Tom Flanagan, 2012-2013 University of Toronto St George Campus

Top 11 things

1. Toronto: Snow. Cold. Moose. Maple Syrup. Drake. Snow. These are all pretty much the things that come to mind when people say Toronto, and they’re all relatively accurate (apart from the Moose bit because apparently you won’t just find them wandering around the city). That said, there’s more reason to make your way over there than just plain Drake so take note.

2. Sport: Hockey, Basketball, Baseball, Football, whatever your sport, Toronto has you covered. Take a walk down to the Lake Shore and you’ll pass the Rogers Centre, home to the Toronto Blue Jays, the city’s premier baseball team. A little bit further down you’ll find the Air Canada Centre, which doubles as a sports and concert venue. For sports though, the Raptors (Basketball) and the Maple Leafs (Hockey) are a must. Seriously, you don’t even have to have a clue about the sport – it’s why they get the crowds to dance and play games during interludes. That is a thing apparently.

3. Walkable: I like to think of Toronto as New York’s younger sibling – its got that big ‘old skyscraper look, but a little (a lot) smaller (in a good way!). You can walk anywhere and everywhere, and if you’re really lazy, you can take a streetcar, which is basically a tram. I’d say I’m a fan.

4. Pancakes: You haven’t been to Canada until you’ve tasted their pancakes. You can find your own favourite haunt but just make sure you do. My bet? Check out (hilariously) The Queen & Beaver, Toronto’s own “British” Public House. Rather than trite and tacky, this place is cute and cosy, and the pancakes are the real deal.

5. UofT: The University itself is reason enough to study abroad in Toronto. A massive 180 acres of campus right in the centre of the city, this is really what a city-campus should be. It’s got history written through it, in its architecture and its reputation. Ranked 1st in Canada and top 20 in the world, UoT is on it. Oh and it used to be called King’s College too, so you know…

6. Reslife: Need I say any more than ‘all you can eat’? Most of the college’s residences provide meal plans, which means food at most any hour, and means you can avoid that dreaded feeling of an empty fridge on your return home. As far as it goes, Chestnut Residence provides the best plan as it’s basically a hotel. After the omelette and waffle bar on weekends, you won’t even want to eat out.

7. Canadians: Like the perfect cross between British and Americans, Canadians are probably the nicest set of people I’ve met. My first night in Toronto I had most of my drinks bought for me, which as a Londoner nearly killed me off in shock there and then. Accommodating, funny, friendly and so so polite, you’ll want to take one home with you.

8. Publife: On that note, Canadians are big on their pubs, which as a visiting Brit, you might find appealing. The difference is they’re not rowdy and over the top as the term pub might suggest. Instead, everything is a lot more relaxed; they even have waiters so you don’t even have to go up to the bar for a drink, which you can decide whether that’s a good or a bad thing.

9. Location: If you do want to leave Toronto, then you’ll have plenty of choice of where to go. Head East and you’ll find Montreal and Quebec, and head even further you’ll get to New York (eventually). Head West and you’ll see London (Ontario), Detroit and Chicago. And you could go North to Ottawa I suppose.

10. CN tower: It’s iconic and worth the view. Touristy but it has to make the list.

11. Drake: So maybe Drake is a good enough reason to visit Toronto. Driving into and out of the city you’ll come face-to-face with a gargantuan billboard, with a set of Drake lyrics plastered across it. Started From the Bottom if you’re wondering. It’s a sight I haven’t forgotten, and come on, if that doesn’t get you buzzing en-route from the airport, then make it your first point of call when you’re home to acquaint yourself with Toronto’s favourite.

Top Tips

*FACT* – 60% of Toronto’s population is International.

There’s lots of things to get excited about in Toronto, and accommodation is probably not immediately one of them. However, now that you’re going to be one of those 60% of International peoples living there, sorting out a roof over your head is definitely a priority. Toronto is luckily cheaper to live in than London, but not drastically. On the plus side, you can pretty much decide for quaint neighborhood living, or smack in the city centre because U of T offers quite the variety of residences. There’s lots to know, and it can feel a little daunting but don’t fret, because regardless of what happens, you will have a place to live, so breathe deeply. Plus that’s what this is for, a little guide to navigating housing. And if that still fails, well you can always come and begrudgingly talk to me (Tom), and I’ll try and get things sorted.

Accommodation

Hopefully you’ll all have been sent a welcome pack at this point, and if not, let us know, and let U of T know, because it’s really important you have the information provided in that!

The University of Toronto tries to allocate a certain amount of places for exchange students in each of its residences every year, and will let you know approximately 2 months before your arrival. That said, there is no 100% guarantee of getting a place, so it’s good to explore all options. Below are links to the Housing Portal (where you apply to for the on-campus residences), a Vacancies List, which will let you know which residences have places available, as well as links to the U of T Housing Service, and off-campus residences.

Residences: First of all, check out the Residences! All are fantastic places to live and built on a house system, so it’s a bit like being back in school/Hogwarts. Depending on what you’re looking for, there’s something for everyone. If you fancy living in the centre of downtown, albeit for a bit more money, then Chestnut Residence is the one! If you prefer your living more grand and castle-like, then University College might be more to your taste, alongside Trinity, Victoria and St.Michael’s Colleges, which all might as well be from a Harry Potter book. All the prices are on the website but housing can range from $2000-7000 CAN for the semester on campus. And they ALL have a meal-plan (Chestnut’s is the best).

MyRes & Housing Portal -MyRes is the place where you APPLY to any of the on-campus residences and the housing portal is where you fill out the rest of the admin once you’ve chosen and thenbeen allocated a place!

Vacancies List – So this is the little list that always gets away from most people. Usually vacancies won’t appear until November time when U of T has had a chance to allocate spaces and/or free up them, so don’t fret if you can’t see any yet! That said, if you’ve had a look and know where you want to live, get on that waiting list and keep an eye on this for any updates!

Off-campus Housing – If you think you’d prefer off-campus housing and want to look elsewhere for whatever reason, then this is a good place to start. U of T offer lots of advice in aid of this so do make use of it as they’re only too happy to help!

Some suggested places off-campus: Below are a couple of places that are great living spaces off-campus! I knew people who lived in these and all had good things to say. If you’re trying to save a bit of money and don’t feel like the U of T residences are affordable then definitely check these out. Tartu Residence and the Campus Co-op are basically on-campus even though they’re not officially U of T residences, whilst this Youth Hostel is situated in the lovely Old Town right near St. Lawrence’s Market, so that’s nice right?

FACT: Drake is from Toronto, so that gives Toronto about 1000000000 points.

Studying

At the University of Toronto, academics are rigorous and they expect a relatively large time commitment for work (which really just means you have more excuse to go out harder once it’s all done). The classes work on a 3-hour a week basis where you take a minimum of 4 classes a week, with the average students taking 5 and sometimes 6. Similarly, classes start as early as 8am, and end as late as 10pm so be prepared for one or two long days. In Canada, seminars aren’t really a thing, so you’ll only have lectures/tutorials, with class sizes ranging from 30-300. As the 5th largest North American University, you can expect to be one of many in each of your classes, especially if you have lectures in UoT’s Convocation Hall, which houses up to nearly 2,000 students in one room. That said, class participation is actively encouraged, so don’t be afraid to put your hand up in lecture and ask (as long as it’s sensible, and not how it relates to your life as so many students over there seem keen to express).

Campuses

U of T has three main campuses: St George’s (UoT), Mississauga (UTM) and Scarborough (UTSC). UTM and UTSC are effectively different universities, situated west and east of Toronto respectively, but

part of the University of Toronto . All King’s students are likely to be at St George’s which is the traditional and main hub of UoT, located in the city centre of Toronto. Located between College and Bloor street, the campus is a huge quadrangle in-between, and with only a 10min walk down University Avenue, or Yonge St to get to Dundas Square (Toronto’s own Times Square), it’s a good place to be. UTM is found west of Toronto, about a half hour bus ride, whilst Scarborough is east, and a similar distance.

Assessment

Assessments are far more broken up at UoT then they are at King’s, which means you’re likely to have weekly assignments such as in-class tests/quizzes, essays, presentations and exams. Though the work’s more frequent, it also means the final exams aren’t worth as much, and you have more opportunity to do well. The University also counts class participation a lot more than King’s do, so just going to class gets you 15% of your mark. Similarly, the exams though they usually take place in big halls, aren’t nearly as intense as here (you’re allowed to bring most things inside the room and can go to the bathroom even in the last 15min of the exam unlike King’s regime).

Academic Help

UoT encourages a more personal approach to learning than perhaps we’re used to, so expect to meet with your tutors and lecturers frequently, or have activities outside of class involving them. The Deans organise dinners so maybe one day you’ll get lucky and snag and invite.

Weekend Activities

Even with the landslide of reading that is no doubt going to be making an appearance on those cherished weekends, there are so many fantastic things to do in and around Toronto you’ll be hard-pushed to stay indoors clinging on to that totem of a book you’re supposed to be reading. Unless there’s a blizzard outside, in which case do stay inside.

St. Lawrence Market  

Situated just on the edge of eastern downtown is St Lawrence Market, dubbed “the world’s best” by National Geographic. Toronto’s flagship market house fresh Canadian produce with eastern European influences – if it’s meat, vegetables and bagels you want, then this is the place to be.Whilst primarily food-centric, the market’s lower floor and outdoors section also plays host to a variety of antique stalls and galleries for the more cultured half in us all.

The Distillery District

Just off St Lawrence you’ll find Toronto’s historic Distillery District, home to a mesh of eateries, bars and galleries. As its name might suggest, The District was previously home to the world’s largest distillery, but has now been pedestrianised into a cobblestone metropolis. Toronto’s signature Mill St. Brewery is worth a visit if beers out on the patio are your thing, whilst for those trying to stay teetotal should definitely check out Balzac’s, a cute literary cafe that pays homage to writers, poets and the rest of their kind.

Air Canada Centre

Anyone visiting Toronto will quickly realise it’s a city that loves its sport, and like any true Canadian city, hockey comes first. If you can grab tickets, head down to the Air Canada Centre to see the Toronto Maple Leafs in action, and *fingers crossed* see them win. The Air Canada Centre is multipurpose and is the home of the Toronto Raptors, an NBA Basketball team. Probably the most fun you’ll have at any sport, the Basketball has events and rally’s throughout the match to keep the crowd going, making it a truly inclusive experience. And if it’s baseball you want, then hit up the Rogers Centre come the spring-time to see the Blue Jays in action. Maybe this season their transfer spend will equal out to their points.

Kensington Market

Like a nicer Camden, Kensington Market is the more arty-grungy area of Toronto. More small-town village feel than big city area, Kensington Market does indeed have its own farmers market, an array of restaurants for every taste (check NU BUGEL and Wanda’s Pie in the Sky) and antique stores, all housed in Victorian style houses, that give it its old-school feel.

Little Italy & Little Portugal

Located on College St.West and Dundas St. West respectively, both Little Italy and Little Portugal are neighbourhoods that rival any major city equivalent. Little Italy is like any Italian district, filled to the brim with bakeries, pizzerias and gelato parlours, which all come to life at night when the streets are lined with fairy-lights. Little Portugal is similarly quaint and wonderful, crammed with cafes serving classic Portuguese faire, so if it’s fish and chicken you like with a touch of colour and flair, then this is the place to be. And no, there’s not a Nandos.

Toronto Island

Worth a visit at any point of the year, though summer will be warmer (but busier) Toronto Island offers unrivalled views of the city. A short ferry-ride to the Island and you’re there, and it’s home to a collection of houses that look like they’ve wandered out of a Lewis Carroll novel, so a stroll through this neighbourhood is like nothing else in the city. Get a few pictures of the cityscape whilst cycling along the Island paths, and why not finish it off with a stop at the Rectory Cafe, one of the Island’s last remaining buildings from the early 1900s.

Niagara Falls

World-renowned, the name speaks for itself. The view is incredible, and the Falls are like nothing else. Get your pictures, and if it’s warm enough, get on a boat down into the Falls themselves. Niagara-on-the-lake is a beautiful neighbouring town, a world away from Niagara itself which is pretty much a little Las Vegas.

Reflections

A year ago today, I remember sitting down in my room in Toronto, trying to write an essay on illness (of all things) in Jane Austen’s Emma, whilst a blizzard raged on outside. And whilst that’s not perhaps my fondest memory of my time abroad (though I maintain Emma is actually a great read), I’d still do anything to go back to that day if it meant studying abroad all over again.

Ask anyone who’s been abroad and they’ll tell you the same thing. First thing they’ll tell you is how much they want to go back, then they’ll sermonise you on why you have to do it too, then they’ll scream because it’s been a year and “it all feels like a dream now”, and then they’ll go on and on about their dissertation and that’s when you can stop listening. Are we predictable? Absolutely. But how can we not be when we’ve had an experience like studying abroad?

The one thing you realise on coming home is that it’s something you don’t ever really get over. When I got back, I felt like I was ready for wherever my next destination was. Travelling becomes a fever you can’t shake and suddenly everything seems ordinary and plain. Coming back then, is harder than going away, and reverse culture-shock is most definitely a thing.

However, having gone away and not wanted to come back, I can say hands down that I’ve become a better student now that I’m back at King’s. Studying abroad is the breath of life you need come the second year of your degree, and something that completely reinvigorates your perspective and attitudes towards it. Having been in an environment when I was constantly having to work on weekly assignments and go to double the amount of class, my approach to work coming back was definitely one in which I was more prepared and organised i.e. starting essays, or at least planning them, prior to the Christmas Holidays.

So that’s one good thing. I’d definitely say I’m more positive and proactive as a result too, but that may have nothing to do with studying abroad. As far as the future goes now, I know I’d love to do something with people in a global environment. Being part of an international team has proved to be a key aim for me and I can only thank my time abroad and as a Peer Advisor for that. More than anything though, my time working at the Study Abroad Office has taught me that it really is the people you meet that make the experiences you have worthwhile.

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