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Religious Studies at McMaster University, Canada 2011-2012
Hearing the words "You will have the greatest year of your life so far" can become tiresome. Lets face it every so often we get annoyed with clichés, however, you only become to realize the truth in this one once you study abroad.
I remember the day I received the letter that confirmed my place at McMaster University and from then on everything passed so quickly. So many more tasks had to be complete before I set off to spend the next academic year in Canada. You would be surprised at how easy everything falls into place, as everyone is willing to help. I arrived in Hamilton, 40 minutes south of Toronto, with no where to live and checked into the local hotel for two days, giving me two days to find my home for the next year. Although it was stressful, it was fairly easy to find rooms to rent. Luckily for me I ended up sharing a six-bed house with 5 friendly Canadians.
My initial thoughts were that I wouldn’t experience a major culture shock compared to a student going to mainland Europe or East Asia. Once welcome week arrived and you are confronted with students singing and dancing at the slightest sight of a new student I soon realized I was not at Lancaster. The slap-stick humour, the lack of sarcasm, the serious nature of every student and the strange looks every time you say tomato proved to be a major difference throughout the entire year. The funniest moments are those when you and fellow British exchange are having a conversation whilst your Canadian friend just stares with confusion. Gradually you begin to pick up the odd Canadian twang in exchange for your British slang.
Although being abroad made my entire year incredible, the friends I made completely made my study abroad experience that much more special. How often in your life-time are you placed in a random country with 50+ people who are all looking to share the same experience as yourself...not often. I am now happy to say that I have made brilliant friends not only in Canada, but also across mainland Europe, England and Australia. Yes it is important to try and emerge yourself in the country you are studying in, but ultimately you will click the most with those who are also on exchange. Not a days go by without seeing an exchange friend and discussing a possible weekend trip away to the closest city. More importantly I am now still in touch with all my exchange friends and we are regularly organizing reunions. The previous reunion being in Paris and the next one is in Leeds. I found this aspect of exchange to be my favourite experience, so be sure to get to know other people who are studying abroad at the same university as you as they could be your life long friends.
In between your social life there is important work to be done. I had to keep reminding myself that I was here to study and get through my second year of university. The work ethic in Canada is very productive so be prepared to be spending the long nights in the library trying to complete important seminar readings and essays. Oh and don’t forget the 10% tests that are set every two weeks and the 5% Quiz that is due every Sunday. Im not going to lie the work load is stressful, but I found myself wanting to keep up so I could enjoy a quick trip away to places like Montreal In Quebec.
There is a lot more participation from students in Lectures so be prepared to hear vocal students wanting to express their opinion whilst everyone around you types up every word into their laptops. At one point I was the only student with a notepad and pen sitting amongst a sea of laptops. Seminars can be equally as stressful. For Instance, in a lot of my modules 10-20% of my final grade went towards participation. So when I attended my seminars I had to make sure I was vocal and had good points to address in order to gain extra marks towards my final grade. But be aware, there is such a thing as negative participation, so I also had to be careful to not be too vocal otherwise the quieter students wouldn’t get a word in edge ways. One girl in my seminar got told by the lecturer to not raise her hand anymore as she was participating too much, this could see your grade go down. Oh and its also common to see students jumping out their seats in order to get their comment heard. So yes it can be very competitive. One thing I found was that Canadian students do not like to discuss marks unless you have an A-, A or an A+. It is very academic so be prepared to become a part of the rat race. Towards the end of the year I too became competitive by wanting to achieve the highest score in my seminar group. It keeps you on your toes.
Midterms! Mid-terms can be a pain, especially those that are worth 30% of your final grade. Imagine starting university in September and then having 30% exams at in the middle of October. My stress levels were always at an all time high when midterms arrived. Trying to juggle writing two essays during the same week as your midterm exams can prove to be very stressful and challenging. But do not be afraid to ask for help from Lectures as they all are very friendly and always looking to help you out in any way they can.
The most exciting part of studying abroad is the amount of travelling that you can do. I was lucky enough to experience and take part in some great activities throughout my entire year. I managed to spend sometime in Montreal, backpack along the east coast of America from Washington DC, New York and Boston during the Xmas break. I also made a weekend trip to Chicago as well as hiring a ski lodge to enjoy the slopes during Xmas along with exchange friends. I was also lucky enough to visit Quebec City where I tried out dog sledding, slide down ice slopes at Quebec’s biggest Ice Park and also go ski-ing in Mont Trentblant. Make sure to try and get some travelling done once you have completed the academic year abroad too and work hard so that you can have weekend trips away. Along with a couple of exchange friends we managed to rent a car in Alberta and drove through the national parks where we hiked and mountain biked in the Canadian Rockies. Whilst there we managed to spot wild Grizzly bears, black bears, moose and coyote’s. From Alberta we went to Seattle south of the Canadian border and then back up to Vancouver, BC. Bare in mind that studying abroad is not that much more expensive than studying in Lancaster, the expenses only start to mount up when you decide to travel around.
I had the most amazing time studying abroad. I could endlessly talk about my year in Canada but no one will ever understand how much of a great time I had. In order to understand you need to take the opportunity and try it out for yourself. It definitely was "The greatest year of my life so far".
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