EXCHANGE WITH CANADA, AN EXPERIENCE TO SHARE

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 !

Paula V.

Exchange with Canada (August-November 2019)

Ottawa was my destination for the exchange program. Ottawa is the capital of Canada, located on south bank of the Ottawa river. It was founded in the early 1800s and has evolved into the political center of Canada. It has a population of over 900,000 and an average temperature of 5ºC, with a lowest of -17ºC while I was there.

My exchange partner is Will Creaghan and we both went to Glebe Collegiate Institute, which is a big high school with 1,600 students located in the city’s outskirts. The classes in Canada were 75 minutes long and we had 4 every day, together with a one-hour break for lunch. Compared to the Spanish  educational system, Canada’s is grade-based.

My host family consists of 5 and a dog: Jason and Deanan -parents-, Will -my exchange partner- and his older sisters Alice and Eva. The daily routine consists of breakfast at 7-8, brunch at 11 and dinner at 19. Their food customs are different to ours, they only have one main course and they generally snack throughout the day.

My best memories were visiting Niagara falls and Wasaga beach, a very popular lake due to its waves, size, and the water activities you can enjoy such as  windsurfing or kitesurfing. We also went camping in Quebec, we cycled in the mountains, we went hiking whilst the leaves were falling and we also went kayaking in the Wasaga river. I also went to a NHL game in the Ottawa senators stadium.

It was a very nice experience and I hope to return some day.

Hugo C.

MY EXCHANGE STUDENT EXPERIENCE

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I recently participated in a high school organized exchange student program, in which both the host and the participant would participate in the exchange student experience. I was the host for the first term and then I traveled to Valencia, Spain to be the exchange student for the second term. Throughout my exchange student experience I was able to learn many things about Spain, i.e. culture, lifestyle and history, the schooling system, and also about myself. I personally believe it broadened my perspective of life and it challenged me to become more independent and self-reliant.

During my stay I was able to visit some areas in Spain to learn more about the culture and lifestyle. I found that the residents in Spain are very relaxed. They like to take their time, sit down at a cafe, and enjoy life. Unlike the lifestyle in Canada, where there is always a line up in every McDonald’s drive-thru. I really enjoyed this relaxed vibe because it felt like I was in a 3-month spa, just taking my time day by day. Another big difference in culture is that Spain has a very loud and upbeat character. During Fallas (a Valencian celebration), fireworks and crackers were being thrown on the streets 24/7. The city was always busy, filled with screams, laughter, and noise. What surprised me was that I never saw the police concerned with the level of noise. This was so mind-blowing to me because all I could think about was that in Canada you can get a noise complaint ticket by the police for playing music on your speaker in your own backyard… even if the volume is low.

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Unfortunately, I couldn’t explore the country every day for 3 months; I had to attend school. The school here in Spain is extremely different than my home town high school. I have never been to a school where they call their teachers by their first name. I have always called my teachers by Mrs., Mr., etc. to show their power of authority. Another difference is that this school in Spain is incredibly small. This Spanish school has about 300 students for almost 16 grades! My high school consists of about 1,200 students for only 4 grades, and it’s the smallest high school in my town. Lastly, probably the biggest difference is the rules. In this school you aren’t allowed to paint your nails, wear makeup, use your phone, chew gum, etc. I have never been to a school where they don’t encourage you to use your phone. In the beginning it was extremely difficult to not rely on my phone, and it still is. But now I am very grateful for the fact that my school allows us to use our technology during class.

While I was here, I spent a lot of time in the city because I lived in the city. I really enjoyed this fact because I could walk out of the apartment and be in the center of the city in a snap of a finger. I saw the main plazas, i.e. Plaza del Ayuntamiento, Plaza de la Virgen, etc. I went to Valencia’s main attractions too. i.e the beach, the science center, etc. Throughout my stay, I took many trips by myself and with my host family. I went to Barcelona twice, once by myself and another with my host family. I was able to see 2 FC Barcelona games! This was definitely a highlight of my trip because I am a huge Messi and Pique fan. I also went to the south of France, where I got to put my Canadian French to use. I really enjoyed these trips because I got to see more of Europe, and widen my view of the world even more.

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Not only did I learn about the country, I also learned a lot about myself. I learned that I was very dependent on others; in the sense that I never had to take responsibility in adult things like paying for my expenses, cooking, etc. Now I think I have become more self-reliant and mature. I can cook, I know how to budget and spend my money wisely, etc. Furthermore, I think I have learned to find trust in myself. Before coming here, I hated being alone; so I was always surrounding myself with my friends and family. As a result of this, I never knew how to be happy alone, because I was never alone. Since I didn’t have my friends or my family to make me happy, I had to find other ways to cope, one of which was to become self-happy. I discovered many new things that I like and developed my tastes in music, fashion, and movies a lot more.

Overall, I am extremely grateful to have participated in the exchange student program. During my stay I have learned about Spain´s culture and lifestyle, the difference between Canada and Spain, the schooling system and cool things about myself. I personally would recommend this experience to others because I had a great time. Although I spent a wonderful time here, I am ready to go home and I can’t wait to see what the future brings.

Vicky S.

Intercambio con Holanda

 

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Durante la semana del 1 al 7 de abril recibimos la visita de 18 alumnos del colegio holandés KSG Apeldoorn, que se alojaron con familias de alumnos de Gençana. Los estudiantes holandeses realizaron varias visitas durante su estancia: Játiva, la ruta geológica de Buñol, la Albufera y el casco histórico de Valencia. El próximo lunes 6 de mayo serán nuestros alumnos quienes viajarán a Holanda para continuar con el intercambio.