Queen Mary History student and Turing Scheme grant recipient, Isobel Betty, provides you with some tips to consider if you plan to study abroad in Canada…
I certainly felt an element of disbelief when I arrived in Toronto. After deferring my year abroad in 2020 (I am very grateful to the Queen Mary Global Opportunities team for providing this option) and a year of uncertainty regarding international travel, I finally made it to Canada. In normal circumstances, a year abroad requires a good deal of preparation, however the added complication of pre-departure testing, vaccine passports and quarantine requirements, further increased the workload, but all I can say, is that it has been entirely worth it.
Since September, I have been studying at the University of Toronto. Whilst I would be lying if I said it hasn’t been hard work (see point 1 on my list of recommendations), the semesters have challenged me academically and I have been introduced to new topics and disciplines beyond my home degree program. I took classes in Women’s and Gender Studies and my Food Studies course emphasized experiential learning, where we replicated historical recipes in the University of Toronto Scarborough’s kitchen lab.
One of the best aspects of a year abroad is the opportunity to explore new places and travel. Highlights for me have included a boat trip at Niagara Falls, attending a film premier at the Toronto International Film Festival, tree top trekking in Ganaraska Forest, watching a National Hockey League game and of course, eating far too much poutine! During my time abroad I have also met people from all over the world and as clichéd as it may sound, I have truly made friends for life.
Whilst these experiences have provided fantastic memories, the skills that I have gained are invaluable. For example, I certainly learnt the true meaning of independence being 3,500 miles away from home in an unknown country. After three years of living in London, I had become fairly familiar with the city, however moving to Toronto meant that even small tasks, like getting on a bus, became a big feat. I therefore now feel better equipped to deal with unfamiliar situations and not to be afraid to ask for help.
I am grateful to have been a recipient of Turing funding, and this was especially handy for buying all the essential winter gear. I soon came to realise the ‘winter’ coat that I brought with me from the UK was very inadequate to withstand a -20°C wind chill! My coat, decent boots (an absolute must for all the snow), gloves and hat, came to a couple of hundred dollars, so the Turing funding was especially useful for this.
So, if you’re thinking about doing a year abroad, here are a few pieces of advice…
Firstly, when choosing your host university, consider what style of learning suits you best. For example, for most of my modules at UoT, participation in lectures and tutorials was graded. Whilst it’s great at building confidence for public speaking, addressing a lecture of 70 people can be somewhat nerve-wracking!
I found the best way to familiarize myself with a new city, was to walk it. When I first arrived, I would go to downtown at the weekend and stroll a couple of blocks to get to know my way around. Though I continued to be very reliant on Google Maps, the 553m tall CN tower provided a good reference point if I ever got lost!
One of the biggest adjustments coming to Toronto was realising its sheer size. I lived on the outskirts of the city to be nearer my specific campus, and whilst I was still living in the Greater Toronto Area, it would take at least an hour to get to downtown. Certain places are also not entirely accessible by public transport so I would suggest being realistic about your travel plans, however there is so much to do in Toronto and the GTA that you would never get bored!
My final piece of advice would be if you are thinking about doing a year abroad, go for it! From the time that I spent in Canada, I learnt so much, from the little quirks of Canadian culture like ordering a ‘double double’ at Tims, to gaining transferable skills, whilst having the best experiences and meeting amazing people. With that said, I would just like to apologize in advance to all my friends and family if I now start every sentence with ‘When I was in Toronto…’