Being in Spain – Exchange Student versus Resident Mentality

For the past 2 months, I have been living in Spain, in a small city just outside of Madrid called Fuenlabrada. I live here with a Spanish family I met when I first travelled to Spain in 2009 for 3 months as a high school exchange student with the International Student Exchange (ISE) program. The family and I remained in contact and when I mentioned that I would be coming to Madrid to study, they kindly offered that I board with them.


Over the past 2 months I have been busy exploring my new city, the beautiful and lively Madrid, historically and culturally, I have been making friends, learning about the Spanish culture – by living it! -, traveling and being a university student (admittedly a borderline part-time student, with only 3 classes, since I figured I don’t want to spend all my time on exchange in the library studying).

I have had the opportunity to meet and spend time with many people – locals and other exchange students alike and have noticed that there is a notable difference between the mentality of a resident of Spain and an exchange student. I have broken it down into the following chart:


So I have learnt to tailor my adventures to the people I am with. Going out for an evening with locals, having tapas (appetizers) and copas (drinks) and chatting about cultural differences, similarities, sharing stories, advice, laughs in a mixture of Spanish and English is awesome. But then when I want to explore the city, go sight seeing, find a typical restaurant, I know the other exchange students are way more interested in sharing that experience.

The way I see it the locals already have a life here, they have to study, have a family to spend time with, have a group of friends, a usual hangout spot and are happy with their routine – they aren’t looking for anything outside of that, they have no need to visit museum, they eat the typical dishes weekly at home. Though they are always happy to let an exchange student share in their routine. 🙂
The exchange students come with an agenda, we want to maximize our time on exchange, we want to get to know our city, our country, our continent on a historical, social, architectural, cultural, gastronomical, linguistic and anything-else-in-between level. We want to try it all, see it all, taste it all etc., and for that a routine simply will not do.

I am lucky to have friends who are locals and friends who are exchange students, thus guaranteeing that I get a beautifully balanced exchange experience – and have gotten to meet and become friends with a great variety of amazing people!


My summer at Glendon

A sample of my symbolic logic homework from MODR 1711... it was actually fun, I promise :)

A sample of my symbolic logic homework from MODR 1711… it was actually fun, I promise 🙂

This summer I decided to stay at Glendon rather than return home to Chatham – I was ready for a change and staying in the big city seemed very enticing. So I arranged to take a summer class, MODR 1711, Critical Thinking (quite an interesting course by the way, I LOVED the Symbolic Logic – each question was a puzzle to solve), got hired as a full-time work study student at Academic Services and was lucky enough to be accepted as a summer Don, everything fell into place beautifully.

My friend Kate and I after running our colourful 5k! :)

My friend Kate and I after running our colourful 5k! 🙂

The first month was great, I was so excited to be in Toronto for the summer, I got a chance to attend some amazing events including Paint the Halls, Doors Open Toronto, 5k Color Me Rad run, volunteering at Glendon’s convocation ceremony, and was able to hang out with friends while exploring places of the city I had never been before, Greektown (I recommend you all go eat at Folia Grill if ever you’re near Pape street), The Beaches, Little Italy – it was marvellous!

However… most of my friends live off campus and so getting together took WAY more effort than it did during the year (when arranging a hangout meant walking across the hall and down a flight of stairs, rather than having to TTC to designated location and hope to meet up in the crowded streets of Toronto)! Many nights, therefore, were made use of as downtime, catching up on movies, tv shows and books (and let me tell you I’ve read some interesting books this summer!). This lazying about is fine in moderation and, in my opinion part of what summer is about, but still, sometimes it feels wasteful to be in Toronto and not be taking advantage of the various events the city has to offer – considering that there is something going on somewhere any given night of the year!
Honestly though, sometimes, after a whole day at work relaxing in my res-room during the evening is nice.

A shaded spot on the outskirts of the quad - perfect for reading, conversing or reflecting :)

A shaded spot on the outskirts of the quad – perfect for reading, conversing or reflecting 🙂

As a summer resident, I get to see the campus at its most beautiful! The trees are green and full, the flowers around the manor are in full bloom, in various vibrant colours.
And more than once while climbing the rose garden stairs from the gym back up the residence I have come upon a wedding party in the midst of a photo shoot in front of our stunning manor or in the picturesque rose garden – I wonder, whether I will be showing up in any of their pictures…

Although there are fewer Glendon students on campus during the summer, Glendon is occupied by non-Glendon students from June-August, as the residence buildings host 2 summer camps, Explore and Sol Camps, both language-learning programs, in addition to renting rooms like a hostel.

All in all though the campus is rather serene and the whole atmosphere of Glendon in the summer is quite relaxed, which can be nice for a while, but I think the key to being a happy summer resident is to keep yourself busy! Whether by having a job, taking a summer course, making plans with friends or taking on summer projects such as learning to play an instrument, getting into shape, writing, improving your cooking skills or meditating, it is essential to occupy your days otherwise they will pass you by and before you realize, it’ll be September again!

I hope you’re all enjoying your summer and making the most of your time off. And I’m curious, where did you end up this summer – let me know in the comments! 😀

Reading Week Adventure


So today marks the official first day of my Reading Week. And some of you may be shocked to find out that on this first day of vacation, rather than sleeping in and relaxing I was awake by 5:20am and out in the fresh fallen snow!
Why, you ask?
Because I am getting away during the break, but not to the typical warm destinations like Florida, Cuba, the Dominican etc. No I’m insanely going further north, venturing into “La Belle Province” – Québec!

ImageMore specifically I’m on my way to Chicoutimi, in the Saguenay Region. This is the place I spend 5 weeks last summer with the Explore program with another eAmbassador, Esther! (We plan to make a blog post about it sometime for you all… 😀 )
I am now going back to visit one of the “animatrices” I became friends with and another friend from the program, from Redeemer, who is back at l’Université du Québec à Chicoutimi (UQAC) doing a semester there to improve her French. [For those of you interested, she’s written a few blog posts about her language immersion experience, check it out here!]
So I am going to spend the week with them and I couldn’t possibly be any more excited! 🙂

At this point I’ve got about half of my journey behind me. I took a VIA train from Toronto to Montreal, am currently on another VIA train from Montreal to Quebec City, and the final stretch of my journey is a 2-hour bus ride from Quebec City to Chicoutimi.


By the time I reach my final destination I will have been travelling for over 15 hours! But I’m making good use of the time, I spent the first 2 hours drifting in and out of sleep, I am not one of those fortunate people who can fall asleep anywhere, so no actual rest occurred, but the intention.
Then I did some homework, arrived in Montreal, bought breakfast at the train station and connected with my second train, which is where I am now! 🙂 So far I have done more homework and a bit of reading too.

Naturally my profs assigned a bunch of homework for this week, so while I am on vacation, I still have a lot of work to do, so my challenge will be finding that balance between work and play – No different that any other day really…

En plus, je me lance le défi de composer un article de blog complètement en français pendant que je suis à Chicoutimi, puisque j’ai l’intention de parler français autant que possible!   🙂

Just 5 more hours until I get there!

Really live.

“Don’t count the days, make the days count.”
― Muhammad Ali

Local sightseeing

The other day I overheard someone say in a rather frustrated tone that, “people are so eager to go overseas and explore other countries, but neglect to appreciate and explore their own country.”

This reminded me of my weekend downtown and my visit to the Allan Garden Conservatory. This large greenhouse, built in 1910 is over 100 years old! It is located in the middle of Allan Gardens, a park block between Carlton and Gerrard St E. Admission is free – perfect for a student budget – and the establishment is open from 10am-5pm all year round.

Inside the Conservatory are 5 different sections, catering to the diverse climates required for certain plants to thrive – bonus: there is also a small koi pond! 🙂

Here is a sampling of the beautiful plants this greenhouse contains:

Birds of paradiseConservatory domeFlower blanketOrangesRed flowerTwisty cactusCactus flowerCurlytopGradient plant

The best thing about the Allan Gardens Conservatory is that you don’t have to be a plant expert to appreciate the beauty of the specimens. Even though I had visited before, I was just as taken with the colours, shapes, textures and general variety that this single greenhouse contains.

Explore it for yourself, I guarantee you will be impressed! 🙂

So, what’s your major?

A Trilingual, iBA with a Hispanic Studies major and a French Studies minor may sound intense, but all it means is that I study in English, Spanish and French, mostly literature and language courses and plan to go on exchange and study abroad in my 3rd year (which is next year already – yikes!). Let me tell you a bit about my experiences with these various programs thus far.

spanish flagfrench flageglish flag

Hispanic Studies: Although Glendon is known for it’s French and English I find that it has a strong Hispanic Department. When I took the language placement test for Spanish I was placed into the 2000 level meaning last year I took a Spanish grammar course and an introduction to hispanic literature course, both of which counted towards my major. The literature course was my favourite, the professor had a great presence and facilitated the course in a stimulating way, we explored short essays, short stories, a novel, a couple plays and some poetry, the variety in material was great! My favourite aspect of the class were the discussions that were generated about the readings, the styles and the messages. As for the grammar course, even though I find grammar to be somewhat dry, my prof did a great job of using mixed-media to keep the class interesting, we had power points, songs, movies to keep us engaged. This year I am again taking a Spanish literature course and the next level of Spanish grammar. Both courses are interesting and are taught by dynamic professors.With theses 4 courses I will have half of my major done after just 2 years in university!

SRCPlus Glendon has a Spanish Resource Centre, where students are welcome to take out Spanish books and movies using their YU card. This Centre also offers workshops on Spanish writing and conversation. I have recently begun attending the advanced level writing workshops, which is a 60 minute workshop which focuses on explaining a grammar concept and then putting it into practice. It is a great opportunity to practice my Spanish for an extra hour a week and to enhance my writing.

French Studies: I am less far in my French minor than in my Spanish major because my placement in French did not allow me to start taking courses that count towards my major last year. So my French course last year, 1525/1530 was just for my own benefit, I feel is was a beneficial review, made all the more enjoyable by my well organized and invested professor. This year I am taking one course that counts towards my minor, 2240, Français écrit pour spécialistes. This course focuses on the finer points of French grammar and is a course that aims to help student perfect their written competency.

globalcafepcardiBA (Exchange): This is arguably to most interesting part of my degree and certainly something I am excited about. I recently applied for my exchange through York International to study in Spain, in Madrid for my 3rd year. I figure that being in Spain will improve my Spanish monumentally and that as a Hispanic Studies major I could benefit from some first-hand learning in the country of my major!

Trilingual: Obviously I am studying in French and Spanish to complete courses towards my major and minor, but in order to graduate with a trilingual degree I must also take some courses in English, currently I am in a Professional Writing course at the Keele campus which is super interesting and useful and counts towards my General Education requirements.

world-hands-worldmap-creativeAt this point, you may be wondering what exactly I plan to do with this degree…the answer is that I’m not really sure, and it took me a while to accept that that’s alright. For the next 2.5 years, as I finish my degree I am focusing on becoming fully Trilingual and trying to bring my Spanish and French up the level of my English. Eventually I hope to find a job that allows me to travel and make practical use of my languages, and right now, this is the best way I can prepare myself for that future employment.

A brief and scary moment of homesickness

globeI’ve never really been one to feel homesick. I have a desire to travel, to see things and explore the world, home is nice, but “not-home” is exciting!

The only time I recall myself longing to be home when I was not was about 3 years ago in grade 11 when I went on exchange to Spain for 3 months. My first day with my host family, after 2 a days of traveling – a bus to the airport, two planes, a night at a hotel and a car ride to my new Spanish home I had unpacked and felt quite comfortable in my new surroundings until I called home. The moment I heard my mother’s voice a wave of homesickness hit me, I choked back tears and tried to keep my own voice from wavering and worrying my mother, because while I did like where I was suddenly also missing home.

And yet, earlier today, for the first time in my university career I felt homesick. The oddest part was that I was in my hometown, at work when I felt this sadness and longing to stay home and not leave for Toronto in a matter of hours to return to school. Thoughts rushed through my head about how nice it was to be home where I don’t have to make sad one-portion meals but rather get to eat with my whole family, where baking is abundant, where I the Nintendo is, where all of my movies are, where I have two friendly cats, where everything is easy, there is no need to go to school, work and play are my only two focuses.


Thinking of all this made me really NOT want to come back to school. My throat tightened slightly the way it does when you’re close to tears but forcing yourself not to cry. Back to student life, quick meals, late nights, balancing work, school and fun the contrast made me dread it more. It all seemed to scary, the responsibility of living alone, the fear of growing up too fast, the idea of becoming an adult.

And then just as suddenly as the homesickness appeared, it went away. I finished working my shift without giving it any further thought, happily said my goodbyes to my co-workers, finished packing my suitcase and enjoyed my final hour with my parents before getting on the train headed to Toronto. Currently I am 2 about hours into my trip and feeling great; I am excited to be back in the big city, can’t wait to see my friends and wanting to hand in these assignments I’ve been working on all break!

I have no idea why the homesickness hit when it did, perhaps because this holiday I spent a lot of time working and doing homework and didn’t really get my fix of family – whatever the reason it’s gone now, but it’s certain to strike again sometime…

This post got me thinking about what the best ways to cure homesickness are, so naturally I googled it and found this interesting blog with 9 tips to beat homesickness, feel free to check it out!


Glendonites Caroling

Door-to-door caroling

Have you ever been caroling?

Up until two nights ago my answer to this would have been “not really,” because while I had gotten together with people to sing holiday songs I had never done the “Hollywood,” door-to-door version of caroling.

However, on Thursday night that all changed. One of my friends from first year, Brynn, whom I had not seen in a while, invited me to join her and some other Glendonites who were going out caroling that evening, one of whom was Esther, a fantastic Glendon eAmbassador. Brynn is the embodiment of the Holiday Spirit, she’s cheerful and considerate all year round, but around this time of year her enthusiasm seems to double! And so, even though I’m not a strong singer I decided to go along with them.

Thus our caroling group looked like this:

Getting ready to go out caroling.

Getting ready to go out caroling.

Naturally plans had been messed up, people were late, we had only one songbook to share among us all and it was a bit cold out. Nevertheless we walked down Lawrence singing.

Our first house was a nervous moment for us all. The door opened and our fearless leader explained that we were caroling and wondered if they had time for a song. As we sang they swayed and smiled and at the end they thanked us for sharing our voices and spreading such good cheer.

By the way, we sounded a bit like this (excuse the poor video quality, I’m no videographer, if you want really good videos, check out eAmbassador Sarah Yu’s channel)

After a few more house calls we decided to bring our cheer out to the street. We caroled down Lawrence Ave, by the subway corner, in the subway for the TTC officer, in the Metro and in the Starbucks.

It was a lovely night spent with great people just sharing some good old holiday cheer. It was great fun and a nice gesture too – I fully intend to go out caroling next year.
New holiday tradition? I THINK SO!

Have you ever been caroling, if so, how was it, if not, would you like to? What sort of holiday traditions do you have?

Time management!

One of the most monumental skills you will learn in university is to wisely manage your time. This essentially means organizing your time and your commitments to ensure that you get to do all the things you want to do, but have time to do the things you need to do.

I’ve been trying to efficiently manage my time for a year and a half now and while most days turn out well, sometimes I do drop the ball, which I find happens most often when I take on too much…
Below are three quick tips that work for me and could possibly help you better manage your time as well! Also find a youtube video by Charlie McDonnell re: procrastination!

1. Use a day planner/Make to-do lists.
This might seem silly and trivial, but writing down the things you need to do and seeing them in front of you is a great way to be aware of your time commitments and successfully get things done on time!

2. Don’t take on more than you can handle.
If you’re involved in a club or have a part time job or find your sports team is too much of a strain on your time, this can seem especially true during the exam season, know that it’s okay to minimize your involvement; delegate club tasks to someone else in the club or trade some shifts at work. Don’t be afraid of saying no, it’s important to focus your energy to get done those things you really need to do.
(To be honest this is what happened to me for the past month, I got bogged down with too much stuff and as a result I had to cut out a couple things, my eAmbassador blog being one of them…but now exams are over & I’m back in the game!)

3. Don’t procrastinate!
This is essential, in organizing your time you are carefully allotting time for all the things you need to do, procrastinating is wasting that precious time that there already doesn’t seem to be enough of. Even if you just do 10 minutes of a task you don’t want to do every day, by the end you will appreciate it! 🙂
Try living by the motto: “Don’t leave for tomorrow what you can do today.”

Also, please enjoy this video in which Charlie McDonnell shares how he procrastinates and explains procrastination (explanation begins around 1:45) – Enjoy!

What is sleep? I don’t understand.

One of the best parts about being in university is that everyone has their own personal schedule. We decide when we want our classes to be, what time to eat breakfast, lunch, supper, when to start studying, when to take a break and when to go to sleep. I, personally, am NOT a morning person; I have only one 9am class, the rest all start after noon!
Gone are the days of school starting at 8am, 6 hours a day, 5 days a week! So logically one would assume I’m finding lots more time to get enough sleep, right? Wrong…

Sleepy from Snow WhiteI’ve always been told that 8 hours is the ideal amount of sleep, recently though it seem the number is closer to 6.5-7hours/night. (For a neat article on sleep click here.) No matter which statistic you choose I rarely meet the standard required amount of sleep, and this is not okay. So here’s a what-not-to-do regarding sleep patterns in university…

1. Don’t procrastinate! Super difficult to not fall into this one, with so many more interesting things to do besides homework, it’s easy to delay it while you watch a movie, waste time online or chat with friends. However, when you’re starting your work at midnight, you probably won’t be done anytime soon. For those of you who speak math: 4am bedtime + 9am class = BAD.

2. Don’t let your sleep suffer – schedule in time to sleep! It’s great to get involved in university through clubs, campus events and just hanging out, but stay involved in your own well-being too. It’s unhealthy to cut back on sleep, the busier you are, the more important it is for you to rest well! Sometimes it’s okay to say no to helping or to going out, in order to catch up on sleep – you can always ask someone about it in the morning, or puzzle it together yourself based on the Facebook photos and Tweets.

Caffeine + Chocolate = BRILLIANT!

3. Caffeine is an alertness booster, not a substitute for sleep! A coffee, tea, or bar of caffeinated chocolate (yup, it’s a real thing) here and there is okay when you need a quick jolt of energy to stay awake in class or while doing homework. However, your body still needs sleep afterwards, and probably a little extra to recuperate.

Well, that’s all I’ve got for now. I hope you find this helpful or at least slightly interesting! 🙂
So, what to you do to ensure you get enough sleep??


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salut! my name is esther p // major: communications // what's your story?