The Canadian in American Studies

IMG_2238IMG_2190IMG_2209IMG_2216photo 4My major is American Studies at the University of Toronto, and so it did not make much sense to go anywhere else on exchange other than the United States. I had this belief that being in the United States would make American studies different and more official. However I learned it did not matter if I was in Berkeley or in Toronto we used that same readings, maps and key figures and scholars. While in Berkeley I was reinstated with patriotism towards Canada and with pride for the Centre for the Study of the United States (CSUS) at the University of Toronto.

My American studies course at Berkeley was a three-unit course taught by three different professors over three weeks. They described it as a variety show. The course were linked together through the topic of race and racial representation in the arts (film, visual culture and humor). In the discussion seminar for the course the professors showed a map of racial population distribution. They asked if anyone knew what city it was. In a room filled with over thirty American students I was the only one who could identify and name the city as Los Angeles. This shocked the whole room, but gave me the confidence in my American Studies knowledge.


Two of the professors at Cal did their Ph.D. with one of my professor’s who is a former director of the CSUS. Their areas of study and teaching styles were similar. For the course on Race and Film, I had to watch three films; one was Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing. I saw the film at the Castro Theater. This was a field trip I created for myself, as I had wanted to see a movie at the Castro Theater all summer. It fully enhanced the movie starting with the organ that played before the film started with New York themed music. My film professor taught me a great lesson about movies; they were not made to be watched alone on a small screen, but to be experienced in a group to experience the emotions of the characters together. This will push me towards seeing movies in the theater and not just watching them but experiencing them.


The last three weeks in Berkeley flew by and each day my Bay Area bucket list got shorter. With my days filled with classes I had to start doing fun things before 9 am and after 5 pm. I started swimming in Hearst pool before the sun rose it was a great way to wake up and spend time with my friend Ben. Trips into San Francisco became more frequent and action pack. We went to Bi-Rite for ice, burritos at 24th and Mission, mojito iced coffee at Philz Coffee, The Walt Disney Museum and a return trip to Off the Grid for Friday night dinner. One Saturday as a group we went to Dolores park to see the movie Clueless, the whole park was filled with people and I found it more fun to people watch than watch the actors in the movies.

To celebrate a new friendship and a fabulous summer, Ben planned a celebratory dinner at the Cheese Cake Factory. After the last Monday class we took the 5:55 BART into San Francisco. Steph was already in the city and as we got off BART at Powell street we received a text saying she had a table and to run over. I said to Ben it would be fun to sit outside, as the balcony is on the 8th floor and overlooks Union Square. In San Francisco the weather is always colder than the East Bay, but with outdoor heaters we were able to enjoy the sunset, food and company. It was a running joke that I was the only person who knew how to make it back on BART. Over the six weeks I would always receive text messages asking how to get place and now that I am home, Ben still sends me BART updates and questions.

The second last night in Berkeley there was one remaining item on my list. Hiking the Big C, which is an actual C for Cal up in the hills. We hiked up to view the bay from sunset. It was an amazing view of the whole bay and just by luck it was clear enough to see the Golden Gate Bridge. It was the perfect picture opportunity and we had just enough light.

I ended my time in Berkeley with a concert at the Greek Theater. I bought the tickets months before to see Sara Bareilles. It was the end of her tour and there is nothing better than live music outdoors. My friend Sarah from my education class came with me together we sang, danced and laughed to new and beloved older songs. In preparation for the concert I listened to a lot of Sara Bareilles music during my six-week exchange and it became my soundtrack to the exchange and summer. Now when I hear her music I will always think of Berkeley and this wonderful summer and all the adventures I went on.

Making Friends and More Than Friends

This time around, I’ve chosen to give a more practical twist to my blogging. Naturally, this leads me to my first topic: how to avoid the giant Malaysian moth swarming. I don’t know if moths have eyelids, but if they do I’m sure that they are not even blinking as I make a highly coordinated attempt to shoo them off every evening. I have since opted for a less aggressive tactic, avoidance, which seems to be working just fine.

Sarah-1 Giant Moths-0

Sarah-1 Giant Moths-0

During daylight hours, when I can freely leave my room without worrying about being attacked by a swarm of angry black butterflies, I am trying to finally become settled in Singapore. My free, thousand-dollar data plan has been most useful in keeping in touch with my friends and family while I’m abroad. In fact, thanks to my mom, who insists that the family balance will be thrown without my virtual presence at every major milestone, this weekend I was able to watch my baby sister go for her G driver’s license test!

Let Skype week begin.

Let Skype week begin.

In addition to a SIM card, shampoo, toothpaste and some rather exotic groceries, I also had the privilege of attaining a student pass from Singapore’s immigration checkpoint authorities. After undergoing the usual test of patience that is immigration work, I returned to my laptop for some R&R to find I received an email. This would be how I met my first Canadian friend in Singapore, Jed. His desperate attempt to leave his cockroach-infested residence and find friends by emailing the exchange coordinator at NUS proves to be a hilarious inside joke whenever people ask how we met. “We met at NUS”, followed by a smirk is our usual response.

Will and Jed and I.

Will and Jed and I.

I also met a lovely group of German travelers who are studying and/or working in Singapore. Being FIFA victors, they decided to invite us to a spectacle of their new found confidence at a German Dragon Boating event one weekend. $15SGD later, we were geared up, filled with 100 Plus energy drink and ready to paddle through Kallang River, which, as it turns out, is also a fantastic way to see downtown Singapore… Though, sightseeing was the last thing our instructor/drummer was preaching to us. She was tough, tight and gave a mean pep talk, which culminated with advice on how to incorporate our drive into work, hobbies, and…Finding a significant other. Moments earlier, I was moved to the engine of the canoe to provide some much needed leg room for the older and burlier Britt who now sat staring at me from his side of our shared canoe bench. Due to the sweat, tears and blood that were shed in our efforts to win the newbie race, I only managed to snatch a husband and a picture of the beach and the keg of Paulaner beer after we washed up ashore.


We won a prize!

We won a prize!

My final group of friends is one that has organized some of the greatest experiences I’ve had so far in Singapore: the NUS Climbing Club. From meeting bouldering legend Rustam Gelmanov while volunteering for BoulderActive to completing my first lead ascent at Bukit Timah Nature Reserve, the climbing club has helped me make the most of my time in Singapore and nurture a passion I picked up during my Professional Experience Year (PEY) in Belgium.

Rustam Gelmanov at BoulderActive!

Rustam Gelmanov at BoulderActive!


This weekend I visited Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia with a few climbing buddies to check out Asia’s largest indoor climbing gym, Camp5. We came, we conquered Jalan Alor food street and worked it all off on the wall. For those of you who are interested in budget accommodation, Serenity hostel in Bukit Bintang was in the dead center of a famous nightlife district and well worth the $10.00SGD we spent per night. While it didn’t include parking, it did provide an interesting rooftop shower experience and a modest selection of first come first serve toast, jam, boiled eggs, and coffee for breakfast, which was more like breakfast and a show once we realized there were more guests than food to go around.

Jalan Alor.

Jalan Alor.

Twin Towers, KL

Twin Towers, KL




Chinatown, KL

Chinatown, KL

Can’t thank this generous, fun-loving, inspiring, and down-right crazy bunch enough for letting me join in on their adventures!

Now that I’ve settled down and began networking it’s time to get moving around Southeast Asia. More from my trip to Phuket, Thailand when I return!

Ten-Day Food Trip to Indonesia: Central to West Java Road trip

The trip being ten days in length, of course was not purely a foodie’s exploring of local cuisines; it was also an academic field study. It might sound like work will overshadow the fun part of the trip, but I found it a refreshing way to travel. During other voyages I almost never do much research or preparation before I actually arrive. Often I’ll have a blast doing touristy sight seeing like visiting Fragonard Perfumery Museum in Paris, or listening to Harry Potter soundtracks strolling around in London (Amelie in Paris, The Godfather in New York, you get the picture). Everyone does this, surely? If they don’t, then they should – it’s like walking about in your very own movie set! Well in Indonesia I had none of this, but I had an equally if not more fulfilling time.


Semerang City


Cinangneng Farming Village



Cutting of Bamboo for Sale

Farmers Selling Craft to Supplement Income

Farmers Selling Craft to Supplement Income








Now this blog will take a more academic tone compared to the others I have written. The first few visits in central Java were to farming agencies and a farming village called Cinangneng. The village life produces a stark contrast to the city life in Jakarta, or even Bogor, a suburban city. The economic disparity, social, and intergenerational mobility is limited for many of those in small-scale farming. This is rather problematic as small-scale farming is the largest source of agricultural products in Indonesia. Cinangneng and other villages share the same issue of farmers only being able to sustain themselves on the most basic level, they can eat the harvests and sell of the little excess produce to middlemen that come to the village. Of course, the lack of physical infrastructure to ships the goods and the technology to know the value of their produce; the price they get is far below the market value. A grim picture of farming, that nonetheless is still the current practice.


Home Producing Cassava Snack


Pocari Sweat


Another category of food commodities produced is the value added goods of food and drinks like Yakult, Pocari Sweat, and Indomie. These factories is what I initially thought would be the source of income for the average Indonesian, industrial type jobs. However it is only a small segment of the population that works in this sector compared to small farm holders. The stage of industrialization is not geographically specific, but reflects a slowly changing landscape. These mass-produced food products are identical no matter which island the factory is on. The local cuisines however defers greatly in Indonesia. In central Java food is much more spicy and in West Java much sweeter. In most of Indonesia the population is Muslim beside in Bali and therefore people do not consume alcohol, but in Bali where many are Hindus there is a lot of fruit based alcohol produced and consumed such as pineapple and banana liquor.


Traditional Cassava Snack


Jamu (Traditional Herbal Drink)


Sweets for Breaking the Fast

On a lighter note the trip also allowed for bathing of buffalo, milk cows and plant rice. For me and the other students from Singapore it was window to a different way of life. A group of friends taking a course with a filming project has captured my travel to Indonesia in their project and can be viewed through this link if you want to see more visuals Since we went to central Java we could not pass up a visit to Borobudur, the world’s largest Buddhist temple – thus the pictures of Buddhas.  The next post will likely be the final post in the series of sharing my summer exchange with you as it is nearing an end.  So long.


One of the more than 500 Buddha Statues



Cal Rec Sports and Bay Area Hiking


Athletics are a large part of any university. At Cal they are known for their varsity sports, recreational facilities and Cal Adventures (water sports at the Berkeley Marina). Since this is the summer session there are no varsity sports currently being played. Football home games do not start until September when the fall semester begins. Many varsity athletes are on campus training and taking summer sessions. I have met girls on the field hockey team, basketball team and rowing crew. With my student membership I have access to all of the classes, swimming pools, courts and receive reduced rates for rentals and programs down at the Marina.

I thought I would try classes that I did not have the opportunity to take part in back in Toronto. On Tuesday and Thursdays during the lunch hour there is a women’s only aqua exercise class. The class is held outdoors in one of the three Hearts pools. The pool is marble and very private. I find the workout to be as challenging as you make it. The age range spans fifty years between myself and the other participants, many who work with the University. By noon the sun is out making the pool even more enjoyable. When a member of the class complains about the temperature, the instructors reminds them about what the class is like in the winter months. I have laughed to myself at these moments because back in Toronto it would simple be too cold and snowy to have the class outdoors. Last week one woman told me I was lucky to find the class and she was completely correct. I get to spend an hour with other friendly members of the Berkeley community exercising in a pool that is open just for the class.


With a determination to take every opportunity for adventure, I decided to join the Sunday morning paddle offered through Cal Adventures down at the Berkeley Marina. I love kayaking and have years of experience. With a sunny Saturday I did not worry about the weather until I heard it raining in the middle of the night. Sunday morning was foggy and grey. I was hoping to be able to see San Francisco and paddle out to the Bay Bridge. However due to weather limitations the group was restricted to the marina bay. This was a three-hour paddle where the wind blew onshore the whole time and the salt water covered my lips.  The fog filled in the bay area creating a small Berkeley Marina bubble. I am happy I had the experience to paddle however I have missed the small Ontario lakes.











Besides all the rec sports Berkeley, and the entire Bay area, is home to outstanding hiking venues.  Over two different weekends I was able to go hiking with friends in Marin County. To get to the trailheads we had to drive over the Golden Gate bridge which gives one of the best views of the Bay. The first hike was in Muir Woods home of the famous redwood trees. The hike was over four miles and we were able to take two trails, the Ben Johnson and Dipsea Trail. I loved the Ben Johnson trail as it was filled with tall redwood trees that had a beautiful smell.

photo 1Originally we wanted to hike from Muir Woods all the way up to Stinson Beach, however due to time restriction we drove up to Stinson beach after the hike. The water was too cold to go swimming but we were able to dip our toes in. The Tennessee Valley trail runs parallel to the ocean. With the fog settled in, it was hard to know if we were in California or Ireland. Since we were right along the ocean there was a strong breeze. On the way back to the city we took a quick stop up at Twin Peaks a look out over San Francisco. The view was exceptional and since it was a clear day the whole city was in view. I learned I really enjoyed hiking and pushing my self outside of my comfort zone.

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Hallo Deutschland!

Student exchange is a very good opportunity to travel to another country in the world and study. This summer, I am taking a 4-week psychology course at Goethe Universität in Frankfurt, Germany. This program is called Frankfurt Summer School, and it also offers Legal Studies and Natural and Life Sciences courses.

I arrived here on July 20th and I have been enjoying it a lot! The school campus is very big and beautiful, with lots of green areas great for hanging out at lunch. I have classes 4 days each week, with the weekends and Wednesdays off. Psychology class is in the morning, and then I have German classes in the afternoon. During the Wednesdays and weekends, we have excursions to visit other cities and go on tours to learn more about the German culture.

I’m very excited to tell you more about my experience here in the following posts!


Sam’s Guide to Coffee

IMG_2043I love studying at cafes and drinking coffee together they become a wonderful productive day. The west coast is known for their coffee shops both the local and the chains. I felt that best way for me to connect to the community, take adventures and complete my readings at the same time was to try different coffee shops and cafes. This is a review of six coffees spots in Berkeley and San Francisco. I used my own grading scale on coffee, location, and atmosphere. To replace stars I will be giving the place coffee cups.

Blue Bottle Coffee – 4 coffee cups

Blue Bottle is a small chain in New York City and California, mainly in the Bay Area. This was the first latte I had when arriving in San Francisco. The strength of the coffee was a wonderful shock, this become my level of comparison. No other coffee has been able to compare in strength. Blue Bottle has a selective menu of coffee and few pastries. The snickerdoodle cookie is a nice afternoon pick me up as it is filling but not over sweet. I would really like to try their olive oil short bread, as I am curious about the traditional cookie with olive oil. Blue Bottle serves only one type of iced coffee, New Orleans style iced coffee. I usually only drink lattes as I love espresso and the milk. The New Orleans ice coffee has become my new favourite summer drink. The only down side to Blue Bottle is that their Berkeley location is at the Farmers Market and not a permanent space. Blue Bottle is a place to pick up coffee and not to study.

Peet’s Coffee & Tea – 2 cups

Peet’s Coffee & Tea is the California equivalent to Starbucks in atmosphere, convenience and pricing. Originally a small coffee shop in Berkeley and the first store opened on my birthday but in 1966. I felt the need to try Peet’s once. It is a chain and you are never too far from one. There is even a Peet’s inside the Bart station in downtown Berkeley. I prefer drinking coffee from a local roaster but when you are in a rush Peet’s is there. I tried their summer drink special, which was an iced coconut latte. I love coconut and had never seen it paired with espresso. For my preference the drink was a little too sweet.

Café Strada – 3 cups

Café Strada was the coffee place that every UC Berkeley student raved about. It is located right across from campus and has a wonderful outdoor patio (with heaters for chilly and foggy mornings). It is the perfect place to go between classes, meet groups or work outside (they have wifi). I had the iced latte, it was refreshing but had a little too much which watered down the espresso. The second time I went it was a typical foggy morning in Berkeley and I had a regular latte. I was surprised that it was also served in a glass cup, it did mean I had to drink it before it cooled, but I liked it a lot more than the ice latte. With group projects this semester I will definitely be suggesting this for short meetings as we can enjoy the outdoor space, fresh air and coffee.

Café Lindgren – 4 cups

Café Lindgren was my first study place in Berkeley. It was a recommendation and I am so happy that I tried it. With a wonderful latte, it is the best place to get reading done for class. There are outdoor and indoor tables with nice background music the majority of the people are all there for the same reason, studying. I could easily make this my one study spot in Berkeley however I want to keep exploring new types of cafes.

The Elmwood Café – 5 cups

The Elmwood Café is the first time I felt like I a local in Berkeley, a feeling I love. Close enough to walk from campus but also part of the residential community. There are friends catching up, families out for brunch and individuals reading. The line up was out the door and the aroma of hot drinks and food filled the line. The menu changes every day using seasonal ingredients and fresh bakes goods and breads. The Elmwood Café donates half of their proceeds each month to a local Berkeley charity; as a customer you get to vote on the cause of the month. The coffee is served in a bowl, adding character of the drink. On the weekends it is packed and the music is hardly heard with everyone talking, however during the week there is light jazz playing in the background. It’s the perfect hide away to read for class while enjoying a scone.

Trouble Coffee Co. (& Coconut Club) – 5 cups

Trouble Coffee Co. is located at the end of the N streetcar line at the Pacific Ocean in the neighbourhood of Outer Sunset, started by a former Berkeley student, Giulietta Carrelli, who’s story about her struggles with mental illness and the creation of Trouble were documented on the radio show This American Life. A cousin of mine heard the story on NPR and told me I had to go and try the toast. Trouble is an eclectic and small coffee shop, there is very little indoor seating, but the outdoor seating is created out of trees and driftwood and titles with people’s names on them. Famous for starting the toast craze of San Francisco serving thick slices of bread with butter, sugar and cinnamon. The coffee was amazing but the toast was sensational, original yet classic. Toast is a comfort food that is nostalgic. The toast trend has not left San Francisco yet, but like the cupcake will be in every city sooner or later. A bonus besides the coffee is you can go to the Pacific Ocean, walk the beach, dip your toes in the water and see the immensity the oceans holds.