A million miles from home, Hazel O’Flaherty experiences life with plastic naggins, continuous assessment, and longing for pints with friends in Doyle’s.
I am on exchange in University of British Columbia in Vancouver for one semester. To start with, here’s a bit of background: I took a very awkward route to get here. I chose Vancouver impulsively on skyscanner without much research because the price offered was pretty tempting. I ended up having to do two layovers which was, I suppose, character building. I arrived in Vancouver around 11pm local time after approximately 18 hours travelling only to stare at a baggage carousel for over an hour before accepting that my bag hadn’t made it as far as I did. So I left the airport exhausted with only the shirt on my back, which sounds like the start of one of those stories your grandparents tell you about ‘the good old days, when no one had shoes.’ I was deliriously tired and attempted to get into the taxi via the driver’s side forgetting that the positioning of the seating is reversed here. It is also crucial to remember when crossing roads to look the opposite way than your instinct, as I found out very quickly.
It is also crucial to remember when crossing roads to look the opposite way than your instinct, as I found out very quickly.
The people here are kind. The population of Vancouver is ethnically diverse which lends itself to the concept of inclusivity. Tipping is expected in all restaurants, take-aways, and for some strange reason self-service places too. People get very excited about sports but not the ones you expect, we are talking multiple screens set up in a pub so everyone can keep up to date with the fascinating ‘sport’ of curling. If you don’t know curling is that ‘sport’ where someone slides a large magnet-looking-thing and two people rapidly sweep in front of it to get it to the middle of a target area, it is basically not that exciting. They are fascinated with ice hockey, saying sorry for no apparent reason (which I feel Irish people in general can relate to), and telling me completely unprompted about their Irish heritage which always involves tales of distant relatives and a hankering for the old sod.
Naggin bottles are made of plastic which I thought was impressively innovative.
Naggin bottles are made of plastic which I thought was impressively innovative. Weed is everywhere, it is the tobacco of Vancouver. Individuals from every demographic smoke it here, it’s not taboo, and is often instead considered a good alternative to alcohol as it does not have the same devastating effects the next morning. I suppose that was a culture shock for me, but it is so normalised here and legalised (or at least if there is a law against it, it is no longer being enforced) that it is now just part of West Coast life in Canada.
Classes in UBC are much more interactive. There are limited opportunities for burying your head in your laptop and praying no one picks on you. Here it’s expected that everyone speak aloud, and not only that, but most of the class want to speak up. I found here that there is much more emphasis on continuous assessment which has been something of a challenge. The desk in my room is not a decoration like it was back home, I actually sit at it sometimes which is quite interesting.
Here it’s expected that everyone speak aloud, and not only that, but most of the class want to speak up.
Student accommodation on campus is pretty similar to at home. I live with six people in a pretty small space, we have one toilet and two showers and a kitchen area with standing room for two. The living space is our happy place and the only thing that prevents world war three from breaking out. Our dynamic in the house is pretty great but it is similar to that card game UNO: if two people need to go to the toilet at the same time, there are no friends, all allegiances are lost, it is survival of the fittest.
Other cultural differences include peanut butter and jelly sandwiches (they taste like soggy disappointment), frat parties and sororities (which I still don’t understand fully but people love talking about it), and lastly, while we technically speak the same language, there are times when that will be questioned.
In terms of loneliness, there is no denying that it is really hard sometimes. You leave family, romantic relationships, and friendships behind. You make friends that will make the hard nights a little bit easier, you will find places that remind you of home, and activities that fill your day and make the ache for the familiar a little bit less apparent. No doubt however even with those supports and distractions there will still be times where you will just want to sit down to a roast dinner with your family or have a few drinks in the best pub in Dublin (a.k.a Doyle’s) with your friends or go for a long drive with someone you really care about.
I think that the most important part is that social media is your friend, but don’t rely on it. Don’t get hung up on who is texting back and who isn’t. Instead just appreciate modern technology, make sure your mammy knows you are safe, and try live in the moment with the people who are here rather than constantly trying to be a part of daily life back home. The good thing about home is that it will still be there in a few months when this great adventure is complete.