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Politics & Philosophy at University of Toronto, 2004 - 2005
You can get pretty much anything you want out of a year abroad. My experience at the University of Toronto was something that was life-changing in many different ways. I did things I never would have had the opportunity to at Lancaster and I got to study at the best university in Canada! Here are a few of my favourite experiences:
Meeting my new friends in my new college
When I first got into my halls of residence it wasn't long before I discovered that the college dean had put me together with a bunch of other British exchange students. There were seven of us in total, not too many as to dilute the Canadian experience, but just enough to feel a little like you were at hope (especially when sports from England made it onto the TV!!). I was the only one of the group studying philosophy and we were all on exchange from a bunch of different British universities. It wasn't long before we all made plenty of Canadian friends too, from the college, and from our classes. Being the guy with a funny accent really helps you become the centre of attention and all of the Brits exploited this as much as they could! Honestly, my many new friendships were one of the most important aspects of my year. I am still in touch with the Brits and the Canadians who are all still very important to me!
My trip to Vancouver
Vancouver is a five hour flight to the far coast of Canada. I was only there for a few days during reading week but I got to try my luck at snowboarding in the Rocky Mountains. As a novice snowboarder I was a bit overwhelmed, particularly when I found I'd taken a wrong turning and was heading down an intermediate slope rather than the beginners one I was aiming for. Needless to say I ended up at the bottom of the mountain having travelled most of the way down on my bottom!
I went to stay with a friend who was at McGill University in Montreal on my birthday in October. Montreal is in the province of Quebec but it is fairly Anglophone so you can get around pretty easily if you don't speak very good French! It's the second biggest city in Canada and it's known for being a bit of a party town! I went sight-seeing most of the day - I visited the Olympic stadium and the bio-dome where they have converted the old Olympic cycling arena into an animal sanctuary where four different ecosystems are exampled and different species such as penguins and crocodiles are live in their natural habitats, and climbed Mount Royal which is in the middle of the city! It was in the autumn and all the leaves were just turning which made the place look absolutely amazing! At night we hit the town and went to all sorts of fun little bars and pubs, each seemed to have a different theme but everyone was so friendly! Several pitchers of beer later, I ended up having one of the best birthdays ever - dancing the night away in a funny little bar that played live music and was full of friendly francophones.
Nights out in Toronto
My college student union, SMCSU, was known as one of the best in the University for organising college parties. From the very first week (they call it frosh week over there) we got invited to socials all in exotic locations all over downtown Toronto. Whatever kind of music or environment you are looking for Toronto is so huge you can be sure there is a club or a bar that caters to your taste. One night we went to a club called Fluid that was big enough for 3000 people and was so big there were loads of different rooms for different DJs. Alternatively there are plenty of smaller places that are much more intimate. Because you are surrounded by students that you know and who are of a similar age the college parties are a great way to get involved even if it happens to be the kind of place that isn't normally your scene. Toronto is also really well-known for its live music. Several times I went out with one or two friends to smallish gigs where well listened to all different kinds of bands. My favourite was when we went to see Keane who were on a North American tour. They weren't all that well-known there and so the venue was really small and the tickets didn't cost much all. There are all sorts of different bands and venues so you can pretty much count on something that you like being available while you are there.
Studying at University of Toronto
My degree is a joint major in politics and philosophy and going to U of T was really great for me as it has such a great reputation in both of those fields. The Philosophy department there is actually the second biggest in the world and so there were a huge range of courses to choose from. Studying at Toronto let me take courses like Wittgenstein or Death and Dying, that I was really interested in but perhaps wouldn't have had the opportunity to do if I had stayed here in the UK. The courses are very intensive, however, and there are usually two essays and one exam per term. And usually you are taking at least four courses a term, so you can image you have to spend a lot of time studying!
The average mark for a course at U of T is a C+ but in the Philosophy department it's probably more like a B-. I noticed that the standard of work is a big step up from the first year at Lancaster. But don't worry - it's not all bad!! The University also offers a brilliant student support service, meaning that you can get free help with pretty much anything you are struggling with. I went to the Essay writing help centre with a couple of my papers and it was brilliant! After only two sessions I'd turned my C+s into B+s and even, as I got more practice I started to get A's. I can honestly say that centre did absolute wonders for me as a student. In one ethics paper I managed to get 95% and 87% in another one! It's also helped in the longer term - the same ideas have certainly helped me become much better prepared for the third year at Lancaster.
My Bungee Jump
As I only had a few weeks left in Canada I decided it was time to do something pretty crazy! I'd thought about getting a Maple Leaf Tattoo or trying to smuggle home my girlfriend in my suitcase just so I didn't really have to face leaving. After deciding that neither of these was really an option I settled upon blowing a few dollars on the doing the stupidest thing I could think of. I managed to convince a few of my friends to come with me to a former quarry north of Ottawa, about 5 hours away, where we would all take part in a bungee jump.
It turned out that the jump was actually the biggest in north America, about a 200 feet drop. Looking over the edge was the scariest thing I had ever faced in my life! The guys there were really fantastic and they'd trained us and prepared us in all the relevant safety info but that didn't stop my legs from shaking a lot, as it turned out I had to jump first. Apparently people often say the free-falling bit its like flying - it isn't - it's like falling! It is a simply amazing rush, I don't think you properly cognize it as you are doing it. It's just an experience of your entire body filled with adrenalin as you sweep down very very fast toward the bottom! It's not that you just fall down you fall all the way down until you head and hands are submerged in the pool at the bottom. Then comes the snap back, the first bounce is up to around 85% of the original jump height. The second and third bounces seem just as high! The only really unpleasant bit is when you're done bouncing and you are just dangling there at the bottom of the rope, spinning round upside down waiting for the mercy of a guy in a boat to come and get you!
In all my Canadian experience has changed my life in a very positive way, and I think It could do the same for anyone who is willing to really embrace the opportunity. I can't wait to go back to Toronto just as soon as I can afford it!
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