My name’s Emily, currently an Edinburgh Politics student my third year and embarking on my year abroad at Queens University in Canada.
I have been asked many times in the past fortnight how I ended up in this little crazy university town in Ontario, and to be honest the answer is a straight forward one- it seemed like an adventure. Last autumn I returned home from an amazing summer in the United States where I’d spent three months working and travelling and quite frankly, it had been the summer of my life. So when I attended the international exchange fair on a cold October day, I already had the travel bug and knew I wanted to be jetsetting off somewhere. Having made a whole bunch of friends in America, I immediately thought that would be my destination of choice- although the photo albums of the Sydney harbour bridge were hard to ignore. Then the Canadian stall appeared. Never having been to Canada before, I was intrigued. Tales of freezing rivers in cities with underground malls, skiing every weekend and becoming an avid ice hockey fan hooked me for good.
Now, just under a year later, I’m sitting in Queens University library, in Kingston, Ontario, and reflecting on the past fortnight seems like a better idea than the stacks of homework I already have. And what a fortnight its been.
Ask any exchange student about their first emotions after arriving in their city or town of choice for their exchange, and I can guarantee the feelings of excitement and adventure were quickly replaced by fear. There is no doubt about it, arriving in a country I had never been to before, to a town where I knew no one was absolutely terrifying. Stepping out of my comfort zone doesn’t even come close.
After a few days of settling in and buying a “comforter” (duvet), NEWTS week began. One thing Queens loves is acronyms. This was the alternative to the usual Frosh (Freshers) Week, and stood for New Exchange Woohoo Transfer Students, and was aimed at welcoming us into the Queens community. And welcome us it did. This was no ordinary Freshers week. In fact, I truly believe no other university does an orientation quite like Queens.
Over the course of the next five days we cheered and danced, learning the Queens school song (which is sung in Gaelic, obviously!), had paintfights, did NEWTS olympics, ate Poutine in Montreal (which is a traditional Canadian dish- basically cheesy chips and gravy!), sung karaoke with strangers and generally wore a lot of orange (NEWTS colour).
We ended one of the most surreal week’s of my life with a tamming and traditions ceremony, in which we learnt about the history of Queens and its Scottish heritage, which is something the University prides itself on. We were then presented with tams- a traditional highland hat, before a whole marching band of bagpipes playing Scotland the Brave and a town crier welcomed us officially to Queens, Canada. As I said, very surreal!
Since then, life has calmed down, and I’m adjusting to being a third year (booooo) and have put my lacrosse stick down to join the rowing team which means more 5am starts than I’ve ever since in my life! But so far, so good in Kingston.