Ottawa to go: De Montfort University journalism student swaps Leicester for a taste of life as an undergraduate in Canada
As her DMU classmates roll up for the first journalism classes of their final year at university this week, Grace Cushnie will still be fast asleep in bed.
She has a pretty good excuse for skipping the next few workshops though, and all the ones that follow.Grace is spending the next year studying overseas – at Carleton University in Ottawa, more than 3,250 miles away from Leicester.
She’ll be writing about her experiences as a British student in the Canadian capital in a regular column for Leicestershire Press. And her first Letter from Canadastarts with stormy beginnings.
I left home on August 21 to trial my new life in Canada as an exchange student, on a short holiday with my mum.
Leaving was as horrible as I’d imagined. I put my life at De Montfort University on pause. I left behind my best friends, my family and my dog, and I don’t think the tears stopped for the majority of our seven-hour flight. But, we landed anyhow, and my new life began.
Walking out of the airport, we were met with the biggest storm I had ever seen. The sunset held a dusky pink over the road, and rain lashed so hard you could hardly hear the taxis driving by. The thunder and lightning were something I’d never experienced, not in that way. The air was so fresh. It was throwing ‘new’ and ‘different’ right in my face, but in such an exciting way that I couldn’t do anything but embrace it. We sat and watched that thunderstorm for a while, the craziness of the airport rushing around us.
Eventually, we made our way to the taxi rank, where we were taken to our hotel on Rue Saint-Dennis, Montreal.
Montreal was our first stop on our little travel around Canada. It was beautiful. It showed us the calmness of Canada. Not one person ever seemed to be rushing, and everyone was friendly. The only way it would compare to England is if the whole population was on Xanax. It is such a happier place.
It is also where we first tried poutine, Canada’s national dish. Chips with cheese curds and gravy, with a vegan version for me. A definite diabetes on a plate, but actually pretty tasty.
We tried our first Canadian Tim Hortons, or ‘Timmies’ as it’s known locally, and I must say it would beat Leicester’s any day of the week.
We also accidentally wondered into an indigenous market which, while interesting to see the culture, scarred me with the number of dead, stuffed bears. Including cubs.
We spent those first few days in Montreal learning a bit about the culture, figuring out what coins what (it took a while to understand that 10 cents are a smaller coin than 5), and buying too many souvenirs, including a few moose dog toys.
On the 24th, we set off extremely early to go on our coach trip to Toronto. We met Luke, our lovely but strange tour leader who told us all off several times over the two-day trip. Believe me – you do not want to be late on his time! I’ve never been scolded harder than when I turned up three minutes late with a coffee in my hand. He was great entertainment for me and my mum.
However, he did take us to some amazing spots.
We first went on a boat tour around the Thousand Islands which was absolutely beautiful. The mansions along the coast home to several celebrities. Next was Canada’s biggest aquarium, and then the CN Tower. Trust me, nothing makes you feel as small in a big country than the view from that tower. It was built to look over the railway, but the view scales the whole of Toronto. Being up there makes you feel like you are on top of the world.
The next day oriented around Niagara Falls, something that has been on my mum’s bucket list for years.
We started off having a sky view of the waterfalls, and later got absolutely soaked on a boat trip which went right up to them.
It isn’t often you see such a beautiful sight so close. Well, through what felt like lashing rain, that you could hardly see through. I won’t lie, it was actually easier to see from further away, but I wouldn’t have missed it. It really was an experience.
We eventually made it to Ottawa, the home of Carleton University, where I will be staying for the best part of the year.
The journey from Montreal to Ottawa was two hours long, and the views were amazing. One thing I’d never seen before, however, was a groundhog. They’re everywhere here. The first time I saw one was on that coach, and, while driving onto a motorway, I saw one on a tiny patch of grass in the middle of the roads. I slapped my sleeping mother on the shoulder and told her there was a beaver, which she obviously didn’t believe. We saw more after, and we both genuinely believed there was beavers just relaxing in the middle of the roads, no where near water. We later learned about groundhogs.
They also have black squirrels here which, like the groundhogs, are everywhere. They’re the equivalent to rabbits in England, just a lot more interesting.
We visited our first Walmart’s, which is full of very different things than Tesco’s. We found maple syrup beans, and I don’t think I’ve seen anything more Canadian while I’ve been here.
We looked around the parliament buildings, and went up and down a stair case which must’ve had at least 500 steps that, while beautiful, were a killer for the legs.
We had a look around my university. I think it must span about 10 miles. It is massive.
We found my accommodation and, of course, broke in to have a look around. The most we made it to was up and down the elevators because all the doors were locked, but my mum found enough comfort in knowing which floor I was on.
We spent our last night together in the hotel room then, inevitably, the time came that my mum had to leave me.
I ordered her the uber, and we spent our last few minutes outside the hotel in tears. We waved as she was driven away to the airport.
I spent my last few days in the hotel, waiting for my move-in date to come around. I binged my comfort series, The Gilmore Girls, and waited for my biggest adventure to come around.