Preparing for Ottawa: Chapter 1
by Mikey G Ottawa
If I’m honest, when the year abroad choices for next year were presented to us in October last year, I was slightly disappointed. There was no New York, no San Francisco and no Toronto, and the locations such as Vancouver only offered a place to one student, and were much fought for (curse my relaxed fresher attitude to attendance and exams). We were told that this was due to students’ lack of enthusiasm to come to our uni, the University of Birmingham. This I still don’t understand; a Russell Group uni in a vibrant city with a great nightlife and academic programme not appealing? But I digress. I chose to apply to the University of Ottawa, as I’ve always wanted to go to Canada, I love snow and if I’m completely honest, the drinking age limit isn’t 21.I have been given a wide range of advice regarding my year abroad from a wide range of sources. From Birmingham, I have been told the official stuff such as making sure I phone my Mum when I get there (yes, really) and to look up health insurance, whereas when I attended the Canada Day celebrations in Trafalgar Square last month I was told to not worry, Canadians are all lovely (but that I should definitely support the Canucks)!
I started house-hunting in April and I soon realised that as their term goes from September-April, the yearly leases on student houses started in May, meaning I would be paying for 4 months of rent during which I wouldn't occupy the property - not exactly ideal for a poor student. However, I looked on the official student housing billboard to find off-campus housing and luckily found a house with rent that started in September and ended in April - perfect! I chose to live off-campus mainly due to the costs involved, and the fact that I preferred living in a house to halls in Birmingham. I am excited to live with some REAL Canadians, but also a little intimidated about entering into an already set group of friends, but they seem friendly so fingers crossed! BUT the house is unfurnished, which will be an interesting challenge to rise to when I arrive in an empty room after a 16 hour flight…Still trying to figure that one out.
Next I purchased flights, to go out in September and come back at Christmas, it was at this point that I thought “shit, this just got real”...And expensive. I have received a form from Student Finance regarding how to claim for expenses such as flights, but have yet to work out how it works... More on that in later entries (hopefully). My visa was next on the list, and now that I have already been granted my Study Permit, I can disclose that the Canadian websites are extremely confusing and for the most part just plain unhelpful. Eventually I worked out that as a British Citizen going into Canada, all I needed was a Study Permit and not a visa per se, which can all be done easily online without you having to send your passport away or going to a lengthy interview (info was correct at the time of print etc. etc. you should double-check first though!), so in the end it’s a very good system they have, you just have to be able to understand it first…
Now that it’s only a few weeks away I am nervous about a lot of things; about starting all over again (Freshers Week was more scary and intimidating for me than for most people, it seems), being homesick and not being able to just take a £20 train home, losing touch with uni/home friends, not making friends in Canada, not being able to cope with the work load, and running out of money while I am there. But without sounding corny, I am excited for so much more. I am excited to just BE in Canada, a place I have literally heard nothing but good things about, about meeting new people, about people asking me to say things in my accent like that scene in Love Actually, about going to a Tim Hortons and a Hockey match, and experiencing a whole new culture. I am excited about the prospect of travelling whilst I am there, hopefully to Montreal and Toronto, and though it rakcs up to -18 degrees Celsius in winter, I am excited about the snow!
I don’t think I will ever feel prepared, but I am more excited than nervous which I think is much more important. If all goes according to plan the next time I update this journal, I will hopefully be writing from a furnished, friendly house in Ottawa, Canada, so see you on the other side!