During winter vacation of my first year at university, I left for Canada with two goals in mind. The first was to increase my confidence in speaking English and the second was to find out if living abroad matched my character. Winters are cold and there are often heavy snowfalls in Canada, but it is also hard not to be attracted to Canada in winter. I had been fascinated by other cultures and living abroad for several years, so I wanted to go overseas to hoped to live to learn new things. If someone were to ask, “Would you consider returning to Canada?” I would, without hesitation, reply “Yes!”
Training classes at school
On the first day of school, classes were assigned through level tests. All classes started at 9 a.m. and ended at 1 p.m. It took me about an hour to get to school, so I started each day at 7 a.m. I was assigned to Professor Doug's class, which consisted mostly of various Asian students. In Korea, using smartphones are banned in almost every class. However, in Doug’s class, everyone participated in online word games together, and instant anonymous polls were also held to find out the content we had studied. The professor was very good at using a smartphone, so he shared all his assignments and class materials on an application called ‘Canvas Study’. Every day I was placed in a new group, presented on class materials, and prepared for discussions after school with group members. Some activities required us to interview locals and find tourist attractions in Toronto. The class was long, 4 hours a day, but thanks to the class activities, I quickly became friendly with classmates and was soon able to speak English much more fluently. My only regret is that I could not learn the local English pronunciation because so many of the people I spoke with were from Korea, China, and Japan. I think I might have unconsciously picked up their accents. Every Friday, we met students in other classes through prearranged exchanges. Also, because we had to do many presentations, I learned a lot of things on a variety of topics. I also became more confident at speaking English much more than before.
After school activities and UofT University Classes
Classes ended at 1 p.m., so I was free after lunch. In the first week, I attended a number of various school events such as the Campus Tour and Welcome Party. Students also had to make their student ID cards, got adjusted to the campus, and made some initial friends at this time. Every Thursday, a Conversion Café was held at UofT. Thanks to this event, I met other students at UofT as well as other students taking language training classes. During the week two, I spent most of my time traveling to tourist attractions. I love ice-skating, so I spent much of my time at the ice rink in front of City Hall in Toronto. One day after language classes, I attended a lecture on psychology at UofT. It was fun to audit a class and imagine being a real student of the class. I was also surprised by the professor. The instructor brought a dog to the class and patted it often throughout the class. The class proceeded for three hours and introduced a variety of theories regarding ‘motivation’. Professor gave students five minutes to think about 'what motivates me to live my life’ and then asked us to connect that thought to a theory of motivation. I felt the class went beyond just being a lecture. It gave students the opportunity to connect theory to real life. I usually felt pressured to ask questions during class in Korea. However, at UofT, it was natural to ask a question to the professor, and this sensation shocked me. Also, school facilities were well equipped, so I felt comfortable spending time there.
The language training program required that I find my homestay. Therefore, I found a place to stay using the homestay company connected to the school. At my homestay, the family had a college student daughter and a Chinese student was already boarding there. The homestay mother was an immigrant from the Philippines and her husband was a Canadian. I arrived one day earlier than the school start, so my homestay mom willingly took me to the school. Thanks to her kindness, I learned many things at that day such as how to ride the tram. She also asked me about my eating preferences and tried to make food that suited my palate. I felt so grateful for her kindness. Sadly, except for this, I don't have any special memories of my homestay family because they were busy all the time. One day, one Sookmyungian homestay mom invited me to dinner. After retirement, she lived her days alone in her apartment, but this year, she decided to accept a homestay student. I happily joined the dinner party because it gave me the chance to see the inside of an apartment in Canada. I gifted her tea from Korea, and she presented me a candle. She had a lot of knickknacks around the home because she had done a lot of traveling. She cooked a Canadian Thanksgiving Day dinner for us. After dinner, we made a wish on a willow tree known to make wishes come true when blooming. I loved this time because I felt like I had travelled back in time to my childhood.
The different culture of Canada
On the first day of class, Mr. Doug asked all students to take off our coats and hang them on the hangers at the back of the classroom. He said that wearing a coat could be understood as a meaning of the person wished to leave as quickly as possible. I also found one popular dish in Canada is poutine, which is french fries and gravy. Canadians also enjoy food from other places in the world such as Mexican, Japanese, Korean cuisines. I learned that in Toronto, customers must pay a 15 percent tip. With tax and tip, the prices of things were much higher than I thought. I had to spend about 10,000 won to 20,000 won per meal for lunch every day. Marijuana is also legal, so you can smell it in the streets. At first, I didn't know exactly what the smell was, but I soon knew it was the smell of marijuana. Public transportation in Canada includes trams, subways, and buses. The tram is a public train that moves on designated tracks. The best thing about it is that it is long so many people can ride it. Canada's public transportation is frequently delayed, so I don't recommend going out late at night.
The province of Quebec, and Niagara Falls
I wanted to travel to Quebec, so I went on a trip to Quebec with some fellow Sookmyungians I met my first day at university. We visited Montreal and Quebec City for three days. The night view of Montreal was so beautiful. The temperature at the time was minus 25 degrees. It was so cold that if I took off my gloves, my hands would surely freeze. The cold, however, did not stop my happiness. Lying in the snow, I kept beautiful sceneries around in my heart. On our last night of touring, we talked over drinks in the hotel. It was a joyful experience, and I was also really happy to have traveled with such good people. Therefore, Quebec is one province I would recommend to all visitors to Canada. I also visited Niagara Falls, which is close to Toronto, on a one-day trip through a school program. There I felt the beauty of Mother Nature.
Emotions after language training
A month of language training enabled me to practicing my English speaking skills and point out my weakness in English. It did not really develop my English skills. Before the language training, I had confidence in my writing and reading skills but feared speaking English. I wasn’t sure of my speaking skills. However, thanks to language training, I became more confident to speak English. Also, meeting so many other kinds of people during the training was a great benefit. Therefore, I hope many Sookmyungians participate in language training programs and take advantage of any program offered at the school.