Thursday, September 15, 2016

First Weeks and Counting!

Hi all! First off, my apologies for taking so long with this post! The last two weeks have just been a whirlwind of activity and getting acclimated to a new country and meeting new people.

Let me rewind to my first day in Canada before catching up on more recent events:

I awoke in day-old clothes after a night spent on hotel-like linens that did little for the few hours of rest I'd managed to squeeze in before my 8:00 AM alarm. I stumbled out of bed, brushed my hair, tried to straighten out my slept on shirt, and got ready to leave my dorm room for the first time. Only to realize I had no idea where I was going. I hastily looked at a campus map, vaguely figured out my position, and hoped I'd see some other confused-but-less-directionally challenged international students wandering around and whom I could covertly follow to my destination.

A view of two of the campus dorms from behind, the rest of the college
 sprawls out beyond these buildings. My dorm is the one on the right.

About 10 minutes later (and after a vague shadowing of some fellow wanderers) I found the building where the international student orientation was taking place, checked in, and was ushered over to the cafeteria for some breakfast. I got some reliable cinnamon toast crunch (no need to be adventurous with my food yet) and looked around for a place to sit. I saw a group of three girls sitting together and asked if I could join, they said yes and I pulled out a chair. We all made our introductions, one of the girls was from South Korea, one from Japan, and one from India, though she'd lived in Japan for the past several years. We chatted for a bit when another girl arrived and asked to sit. We welcomed her to the table and she introduced herself and said she was from the island nation of Malta in Europe. It was really cool sitting with such a diverse group of people and I was only mildly jealous of them and all their bilingual, and even trilingual, glory (*le sigh* US education system).

I also decided to stop lamenting about my struggles with air travel since, unlike a lot of others, my flight didn't take 15 hours or come with a huge time change (I only had a 2 hour difference, not bad at all). Although, hearing about all their free European colleges and cheap-by-comparison Canadian colleges made me want to rant about something else... (*hides eyes from student loans*)

After breakfast, we attended a presentation that explained some of the basics of UPEI and Charlottetown. Whenever the presenters wanted to make sure some important points were getting across, they had volunteers translate what had been said into Mandarin and Arabic, since those two languages are some of the most commonly spoken among the international students. Both languages were spoken so fast, it was crazy impressive. I also learned that Charlottetown's city bus system is free to students, which makes exploring much easier.

Next, we broke up into groups based on majors and I met even more interesting people including a fellow American from Connecticut who will be attending UPEI for his entire college career. I also talked with a guy from Sweden and we exchanged some cultural rants about temperature (why won't America just change to Celsius already), the metric system (ditto), driving on the wrong side of the road (at least America got that one right), and politics (apparently Sweden recently experienced their own crappy election and he sympathizes with our prospects).

The day ended with a trip to an old-timey village set around the 1880's that shows Canada's pioneer-like past. The village, whose last resident only moved out a few years ago, has many authentic buildings including a church (spooky old graveyard included), schoolhouse, blacksmith's forge, and farmhouse. Since our group of a couple hundred packed the place, they were offering carriage rides, blacksmithing demonstrations, and a tour of the schoolhouse. It was an interesting stop and reminded me a lot of similar places we have in Missouri. I'd never really considered Canadian "pioneers" and thought it was pretty cool that people so far apart would have been leading such similar lives.

The roads are red just as LM Montgomery described them in her Anne books!

As we prepared to board the bus back to campus, my phone rang, I answered the unknown number to hear a most welcome voice on the other end, "Hello, this is Air Canada calling, your baggage should arrive to your listed address by 5 this evening." I was never so happy to hear an automatic voice! When we arrived back at UPEI, I promptly picked up my bags, lugged them upstairs (with the help of a kind stranger who saw me struggling up the stairs with two giant bags) and unzipped them! Fresh clothes! My pillow! Grandma's afghan! All the comforts a girl could ask for.

I was very happy to see my bags again

The next few days were full of more get-to-know-each-other excitement, meeting my roommate (she's from the Island), and exploring the campus and its immediate surroundings. I ventured into the grocery store on my second day and though its full of pretty much the same things I could find in America, some brands aren't present (Hunts Ketchup and Peter Pan peanut butter, how I miss you so) and its a tad more expensive. Of course, the pricing differences aren't as bad as they seem, since you also have to mentally convert all the dollar signs to USD, but the taxes are really high. Though I suppose if you want to live in a country with a high rate of health, high levels of safety, and the beaver as the national animal (that's right, its not the moose), its a sacrifice most are willing to make. 

I can't really get over the monopoly-like money though. I mean, its all different colors and is LITERALLY SEE THROUGH IN PARTS. That's just bananas. And also, why is the Queen on all their money (or at least the coins) still? I need to look up some Canadian history because its bugging me to no end. 

Look closely and you can see my fingers through the money!

I'll post about my first week of classes in the next couple of days and talk about some cultural differences I've observed (the accents are real and I love it, I even heard an "eh?" added to the end of a sentence and only then felt like I was officially in Canada). 

Bye 'til then!

Friday, September 2, 2016

The Predicted Airport Conundrums

In my last post, I jokingly spoke of how I'd probably be blogging about airport issues, and so of course, here I am, blogging about airport issues. I really shouldn't have tempted fate.

The day began about 9am with my dad and I leaving home and driving to Kansas City. We got some (delicious) lunch with my aunt and her fiance, and then headed for the Airport. That part went smoothly.

After checking in and dropping off my two checked bags, I made my way to security with 2 carry-ons. I placed my bags in the bins, removed my boots and stepped into one of those full body scanners. And, as luck should have it, I got pulled for a full body search. Can we say awkward. But it was over with quickly and I stepped back to retrieve my bags. Except only one came out. My backpack had been pulled for an additional search. Great. The security lady searched the outside compartments of my bag, asking, "Are there any sharp objects inside that could poke or stick me?"

I muttered a completely guilty sounding, "Um..I don't think so."

Yet things were going rather smoothly until the lady found the three decks of playing cards I had stashed in one of the outside pockets. She pulled out the first deck and nodded, satisfied, but her eyebrows rose a bit when she pulled out the next two. Firstly, because who carries three decks of playing cards on a plane? but mainly because the cards I had packed are decorative decks. One's from Versailles and the cards are covered in fleur de lis', the second is a Game of Thrones themed deck. But the third one...the third one features a popular Korean pop group...whose name is BIGBANG. Yeah. Not really something to have plastered across an item whilst in an airport.

I, having worked out the reason for the security ladies raised eyebrows and mentally berating myself for not stuffing those cards in my checked luggage, was in that kind of panic you only get around airport security or police officers; that kind where you feel supremely guilty for all of your actions, even if you've done nothing wrong. I was semi-convinced TSA was about to swoop down and ban me from my flight, if not airports all together, but the lady simply took my bag, emptied out some of the books crammed inside and scanned it (and the cards) again. She guessed my bag had been flagged because of too much paper, making it hard for the scanners to read everything properly.  There is a possibility that my six books, five folders, four notebooks and three decks of cards had something to do with that.

Anyway. After all that excitement, I had about two hours until my flight. So I sat. And I sat some more. Finally it was time to begin boarding. The people around me started to gather up their things, waiting for the first boarding group to be called. But they weren't. Instead we continued to sit. Our departure time came and went, and we sat some more. Almost an hour after our scheduled departure time, the plane taxied up to the terminal. I eagerly boarded, ready for my trip to finally begin. It was a small plane with only 13 rows of seats with two on either side of the plane and the walkway in the middle. I looked down at my ticket: I was seat 13B. This didn't initially concern me. I didn't mind being in the back of the plane. It was a small aircraft and I knew that disembarking wouldn't take too long. The real draw back was actually right across from me. On the other side of the aisle, where normally seats 13C and 13D would be, was the lavatory. And it smelled.

The flight wasn't the greatest, but it passed. We landed in Toronto about an hour later than originally scheduled but I still had 45 minutes until my connecting flight to Charlottetown was scheduled to leave. It seemed liked plenty of time. It wasn't.

Luckily, the people ahead of me in aisle 12 also had a connecting flight they were desperate to make and the kind, back-half of the plane stayed in their seats in order to let us off first. I speed walked through what felt like the longest hallway of all time, following countless "arrivals" signs until I finally reached Customs. I was through quickly, but my custom guy's face was impassive enough to get him a job at Buckingham Palace. So deadpan, so intimidatingly impressive.

After moving through customs I sped-walked through the next half of the airport, dodging group-hugs and underfoot-children as I went. Looking at my phone, I still had about 15 minutes to make my connection. I walked and asked directions and walked, got to my terminal and was ushered through security. As I headed for my gate (of course the one farthest from the entrance of the terminal) I heard over the intercom, "Final boarding call for Charlottetown." I picked up my pace and hurried to the gate and I made it! Only to have the man scan my ticket, frown and tell me to move over one line to talk to his coworker. I gritted my teeth. What could have gone wrong?! The lady at the counter took one look at my ticket, and nodded her head wearily, "I'm sorry, but its just a mess tonight. You've been rerouted onto another flight. It leaves in the morning and has an additional layover in Halifax before continuing to Charlottetown. If you want, you can keep your original flight, however your bags will not make it onto this plane."

I took a deep breath. After a long day of travel I was finally in the home stretch only to find out that the only things I'd have with me when I got to Charlottetown were my laptop, some books for class, my contact case and glasses, a hairbrush and some floss! "Do you want to keep your original flight?"

Slowly, I nodded. I had orientation the next morning and couldn't miss it, not to mention I had no desire for an additional layover. "Yes, please." I boarded the plane, dejected and annoyed.

However, I was mildly uplifted when I saw I had a window seat. About 30 minutes into our flight, all my annoyances disappeared when the pilot came over the intercom, "If you'll look out the left windows, the Aurora Borealis is particularly active tonight." Amazed, I pressed my face up against the glass. There, painted across the night sky, was an ethereal blue-white glow.

The rest of my journey went smoothly. I arrived in Charlottetown and was met by a fellow UPEI student who helped me get it scheduled for my bags to be delivered the next day to campus. We then continued to the dorms where I checked in before heading to my new room for some much needed sleep.

Since then, I've gotten settled and have just completed my first full day here. Tomorrow I will post more about these first couple days, meeting some awesome new people and figuring out campus life here at UPEI!