Three Eyeopener minions travelled across the world to study, and we decided to assign them extra work anyway. Here are their stories
Hogeschool Utrecht Utrecht, Netherlands
The rumours are true: the Netherlands is flat. But windmills aren’t as common as one would think and no one wears wooden clogs anymore. Now, cycling – cycling is rampant. Informal peletons organize themselves in between traffic lights making every commute full of company.
Life is not nearly as exciting as a pedestrian, so naturally, I made it my mission to become part of this exclusive bike culture as soon as possible.
I procured a second-hand bike that looks about ready to fall apart, but for now it gets me around town smoothly and my heavy-duty chain lock keeps it squarely in my possession.
Now I am able to ride down the bike paths, sharing them with fellow riders who are texting, talking on the phone, warming their hands in their pockets, smiling at their friend perched comfortably behind their seats or doing any matter of combination of the above. Wheel to wheel we make our way to campus, part of a living and breathing – hard – mechanical organism.
Classes are an intimate affair.
Twenty- some twenty-somethings all crammed into a tiny room. Scholarly discussion isn’t huge. There are many non-native English speakers shy with the unfamiliar tongue. Conversation depth will come eventually but for now we sit and think about speaking and rely on the Americans, Canadians and Irish to fill the silence. The silence is especially noticeable during film and fiction class. The professor, a fast-talking New Yorker, offers no chance of being understood. The films he screens are contemporary, straddling the delicate line between hipster and art.
Thursday mornings I squeeze into a room on the second floor of the faculty building with my fellow classmates. I make sure to arrive early, staking out a proper chair and slice of table (learned that lesson the hard way). We spend the first hour discussing our assignment from the previous week: cultural identities and stereotypes. The second hour is dedicated to addressing our questions about living in the Netherlands:
where to grocery shop, biking, coffee shops (specializing in soft drugs) and cafés.
During my time off, I love to roam the streets in the old city centre with my camera. I try time and time again to discover a new vantage point of the canals that has not been shot before, to show the world in a new way. I walk through green spaces and parks on every other corner and in some places the flowers are breaking the surface of the ground. I close my eyes and breathe in the air that has been recycled for centuries in this town teeming with history. I imagine spring in the next few months and sitting on the patios and terraces in the canals at water level with a steaming latte or ice cold beer in my hand.
But my favourite times so far in Utrecht are those spent with my international roommates. It’s midmorning and my daydream out the kitchen window is interrupted as I watch a roommate prepare his breakfast. He butters two pieces of bread and pours a box of what looks like chocolate sprinkles on top. “Do you want to try,” he says with his Belgian-French accent. I shake my head. Today I think I’ll stick to peanut butter and honey, but maybe tomorrow morning I will be brave enough for this gastronomic adventure.
Danish School of Media and Journalism Aarhus, Denmark
Nothing makes you feel more at home than watching your Twitter feed go wild in the minutes leading up to Rob Ford’s conflict of-interest decision. That’s how I spent my third day on the other side of the world in Aarhus, Denmark:
glued to a computer screen, awaiting the verdict. Maybe it was the ruling that day, or maybe I’ve just gotten more used to Denmark, but I’ve been clinging to home less everyday.
After all, Denmark is one of the happiest countries on the planet, what with its ubiquitous bike lanes and beautiful architecture. With the way school works here – students get paid to learn – even the Ryerson Students’ Union would be content.
The weather is milder than home, the beer is cheap and the people are kind (even if they smirk every time I say “out”).
School, meanwhile, is the biggest change. Forget working your magic on RAMSS to get two days off a week. The Danish School of Media and Journalism operates more like a high school; I’m in class almost every day for at least five hours. And I’m paired with two dozen international students from all over the world – Korea to Belgium, Lebanon to Sweden – most of whom are as clueless as I am about the Danish language and local bus system.
But being among foreigners is the best place to be in a foreign country.
Because we all began friendless and slightly afraid – and because youth around the world all share a common love for alcohol – we’ve become good friends quickly. We’ve suffered through tough deadlines, painful readings and many morning-afters together.
And with them, I’ve had the chance to be whoever I want to be. Upon my arrival, I was able to start fresh and redefine my identity. That doesn’t mean I’ve hit every party and skipped school, but I did go to a rave that one time and downed some tequila. God, it was awful.
It might be a stretch to say that I’ve “found myself” through all of this, but I have overcome one of my biggest fears: cooking. I’ve lived with my parents my whole life, and can count the number of real meals I’ve cooked on one hand (unless of course TV dinners count). And while I’ve stuck to the holy trinity of pasta, rice and potatoes quite religiously, I’ve avoided the microwave almost entirely so far, thanks to a few cooking lessons courtesy of my girlfriend and YouTube.
Skype and the occasional email have kept me close to my friends and family, but if there’s one thing I miss, it’s them. Otherwise, I think I’ve been managing without poutine, Timmie’s or hockey. On that note, I hear the Leafs are doing pretty well. Figures: the league is locked out until the day before I leave, and now my home team is on its way to making the playoffs for the first time in almost a decade.
I’d say I’d be upset if they won the Cup before I returned, but, come on people, let’s be real.
Nanyang Technological University Singapore
After 30 hours of airports, bad in-flight movies and crossing the international date line, my first impression of Singapore was: look at all that freaking foliage.
A bit anti-climactic, but when you’re coming from Toronto and your first taxi cab from the airport has you riding alongside palms and those trees from The Lion King, you’ll be pretty impressed. Just like when you cross most of the city in a half hour and reach the NTU campus (and you’re from Ryerson’s downtown locale), you’ll be thrown by all the trees and plants, the free shuttle service that carts you around campus, and the school buildings which can take environmentally friendly to a whole new level.
It’s your first glimpse of the modern Asia that is Singapore – a buzzing metropolis covering an island off the coast of Malaysia, with humidity to spare and a government hell bent on organization.
Singapore is what is jokingly referred to by the locals as a fine city.
As in, you’ll be fined for a great number of things (or caned in the more extreme cases): littering, smoking in public, chewing gum, eating or drinking on public transit and setting off fireworks, to name a few. But from what I’ve observed, these seemingly strict laws have been established to help the city shine like the Southeast Asian jewel that it strives to be. The Singaporean government puts these rules in place to keep their people in line, but that doesn’t mean that smokers don’t exist or that there isn’t the occasional litter on the ground. It just ensures that the city is a cleaner, more sleek and modern part of the continent, which is quite enjoyable when it’s your home base in this incredible, easy-to-travel-through area.
If you want to see the more rugged, less tourist-friendly locations, you can still come home to a clean dorm and good water pressure.
Canadians are actually deprived when it comes to taking small trips.
Yes, we have a big beautiful country which I love (and miss) but it’s so spread out! A four hour flight in Canada won’t get you far, and it’ll cost you an arm and a leg as well. I took a four hour flight to Vietnam for four days last weekend, simple as that. And if you plan far enough ahead, you can cry with happiness over the amazing fares you score.
As I type, I’m having breakfast in my hostel in Borneo. It took an hour and a half to fly to this enormous island, a combination of Malaysia, Brunei and Indonesia. The round trip cost me 18 Singaporean Dollars (SGD) before taxes (about 15 CAD) and was still well below 100 SGD altogether. Add that in most places you can stay in hostels for as little as five dollars a night (conditions may vary) and feed yourself for three or four dollars a meal (decent food too, though you’ll be tempted to spend a little more now and again).
It’s just so much more affordable to live like that here, and it’s a lifestyle I could get accustomed to.
All in all, coming back to Canada will be great. I miss bacon. I miss my friends, my family and my boyfriend.
I miss my city (though I will be sending a strongly-worded letter to the council about how the TTC could learn from Singapore’s highly efficient SMRT).
But I’ll be sad leaving Singapore.
I’ll miss having Southeast Asia at my fingertips. I’ll miss having an array of Asian cuisine at my disposal every day and being given the constant opportunity to perfect my chopstick skills. I’ll miss the oppressive heat and using it as an excuse to avoid physical activity during the daylight hours. I’ll miss being able to buy (sadly overpriced) alcohol from the 7-11 on campus and drinking it on top of the grass-roofed school building under the stars (no open container laws!) I’ll be back, Asia. That’s a threat I can keep.