A Blog by International Students at Leiden University
Guest blogger Floris Heidsma is currently studying North American Studies and is in Calgary Canada for his semester abroad.
November starts cold for the likes of me. While day-time temperatures average at around -10 Celsius, at night temperatures plunge treacherously and linger at -20 well into the morning. Nonetheless, plenty of Canadians prove themselves frost-proof by strutting around in shorts or a T-shirt. Although Calgary’s characteristic sunny weather warms my mood, I hoist myself into thermal leggings underneath my trousers and slip into a second layer of socks.
I discover that as a grad student, I have an office space that I share with five others. Judi, the department administrator, had assumed I would just know about such luxuries and drop by to pick up the keys. Once settled into office, it’s intellectually stimulating to sit alongside fellow graduates and even PhD students, but the cheerful truth is that we get little work done there. There’s always another story to share, fresh coffee to brew or an evening plan to plot. To make matters worse, our functioning alcoholic to be – I won’t name names – is very persuasive when suggesting lunchtime drinks.
Mingling with the truly Albertan
I pick up a new pastime to relieve stress. The university has a firearms association that I join in the evenings to slug off some rounds. I never quite realised Alberta was the more conservative and right-leaning province until after I arrived, so I imagine myself finally mingling with those truly Albertan. Both ladies and gents come to the range in their battered up pick-up trucks. They demonstrate their private firearms, ranging from modern rifles and pistols to World War II antiques. Always accompanied by ample ammunition. I’m enjoying myself. But should the gun show and target practice fail to do the trick, the bar next door will offer discounted beers for members of the association.
On the weekend, I discover poutine: perfect for combatting the cold. Canada isn’t really known for its cuisine, unless you fancy slabs of moose and bison, but poutine is a lifesaver when you’re chilled to the bone after a day outside. Thankfully, the group I go hiking with stumbled upon a small eatery in Canmore, a town on the way back from the mountains, popular especially for this dish. Poutine is warm and hearty Canadian comfort food: in its basic form consisting of French fries, cheese curds and gravy. But here, at “La Belle Patate”, any topping goes.
First live ice hockey match
After watching ice hockey games being broadcast in bars everywhere over the last months, I was thrilled to sit down for my first live match. The vibe in the Saddledome in support of the Calgary Flames is great to be a part of. All around me hot dogs are being washed down with generous amounts of beer and the crowd’s chanting at tense moments is hair-raising. The fights that typically break out surely are entertaining, but the incredible ease with which players skilfully glide through a game of hockey leaves the biggest impression on me. Later, I find myself flying around like Bambi on ice at the university’s skating rink.
A chinook hits the city
Finally feeling at one with the cold, the end of the month is suddenly warm and bright. A chinook has hit the city: a local weather phenomenon unique to the area that carries warm air to Calgary, melting the snow. Meanwhile, on the other side of the Rockies the cold weather is trapped in British Columbia, leaving Vancouver foggy, wet, and its people perpetually miserable. Although Calgarians consider chinooks to be a warming blessing, for me there’s nothing magical about stepping in dirty sludge. I find myself looking forward to new cold.