By Samantha Martin
For Tracy Houghton, home is falling asleep to a star-filled sky and waking up to the sounds and smell of the ocean.
Since moving to Pitman Hall, it takes her a minute every morning to remember she isn’t in Bermuda anymore, rather downtown Toronto. Her only prior experience in Toronto has been during the much hyped and bitter cold the Santa Claus parade.
The crowded streets and constant noise are among the many differences she’s trying to get used to. According to Houghton, Torontonians walk extremely fast in comparison to the laid-back style of those back home. Also, she gets nervous when crossing streets because in Bermuda, people drive on the left side.
Her anxiety is understandable; two years ago a friend of hers came to Canada to attend university and on the second day of class was hit and killed by a car. Houghton chose Ryerson after touring 18 Canadian universities with her high school.Ryerson was the first one she saw, and the only one that left a lasting impression.
“Others seemed kind of boring.This one was right in the city,” she says.
She spent her first weekend in Toronto shopping with her parents, who were staying at a nearby hotel.”It’s hard coming from a really far place ’cause you can only bring three suitcases,” says Houghton, who somehow managed to pack all of her clothes and bedding into the limited luggage. Since arriving in the city, she has spent her time asking for directions and dining out with her parents.
One of the first places she went was McDonald’s where she promptly ordered a Big Mac with fries. Bermuda’s laws prohibit chain restaurants. Later, she hit Tim Hortons for a cup of their famous brew.
Knowing she’ll be homesick, Houghton didn’t object when her mother offered to stay a little longer after classes started. “I’m probably going to be lost when she leaves,” she says. “She’s great. She shows me around. She knows Toronto better than I do.”
Rosie Magliaro, Houghton’s residence assistant in Pitman Hall, has dealt with cases of homesickness before. She says part of her job is to help with the often difficult transition to university.
Although she hasn’t had many instances of homesickness yet, she knows how to deal with the situation should it arise. “We give them different things to do like joining a club and attending planned events,” she says. “We get them involved and out of their room so they are not dwelling on their homesickness.”
Houghton is aware of the numerous resources and services available to her if she finds herself having troubles adapting to city life. The Ryerson Centre for Student Development and Counselling advises students on career, academic and personal issues. The centre’s programs include stress management, assertiveness training and career exploration.
Houghton is prepared for the course load jump from high school to university and at times actually gets excited about her Early Childhood Education classes. But just in case she finds herself in the middle of an anxiety attack mid-year, Ryerson student services are always an option.
The counselling centre provides information such as how to feel at home in Toronto. The centre suggests one way to make a smoother transition is by getting involved with student groups or clubs, including the numerous ethnic and religious based student groups at Ryerson. The International Services for Students is another helpful resource for students from outside of Canada.
“They told me about the international student things and told me to meet new friends and the activities like Beachfest, and stuff has kept me busy,” said Houghton, who actually has her Canadian citizenship. Magliaro also tells students in residence to visit home if possible, buy calling cards, use the Internet and write letters home.
After two days of classes, Houghton finally said goodbye to her mother. “It wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be…it’s weird to think she’s back home in Bermuda. But I was kind of relieved that I didn’t need to worry about her being alone in the hotel. I’m excited. No parents.”
Since her mom left, Houghton has had a chance to meet some people on her floor in residence. Two of her new friends are from Caribbean islands. As it turns out, Houghton’s next-door neighbour is also from Bermuda. Her energetic roommate is easy to get along with, although she is rarely around.
Houghton celebrated her first weekend of freedom with a trip to the liquor store and a big party in her suite. She was thrilled to discover the LCBO carried Corona beer, one of her favourite drinks from back home. The next morning, away from her turquoise sea and miles of pink sand, Houghton wakes up to a phone call from her best friend back home. For the first time she isn’t confused by the four cement walls surrounding her bed.
After cleaning up , she’s going to grab some breakfast with some friends from down the hall. It may not be Bermuda, but it’s home, for now.