Humanities & Social Sciences placements

Faculty of Humanities & Social Sciences' students share their placement and year abroad experiences.

Tagged: Travel

The winners of the 2016-17 blogging competition announced!

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📥  2016-17, Communication, Health, Politics, Languages & International Studies, Psychology

As our placement students are gradually returning back to Bath for their final year, it is time to announce the winners of our annual blogging competition!

The Faculty of Humanities & Social Sciences thanks all students who dedicated their time to write so many fascinating and adventurous blog posts throughout the year they spent on placements both in the UK and all over the world. Their stories are a true testimonial of how challenging, rewarding and life-changing a year on placement can be. As a recognition of our bloggers´ commitment to report on their placement expecience, the Faculty has awarded following students a number on departmental prizes, and an overall Faculty Prize.

The Faculty Prize of £100 as well as the prize for the Best Health Department blog of £150 goes to Emily Fallon (Sport & Exercise Science) for her captivating and exciting blog posts from the South Australian Sports Institute (SASI). She spent her placement year supporting Australian Olympic athletes and discovering new talents in Adelaide.

Photo of blue sky and placement student

Emily and the kind of view you only get on a placement in Australia with SASI.

Charlotte Harris (Psychology) receives the departmental prize of £100 for her dedicated work as an Honorary Assistant Psychologist with the Lifetime Service (and a Cyclist of the Year) in Bath.

The Department of PoLIS awards Zoe Amador Martinez (French and ab ignition Italian) a prize of £100 for sharing her experience from her teaching placement in Fécamp, France as well as giving her fellow students authentic report from her Erasmus+ experience in Siena, Italy.

Group of students with Erasmus+ flag

Zoe and her friends on the Erasmus+ programme during their year abroad.

The next awardee of the PoLIS department is Katy Wallis (French and ab initio Italian). Katy spent one semester studying in Aix-en-Provence, France and the second in Naples, Italy. Katy also deserves a Blogger Dedication Award for posting every single day.

Natasha Jokic (Politics with Economics) spent her placement at NBCUniversal International as a New Media Research Intern. She met Jamie Dornan on the red carpet AND also receives the PoLIS departmental prize. Where do you go from there?

London Pride bus

Natasha and her NBCUniversal colleagues taking part London Pride.

Last but not least, Maighna Nanu (Spanish and Politics) also receives the PoLIS departmental prize for her adventurous and colourful blog from Guadalajara, Mexico. If you want to know how to get on a university-organised trip involving testing tequila, then read her posts.

Congratulations to all winners and thank you to all bloggers for their authentic and valuable insight provided to our first and second year students preparing for their placements. Soon, we will be also getting new and exciting reports from our current third year students. Do sign up if you're embarking on your placement year!

Written by Julie Fulepova, placement student and Marketing & Events Assistant within the Faculty of Humanities & Social Sciences.

 

Year Abroad VII – tips on travelling around Italy

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📥  2016-17, Politics, Languages & International Studies

 

Siena, Italy                                                                                        May, 2017

Ciao! When I decided to do an Erasmus study exchange in Italy as the second half of my Year Abroad, one thing was clear: I wanted to travel as much as I could. In a country like Italy in which every region is so different from the neighbouring one, it is amazing to be able to go and explore new areas, as there is such diversity. But, how to do this on a student budget? Here are my tips for travelling around.

Choose the right time

First of all, the ideal Erasmus situation is having a timetable in which you have a long weekend. That is, you have either Mondays or Fridays free and so end up with a three-day-long weekend. This would give you more time to travel, but is not always possible. In my case, I don’t have a long weekend, but I can catch up on my Friday lessons easily so I can miss a Friday once in a while… Try to find the timetables for each module when choosing your units, but don’t fret if you can’t do a long weekend – you will find the time to travel anyway!

In addition to that, the time of the year also affects the prices of the tickets. I’ve been in Italy since the end of January and back when it was still winter it used to rain a lot, which is not ideal when you plan on walking around new cities. I’d say the best time to travel is probably late-March to early May: the weather is a lot nicer but the ‘tourist’ season isn’t full-blown yet. Now, you will always find tourists in Italy, no matter the time of the year as it is non-seasonal tourism, but in order to avoid the masses and extortionate prices definitely avoid travelling in late Spring-Summer.

Travelling during the official holidays can also be tricky. First, because obviously everybody travels then so there is a ridiculous rise in prices during that period, but also because it can be hard to nail down the actual dates. In Siena’s case, our Easter holidays were actually only four days long and were followed by a few school days before a pause in the lessons during the April appello or exam period. In theory, the lessons would be on during those days in between, but in reality, a lot of the teachers cancelled their classes and so we actually had around a week and a half of holidays if you were not planning on sitting any exams in that appello period. I’d suggest trying to speak to local students in years 2 or above, as they have more experience of the system, so you have a clear idea of the dates and can book your holidays in advance and save money (whether it be travelling around Italy or going back home).

Transport

There are many ways to travel around Italy, but choosing the right one will depend on the distance you are trying to cover and the time you have available.

For example, if I wanted to visit the Tuscan towns around Siena, the ideal thing would be to have a car. Car Rental companies are incredibly expensive for rookie drivers, so unless you are a big group in which all chip in or you know a local person with a car, this is an option available but hard to realize. You can also travel by bus, which is very cheap, but at least in this part of Italy the public transport connections are poorly structured, with journeys taking a couple of hours to cover only a few kilometres and very limited timetables.

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If you are planning on visiting places in nearby regions, try the coaches or pullman services which are very popular. They are generally cheaper than trains and sometimes even take less time! I’ve been using FlixBus quite a lot, which covers a huge range of different cities. From Siena, I’ve been able to go to Bologna and Perugia using FlixBus and spending around 20 euros both ways. Another coach service that seems to be popular here is Baltour, but I haven’t used that one yet. It’s just a matter of looking into routes and prices! And, of course, booking in advance!

Another option is to use Blablacar. I personally can’t review this service as I’ve never used it, but I’ve heard good things about it. However, use your common sense – it might not the best option if you are travelling on your own, as it involves a car share with strangers.

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A pricier option is taking the train. However, high speed trains are worth it if you are planning to go somewhere that is far away – they are quicker than coaches. Trenitalia works quite well in my opinion, but delays and trains being cancelled is not something unheard of, so beware if you are going somewhere that requires a couple of changes along the way. Another alternative is to fly to your destination. If you are in Siena you will know that your closest airports are in Florence or Pisa though, requiring you to take the train or bus in order to reach it anyway. So, unless you actually have a few days to spare, I wouldn’t choose to go anywhere too far away – it is worth staying somewhere nearer and having more time to explore!

Accommodation

In terms of finding where to stay, hotels are clearly an option but not the most budget-friendly. If you are travelling in a small group, look into youth hostels – they can be a fun experience if you are not too fussed about sharing rooms with strangers and you can meet all sorts of people.

However, my favourite option is Airbnb. I’ve used this platform a few times now and I find it the most convenient for me as it gives me the option of finding a private room within a flat – sort of like a hotel – but cheaper. I always look for an Airbnb with access to a kitchen, so I can have breakfast before heading out or cook dinner and save a few euros. If you’ve never tried Airbnb, it’s definitely worth a shot! All the experiences I’ve had so far have been great and you can find real gems out there.

This particular Airbnb in Bologna had an amazing library!

This particular Airbnb in Bologna had an amazing library!

Of course, if you know someone in the area, they might be able to host you for a few nights too – that would be the ideal situation as you would also know a local to suggest things to do!

Travel companions

In my opinion, the ideal group would either be a couple (2 people) or a larger group of 4. Of course, the amount of people travelling will not only influence your options for travel and accommodation, but will also make it harder or easier to decide what you will be doing each day. I wouldn’t try to put together a group with more than five members because, unless you are in the same mind-set and financial situation, it will probably be hard to get organized and make decisions on what to do, where to eat… My travel buddy in Italy is Megan, a course mate from Bath who is also doing her exchange here. You will probably end up travelling with somebody foreign, because not a lot of Italians seem to have the time or interest in travelling as much as you plan to over your Year Abroad, which is understandable. We make a good team because we both have similar interests and expectations about travelling in Italy. Also, she is the foodie who does the research on local food to try and where to go, whilst I do the cultural research on sightseeing itineraries and museums – great combo!

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To sum it up, think about whom you want to travel with and the pros and cons of your group size. Of course, solo travelling is also an option and, by all means, I would encourage everybody to travel on their own at least once in their life, but use your common sense and be safe about it.

Extra tips

A couple of extra trips I have about travelling around Italy:

·         Write a bucket-list. Usually it will not be a very realistic bucket list (at least mine isn’t), as you will probably jot down way too many places for the amount of time you really have. However, it will give you an idea of where you want to go, if you can join different destinations that are close together (for instance, I went to Bologna for a weekend and spent one of the days in Parma) and ticking off places is always satisfying!

·         State Museums or Musei Statali are generally free-of-charge on the first Sunday of each month, so make the most of it. For instance, the Uffizi Gallery in Florence is free, but the queue is massive so set aside some time!

·         Always ask for student discounts – use your Italian badge or student ID to get discounts at most museums. I’ve found that, in general, there are fewer discounts than in the UK, but it’s always worth a shot!

·         Do your research – look online before your trip and make a list of places you want to visit or recommendations for places to eat. There are so many blogs online written by locals that can give you a great insight into the place you’ll be visiting. Alternatively, don’t be afraid to ask your hosts or if you know anybody from the area (which is likely, since at University you will encounter so many studenti fuorisede) on their personal suggestions! It’s the students who know where to get the best apericena in town!

·         Make a rough plan of what you will be doing each day, particularly if you are only going away for the weekend. This way you will use your time efficiently and make the most of your stay.

·         Finally, and in contrast with the previous point, don’t be afraid to improvise! The best stories usually begin with a change of plans!

Look out for local food - the panpepato in Pisa is so yummy!

Look out for local food - the panpepato in Pisa is so yummy!

Hope you’ve found this post useful. Travelling is one of the best opportunities the Year Abroad offers you, so try to make the most of it! Happy exploring!

Alla prossima!

Zoe

 

 

Year Abroad VI – culture shock and different ways of life

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📥  2016-17, Politics, Languages & International Studies, Uncategorized

Siena, Italy                                                                  April, 2017

Salve! I’m back with a new post, this time about culture shock, which is a term many of you who have lived abroad or are soon going to have definitely encountered. Here’s a little break-down of what culture shock is, how to recognize it and deal with it, and how I have personally experienced it.

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary (1), culture shock is “a sense of confusion and uncertainty sometimes with feelings of anxiety that may affect people exposed to an alien culture or environment without adequate preparation”. Basically, when you move abroad it takes some time to feel comfortable in the new country, and this period of adaptation is when you generally feel the culture shock. Everybody experiences it different as it depends on where you are from, where you are going, previous experience of living abroad, preparation before moving… Some people don’t really go through culture shock, or suffer it later on (it can hit at any point, even well into your time abroad), some are very vulnerable to it – everybody is different.

cultural_shock

 

General consensus is that culture shock has three to five different phases:

·         Honeymoon Phase: you’ve just arrived in the new place and everything is different and exciting, new food, new people, new places – you’re loving life!

·         Post-Honeymoon Phase: you start to notice the little (and not-so-little) differences between your culture and the new one, and you’re not too keen on them. Maybe you dislike how people act in a certain situation or you are missing your mum’s food, so you start feeling upset and unhappy.

·         Negotiation Phase: probably the most important as it is the turning point, you decide to give into the negativity and unhappiness or to adapt and make the most of the experience. Hopefully the latter.

·         ‘Everything will be fine’ Phase: you finally feel more comfortable in the new culture, enjoying the differences. It doesn’t mean you have to adopt all of the different traits, but you can recognize them and act accordingly. You no longer feel unhappy or upset and you might even decide to immerse yourself completely in the new way of life and actually end up loving it.

·         Reverse Culture Shock Phase: you can actually go through the whole process of culture shock again once you return home, particularly after a long period of time. Just pointing that out, because it’s a possibility even though it might sound crazy!

Culture Shock final. jpg

 

How to deal with culture shock

The best way of dealing with culture shock is to educate yourself. Learn as much as you can about the new country in preparation for it – before you go and after arriving. This can range from knowing how the political system works or how to go to the GP, to smaller things like knowing if you can drink tap water.

Other things you can do are to be open-minded and eager to learn; I’ve found that most locals are happy to explain how and why things are done a certain way in their country, so don’t be afraid to ask questions (speaking the local language helps a tonne – and this is relevant even if you have all your courses in English or aren’t necessarily a language student!). Also, try to be as involved in the community as possible, don’t lock yourself in your room because this will encourage homesickness and limit your opportunities of meeting new people and making friends who will help you settle in. Finally, it’s ok to bring things that remind you of home and will comfort you when you are feeling down, as well as keeping in contact with your family and friends back home – the point is getting over culture shock, not completely separating from your previous life-style!

My experience

Here’s a little background knowledge about me. I’m Spanish, I grew up and spent all of my childhood and teenage years in the Canary Islands (save for one year back when I was 7, when I lived in Portsmouth with my family). So the most distinguishable experience of culture shock that I can fully remember was moving to Bath in 2014 to start my degree in Modern Languages. Yes, I’d lived in the UK before (even though I couldn’t remember a lot of it), so I already had a fairly precise idea of what living in the UK is like: the weather, the way people act, the different food, the different language,… but I still had to deal with culture shock. As much a fan of English life-style as I may be. It was indeed a drastic change: first time I was living on my own, in a new country, with a new language, where I didn’t really know anybody. Culture shock hit me a little after Freshers’, when I was still settling into the routine and figuring out the new place. I remember one of the most clear examples of culture shock for me was the way young British people approach drinking – I was definitely not prepared for drinking games or binge drinking. The drinking culture I had experienced in Spain was different and it took me a while to understand (still trying, actually), this cultural difference. I had a positive attitude and was adamant on making the most of the opportunity of studying abroad, even though dealing with culture shock and homesickness was pretty hard at times, but following the advice mentioned earlier helped me cope. Eventually I ended up feeling at ease in England and now I love both my homeland in Tenerife and studying in Bath, each for their own unique reasons.

This year, as part of my Year Abroad, I’ve had to live in France and Italy. Sounds like a chore but it really hasn’t been. I’ve had (and am having) a blast. Fortunately for me, the information sessions in Bath in preparation for the YA are quite extensive and I already had experienced moving abroad once before. It was just a matter of doing the same thing with the two new countries. So far it has been alright. I was in Fécamp, France, for four months and fortunately for me I was so busy I had little to no time to dwell on culture shock or homesickness. I think the fact that my colleagues were British and I lived in a small town was also helpful as I felt really welcomed and supported. When it comes to Italy, I’ve noticed Spanish and Italian cultures are pretty similar, so I feel quite at home in Siena. That doesn’t mean that I haven’t noticed cultural differences, by any means. Here is a short list of anecdotes.

·         Greetings - it might sound silly but I’ve experienced quite a lot of awkward situations in all of the countries I’ve lived in because the way you greet someone when you see them varies not only from culture to culture but also from person to person. In Tenerife, men shake their hands or hug if they are close, while women will either shake hands with men or give one kiss on the cheek, leaning into the left. In other parts of Spain you give two kisses, one on each cheek, again starting from the left. In Britain there is less physical contact and the hand shake or wave is usually the norm, whereas the bisou is big in France; you give two, one on each cheek starting from the right. In some regions you only give one or you might even give three! The fact that you lean first to the right confused me so much when I first arrived in France, and still towards the end of my placement I would forget to start on the other side which would result in a weird moment avoiding the mouth and changing to the right side – I’d laugh it off but it was quite embarrassing! Same in Italy, usually when you first meet people you shake hands, and later on you give two kisses on the cheek starting on the right. I still find myself caught off guard sometimes – fortunately I’m quite short so I don’t usually have to make the first move.

·         Smoking – smoking is quite popular amongst young people all over Europe, but I was surprised by the fact that every single young (and not so young) person I met in France smoked. Might have been a coincidence as I know of other people with different experiences, but it surprised me nonetheless. I knew cigarettes were popular, but I didn’t expect people to leave the dinner table and go outside in order to fumer une clope!

·         Aperitivo/aperitif- this is a cultural difference I’ve grown to enjoy. In France it is custom to have a glass of some sort of strong alcohol – calvados, Campari or whatever takes your liking – with friends before you sit down for dinner. It is quite a social thing to do and something I was not aware of until I moved to France. In Italy it is also very popular- it is quite usual to go to a bar that does aperitivo, usually starting at 6 or 7pm, with some friends to have a drink (aperospritz and Negroni seem to be the most popular options), usually with access to a food buffet where they serve dishes like pasta, couscous, focaccia,… Aperitivo is a great invention!

DSC_0649

Aperitivo is great!

·         Finally, I think it’s worth mentioning Italian men from the point of view of a foreign girl living in Italy. Of course, not all Italian men are the same and I don’t want to generalize, but it did take me aback how straight-forward and adamant some Italians can be, particularly when going out, so be aware of that.

There are obviously many more cultural differences between these four countries than the ones mentioned above and I’m yet to discover even more but I hope you have found this post helpful. As a language student I love discovering new cultures, but it is fair to say this is not always positive so raising awareness about culture shock is a very important point for those planning to live abroad and if you’re currently going through it, just know you are not alone!

A presto!

Zoe

 

(1)    https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/culture%20shock

Images: https://www.hastac.org/sites/default/files/upload/images/post/cultural_shock.jpg

https://eap.ucsb.edu/sites/default/files/Culture%20Shock%20final.%20jpg.jpg

My own.

 

Year Abroad IV – moving to Siena, Italy

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📥  2016-17, Politics, Languages & International Studies

Siena, Italy                                                    March, 2017

Buongiorno a tutti! Long time, no see. I have now started the second part of my Year Abroad – my study exchange in Siena, Italy.

Why Siena?

I decided I wanted to do a study exchange rather than a work placement in Italy because I wanted to try out both options. I felt quite confident with my Italian before coming to Italy but I thought spending the spring and summer months as a student in this beautiful country would be the dream – good weather, amazing food and a lot of young people.

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The University of Bath has study partnerships with five different Italian universities: Naples, Rome, Trento, Parma and Siena. When applying for a place, we had to shortlist the destinations to three, so I took it to the Internet and final years’ experience (pro tip – you should totally ask year abroad returners about their experiences, they will be happy to help you out retelling their [hopefully] amazing time abroad from a student’s point of view!) to narrow the list down to three. First of all, I was looking at the size of the destination. I did not want to go to Rome because, as a capital city, I deemed it too large and probably quite expensive for only six months. Remember, I come from a tiny island, Tenerife, and Bath isn’t what you’d describe as a big city either… Naples was a similar case. It seems to be renowned for not being the safest city in Italy which threw me off. In contrast, the location and fact that it is the only coastal place in the list was very appealing, but the cons outnumbered the pros. Then I looked at connections. Trento was soon discarded because I could not even find how to easily arrive there. I’ve been told it’s beautiful and picturesque, but I’m planning on travelling around the country so having good travel connections was very important. And then I was left with two options: Siena or Parma. Both cities quite student-y and of similar size; connections seemed to be equal too, so my choice came down to the region they were in. Eventually I went for Siena because of its history: a very ‘Italian’ looking city with lots of narrow alleys and a wall surrounding the historic centre.

Siena is a medieval town, Florence’s life-long enemy and UNESCO Wold Heritage Site just like Bath (cannot stay away from beautiful cities apparently), in the Italian region of Tuscany. It’s mostly famous for Il Palio, a horse race between the contradas or neighbourhoods of the Old City, held twice a year in the Piazza del Campo. There are two different Universities and it is a very touristy city with masses of tourists arriving each day (even now in the winter), which reminds me greatly of Bath. Inside the city walls, all the buildings have that typical Tuscan look: tall windows and red bricks, along with the laundry hanging to dry under the window sills. I must say I have fallen in love with this (extremely hilly) place and I’m quite happy with my choice.

I'm in love with the style of the houses!

I'm in love with the style of the houses!

My arrival & finding accommodation

I moved to Italy late January, since I was yet to find somewhere to live and had signed up for an intensive Italian course in February to pick up my Italian again, and will stay here until July. The trip to get to Siena was long but went fine. I was quite worried I’d lose my suitcase during the short layover at the airport in Madrid, but I was lucky and my luggage got here just fine. It was a long journey - two flights and a couple of buses and taxi ride-, but I feel like I’ve mastered travelling by now. I had to fly from Tenerife to Madrid and from there to Florence. To arrive in Siena from Florence there are two options: a bus or a train journey with change in Empoli, so I went for the easier bus option – make sure you get the one along the autostrada or highway, shorter and less curvy!

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I’d booked an Airbnb near the Duomo for the first two weeks while I looked for a flat; perfect location a minute from the Piazza and very comfortable since I had the apartment basically all to myself! I would recommend doing this when moving to a new place: find an Airbnb or hotel for a week at least while you look for long-term accommodation once you’ve arrived. Things look so much different in person and this way you’ll avoid scams (I was sadly victim of one before arriving, so please don’t make the same mistake and make sure you look at the place in person before paying anything). I must say, it was hard to find a flat. Since I’d arrived so early the first semester Erasmus students were still around with exams, so their places were not available yet. In addition, a lot of landlords do not seem to like Erasmus students because of the short-term contracts, which limited the options. It has been even worse for male students, as most adds I saw were for female student and camera doppia which means a room-share. I was looking for a central apartment where I could have a single room and I had been doing research from home, sending tonnes of messages to book viewings with little luck. I used webs like uniaffiti, easystanza and housinganywhere. Eventually I managed to get a viewing that was really promising and that ended up being my actual flat. I live in the centre, in the Contrada del Drago, and I couldn’t be happier! Siena is quite small so you can walk everywhere. I’d recommend looking for a place within the walls, because everything happens inside the historical centre, but if you end up outside it’s not much of a big deal either. Also, make sure you actively look for a place; not only messaging online but talking to everybody you meet in the street as I know of people who got lucky because they met someone who knew of an available room. And, above all, don’t give up!

Taking an intensive language course

Concerning the language course I took, I have mixed feelings. Before arriving here we were offered a mostly subsidised Italian language course (75euro) by the Universtà degli Studi: either intensive in February or ordinary between March and April. I went for the February one since I had the time and it would allow me to sort out accommodation before the start of the semester in March.

If you’re going on a study exchange, I’d recommend doing a language course if available just to make sure you’ll be able to follow the lectures. While I was in France I barely got to speak any Italian so my skills had become rusty from being out of use since June. I do think doing the course has eased me back into speaking Italian confidently and has definitely tuned my ear.

However, I found the quality of the course at the Università degli Stranieri (the course is in the other University; my exchange is with the Università degli Studi), to be quite disappointing. We had to do a language level placement test at the start, after which I was placed in C1 level. I was accurately placed since the OLS test results also classed me as C1. However, I don’t know if it was because of the higher level or the timing, the group I was assigned was a mix of international students out of which I was the only Erasmus, contrary to first semester students’ experience. Also, I believe we (the other Bath students and I) were put into ordinary lessons not the intensive course we’d signed up to. Anyhow, we had four and a half hours of Italian lessons a day for three weeks. In my class we did a lot of reading and debating, but not much grammar. I found some of the topics interesting, such as language and dialects in Italy or the economy. However, I do not feel like it was worth the money or the time overall. A week would’ve been enough for me. Everybody was really nice and I met quite a few people in the course, which was great, but if I were to condense the new things I learnt over the course, they’d come up to an hour and a half, maybe two hours-worth of lessons… I did the end test a couple of days ago and all it involved was writing a ‘for and against’ essay (250 words minimum) about social networks and we were given two hours and a half and a dictionary. Talk about challenging… Either this was really easy, or Bath is really demanding.

Overall, it will depend on who offers the language course. Here in Siena it could definitely improve. For lower levels like A2 or B1 I imagine it will be a lot more useful since you’ll be taught actual grammar along cultural topics. For higher levels like me, the experience might vary. I do nonetheless recommend searching for a short course before starting, particularly if you haven’t been able to practice the language during your other half of Year Abroad.

Day trip to Florence.

Day trip to Florence.

Despite the unsatisfactory experience of the course, I’ve really enjoyed the time I’ve spent in Siena thus far. The place is smaller than I anticipated, but now that the lectures have started life has got busier.  I’ve been using my time to run errands and sort out most of the paperwork, as well as exploring the city and surrounding area. I feel like I’ve got a grasp on the situation by now thanks to that extra time. Since I had to change modules and send Erasmus paperwork, I’m glad I arrived earlier and have had plenty of time to sort it out before getting caught up in lectures and module work. I must say the Italian system is nothing like the English one. We’ve had to chase down quite a few people to get the papers signed – it has been quite an adventure – and I expect this is the usual process in this country. My piece of advice? Be patient but persistent, and don’t stress out.

I will be writing another blog entry on the Erasmus paperwork and Welcome Week in Siena because the whole process definitely deserves one on its own, so keep your eyes peeled!

Ci vediamo presto!

Zoe

Day trip to San Gimignano.

Day trip to San Gimignano.

 

Year Abroad: 5 Unusual Ways to Practice your Language

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📥  2015-16, 2016-17, International Management & Modern Languages, Politics, Languages & International Studies

 

As a languages student, the highest priority for your Year Abroad is to improve your language skills – this goes without saying. But ask any student who is currently away, or has completed their placement, and they will tell you it’s not always that easy. Your Year Abroad will not comprise of steady and neat improvements in your abilities, but rather little leaps and starts of understanding, which will be oh-so rewarding, but utterly frustrating.

You will, of course, have the immediate spike in knowledge when you initially move abroad; living and working in a foreign language all day will leave you exhausted but amazed at your own ability to pluck words from nowhere: you’re a natural, you’re fluent! Unfortunately, this will often wear off after the first few months, once you have mastered the complexities of the supermarket and your nearest café. You may even be dismayed to find that after just a week or two at home for Christmas you’ve forgotten some of the fancy idiomatic phrases which you were using with such confidence in November. Speaking from personal experience, your language acquisition – and with it your confidence – can go a little bit like this:

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But do not fear! Here are 5 unusual ways to practice your languages, if you ever find yourself struggling to work enough Dutch into your day or Español into your evenings!

  1. BlaBla Car (or similar company). I would encourage any Year Abroad student to travel and explore as much as physically possible and a great cheap way of doing so is by using a company like BlaBla Car. BlaBla Car matches people who are taking a certain journey in a car with those who need to travel but have no car – an efficient way to save money on tickets and on petrol! Using BlaBla Car in a foreign language will guarantee you with quality language practice on any number of topics, from the reason for your trip to the political state of the country – trust me! It has the handy benefit of putting you next to the driver rather than opposite, which can take the pressure off! Bear in mind that while BlaBla Car is more commonplace in Europe, you should still be aware of the risks of getting into someone else’s car – make sure you use the code provided to find the right driver, tell someone where you are going, and keep friends as updated as possible.
  2. Theatre. The theatre might not be your cup of tea at home, but it is an excellent way to catch up on the nuances and stresses of your new language. If you can keep up with Shakespeare in Italian, you’re ready for anything! There is also something distinctly fascinating about telling your friends from home that you are off to the theatre for the evening! Grab a friend – native or otherwise – and get two front row seats! You won’t regret it.
  3. Trains. Similar to BlaBla Car but more spontaneous, you will be amazed at the number of strange conversations that can spring up on a train journey. I, for example, had the delightful experience of sharing an overnight carriage with an Italian family, their dog, and a drunk man. The inebriated Italian spent most of the night telling me what a “bella donna” I was, whilst the family quizzed me on everything from why I was travelling alone, to how the police force works in England (I was not too helpful). When travelling by train, either alone or with friends, make sure you keep an eye on all your belongings, to avoid being the victim of an opportunistic crime. To be on the safe side, check out the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s advice on what to do if you’re the victim of a crime abroad before you travel.
  4. Gym. This may come as a surprise, as my experiences of English gyms have never involved making a best friend. However, joining a gym on your Year Abroad is the perfect way to keep busy and meet the locals. For a start, many people have routines, and you are likely to see the same faces each time you arrive. Secondly, gym lessons such as yoga, Zumba and boxing are all great ways to interact with new people and potentially bond over your lack of coordination.
  5. Café local. This is something you should do anyway, but it’s also great for improving your chit-chat. Find yourself a nice sunny café, with the widest selection of cakes and coffees possible, and make yourself at home! I would recommend bringing a book or some work to do, but don’t be afraid to dive in and get chatting to your friendly barista. You might feel awkward at first, but nothing will beat the feeling a few weeks down the line of being warmly greeted as a regular and handed your ‘usual’ drink of choice. Do be careful when you’re out and about on your own, especially if you’re a woman travelling alone – again the FCO has some great advice you should look over.

Whatever you decide to do, you won’t regret taking a chance and trying something new! Do plenty of research on your destination here before you go, not only to find the best sightseeing tips, but also to make sure you’re familiar enough with the customs and culture so that you don’t offend anyone – not a good way to make friends! Make sure you keep safe and sensible, and follow @FCOTravel on Twitter for all your latest updates.

 

Year Abroad I - moving to France

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📥  2016-17, Politics, Languages & International Studies

Fécamp, Normandy, France.                                                                                                   October, 2016.

Bonjour! My name is Zoe and I’m a Modern Languages and European Studies student at Bath. My language combination is French and Italian and I am currently on my third year, which means that I am doing my compulsory Year Abroad with the aim of perfecting my skills in both languages. I’ve divided my year into two parts. First, I will be doing an English teaching placement in a small English language school in Fécamp, on the north-western coast of France, until Christmas. Then, I will be heading to Siena, in the Italian Tuscany, for an ERASMUS study exchange during the second semester. I hope you will find my blog posts interesting at least, helpful or relatable at most.

So, what is moving abroad like? The prospect of having to move to a new country is something I find quite daunting. It means having to move to a foreign and unknown place, far away from your home and all you know and are comfortable with. You have no idea what to expect or what the place and people will be like. You will probably be on your own having to deal with the ever-so-tedious tasks of finding a place to live in, opening bank accounts and getting new SIM cards… all of which, to top it off, will have to be done in a language that is not yours.

Packing your life in a suitcase and a cabin bag isn't easy...

Packing your life in a suitcase and a cabin bag isn't easy...

At the same time, however, the idea of starting from scratch in a new place is always one that attracts me. You are bound to live adventures and discover new places, meet people of all sorts and have wild experiences. The feeling of adventure is one that, as a language student passionate for foreign cultures, has always appealed to me and keeps me motivated to pull myself out of bed every morning and go explore, wherever I am.

As a Spanish national, I had to do the ‘big move’ when I transferred to England in order to start a degree, so I already had a previous experience to reflect upon. That being said, every country is utterly different (praise the diversity) and so has been my situation, therefore moving to France in early September was still a different experience.

For starters, despite being an un-paid placement, my contract includes the accommodation and bills paid for, which saved me the trouble of having to find a house or a flat. I share a traditional Norman house with one of the other English assistants at work and could not have wished for anything better. Moreover, since I don’t have to pay the bills either, opening a bank account for the time I am spending in France is somewhat pointless. Basically, all the paperwork involving living abroad has been considerately reduced thanks to my placement.

On the topic of homesickness, I must say it was a whole lot worse when I moved away the first time two years ago to study abroad. Missing home is always going to be a thing, since it is part of your comfort zone and you will definitely miss your family, friends and – let’s be honest- the food. However, when the people surrounding you make an effort to make you feel welcome, and every day there is something new to look forward to, you don’t really have the time to feel homesick. I promise you, it gets easier but the best way to deal with homesickness is to keep yourself busy and avoid the temptation of curling up in bed to sob. If you don’t let it overcome you, you’ve won. You can always cook food that reminds you of home and, of course, call your loved ones. Just don’t let yourself get too tangled in the feeling – a little cry sometimes is good, but make sure you then cross the T’s and dot the I’s and put yourself out there!

The beach and port.

The beach and port.

So, where is Fécamp? Fécamp is a picturesque coastal town situated in the Valmont river valley in the Seine-Maritime department (Haute-Normandie region). North of the D-Day beaches and only 35km away from Le Havre, the town has around 20.000 inhabitants and is famous for its fishing tradition, Bénédictine Palace and liquor, rich history and, of course, the Falaises which are the beautiful cliffs in the Alabaster Coast. There is a pebble beach and the town is plagued with Norman style houses and narrow streets, so every time I go out I feel like I’m in a fairy tale town, so different from Bath and my home in the Canary Islands.

The Norman houses give the streets a picturesque look.

The Norman houses give the streets a picturesque look.

Still, it is a small town, which has its pros and cons. I chose to come here because I wanted a placement away from the capital and, since I was going to be here for only slightly over three months, I wanted to be able to make the most of my time and actually get to know the place I would be living in. One of the advantages, therefore, is that, being a small place, you will be able to get to know your way around quicker and actually explore everything available to you. On the other side of the coin, there is only a limited amount of things to do and places to visit, especially for young people. I’ve found it hard to meet people my age because, since it’s a small town, young people go to other cities to go to University or find a job – there is no Erasmus bubble in a place with no University. However, from experience I have also found that people in Normandy are very nice and more willing to help. I have no idea if this is just the people in the area, but from my trips to Paris and train changes in other parts of France, I have clearly noticed a difference in the way I’ve been treated. I have felt very welcomed here and people have been willing to help me with my French and other problems arising. That being said, you might also find that being a foreigner, people might be more wary around you, or that it is hard to integrate into the local community. I have been lucky and my hosts have helped me and the other assistants with finding activities to do and meeting people from the town, but you definitely have to make a conscious effort to put yourself out there and make acquaintances and speak French, just be warned. And, finally, since it’s a small town I feel that Fécamp is very traditional and picturesque in the best of ways. As I’ve said, the landscapes are unique and, as far as I’ve seen, everything is very typical French, with tons of cafés, boulangeries and other food shops, squares… I can say I am definitely living in a typical Norman town. That being said, I also have to mention the public transport, which is nothing like England. In the area, buses do not run on Sundays or late at night, and there are no train lines reaching Fécamp, making travelling around the region to discover nearby towns quite tricky. Fortunately, the people I have met have been incredibly nice offering to give me and the other assistants lifts if we need them. Having a car is the best means of transport here, but you can definitely get around if you don’t have one – most places in town are within walking distance anyway.

The Alabaster coast.

The Alabaster coast.

Overall, I am very pleased with my placement so far and cannot wait to see what else it has in store for me. I will be back in a couple of weeks to tell you a bit more about my placement itself.

À bientôt!

Zoe

 

Planes, Trains and Automobiles

  

📥  2014-15, Psychology

I made it back into America! Jubilations! Not that I was worried for a second…

A few days ago I took my third and final trip to Montreal, so that I could then come back into the States on a tourist visa and extend my stay by 90 days. A bit of a faffy situation, but it did mean I got to spend time with the Scottish friend I made on the October visit, then stayed with in January, and was able to check out Montreal’s famous Jazz Festival – days on days of free live music in the downtown area of the city. I also went for my first run in the outside world since June 2015, something ridiculous about discovering new places while on holiday and being healthy spurred me on. I have not been able to move properly since.

With my success crossing the border, I now feel safe enough discussing my upcoming summer plans. Soon my sistah from another mistah, Liv, will be meeting me here in Boston and we will be heading off on a bit of a cross-country excursion. I have not been this excited about something cross-country related since I prepared myself to tell the P.E. teacher at school that I would be quitting the running team.

This map took me two hours to construct and highlights not only my abundance of skill in Paint (not Photoshop, I’m not made of money), but also the places Liv and I will be venturing to on our month-long trip. For an added bonus, I have also included the other places I have visited since being on placement, indicated by my over-pixilated but euphoric face (New Hampshire, Vermont, Montreal, Vancouver, North Carolina and soon, New Orleans). Each “Point” on the map has been subjected to serious research, i.e. Liv and I watched some TV shows set in these cities.

USA Odyssey map

 

At Point (A), Boston, I will show Liv the revolutionary sights of American Independence and my favourite place to get a hot dog. We may also do a day trip to Salem, because historic witches are sexy and Salem was the best character in ‘Sabrina the Teenage Witch’. Television-based research: Salem.

Point (B) is New York City; we have both already done the enjoyable but expensive tourist attractions so I imagine we will mostly end up walking around markets and eating when we are not too hungover from the city that never sleeps. Television-based research: Sex and the City/Girls/Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.

Point (C) is Philadelphia – a new city for both Liv and myself. So far our itinerary involves mostly food and drinks places, but to my credit I have not yet done any proper research. Television-based research: It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.

Point (D) is Washington DC. I hope to run into Obama or Kevin Spacey there, either will do. Television-based research: House of Cards.

Point (E) is Pittsburgh – come to think of it, the interary at the moment is much like that for Philly. We are primarily stopping here to avoid a 33 hour bus ride to Chicago. Television-based research: Dance Moms.*

Which leads us onto Point (F) – Chicago. Not only will our faces be buried in deep dish pizza, but we will also be taking in our first music festival of the trip – Lollapalooza. As well as being extremely excited for the festival, I am also very thankful for the reasonably relaxed working environment that allowed me to snap up tickets at my desk before they ran out. Television-based research: Chicago Fire.

All of these points thus far will be reached by bus – the people’s carriage. After basking in Chicago’s glory, we will be swapping shakey wifi and even shakier on-board loos for a plane to Point (G) – San Francisco – where we will be scoping out an American club that plays Britpop and a fun tour of Alcatraz. Prisons are so in right now. Television-based research: Sense 8.

We will also be heading to our second music festival of the trip in San Fran – Outside Lands – where I fully expect to die of happiness in front of Elton John.

I have done some dramatic things to prepare for this trip, including cutting off all my hair. I was getting increasingly more stressed, trying to plan out when the best times would be for me to whack out the hair-dryer and straighteners while balancing travelling frivolities and levels of socially-acceptable personal upkeep. I will inevitably need to wash my hair a few times due to swimming/sweating/general grime, but the whole process usually takes about an hour and a half per go and becomes more and more necessary the fizzier east coast humidity makes it. Plus, doing so also requires about seven difference pieces of equipment and products, which is not what you want when you are trying to fit your life in a backpack. Cutting it all off has made looking after my hair joyfully easier, and while the main reason for doing so was to get rid of the relaxed hair and start growing it again with its natural texture, the timing could not have been better.

Because we will be so over buses by this point and deserve to travel in some degree of style (domestic flights can be gloriously cheap), Liv and I will then fly from San Fran to Portland, Point H, where we will go on a safari of hipsters in their native habitat. Television-based research: Portlandia.

The final leg of the trip will see us hopping on a double-decker train (???) and crossing the border over to Vancouver – Point I. This will be where I’ll either spend any money I have left on maple syrup, or where I will end up busking on the street to earn enough dolla for food. Television-based research: Orphan Black.*

Every means of transport has been worked out meticulously to ensure the cheapest ways to travel (hence all the buses and only one train). Our motto while planning the trip became “every little helps”, born from deciding between getting a bus at 8.30am instead of 12pm to save $2.50 and flying with no checked baggage because who needs stuff really? I believe the total for all the planes, trains and automobiles came up to about $600 (not including the flight home), which is outrageous really. Accommodation will be interesting – we are relying largely on the kindness of friends and family to give us places to stay, as well as that of strangers on ‘Couchsurfing’ and a couple of hostels.

Our flight back from Vancouver to London (well, Vancouver to Iceland, then London) is on the 21st August, which means not only will the trip last exactly one month, but I will have passed my year long mark of vacacement by two days. That doesn’t really mean much, but it is oddly satisfying.

Just in case anyone is wondering, I will be 21 by the time the odyssey begins. It is actually my birthday in TWO DAYS and I am so ready to have my first taste of alcohol in the United States; ten and a half months of sobriety has been awfully challenging. It is excellent timing, as I will also be going to New Orleans this weekend and there is absolutely no point in going to a place called “Bourbon Street” when you are under 21.

Looking back, I am so glad I chose to do my placement year in Boston, even taking into account the mentally destructive winter and challenging living costs. It is pretty obvious that I have used it as an opportunity to travel around and have fun, but the placement itself turned out to be exactly what I needed and I even find myself.... a bit excited (?!) by my dissertation topic and the research I have done for it here. Fourth year remains a robust barrier between myself and the real world, which is something I imagine I will savour come September. As for now, I welcome a summer of little responsibility and much vitamin D with open arms.

 


*I did not actually watch “Dance Moms”, as I am not that basic. “Salem” remains on my to-watch list and there does not seem to be anything set in Vancouver that is worth watching, so Toronto stepped in as a substitute.

 

Greek Life West of the Mediterranean

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📥  2014-15, Psychology

Last week, I hopped on a plane and made my way to Duke University in North Carolina to visit my sister from another mister. Seeing her again after eight months of separation was the primary purpose of the trip, obviously, but experiencing a temperature above freezing was a much needed perk. For the first time since October, my legs and arms actually saw the sun and I even developed a stylish sock tan-line after only being outside for about four hours (which either suggests the sun was really shinning that day or just that before I got there, I was beyond the mixed-raced version of pale, i.e. dusty grey).

My mini-break ended up being quite the cultural awakening. I had visited Duke before in 2013, but my experience this time was a tad different. On that occasion, I did not venture outside the campus and experienced the phenomenon of frat parties for the first time. I was overwhelmed by the americanisms, the red solo cups and the free drinks provided by fraternities, but this time around I was more prepared and even habituated to the red cups. My beer pong and flip cup game was on point (not fallacious whatsoever) and I wisely avoided the worst of the worst: Aristocrat vodka. I was not, however, any less amazed by Greek life...

On my second day, we went to Duke's first day party of the season (or "darty" as they are more comically known). We hopped on one of the many yellow school buses the fraternity, Pi Kappa Alpha, had arranged for transporting all party goers to a field, half an hour away from campus. FYI, yellow school buses are incredibly questionable. The suspension is horrendous and there are no seat belts... no wonder Rebecca Black preferred to let her thirteen year old pals illegally drive her to school instead of getting on one of those death traps.

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The bus pulls up and everyone on board is buzzing at seeing what lies ahead of us - a live band setting up on a stage, bouncy obstacle courses, giant beer pong, multiple bars and just your average pirate ship to complete the buccaneer theme.

Something I have noticed since being out here is that American colleges do fancy dress a little differently to us Brits. This first became obvious around Halloween, when I realised the students - mostly the girls - do not tend to go in for the "scary" (I prefer "convincing") look, instead opting for a pretty sailor or a stylish rainbow fish (while I decided to be "Rosie the Riviter, back from the dead" this year). At college parties in the US, a slightly edgy T-shirt, jeans and red headband is sufficient to transform oneself into a pirate. Hell, if you don't have those, a white top and denim shorts will also do. Pirates wore Daisy Dukes, right?

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    (In Bath)

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(At Duke - maybe the pirates are coming later?)

They also do parties very differently. Think you've been robbed, having to fork out £30 to join your university sport club? Just contemplate how much you would be spending on fraternity "dues", that go towards covering socials where live music, ice sculptures and a legitimate ship for DECORATION is expected. The whole day was free for the rest of us, from the transport and entertainment to the drinks and ice cream. At one point, a huge delivery of pizza arrived and I am not remotely ashamed to admit that I bounded towards those boxes like an infection-ridden zombie running head first at Cillian Murphy's edible face.*

The other main difference between my two visits was that I actually left Duke's campus and saw some of Durham, most importantly, the restaurants. We went to a restaurant in town that I have decided is what I shall blame any early on-set atherosclerosis on. The founder of Dame's Chicken and Waffles clearly had no time for ambiguous restaurant names, nor for time-wasting by asking what the menu speciality is. Down in the South, it is considered normal, nay a delicacy, to eat waffles accompanied by deep fried chicken, maple syrup and sweetened creamy butter (also known as a shmear, which is now my second favourite word, beaten only by moist). As a dedicated explorer of different cultures, I gallantly agreed to take part in this southern ritual.

duke

Chicken and waffles takes bacon and American pancakes to a whole new level. Eating it, I felt confused as the salty meatiness of the chicken cutlet was rapidly followed by the soft sweetness of the maple-soaked waffle, but I did not feel the need to stop eating and instead, wondered why I had left it so long to mix the two counterparts together and call it dinner. In between readily filling my body with cholesterol and calories, I looked around the room at felt at one with the fellow faces of satisfaction and joy.

My time in North Carolina was rather short, but very sweet. Skype is all good, but actually getting to hang out with a best friend, lie on the sofa in front of the TV and watch Disney movies until my eyes ache, is a simple pleasure I had really missed. Not having to wear a coat outside was also very freeing and waking up post 11am every day reminded me of the good old student days way-back-when, as well as making me look forward to another year shielded from adult life.

I finish my placement in just over two months and have already planned a helluvah lot of other trips. Now I just need it to stop snowing in the North East so I can even up my tan.

 


 

*I have been informed that the Boston University's social scene is not so extravagant, but then there aren't that many farms or decorative boats lying around here.

 

A Tale of Three Cities – MTL (3/3)

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📥  2014-15, Psychology

It is probably time I finished this three-part series; I admit I have slacked a little and I can imagine the suspense is killing you (mystery reader). So what did I get down to in Montreal?

About -30C (*ba-dum-cha* I hate myself).

As I boarded my penultimate bus of the holiday, I could not help but picture my route on a mental map, whilst looking out of the window onto Toronto’s lightly snow-brushed streets. Heading further up north did not really strike me as an issue when I was booking my holiday. It is only temperature after all! I have gloves AND a warm hat! How cold can it get really?

My impression of Montreal in winter was a little idealistic, I must admit. I pictured doing all the lovely things I did the last time I was there, but having charming snowy photos by the end of it instead of the autumnal orange and gold tree-heavy photos I took before. I imagined myself playfully walking around the Old Port, aimlessly marvelling at the whitened cobbled streets and sipping on chocolat chaud. Then I remembered I do not really ever “playfully walk” anywhere and soon realised that going outside aimlessly was not going to be an appealing option. It was cold. So cold. There was too much snow for me to know how to deal with it (bearing in mind the historical winter blizzards had not yet hit Boston by this point). Everyone I walked past was clothed in down coats and dogs were wearing shoes.

Mtl

I arrived on New Year’s Eve at the apartment of a friend I made the last time I was in Montreal, who was kind enough to offer me a place to stay. Rosy, said friend, was using me for my familiar Britishness (very important to a Scot living in Canada) and I was using her for a mattress and company after travelling solo for a while. Like Christmas, New Year’s Eve away from the usual suspects was admittedly odd and felt very different. But if I am learning anything on placement, it is that different does not have to be a bad thing. Last year I found myself taking part in a gin-fuelled game of Twister and “how much fun can we have with party hats?” (answer: a lot), this year I watched the London fireworks on the BBC website at 7pm and forced a party of French, Danish and Swiss folk into a circle of crossed arms as Rosy and I played out Auld Lang Syne proudly from the speakers. We were pretty sure they loved it as much as we did, though I doubt we cared if they didn’t.

Montreal was cold – did I already mention that? It was so cold, in fact, that people were able to skate outdoors on frozen lakes. Skating outside was such a joy; The area was lit up by trees draped in Christmas lights while the uneven surfaces and cracks hidden by snow added a fun element of danger.

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Alex (flatmate no.2) arrived in Montreal a few days later. We had an excellent plan of going skiing/boarding for a week before heading back to Boston, as we had heard the resorts in Canada are top notch thanks to the lower temperatures. What we did not anticipate was the temperature being so low that the snow was rock solid and the wind speed being too high for lifts to be safe, that many resorts could barely open. We woke up one morning with the full intention of putting on our salopettes and jumping on a bus to a nearby mountain, until we checked the weather and saw a disgusting predicted temperature of -28 and barely enough trails open to fill an hour. In fact, we only managed to get out once as the combination of horrible conditions and expensive bus tickets left us somewhat in the lurch. So yes, I carried my snowboard across Northern North America, endured numerous weird looks and even fell on my bum in the middle of the road walking it down the street, for one day of snowboarding. Despite this, I am still convinced it was worth it.

The day we did manage to get out was excellent; at stupid o’clock we headed to the bus station and hopped on a coach to Ski Bromont, a smallish mountain but certainly big enough to entertain us for a day, about 45 minutes from Montreal. The trails were fantastic and there was some pretty delicious off-piste powder on the roped-off areas. The flat horizon made a interesting change from the view of endless peaks at Alpine resorts, but the spaghetti bolognese for lunch was just as typically ski-holiday as I was used to. While sitting on chairlifts I noticed trees covered in bras and have been told this is “a thing” in Canada.

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The coach ticket pretty much rinsed us and it was still about 9km from the resort to the coach station. After forking out $10 each for the taxi to the resort in the morning, Alex and I thought we would save some money and live on the edge a little, as we stood by the car park exit with our thumbs out attempting to get a ride. As someone who had never hitch-hiked before, I could not help but feel a tad concerned as I got into a stranger’s car, but that was $10 I would be saving that I could use for dinner that night – i.e. entirely worth the risk.

While it was tempting to stay indoors all week, watching Breaking Bad on Alex’s laptop as Montreal re-enacted The Day After Tomorrow, we did actually get out and see things. One afternoon we made the questionable decision to walk up Mont Royal. I was wearing incredibly inappropriate shoes after my snowboots had gotten soaked the night before from walking through deceptively deep icy puddles. Once we reached the top, I had lost all feeling in my toes and had started considering a life of mountain hibernation, instead of trying to get back down again. The views were fantastic though and I did feel like I had achieved something incredible by making it all the way up and down without the aid of a mountain rescue team.

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My acceptance of the sanity of humans was largely put into question when we saw some people jogging around the hill in the sub-Antarctica conditions. One poor soul was doing what can only be decribed as a spiritual death mission; wearing sandals straight out of the Orange is the New Black shower props department, a backpack probably filled with bricks, short shorts and tatty t-shirt, he ran almost as fast as we were walking and his cheeks were bleeding from wind burn. If that is exercise, I want absolutely none of it.

Everywhere we walked, I felt myself fearing for my life. Pavements were covered in ice but no grit. On some streets, we covered more ground by involuntarily sliding down the road than by walking. Are Canadians born with the innate ability to walk on ice? I saw very few natives struggling in the same way we were and could have sworn one woman was wearing heeled boots. I also did not realise it was possible to get chillblaines on your bum, which opened up an entirely new set of problems for me. One evening I left the house for a curry and thought my life might actually end as I walked back in the windiest blizzard I had ever experienced. That bhuna was the only thing that gave me strength to carry on, I think it saved my life.

Other fantastic meals included bacon and white wine sauce mussels at a pub we entered to shield us from the cold and Brittany-style crepes as a final end-of-holiday dinner (this post would not feel right without a few photos of food).

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When people have asked me about what Montreal was like, I have had the tendency to go into a lot of detail about one particular night. Montreal is very well known for its abundance of strip clubs, probably a result of the progressive and liberal reputation many of its residents have. So one night Alex and I found ourselves at a recommended “strip karaoke” night and I can honestly say I have never had a more bizarre club experience. I am not sure what we were expecting, would it be a show with professional strippers who could also sing? Nope. This was effectively the chance for average people who like doing karaoke and getting naked in front of people to hop up on stage and combine their two pastimes. Some people got really into the music, others focused more on the stripping. One bloke did not even bother pretending he wanted to sing; as soon as his song started playing he got straight down to his birthday suit in all its wonder and just sort of stood there waggling himself around for a few minutes. The best part was no one seemed to think this was unusual – everyone who went up felt entirely comfortable getting naked in front of random people and all of them received a great reception of claps and cheers. Entry and drinks were pretty cheap, so although it was not what we expected and the people who had suggested it never actually turned up, we did actually find ourselves enjoying the night, in all its naked glory.

One day we took refuge inside a cat café. It had been a heavy night at a club playing the greatest decades music and serving $5 pitchers of beer, so hot chocolate and cats were entirely necessary for aiding recovery. I am not sure how long we stayed there, time is but a forgotten memory in le café des chats.

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I think it is safe to say I learnt a lot from my winter travels: I still have to improve on my abilities to pack light, always pee before a long subway journey, bars with TVs are the best options for going out alone and never venture out on a snow hike in small Topshop booties. But the most important lesson of all was definitely the discovery that if you go on holiday to Canada in the bleakest of winter, you will get wind burn on both pairs of cheeks.

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A Tale of Three Cities – TNT (2/3)

  

📥  2014-15, Psychology

When speaking to a number of different Americans about my plans to visit Canada, a large majority asked me “why?” Well… why not? I have been pretty surprised by the sheer number of Americans I have spoken to who say they have never been to Canada. It is only next door! You can literally walk there (if you start close enough to the border)! Canada is absolutely massive and as someone who had never been before I moved to Boston, the prospect of seeing as much of it as I can is very appealing.

Twelve hours on a bus sounds pretty grim and it was for a while, until we stopped off at a service station where I could get food, but Greyhound buses are actually pretty luxurious (you can probably tell I have never flown first class). They have comfortable seats, plug sockets and Wifi. Wifi! With those provisions, I managed to entertain myself for the entire journey, with the help of my laptop, Sims 2 (exposed), Facebook and Father Ted. And, of course, the blog post I wrote on the journey (I never did manage to fall asleep).

I arrived at the bus station and hopped in an Uber with a very friendly driver (what a stereotype). I gazed out of the window at the sights as we drove to my hostel, seeing the CN Tower in the distance, endless Tim Hortons cafes (Toronto’s answer to Dunkin Donuts) and a gaggle of ice hockey supporters making their way to the Air Canada Stadium cloaked in red and white. My hostel was located in the entertainment district, a short walking distance away from a lot of important spots – shopping on Queen and King Street, Kensington Market, tourist attractions in Downtown Toronto, as well as numerous bars and restaurants. As I arrived in the evening, I decided the first thing I needed to do was find somewhere for dinner. Since I was not feeling that hungry at the time, I figured I would just find a simple place and get a sandwich or something light. I ended up sitting in a bar eating steak and drinking apple and maple martinis* (once again, conveniently forgetting my current economic state). Said bar also started played Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, so obviously I had to get another drink and stay for the whole film – an ideal situation when you find yourself eating/drinking alone, focusing on Harry’s trials and tribulations made me feel far less awkward and self-aware.

Walking back to the hostel, I passed by the University of Toronto, some lovely Christmas decorations in shop windows, numerous Canadian flags, as well as the Old City Hall, New City Hall and a beautiful, free outdoor iceskating rink. I actually quite enjoy evening tourism, seeing a city at night can give you such a different impression of it.

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The following day, I booked myself onto a day tour of Niagara Falls. Seeing the incredible collection of waterfalls was definitely on my bucket list and the Canadian side is well-known to offer a far better view than the American side, which I’m pretty sure is where the American animosity towards Canada comes from (the truth hurts). Predictably, it was absolutely breathtaking. The thundering sound of the water crashing into the plunge pool below, as it stirred up a curtain of mist, intensified its impressive magnitude and reminded me why I liked geography so much at school (see, I even remembered was a plunge pool is). It also made for some great selfies.

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Posing with a tour friend, who is doing her best to make us both look average-sized

The next part of the tour involved a Chinese buffet (so that was already an A+ from me) and then a trip down the river’s course, where we stopped off the see the rapids and where the river reaches its mouth. My old A level teachers would have been so proud of my impressively retained river knowledge. We then stopped off in Niagara-on-the-Lake; a a small but incredibly quaint and pretty town. It was also snowing at the time, which just added to the charm. According to my good friend, Wikipedia, the town “was a British military base and haven for pro-British loyalists fleeing the United States during the volatile aftermath of the American Revolution”, so a pretty rad place. There were some lovely historical spots in the area, although me and a few friends I made on the tour spent most of our short stop-off eating tasters in the most glorious jam shop and an ice-cream parlour (thus I coined another phrase, tourismeal [noun] – any occasion when you are able to eat and sightsee simultaneously).

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After being sufficiently charmed, we hopped back on the minibus and headed to Ontario wine country for some ice wine tasting at the University of Niagara. I now not only know what ice wine is, but I also know how it is made, so I am practically a wine expert. Bottles were being sold at about $43 for 50ml, so shockingly I passed on the chance to purchase. I still have a very strict “sub-£5, 11% min” rule.

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The tour was so worth the money I paid for it and by the time we arrived back in Toronto I was certain I had reached my peak for tourism satisfaction. However, when you only have a couple of full days in a city, it is necessary to fit in as much sightseeing as is humanly possible. Chloe (tour friend) and I decided to check out the famous Kensington Market. Although it is not exactly like any of the markets I picture from back home with stalls and mingling smells, Kensington is still a pretty cool area. It is mostly made up of food places and quirky shops lining the bunting-adorned streets and mural-covered buildings. We found a place selling Caribbean food, so I got a much needed patty to satisfy my dinner needs – cheap, filling and tasted just like home (Norwood Junction, not Jamaica).

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Afterwards we headed back in the direction of our respective hostels, attempted to take some dodgey photos of the CN Tower in the dark, then stumbled across THIS:

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“#baconloversunite”

Forget dinner! Forget saving money! We entered without any hesitation and looked upon “Bacon Nation’s” glorious menu. Yes I just ate but sir, I will take a bacon and caramel cheesecake please and thank you. Dessert is the most important meal of the day. A girlneeds dessert. The waiter comes to our table with the cheesecake, where we are currently making good use of the communal Jenga, but wait – what’s that? But I did not order poutine? Oh, the kitchen made a mistake with a previous order? It’s free? Don’t mind if I ruddy well do then, sir. God, I love Canada. I’m starting to think I may be unwittingly beginning some sort of personal mission here – Brutus in Montreal, Bacon Nation in Toronto… has my voyage of personal discovery spontaneously turned into a voyage of bacon-themed Canadian establishments? I am planning on going to Vancouver at some point, maybe I’ll find a bacon-fueled spa or something of the sort there to complete my life.

That evening I hung out at the hostel with some of the guests, playing various adrenaline-fueled card games, accompanied by cheap wine and tequila. No one else fancied going out that night, but that did not stop me. I found a bar in some area, lord knows where, with live music and the same cider I served all summer while I worked at festival bars, making me feel all nostalgic and fuzzy (though that make have been the tequila). Closing time came and everyone else eventually left, while I stayed for about half an hour longer, chatting and drinking free Jameson with the barman.

The next morning was a struggle – who am I kidding, I definitely only woke up in the afternoon. But in my final day, I managed to fit in walking all around Downtown Toronto, viewing the CN Tower from every angle (it may have been the tallest free-standing structure in the world at one point, but I was certainly not willing to spend more than a tenner going up in a lift), venturing into some sort of design workshop where people were blowing glass and doing all sorts of arts and crafts, as well as taking a boat to a Toronto island during sunset for a wonderful photo opportunity.

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Shockingly, I decided to not go out drinking again that night, since I had an 8-hour journey to Montreal the following morning. Instead, I found a fantastic restaurant nearby called “Fresh Off the Boat”, where I got the Mediterranean shrimp sandwich. Sweet baby Jesus this was delicious; when you have sautéed prawns seasoned in a tomato and basil sauce topped with feta cheese, accompanied by an admirable portion of mourish seasoned fries, who needs tequila?

Toronto/Ontario was fabulous, it was such a pleasure to be there while the festive decorations were still up and the temperature had not yet dropped below ridiculous. Oh but then I decided to travel further North…

TBC