A Reflection

Am I already writing my final blog for this semester? It seems like yesterday I just wrote my first blog in September when I talked about my excitement and expectations for my upcoming year abroad in Berlin. Because of the Centre for International Experience at U of T, I was given the amazing opportunity to blog for the first time in my life. I am happy I made that decision back in 2013. Blogging gives me the opportunity to reflect upon my experiences and think exactly about all I have done and what I have seen.

I am happy with what I have accomplished and how I have contributed to all the student blogs. From moving here in the summer, to the festivities at Oktoberfest, to dealing with the German bureaucracy, to explaining how the university system works, to my trip to Hamburg, to the differences between Canada and Germany, to the Christmas season, to the major sights, scenes and history of Berlin, to my trip to Poland and the UK….. I have tried to document and share as much as possible about what life is like here.

BMW World in Munich- Lucas and I checking out a sports car

BMW World in Munich- Lucas and I checking out a sports car

Not much has happened the past two weeks. The highlight would be a trip down to Munich with my friend from Toronto who was still with me. We did a walking tour of the city and saw all the main attractions. The BMW World and BMW museum were amazing. All the latest technology is displayed and the museum took us through the history of one of the best auto makers in the world. I would highly recommend a visit there.

The Olympia Park, Munich

The Olympia Park, Munich

In front of the Bavarian Victory Gate in Munich

In front of the Bavarian Victory Gate in Munich

A soccer game in Berlin was also seen. The Berlin team, Hertha BSC, plays in the German Bundesliga, the national German soccer league. They play in the Olympia Stadium, the same place where the 1936 Olympic Games were held. It is massive with a total capacity of 75,000 people. For Easter, I met some friends and we had an outdoor BBQ at the Tempelhof Airfield. This is a massive, abandoned airfield located just south of the city center. It was the location where the Berlin Airlift in 1948 took place, when American and British cargo planes delivered thousands of tons of food and supplies to West Berlin. Today, it is a gigantic park where hundreds of people go to walk, have picnics, BBQs, run, play sports, cycle or simply walk the dog. It is an amazing use of free space within the city.

Olympia Stadium, Berlin

Olympia Stadium, Berlin

Tempelhof Airfield

Tempelhof Airfield

I would like to say one more thing about writing blogs and about my year abroad in general. I am really starting to see who I am, what I want, and where I come from. After reflecting on all the things I have done, I know what it means to come from Canada. I know I will miss my time here in Germany and all the friends I have met, but it all needs to eventually come to an end. I will never forget the experiences and great times I had overseas. I still have one more semester to complete and it goes until about July or August. Until then, I must focus on learning German and continue to enjoy Berlin and all the new experiences that will come my way. I plan to travel as well a bit more. I know the time will go by way too fast.

I want to thank the Centre for International Experience for giving me the chance to blog. I had a blast and as I said, I learned so much about what I am doing here through my personal reflections. To all my readers, I hope you enjoyed reading my posts. Hopefully you were able to learn something. Please feel free to contact me if any of you have any questions, I would be more than glad to help :)

I wish you all the best and the utmost success in the future! Take care and Auf Wiedersehen!

England, Ireland and Scotland

Red telephone box in London

Red telephone box in London

Abbey Road

Abbey Road

For the past two weeks, I had the opportunity to travel across the English Channel to the huge, more or less, island of the UK. I planned this trip with Lucas, a friend of mine from Canada. We both agreed to meet up at London’s Heathrow airport. I flew in from Berlin and he came all the way from Toronto. We saw various different cities and many great experiences were had.

View of the Thames River

View of the Thames River

Lucas and I in front of Shakespeare's Globe Theatre

Lucas and I in front of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre

The first leg of the trip started in the massive city of London. First, we saw of course all the sights that tourists must see: the Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, the Thames River, Tower Bridge, Buckingham Palace and so on. We even went to see Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre and then took a trip to Abbey Road looking like goofs as we were tried to imitate the Beatles album cover. One night we attended an Arsenal soccer game. It was my first ever soccer game and it was very entertaining. The crowd was packed with fans cheering chants and going crazy.

Arsenal soccer game

Arsenal soccer game

There was one shock to me with going to London for the first time (or the entire UK for that matter): driving on the left side of the road. I remember staring at the traffic at one busy intersection, trying to grasp such a foreign concept. On one occasion, I almost got simultaneously hit by a car and then a street cyclist. They actually paint on the streets at crossing points: “LOOK RIGHT”. I guess this is for all the new people like myself to the city who are simply not used to such rules of the road.

A must for those new to the traffic rules

A must for those new to the traffic rules

Our travels then took us north to Manchester. After about 4 hours in the bus, we arrived in this industrial city. Firstly, there was already a change in the dialect. The people became harder to understand, even though they were speaking English. We walked around the city, looking at famous landmarks and buildings. Also, from the people we had spoken to, they were all fans of the Manchester soccer team and they did not like other football clubs. They made that very clear with us.

Liverpool was our next destination. This was my favourite city of our whole trip. It is a port city, so there was an amazing waterfront. Even worse than Manchester, the people here were almost impossible for me to understand. Numerous times we had to ask some individuals to please repeat themselves as we had no clue what they were trying to say. The Beatles came from Liverpool and hence we had to visit the Beatles museum. It was a great experience, taking us through the history of one of the greatest bands ever.

The Beatles Museum in Liverpool

The Beatles Museum in Liverpool

To change up our mode of travel, we took an 8 hour ferry from Liverpool to Belfast. We were pleasantly surprised with the whole experience. We expected it to be simply a wooden bench and a loud engine while we were trapped for the whole trip within a metal hull. Instead, it was quite luxurious! There was a great on-board restaurant, a cinema, sleeping cabins, lounges and cafés. It didn’t even seem like we were on a ship, as the engine was so quiet.

The ferry from Liverpool to Belfast. Liverpool city skyline in the background

The ferry from Liverpool to Belfast. Liverpool city skyline in the background

Belfast was a cool city. There is a great history and it is similar to parts of Toronto. Kind of like Queen Street West. We saw the Queen’s University, the harbour, an old jail and we were even there when the Belfast Film Festival was taking place. We saw a very strange movie and I am still trying to figure out what it was about exactly. It was probably the worst movie I have ever seen in my life. It was called “The Distance”. Look it up and try to watch it if you can.

The Scottish Highlands- breathtaking

The Scottish Highlands- breathtaking

The last city on our list was Edinburgh, in Scotland. Comprising of a central castle on top of a hill, many old and beautiful buildings, parks, a rich history and Scottish accents, Edinburgh is a great city. One night, we did a haunted tour into one of the ancient vaults underneath the old city. It was quite creepy. The highlight of our stay was a 12 hour bus tour of the Scottish Highlands. We went all the way up to the northern part of Scotland and it was beautiful. There were mountains, rolling hills, lakes and little villages. We even saw the famous Loch Ness Lake where the mysterious monster is supposed to live.

Loch Ness Didn't catch a glimpse of the monster

Loch Ness
Didn’t catch a glimpse of the monster

Well, that was about my experience travelling to the UK. Much was seen, many kilometres were travelled, and now we are back in Berlin. I will show Lucas the main sights in the capital of Germany. Thus far, he is really enjoying the city. For me, my second semester starts next week. I had enough of a break- time to learn again! :) It is hard to believe that all of you back home are now writing exams and I am just starting. Just another difference I guess between the two university systems.

Some Differences between Germany and Canada

From the eight months being away from Toronto, I would like to dedicate this post solely to the differences I have noticed between Germany and Canada. Both countries are very similar in numerous ways, yet there are still some large disparities.

I’ll start with auto transportation. Most of the cars here are much smaller than in North America- and I mean extremely small. There are no pick-up trucks or SUVs for example. I rarely see large sedans on the streets; mostly just compact models. I think this has to do with the streets themselves. Most side streets, especially in smaller towns, are very narrow- there is literally only enough room for one car to fit. I don’t know what happens when two cars meet head on, I imagine they would need to drive halfway on the curb in order to pass each other. In comparison, my neighborhood in Toronto (North York), the streets allow that even with cars parked on both sides a large truck can still easily pass through.

The Volkswagen Up!

The Volkswagen Up!

Almost ALL cars use a manual transmission. Every single car that I peek into has a stick shift. This is true even for the typical family van, something that is almost unfathomable in North America. There are of course different kinds of cars as well which come from European manufacturers. Ford and GM are rare to see, where as makers which are not seen in Canada, such as Peugeot and Skoda, are common. Furthermore, there are specific models here which are not available on the North American market. Volkswagen makes the Polo and Up!, both of which I have never seen back home.

Normally what we have back home

Normally what we have back home

The 18-wheelers that are in Germany look totally different from those back home! They are much smaller. Their fronts are completely flat, almost as if there were squished.If I could give them descriptive words I think ours look much more “mean” and “intimidating.” I find ours look better. They’re more serious looking ready-to-haul-a-heavy-load trucks.

The version that is used over here

The version that is used over here

Oh and one more thing- the gas prices. If you think our prices are expensive in Canada, try coming here. It is crazy! While we complain at $1.25/litre, here the average is at about 1.60 Euros/litre. And don’t forget, that is in Euros, even more than the CAD. Perhaps that is another reason why the cars are much smaller.

Many people, especially in Berlin, roll their own cigarettes. They buy the rolling paper, tobacco and filters separately, then simply make them themselves. It is cheaper that way. I have noticed there are a lot more smokers here as well. In comparison to Toronto, many people are smoking on the streets. Smoking is allowed in the bars and clubs in Berlin. I find that disgusting and afterwards all of my clothes smell.

There are cigarette vending machines on the streets. You only need an ID to “prove” your age and then you can buy a pack of cigarettes. I assume underage kids take advantage of such a system. Furthermore, there are advertisements for cigarettes. Unlike in Canada, where the advertising of cigarettes is prohibited, I regularly see ads in magazines or on billboards.

A typical cigarette vending machine

A typical cigarette vending machine

What else can I say? The German computer keyboards are different. I especially get confused with the “Z” and “Y” keys when I use a public computer which are switched around. You can buy alcohol pretty much anywhere. There are no specific stores such as the LCBO or The Beer Store. Also, the alcohol is much cheaper here, but hey, it is Germany after all; they are known for their beer! Open drinking in public is also allowed.

There are many smaller, privately owned stores, such as bakeries and cafes. It is more common for people to go to a cafe to enjoy a coffee outdoors and buy a dessert. It is more common to buy bread from a local baker than go to a massive grocery store. There are no Wal-Marts for example.

Everything is closed on Sundays. And when I say everything, I mean everything. Tough luck if you forgot to buy some groceries on Saturday; you would have to wait until Monday morning. There are many more casinos too. Unlike back home, where there are the massive ones, such as Casino Rama or Casino Niagara, here there are little ones located all over. In most situations, you need to pay to use the public washrooms. Whether in the mall or on the side of the highway, 9 times out of 10, you need to pay about 50 cents to use a washroom.

"Sunday Shopping"- I took this picture during the Christmas season. An advertisement showing that a mall is opened on Sunday.

“Sunday Shopping”- I took this picture during the Christmas season. An advertisement showing that a mall is opened on Sunday.

The clubs and bars are opened much later, unlike our 2am closing time in Toronto. In Berlin for example, certain clubs are opened all weekend long, not closing until Monday morning. Germans like to use the 24 hour clock; it took me a while to get used to this. Their electrical sockets are different as well. They use 220-volt system unlike the 110-volt system, which is what we use. I needed to buy an adapter in order to use my electronic devices.

What the plugs look like over here

What the plugs look like over here

Well, those are some of the major differences I have noticed during my time here so far. There are some smaller observations, such as the fact that cashiers sit while working, or that there are barely any STOP signs in side streets. Yet I think I covered the most of them. The next two weeks I will be traveling the UK with a friend of mine from Canada, so there will be lots to share with my next post. I hope you learned something from this one!

The layout of a German keyboard

The layout of a German keyboard

Poland: An Adventure of Discovery for Me

The Palace of Culture and Science at night

The Palace of Culture and Science at night

For the past eight days I travelled Poland, visiting three major cities with friends I had made while studying in Berlin at the Humboldt University. During the trip, many laughs and fun times were had and overall it was a great week excursion. Wrocław, Krakow and Warsaw were the cities we visited and this entire trip opened up a whole new country, culture and history to me, all of which I did not know much about before. Oh and of course the food! But I will get to this part later on.

Perogies!

Perogies!

We took coach buses for our travels. In particular, the company ‘Polski Bus’ took us everywhere we needed to go. All the buses were fully loaded and super cheap. For example, our bus ride from Wrocław to Krakow, which lasted about four hours, cost only 1 złoty, which in conversion to the Euro, is only 25 cents! It even included complementary snacks and drinks along the way! This comparison speaks to the entirety of Poland, I would say. The prices of food, drinks and city transportation for example are inexpensive in contrast to many other cities (Europe and North America) that I have been to.

Ordering my obwarzanek from a typical street vendor

Ordering my obwarzanek from a typical street vendor

We first spent one night in a hostel in Wrocław. We stayed in the city centre which was surrounded by many historical buildings and rivers. We visited many old churches and landmarks, finding our way around with a tourist map. We then spent three nights in a hostel in Krakow, the second largest city in Poland. The hostel was called “Let’s Rock Hostel” and I would really recommend it to anyone who wants to visit Krakow. The staff were extremely friendly and always there to help you with anything you needed. There were even themed evenings; for example we drank sangria one night and ate waffles another.

Krakow- Cathedral beside the Wawel Castle

Krakow- famous cathedral beside the Wawel Castle

On one day, we went on an excursion to the Auschwitz concentration camps. We took a bus from the main station and the journey was about an hour and a half. I visited two concentration camps before, but nothing compared to this one. The content was heavy and the themes were deep. The entire set up of the experience was very well done, with documentation, artifacts, authentic buildings, information panels and pictures explaining the camp’s history. If anyone plans to visit in the future, it takes a whole day; there is so much to see.

Auschwitz

Auschwitz

On another day, we jumped on a free walking tour of the city. The entire history of Krakow was narrated to us and we visited the most important sights to see such as the main square, Wawel Castle and St. Mary’s Basilica. Walking tours are great- you get to walk around and get some exercise, breath fresh air, enjoy the sights, all while having someone explain to you the history of the city, pointing out important landmarks. Afterwards, we went to Oskar Schindler’s former factory, which was turned into a museum dedicated to Krakow’s history of German occupation during the Second World War. In particular, I enjoyed the section about Schindler himself and his role within the city. Like from the movie, “Schindler’s List”, pictures and documentations were given about the history of the man who saved the lives of over 1000 Jews through the running of his factory.

The Palace of Culture and Science- beautiful architecture

The Palace of Culture and Science- beautiful architecture

One viewpoint from atop the Palace of Culture and Science

One viewpoint from atop the Palace of Culture and Science

Finally, the last stop of our tour took us to the capital city of Poland, Warsaw. With much thanks to a Polish friend of ours who also studied abroad for the first semester in Berlin and who currently lives and studies in Warsaw, we were able to stay at her apartment for the duration of the trip. We all did a free walking tour again, which allowed us to visit some of the important sights of the old city. Our guide was hilarious, so it made the experience that much more enjoyable. We visited the top of the ‘Palace of Culture and Science’, a building built by the Soviets in 1955. The architecture was impressive and being located within the centre of the city, it offered an amazing 360 degree view of Warsaw; definitely a highlight of the week. We also went to the ‘Warsaw Uprising Museum’. It was very well displayed and the content was great; weapons, artifacts, movie clips and documents were displayed. There was even a full-sized bomber plane hung up on the ceiling! The entire experience there reminded me of our ‘Canadian War Museum’ in Ottawa. This museum is a must if anyone ever visits Warsaw. It speaks directly to the courage and strength of the Polish fighting spirit during the German occupation of World War Two.

A massive memorial/list of names of the Polish insurgent soldiers killed during the Warsaw Uprising

A massive memorial/list of names of the Polish insurgent soldiers killed during the Warsaw Uprising

And again thanks to our host friend, I was introduced to the amazing world of Polish food! This part of my Polish experience was one of the best portions (no pun intended). Our first stop was at a traditional Polish restaurant which served authentic Polish cuisine. Here I ate perogies and they were absolutely phenomenal. It is a sort of dumpling which is made of dough and the inside is filled with different ingredients ranging from meat, to a type of potato-like filling, to cabbage, to cheese. They are boiled and then fried in butter: pure deliciousness! I also had a hot beer with this meal (shots of flavour such as ginger and raspberry could be added upon request).  It was alright, but I think next time I will stick to a good old ice cold beer 😉

Also, before when I was in Krakow, I also ate an obwarzanek, which is pretty much a pretzel. They are a known specialty within the city, as the street vendors were literally everywhere to be seen. It was really cheap and fresh. Back now to Warsaw, we went again to the restaurant but this time I ate the recommended flaki. It is a beef soup, which literally translated, means “guts”. Yes, I know it doesn’t sound too appetizing, but it was amazing. Let the taste do the talking, not the sound or impression of the ingredients! Finally, we all tried zapiekanka, which is sort of like a long-shaped baked pizza made with mushrooms and cheese. I would say it is more a take-out, fast eating type of food. Again, it was inexpensive, yet very filling and of course, like all the food I tried, truly appetizing.

My zapiekanka. This one had bacon and garlic sauce

My zapiekanka. This one had bacon and garlic sauce

Flaki

Flaki

So Poland, what can I say? You showed me a country rich in culture and you have a lot to offer to all visitors. I had a great time this past week and it didn’t hurt the wallet at all. I tasted amazing food and learned a lot about history firsthand through the museums we visited and the tours we took part in. Before I head back to Canada, I will visit Poland again because I had such a good time. Furthermore, I will definitely be going to the annual Polish Festival that we have in Toronto- I always heard about it, but never went. I just did some research, and it is actually the largest Polish festival held in North America. I need to get my fill of perogies somehow!

My first zapiekanka was so delicious, I ordered another one: salami and Mexican sauce this time

My first zapiekanka was so delicious, I ordered another one: salami and Mexican sauce this time

The Arts in Berlin: An Attempt to Scratch the Surface

One blog post simply cannot even come close to describing the art scene here in Berlin. Berlin has tons of museums, theatres, galleries, concert halls, classical events, performances, street art, concerts, special exhibitions … the list is literally endless. To cover and to see it all would be impossible no matter how long someone stays in Berlin, mostly due to the fact that this scene is always changing, always evolving. With this blog I will briefly discuss three events and how they relate to my personal experience with what I have seen in here so far in relation to the arts.

The Berlinale logo and I

The Berlinale logo and I

Action on the Red Carpet

Action on the Red Carpet

Firstly, this past week was the start of the famous Berlinale, Berlin’s International Film Festival. Like TIFF, Toronto’s International Film Festival, the Berlinale is one of the world’s leading film festivals in the world. Yesterday I went to see the action live on the Red Carpet with a really good friend of mine who is from Poland. I never saw such a spectacle in real life; usually just on TV back home. To actually see the actors and directors roll up in fancy cars all dressed up was quite the experience. It took place at Berlin’s Potsdamer Platz, one of the most important and major intersection hubs within the city of Berlin. This week we plan to get tickets and see the screening of one of the films. I am really looking forward to seeing further what a film festival is all about! I have never done such a thing before.

Stars rolling up

Stars rolling up

Next. Musical street performers … they are all over the city. From performing live at open-air markets on the weekend, to simply on the side of the street, to playing in parks, to dancing within the subway stations, to even strolling through the public trains, changing cars as they go along- they are everywhere. What is amazing about such performances in Berlin, is the diversity of what they do. I have seen solo singers perform wonderful works. There have been bands ranging from three to about eight members. Those who are really talented, make a LOT of money. I saw once a guitar case filled with what must have easily been at least 300 Euros.

Musical group at Mauerpark, an open-air Sunday market

Musical group at Mauerpark, an open-air Sunday market

A trio band performig in the Tiergarten

A trio band performig in the Tiergarten

There are guitarists, musicians who play every type of brass instrument you can think of, harmonica players, drummers, pianists, and even some foreign instruments which I have never seen before in my life. In particular, I enjoy how they mix genres and try to create new, funky sounds. It is hard to describe with mere words, but these street performers create new alternative music which is edgy and always exciting. One must simply hear it with their own ears. Most of these performers look well off, as if they do it often for money or just for fun because it’s what they love to do. Yet some, I can tell, are less fortunate, and it’s all they’ve got. Quite a few homeless people trying to make ends meet, performing what they can.

Unique music in Berlin's Mitte district

Unique music in Berlin’s Mitte district

A drummer in the Prenzlauer Berg district

A drummer in the Prenzlauer Berg district

Interesting instrument

Interesting instrument

Guitarist playing at Mauerpark

Guitarist playing at Mauerpark

A guitar player under a bridge at Alexanderplatz

A guitar player under a bridge at Alexanderplatz

Finally, I would like to share my experience I had one night at the very famous Berliner Philharmonie. It is a concert hall, home to the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra.  The building itself is known for its amazing acoustics and its distinct architecture. I was blown away by the interior of the concert hall!  It holds a few thousand people and it looks breathtaking. The orchestra played very well and there was a famous female violinist who had a few solo performances too. One portion of the entire show included a massive organ that was super loud- I felt pretty rattled afterwards. I am normally not exposed to classical music, so this entire evening for me was a new experience and I enjoyed it. I definitely plan to see more such events in the future while I am still in Berlin.

The Berliner Philharmonie, simply breathtaking

The Berliner Philharmonie, simply breathtaking

Adventures in Amsterdam

Last Wednesday a few of my friends and I decided to go to Amsterdam that very weekend. I don’t think I’ve ever done something so impromptu. Though it was fun, it was more of a learning experience than a holiday.

For starters, we immediately regretted our decision to take an 11 hour bus. The bus driver was rude, it was absolutely packed and the seats were tiny… But the fun really began around 5 am, when our driver decided that he didn’t want to drive anymore because he thought someone on the bus was drunk. He then attempted to kick a guy off the bus in the middle the night, somewhere in Holland. An argument ensued, which nearly everyone on the bus became a part of. We ended up sitting there for about an hour while people stood around outside, trying to convince the bus driver in any way they could to keep driving. In the midst of this, two fist fights broke out (I wish I was kidding). The police eventually showed up to kick some people off and thankfully nobody got seriously hurt (though my friend and I were almost accidentally punched in the face). We then continued our journey to Amsterdam.

The struggle didn’t end there. We had booked a hostel online that, judging by the pictures, appeared to be fine… when we got there, we realized it was definitely not. The stairs were essentially a ladder, there weren’t enough beds for us in this tiny room with ten people smushed in, there was drywall on the floor and the “free breakfast” was bread. They wouldn’t refund us for the person that was no longer staying with us, nor for a night that we didn’t spend there. The photos on the website did not correspond to the reality of the place at all. We left after an hour. To say it was awkward would be an understatement, but none of us could see ourselves staying there after the journey we had. We happily checked into a cheap hotel and began our day, sleepless but happy.

Amsterdam is unlike any other city I’ve ever been to! It’s hard to put into words, so here are some photos instead:

House boat

House boat

Van Gogh museum

Van Gogh museum

Floating flower market on the right

We spent a total of two days there, roaming around the city in a sleep deprived state. I’d love to go back with more time to spend there, especially since we never made it to the Anne Frank museum or Vondelpark.

At the very least, the weekend was an exciting one. The bus ride back was awful, but at least nobody got punched in the face.

Back in London I haven’t been up to too much. Just taking it day by day.

Oh, but this happened.

Yes that really is Rupert Grint and no I can't breathe

Yes that really is Rupert Grint and no I can’t breathe

No biggie.

Talk soon,

Veronika

 

IT’S FINALLY HAPPENING!!!

My friend Amalia Damberger

My friend Amalia Damberger

 

My lovely friend Bronte.

My lovely friend Bronte.

 

The School!!!!

Schmancy dining hall ceiling is schmancy.

Schmancy dining hall ceiling is schmancy.

This blog is going to be somewhat jumbled because the closer I get to leaving the more it feels like my brain is made of mangos. If you will bear with me, dear reader, then I am sure you will gleen something useful, or at least entertaining, from my rambling.

First off, several obstacles have tried to prevent me from getting to Royal Holloway. I feel a great deal like Harry Potter caught in the scheme that sought to unfairly allow him to return to Hogwart’s. First I was mistakenly sent a tuition of about 5,763 pounds. The exchange rate to dollars would have crippled me financially and before discovering this was a mistake I was launched into a 3-day spiral of depression. I came to terms with not getting to see the UK, started making preparations to get into classes at UTM late and generally hated being alive. The email saying the tuition fee was an error is the best news I have ever received and I do suspect the only news I could ever hear in the future to rival what I felt would go something like,

“You do not have a terminal illness.”

“Your child was born healthy and strong.”

“Your mortgage is paid in full.”

A day after my good news came I noticed I had developed a strange abdominal pain that wouldn’t let up. It felt like cramps and so I ignored it as an inconvenience. About three days later though I was woken at 3am by a searing pain in my lower abdomen. I ran to the bathroom and discovered that I was urinating blood.

I know what you are thinking. You are thinking,

tmi .

Perhaps, but stay with me the story gets better.

I got my roommate to take me to the hospital at about 5am when I could stand again. Luckily the hospital is only just down the street. While there we sat across from a sleeping-homeless-partially-nude woman. After waiting for a few hours a man in complete hysterics came in and began screaming and crying about how he had been robbed.

We listened to him whine for a few hours and discovered from his many loud and self-important phone calls and chats with the police that he had gone to a club, had 6 drinks in 4 hours and accidentally Rufilin-ed himself.

Seriously.

This is too stupid to make up.

He had intended to drug and then do god knows what to an unsuspecting victim and accidentally took the drugs himself because he was too drunk to remember what cup he put the Rufilin in. So far as I am concerned, he got what he deserved.

After the drugs started to kick in the club called him a taxi to get rid of him. In the taxi he had taken out his cell phone and all his ID (including passport) and put them on the seat. He then panicked, thinking it had been taken by the taxi driver and demanded to be let out. The taxi driver let him out on the sidewalk, where he promptly passed out before coming into the hospital and claiming he had been robbed.

I, in the mean time, was in agony waiting for a doctor. When I was finally seen the doctor and nurse were lovely and were able to determine that I had a UTI and needed antibiotics. In his effort to discover what was wrong with me one of the doctors asked me if I had ever had an STI. I mistakenly thought he said UTI and off handedly said,

“Oh yeah, tons, all the time.”

He gave me the kind of horrified look that indicated my answer was somewhat worrisome. I felt I needed to break the petrified silence and so I said,

“I usually drink cranberry juice, I’ve heard it helps.”

The cranberry juice thing is, as it turns out, recognized by doctors as a helpful aid to getting rid of UTIs because my mentioning this helped the good doctor to recognize that I have not in fact had several STI’s (or any STI’s for that matter).

These are the kinds of things that seem hilarious at 8am.

***

The closer I get to leaving the more anxiety I am starting to feel. So I am engaging a well-practiced university skill and not thinking about it.

This anxiety is combination of good and bad; bad feelings like, “What if I get there and realize I haven’t packed any underwear?!” which is of course ludicrous, as I have packed more underwear than what is housed in the average Calvin Klein wear house.
These notions of paranoia are broken up with good thoughts such as, “Ican’tbelievethisisreallyhappeningIamsoexcited!”

My bags are neatly packed, a friend is subletting my apartment while I am gone, I have completed (with the aid of my mum) all the necessary documents at this point. The full gravity of the situation hasn’t yet hit me. And I don’t think it will until I am up in the air.

I am not worried about being on my own because I am just as introverted as I am extroverted. I am looking forward to the time away from everything familiar (though I fully admit to being terrified of the idea of a totally new habitat) because I am hoping to gain, among other things, a new perspective of what I have by experiencing something new entirely.

In a vain effort to appear organized and travel ready I have herein attempted to prepare a list of all the things one must do to prepare for a long journey, alone, internationally. I do make my first recommendation this; if at all possible avoid attempting to complete 2 difficult summer school classes while simultaneously moving from a mold ridden, cockroach infested apartment to a more suitable, if notably more expensive, dwelling in the city.
Having successfully avoided all the above, here are some things that will help prepare you on your travels!

1. Waiting. Get good at this.
There will be a lot of paper work and registering and waiting in soul crushing suspense to get in. Once you have found out you are accepted there will be a lot more paper work, registrations, meetings, seminars, et cetera. All I can really suggest is wait it out, check email constantly and don’t panic. I know this isn’t spectacularly helpful or informative advice but everything is relatively straight forward and lain out for you. Just follow the steps your school gives you and don’t expect anything to happen at a normal pace. Everything will either happen too fast or painfully slowly.

2. Pay Attention.
To deadlines, instructions, registrations et cetera. There will be a lot of things to keep track of, so make sure you keep track of them.

3. Keep a list of the things you pack!
Once you get to the packing point, which may be sooner for some of us and later for others. Having everything written down on your mac book or another, inferior piece of hardware (I jest) will make it easier to avoid losing things and will give you a solid idea of what you already have and what you need.

***

I am not a savvy traveler. People skills and resourcefulness I have down pat; it is following directions and finding locations that I struggle with. But here is where the people skills come in handy; find someone who is going where you are going, make friends with them and follow them to the gate.

So upon entering the terminal I find I have just enough time to board the massive plane, my first time on such a plane. In the connecting suspended hallway I can hardly contain my excitement, an old man ahead of me notices this and says, “Are you excited to go to Cancun?”

I can feel the color drain out of my body and puddle onto the floor around my Doc Martins which are large and make my feet look big. Except they don’t actually make my feet look big, my feet are actually just that big.
The cheeky bugger. He realized he had half scared me to death and told me he was kidding; this flight goes to England.
I let out a huge sigh of relief and recounted to him the occasions on which I had nearly died before this flight. Surviving all that, only to find I was about to get on the wrong flight, would be too much.

The flight attendant is a spiffing man with a Jordy accent who point me in the direction of my seat and says, “Have a good flight love.”

As I enter the plane I pass through the first class section; large sprawling, reclining seats, foot rests, cup holders a premium amount of space for carry on luggage. I am over taken by a moment of giddiness until I realize that my section is closer to the back of the plane, far removed from this life of luxury.

As I walk down the aisle people struggle to get their luggage into the over head compartments and I actually cheer them on in their struggle.

“You can do it!”

“I believe in you!”

“Take your time, you got this!”

7 and ½ hours later I find myself in Heathrow Airport. I had been warned that it was big. I was never told that it is FRACKING MASSIVE. Immediately everyone is shuffled into lines to cross the border. I worry that I may be in the wrong line because there is a line across from me where a lady is yelling “Students!? Students here!”

As it turns out I am in the first class line. I have no idea how I got into the ‘fast track’ line as it’s called because I didn’t have a first class ticket. I start to get nervous and because sweating seems to be my body’s response to even the suggestion of emotion I also begin sweating heavily. I start to panic, thinking things like,

“What if they don’t let me into the country?”

“What if they make me go stand in another line and I miss the shuttle taking me to Royal Holloway?”

“What if they think I am up to no good because I am sweating so heavily and looking paranoid?”

Getting across the border was of course no problem. The officer was lovely and I was not forced to return to Canada. Having then crossed the border I began searching for the shuttle that was to take me to the school.

Rows and rows of bored, grumpy and scowling faces met me. All the taxi drivers half hold up cardboard or washable signs with names like ‘Charles Munchin’ and ‘Mike Lee Zoa’. None have the words “Royal Holloway” embossed on them.

I start to panic again. Luckily just as the first bubbles of dread popped on the surface I saw a giant orange sign.

ROYAL HOLLOWAY.

It told me. I quickly joined the group to meet friendly, if jet lagged, girls from France, Kazakhstan and Greece. The drive to the campus was somewhat disappointing; it looked just like Ontario. Any disappointment I had from the drive was washed away by the view of the campus cresting the hill: it was spectacular.

Once moved in and settled I met several lovely girls who are now friends and joined a group who gave me free beer promptly before losing me accidentally in the winding halls of the building. Everyone is lovely.

***

Administration here is disorganized and painstaking. But it must be done. I am successfully moved in and hope to have my class timetable soon.

I have found that I am able to stay up until early morning and only sleep until 8am without feeling tired. I am unusually positive about everything that happens, good and bad. I am, I feel, truly living to the fullest in a way I have never been able to before. Small inconveniences don’t bother me the way they usually do.

For the first time in my life I feel truly, and fully, content.

Tata for now.