August 24, 2006

What to do over the summer

Go travelling, obviously. I find it really odd that so many exchange students travelled for maybe two weeks before flying home to get a job for the summer as usual. Canada is a freaking awesome country – enormous, and with such a variety of landscapes and cultures, you should definitely try and see as much of it as you can. And the USA is so close, and is also awesome! So if you are thinking about going home right away to see your friends and get a job, I recommend that you immediately revise your plans and save during the year instead. Using only my student loan, my overdraft and my CoGro wages, I've managed to stay out here for four months travelling and I'm still not coming home for two weeks. I am having such an awesome time that I am going to tell you about it immediately!

Term ends at the end of April. I left my suitcases in co–op and went out east to the maritimes with my backpack.
Halifax is a really nice city, very laid back and has beautiful gardens and lots of boats to look at. I also went to Campbellton in New Brunswick, which is a really small town but does have a salmon festival (as a vegetarian this was USELESS to me) and a mountain to climb, and the hostel there is a lighthouse! I really wanted to go to PEI – but I did not have time. I shall have to come back. Anne of Green Gables was conceived of there, and apparantly that is their biggest tourist attraction.
Then I went back to Ontario to stay with a friend from Queen's in Ottawa, which was awesome fun! Although, if you are staying in hostels, Ottawa has a converted jail hostel that looks fun! Then I took the train all the way to Winnipeg in Manitoba. Winnipeg is a funny city; the prairies get made fun of for being boring, but I think they have a certain charm. The Winnipeg Art Gallery is pretty good, I spent a whole day in there, and there was a free day at the museum, which was also pretty okay! A few days definitely suffices, though.
Then I went to Edmonton in Alberta, which I really really liked. The West Edmonton Mall is famous for being so friggin' huge, and I thought I wouldn't have so much fun at a giant mall, but it is actually amazing. It has a theme park, a really great wave pool with massive slides, a shooting range, performing seals, a pirate ship, a submarine ride, a flock of flamingos… the HI hostel in Edmonton is in a really good place too – Whyte Av is the fun area in Edmonton, and the hostel is just one street over. It has lots of fun shops and cafes to hang out in with the pretty people. Also, the Stanley Cup games were going on during this time (ice hockey), and the Edmonton Oilers won the series while I was there, so there was some pretty intense partying!
From Edmonton I went to Calgary, which wasn't really my favourite place ever. I know people who like it a lot, but I just didn't get it. Mostly I went there because I could get picked up for a trip to the mountains, which was the best thing ever. Seriously. Go to the mountains! I cannot express this enough! I spent the first month travelling solo, and I was a little reluctant to go too far into wilderness by myself in case I got eaten by a bear, so I went with a company called True North Tours, which was a really good decision. You see, I found out that there are lots of bus companies that do regular pick ups and drop offs at the major hostels and resorts in the Rockies, so travelling alone isn't really a problem since there's loads of people doing it (Moose is one such bus company which is really popular). But with True North, you get a guide and a van so you get to see the awesome places that are sometimes a bit off the beaten tourist track. I stayed in the Rockies for six days, and it was just so beautiful. I really, really want to go back. There's mountains to hike up, and really beautiful lakes, and glaciers and waterfalls and really good hiking trails. I'd never seen anything like it before. And the animals! There are bears, and elk, and moose, and deer, and bighorn sheep, and caribou, and they're all just wandering around! I'm not sure what else to say except DO IT.
After the mountains, I got the train back to Toronto and stayed with another Queen's friend for five days, which was super fun. I'd visited Toronto quite a few times by then, but it's a great city and there's lots of nice districts to wander around (the Annex is fun, and Chinatown, and walking down Queen St West you find lots of awesome shops and stuff).
All this took a month (I had to hurry to get back to meet a friend at the airport). I got a train pass (called a CanRail pass) which was an awesome deal – you get to use the trains for 12 days out of 30 (or something like that) and it is valid across the whole of Canada. Trains aren't as common as they are in the UK; there is basically one long line across the country, with a couple of different routes east of Ontario to serve the maritimes and northern Quebec. The ride across the country is famous and beautiful – it takes a few days, but it's a nice way to have a rest and see a bit more of the country. It'd be good to ride it all the way to Vancouver, because it goes through Jasper, my favourite of the national parks (mountains!), but I didn't have time, and had been to Vancouver already (and got mugged, which taints my view of it a little – but don't let that put you off, everyone I told that story too was shocked that I got mugged in Vancouver because it is just so lovely, apparantly). The CanRail pass is maybe $500 CDN – a bit less, I think. That was for an off–peak ticket – I was literally a day inside the boundaries, and it goes up quite a lot during peak season. So if you want to get one, do it in May, and early on.
Travelling alone in Canada was awesome. If you're hostelling, it isn't very solitary because you meet people in every place you go to. Travelling on trains and buses is also fun, because people are generally friendly and genuinely interested in you for being a funny foreigner going to see their country. But it is pretty liberating to just take off with your backpack and yourself for company. I only travelled alone for about six weeks – for the rest, my best friend from the UK was here travelling with me! I don't know whether I prefer travelling alone or with people – it is very different, and I liked having time to do both. Because while it is great and boosts your self esteem and is more scary and liberating to travel alone, after a while you start really craving a proper conversation. By the end of those weeks, I was really sick of small talk in hostels (people always ask the same questions – where are you from, where have you been, where are you going) and it gets really tedious. But when I was by myself, I found that I tended to be a little more active in doing stuff – because you are entirely responsible for having fun, you make more of an effort to see stuff because you wake up in the morning and think "what shall I do today" instead of just hanging out. But then you start to miss hanging out, as it is one of the best things to do.
So! Kate arrived, and we went to see the USA! I shall write more about these adventures soon…

August 20, 2006

MORE course information!

Only this time brief!

PHIL347 Contemporary Moral Philosophy
Do you love moral philosophy? Do you love arguing about it? Do you like EXTREME amounts of reading each week, and writing a short paper once a week? Then this is the course for you!
Unfortunately for me, I did not like any of these things. It's an advanced seminar course for people who are really interested in these issues, and unfortunately moral and political philosophy in first year didn't seem like enough of a background… I wish I'd taken the second year course, but it's a bit late for that now. I got a 75 – which I'm quite happy with because I was rubbish at this course, even though I tried so hard. Let's move on.

PHIL 256 Existentialism
Adele Mercier isn't teaching this course next year, which is a shame, I think. It's the oddest course I know of. Short assignments every couple of weeks, featuring titles like "write your own epitaph"; "think of a way to change the world and put it into practice"; "describe two times when you stuck your neck out for someone, and two times when you didn't"; "how far would you comprimise your ethical principles when working for a corporation"..... it's a lot of fun, and to be fair, not too difficult, but sometimes you feel ridiculous writing these things. The final paper is a story/play/whatever you like involving characters taken from existential literature (Camus, Saramago, Sartre, Romeo Dallaire, etc) and yourself, and writing an existential discussion. Again, fun, but silly. There's a couple of in–class tests too, but nothing to worry about. The classes are straightforward, hilarious, lots of Adele telling stories and watching videos, and the philosophy taught is not really strenuous. I really like existentialist thought, and this was a fun course for it, but let's be serious here – it's not a difficult one.

PHIL376 Philosophy of Feminism
A much more sensible course. The first half of the course is based on set readings, where you look at a different issue each week (stuff like whether Nietzsche was an uber–misogynist or not; whether Rousseau’s sexism reflects his intellectual honesty; whether storytelling is a method of thinking feminism) and you write a couple of short papers. The second half is all seminar presentations; you get into a group at the beginning of term and start working on them right away (in theory) and then have a whole class to do the presentation. You have to go to all these classes because you have to write feedback on each presentation and email it to the Prof (Jackie Davies, she's really awesome). You also have a longer final essay (only 2000 words though, they don't really go in for long papers here so much) for the end of term. I liked this course; it is definitely one where you get out of it what you put in. The weeks where I didn't do the reading properly were much less fun; the times when I did, it was super interesting! There isn't really a course like it at Warwick, and I really enjoyed it, so I'd give it two thumbs up and recommend it to you, if feminism is your sort of thing.

And then metaphysics. You have to take a semester of metaphysics. What I did was unusual because they didn't have a 3rd year metaphysics course, so I took only the second half of a full year 2nd year course (PHIL250 Epistemology and Metaphysics) and did it as directed studies (or, as Lydia would say, special needs). It was based on Ayer's Language, Truth and Logic and Russell's logical atomism. But, I was only a proper student for the first half of term; for the second, I still went to classes but also had tutorials with the professor (Henry Laycock, who is awesome, a very clever and funny dude) on a few chapters from Russell's Principles of Mathematics. It was all at once difficult and very interesting. I'm glad I did it that way – I could have just been a regular student the whole semester, and in some ways that would have been better because it wasn't very well organised, but I really enjoyed studying Russell. If you are having a similar dilemma, then start thinking about what you want to study right away – the way it worked out for me was Professor laycock said "what do you want to learn about?" and I said "umm… mathematical philosophy" and he said "okay! get this book!". And I think it was a good think to pick, but there's loads of interesting metaphysics (sometimes I thought I should have picked the pre–Socratics because they are awesome too). But it is easier in every sense just to take the second semester entirely; the classes are interesting and it is not too challenging.

March 07, 2006

Working in Canada

Maybe you will want a job while you are here! Not everyone gets one, because things are cheap here and the exchange rate is pretty good coming over, so I find I am spending way less money than I did in first year. But, I have a job anyway, so here is some information about it!

You can only work on campus with your study permit. This is okay – there are lots of jobs and they're all pretty fun. Most people work for the AMS (Alma Mater Society, much like the Student's Union, it's a kind of student government I think – see link), but I think you can work for the library and stuff too (but I don't know anything about that, perhaps it is just rumour).

Anyway, AMS jobs! If you look on the website you can see lots of the AMS-run things. I work at the Common Ground, which is a coffee shop. It is really nice there – the work is fun, the people are nice, I'm totally glad I got this job. It sells really good bagels, and you get to take leftover ones home for free, if you want! Also, the unlimited free tea you get while on shift is pretty sweet indeed! I applied for all nine (I think) different jobs, but only got one offer (boo hoo). They are quite competitive, but they have quotas for international students I think, since it is the only place we can work, so all the international students I know that applied got hired.

The other jobs are Walkhome, which is a free service that involves walking people home in a group of two after 9pm. You can either call up for a walk home, or people drop into the stand in the JDUC. It's a pretty awesome thing to do, but remember how cold it gets in winter, okay, walking around at 2am.
There's also the P&CC, the Greenroom (used book store that also makes badges and sells various awesome things, I wanted to work here, boo), TAPS (the Queen's Pub and Alfies), Destinations (bus ticket shop), erm, I can't remember the others – they're all pretty awesome though, I don't know anyone who hates their job. Because they are student run, your managers etc. are all students, so it is pretty relaxed.

The pay is, um, okay. Minimum wage, which is $7.45 CDN an hour I think. (This translates to about 3.70 GBP - not much in English money, but remember how cheap things are here!).

You have to go and get a social insurance number I think, but I'm pretty sure I got paid without one anyway. BUT you should totally get one, its easy and free and another nice card to have in your wallet.

December 26, 2005

Courses to take

When you go to Queen's you have to take some courses. Well, some of them will be compulsory so that your program there vaguely resembles the Warwick. Here is how my schedule looked:

Fall semester:
Introduction to Kant
Philosophy of Mind (compulsory)
Philosophy of Religion
Philosophy of Language (compulsory)

Winter semester:
Philosophy of Feminism
Contemporary Moral Philosophy (compulsory)
Metaphysics (compulsory)

As you can see, you get a fair bit of leeway. It is the end of the fall semester now so I plan on giving you an extremely exciting review of what happened last semester in class.

Introduction to Kant
If you do this course here, then you don't have to take Kant in third year as part of HMP. This means that you get an extra half–year option to take then, which I thought would be a nice thing to have. In retrospect, I don't know whether it was a good decision. I advise you look at the courses available here and at Queen's (although bear in mind that they change their courses all the time and some of them are only available occasionally). As far as I am aware, the Kant course here hasn't changed in the last ten years and probably wont next year. The guy who teaches it is called Professor Maclachlan, and he is an emeritus professor, which means that he is retired and just teaches this one course. He is very nice and obviously knows an awful lot about Kant. He is willing to help you after class and always answers e–mails. However, his classes are dull. There is no way around this. Classes here are an hour–and–a–half long, and he reads from the Critique of Pure Reason for some of it, and talks about it for the rest. I like him very much, but the course is difficult and the classes are hard work. I despaired over the Critique of Pure Reason – even though the class is only based on a few chapters of it, it is really difficult to read and there are a lot of technical terms that you need to get a grasp of before you can make sense of it all. It was the hardest course I've ever done – although, if you work hard in the term it should be manageable.
The course is examined by two short essays (1500 words), worth 25% each, and a final exam worth 50%. There is a master list of nine exam questions that can come up, of which four will and you need to answer three. This means that you can be fully prepared for the exam. It is a pretty nice way of setting up things, probably because the course is so damn tricky. Seriously, I cannot stress enough how frustrating this course is, despite seeming so straightfoward. The first essay is on the transcendental aesthetic, and the second is on the transcendental deduction. I did my first essay the day before, well aware that I'd left it to the last minute, and I was sure I hadn't done well but managed to get 80%. Hurrah! I think this made me a little over–confident for the second one, which I started about four days before the deadline and I stayed in my room for days and nights on end, despairing. I wrote the worst essay of my life, went to see the Prof on the day it was due, told him I didn't understand a thing, ran away and cried like a little girl, considered dropping out of university, e–mailed him some questions, realised that Kant was a complete jerk and that the original unity of apperception, the synthetic unity of the manifold and the concept of the object in general are ALL THE SAME THING (you bastard, Kant) and patched up a mediocre essay in a few hours and handed it in. The Prof was lovely and didn't knock any marks off for it being late! So if you take this course, you should definitely start your essays early; I'd offer to try and help you when the time comes around, but I've forgotton everything I ever learnt in that course already. The exam questions are more interesting – he spends one class on each one, so if you take good notes for them all the exam should be straightforward. They are focused on specific topics like whether the universe exists, the ontological argument, schematism, apperception, stuff like that, so you can make a neat little argument for each one.
I feel I have ranted here somewhat. In reality, it's probably a good course if you do your reading before class and are interested in Kant. I spoke to some other students in the class (there were only 14 or so of us) and people either loved it or hated it. I feel I should have loved it – some of it was really interesting, and the Professor is good – but I just don't enjoy Kant, and my most vivid memory of the course was getting hideously upset about the second essay, so I'm a little biased. Overall, I'd say it is one of the hardest 3rd year courses, but also one that it is easiest to get an A in because it is so straightforwardly set up (heck, even I got an A) so if you're motivated to work hard at something that is not as immediately engaging as other courses, then this is the course for you! There is not a lot of reading, but what you have to read is essential and tricky so you have to read it a billion times before it makes sense. And while it is by no means an easy A, it is a do–able A if you put the work in throughout the whole term.
Also, I discovered that the guy who teaches the course has a website on which he has put the course outline for this course! You can see it here – link – if you're interested.

Philosophy of Mind
Lydia, if you read this, I hope you understand that I cannot find words to express the complex emotions I feel for this course.
Before you take this course, you should check who teaches it and what the content is. From what I gather, its Warwickian counterpart focuses on theories of mind, with a dash of AI. Things were pretty different here! The lady who teaches it – Nancy Salay – worked on an AI project called Cyc that you can google if you're interested in. The course was renamed Philosophy of Cognitive Science, and a lot of the students were cognitive science ones. We spent a week, maybe two, on the theories of mind, and from then on it was computers galore. We learned about connectionism, physical symbol systems and dynamic systems. It is a discussion based class, and personally I got frustrated at the way the cognitive science students led the discussion away from the philosophical aspects and talked about this lots of the philosophy students didn't know anything about. It was annoying and boring.
Okay, so maybe if I had decided to be interested it would have been better. Maybe I did enjoy some of it. I think it was because I wanted to learn about theories of mind and that was completely skimmed over so we could talk about freakin' computers and I felt intellectually ripped off. Maybe I could have tried harder and visited the Prof in her office hours to talk about the things I was interested in (she would have been more than happy to) but, gah, I really hated the way that this didn't really end up being the course I thought it was. Maybe it'll be different next year; but if it is the same and you have to take it, the best advice I can think of is to try and get interested early on because there will be people who already understand how connectionist systems work and will want to talk about the finer points while you're still trying to figure out what they even are. I guess it will be fun to go back to philosophy society next year and be able to show off about knowing all these fancy things, but I found this course pretty frustrating at the time. Also, the grading system is 10% participation, which I totally hated because the only things I could think of to say were along the lines of 'what does that long word mean?' and 'excuse me, but what?' so I never said much. Otherwise, it is two essays, a presentation, and a final exam. I was so scared before my presentation because the class is full of scary argumentative type, but I did lots of reading then read from a sheet I had prepared and managed to score an 85, ha ha!
Gah, thinking back, this was probably a pretty okay class if I'd tried harder. If the course is the same as last year then I'd advise getting the textbook really early on and reading the relevant chapters early on so that you have some context and preliminary understanding of what the heck is going on with cognitive science these days to put you on par with the cogsci students who already know that stuff. This will mean that the classes will be much more helpful to you! Also, don't be afraid to ask stupid questions. I was, and I wonder now if maybe I wouldn't have got better marks if I had. Lots of people I spoke to about this course came out confused and like 'dude, where's my philosophy?' so my stupid questions would perhaps not have been that stupid.

I just realised I have been typing for twenty minutes about how much I hated my courses, and about how they made me angry and how they made me cry. Time to talk about a class I liked!

Philosophy of Language
Awesome class! The professor, Adele Mercier, is fabulous and if you liked logic you will probably find this course super interesting. Professor Mercier is very outspoken, funny and straightforward (my midterm had "NO!" (exclamation mark included) written over it in parts. She is actually very nice and invites you to her house for revision classes and will stay and talk to you after class and such if you like. The course has loads of reading – all philosophy that I like a lot, like Tarski, Russell, Kripke, Frege, Putnam, Donnellan, etc. The course is a bit difficult but really well taught; the classes are a bit more classroom–style than Warwick and is very neatly divided up so at the end of a class you feel like you learned something. You pretty much start with a naive semantic theory of meaning (that words refer to objects) and work through the problems to get new theories, until you get to today and have a bit of a wonder about where things will go next. The grading is done with a midterm, which you can definitely prepare for well if you take the time for (and Professor Mercier will help you out here if you ask her to), which apparantly people notoriously do badly on, so it will count between 0–30%, and the rest is the final exam, which is a take–home, which is worth 70–100%. She works out how it is to your advantage to weight the marks, and takes that as your mark, which is nice. The take–home sounds easy, but will take a long time. I scheduled two days for it into my exam timetable, but it took twice that. However, it is straightforward, even though it takes a long time to do well. This was certainly my favourite course this semester, so you should definitely do it and love it.

Philosophy of Religion
I have mixed feelings about this course! I really enjoyed some of it, but I still don't know what I learned from it. The first part of it is proofs for the existence of God, which I felt a bit bad about because the exam was on the ontological argument which I feel like I've done about a thousand times now – and after that each lesson seemed to focus on something different. There is a medium amount of reading – lots of short articles – bits of Jewish feminism, Nietzsche, Marx, a buddhist speaker came in one class – but I found that at the end, I still wasn't sure what I thought. I mean, in Kant you want to die for a while, but at the end you'll feel pretty good about having understood what the transcendental aesthetic is, and you will be able to say for sure what Kant's opinion on lots of things are. Similarly, after philosophy of mind, you'll know what a physical symbol system is, and a bit more about how minds (and computers, grrr) might work. And in philosophy of language, you'll know what Frege's theory is, and what is wrong with it, and you'll be able to put it into context with the wider problem of What Is Meaning. But with this course, you talk about a few issues, and you'll be able to say what Marx thinks about religion in general, but not feel like you actually got anywhere. That said, the things you do talk about are interesting, and the assessment is based on two short writing assignments (1000 words each), a midterm, and a final essay, so its fairly nicely spread out. Also, the Professor is nice and makes things clear, so that helps too. She teaches Philosophy of Feminism too, which I'm taking next semester and I'm pretty excited about taking that course.

I'm totally looking forward to next semester now – existentialism has the potential for awesomeness, and feminism is something I know nothing about but am interested to learn more about! Contemporary Moral Philosophy is less exciting for me because I am not so keen on moral philosophy AT ALL but I am determined to not use that as an excuse to not do my work. Metaphysics is a directed study course, which is pretty exciting. I have to read Language, Truth and Logic (by Ayer) over the holiday and then have one–on–one tutorials with a professor instead of regular classes. I am rather apprehensive about this because it means that if I do not do my work for a class, it will be incredibly obvious. However, it is also an awesome opportunity to do some serious philosophy that I can't imagine getting anywhere else, so I'm actually super motivated to work for this class.

Gosh, I'm so excited for all my classes next semester. I will make a similar post in a few months about how these ones went!

September 22, 2005

Queen's traditions

Before I came here, I had heard about the 'legendary Queen's spirit'. I did not consider fully what this might mean. When you get here, you will know because it actually is everywhere.

What 'legendary spirit' entails is a lot of very enthusiastic American-teen-movie-style people and activities. People seem to REALLY like going here. There is an incredible amount of university brand clothing around – more than I've ever seen in England. People wear it around the campus all the time, and I am quite sure that I will give in to peer pressure and buy myself a pair of shorts with "QUEEN'S" on the bum sometime soon. By the way, shorts are big here. I never saw a lot of people wear them in England, but people wander around in them all the time here and were SHOCKED when I said I didn't have any. Anyway, there are a lot of songs you will hear here. There is a Gaelic (apparantly) called 'Oil Thigh' or something. I didn't learn the words, so I just la-la-la along, but nobody notices. When the frosh (freshers) arrive, people sing songs at them in the street, and give them lots of (friendly, I think) abuse. In the first week, every group (like NEWTS, Commerce, Frosh, etc) have a different colour t-shirt, so you see groups like that wandering around everywhere. It is crazy.
Another crazy thing they have is Queen's coveralls. These are overalls. They have "Queen's 07" (or whatever your graduating year will be) on the back, and are just workmans overalls. Some have a name on. Mine say 'Brad'. You typically roll around in paint and shaving cream and other filth in them, and you are never allowed to wash them. You wear them every once in a while for sports games and stuff. I found it a crazy idea, but they are surprisingly comfy.
Another thing they have are tams. These are scottish style hats. I might put a picture in the picture section one day. They have a different coloured pompom on, according to your department (NEWTS get a special orange one though). These, again, are mostly worn for grand occasions like football games.
Another strange tradition is the Greasy Pole. Every year, the engineering frosh have to go in this pit of filthy muddy water with a large greasy pole erected in it (hee hee) and have to use their engineering skills to fetch the tam that has been nailed to the top. If they take too long, alumni and upper years get to go in and 'help' them. It is fun to watch for a while, but if they take too long it is boring. Again, I'll try and get pictures. I have heard lots of stories about how gross it used to be (decades ago they used to put animal heads and cadavers in the water, and people used to pee in it, but that doesn't happen anymore). It is quite a sight.
It is certainly fun, especially when you are only here for a year. I think it might get a little tedious if you did all the stupid stuff every single year, but it is fun as a novelty.

Arriving in Canada

This is such a fun part. Saying bye to your friends and family is sad, but I was way too excited to be very sad. I flew from London Gatwick with Zoom Airlines (there is a link in an earlier post), and they are a lovely airline! Super bargainous, but surprisingly delightful. My main memory is of the amount of drinks and snacks they gave you. Seriously, I don't think I went an hour without being presented with something to consume. It was awesome. They give you complimentary wine with your dinner, which is classy for a bargain airline! And high quantities of snacks. There was a film on the plane that I didnít watch because I didnít feel like buying headphones and because I had a nap instead.
By the way, the buttons on the side of your seat are to be treated with caution. Most of them operate the channels and sounds for your headphones but the one with the picture of a lady on it (like you get on toilet doors) calls an air hostess over. I discovered this when I pressed it repeatedly to see what it did. Embarrassing, man.
The air hostesses are nice though. In fact, most Canadians are way more friendly than English people. In shops they'll be really helpful and everyone says hi to you all the time. Even whilst waiting at traffic lights, people will ask how you are, and sometimes people in cars in traffic say hi when you walk past. And not in a sleazy way!
Anyway, when you fly on the plane it goes in a curved line, and you get to fly over the coast of Greenland! It is not green though, it is brown and white. Icy and snowy mostly.
It is a bit lonely sometimes when you do loads of exciting things, like arrive in Canada, on your own. But if you make friends with the lady sat next to you, like I did, then you can say your excited thoughts out loud and giggle a bit, which is way more fun than sitting quietly.

So I arrived in Toronto, and purchased a bus ticket to Kingston from the ticket office just outside the airport. It is pink. It cost $50, which is about 22 pounds. The time difference is 5 hours, so you get a really long day when you get there, but it is good because it means the next day you can get up at what feels like 1pm and secretly it is 8am in Canada! Ha ha!

The bus takes about four hours. There were other international people going to Queen's but we all napped instead of talking too much really. The bus drops you off outside the university, by a building you will get to know very well called the JDUC (John Deutsch University Centre). You could probably get a taxi to wherever you are going, but I walked to my house, because it was not far and another girl on the bus, who was in 3rd year, knew the way.

On your first day you should definitely go to the International Centre in the JDUC. It is on the first floor and there are probably signs to it. They do a pretty good free orientation program for international students, and have plentiful free tea and scones. Everyone is helpful and nice. You have you sort out your UHIP stuff there too, but that only takes a minute to fill in the form. They will arrange some activities, including useful talks throughout the day about various essential things. You should go to some of these. Some are a bit rubbish, but generally they are good, and for the first few weeks the international students are pretty much the only ones there, and they are good to make friends with generally. I met a lot of nice people this way! Edinburgh particularly seems to have a lot of people at Queen's this year, and lots of people are from Australia too.

A useful thing to do is to set up a bank account. I am with this green bank called TD Canada Trust. I recommend them because they have lots of cashpoints on campus, and the people in the branch are really nice and helpful. Canadian banks are weird, by the way. You have a limit on how many free transactions you can make a month. For most it is about 20. This includes writing cheques, paying with your card in stores, and using a cashpoint. After you use these, it costs maybe 50 cents per transaction. It is weird. They also charge you a monthly fee for having an account with them. This means it is a good idea to withdraw fairly large amounts of money at a time, and to keep some hidden in your room. transferring your loan into your account is tricky. I found the best way was to get internet banking at my home account, and then whenever an installment of it arrived in my account, transfer it to my mum's account and get her to wire it over. It is hard to send money across yourself while you are not in the country – some banks want you to sign stuff and things.

Also, the weather in Canada is crazy! It is very hot right now, and humid, and I got sunburn. However it also rains quite a bit, but it is nice hot rain that smells yummy. It will get totally cold in winter, though, so bring a selection of clothes! Some people seem to have brought only cold weather clothes, and are feeling silly now!

Another good thing to do is to do the NEWTS orientation program. NEWTS stands for 'New Exchange Woohoo Transfer Students' (a bit lame, but hey). It is pricey – it costs $100 which is maybe 45 pounds, but you get lots from it. You get to go on a mystery road trip – ours was to Ottawa – and a formal dinner, and bowling (they have five pin bowling here with tiny balls, weird), and lots of barbeques, and to play stupid games, and sing silly songs, and other fun activities. You also get an orange t-shirt.

Everything else will sort itself out though. Arriving is just like a giant adventure, and not scary at all. Although, the traffic here is a little scary (giant roads, and cars can right turn whenever they feel like it, so when the white man appears for you to cross the road, cars will drive at you sometimes). If in doubt, go to the international centre. Seriously, they know everything. And within a couple of days you'll feel like you've been there ages. Just go to all the orientation stuff – even if it sounds a bit lame – because you'll meet loads and loads of people there and that is important (and you get free tea).


You might have heard about the Warwick Insurance by now. My best advice is to take it out, definitely. It cost £143 this year, I think, which is such a bargain. I did not take it about because I plan to go to America over the summer, and the Warwick policy only covers you for the country you are studying in. However, in retrospect I wish I had taken it because it's a really comprehensive plan and covers your laptop, and the excess is only £25.

To put this into perspective, the cheapest I have found since that will cover me for a year in Canada and the USA costs £250, and it doesn't cover valuables, and only up to £200 for baggage with a £100 limit on any item, and the excess is £65. Not great.

So you should take out the Warwick policy immediately. If you want to travel over the summer, you can take out insurance for a few months quite cheaply. Backpackers insurance is easy to get hold of, but assumes that you don't carry loads of valuables with you.

So yes, DO IT. Another thing you will probably hear about is UHIP. This is the mandatory university health insurance. I think you have a form to fill in for it before you arrive, and then when you get to Kingston, you should go to the international centre (first floor of the JDUC) and sort it all out there. It costs $352 I think, and covers you for the eight months you spend here. Pretty simple!

September 17, 2005

Some exciting accommodation information!

Okay, so you have a lot of accommodation options open to you. These are basically university halls; Science co-op; or privately owned houses. Perhaps there are more, but I don't know of anyone who lives anywhere else. Initially I wanted to live in res (cool Canadian abbreviation for 'university residences') but I ended up in the Science '44 Co-op and I am totally glad that I did. Anyway, here is some informative info about the different places:

University Halls

So I applied to live in Harkness International Hall. The people who went on this exchange for the last two years have all lived there, I think. But me and Lydia didn't get to, because they ran out of room!

To apply to live in halls, you have to fill in a form and send it to them. The deadline this year was 1st July, and my form was in just in time. A word of warning: be sure to check they've sent you the right form – the one they sent me was for graduate students, so I had to ring them up to get the right one. Then you have to fill it in, scan it, and mail it back to them along with a bank wire transfer of $500. There are two halls you can apply to: Harkness International Hall (HIH) and Jean Royce. I get the impression that Jean Royce is the Westwood of Queen's, because it's quite far away. In retrospect, I am glad that I didn't apply to Jean Royce. Seriously, there are lots of places to live that are way closer than Jean Royce. Buses are free here with a Queen's card, but getting a bus to uni every day does not appeal to me.

If you don't get a place, they refund your money obviously, but you do lose out on the charges you have to pay for sending them money, and for them receiving it. Annoying!

Anyway, I didn't get a place, and I was incredibly annoyed for a while. But now that I am here I am glad that I didn't because I like the Co-op much better. I've never been to Jean Royce because it is so darn far away, and the rooms I've seen in Harkness have been nice, but not particularly big (same sort of size as my room in Whitefields last year) and they're just like rooms on a corridor; proper halls. And personally, I like living in a proper house much more. But that's just me. I don't know much about the halls, to be honest, but if I were in your shoes right now, I wouldn't bother applying. If you can sort out a room in Co-op instead, I think that is probably more fun, or if you don't mind waiting til you get here, there are loads of people looking for housemates so you'll certainly get somewhere.

Science '44 Co-op

So – the place I am living in! It is in the Science '44 Co-op which is just totally awesome! The rent is cheap, and the houses are all really close to Queen's. Plus, they look like fancy houses! They contain such exciting things as balconys and rooftop decks and porches! However, most of the houses around here have these things (porches are useful for stopping you from getting snowed in), but I still really like it. It is like a film set here. At first, I was less excited to learn that most of the houses include a meal plan because I quite like cooking and am not very good at coming to dinner on time, but it is actually a nice break, and I don't have to eat some of the horrific things I managed to cook for myself in Whitefields. The meal plan is actually a great thing. It has really good food, and there are always vegetarian and healthy options. It is way less hassle to be able to just pop downstairs for your dinner. I never realised how time consuming it is to shop for food, and to plan what to cook, and to cook it, and to wash up. Fortunately for me, though, I am living in the house that contains the big dining room that everyone has to go to, so I can still come to breakfast in my pyjamas if needs be. Oh, and part of the co-operative thing means that you have to do three hours' work a week in the kitchen, doing cooking or something. This is why it is so cheap. But three hours isn't much, and it's pretty fun. Some people have cleaning and dishwashing as jobs, but I was lucky enough to get Dessert Maker, so I have to bake cookies for three hours a week in return for cheap food and rent. It is a sweet deal!

This is my house, by the way. It is awesome! See how Christmassy it looks with the snow outside:

A couple of points that I will add about Science Co-op now that I am here (partly because I want to try out the Numbered List option):

  1. It is totally awesome! The people in the office are so nice, the food is great, and they're all really close to campus. My house in Brock Street is one of the furthest away, but it still takes 10 minutes max to walk to the furthest away classrooms. By the way, my house on Brock Street, being the main one, is really nicely decorated because they use this one as a B&B during the summer. If you apply early, you can request certain houses, and I know that a few people in my house did that, because they'd lived here before and loved it. Some of the other houses have less nice sofas, decoration, furniture etc. It doesn't really matter though – I just like my luxury house! I also got a really big room here, so I think I did rather well, especially because it was a last minute cancellation. It also comes with cable TV, internet (broadband, and wireless upstairs) and a phone. Interestingly, local calls are free here!
  2. I think it is nicer than Harkness Hall. Harkness is close to campus, but no closer than some of the other houses, and only a couple of blocks closer than mine (describing distances in blocks will come naturally almost immediately, it's freaky). Although, I lived in Whitefields in my first year, so that was something in between anyway (someone described it to me as a holiday camp, actually, which is an excellent description).

OK, so that was only two points. But I still really like it here. By the way, some advice that I think is really good would be to apply to live in Co-op – possibly requesting to live in the house I live in now! I can't stress how perfect it is. The dining room is just downstairs, which is so convenient when you have three meals a day there. It comes with cable TV, internet, and a phone in your room with a private extension and answerphone. It has a rooftop deck. Need I say more? I think the atmosphere in your house will totally depend on the people living there, but I live only with fantastic people so I'm loving it. It doesn't really have a 'party' atmosphere in the way that some of the other houses do, but I am fine with that. Aberdeen St is the place for parties – at homecoming and other such events, it is packed full of people there. Personally, I like being close enough to walk there in a couple of minutes but far enough out that you can sleep at night if so desired.

Another thing is that in Co-op you can rent out bedsheets etc for $50 for the whole time you are here. I'm a bit weird about renting sheets so I bought everything when I got here, from this wonderful bargain store called S&R. I now have a king sized comforter (like a duvet) and lots of sheets and pillows etc; about $100 worth. I doubt whether I will take them home – I don't really need them there, and they'd be a bastard to take on a plane – so if you're reading this and might want them when you come over, let me know and I'll see if Co-op will let me leave them in the basement for you (if you're going to live here, that is – it might be cheeky to ask if you're not). Also, electrical things like hairdryers, straighteners and epilators do not always work here well because of the crazy low voltage levels. I'd advise not bothering to bring them over. Some people found their straigheners were OK but mine (GHDs) didn't work at all. Therefore, I also have a hairdryer (cheap travel one) and some hair straighteners (averagely good; they work on my crazy hair pretty well but they're not ceramic) which wont work in England, so again, drop me a line if you might want them, and I'll see if I can leave them somewhere for you.

Oh, another awesome thing about my house: it has a launderette in the basement! By launderette, I mean two washing machines and two dryers. It gets even better, though, because the washing machines are exactly the same as the ones in the Rootes launderette, but instead of costing two pounds for a wash, they cost $1, which is about 50p. And the dryers go for ages and cost 75 cents (about 30p). Super bargainous!

I can't think of anything else to say about Co-op – except you get a free t-shirt – so, you know, e-mail me if you want to know anything more.

Ha ha, I just thought of something else I could say. Someone in co-op made a video about it, and it claimed that there people who live in co-op are either international students, normal people who wanted a catered house with their friends, or freaks. This was totally said in good humour, and I don't know a single mean or nasty person here, but if you choose to live here you will most probably see what they mean and giggle a little inside.

Private Rents

I will admit now that I don't know a lot about this. However, I know that a lot of international students turned up with nowhere booked and they did just fine. Jean Royce halls are open from late August as temporary accommodation until you sort a place out. Rents are cheap, most houses seem pretty nice, and the town is small enough that most places are really close. I have a bunch of friends living in really lovely houses really close to campus that they organised at the end of August, so while it would be a little scary to come out here without a house, it is unlikely to go wrong, and might be a good adventure! If you have some burning questions I can totally ask them! If you arrange somewhere over the internet, which I believe you can do although personally I wouldn't without seeing the room, for reference, anywhere south of Princess St is classed as the 'ghetto' (I really love that term) and is full of students. Anywhere north is generally a bit fancier and is seen as being a bit of a trek to get to. When I first looked at a map, I thought it was crazy that you could live so close to uni without it being really expensive, but its not, because its a small town and everywhere is close by really.

I think that is enough about accommodation. But you can e-mail me if you want to ask me questions!

July 30, 2005

Study permits!

You might be interested to know that you don't actually need a visa! Well, unless you're an international student already, in which case things might be a bit trickier (I don't have a clue), but if you're a home student (UK) then you can forget about visas, hurrah! You do, however, need a study permit, which is just about the same thing really. Having a study permit lets you work on campus legally, so you don't have to worry about getting a work permit too if you intend on working part time while you're there (as I do).

Canada seems to have quite a few websites dedicated to telling you how to apply for a study permit.
This and this website will tell you pretty much what to do, but I'll talk you through it because I'm nice, and because I found some bits confusing.

OK, it costs $125 Canadian dollars to apply for a study permit. The best way to send this (in fact, the only way I am aware of) is to get a bank draft. I think this costs about a tenner, but I'm not sure. You fill in a form in the bank, and it takes about three days. They then post you a cheque made out in Canadian dollars for you to send along with your application. You need to know who to make the cheque out to when you go to apply, and that person is the "receiver general for canada" (I found that out from here ). You then collect a lot of things together to send of. These things are:

*the application form you can find on the website. It is easy to fill in, except a couple of confusing bits regarding dates. I decided that the best thing to do was to put my term dates down in the bit that specifically asked for them, but in the part where it asks how long your study permit should be valid for, I put until the beginning of September, because I have heard that it makes staying in the country afterwards much easier (apparantly it is quite costly to apply to stay longer).

*your admission letter from Queen's (I sent two because I had two – one that said 'for immigration purposes' and one that had all my information on it)

*your letter from Warwick that says that you will be coming back to the UK after studying in Canada

*two passport sized photos with your name and date of birth on the back. Mine were horrible because the photo machine in the post office by my house makes your face massive so you have to lean back really far to fit your whole face in, and also the chair is really high and wont go lower, so I had a very uncomfortable look on my face.

*your passport. A copy of the ID page might suffice, but I applied quite late and thought I should send the whole thing just in case.

*four months' worth of bank statements. This is to show that you have money. Mine showed that I shop a lot and go overdrawn, but that I have regular payments going in too, and that I'm sometimes not in debt.

*I also sent my letter from the LEA saying how much loan and grant I'm getting. I think $10,000 is the minimum you need to show you have for the year, which is basically covered in your loan so you should be fine here. Unfortunately, my LEA are complete morons and have not sent me this years' form yet, so I had to send last year's one. This didn't seem to matter, though, it was just averagely annoying.

Then you post all of this off to:
Immigration and Medical Division
Canadian High Commission
38 Grosvenor Street
United Kingdom

Mine took 12 days to arrive (sent it 29th July and it arrived today, 10th August). What actually arrives is not the permit itself, but an official letter that you have to show someone at the port of entry who will then give you your permit. I hope it doesn't have my horrible photo on it.

It's all quite simple really. Oh, and I sent it all recorded delivery, because losing my passport now would be horrific. And they sent it back recorded delivery too, which was kind. My best advice, though, is it send it off EARLY - I have been having nightmares for the last week about it having got lost in the post, or being declined, or having not sent the right things and it being sent back etc etc.

May 26, 2005

Passing exams – it is a tricky business.

Here I whinged for ages about exams but it was boring so I cut it! The moral? Be sure to work hard during the year! Ensure you have sufficient notes to revise from! And start revising early! Otherwise you will panic and be scared you will not be going to Canada and want to cry!

However, the exams were not actually as horrendous as imagined. You need to know some facts and stuff, but remember that it is only first year and they only really expect you to know what you did in lectures. I mean, I didn't start working properly for them until a fortnight before they started (although, granted, I did hardcore working for all that time) and I managed to get some marks I was secretly proud of! 68 in Ancient Philosophy and 67 in Philosophy A! The others were less awesome but still reasonable pass marks! But you should still learn from my mistakes and work properly all through the year. Definitely.

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