It’s been a month now, and it went by quickly and slowly at the same time. Sometimes it feels like I’ve been here for quite a while, other times, it feels like I just arrived yesterday. I’m fairly adjusted now, but there are reminders that I’m not in Ottawa any more.
Small things like the different paper size still catches me off guard. In Europe, the standard paper size is A4, which is slightly taller than the letter size in North America. Not by much, but I do notice when I fold a piece of paper in three, so I can stuff it in a bag or something. Now, the paper is awkwardly too wide to fit in my back pocket, and folding it in four would just be too narrow.
Apart from the multitudes of accents (I think I’ve heard around 5 different British accents up to now), the language is slightly different. Expressions like cheers and mate are used quite a lot, and simple things have different names, for example; peanuts are called peanuts, but when they’re in their shells, they’re called monkey nuts. Here it’s lift, not elevator. It’s a flat, not an apartment. The term class isn’t really used, it’s module when referring to the entire semester, and lecture or uni when it’s a single session (As in “I have uni this morning”), and the term course refers to the entire degree. Also, I got confused for a bit when my professor read out the number 0.05 as “nought point nought five”, to which I found interesting that even something as universal as numbers are pronounced differently here. Bus numbers like 147 are pronounced “One four seven” instead of “one forty seven”, though no one will look at you weird if you pronounce it the North American way.
I mostly cook my own food, stopping for groceries on my way back from the university (though once in a while, I’ll try out a new restaurant. I found a Tim Horton’s here, though I think it’s the American chain since it’s Tim Horton’s Cafe and Bake Shop. Had a donut there once when I felt homesick, it wasn’t the same…). It’s funny, at first glance, everything seems so cheap. “2.50 for a tub of Haagen Dazs ice cream on sale, sweet!” Then, when I think about it, it’s in pounds, not dollars. So multiply by 1.7, add a little bit in credit card charges, that’s…. umm… You know what, I’ll just double it in my head. Yeeeaaa, that tub is 5 dollars. Maybe another time. Oh what the heck, it’s on sale.
Getting around is not too difficult. The busses are better than the ones in Ottawa, but they don’t have an indicator for the next stop. So I have to guess when I need to get off the bus, which can be a gamble in some cases, especially when rain is involved (which is often). Also, if you’re waiting for the bus here, you need to signal your intention to board to the bus driver by kind of pointing at the road in front of you. A bus almost drove right past me once.
I rented a bike at Biko Bikes, a student-run bike rental shop in the Student Union building. I went there the first time they opened for the semester and evidently it was pretty busy. So busy in fact, that they didn’t have any working bikes that could be rented out, so we had to wait for them to fix some. As I waited, I asked if they needed a hand with anything. I have some experience working with bikes, after taking mine apart back home a few times. The volunteer then gave me something to do in the back of the shop. About 30 minutes later, he asked me: “You’re waiting to rent a bike right?” I said yes, and he answered “You want to rent the bike you’re working on?” “Yeah!” And so I continued fixing it up for the next couple of hours. After the shop closed, I dealt with the paperwork, paid a nice sum of £15 (with a £40 deposit) to rent it for the entire semester and I rode off with a rented bike, to which I already had an emotional connection with. I now volunteer at the bike shop on Wednesday evenings, getting my hands dirty helping students fix their bikes, so awesome.
Academically, things are going well, though it is a little difficult to get back into studying mode after about two months off. I’m taking five classes, two of which are aerospace engineering topics, so that’s fun. My schedule is lighter than I would’ve thought, but this is due to the fact that there are no tutorials and lectures are only 2 hours per week.
Due to the small amount of in-class time, studying here is much more self-regulated. This is accentuated by the fact that final exams are worth 80% of your final grade, compared to the 60-70% that I’m used to. There are no mid-term exams here, only labs and a handful of assignments, so revising along the semester is key, although a lot of students here simply cram during the last two weeks of the session before exams (and by cram, I mean sleep in the library).
So far, it’s going okay, though I feel like I have a bit more adjusting to do. The absence of close friends is taking a toll on me; I don’t laugh as much as I used to, I stay in my room longer than I’d like, I chat with friends and family in the late hours of the day. It is nice to talk to other international students, we’re all going through the same thing; we miss home. So talking about it is alleviating. The trick I’ve been told to solve homesickness is to go out and make experiences. Every time I force myself to go out and do stuff, I’m always glad I did. So in a few weeks, all should be great.