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exchange

I’ve started this blog entry nine times so far. Ever since I got my nomination to go on exchange in January, going on exchange has become my defining characteristic. I’ve thought about it so much that I am not sure what I think any more, but here is what I have found:

My family is spoiling me, probably to squeeze out every available minute of my company in these last two weeks. I’m not complaining, because it means that I get to eat chicken pot pie and roast beef with Yorkshire puddings in the same couple of weeks as barbecued hotdogs and corn on the cob. I’ve lived my entire life with them, and I am not a tremendously sentimental person, so all of this fussing isn’t a big deal to me now. This is for them, really.

Most of my fears are mundane, like having difficulty taking my violin as carry-on. Also Legionnaire’s Disease, scurvy, mono, hearing loss, gouged nonstick saucepans, noise, “beef” from Tesco, my flatmates eating up all of my food, sounding pretentious when I call them “flatmates”, and the flatmates themselves. This is assuming I don’t die on the plane first. Mostly, I worry about leaving my dog, who can’t know that her favourite petting machine is flying across an ocean soon. I also suspect that the feeling of having forgotten something will persist well after I’ve left the plane. Other than the odd worry, though, while I am theoretically very excited, the actual reality is my amygdala must have anaesthetized itself, because asides from the odd instance in which I wake up in a cold sweat and involuntarily curse in fear, I don’t actually feel much.

I suspect is that is because my brain has not yet wrapped itself around the concept of living and studying in Scotland. I had a dream a few nights ago in which I finally arrived, stepped off the airplane, and Edinburgh looked like this village:

Pictured above: one of the most boring experiences of my young life

Pictured: the most boring experience of many young lives

This is obviously not Edinburgh, but don’t let those flags fool you into thinking that it is even remotely close to the Scottish-English border. Would this fool anyone? I doubt it, the English got everywhere. In case you didn’t go to elementary school in southeastern Ontario, these are all snippets of Ontario’s most boring theme park:

upper canada village admission

Though still basically Britain with a worse climate, at the time.

I think my family still hopes that I will not go through with this. Honestly, I think if I didn’t, my thirteen-year-old self would travel to the future and shoot me. I have read far too many fantasy and adventure books to not want to see more of the world. In fact, one of the reasons I stopped writing was that I felt I couldn’t authentically write a proper adventure if I rarely left my own small city and never saw real challenge or excitement. Though this is in a sense a tame adventure, I think it’s a good start. I hope that I will adjust well, and I secretly hope that I like Scotland enough to not want to leave. Mostly, I’m looking forward to not having to say “Edinburgh” as much. Though after countless repetitions I can now say it to the approval of a certain Englishman who is half Scottish and more than half mad, I never could squash that feeling of absurd affectation. I lied earlier, I’m extremely excited about the whole thing. Younger me would expect nothing less.

Well, I just received my offer of accommodation for next year. I got my top choice, which is a single room with an almost double bed, ensuite bathroom with shower, and dishwasher, and is very close to my classes, and The Meadows, which is what it says on the tin. I think they’re lulling me into a false sense of security and are going to kill me and eat me, or use me for experiments and then kill me and use my brain for experiments, and then maybe eat it. That’s the only explanation. I’m very happy, and I hope they don’t eat me or kill me or use my brain for unethical experimentation. Psych experiments approved by an ethics board are okay, though. Or linguistic experiments such as “what happens when a Canadian with a mind like a lint roller is dropped in Scotland for a year?” I’m just hoping that I’m not with first-years, because, y’know, I’m so mature and adult-like *cough* and used to living on my own *cough* that we can’t relate. Ahem. I also hope I’m not with crazy religious people, because they would probably get a bit freaked out by queer-seeming people (maybe?) but luckily the people who would have had an issue would likely be in the single-gender flats, rather than mixed. Though if I am with first-years, they might actually be from the UK, and more importantly, might have tableware. Actually, there’s five people, nearly half-and-half UK froshies (uh…freshers) and international students might be nice. I suppose the accommodations people have done this before and probably know what they’re doing. I hope.

I had to complete this rather involved form through Queen’s for my exchange, it’s basically for their high-risk activity stuff, and all activities involving undergraduates not being in Canada are considered high-risk. However, it is fairly clear that an awful lot of their safety stuff is a bit beyond what I’ll be doing – I am of a nationality towards which most others have neutral or pleasant relations, and I am travelling to a safe city in a safe country to which I also have citizenship. Side note on that, the form required me to state what kind of citizenship I was travelling under (UK), except for that UK wasn’t an option, and I had to choose between England, Scotland, and Wales, which is stupid because that’s not how citizenship works. I am not remotely Welsh or Scottish, so given where actual family members come from, I had to say I was…hrrrrk…English (there was an involuntary full-body shudder of the type that usually happens when I try to drink orange juice). Now I feel like a dirty imposter. There was no place in the form for comments, so I couldn’t correct their weird mistake or write “I’M CANADIAN, IF I LIE MAY I BE SUBJECTED TO PANCAKES WITHOUT SYRUP”. Of course if I lied and wasn’t Canadian, I might not care about the lack of syrup, but I can’t imagine pancakes being properly enjoyed without it. (I’m going to suppress early memories of young me happily eating pancakes with granulated sugar piled high) DAMN IT, DO YOU SEE THE HORROR I LIVE WITH?

The rest was short slides with stupid true/false quiz questions like “The academic culture of your host institution will always be similar to that of Queen’s University”, “If you are travelling to a country, you may be required to obtain a visa”, “Many travelers spend more money than they intended”, and “I will always have access to ABMs while abroad”. Sheesh. But it was mostly stuff like “be prepared for different standards of living”, and “cultures are not better or worse, just different”. I objected to that last bit. I don’t think for a second that all cultures are ethically equal, and they did mean better or worse in that sense. Overall, the whole thing seemed to be aimed at people who are traveling to less modernized areas, or places where there is a huge cultural gap.

They did talk a lot about homesickness, which will be relevant in my case. They also talked about culture shock, and reverse culture shock upon re-entry. It’s really hard to know how much I’ll be culture-shocked. It’s easy to read some brief summaries about the differences in culture between the UK and here, and think that as an incredibly socially awkward, reserved person who has a weird, dry sense of humour, and avoids physical contact and outward sentimentality, I’ll be fine. However, I have also read many accounts of Canadians going to England or elsewhere in the UK and not expecting culture-shock, and then being culture-shocked. That said, from their examples of what particularly surprised them, I’m coming from a place of more knowledge. Even so, I should expect some degree of it. After all, I am extremely ill-traveled. On the other hand again, I have a mind like a sponge, and tend to adapt to things fairly quickly.

Here’s some things international students at Queen’s have said about Canadians:

Canadians Smile a lot and are very friendly

Accept differences and are truly multicultural

Require at least 14 inches of personal space

Always think they are busy

Are so polite it is hard to know what they really mean or really think

Are time keepers and rule followers

Live in a beautiful and clean country

Don’t like to be mistaken for American

Talk a lot and interrupt other people

Finish our sentences even though it’s not what we meant

Avoid disagreement or argument

Jealously guard personal space

Stick together and speak English

Ask lots of questions to fill up the silence

They talk a lot about their own abilities and accomplishments

Expect others to make choices (i.e. “Do you want to go to the movie?”)

Bolded for being particularly true. Though the one about living in a beautiful, clean country made me proud. Another funny one was a quote from a different section that was about how a Canadian will invite you into their home and be extremely hospitable and friendly, while cheerfully insulting and inflicting mild cruelty on their own family members.

I received my offer of unconditional acceptance today, and I accepted. I got nearly all of the courses I wanted as well, and of those, I got all of the high-priority ones. I probably should be more excited than I’m feeling right now, but maybe that will come. Right now it feels like I have an awful lot to worry about, but more on that later. At least it means that this blog will continue to have a purpose.

I got an email today from DHL saying that there is a package coming for me from the British Embassy. That will be my supporting documents from the passport application. It’ll be here tomorrow, and I am so stressed out. It is about three weeks earlier than I thought it would be and I’m so worried that it’ll be a rejection and I’ll have lost the application money and have to apply for a visa. Not that there’s anything wrong with visas, but I wanted to activate my dual-citizenship powers. Rraagh. I haven’t received a notice saying I need to go for an interview, and apparently all first-time applications have to interview, so I wonder if that means it’s denied. Aaaaaugh. I’m dying.

Edit: My friend says I sound like I need a drink. Truth.

 

Edit2: I completely forgot to actually hit Update, and I slept past my alarm, so missed my organ lesson (I am the worst student ever and nearly shed a tear because I can have it later and I will never again have a teacher who is this tolerant of my horribleness) and now I’m sitting here anxiously waiting for a package. Apparently it should be here in the next couple of hours. AUGH.

Apparently the transcript I initially provided for my application was inadequate, so I’ve sent them a pdf of my official transcript this time. Since it was to be uploaded, I had thought my unofficial one was sufficient, but apparently not. That’s not the point.

Today I feel as though I may have made a very bad call, and I hope that I have a chance to do damage control. It has nothing to do with my exchange, and everything to do with, well, culture, let’s say. Longish story short, I wonder whether I might now end up in mild danger in my own neighborhood. Those who know me well will wonder how this is possible, those who know me very well will have a good idea why this might be. I am not sure how to handle it. I will almost certainly have a chance to do something about it in the near future, but honestly, it’s a bit embarrassing. I manage to be dominant in a lot of social situations, but I have slipped, partially out of a desire to be seen a certain way, and because if I was not seen in a certain way, I may be in some danger. Worse yet, many would say I brought it upon myself. However, someone once liked to tell me repeatedly to just be myself (though alas, not in this context) – that is always what I have done, even if I meet resistance. This will not change.

That said, walking my dog in my own neighborhood is becoming increasingly unpleasant. I might have to drive elsewhere for walks, and I’ll be pretty happy to be away. It’s a scary dose of reality, though, I know there’s no way to avoid a certain level of unpleasantness in my life, and I had always thought it would be later. I guess the future is now.

me: I bet you’ll be happy if I don’t get into the exchange program   (because they’ll miss me so much)

my mom: you know we want you to get in

my dad: – actually –

my mom: but you’ll have plenty of opportunities if you don’t

my dad: – actually, we’re pretty excited, we’re gonna go into your room, crack open all the stuff

my mom: get a hazmat team

my dad: it’ll be great!

my mom: and there will be less mess, and we’ll get to eat spicy food, and there won’t be any more 1 am showers

Thanks, parents, thanks.