A Blog by International Students at Leiden University
Floris Heidsma studies the MA in North American Studies. He is currently spending one semester in Canada as an exchange student at the University of Calgary. Here, he shares some of his experiences of living and studying in Canada.
Even though the leaves had already begun to yellow and brown at the end of September, October brought a most distinctive change in weather. I had been warned that Calgary is known for its erratic weather; the blizzards of yesteryear’s Septembers often used to impress this fact upon me. For as long as I was enjoying the October sun in a loose-fitting T-shirt, these warnings kept falling on deaf ears. That was until October 2, which revealed a thick blanket of snow which had fallen overnight and smothered the dense carpet of leaves in addition to my warm dreams of fall. Winter was now approaching.
With a pang of panic at the sudden appearance of the dreaded Canadian chill, I decided to acquire all things warm, like a winter coat. Finally giving heed to the locals’ words of advice, and dragging along my similarly worried roommate, we scoured the local thrift shop for winter attire. With a stroke of luck, I extricated from the tangled racks what otherwise would have been an unaffordable North Face ski jacket priced at only thirty-five Canadian bucks (O, Canada! My Canada!). Much to our relief, the weather turned for the better the next day and I consigned my ski jacket to the closet for the time being. By the end of the month whirling snowflakes would silently greet me on my walk back from class at dusk.
Within these chilly snowflakes All Hallows Eve materializes around the end of the month. Spider webs, witches and all manner of ghastly ghouls mark the gardens of the suburban homes, as they do the bars and clubs of the city’s nightlife on Halloween weekend. I was glad to be in costume – that same thrift shop again was my fairy godmother – when heading out these weekend nights as everyone else had, too, dressed up. With gusto. The Calgary University Campus hosts a range of Halloween activities , and the campus bar naturally throws a theme party on the night itself, whether it’s the weekend or not. Even the University’s Outdoors Club hosts an annual Halloween-themed mountain hike. The hike was strenuous. And it turns out that face paint runs and will sting your eyes. Halloween hike rookie mistake.
October is in fact a prime time to go hiking in the Rockies. The Autumn colours paint the scenes in richer hues than in summer and snow crowns the endless peaks in sight. The Sentinel Pass trail is the place to be as Banff’s sprawling larches display themselves in a myriad of golden shades. Male elk eerily bugle throughout the valleys as they challenge each other. Perhaps most importantly, October is also the last time a person can rest reasonably assured of relative comfort up there. Many of the higher and more remote trails close by November 1 due to avalanche danger. Indeed, while hiking the Buller Pass on October 28, I found myself wading almost knee-deep in snow. The trail ahead of me indiscernible save the footsteps of a solitary hiker who was no longer to be seen.
November has come and classes are carrying on in the same old. However, like the pith of winter, deadlines begin to loom. Essay proposals and presentations have been the main academic challenges these past few weeks. With the dark overtaking mornings, getting out of bed has become a daily struggle, as is the familiar vain attempt to get ahead of things. I buy better coffee and tell myself half-heartedly I should go out less. It is the silence before the storm that I’m hearing now halfway through the semester.