A Scottish girl in Canada: a year on exchange at Queen’s

I’d never heard of Queen’s University at the start of last year, but after a bit of research I decided to leap across the pond from Strathclyde University in Glasgow to spend a year in Kingston.

I knew it was a great school for Engineering, my field of studies, but Queen’s culture surprised me. I never realized how homely it would be, after hearing the pipe band, seeing the highland dancers and singing a Gaelic song at my first football game — it seemed more Scottish than Scotland!

My exchange gave me the opportunity to meet a diverse range of people from all over the world. Strangely, I found the most interesting came from my own country — those who I lived so closely to but never knew before. Ronald Macdonald was a very interesting Scot, fluent in Gaelic and so horrified at Queen’s students’ pronunciation of the ‘oilthigh’ that he got up and gave a rendition of how it should be done in front of all the exchange students.

Like most students, I was welcomed into Queen’s through a great orientation week. In Glasgow we don’t really have anything comparable. Ours is mostly focused on going out at night, since our drinking age is 18. Strathclyde could learn a lot from Queen’s Orientation Week since it gives students a chance to meet others in their program before classes started.

I was also able to travel places that I wouldn’t normally get to see. I probably didn’t travel as much as most exchange students, but I did make it to Montreal, Toronto, New York and Florida, all of which were fantastic experiences.

My toughest lesson was that of an authentic Canadian winter. I considered Scottish winters to be cold, but by November I had learned that Scotland isn’t cold in comparison to Canada.

I chose to live with Canadians instead of in an international student residence because I thought it would expose me to the Canadian lifestyle. As a turned-Tim Horton’s and maple syrup addict, I think I was able to practice the lifestyle quite well.

As I write this, I’m back at home and although it’s nice to be back with friends and family, I know I will be back in Canada.

I’m happy to say I’ve found some maple syrup back in Scotland — not quite as good, but hopefully my ex-housemates will send me a care package with the real stuff!

Karen Mackay is a third-year student from Strathclyde University in Glasgow. She was on exchange at Queen’s for a year.

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