Were you not nervous before coming to Canada and meeting your exchange student who was about to become your new sister and friend ? Weren’t you scared of traveling so far and alone for a long period? How did you feel in the airport before meeting your new family? All those were the questions that every single person asked me the first time they met me in Canada and I introduced myself saying that I was a Spanish exchange student. And the answer was as follows: it’s obvious, of course I was nervous and afraid of what I was going to come across there, I didn’t know really well what it was going to be like. Anyway, I didn’t pay much attention to all my fears and enjoyed the experience. Without a doubt, it was worth it and the best thing I could have ever done.
I had never imagined such a beautiful and cold place as Uxbridge, a small town in which everyone or practically everyone knows each other. This city, located in the Regional Municipality of Durham in south-central Ontario, is 70 km north of Toronto. Generally, Canada is known as one of the coldest places in the world and I can confirm that. Before going to Canada I’d never experienced such cold temperatures. Regarding the landscape, it mainly consists of forests and lakes. Actually, it was very beautiful.
For the three months that I stayed there, I was able to tell the difference between seasons easily, which doesn’t happen here. I could see the different colors of the seasons in the leaves of the trees, since I was surrounded by vegetation. However, upon my arrival it was summer time, the trees were green and the days were sunny, with an average temperature of 25 degrees celsius. After that, in the middle of September, everything became orange, yellow and red, it was gorgeous! And what was next? The fall, all the orange and red leaves dropped and were scattered everywhere. The days started to be shorter and colder than before, reaching an average of 5 degrees celsius. Finally, winter arrived and with it the snowy days and -22 degrees celsius. It was freezing!
With respect to the school, it was completely different to the ones that you know, to the ones that we can find here in Spain. Analyzing the differences from general to particular, we can start talking about how much bigger the school was in Canada, and how short the school days were there, as they started at 8.35am and it finished at 2.40pm.
Also, we can compare the relevance that is given to sports there, since in Canada you have the opportunity to practice any kind of sport with the school team and compete with it. I was part of the cross country team, I trained four days per week and I raced one time per week or every other week. In contrast, here you need to be a member of a club out of school.
Furthermore, the education system is completely different. While here most of the schools use textbooks, in Canada students do all their homework and tests online. To facilitate this issue, the school provides you with your own computer to work with, which will be yours until you finish high school or you leave the school for some reason.
Besides, the class rules were totally the opposite from the ones that we are used to. It was allowed to bring your phone to class and use it whenever you want, the same with the computer or headphones. You can have your backpack or jacket with you in the classroom, but the most shocking rule from my point of view is that you are allowed to eat food.
Another curious difference is the following: in Canada, instead of three terms and a total of 13 subjects, there are two semesters, with 4 subjects to choose and the same schedule every day. The ones that I picked were: hospitality, gym (in which boys and girls were separated), drama and English.
To continue with my school life, I will explain what my daily routine was like. Every morning, before the first class, everyone stood up in a respectful and silent way to listen to the Canadian anthem, and when it finished we heard the announcements of the day.
I had 4 different periods of 1h and 15 minutes each, with a 5-minute break between them to be able to report to the following class, which sometimes was on the opposite side of the school and was tricky to find. After my first two classes, I had a 55-minute break for lunch, when you could go to the cafeteria and buy some food, stay in the halls or gallery, or go to town, which was 5 minutes away on foot. In a few words, Uxbridge High School, the school that I attended, was similar to the ones that appear in the American films. Being there was unrealistic, in fact, it looked like a dream.
As for my exchange student, her name is Hannah, she is 15 years old too and she is quite similar to me. She is a social, friendly, affectionate, tenacious, and very sporty person. Fortunately, we have a lot of hobbies in common, such as sport, more specifically biking and running. Therefore, we spent in Canada most of the time doing different activities together, and with Audrey, her adorable twin sister. I wish I could see her some day again!
Apart from Hannah and Audrey, my family was made up of Sheila, my Canadian sweet mom, Tom -Sheila’s boyfriend, as Hannah’s parents are divorced- and Teddy, the family pet, an active and nice dog. In spite of the fact that I wasn’t living with Hannah’s father, I met him a few times and I had a great time. Actually, all of them were really nice to me from the first time I met them until the end of my stay, and they made me feel as another member of the family, so I felt really comfortable with them.
Have you ever seen an american house in the films ? Well, my house was like one of those ones, a big house, with no fence that delimit their property , and surrounded by a huge field with trees, gardens, a barn and a small lake, with a fountain in the middle of it. I couldn’t believe that all that was theirs, it was just amazing.
In addition, as you might well imagine, Canadian meal times and Spanish meal times are different, as Canadians have lunch at around 12pm and dinner at 6-7pm. Another aspect to comment on is that they don’t give as much relevance to lunch as we do, since they don’t have the habit of serving lunch on the table. Thus, everyone makes their own food, most of the times a sandwich.
On top of that, Canada is also a country famous for its unhealthy diet, there’s some reason for that. Canadians are constantly eating bad snacks such as chocolate bars, and fast food is eaten frequently. It is not a strange and surprising issue, since fast food franchises are everywhere.
With regard to Canadian traditions, while I was there I enjoyed two typical vacations, Thanksgiving and Remembrance Day, none of them known in Spain. The first one is celebrated from October 11th to 14th since 1957, and traditionally it was a chance for people to thank God for a good harvest and other fortunes in the past year. Nowadays, Canadians use the festivity to visit relatives or host them to prepare a special meal, which normally includes roasted turkey and seasonal produce, such as pumpkin, corn ears, stuffing and pecan nuts.
On the other hand, Remembrance Day, known as the poppy day too, is on November 11th and commemorates the sacrifices that Canadians made in armed conflicts, more specifically in World Wars I and II. On this day everyone wears an artificial red poppy on their clothes, since it symbolizes the memory of those who died. Remembrance Day is a normal routine day, schools are open and most of them hold assemblies and presentations on armed conflicts and those who died in them. Actually, from my point of view it is an interesting festivity.
And last but not least, as Uxbridge is a small town with not many popular places to visit, I travelled with my Canadian family to the most well-known tourist places in Ontario. In my first two weeks in Canada, we made the most of the nice and warm weather in Quebec and its surroundings, which is one of the most ancient and historical cities in the country. All of its stone-pavement streets decorated with small lights crossing over the tourist’s heads are gorgeous, same as the river views from Château Frontenac.
They also showed me Toronto, and its most famous monuments and areas: the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM), Toronto’s University, Dunda’s Square (a square full of lit and colorful signs that is considered Toronto Times Square), the wealthy neighborhoods, the beaches of Lake Ontario, downtown Toronto (full of skyscrapers) and the incredible CN tower, the fifth tallest tower in the world nowadays and the tallest one until 2007. It is 447m high, which allows you to enjoy amazing views of the city and its surroundings. Actually, it was an unforgettable experience. Apart from those two cities, I visited Niagara Falls as well. What an amazing natural phenomenon! There aren’t words to describe how incredible the waterfalls flow is.
To sum up, with this essay I would like to make you know how lucky I feel after living this unforgettable and unique experience. While I was there, I would have liked the time to stand still. Today, when I remember all the nice moments I lived, I would like to go back in time and restart it, without changing anything.
Moreover, I would like to thank all the people that made those three months possible: my parents, the school and the exchange program organization, the best exchange student you could ever have and my sweet Canadian family, together with all the nice people and friends I made there.
Canada, you have become my second country, my second home and I assure you I will visit you and all the kind people who live in your lands as soon as possible.
I already miss you, see you soon !