All entries for Thursday 22 September 2005

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).


Insurance!

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!


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