Saturday, 3 October 2015

Month Update: Studying Abroad

Good Morning from rainy Calgary. It's been a whole month since I arrived in Canada, a bundle of nervous energy and excitement, completely overwhelmed with emotions. It feels like only yesterday yet a lifetime ago, so much has happened since then. Instead of giving a chronological account of everything that I've got up to over the past month, I'm going to write a list of useful information I wished I'd had before arriving in Calgary and realisations that I've had whilst being here:

Now, before we get onto anything else, the most important info you will need as a British person living abroad in Canada is... where to get your hands on some good ol' tea, you know, just a regular pack of tea bags. It's actually surprisingly easy. I didn't know this at first but your average tea bag full of black tea is called Orange Pekoe here. So to save yourself the confusion when trying to find some tea to make you feel at home, just look for Orange Pekoe and you'll most probably be okay. Luckily for me, my favourite brand of tea, Tetley, is quite popular here so I'm all set.
Now that I can rest easy knowing that everyone can get their tea fix, let's move onto the perhaps more... important issues:

Be sure to go to orientation events. I cannot recommend this enough. Through these events you get to meet a tonne of people and get to know your way around campus, two things that are essential for getting on well on your exchange. On International Orientation Day, I was tired, jet lagged and feeling pretty homesick and anxious. The last thing I wanted to do was go out and have to talk to people, I just wanted to curl up in bed with Netflix and sleep away the next 8 months. But, of course I didn't do that. I made myself get up, get dressed and go. I didn't even walk two metres from my door when I bumped into two girls also on their way to orientation, and little did I know then, but these two girls would be some of the best friends I have at Calgary so far. Through talking to them, I got to know some other people and within a few days, we'd formed an amazing group of friends from all over the world. The Netherlands, Denmark, Germany, Italy, Australia and America, oh and me from the UK of course. The great thing about making friends with other international students is that they tend to have similar goals and similar attitudes to life, they are for the most part, the adventurers. Having a group of international friends makes exploring your new home a whole lot easier. Which brings me onto my next point nicely:

Say 'yes' to as much as possible. Be a tourist. Go travelling. The first month is such a great time to get things done as classes haven't truly got into full swing and assignments aren't impending. Hiring a Car is super easy and I wholeheartedly recommend going on road trips. The first weekend here, a group of us went up to Banff National Park and camped out. It snowed. In September. Not only was it incredible up in the mountains; camping and road tripping with a group of new friends was a great bonding experience. The weekend after was a complete change of weather, it was beautiful clear skies and 25 degrees. Another camping trip ensued, with more people this time and we had such a laugh and it was great fun. At one point in the evening, we were all lying down looking up at the millions of stars and talking about life, the universe and everything and I had one of those moments of true clarity. This is what life was really about: exploring beautiful places, trying new things and connecting with people from so many different backgrounds. It was incredible. Each weekend has been full of another adventure and I have loved every minute. Whatever happens from here on out, my experiences so far have been more than enough to make this exchange worth every bit of time, money and effort taken to get here.

That being said, moving to Canada and saying 'yes' to new experiences and adventures is an exceptional drain on the finances. More than I ever anticipated. Be prepared to fork out for the unforeseen costs, kitchenware, homeware, bathroom supplies, insurances, transport passes, road trips, food, winter clothing, it felt neverending at times. Be smart about where you're spending your money and you'll most probably be fine.

With all the new experiences and the want to fill all your spare time with fun things, it's easy to put studying at the bottom of the priority list. Try not to do this! In Canada, opposed to in the UK, the work is generally easier (in my opinion so far) but the workload far more constant. There are more assignments and smaller tests that require a consistent amount of time dedicated to studying a week. Cramming is far less important here it seems and already I've had 4 assignments and tests handed in and put towards my final grades. Get into a good routine and don't be afraid of spending a few nights in occasionally to get some work done, contrary to what I said before, you don't have to necessarily say yes to everything! Remember: it is called studying abroad for a reason...

And last but not least, keep in contact with home. This one is maybe just a personal one but I tend to feel a lot less homesick when I keep up regular contact with everyone I'm missing. The internet is a beautiful thing when studying abroad. I was feeling a bit sad one day and I was sat in between lectures in the library when all of a sudden I got a message from two of my good friends back home and instead we chatted and messaged each other for the next hour and it felt just like I was back home. This month has been full of extreme ups and downs. I've had some of the most fantastic experiences and I have met and become friends with more amazing people than I could ever have imagined but no matter how wonderful my time has been here so far, there's no replacement for hugs with my parents, play fights with my brother, snuggles with my nieces and nephew, cups of tea with my grandparents, hanging out with my best friends who know me inside out and knowing that I'm only a train ride away from the people you love the most. A lot of homesickness comes from the perception of distance. Knowing that I can't just pop back for a weekend if I need to. It's been hard at times but I'm confident that as time goes on it will get easier, I just have to keep doing awesome things and making memories to last a lifetime.

So as we get full swing into autumn (or fall as they call it in Canada) here in Calgary, I'm excited to see where this next month takes me...




Thursday, 1 October 2015

Becoming a Vegan

The decision to become vegan was one that I never thought I'd make. In fact, growing up, I'd always had a strange aversion to vegans and veganism. For whatever reason, when someone mentioned that they were a vegan, I would instinctively roll my eyes and wonder how I managed to bag the hippy. Maybe it's because society places a stigma on veganism, but I associated vegans with those seeking attention, making a statement not of compassion, but of judgement. I believed that vegans were people who sat on their high moral ground and judged those who didn't follow their own ideals. How hilariously ironic. I used to think to myself, 'Why would anyone be vegan? You're not killing the animal to get its produce, what's the big deal?' That thought process is unfortunately very common, and along with it, there are many others, a big one is the belief that being a vegan is unhealthy for your immune system and makes you weak. These beliefs are borne from pure and simple ignorance. I don't say that in a judgemental way, I just say that out of truth. If you take the time to research into veganism, you'll soon understand that it isn't just about whether an animal lives or dies, and you'll soon realise that there are many ways to get every bit of nutrient that you need, that doesn't require animal meat or produce, in order to be healthy and strong.

The main reason for my decision to become a vegan is the environment. For years I've learnt about the effects we as humans are having on the environment, about climate change and the general degradation of the earth around us. It's difficult to know much about this when standing in a well developed country that reaps the rewards of this massive exploitation of the world's resources. But just because I can't see it from where I'm standing, it doesn't mean that it's not happening. Being a geographer has become part of my identity, my love of the natural environment and of sustainability, of leaving the wo
rld as I want my children and grandchildren to see it, it is all a part of who I am and what I deeply care about. One day I came to the realisation that I was a hypocrite. Talking my friends and family's ears off about how we as human beings are destroying this beautiful planet that we live on, all the while enjoying my cheeseburger. It's an oxymoron. The older I get and the more I learn about the planet, the more conscious I am of change. Geographers are often found banging their heads against walls at the pure greed and ignorance of many towards the limitations of the earth's resources. We are constantly talking about how things have to change. Nothing will get better unless something changes. Well, I've always been told that change starts from within so how can I expect others to make changes unless I make those changes myself?

Although my care for the environment has been instrumental in taking this step, it's not the only reason. Cruelty to animals is just another reason becoming a vegan feels completely right. I started off with a vegetarian diet and to my utmost surprise I didn't miss meat in the slightest. I decided to become a vegetarian for the environmental reasons that I mentioned above but at some point I found myself unable to justify killing so many animals for my own benefit. Everytime I ate meat, I began to imagine having to kill and prepare the animal beforehand and it seemed so unnecessary to have so many animals die for my sake. Becoming a vegetarian opened up discussions with so many people. You don't realise it when you're not a vegan or vegetarian, but it's a big conversation starter when people hear you going for the veggie option or when you mention that you're a vegetarian/vegan. Through these discussions, I had another one of those realisations. I am still a hypocrite. I say I care about the environment and animals, but i'm still drinking cow's milk, eating cheese, yoghurt, ice cream. All of these things are fueling an industry that, when on a large scale, treats animals with absolutely no compassion. I realised how stupid I'd been in my view towards veganism. There is indeed a fate worse than death, and that is a life of torture. How can I feel at ease, knowing that I'm just another person investing in an industry that does the most abominable things to animals. Not only that, but how can I consider myself an environmentalist when I am creating demand for dairy, which incidentally creates demand for cattle and intensive cattle farming continues. It's not just the meat production that is harmful to the environment, it's the amount of animals themselves and this issue will still be an issue if everyone became a vegetarian tomorrow, there would just be a lot more wasted, rotting flesh around.

I'm not going to say that I'll never eat meat or animal products again. If we lived in a world where everyone ate animals/animal products sustainably and in moderation, I would too enjoy the occasional piece of meat. But unfortunately we don't. We live in a world that consumes way too much meat in a very unsustainable way and the only way I know how to try and change that is to change my own lifestyle first and allow others in on my views. A lot of people don't take the time to understand, and I can't blame them really, it took me a while to really get a hold on what I believe and what that is is still changing even now. But if you've got to this point, I thank you for taking the time to listen and I urge that you spend just a bit more researching into this issue.

One source I would completely and utterly recommend watching is the documentary 'Cowspiracy' as it's truly an eye opener and it's easier to feel a connection to something you can see with your own eyes.

Oh, and one more thing. Being a vegan is not necessarily unhealthy. Just like being a meat eater is not necessarily healthy. If you take the time to buy the right food, it's surprisingly easy to hit those macro and micronutrient goals. As with any big change, it takes a lot of perseverance and motivation. It's up to you.


Useful Resources:
Cowspiracy (Also available on Netflix)
The Vegan Society
Meat Free Monday Campaign
Graham Hill's Ted Talk
Mark Bittman's Ted Talk 

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