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.

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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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.


The Golden Gate Bridge

golden gate ladiesphoto2photo 3photophoto4The Golden Gate Bridge is the most famous landmark in Bay Area. It connects San Francisco to Sausalito for bikes, walkers and cars. The second famous element to San Francisco is the fog. One of my goals was to fully see the Golden Gate Bridge. I had no control of the fog or the weather so this would just have to be left to luck. It is possible to see the Golden Gate Bridge from UC Berkeley campus, but it is better up close in person.

After my first week of classes I planned to go into the city for dinner on Friday night. I was going with a group of friends from McGill (two of them work in San Francisco for the summer and one is also studying at Berkeley). We went to Fort Mason, which has a perfect view of the Golden Gate Bridge, it was a sunny day in Berkeley but we did not know what the weather in San Francisco was. It was possible it could be few degrees colder, windy and fogged in. However it was sunny and this is when we saw the Golden Gate Bridge backlit by the setting sun. It was breathtaking and a highlight of my week.

We went to Fort Mason to take part in the weekly food truck event called Off the Grid. With over thirty food trucks and food from every continent, we had a wonderful meal. Sampling French street food, dumplings, fish tacos and donuts. There was live music and crowds of people enjoying themselves and the food. We loved being apart of the community sharing in the food and setting.

On Saturday I was meeting cousins back in San Francisco to bike over the Golden Gate Bridge. The saying, “it’s just like riding a bike” was literally how it felt to get on a bike again. It had been years since I rode a bike outdoors, but it is a life skill I have. We rented bikes and started on the adventure over the bridge. Saturday was the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer and the walk and our ride were following the same route. It was inspirational to see all of the walkers. San Francisco is known for their hills; thankfully we went down more hills than up. I had to keep reminding myself to ride, as the views were sensational. We could see the whole city and the bay area, and the bonus was there was no fog!

From San Francisco across the bridged to Sausalito is around 20 km. In Sausalito we went for lunch at Bar Bocce, named after the bocce ball court on the beach facing the harbor. Sharing pizzas and a game of bocce, we let our legs rest before returning to the bikes and returning back over the Golden Gate Bridge. During the ride back into San Francisco the water and the bridge were glowing gold, a reflection of its name.

Sorry for the lack of photographs, I was more concentrated on the bike riding then the picture taking!







Welcome to UC Berkeley

On the pier at the Berkeley Marina with the Golden Gate Bridge

On the pier at the Berkeley Marina with the Golden Gate Bridge

My new friend Rex

My new friend Rex

View from the steps at the Sather Tower

View from the steps at the Sather Tower

Welcome to UC Berkeley where I will be on exchange for the next six weeks exploring everything that the University and the Bay area have to offer; including the 27 libraries, 5 swimming pools, local cafes, farmers markets, sporting events, live music, museums and local Cal hangouts. As an American Studies student it was my dream to come on exchange to the United States and be able to experience first hand what I study. My exchange started on July 4th, American Independence day in San Francisco. I explored the city by foot and historical streetcar. It was very fitting that one of the streetcars was the Toronto colours and logo. After leaving San Francisco and crossing over to Berkeley, I was in heaven. The campus is twice the size of Disneyland and makes the University of Toronto feel small and easy to navigate. I have spent two days walking and getting lost, but to me that is part of the fun of exploring. During these explorations I found the two dinosaurs that live in The Valley Life Sciences Building, however they are just the fossils. In the end I joined a college campus tour and learned where different buildings were located and more of the history and services that Cal offers.
Berkeley was a pivotal place during the 1960s for student activism. Now this history is coming to light for me. Everything I have studied in the classroom at U of T is alive. Out of my bedroom window I have a view of People Park, an outdoor public space saved by the people of Berkeley in the 1960s when the university wanted to transform it into a parking lot. Today it has community garden and a space for people to enjoy the grass and sports courts. The best living legacy of the 1960s Berkeley is that the buildings only have one door handle, due to the lock in of the Chancellor by Free Speech Movement. The school is not the same as it was in the 1960s but its legacy continues.
From the steps of the Sather Tower, known to most as the Campanile, a 307-foot tall bell and clock tower on a clear day you can see the Golden Gate Bridge. This is one of my favourite places to sit on campus. You have an amazing view of the bridge in the distance and are in the heart of campus. As a Berkeley student I can go up the tower. I will do this on a clear day, as I want to able to see the full Bay Area.