PTD (post travel depression)

I officially finished my exchange to Dalhousie University, Halifax, Canada, nearly 8 weeks ago, and have been home for 2 weeks..

After exams finished in Halifax there were a few days of celebration before the goodbyes kicked off. For the first few departures it was more of a ‘see you soon’, as we had travel plans over the next month which coincided in various cities in Canada and the USA, but for others it was a ‘goodbye’ with an indefinite period of time stretching between that moment and the next meeting. Tears were common and sadness hung in the air as the numbers dwindled to just 5 in Fenwick Tower.

On April 27, myself and the three kiwi girls flew out to Toronto for a week’s exploration. After a week’s rain in Halifax we were hoping for a break in the weather, but got no such luck! Undeterred, we went out to Niagra Falls with a friend we met in Halifax who lived in Guelph, just outside Toronto. The falls were great to see, but not as big as I had expected. We stayed with Alannah at her parent’s house in Guelph for the weekend and enjoyed a few walks through the Ontario countryside, which was really enjoyable.
The rest of our trip to Toronto was spent shopping and trying to avoid the rain. I went to the Supreme Court one morning and watched a witness being questioned in a murder trial (what a law nerd!), which I really enjoyed!

After a week in Ontario, we headed back east to Montreal, where after a day of rain we were blessed with 6 days of beautiful sunshine (FINALLY!).

Montreal is STUNNING, such an old city with incredible architecture and history (and a raging nightlife to boot!). After 4 months of Halifax pubs and live music we were stoked to experience a real night club again! We hired bikes and rode through the whole city with another kiwi boy we met at the hostel and his German friend. We also enjoyed a Sunday afternoon in the sun on Mont Royal in the park at the base, where we listened to the Tam Tam (drum) players, watched and participated in a medieval mock battle and saw people doing numerous circus tricks. Such an awesome afternoon!

After one of the best weeks of the year (possibly due to the awesome weather!), Niki (a kiwi girl I lived with in Halifax) and I caught the train to New York City! It was an 11 hour journey, involving an hour or two of sitting in the same spot while a US Customs Officer boarded the train and questioned all the passengers one by one.. not the funnest day, but the scenery was beautiful and we were rewarded in the end with the most amazing gift that is NEW YORK CITY.

New York is honestly indescribable. It is everything you expect, everything you have seen on the countless TV shows and movies and more. There is ALWAYS something to do and always someone to do it with!

Niki and I had booked into a hostel on the upper west side, but returned home on night 3 to find that the state of New York had closed the hostel down and that we had to vacate by 10am the next morning. After a lot of stress (nearly everything was sold out in anywhere remotely near our price range) we found a night at the HI hostel just a few blocks away. Each night we had to check out of the HI and hope something came up, but as the days progressed we were able to book in for the rest of our stay. If anyone is ever in NYC I highly recommend staying at the HI. Even though it is quite far uptown, it is so close to the subway and the facilities and staff are amazing, not to mention the awesome people staying there!

New York was another rainy adventure, but being New York, there was still a million and one things to do (although I do regret not spending more time in Central Park (although given the weather it just wasn’t pleasant!)).

After New York I flew back to Vancouver and met up with Sam (an Aussie guy I lived with in Halifax) and we were picked up by my family friend Megan, who had kindly offered to let us crash her and her friend’s annual May Long Weekend camping trip.
We drove out to Morris Lake (about 2 hours from Vancouver) and set up camp on possibly the most picturesque piece of land I have ever seen. It was green as green could be, on a huuuuuge placid lake and framed by snow capped Rocky Mountains.
Sam and I had so much fun with Megan and her friends that we ended up staying at Megan’s house in Abbotsford for another 5 days instead of returning to Vancouver!
We caught the greyhound back to Vancouver on Thursday of my last week, and met up with Jayne and Niki (2 kiwi’s we lived with in Halifax). We had a day of exploring in Van, but were again treated to some rain (it was following me around North America I’m sure of it!) so it wasn’t the best day.

Finally the time came to go to Vancouver International Airport, where my adventure began 5 months earlier. Tears were shed and promises made to be back before the year was out. I then went through security and the dream was over.

After my 38 hour trek home (loooooong stopovers are not recommended!), I was thrilled to see my family and friends. The first week was exciting and it was so nice to be home, but after the thrill wore off and reality set in, my parents went to work and my friends put their noses to the grindstone in SWOTVAC, the boredom and depression set in!
Not actual depression, but a definite longing to be back in the land of the maple leaf with the people who made the first half of 2011 the best 5 months of my life..

It was in this state that I wandered back into my travel agent’s chair and put down a deposit for tickets back to Canada in December!! I just couldn’t wait any longer to return!
Long story short, exchange was the BEST experience of my life, and anyone even considering one should 150% definitely GO!

The end of classes

This week marked the end of classes for my exchange to Canada. I honestly cannot believe how fast time has gone and in less than three weeks, when exams have been written and their ending celebrated, we will be packing our bags and leaving Fenwick Tower for the last time. The past few weeks have been a blur. So much has happened since reading week.

10 days after the Bahamas, myself, 2 girls and 1 boy from Fenwick headed to Cancun, Mexico for a 4 day long weekend during American Spring Break. Our timing coincided with the beginning of the celebrations, so things weren’t as wild as they get, but it was still an awesome experience and I would definitely be keen to return to experience more of Mexico at some point. Our flight to Mexico involved a 10 hour stopover in New York, so we made the most of the oppportunity and caught the subway into Manhattan to do a spot of shopping and a little sight seeing.

We returned to the airport to find out flight delayed due to the weather. After a few more hassles we finally got to Cancun after 1am, about 4 hours later than expected. We had been upgraded to a nicer hotel before we left but upon arrival there we found there had again been a booking issue and we were instead upgraded once more. Finally getting to our hotel after 2am was not the start we had dreamed of but vowed to enjoy our luxurious accommodation for the weekend! We woke up the next morning to be blown away by the quality of the hotel and the indescribable view! WOW. the rest of the weekend more than made up for the hassles at the beginning and we were once again sad to leave the warm weather, but happy to return to our home, Halifax (and to show off our tans to the pasty Canadians!)

Nightclub

After Cancun came St Patty’s Day. Nova Scotia has proud Scottish connections and origins, and the people of Halifax were more than willing to extend such ties to include Ireland for the day! Things could not have been greener! We arrived at the Grawood (which is the on-campus bar at Dal) at the modest time of 11:30am (very well behaved in comparison to those who went to the old maritime pub on the waterfront at 6am!!) all decked out in green finery. The bar staff were dying people’s beer green, there were shamrocks everywhere and the festive spirit was high- if I hadn’t known better you could have quite easily convinced me I was in Ireland!

The next day, despite the damage inflicted on my liver the day before, I trotted off to my family law class at 9am. Talk about dedication!
After St Patty’s things quitened down a little, as we all tried to catch up with uni work, while still fitting in a weekly excursion to the nightlife!

We have also climbed onto the roof of Fenwick Tower (33 story building) a few times, and have gotten some amazing photos.. there is a ladder to the top from our balcony, but no railing on the roof and we probably aren’t meant to get up there but its safe enough if you aren’t silly…

There is a bar down by the waterfront in the historical buildings called “The Lower Deck” and on Sundays it goes off with a beloved local covers band called ‘Signal Hill’. I strongly suggest you google them and listen to their music- they are AMAZING and definitely one of the things I will miss most when I leave here (although I have already bought one of their CD’s to take home with me!)

Well I had better get back to the books as my first exam is in 3 days.. uh ohhh- have been prcrastinating too much booking flights and accommodation for travelling post exams (around Nova Scotia, to Toronto, Montreal, Quebec City, New York and Vancouver)

“Reading Week” aka Mid-Semester Break

The week just gone was mid-semester break at Dalhousie University, or as the professors call it “Reading Week” (obviously hoping to inspire some actual reading to get done.. which of course it didn’t!)
A few weeks ago, the 3 New Zealand girls and 1 Australian girl whom I live with and myself decided we would like a change from the bipolar weather of Halifax, and went into the travel agent with the request for ‘somewhere warm’. We ended up booking a very reasonably priced all-inclusive package at a resort on Grand Bahama Island, in the Bahamas (if that wasn’t obvious from the island title!). All I can say is WOW!
What a world away from snowy Canada.. so amazing that you can jump on a plane in snowy Halifax (-16 degrees that day) and a few hours later arrive in a tropical paradise (23 degrees).


On the bus from the airport we got our first taste of Bahamian people- they are the loveliest and friendliest people, most of whom call all women “baby girl” and who do everything at 2 speeds- sloooooowlyyyy and stop!
But after hectic mid term exams for all the girls except me (but my hectic stress sessions for the upcoming 100% exams) we were more than happy to slow it all down.
The bus driver sung us a couple of hilarious Bahamian songs and on the bus we met a group of 4 other student who were coincidentally also from Dal, 3 boys and girl.
We ended up hanging out with them for much of the week, which was awesome as we have expanded our group of friends in Halifax as well.

During the week we also met a couple of really nice families from Boston and New York state, who have invited us to come stay with them once the semester ends- score! The families taught us how to sail on the resort’s little hoby cats and we spent the rest of the week sunbaking, swimming, snorkelling, kayaking, playing beach volleyball and generally eating and drinking too much (all inclusive buffets and bars are not conducive to staying in shape.. everyone came home a good few kilos heavier than they left!)

One of the days we hired a car and drove around the island, visiting the National Park (where there were amazing water filled caves) and Port Lucaya (the main touristy area/ city centre), as well as just driving around and looking at local areas.

I also had a near-death experience with a falling coconut to make the day more exciting! Luckily I didnt need to use my health insurance but it sure was close!
*Note to anyone visiting- don’t sit under coconut trees!*

Mid week we borrowed bicycles from the resort and rode the 5 miles into Port Lucaya and another night we attended a Bahamian ‘Fish Fry’ on the beach.

It was nice to have a real mixture of people to hang out with, some old, some young, some children, and from all walks of life.

All in all it was an amazing trip and such a nice break from the harsh winter of Canada.

Returning home was a cold shock to the system and getting back into the swing of study has been a bit rough, but it makes it easier talking to those at home who are in week 1 and also struggling to get into routines, whilst battling it out in the extreme heat..
Even though I was only in the sunshine 2 days ago (the temperature was a comfortable 23 degrees or so everyday), it feels like a lifetime ago, and walking to ‘school’ today in -2 (but feeling like -16 with wind chill) felt more like home than 33 degrees would..
As we stepped out of the airport into the chilly Halifax air yesterday we all caught ourselves calling this city home.. It definitely has become our home and we will all be devastated to leave.. it was so nice to get back to Fenwick Tower and catch up with the other exchange students and hear about their adventures over the week!

On a more exciting note, the travelling continues next week with 4 of us (including me) from Fenwick heading off to Cancun for a 4 day taste of American spring break.. as we were checking out of our resort in the Bahamas about 600 US spring breakers were checking in so I can only imagine the chaos poor little Freeport is currently experiencing!

If the stories are true I think we are in for one wild long weekend!

Until then though, its head down, bum up, and I am in lockdown in the library to get all my reading done so that I dont fall behind!

I really encourage anyone on exchange to make the most of their exchange city’s proximity to other countries.. it is much cheaper to see them from this end than to go all the way from Australia! All the hard work i endured in the months leading up to this exchange is being converted from dollars to experiences and while I may go home with an empty bank account I will definitely be going home rich in memories of my travels and the friends and contacts we are making around the world!

Life as a Canadian student

So one month into classes and myself and the other exchange students have settled into something of a routine..
I am unlucky enough to have scored a timetable that requires me to go to class every day (something I have never had to do as a result of QUT’s many tutes and online streamed lectures!), but it gets me out of the apartment, into the freezing air and surprise, surprise, also gets me into the library!
The expectations for readings to be done before class are a lot higher than QUT.. 50+ pages to be read in 2 days is not an unusual request. None of my classes have tut participation, textbooks or offer tut questions to be prepared before class, so it is all about reading the cases and articles in the reading material print-out books they made us law students buy, and trying to wrap your head around the principles they enunciate.. being a ‘post-grad’ student often has my head spinning!

I also have no assignments. Not one. But guess what that means- 100% exams. Most of them closed book! I thought a 70% open book was a bad exam, so I am dreading the stress levels I am going to go through!!

Before arriving, I had heard some not-so-great reports about Fenwick Tower, where Dalhousie University houses most of its exchange students (google it and you’ll read about an ‘eyesore’ that sways in storms and is falling apart). I applied for the on-campus residences but as they are incredibly popular amongst first year students and my application was a month late, I missed out and was assigned to Fenwick. I was pretty unimpressed but dont believe everything you read!

Fenwick is old, it is a bit dodgy and quite often I can hear the wind whistle through the aged window seals in my room… BUT- it is across the road from the supermarket (massive plus when you dont have a car), it is halfway between uni and downtown and it is near several bus routes. In addition, everyone who lives in ‘res’ on campus is a first year (19). Being nearly 22, I am much preferring living with people closer to my own age (some older and some younger).

Being horribly disorganised in the morning, the bus route convenience is a massive bonus. If you miss one bus, there are another 3 options. If, like me, you miss all 4, it is only a 15 minute walk into campus. But be warned- it can be a very cold or slippery walk!

Last week we had out first snow day. A storm had been predicted all week, but after checking the uni website in the morning and reading that they were still open, I walked into uni in the light flurries of snow that were falling (yep- I missed all 4 busses again!). After one 2 hour lecture, however, I checked the website again before going to my next class and low and behold, school was cancelled for the rest of the day!

I waited at the bus stop for ages (not wanting to walk back in the now massive snowflakes and wind) and experienced the passion of the Dal student community. A protest (or “rally” as they call it) had been organised for that day and those involved were not about to let a little snowstorm prevent them from yelling about the proposed increase in fees.

The bus finally arrived (delayed because of the road conditions) and I jumped on to find 2 of my kiwi housemates also on board. When we got to our stop the 3 of us jumped off the bus into massive snowdrifts (up to our knees). We proceeded to walk the whole way home jumping in and out of deep snowdrifts and kicking snow at each other.

Canadians walking past must have thought someone had slipped us some illegal substances, as all the locals wanted to do was get inside and out of the storm!

The following Friday was “Munro Day” for Dal students, a day for which the uni closes and there are no classes for the day. The day is in honour of someone with the last name “Munro” who apparently donated a whole chunk of money way back in the day when Dal was running out and would have had to close otherwise. Anyway, the uni organised a snowboarding/ skiing trip for the day to Wentworth (the best ski mountain close to Halifax). The sky was blue, the mountain had a good amount of powder and the group of people we went with were great. This was probably my favourite day in Halifax so far!

Next weekend signifies the beginning of “Reading Week” aka Spring Break/ mid-sem break. Myself and the 3 Kiwi girls and 1 Aussie girl that I live with are taking advantage of our proximity and heading to the Bahamas for a week- as you do! Very much looking forward to getting some sun and being in the warmth (as much as I love the Canadian cold and snow!)

Our motto for everything here is- “You’re only on exchange once” so we are all taking the most of every opportunity we can. Last weekend we also watched the Superbowl (how American!) but it just wasn’t the same as a rugby game!

The next two weeks here are also the “Canada Games” which Halifax is hosting this year. We have tickets to the ice-hockey semi-final and are going to get tickets for a few more events. Should be some good live sporting action!

Until next time…
x

Law exchange to Canada

When I decided to come on exchange to Canada, I wanted to go somewhere different, so I chose a city I had never heard of before- Halifax, Nova Scotia. Before I arrived here, I spent a week on the West Coast of Canada, and whenever I told anyone there I was coming to study in Halifax, the response was always the same- Why?? I was a little deterred but still excited (and as I have since learnt, for good reason!). My flight into Halifax arrived in a flurry of snow. I was like a child on Christmas looking out the window but got a cold punch of reality once I left the heated building. The first skill you need to learn upon arrival in Canada is the art of layering your clothes. Inside every building, the heating is raging full bore, and you have to remove gloves, beanies (or ‘touques’ as the Canadians call them), scarves, coats and sometimes jumpers too in order to feel comfortable, then load them all back on again when its time to leave the building.

The morning I arrived in Halifax was orientation day for exchange students, so I had to race to Fenwick Tower (the tallest building east of Montreal, pictured below) where Dalhousie University houses its international and exchange students. We occupy the 32nd and 33rd floors (top two floors) and have the most amazing views of the harbour, downtown and suburban Halifax. The floor is all open plan and is basically a huge common room and kitchen with bedrooms and bathrooms forming the edges. In Fenwick this semester is a mix of 3 Aussies, 5 Kiwis, a bunch of French boys, a chick from Norway, another from Beunos Aires, and a few Chinese people… quite a mix! We all trekked over to Dalhousie University for the day to learn the necessary ins and outs of life and study in Halifax.

Here’s a few fun facts about Halifax and Canada: Blue sky and sun does not mean it is warm, Halifax has the second most pubs and bars per capita in the world (great news for the party students), Canadians can rarely (if ever) tell the difference between a New Zealand and Australian accent, pedestrians have COMPLETE right of way- even if you step out onto the road in front of a bus, it will stop for you, you have to pay to receive text messages and phone calls (it also costs extra to have people’s names come up on your screen when they call), they don’t have Visa debit cards and they still use cheques (checks in Canadian spelling) to pay for things! So backwards in some ways! It is also socially acceptable to wear ugg boots (everywhere: to class, the supermarket, out for lunch etc) and the boys here haven’t been introduced to jean brands such as Nudie or Ksubi, and still get around in the ugliest baggie jeans (often paired with running shoes- yep, thats right, along with uggs in public, the joggers and jean combo is quite the norm!)

We have become quite a close group at Fenwick already, despite having only been here a few weeks. Class is slightly different to QUT. For law- everyone is post grad (except me!) so I’m the youngest in all my classes and noone can believe I began studying law straight out of high school and that if I hadn’t done a double degree I would already be working as a lawyer. Also there are no tutorials. The classes are called lectures, but in reality they are ‘lectorials’ and highly interactive. I have no assignments all semester, but four 100% exams in April, with two being closed book (eeeeeek)! There is also a lot more preparation expected to be done for each class and walking into the law library is like turning on the ‘mute’ button for life- noone dares even whisper (a massive change from the entry level of the QUT law library!). Obviously another massive difference is walking to ‘school’ in the snow.. still a massive novelty which I’m sure the regular students don’t appreciate!

We get a ‘spring break’ (they call it reading week here) in February, so myself and a few of the girls from Fenwick have booked a week’s holiday to the Bahamas. As you do! The Dalplex (university gym/ sports centre) has organised a skiing/ snowboarding day trip this weekend to the closest mountain (about an hours drive). Included in the $30 price is transport, snowboard hire, lift pass and a lesson- what a bargain!

Weather in Halifax is a little bit bipolar. Some mornings are blue sky and sun (still freezing cold) but after a 2 hour lecture, you shouldn’t be surprised if you walk out into a blizzard, 60 km/ hr winds, pouring rain, light snow or any combination of those!

Canadians are the loveliest, most helpful and welcoming people I have ever come across. As soon as you open your mouth anywhere, they are ready for a chat about where you are from and more than happy to invite you to a ‘kegger’ (keg/ beer party) at their ‘buddy’s’ place on the weekend after knowing you for a whole 2 minutes! This is definitely a student city, everyone under the age of 25 seems to be a Dal student and the nightlife (as you would expect from the amount of drinking establishments) is awesome. Live music is a big thing here, and the cover bands and original songs are indescribably good!

I would recommend Halifax and Dalhousie to anyone in a heartbeat. Living costs are much the same as Brisbane and the travel opportunities from here are endless (and quite cheap!).. I’m dreading the day this exchange ends, but I will definitely be back in Canada as soon as I can afford the airfare!