Last Post – but first, let me take a…

Hey all,

One month to go in the semester, and things are starting to wrap up. The past two weeks have featured a lot of concluding events and traditions for seniors, which I have been able to take part in as a senior myself. Definitely the coolest happening was last Saturday, which was a combo day for Holi and Bacchanal. I had never celebrated Holi before, and it was something else – paint everywhere. I quickly rushed back to my room to shower, and then headed to Bacchanal, a free concert for all students on the steps of Low Library (try doing that for our 50000+ students at Robarts U of T). This year Bacchanal featured the Chainsmokers and Lupe Fiasco, as well as some local artists. The word Bacchanal comes from the Roman god Bacchus, the god of wine, so it was naturally a pretty rowdy event.


The Show Goes On

Chainsmokers #selfie


I was also in Washington DC, with this year’s group of Killam Fellows. It was a great event, that featured museums and monuments, a visit to the world-famous Woodrow Wilson Center, and the Washington Nationals home opener. More than this though, it was a chance to reunite with those I had met in September, and to reflect on our experiences on the other side of the Canada-US border.

At the Nats Home Opener

At the Nats Home Opener

And so, the perfect segue into my final thought about my time here.

While I was at the Newseum in DC (one of the most original and interesting museums I’ve ever been to), I came across an old copy of the American Constitution (from the 18th century). IMG_2036This treasured document is still taught, memorized and analyzed today. Who knows the beginning of the Canadian Constitution? Some of you probably do, but it hardly has the same significance as it does in the States.

Why is that? In my opinion, it stems from one of the more insightful things I’ve heard here: America was not founded with any inherent spatial constraints, or official social barriers to entry – it is based on an idea. Space is finite and determined, while ideas are interpretable and infinite. Belief in the ‘American’ idea – an idea that exists independent of economic performance – is the fuel that keeps America’s image going strong. While in Canada we see, to the south, a declining hegemon, saddled by debt and falling behind, over here America has never been stronger. There is definitely the belief that as long as America ‘sticks to the script,’ it will prevail.

America has almost always been at war since its creation. Oftentimes, these wars are said to come about from economic motivations – in Iraq for example. But more than this, I believe, is the need to have the American idea triumph over opposing ideologies, whether that opponent is ‘Communism,’ or the even more vague ‘Terror’ – often taken to refer to Islamic fundamentalism. So, as the centrifugal forces of gerrymandering, China scaring, climate change, healthcare and the like lead to the increased polarization of adversarial doctrines, is America soon to be at war with itself? Hyperbolic yes, but seems to follow.

What does this say about ‘America’s Hat’ to the north: Canada! Well, the most important thing I think it says is how different Canada, and Canadian culture, is to American. If the most important aspect of America are its ideals, we should look at this as a point of difference. While I don’t believe that Canada has different ideals than America, it is the value that we are willing to place on ideals that differs. Canada is a younger country, prone to large shifts in thinking to suit our times. We are unafraid to confront important policy issues, and heck we were even willing to have the vote on Quebec sovereignty – twice (meanwhile clashing ideas in America have led to war)! Because there is less of an a priori value placed on our initial ideals, we are more open to change. In America, the word ‘freedom’ is an automatic trump card. Play that, and the other side is automatically placed far on the defensive. In Canada, the introduction of new controversial ideas does not stifle the conversation, it creates one. Nowadays, we see a tension in the US, between whether or not we want to stick to the causes of the system – hoping for good effects – or look at the effects of the current system, and address the root causes to produce better ones; healthcare is an example of this. Seems like a pretty fundamental difference to me.

I am so thankful to the Killam Fellowship, the CIE and the IR/History/Polisci departments for their support of my exchange. Going abroad in the last semester is risky, and without the help of those mentioned I would not have been able to keep everything on track. Also, thank you to Victoria College, Trinity College and CIE for their generous financial support, also making my time at Columbia possible. All experiences are memorable (that’s what makes them memories), but I believe this exchange will be a particularly important shaper of the person I will be in the future.



Signing off – all the best, and thanks for reading!


With great weather come great memories

Hey everyone (or, as we say here in America: Hey everyone!)

I’m writing this post from the second floor of a full Megabus, travelling from Philadelphia to Washington DC. Why am I starting from Philly? Originally I had booked an Amtrak train from NYC to DC, to attend the Killam Spring Seminar, but the train broke down and the trip was cancelled. I then joined the mad rat race from the train station to the Megabus loading point. Not to be hyperbolic but it was the most furious 200m dash I’ve ever ran; I only got to the bus first because most of the other runners had wheelie bags. DC here I (still) come!

Come April my Facebook newsfeed was flooded with a torrent of ‘last day of undergrad/class’ statuses. To those of you who are sitting tight waiting to graduate, congratulations! To help pass the time, you can read this blog 😉 (Also Game of Thrones is coming back)

The other thing that April means is that the weather is finally starting to get amazing! The lawn protectors were finally removed – revealing the trimmed, green grass underneath – winter jackets were stored away, and the campus is starting to come alive. So while I’m still very much in exams, I’m making sure to take advantage of these beautiful days.

First Beautiful Day: Chelsea, Meatpacking District and Brooklyn (DUMBO)

Woke up early and made some quick eggs (one had a double yolk, weird.) and grabbed
DSC03403   the first train down to Penn Station. Near this huge transit hub is the Chelsea High Line, formerly a railroad and currently a detached reprieve for downtown urbanite. The mile-long stretch of elevated track features several art installations, and is flanked by graffiti walls.

The High Line leads from 30th to 14th Street, getting me into Chelsea. I spent some time looking through this revitalized area, and enjoyed corn tacos in Chelsea Market. I then took a long route to the subway, passing by the Fashion Institute of Technology Museum on the way.

Grabbing the F Train I headed down to Brooklyn, NYC’s largest borough. It was a surprisingly short ride that brought me right into Brooklyn Heights. IMG_1181The weather was perfect, and I enjoyed exploring the neighbourhood (definitely more hipster than nyc), along with the DUMBO area next to it. New York acronyms are great: SOHO = South of Houston, Tribeca = Triangle Below Canal and DUMBO = Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass; fun fact, the acronym dumbo was given to scare away any well-to-do people and avoid gentrification, though it didn’t work. I then walked over the Brooklyn Bridge back to the city, hung out in the Lower East Side and made my way back home.




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Second Day. Met a friend for brunch at Café Frida (Upper West Side), and grabbed a mound of goodness at Lavain. Famous for the best cookie in New York, Lavain is an unassuming spot, only visible by the line of people. It reminded me of the ‘cronut line,’ I guess New Yorkers will really put the time in to get a quality treat.  IMG_1089

Levain Bakery

Levain Bakery








We ate our cookies in Central Park and I headed home to study for a test and make dinner. At night my friend Taryn and I went to ‘Smoke,’ a pillar of the New York jazz scene conveniently located near campus. IMG_1145Even though we caught the late night shift the place was packed. I’m looking forward to going back to watch my jazz teacher perform with his group on Wednesday!

I’ve been out of the city for six hours and I’m already missing it. Nevertheless, I’m looking forward to reuniting with some of the other Killam fellows, and hearing about how their exchange are/were.

Next week will be my last official blog post, where I’ll try to write about the stuff I discussed in my very first post in January. Until then, all the best!


“‘San Fran?’ Let me guess, you’re gonna say ‘Frisco’ next?!”

Hello all!

I know I said I would talk about Canada, so I’ll mention two moments. I had a great time waking up early to watch our hockey teams take home gold last month, especially because of the naysayers around me. I was also thrilled to win tickets to a Leafs-Rangers IMG_1048game at Madison Square Garden. The overtime victory had everything: fights, pulled goalies, even the rare two shorthanded goals scored in the SAME penalty (sadly, against the Leafs). Before then I was not too happy about missing RRROLL Up, but as luck would have it there was a Tim Hortons in MSG! Had some Timbits and hot chocolate with the other Canadians who had also won tickets – courtesy of the Urban New York ticket lottery.

Now about my spring break

I was fortunate to come to Columbia on a Killam Fellowship, a great program that works in connection with Fulbright. Along with trips to Ottawa and Washington (the latter taking place next month), Killam also offers a grant called the ‘Cultural Awareness Program,’ which fellows can use to subsidize their travel within their exchange country. Because New York epitomizes immigration to the East, I wanted to go to a key immigration hub on the West Coast: San Francisco. SF is one of the most diverse and famous areas in the US, with a Californian feel and incredible list of attractions; it is ranked among the top cities in the world to visit by Trip Advisor. Hearing that I had been awarded a grant, I literally ran home and booked my hotel, flight and Alcatraz tour that same hour. Here are a few of the amazing moments I spent during my three days there.

The first real view of the city I got after exiting the subway (called the BART, for Bay Area Rapid Transit) was the city center. With gorgeous colonial buildings all around, I marvelled IMG_1260at city hall in the middle. The city hall here and in New York really contrast the more modern Toronto City Hall, most recently featured as the backdrop to the latest Ford drunken stupor video.

I was supposed to check in to my hotel, the Aida Plaza, but postponed to check out a couple of museums. One that blew me away was the generically-named ‘International Art Museum of America.’ The exhibit was small, but featured works from an artist I had never heard of before: H.H. Dorje Chang Buddha III. Unusual name I know, but if you want to see a really cool blend of ancient and contemporary techniques, I recommend checking him out, and looking a bit of his unconventional background! I walked around for the rest of the day.

IMG_1304 Seriously, this museum was one of the best finds of the day

The next day I planned to do a bike tour around the city, stopping at several famous landmarks: Golden Gate Park, The Golden Gate Bridge, Fisherman’s Warf, Sausalito, Alamo Square and Pier 39. I had a huge breakfast at ‘Brenda’s Soul Food,’ which served Southern food in colossal proportions. I also found out that I kinda like grits. I finished off the day by going to Twin Peaks and enjoying the stunning sunset over the city.

starting the day right

starting the day right

cherry blossoms in the Japanese Garden (Golden Gate Park)

cherry blossoms in the Japanese Garden (Golden Gate Park)

IMG_1616IMG_1598golden gate

view from Twin Peaks

view from Twin Peaks

On my last day, I planned a city bus tour in combination with a tour of Alcatraz. My friendIMG_1697 Tony flew in from NY and we did the tour together. An incredible, spooky place, this fort-turned-prison-turned-tourism goldmine presented some real food for thought about the prison system – which remains an issue in the States today – and about the nature of justice more broadly. Don’t worry, I won’t bore you with that as I’m already running long. Finished off the day by having rich clam chowder in a sourdough bread bowl, and a Ghirardelli hot fudge sundae. We went to a couple of bars on Polk Street before heading back to the hotel.

I had an unbelievable time in SF. The hotel was perfect, the sites were picturesque and the weather couldn’t have been better. And maybe I became a little more culturally aware in the process? Thank you again Killam for helping me with the cost of this truly memorable trip.

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Can’t believe the semester is more than halfway done, with so much left to do! Open offer: if you’re in the city give me a shout and we can talk/hang out somewhere fun. If not, I’ll be in touch in a couple of weeks.

Happy first day of spring!



How’s it going everyone? Semester/midterms going ok? I got a great reply to my most recent blog post – thanks so much for taking the time to comment, it made my day!

Looking back on the past couple of weeks it was hard to think of a coherent theme, so I thought I would post some of my favourite pictures and provide a small explanation for each. This week my journalism class is focusing on photography and photojournalism, so putting up a few slices of life from the semester definitely seems appropriate.

Why you no study enough?

Why you no study enough?

This is a portrait that I call ‘Disapproving Dwight.’ It’s Dwight Eisenhower, former US President, and a former Columbia President as well. His picture is at the top of the stairs leading to the course reserves of Butler Library, where it has been for 15 years. It is almost Mona Lisa-esque the way his gaze seems to follow you up the stairs, as if to say “come on hurry up and start studying.” But no matter how much I come to Butler, it’s never enough for DD. I would take this as an example of synecdoche for the academic culture here, where you get simultaneously inspired and intimidated by the figures and names that literally stare back at you when you have an assignment to do.

IMG_0846Go nuts for Cronuts

The yellow sign top center marks Dominique Ansel’s infamous bakery, home of the cronut. The people in front of me are all in line for said cronuts. This was definitely the most popular location in Soho when I went last Sunday, but I really can’t understand why. Worth the cals? Maybe. worth waiting around for 30 minutes when in NYC on a beautiful day…dubious.

actually 99cents!!

actually 99cents!!

Now THIS is what I’m talking about. What could have been more fitting after a stressful interview than a beyond-cheap slice of fresh pizza (fresh because of the sheer turnover rate)?


I saw this note posted in the Columbia School of Journalism building, where I have my class. No pomp and even less circumstance, an unassuming announcement facilitating the most prestigious journalism award in (arguably) the world. OHH the CSJ is called Pulitzer Hall, I get it now!

Holy Frick!

Holy Frick!

Alright, so it isn’t one of the 30+ museums that Columbia students get into for free, but the 50% off admission still works for me. This is the central part (indoors) of the Frick Collection, a gigantic mansion turned museum, with one of the most comprehensive collections of European Renaissance Art I’ve yet seen. But just as nice as the paintings and bronze sculptures was the ceiling above, the wooden floor below, the elaborate countertops on which priceless vases were perched, and pretty much every fixture in the entire place. Do/did people really live like this – wow.



Signed up online – kind of sketchy – for a pub crawl in the East Village. It was a great area, accented by four cool venues for just $20. Here we are at Coyote Ugly, where a dance on the bar counter could earn you a free shot – not that I would know from personal experience (maybe if we had gone there a bit later in the night??)

halo lalo

halo lalo

My parents came to New York last weekend and I just had to take them to Café Lalo in the Upper West Side. Absolutely charming and open on very generous hours, coming on a weekend is always a risk, but with a high reward. Oh, and it was also featured in the movie ‘You’ve Got Mail!’

Just got back from the Leafs game, which I’ll talk about in my next blog post.

theme: CANADA! Stay tuned

Until next time!



Never Bored in this City

Second week of classes over, and as much as I want to pretend it’s not happening, work is starting to appear (and denying it only seems to make it worse!). Nevertheless, I get to take a break from readings to give you guys a shout.

The main thing to hit New York – besides the tail-end of the polar vortex – has been the

Superbowl Blvd.

Superbowl Blvd.

Superbowl (am I allowed to legally use its name now?). Times Square had been turned into ‘Superbowl Boulevard,’ and with the Big Game happening just across the Hudson River, people were definitely excited – heck, even I was looking forward to it. But wouldn’t you know it, the game ends up being one of the most lopsided events in history. At least Bruno Mars brought his a-game (as usual), and seeing the Seinfeld commercial filmed at the nearby ‘Tom’s Restaurant,’ was pretty cool.



Just wanted to mention a few places and faces that I was lucky enough to encounter this week –

  1. Boutique Barbershop

highly recommended for any New Yorker on the go
When I get to a new city, I always try to find some hole-in-the-wall spots; if anyone knows
me you might know about my favourite smoothie place at Yonge and Grosvenor ;). This happened when I went to Boutique Barbershop, for the most efficient haircut ever, both time-wise and space-wise. Definitely coming back.




2. The Met

When the weather was good a few of us decided to walk, through Central Park, to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. We gave ourselves two hours, and I only saw a fraction of what this immense public good has to offer. Definitely coming back here too!


3. Old friends, new meetups

totally unplannedLike I mentioned, I was compelled to come to the States after my exchange at Fudan University. Well it just so happened that one of my friends from the trip is working in Manhattan. We reunited, and went on a great tour in the financial district. And I just so happened to be wearing my shirt from the trip, hehe.





Looking forward to more nights in Butler Library this week, and there are two shows to look forward to as well; if you watch the Daily Show, tune in on Wednesday and listen for a distinctive laugh.

Happy year of the horse, and until next time – Sam


First Week Down

And so ends the longest winter break of my life!

After my last exam in early December, I had over a month to prepare for my exchange. And despite both the polar vortex and the constant urge to drop everything and drive to the nearest ski slope, I was in pretty good shape by departure time. Because of this, I was only ‘very overwhelmed’ when I first got into the city, rather than downright flabbergasted! With incredibly favourable weather, and streets filled with iconic landmarks and hidden ‘nook-and-cranny secrets’ alike, it was hard to know where to start. I managed to see a nice chunk of what midtown New York has to offer:

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a nice (staged) photo at the ny public library

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Good Morning New York City!

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After a few days of touristy things, I headed over to Morningside Heights, to move into my dorm (‘res’) and register for New Student Orientation. Needless to say, it was a pretty exciting and busy day:

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at the Glass Menagerie

The next few days were stacked with administrative and academic sessions, with little free time during the day. But this was easily offset by the organized trips to Loews Theatre and Broadway. I’ve seen three Broadway shows so far – The Glass Menagerie (starring Zachary “Admiral Spock” Quinto), Once and Avenue Q. I know Toronto theatre isn’t quite as notable as Broadway, but seeing these productions made me interested in viewing Toronto productions more habitually too

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First thing I saw walking onto campus – Low Library


Today was the first week of classes. During this period almost every student at Columbia is ‘shopping around’ for courses, and will say so unashamedly when introducing him or herself to the room: “Hi I’m ____ and I’m shopping this course.” I’m shopping around as well, and should have a much better idea of the schedule. So far classes have been great, but I’m anticipating a lot more reading than expected


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There are many more things to talk about already, but I’ll keep this post short and sweet, ending with one of my favourite pictures so far – a few of us visiting students in Times Square. Until next time! – Sam

Start Spreading the News

Hey everyone! My name is Sam Levy and I will be keeping you updated on my exchange semester at Columbia University in New York City. My term is actually set to begin in a couple of days, so consider this post more of an introduction to who I am and what I’m going to try to do in my upcoming posts.

In second year, I was fortunate to hear about a study abroad program at Fudan University in Shanghai. With no relevant qualifications to speak of I flew to Shanghai and went on to have maybe the most shaping experiences of my life.  I couldn’t believe my fortune, that I was able to experience an entirely different way of life, make incredible friends, and improve my chopstick technique with each meal (in that order). My only wish was that the program (6 weeks) could have been longer.

Overlooking the Forbidden City

Overlooking the Forbidden City

I completed two more incredible study abroad programs – at Hebrew U (Jerusalem), and KGU (Osaka) – having equally unforgettable times. These programs were also during the summer, and so persisted my wish to go abroad for a semester. When the opportunity to apply for a Killam Fellowship to study in the US became possible, I eagerly applied.

But studying in the States isn’t really studying ‘abroad’ is it? With the largest border of any two countries in the world, a shared history that is crucial to both and truly intertwined economies, it is hard to find two more connected allies. But on the point that a student experience therefore would differ little between Canada and the US, there I would have to disagree. At Fudan I was surprised by how most of my time was spent with American students, with whom I had some truly awesome experiences. From learning the difference between ‘KD’ and ‘Easy Mac’ (turns out they’re the same thing) to celebrating the Fourth of July, I realized how little I actually knew about our neighbour to the south; it was almost embarrassing, given how important the US is both to Canada and the rest of the world.

At the Umeda Sky Building, Osaka

At the Umeda Sky Building, Osaka

Or take the recent US federal election. That an overwhelming majority of those outside the US favoured Obama, yet the votes of the American people reflected close to a 50/50 split clearly shows that there is something going on in the US that we do not fully understand – to our detriment, I might add.


Therefore, I intend to write posts that capture differences between, or shed light on American and Canadian values, customs, vocabularies, political opinions, etc. I want to share moments of revelation and discovery, with ideas that can be tied to current events and pressing debates.

image from:

image from:

Or I might just post some pictures of deli food (#dinerfromseinfeld), we’ll see what happens. Speak soon!

– Sam