What to expect when not expecting to spend a year abroad in Kingston

Why Queen's is one of the strangest—but best—universities

Perspectives from two English exchange students on Queen's and its quirks.
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After months of waiting for our exchange results, the emails finally entered our inboxes—subject line: “Offer of Exchange.” Our hearts were racing, and the seconds it took to load felt like an eternity. As we rapidly scrolled down searching for the destination, Melbourne and Sydney were nowhere to be seen. Instead in their place sat “Queen’s University.” 

We took to Google to figure out what and where that was. Queen’s University Belfast? Queensland, Brisbane? Not quite. The answer was a university in Kingston, Ontario. We asked our friends if they’d ever heard of it, and were met with blank faces. With 48 hours to respond to the offers and no clue what or where the hell this place was, we took the plunge, swapping our sunny, beach-filled dreams of Australia with the small city of Kingston. A city that’s famous for a prison? We definitely didn’t know what to expect, and never would have imagined how much our gamble would pay off. 

Arriving in Kingston for the first time, it was clearly a far cry from Edinburgh, Scotland where we were before. Our beautiful castle, winding cobbled streets, and looming mountains were replaced by what looked like an empty truck stop of a train station. Disbelieving, and a little apprehensive, we wondered if we’d made a huge mistake.

Our beautiful castle, winding cobbled streets, and looming mountains were replaced by what looked like an empty truck stop of a train station. 

However, the second we stepped into the student ghetto everything changed. Living on William and Aberdeen, we soon discovered the city was an enigma: a parallel universe filled with giant inflatable unicorns, darties (slang for day parties), and swarms of outrageously good-looking people heading to the pier with some weird net game known as Spike Ball. 

This was a world where Engineering and Commerce ruled the school. Leather jackets, purple mohawks, and paint fights soon exploded into our worlds. 

Every bit the outsiders, we couldn't have stuck out more amidst the sea of blue denim shorts, tight tees, and Nike Air Forces (only the white ones, of course). We had never before seen so many backwards caps, skateboards, and boys covered head to toe in varsity merch—we get it, you play hockey. 

Talk of ‘Stage Rage’ was all we heard, and we were certainly not disappointed. Long queues, sweaty boys, and the same bass drop on repeat—no wonder people are so full of rage. Luckily, mere metres from the club, we found our trusty Mr. Donair, the king of all drunk food, guaranteed to stop the Rage in its tracks. 

Quickly caught up in the Kingston bubble, our concept of distance immediately went out the window. A 15-minute walk became a marathon, and our weekly pilgrimage to the LCBO seemed deserving of a medal.

A 15-minute walk became a marathon, and our weekly pilgrimage to the LCBO seemed deserving of a medal.

Time began to fly, a blur of sunny days, overpriced pitchers, and sweaty, late runs to class, still confused by the campus maze. 

Before we knew it, Homecoming arrived—the event we’d all been waiting for. Draped in our new Queen’s merch, we took to the streets, the full force of Queen’s party spirit spilling out onto Aberdeen. Despite the court summons we got and our confusion over why we hate Western University so much, it was one of our best days ever. 

Winter came all too soon: Canteen’s outside tables were finally put away and people disappeared under a mass of Canada Gooses and Blundstones. And yet, when night descends, most girls seem immune to the cold, donning crop tops and skirts in -20 degrees while we shivered in line. 

Soon, we cracked the code, spying them hopping into Ubers to avoid the lengthy three-minute trek to the hub. Honestly, fair enough—can’t be slipping and sliding in those heeled booties. 

Amidst all the fun, deadlines descended on us, and we realised that passing our courses might actually require us to hand some work in. This proved challenging, when Stauffer was filled with the echoes of acrylic nails tapping on keyboards and a shocking lack of noise control. Babe, take the call outside. 

As the semester progressed, we found ourselves increasingly involved in classroom politics. We were faced with two options: join the front row, alongside the nodders and question-askers, or arrive early and attempt to infiltrate the back-row squad. The choice was clear, and our skills of timing were forced to improve.  

Filled with Donair, we were also forced to discover the gym, and my oh my, what a sight to behold. It should be illegal for such a high proportion of the student body to look so good while working out. It's also a wonder the Lululemon in town isn't constantly out of stock. 

All in all, we’ve met enough Johns, Matthews, Sarahs, and Emmas for a lifetime. Toronto’s cliques remain a mystery, and we still don’t understand where everyone’s “wheeling” to. 

All in all, we’ve met enough Johns, Matthews, Sarahs, and Emmas for a lifetime.

However, as much as we may miss our home university, nothing can or ever will beat the atmosphere of thousands of Queen’s students out and about on a Saturday night. Your commitment to “partying” is truly unrivalled, with the queue for Trinity still heaving at midnight during exam season.   

To part with some closing advice (and to save some time in future conversations): yes, our accents are English, not Australian. Yes, we’re finding it cold. And no, having an Irish grandma does not mean you're ‘basically British.’

Just exchange things, “eh”?

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