A Blog by International Students at Leiden University

My semester abroad in Canada – A long way from home

Floris Heidsma is a guest blogger here on The Leidener and studies the MA in North American Studies. He has just spent one semester in Canada as an exchange student at the University of Calgary. In this blog post he writes about how he experienced his first month in Calgary.

Home is a distant memory

Calgary is hot and hazy when I’m allowed to move into my dorm room on Sunday, September 3. I spent the previous weekend in an Airbnb while acclimatising and seeing the sights. Although Calgary itself isn’t a tourist hot spot, the sprawling prairie to the east and the wandering Rocky Mountain range in the west – a vague silhouette against the smoky clouds drifting from British Columbia’s forest fires – make up for a lack of particularly pretty architecture.

A bare mattress and a desk

As I haul my luggage out of the car, thankfully a troop of freshers dutifully stand ready to help me carry it all up to my third-floor room. I’m not sure whether I’m glad or worried that I have just a suitcase and a bag while I watch others struggle with boxes full of pans, lamps and wide-screen TV’s. And whaddaya know –  my room only has a bare mattress and a desk. I’m relieved to have already bought sheets and pillows. Feeling done for today, I know there’s a Domino’s on campus, so cooking utensils can wait.

Welcome burgers

The dining centre is offering welcome burgers this evening. I meet a couple of students from my hall and we decide to hang out before heading to the campus bar’s opening night. Fortunately, drinking games are universal, making it easy to break the ice. Later, the queue to get into the bar takes a weary hour, which is the usual if you don’t show up ridiculously early. If nothing else, The Den has loud music and drinks. Heading home unsteadily afterwards, I’m pleased the first night of dorm life went well.

Watching college football at sunset

Activities are hosted during the first week to help new students integrate. This gives you the chance to explore campus before classes start which is great because it’s not easy finding your way around at first due to the size of the place. Moreover, getting into the University of Calgary vibe is boosted by the season kick-off for college football that Friday evening. Watching them play with a beer in my hand while the sun sets is a delight.


Not the only new guy

At long last, my required third course, U.S.  Foreign Policy Since 1914, is confirmed. My other two are in political science, namely Canada and Arctic Security and Advanced Analysis of International Relations. Initially, going to classes is a little daunting, but I’m not the only new guy. It’s great to meet more Canadians and most are interested in where I’m from and Europe in general. Class structure feels familiar, consisting of three-hour long seminars requiring plenty of reading preparation.

Two-stepping to country songs

I didn’t really meet my roommates until the second day. Two of them largely keep to themselves but I get along great with the third. A party of sorts is hosted at someone’s somewhere in our hall every night, which is perfect to meet new people. There are several places to go out downtown afterwards. The more local – trashy – places are the most fun. Yes, Alberta is a little redneck. At 12pm these bars and their visitors switch to an hour of two-stepping to country songs, which is an embarrassing phenomenon for those who can’t participate but a horridly effective ceremony for local guys to flirt with the girls.

Going by in a flash

Having finally pillaged Walmart for living necessities, I am no longer dependent on campus dining centres (Wong’s Take-Out must miss me). September is going by in a flash. With the student clubs I’ve joined, university courses picking up steam and home a distant memory, I’m already dreading when it will all have to come to an end. If only I could have signed up for a year.

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