Beth Does Canada

Musings on studying abroad, from a history student and perpetual worrier.

Be slow to fall into friendship, but when thou art in, continue firm and constant -Socrates.

One thing that has kept me sane throughout my time abroad has been making friends with fellow Brits- Canadians have tended to listen to my despair over the weather and my desire for a cuppa with general bemusement. Other British exchange students? They nod sympathetically and whack the kettle on. In fact -somewhat worryingly- I think I have made more friends with exchange students from my home university than actual Canadians. Oops. I’m working on the Canadian friends thing, promise. 

So I was catching up with one of my British pals last night, and discussing our respective Christmases back in the UK. One thing we both agreed on was this: absence really does make the heart grow fonder. Cheesy, but true. You see, one of my (many) worries when I boarded my plane, back in September, was that my UK pals would ‘forget’ me. Yes, it sounds shallow and self-indulgent, but I was really nervous that my lovely friends would not want to talk to me when I was away, and dismiss my return. Especially considering that many of them were beginning the notorious third year of their degrees, and -understandably-  concerned with their own lives and futures. 

I was, of course, proved wrong. Despite the inevitable turbulence of third-year, as well as general day-to-day business, my friends didn’t forget me. Yes I may be 3,500 miles away, but, in large part thanks to Skype and Facebook, I can still chat to my best ones about everything from relationships, to Topshop to impending deadlines. We send each other cards and letters- there is nothing nicer to see in the letterbox than a handwritten card, rather than another phone bill. One particularly homesick morning,  I trudged down the stairs to find a card from my friend Ellen, in the hall. Inside, she had transcribed a letter from Stephen Fry, offering advice on loneliness and depression. And, even better, the card’s cover was The Moomins. It’s been gestures like that that have not only eased the loneliness, but also made me realise how lucky I am- not only to be living abroad, but to still have friends at home. And when I went back home at Christmas? The group of girls -some of whom I haven’t seen in a year- all gathered at mine for wine, chocolate and gossip. A winning combination. My uni pals, moreover, made the effort to travel to London: pub quizzes, gin and tonics, dancing to Beyonce, and Wagamama was involved. The best part of these shenanigans, moreover, was that it honestly felt like nothing had changed. Yes, I may have been away for four months, but as soon as we all were physically back together, we fell back into the same routine, quite comfortably and happily. The time apart has not dented our friendships- but made me realise how bloody great my friends are. I can only hope I can be as good a friend to them. 

It was only after these reunions that a lightbulb went off in my head: I have now realised that all my previous anxieties and worries were in fact not to do with my friends at all: they were to down to my own insecurities. I’ve spent so much of my time feeling insecure, or unworthy of their friendship, that I’ve felt easily forgettable. I have simply assumed that the flaws I see in myself, are blindingly obvious to everyone else. How silly. It’s time I start being my own friend. 

 

 

 

Advertisements

A ramble on the New Year.

I am currently sitting in our family living room, watching my dad watch the football, waiting for my mum, so I can begin the long slog of a journey back to Toronto. Having spent the past two weeks either asleep, or surrounded by my wonderful friends and family, my addled mind feels somewhat restored: I feel ready to tackle the new year, and the upcoming term. As such, my thoughts have inevitably wandered to New Year’s Resolutions. To be honest, the idea that January should be a ‘fresh start’ and a ‘clean slate’ doesn’t appeal to me. Surely we are all shaped by our past? There is no way to magically let go of decisions you’ve made in the previous year. Instead, therefore, of trying to make silly resolutions such as a sugar-free diet, or drinking obscene amounts of water daily, I’m going to try and see this new year as just another step in becoming more comfortable with myself. God that sounds pretentious. But with this interpretation of resolutions in mind, my aim for 2014 is this: to be kinder to myself. Having spent the majority of my life criticising everything from my academic work to my lunch choices to the shape of my feet -yes really- I have decided that now is the time take it easy. If I want to sleep in, I will sleep in. If I want a cookie before bed, I’ll have one. If I want to watch Netflix instead of writing an essay? Well, that will depend on how close the deadline is! But you get the gist of it- I just want to chill the hell out. 

With this as my vague goal, I am hoping I will have the courage to try more: to lose my nervous inhibitions, try new activities, go exploring, and to just say yes. 

Neil Gaiman -whose 2012 Commencement Speech at Philadelphia’s University of the Art is just bloody incredible*- sums up my thoughts for the upcoming year quite nicely: 

“I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes.

Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You’re doing things you’ve never done before, and more importantly, you’re Doing Something.

So that’s my wish for you, and all of us, and my wish for myself. Make New Mistakes. Make glorious, amazing mistakes. Make mistakes nobody’s ever made before. Don’t freeze, don’t stop, don’t worry that it isn’t good enough, or it isn’t perfect, whatever it is: art, or love, or work or family or life.

Whatever it is you’re scared of doing, Do it.

Make your mistakes, next year and forever.”**

 

Happy 2014! 

 

*watch here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=plWexCID-kA

** http://journal.neilgaiman.com/2011/12/my-new-year-wish.html

Living the Canadian Dream

On September 1st, I packed up all belongings, and moved some 3500 miles away from my family, boyfriend and friends to spend the third year of my history degree in Canada. The past (almost) three months have been spent trying to settle in and adjust to a brand new city and culture, while trying my hardest at schoolwork and to make friends. To say it’s been intense would be an understatement: Canadians (in Ontario, anyhow) may speak English, but there are some real cultural differences. Here’s (some of) what I’ve learnt so far…

  • Winter? It’s already here, and it’s going to get worse. This week averaged on -2 and I’ve spent a fair amount of the week skidding on ice and staring at the snow. Of course, this weather has phased none of my peers: everyone just layers up, throws on their snuggest coat, and gets on with it. My flatmate’s (sorry, roommate) response to my shivering complaints? ‘You ain’t seen nothing yet.’ Time to whip the electric blanket out.
  • Toronto is basically Shoreditch, but clean and sober. Everyone here is a hipster: you’re ‘alternative’ if you aren’t bedecked in a check shirt, skinny jeans and desert boots. And to fuel this American Apparel-wearing, vinyl-listening, Jack Kerouac-reading populace, Toronto is inundated with little independent cafes. Hey, I’m not complaining, I love me some pretentious coffee time.
  • The food. Over here, everyone eats out ALL THE TIME. You cannot walk a few steps without finding some form of food. Food trucks line the campus streets- don’t be surprised if you end up in the library sitting next to someone inhaling a massive box of poutine (the Canadian national dish- basically cheesy chips in gravy) or cartons of noodles. The food is invariably filled with all kinds of oddities too- attempting to do a food shop the other day, I picked up a loaf of your standard brown sliced bread, which had caramel listed in its ingredients? Cray. Don’t get me wrong, you can get good quality fruit and veg etc, but it’s bloody expensive. Oy. It’s a bit overwhelming doing a foodshop sometimes.
  • In order to counteract all this food, it would appear that Canadians are exercise fiends. Everyone goes to the gym, or runs, or does yoga, or plays sport. My flatmate goes to the gym about five times a week- and that is on top of a degree and two jobs. I’ve actually started going to the gym too, but I won’t lie, I find it a real drag. Any tips on how to make exercise fun? Or any actual gym routines for someone who’s idea of torture is the treadmill?
  • Booze is a real no-no here. You can only buy alcohol from a state-run ‘LCBO’, of which there are hardly any around. And prepare to be judge in the street when you’re carrying that brown paper bag of beer home.
  • Oh and also prepare to be judged for using the word ‘toilet’. It’s ‘restroom’, no matter what.
  • People are super-friendly over here. I have had numerous conversations with people on public transport here. During the daytime. Sober. Mental.
  • We have Boris, Torontonians have Rob Ford. The gift that just keeps on giving:

Just a few little sweeping observations about Toronto thus far… I’m going to be writing in greater detail later on about how I’ve dealt with moving here in terms of anxiety and eating later on. But now? I need to go and write an essay/google more Rob Ford gifs.

This Week's Mantra

F. Scott Fitzgerald had quite a way with words.

Comparison is The Thief of Joy – Theodore Roosevelt.

Comparison. We all do it, right? And it can be helpful- by comparing yourself to your peers, you can observe where you stand, what progress you’ve made, and what you need to improve upon. That’s why some universities publish class averages. Comparing yourself to others, however, is rarely an observation- inherent to it is some sense of competition and judgement. It’s a breeding ground for feelings of inferiority and self-doubt. Facebook is a prime culprit for this: God knows how many times I’ve signed in, intending to quickly message my friends back home, and ended up being sucked into a vortex of stalking them, looking at their pictures from nights out, exciting jobs and internships, and travelling, before dragging myself away, feeling a lot more crappy about my life. These feelings, moreover, follow me around throughout the day: time and time again, I will leave the house feeling okay, and return feeling a lot less so, having interacted with people I have deemed more intelligent, funnier, prettier and stylish than me. It’s ridiculous. You need to have a thick skin to be able to healthily compare yourself- and this is something I just do not have yet. But I am coming up with some ideas, that hopefully will kick my confidence into gear.

  • Instagram and Facebook are my Marmite of the Internet. I love browsing and keeping updated, which is normally how I start my online ‘routine’. So I’m going to cut down the time I spend on the websites. No more mindless browsing. (This is going to be so much easier said than done!)
  • In a similar vein, cut out the Daily Mail Side Bar of Shame. You all know what I’m talking about. By looking at this vile website, I’m not only comparing myself to photoshopped celebrities, but also giving page views to psuedo-journalists like Liz Jones. No. Thanks. I’m currently one week in to being Daily Mail free, and damn it feels good.
  • Start accepting compliments. My boyfriend is king of compliments and I am frequently flattered by him. My response?  ‘Shut up’, ‘no I’m not’, and ‘you’re my boyfriend, you HAVE to say that’. Instead I’m going to try a more simple approach of ‘thank you’. Who knows, I might even start to believe him.

This is just a few ideas, and certainly not a doctrine of a sure-fire way to stop comparison. But it’s a start.

I was going to end this post by saying that a quote by Dr Seuss would say it ten times better than I could… but let’s try out my new state of mind, and just leave the quote up as some food for thought!

“Today you are You, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is Youer than You.”

If you just let go a little, life could be so sweet.

Looking back over 2013, one particular day really sticks in my mind. It was late August, and one of my last days in London before I set off some 3,500 miles to spend my third year of uni abroad. I’d woken up late, so got ready hurriedly before rushing onto a bus and into Soho. I met up with two of my closest, loveliest friends at The Breakfast Club, where we set the world to rights over pancakes and poached eggs. After spending the afternoon wandering Oxford Street – I bought boots and a jumper, despite the 20 degree heat- we watched the sun go down in Covent Garden. With our respective partners, copious bottles of wine and cider, we watched the tourists go by, gossiped, and (obviously) instagrammed it all. The night ended with us stumbling into Shake Shack and inhaling our burgers, chips and ice cream. A perfect day right? Everyone loves a spontaneous day out, revolving around clothes, booze and food. In fact, the ‘blogosphere’ is filled with fashion bloggers wolfing down their Byron Burgers and epic ‘Slutty Brownies’.

But it was also a milestone for me: before then, I hadn’t eaten a burger in about 7 years. A third of my life. This isn’t because I’m a vegetarian, but because I suffer from an eating disorder. Since the age of 11, I’ve dealt with constant anxiety surrounding food- including a stint in hospital. I am now ‘functioning’: I am no longer dangerously thin- although I am pretty damn skinny, I go to a good uni (I’m currently studying abroad), I have friends, a boyfriend, and a family I adore. But this controlling voice is constantly in the back of my mind, telling me what I can and cannot eat. And I am, frankly, sick of it. I want more Shake Shack days. I want to smile when I look in the mirror. I want to be able to sit in the library and write an essay, without worrying about what I’ve just had for lunch. I want to stand up for women’s rights, without feeling like a fraud because I am so self-deprecating. I want to, when the time is right, have a family.

So this is going to be my little corner of the internet, that I’d like to fill with bits and pieces of fashion, feminism, and general lifestyle stuff, as well tracking my progress in shaking off that voice. How I plan on doing that, I’m not sure. But I do know it’s bloody well time.

P.S. The title is from Emma Woolf’s wonderful ‘An Apple A Day’. Nothing could be more apt.