Alright, so just over three months into my placement at the University of Calgary I should probably write one of these blogs. I would’ve started earlier but its just been so busy, so buckle up for a coffee fuelled ramble of my adventures in Alberta and my experiences moving to a different country.

Back in February, after a couple of months of searching I finally got an offer for a research placement as part of the last year of my degree and this particular project was at the top of my list! Great… Now what? Now I had to start the slog of a process to sort myself somewhere to stay and get myself a visa. “I’ll just go into halls” I told myself “it did me well during freshers and it should work out pretty cheap”. Wrong, all the halls at UofC look great but were way too pricey so private rented it was. I soon found out its pretty normal here for students and locals to live under the same roof in a ¾ bed house, a far cry from the 8-man townhouses of Gordon Ave with house music and DnB going 24/7.

Once I’d sorted myself a half decent looking place, I started going through the hell that is applying for a study permit. The joys of unhelpful phone operators, doubting whether you’ve filled in all the correct paperwork then finding out you’ve sent it to the wrong place and having to go through the whole show again. Granted a bit of this was my fault but what can you do?

It’s now 1 week before my flight, finished my last shift at work, said goodbye to my friends and family and have a mountain of clothes and stuff to pack… Also my permit still hasn’t been approved, looks like I’ll have to try and wing it once I get to the boarder.

Landed in Calgary and after getting grilled by the immigration officer I was told I’d have to stay as a tourist until my permit was approved, then leave the country in order to come back in and collect my permit. Sick! Guess I’ll get a little adventure out of this mess!

When deciding where to go on placement a good thing to think about is any connections you have in that area of the world, at the least it will mean your grandparents don’t worry as much. For me this was Pam, a long time family friend and owner of the Hard Knox Brewery in Black Diamond, a little south of Calgary. Pam was able to pick me up from the airport and drop my at my humble abode… Which turned out to be an absolute dump! Doors hanging off their hinges, dirty linin left from the previous tenant and bug powder around all the skirting boards. Great. After looking around for a few minutes we decided to bail and I crashed at Pam’s for a few nights. Like I said, it’s useful to have a family friend nearby.

In hindsight this was probably a better plan, I was able to get over the jetlag, sink a few beers at the brewery during Canada day (July 1st) then check out some more properties in person. After a day of house hunting I found a sweet 3 bed house just round the corner from uni, all bills included too which seems to be the norm over here.

So I guess now onto the good stuff, Canada’s huge! You can fit the United Kingdom into Alberta alone, with room to spare! Another thing I noticed pretty quickly, Alberta is basically the Texas of Canada! I got here just in time for stampede so everyone’s walking around in Stetsons and cowboy boots with country music blaring everywhere, bit of a change from the indie tunes of Stags or Jesters. On that note, you don’t realise how much of a drinking culture there is in England until you’re gone, pretty much everywhere closes by midnight here and pre-drinks are a very chilled occasion, the student bar closes on the weekend because it’s so quiet.

I wasn’t too bummed about that though because one thing Calgary does have is the Rockies right on it’s doorstep, perfect for any outdoorsy people, so after finding a society at the uni I started signing up for all the day/weekend hikes I could, Smuttwood pass, Fryatt Valley, Mount Burney, Kananaskis Lakes, Stanley Glacier, outdoor climbing, bouldering, scrambling, I’ve been loving it. My lab group are pretty big on climbing too so that’s been a great way to get to know people.

Yeah getting to know people, it’s the little nag in the back of your mind before you leave “I won’t have any friends there”. The easiest way to think about it is to try and take yourself back to moving into halls in first year, you just have to throw yourself into it and try to make some friends then before you know it you’re recognising faces around campus or doing whatever hobbies you have.

Anyway back to what I’m meant to be here for, the research. My first month in labs was a lot of reading, At this point I still didn’t have my permit so I was limited to reading around my project which gave me a lot of food for thought. The one day I get the email, THE email. “you’re study permits been approved”. Niice, now I need to go get it… “Montana’s pretty close to Calgary lets go there.” So after finding a car to use (Pam came through once again!) and getting acquainted with driving on the Canadian roads (to be fair pretty easy, they’re just wide and straight) I set off to Big Fork, Montana for the weekend. A solid 8 hour drive but I just whacked on some tunes and took in the scenery; mountains, hills and flat farmland. After a night and a morning hike in Montana I came back into Canada and finally got my bit of paper saying I was able to study.
Now the lab work could really begin, I got going on what my PhD and I had planned out and started roughly putting my dissertation together (wasn’t going to leave it as late this time…)

Three months in my parents and sister used mums birthday as an excuse to come visit, it was nice to see them and we did all the touristy bits around Banff. They also brought me out some winter clothes which will be useful in the coming months, apparently Calgary gets a bit cold.

Well I think that’s about it for now, if you’ve stuck through to this point then congrats I guess!
If you enjoyed my ramble I’ll probably write another one of these towards the end of my placement so stay tuned!

Take home notes for someone thinking about going on placement?

– Sort your visa and flights early

– Think about what you want to get out of your placement. Are you going to get some work that will look good on your CV or to experience a specific culture/part of the world? If you’re lucky you can find both.

– Try and get someone to check your house before you sign a lease.

– Put yourself out there, just start meeting people and finding stuff to do outside of your work. – Just do it! It’s a daunting thought but well worth it!

3 Months into Calgary

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