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.

So You Want to Go to England…

So you want to go to England?

And why wouldn’t you? The land of adorable vlogger boys, Butter Beers, Benedict Cumberbatches, Tom Hiddelstons, Whovians, tea, Corgi’s, Royals and Shakespeare. A perfect destination for any traveler looking for a little class and romance.

But first you have to get there. And this process, dear reader, is distinctly un-fun. I’d like to talk about the process I went through in attempting to gain a visa, only to discover that I did not, in fact, need a visa to begin with. Let the ballad of bureaucracy begin.

To confirm for any Canadian citizens’ future reference:
– If you are in England for LESS THAN 6 MONTHS you DO NOT need a visa.
– If you are NOT planning on WORKING or VOLUNTEERING while in England you DO NOT need a visa.

I was unaware of all these things and dead set convinced I needed a visa. However, I was unwilling to pay the outrageous fee for a visa until I knew for sure. My paper work was done and ready to be handed in, but my resolve was lacking.
I was filled with anxiety. After all, I didn’t want to be unable to enter the country, I didn’t want to get in trouble, and I certainly didn’t want to make waves. My mother was quite certain I did not require a visa, but I was not willing to make any decision regarding the purchase of a visa until I was dead sure on the matter. Suspended in a sort of visa-less limbo and growing ever more anxious on what to do about my predicament, I opted to call the lovely and wonderfully helpful Julienne Lottering, Safety Abroad Officer, at 416.946.3929.
For anyone interested in visas, travel safety or just a wonderful collection of travel stories (once she is not on the clock of course) Julienne is your go to woman.

Sadly, in this instance the bureaucracy was working against she and I both. Julienne gave me the number to the British consulate, which is: +1-416-5931290.

Stop reading.

Call that number right now.

Now that you have heard the recording you know that the number takes you to a recording that is as hilarious as it is useless. I actually cried I was laughing so hard. I can’t think of anything any more delightfully, stereotypically British that that woman’s voice. The only thing missing? She neglected to offer me tea.

One of the first things the message states is that they do not deal with visas, however, they are kind enough to give you the address of a consulate which will help you with your visa troubles.

The address is 777 Bay Street, Toronto. And approaching this office is an exercise in futility. The office is lovely; large British Flags, soft and inviting looking lounge couches, a small crystal bowl of candies.

All of which are behind glass doors and not accessible to you.

I kid you not. So far as I could tell, the office cannot be entered. Instead, and this is the best part, there is a phone. Outside of the office that you have just come to IN PERSON there is a phone, which you must pick up and wait for someone to answer. The less than polite, less than tangible secretary on the other end of the line will inform you that you may not enter the impenetrable glass barrier which prevents you access to the office and at this location, 777 Bay Street, they do not deal with visas.

This whole endeavor had thus far cost me many months of anxiety and now a full day of goose chasing.

I was feeling slightly defeated.

But, never fear! For in my resolve as a UTM student, I was determined to persevere. At the 777 Bay Street Office-that-you-may-not-enter which has the phone-that-you-must-call I was given a new address; 1 Dundas Square.

With new abandon I made my way to Dundas Square, where I witnessed a man replicate the CN tower out of paper clips in record speed, cheered and rallied a dance battle between two spry and athletic men in saggy pants and was informed that the error of my ways could be cured so long as I found God.

Now rallied by this entertainment I resumed my now epic quest to the British Consulate on my journey to find a visa.

Once in the office I found that the woman at the desk was new to her position and as such, had no idea what she was doing. Seeing my immediate look of nausea and deflation she rushed to get her superior. The man’s name was Richard and he was, for all the world, a spitting image of Hugh Grant.

With the utmost contriteness and politeness he listened to my awesome struggle with the dragon called bureaucracy and expressed great sorrow to hear of my many defeats. Then, with a flourish, his slightly balding head flashing in the light of the now setting sun, he provided me with all the relevant information I could possibly need. He then proceeded to explain the same points I made above about visa policies and the instances in which they are required.

Richard and I shook hands then. His hand shake was firm and he smelled like lemon grass as he wished me luck and good fun on my travels.

By the time I left the office darkness had fallen. But I was unconcerned, guided by a new light I made my way back to Hart House and stood in line to board the shuttle bus. With hardened tenacity I was ready to tear up my completed visa paper work and focus on the next steps required by my journey.

Look Out Queen Victoria, here I come.