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 Canada starts with stormy beginnings.

Grace Cushnie at Carleton University
Cushnie number: Grace at Carleton University

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.

Smells like poutine spirit: “Diabetes on a plate, but actually pretty tasty,” says Grace.

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.

Thousand Islands addressing: celebrity home-spotting on a boat trip along the St Lawrence River

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.

Selfie-employed: the view from the CN Tower
Tick the bucket (list): Grace and her mum at Niagara Falls

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.

Beanz meanz … wait, what?

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.


7 simple ways Leicester City could improve the atmosphere at the King Power Stadium

By Jayden Whitworth

Leicester atmosphere
Atmospheric: Small safe standing singing section at Leicester’s Europa Conference League clash with Rennes

What do you love most about the football? Is it the air littered with smells from the burger van? Is it the opportunity to engage in some light-hearted friendly banter? Is it that ice-cold pint of lager that beckons every weekend? Or are you just a sucker for pain and heart ache and enjoy the Leicester City rollercoaster of emotions? 

For some people it might be the atmosphere.

The opportunity to feel a sense of togetherness and unity.

People ramming themselves in like sardines – equipped with a vocal cord-warming hot cup of Bovril – set to belt out those iconic chants.

On good days, the King Power Stadium is bouncing.

Packed to the rafters. Entertaining football. Chants ringing round non-stop.

On bad days, the King Power can be flat.

Boring, lethargic football. People not quite up for it. It can be toxic.

This season the atmosphere has been far too inconsistent. The bad days outweigh the good days. 

The boring, sideways football we have seen at points this season is partly to blame.

But I think there are some changes that can give the atmosphere a little boost. A bit of a lift.

It is all put into perspective when you see the atmosphere created at Rennes. It’s a whole new ball game when it comes to European atmospheres.

I’ve put together a list of seven changes I would make, given the chance.

1. Bring in Safe Standing

This one feels like a slightly obvious shout. With the club beginning to experiment and test singing sections this season (in games against Watford and Rennes), the likelihood of Leicester City introducing safe standing in the future is increasing.

Safety first: Safe standing in operation at Wolves during their Premier League fixture against Leicester City

Safe standing isn’t a novel thing with some Premier League clubs having already introduced safe standing. Liverpool have built safe standing into their ‘kop’ and the away section. Wolves have incorporated it into their ‘kop-like’ stand. Both stadiums are notoriously loud. 

The atmosphere at home to Rennes was the best I have seen in a long time.

It was booming.

It is no coincidence that the atmosphere was this good at a fixture with a standing singing section.

As I’m writing this, the club have yet to announce a singing section for the PSV game, after the success of it against Rennes. One step forward, two steps back. Odd.

With the legal safety requirement of having an all-seater stadium loosening, I think we will see them more and more often. It will be a good thing.

2. Just get rid of the clappers, please

Hoarder: At least a few years back they gave some player information, remember that?

I don’t want to milk this too much. I feel like I spend half my life moaning about the clappers. But like a poor-man’s Ebenezer Scrooge, I too am being haunted by the past, so here we go again. There is no doubt the atmosphere would improve if the clappers were gone. 

It has almost become part of my match day routine to trundle up the stairs to my seat on row Z, grab the clapper and chuck it down the back of my seat. Out of sight, out of mind.

Make them optional. Put them in the concourse and give people the choice of taking one up to the stand.

Kill two birds with one stone. Better for the atmosphere. Better for the environment.

If you want more of this clapper-bashing chat, check out this article dedicated entirely to the clappers. It’s a good read, I promise.

3. Adopt a powerful club anthem

Trust me – I know I’m waxing lyrical about Liverpool here.

I don’t want to.

But again, they get this right. Everyone knows ‘You’ll never walk alone’. It has been adopted by Liverpool fans. West Ham’s ‘I’m forever blowing bubbles’. Leeds’ ‘Marching on together’. Sheffield Utd’s ‘Greasy Chip Butty’.

The list goes on. 

It’s an opportunity to rally the troops. Get the vocal cords warm.

There is an obvious option here with Leicester’s very own – Jersey Budd. ‘When you’re smiling’ is already largely recognised as a Leicester chant and for a period was the anthem.

We miss a trick here. Make this the club anthem. Get rid of the electronic tripe. Blast it out just before kick-off. Get the scarves up. Get the atmosphere buzzing. Sell scarves with ‘when you’re smiling’ on one side. Sell as much merch with this plastered on as you like. 

It’s a song that encapsulates the city of Leicester. 

Make it ours.

4. Move L1 and SK1 together

I could be wasting my time here. This might be a logistical nightmare.

It has been a debate across Leicester social media for a few years now, as to who does it better? L1 or SK1? 

As I see it, it seems completely counterproductive to have a section of ‘die-hard’ Leicester fans in SK1 at one end of the ground. And another group of ‘die-hards’ at the other end next to the away fans. 

I guess the problem here is where you put them. 

Historically the ‘die hard’ fans usually congregate near the away fans. The back-and-forth abuse is usually what makes them ‘die-hard’. So, you probably don’t want to move them away from the away support. So, do you move SK1 fans over to L1? But that leaves a Kop with no vocal fans.

Could you move the away fans? Over to the Kop. Away from the family stand. I don’t know.

I’m not as confident in this suggestion. Hypothetically, it would improve the atmosphere. Logistically, I’m dreaming.

5. Give more freedom to dedicated fan-led supporter groups

When the likes of Union FS have been given the freedom to create organised displays, they’ve looked amazing. They were a regular fixture in our dazzling Champions League campaign back in 2016/17. But, they have fizzled out in recent times. 

The displays are now few and far between. With any display usually confined to the corner in SK1.

Newcastle supporter groups have shown what they can do now they have been released from the shackles of Mike Ashley. Creating stunning displays and having a bit more control over what happens on matchday. Creating a better atmosphere.

We don’t see it as much at Leicester anymore. Very rarely are their flags or banners. Or mosaics. There should be more.

They just help to give people a bit of a buzz.

My five picks for best atmosphere at the King Power Stadium:

5. Leicester City vs Liverpool (1-0, 28th December 2021)

This was the hardest one to pick, the others just fall into place. Perhaps a surprise inclusion, but this was the best atmosphere I’ve heard at the King Power since our glory days in 2015-2017. I found myself cheering every tackle, every block. They worked really hard that day. This game came a few days after they knocked us out of the cup, even better.

4. Leicester City vs Manchester United (5-3, 21st September 2014)

It almost feels criminal to put this so far down. It was the day that this Leicester City side announced themselves to the Premier League. I remember this being the first time I could walk into school with my head held high, knowing I wasn’t going to be berated for supporting Leicester. Little did I know it was a feeling I needed to get used to. I couldn’t believe we had beaten Manchester United.

3. Leicester City vs Atletico Madrid (1-1, 18th April 2017)

The King Power has never quite been the same, since this night. For 15 minutes we had the best defence in Europe on the ropes. A night full of if’s and but’s. An unbelievable night.

2. Leicester City vs Everton (3-1, 7th May 2016)

This was just one big party. The result didn’t matter, no one cared. All that mattered was Leicester City was going to lift the Premier League trophy for the first time. An outpour of emotion. What a day.

1. Leicester City vs Sevilla (2-0, 14th March 2017)

An out-an-out obvious winner. The night we all asked ourselves, we couldn’t, could we? We dared to dream. Goals from Morgan and Albrighton had the King Power bouncing. Nothing comes close to those Champions League nights. Unreal. Will never be topped.

Honorable Mentions:

  • Leicester vs Norwich (1-0, 27th February 2016) – Earth-quaker
  • Leicester vs Manchester United (1-1, 28th November 2015) – Record breaker
  • Leicester vs Liverpool (2-0, 2nd February 2016) – Absolute screamer

You might notice all these games fall into the 2010s. Am I a glory-hunter? Not quite. You were more likely to find me in front of the TV, watching Postman Pat, with my lips-locked around a dummy in 2005. If I have missed your favourite. I’m sorry. I might not have been born.

What would you say was the best atmosphere? Have your say below.

6. Stop the goal music

I don’t understand how I’m having to write this. Why is the goal music back?

For a couple of seasons the goal music had disappeared. How it should be. ‘Fire’ by Kasabian had gone. I have nothing against the song, of course not. That would be like shooting myself in the foot. But not as goal music.

There is a serious problem if you need goal music to lift atmosphere. The raw emotion of the joy of scoring a goal should do the job.

7. Stop leaving 10 minutes before half-time and full-time

Disclaimer: if you are absolutely bursting for the toilet or you are seriously going to miss the train. This does not apply.

This might be mostly born out of jealousy at the fact that some people missed the painful last few minutes against Spurs and West Ham, and I had to soak it all up. But I don’t really understand the benefit of heading to the concourse 10 minutes early to beat the queues, when the whole stadium has the same idea as you. 

8pm on a Monday night. Fair enough. I can understand that slightly.

2pm on a Sunday afternoon. Really. I think your Sunday roast can wait 5 minutes.

Unfortunately, I sit on the end of the row and usually spend the last 5-10 minutes of each half staring into someone’s backside. So, I might be very much in the minority on this topic. It just irritates me.

Bare: Empty seats during the second-half of Leicester City’s Europa Conference League clash with Rennes

Whilst I’m in full-on rant mode. It baffled me as to how both the games against Rennes and Randers failed to sell-out. I know it’s the Europa Conference League. I get it. On the same night we played Randers at home, we could have been jetting off to Catalonia to face Barcelona. I get that it isn’t a glamorous competition.

It’s still a European competition. One that we probably won’t have the luxury of playing in next season. European nights are why we do it. They’re the big nights, under the lights. It might be because I have grown up in a generation where Europe is the pinnacle and competitions like the League Cup and the FA cup fall by the wayside.

I just hope that those who don’t turn up for the games against Randers and Rennes in the early rounds, aren’t expecting a ticket for the trip to Albania for the final (if we get there of course).

It makes sense that if there are more people in the stands, there will be more noise, right?

After all, it could be worse. We could be stuck in administration. Sat in the EFL Championship relegation zone. Facing the frightening truth that soon enough we could be owned by Mike Ashley. Sorry, Derby. 

Exercise-loving student praises Leicester’s ‘Boris bikes’

By Liv Messum

DMU student Simran Sandhu uses the Santander bicycles as a cheaper and healthier alternative to get around Leicester City. 

Wheely great: Simran Sandhu on a ‘Boris Bike’ near Bede Park

Santander Cycles, informally known as ‘Boris bikes’ (after Prime Minister Boris Johnson who introduced them when he was Mayor of London), are a public bike hire service around many cities in the UK.

Simran said: “I go into the town centre often, so it’s way quicker and much more convenient for me to cycle between there and uni instead of walking.”

Simran, 19, loves staying active and exercises daily.

She said: “It’s the same as getting a train or a bus into town, but instead it’s cheaper and a lot better for you.”

Simran has a membership which allows her to gain full access to all bikes for £90 a year.

Without a membership, it costs £2 to access the bikes for 24 hours, and the first 30 minutes of each journey are free.

Journeys longer than half an hour cost £2 for each additional 30 minutes.

The operation of the Santander Cycle scheme is contracted by Transport for London, and there are many stops around Leicester City.

Anyone interested in Santander Cycles can download the app or visit https://rideonleicester.com.

Fulani and Gambian Muslim talks about her culture

By Liv Messum

A Fulani and Gambian Muslim student living in Leicester is looking forward to a favourite part of her traditional Ramadan customs – a ‘trick-or-treat’ style tradition for children.

Mariam Jallow honours her culture by praying regularly and participating in a variety of Islamic events, including honouring the Ramadan month of fasting, which began on Friday(APR1).

Mariam during Eid-Mubarak

Mariam, 22, said: “Islam is a really big religion, and as such its nuances differ by culture and country.

“I’m a Fulani and Gambian Muslim, so we might have different customs than Muslims in the Middle East or in Southeast Asia.

“For example, no-one in my family wears a headscarf or hijab, as it really isn’t Gambian custom to do so, even if 95 per cent of the population is Muslim. 

“We do have headdresses we wear normally but those are part of the cultural, not religious identity.”

During prayers, Mariam, and the women in her family, wear abayas (full-length outer garments), or long wrap skirts with a headscarf. 

As part of her religion, prayer is a very important way to give thanks to their god Allah.

Mariam said: “We’re meant to pray five times a day, but I grew up just doing the prayer (salah) at sunset, and Maghrib (another prayer) with my family every day.”

There are also many Islamic holidays that Mariam and her family enjoy.

She said: “Our major holidays are Eid al-Fitr where we celebrate the end of the Holy Month of Ramadan. We spend the entire month fasting from all food and water from sunrise to sunset. 

“The other holiday is Eid al-Adha, which commemorates the Prophet Abraham.”

Both holidays involve going to the mosque. After that, the cultural practices differ. 

Mariam said: “I know as Gambians we have huge cookouts with our families and communities, and we often stop by family members’ houses to pay well wishes.”

She has been participating in these holidays and events her whole life.

“We also have this thing called “salibo” after Eid al-Fitr, where kids go around the community and basically trick or treat for money,” she said.

In salibo, children go from door to door or around family members and hold their hands out while saying “salibo salibo”, to get money from their elders.

“That was always my favourite part,” she laughed.

Mariam described the celebration as huge and lots of fun, with lots of amazing food, cooked by her and her family.

It is also really important in Muslim culture to give something towards to the poor or less fortunate. 

She said: “I think officially it’s 2.5 per cent of your savings as a Muslim that’s meant to go toward charity (called Zakat), but you’re encouraged to give in other forms if you can’t give away money.

“I think that’s why I’ve always liked Ramadan so much, because it’s a time of reflection and it’s meant to have you empathise with those who aren’t as lucky as you.”

Leicester’s largest vegan festival returns this weekend

By Jayden Whitworth

Packed: People flock to a previous vegan festival.

The people of Leicester are being encouraged to get stuck into Leicester Vegan Festival this weekend, with calls for people to approach the festival with an ‘open mind’. 

Leicester’s Vegan Festival is returning with more than 70 stalls ready to be set up on Sunday (APR10).

The event will take place from 10.30am to 4.30pm at the Athena Events Venue in the city’s Cultural Quarter.

There will be a large variety of different products available, ranging from pies, cakes and chocolates to candles, skincare products and clothing.

Shoppers will also be serenaded by live music and can get involved in demos led by professional chefs; they can also expect plenty of free samples of some of the products on offer.

The presence of vegan products over the past few years has risen exponentially, with more and more people switching their diet to vegan or vegetarian.

A recent YouGov survey found that 4 per cent of the UK population were considering participating in Veganuary this year.

Melanie Byrne, who will be selling vegan chocolates at the festival this weekend, said: “Events like this are so important to show people that going vegan isn’t difficult.

“People need to come this weekend with an open mind, and I think you won’t notice any difference.

“I can definitely say my chocolates taste like any other chocolates, that’s why I became vegan.

“Being vegan is becoming so much easier – a lot of the big brands have vegan options and so do restaurants, with festivals like this as well, there is so much out there.

“I’d say to anyone, just give it a go.”

Leicester Vegan Festival is expecting a big turnout this weekend, so people are advised to book their tickets early to avoid disappointment.

Tickets are priced at £5, and details can be found here: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/leicester-vegan-festival-2022-tickets-259404785697