A Brief Discussion on Classes at Amherst, Christmas and the Canada Road Trip

By James Eyke (University of Massachussetts Amherst, USA)

Whilst exam period back at home is a month long period of stress and near constant work, the same cannot be said for over here.

The classes I took were much smaller than lectures, one in fact had only six people in it, allowing for a more one-to-one learning experience. This is very helpful in my subject area, Chemistry, because it is relatively hard and allows me to easily get clarification on an area of confusion.

Throughout the term we were given two midterm exams, multiple problem sets and homework, keeping us on our toes and up to date the whole time. This was helpful as back at home it is all too easy to leave exam revision until the last minute.

The exams themselves took place in classrooms in our standard seats, and two out of the three allowed open notes and to a certain extent, online recourses. At one point during a midterm, the professor actually left the class during the exam for five minutes. This is a far cry from the exceptionally strict exam code in the UK and leads to a much more relaxed atmosphere.

My final exams took place over the period of a week and were before we broke up for the Christmas holidays, not the UK standard of January. Once they were done, we had a month off to either go home to England and have Christmas with our families or stay in North America.

We decided to stay in the freezing temperature of North America. It was an interesting time, we had a month off and all but ten days of it was spent in the now empty and desolate UMass campus. Christmas day was a surreal experience. As we had no cooking equipment we had a Christmas dinner of hotdogs and pizza in one of our suite’s common areas. This made us a bit sad. Fortunately it was all worth it though because it allowed us to go to Canada.

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Christmas Dinner

– Canada –

We rented a car from a local rental station and left Amherst the morning of the 30th of December. The first stop was Montreal, which was a total of 285 miles away. The drive took a good six hours but it was still light when we got there. After checking into our hotel, the fantastic Hotel des Arts, we headed off into town to see the sights. It was at this point we realized how unbelievably cold Canada is, especially when the wind is up. But wrapped in our thermals, we managed to see some very interesting old buildings. The second day involved more sightseeing and of course, celebrating New Year’s.

After a few days we left Montreal and drove to the capital, Ottawa. Ottawa was even colder than Montreal and much smaller. Our hotel was the kind of shady motel you’d expect to see in a film, but it was reasonably comfortable. It was here that we faced our first winter snow storm following by freezing rain. On the morning we were due to leave we found the car surrounded by a good six inches of snow and encased in ice. After a good hour of snow shoveling and ice-scraping we managed to get out of the car park and onto the road. The only task that remained was a 300 mile drive on a snowy motorway through the Canadian wilderness.

Fortunately, we made it to our next stop, Toronto, in one piece. We had seen many many cars crashed/stuck in ditches on the drive so we were very thankful to be safe. Toronto was a good city, definitely the most American out of the Canadian cities so far. Sights included the CN Tower, which unfortunately was extortionately expensive to climb, so we didn’t. After a few days in Toronto we left and headed to what would be the high point of our trip, Niagara Falls.

Niagara Falls lies on the border between the States and Canada, and when we went it was cold beyond belief. The temperature was -16 degrees on the day we were there, but with windchill it was reported to be -30 to -35 degrees. Cold aside, it was utterly beautiful and amazing to watch. After a good few photos were taken, we got back to the car and headed for the border. The last night of our trip was spent in a Hilton hotel in the city of Buffalo, which was fantastic. The relaxing night prepared us for the 400 mile drive the next day, which was completed without a hitch.

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 Our wonderful vehicle and Niagara Falls

All in all, the holiday was brilliant and made me almost glad I had missed Christmas at home and stayed abroad. Interestingly, while we were away Amherst had reached a colder temperature than we had experienced on the whole of the Canada trip, so maybe heading north wasn’t as foolish as everyone had said it was.

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