfriend’s car and the discovery of H&M existing in Canada, the issue was quickly resolved. However, I do not want to let my problems put anyone off Queen’s or a year abroad, I can already tell you it is a special experience!
The second week was ‘Frosh Week’ or, in Manchester’s language, Freshers’ Week. Possibly one of the craziest, most hectic weeks of my life. Whilst also adjusting to the different atmosphere and traditions of Queen’s as well as a new campus, having activities from 9am to midnight planned every day was incredibly tiring. It was also a completely different experience to what I have experienced in Manchester. Every faculty has a different Frosh Week and so did the international and exchange students! Wednesday 3rd September, NEWTs week (New, Exchange and Worldly Transfer students) starts. 400 new but upper year students pile into a hall in orange t-shirts, not knowing what to expect. We were welcomed by our Frosh leaders, called geckos (we were the baby newts), in a NEWTs week dance and then we were taken to learn that dance ourselves along with traditional Frosh Week and general Queen’s chants. The university and community spirit that exists is already easy to see without having attended any university sports games or events. Campus is heaving with big groups of people all in different colour t-shirts for the different Frosh Weeks. It is worth pointing out the upper year engineers who take it upon themselves to paint their entire body purple and style their hair using bottles and cardboard as well as different colours.
Over the week, other activites included freshers’ fairs, BBQs, the NEWTs Olympics, a carnival including sticking yourself to a velcro wall, a mystery road trip to Toronto Zoo, a live concert, academic orientation talks, sorting out courses for the year and meeting lots of other international and exchange students! The paint party had to be the highlight where all the ‘NEWTs’ dress up in orange jumpsuits (massive ‘Orange is the New Black’ theme) and thrown blue, red and yellow paint at each other – known as tricolour – which are the university colours here at Queen’s. Despite wearing a jumpsuit, paint still managed to cover your skin and a minimum of 45 minutes in the shower of scrubbing and hair washing was required in order to get ready for the traditional ‘tamming’ ceremony, a tradition where each new student receives a Scottish beret type hat with an orange pom pom on top and a town crier helps swear the oath of Queen’s and the Queens’ bands and dancers perform. It is almost like an initiation into the Queen’s community. Following this we had a formal dinner and dance at Fort Henry, an old castle location linked to the Military College with beautiful views over Lake Ontario and Kingston.
a few discoveries/observations I have come across in these first two weeks:
– Queen’s University has a lot of links with Scotland and therefore, such as the Scottish dancing and the Queen’s bands, it is possible to find a little bit of UK culture here, as well as discovering there is a branch of the University in Eastbourne, East Sussex.
– Lectures, or ‘classes’ as Canadians call it, can continue till 9.30pm in the evening and can be 3 hours long.
– Due to the differing sizes between Manchester and Kingston, the concept of distance differs massively. Here a 20 minute bus journey to the nearest shopping mall is considered a long way – when I informed my Canadian housemates that this is the same length as the journey I took into uni each day in Manchester, they were very shocked.
– Canadian poutine…..in description it is basically chips, cheese and gravy. But it is so much more than that. You can get toppings of pulled pork, bacon, fajita (guacemole/sour cream/salsa) and much more; it just tastes fabulous! Great for late night munchies.
– You wouldn’t have thought it but Canada has amazing summer sunsets!
Classes start this week and I have luckily bagged myself a 4-day weekend. Geography at Manchester has given me a lot of flexibility and therefore I am excited to try out some new modules in Psychology and Business as well as Geography. I am already loving Queen’s as much as its domestic students do and the kindness of the Canadian people has helped me settle in and feel like I have been here for months. It is also a fantastic location for travelling in Canada and America, so I am kicking that off this weekend by going to New York to see my housemate from Manchester. It is going to be a great year!