In August, I made the big step and moved to London, Ontario to commence my year abroad in Canada at Western University. I was not sure what to expect considering the only time I had visited Canada was when I was 8, and even then my memory of it was rather vague. One semester on, I can honestly say it is the best decision I have ever made, despite feeling apprehensive about it before leaving. It didn’t take long for me to settle in and feel at one with Canadian culture, however there were a few things that were very different to what I had traditionally experienced at home in England.
One of the areas this was most evident was within my course structures and assessments, and Canadian classroom manner. For example, from what I have experienced so far, there is focus more on the quantity of work load then quality. For one of my modules, for a participation mark of 5% of the module, I was to produce a historiographical assignment, a timeline assignment, an architecture assignment, on top of all the other various essays and assignments that the module entailed. Although to some degree, this means you do not have to be as analytical in what you are producing, it does mean I spend a lot more time at my desk planning my next assignment than I do at Southampton.
Another aspect that was slightly unusual for me is that the majority of my lectures are 3 hours long, and the tutorial or what we would typically call a seminar in England, is usually situated within the lecture itself, rather than being separate. Although it is a long time to concentrate, I do now prefer that I receive all my contact hours for my modules at the same time, rather than the lectures and tutorial being spread out across multiple days.
Participation marks are also something that were very new to me, and that are commonly not included within our course grades in England. Here for the majority of my modules, I receive credit for the points that I contribute in class, which are normally based off the set reading for the week. I find this really helps me understand the topics more, as I am pushed to pay closer attention to the material, and do all the set reading, so that I understand it enough to have an opinion, and contribute in class. Despite these differences, I am coping well. I am managing to get assignments in on time, participate regularly in class, keep up with the reading.
I absolutely love the courses I have been taking at Western. I was super excited to learn about Canadian history, and last term, I took Canada’s Past where we covered Canadian history from after the Ice Age until Confederation. I found it super interesting learning about the impact Great Britain had throughout Canadian history in colonizing it and turning it into the country it is today. It was also really interesting to learn more about the First Nations, who are the indigenous people and the interactions they had with European powers during the era of the fur trade.
Another aspect of living in Canada that I have had to adapt to is the fact that you can’t just buy alcohol from any grocery store, you have to go to an LCBO, which are government owned and regulated stores, which we have to get buses to. Although I am now used to this, it does mean you have to plan in advance if you need alcohol as you can’t just walk round the corner to the local grocery store. In terms of my experience with with my weekly food shops, on the whole I have coped fairly well, however the prices of groceries are a lot higher in Canada.
In terms of the university itself, aside from my courses, the campus and the social side of being a student at Western are some of my favourite parts about studying here. The campus is absolutely beautiful, it is situated by the Thames river, and features lots of castle like buildings. The campus is well laid out in relation to the food, drink and amenities it offers. We regularly go to the University cinema to watch movies at an extremely affordable price of $4. If you need a quick bite to eat between lectures, or a coffee to keep you going, there are a multitude of options, and like The Stags at Southampton University there is an extremely popular pub within the UCC called The Spoke. It is a great place to go for a drink in the evening to catch up and socialize, and it is where we go every Wednesday evening for Rick Mcghie.
American football is also a big thing here. We have a stadium on campus, where every few weeks, there are games that we can go and watch for free and support our local team, the Mustangs, which is a lot of fun. We also often go to the Sports centre to watch the Mustangs ice hockey team play other universities. I personally prefer watching the Ice hockey, as the action is so much faster, and it is more entertaining to sit and watch.
Foco is another social aspect of Western University that I thoroughly enjoyed. Known as the party university of Canada, every October, Foco (Fake homecoming) occurs on a Saturday and is a massive street party on Richmond, where tons of student houses put on parties for the whole day. This year there was over 20,000 people. Although it was strange partying from 10am, I really enjoyed the experience, as it was so different to anything I had ever experienced before, and I felt fully absorbed into the North American lifestyle.
Joining the outdoors club is another aspect that has really transformed my experience at Western. I had decided to join the Western Outdoors club shortly after arriving at Western University. I myself am not normally an outdoors person however I was drawn in by their offering of day trips for scenic hikes and long weekends away in the wilderness, and the fact that it would give me the opportunity of exploring areas of Canada where public transport wouldn’t reach.
One of the first trips I embarked upon with Western outdoors club, was a 4 days camping and canoeing trip in Algonquian provincial park in Northern Ontario. I am not normally one for camping, and I have never canoed before, but I decided to push myself out of my comfort zone and do something different. After staying in a cabin for the first night we set out on a 13km canoe to the island we were going to camp on. We canoed through river ways, which was difficult as they were extremely narrow and shallow, and we had to portage (lift the boat on land and carry it to another riverbank on the other side) several times which was hard work. I really enjoyed this trip. I got to see a completely different side to Canada, and had a lot of fun trying something new and meeting new people. I have also been on several day hikes with theoutdoors club to Pont Pelee, which is the southernmost point of Canada, and Webster Falls in Hamilton which I also really enjoyed.
Another thing I really love about being in the Outdoors Club is the social side of it. My friends and I joined the outdoors club together, and overtime we have become really close with the other members who are mainly internationals too. We have gone on lots of trips together, but we also meet every week on a Monday at Molly Blooms an Irish Pub in Downtown London for a pint and some karaoke, which is a good chance to catch-up with everyone and have lots of fun. We also have lots of parties after trips and events to celebrate Halloween, Christmas, Easter and St. Patrick’s Day. I believe that being in Western Outdoors club has really transformed my experience. I have never really been in club like this before, and not only do I get to visit some amazing places, but I have also made lots of friends through it. It is definitely something I would recommend to anyone coming to study at Western University.
Western University is also situated in an amazing location which makes it super easy to travel in my spare time. By public transport, it is only 2 hours from Toronto, Niagara Falls, 8 hours from Montreal, and 14 hours from New York, all trips I have undertaken and thoroughly enjoyed. Using Greyhound and Megabus makes visiting these locations extremely cheap and easy. However, I am hoping to do a separate blog post on this so I can elaborate further on some of the amazing places to visit in Canada.
So overall, my experience so far has been very good, and I am excited to see what the rest of the year has to offer.