Someone commented to me on social media this week that they had been told there was absolutely nothing to see in Ottawa, and it was best on a trip to Canada to skip over our… More
San Francisco in December is not exactly what is known as high season (I seem incapable of traveling anywhere during high season). However, the city in no way shuts down and Chinese food for Christmas dinner is totally normal. Macy’s is all done up in lights and the markets are decorated for Christmas and, because it’s California, even the bagpiper outside the skating rink gets to rock his kilt in the middle of ‘winter.’ The rain is a little much, and I personally don’t understand skating without snow, but overall, the west coast gem doesn’t need the sun to be enjoyed.
All that being said, the Golden Gate Bridge is incapable of being ruined by rain or December. Fog and sun and drizzle and cloud – all of it works. Walking from end to end -though nippy – is breathtaking and a must do during a visit to San Fran. Both ends of the bridge feature access to the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. Though not hugely attractive in chilly, below-freezing weather, for those visiting in high season – let me know how it goes!
In case my written review of the bridge walk isn’t convincing enough for you, maybe these photos will!
So you get home from class or work, and it’s 8pm and dark and cold, or 4pm and dark and cold, or 10am because your 9am class was canceled and that’s the end of your day. Your tiny residence room is empty and lonely or your dark, cold apartment greets you with a funny smell and maybe a gift from a mouse, and all you want to do is go back to bed and Netflix-binge until the weekend. Fair enough. University life is not fun for everyone.
That’s basically what September to December looks like for university students, at least the ones I know, or who live in my house. So by mid-December, it’s about time for a Netflix detox. When that time comes, sure you can always wash the dishes, but maybe make that Gilmore Girls-free time a little more appealing with some of these non-Netflix, free activities, meant for introverted, unhappy, university-goers with no money and too much free time:
- Change the sheets – probably don’t do that enough anyway
- Do laundry – you’ll need clean sheets
- Design your business card for when you finally graduate and have a career, or just to show people so they remember your name (try Canva if you’re not a Photoshop guru)
- Test all the pens in your house and throw out the ones that don’t work
- Go for a walk (but not at night alone nor in a sketchy area)
- Phone a friend
- Throw darts at a map (unless you want your damage deposit back, in which case just look at the map longingly)
- Read your class notes and actually try to remember something. Just one thing.
- Read something very much not for class, that’s just for you.
- Put away old assignments and notes and papers so your workspace is clear
- Actually do wash the dishes
- Open the windows and let the fresh air in
- Match your socks like your mom used to before you wore whatever two you could find
- Write something fictional
- Learn an instrument
- Sew those buttons back on
- Write a letter to your bestie with a pen and paper and put a proper stamp on it and find a mailbox and wait to see just how long it takes to get there and be thankful for texting and Skype
- Call your cell phone plan provider and try to negotiate a better deal and if you can’t just have a nice chat with the poor person working minimum wage.
- Look for a job
- Do that one thing you’ve been putting off forever
- Write simple things on a list and feel satisfied crossing them off
- Take a different bus and see where you end up
- Join a political debate on Twitter, just for kicks
- Read the news
- Listen to the radio and support your public broadcaster
- Make dinner. Or just cereal.
- Clean up the leaves/garbage/snow/ice/weeds outside your house or residence
- Take all the stuff out of your backpack or school bag and wash it, then put back only the things you need
- Start a blog (clearly, anyone can do it!)
- Make up with that friend with whom you’ve been silently fighting for weeks
- Find a new playlist on Spotify, or make your own
- Listen to an album from home/childhood
- Pay your visa bill (sorry)
- Have tea
- Invite your neighbour to have tea, even if you don’t know her, especially if you’ve been hearing through the walls as she talks to her parents/cries/fights with her boyfriend, etc. She could use a Netflix/loneliness break too
- Volunteer somewhere
- Vacuum or sweep
- Clean the bathroom, you really can’t do that enough
- Sit in the sun
- Cook something with just the things in your kitchen
- Design a flyer for a skill you possess, even if you never want to market it
- Pack a bag for when you get to go home
- Take things to the Salvation Army
- Find a free event to go to and actually go, even if you don’t feel like it on the day of
- Make a list of things you will do when you can afford them
- Go to the library
- Put up photos on your walls
- Read articles on sites like The New Yorker and The Walrus
- Try this bullet journaling thing everyone is talking about
- Go to the gym or just try a push-up
Memorial University is known for its high-quality education, the respected faculty, active student body, picturesque campus, immense program offerings and the positive impacts its alumni have had on Canadian society. These positive attributes are not to be neglected in light of what I am about to say. But there is more to university in 2016 than just academics. Student mental health is one of the hottest topics on digital news sites. It is spoken about regularly at panel discussions. We have hotlines and fundraisers and weeks of recognition of mental health problems in this country. More needs to be done.
“Engaging youth for mental health and wellness”
“The Wellness Program is designed to educate students about self-care and healthy lifestyles.We offer health education programs…”
“Student Health is here to help you maintain physical and mental wellness and help you thrive at university”
“Memorial University hopes a new app will help students identify what makes them feel good and what makes them feel bad – and improve their mental health.”
These are just a few of the responses to a Google search for “mental health memorial university”. Of course, it is important that students take responsibility for their own mental and physical wellness. And of course, it is good that the university implements policies and programs that aim to improve – or at least not diminish- students’ mental health while at school. Interestingly, none of the first results that come up speak to what the university staff and professors (aside from those in the health and wellness clinics) can do for students, particularly those with anxiety or depression. Students are expected to take responsibility, to make an appointment, connect with a therapist, alter their schedules and practice ‘self-care’, whatever that means. Social media is filled with lists of how to have a better morning, ways to encourage self-love, and methods for journaling, lighting candles, and going to bed earlier, all meant to address the epidemic of mental health concerns among young people, in Newfoundland, and in Canada.
Nationally, university communication offices issue statements after students commit suicides. News outlets publish endless, tragic commentary from family and friends following these events. Administrators and professors wonder what else they could have done. Really? You wonder what else you could have done? The number of people and organizations taking responsibility – and sometimes blame – for students’ mental health problems is growing daily. But the group that seems to fail to acknowledge and act on these tragedies are the university staff. Yes, increasing funding for mental health services is important. But the staff, professors and instructors at universities across Canada have a crucial role to play, and they are failing.
When a professor has office hours and fails to appear for them, when you book a meeting and the professor doesn’t show – this is not only disrespectful, but anxiety causing. When the university fails to acknowledge what courses the students require to graduate, or decide not to offer required courses that have been promised to students – do they know the stress this causes? When the student’s union offers services that are meant to make students safer, like shuttle buses and other programming, but cancels them arbitrarily, do they know that we notice, and feel left out to dry? Does the registrar’s office understand what it costs – financially, and emotionally- when required courses aren’t offered, and we are forced to stay on for another term, or another year? The cost to students of being away from their homes and families, of worrying about money and the heat bill, of not knowing whether or not they need a place to live for the summer, or whether or not to apply to grad school? The stress of university work and classes is high to begin with. When professors start their term by reading old course evaluation questionnaires from past students in order to emphasize what behaviours they are not prepared to change about themselves or their teaching – do they imagine this is useful? When you ask a simple question about course selection and receive an answer that is incomprehensible, and when you ask for a form or a meeting to find out if you can ever escape from this institution, you’re told you can’t have more than one a year or per month, or some other seemingly arbitrary rule, does the university think this is improving our mental health? There are highly educated, intelligent people working in all those offices in Arts and Administration. Do you think they recognize the role they have to play in the mental health of their students?
I am sure there are students who handle all of these blips with grace, or maybe who go through their four, or five, or six year degrees without encountering any of these issues. And there are dozens of administrators and professors who are working harder, staying later, and advocating more for students. But for those of us who experience the stresses of navigating university logistics – separate and apart from university work – it’s enough to give you anxiety. If you were not depressed already, being told you had to stay in school another term that you can’t afford because that one English course, contrary to what you were told, wasn’t actually ever going to be offered can break you.
If administrators are operating an educational institution, that’s fine. Let’s educate to the highest standard possible. Let’s see professors willing to wait an extra fifteen minutes after their office hours are over so a working student can make it to campus to see them. Let’s see the staff in the registrar’s office do an extra ten percent – not above and beyond their job description, just the part they aren’t doing right now. Let’s see those emails answered before deadlines pass. Let’s see mutual respect between instructors and students, not an abuse of power and defensive responses to thoughtful course evaluations. Please, let’s not see more money pushed into supposed ‘mental health initiatives’ that place all responsibility on students’ shoulders. First, let’s acknowledge that if staff, administrators and professors put as much thought into how to help students in their own jobs, instead of pushing us from one office to the next, we might not have as many students needing to avail of the mental health services. Let’s bring some humanity back to universities, and behave like the empathetic humans we all are.
Encouraging students to consider what makes them feel poorly, and what might make them feel better is a great step. But does the university fear that maybe what is making us feel anxious, depressed, and really like we shouldn’t be here at all, might just be them?
Sorry everyone. This whole full-time student meets blogger life is getting away from me, and so the schedule has gone out the window! But with an influx of American readers this morning – hi guys! – I thought it was time to share some of the gems of Newfoundland- an underpopulated, natural wonder. Plus, I don’t leave the house any more, so I have to dig back in the archives for some adventures to share with you (36 days to end of term!).
This past Thanksgiving weekend (that’s in October here in Canada – a decent amount of time from Christmas) we finally got the chance to visit Bowring Park, right here in St. John’s. I know, you’d think having lived here for almost three years now I would’ve been able to get there, but without a car in this lovely city there are some things that are almost impossible.
Autumn is of course one of the most beautiful times to visit Newfoundland. September whether is almost always somewhat kind of predictably occasionally sunny, the leaves are turning (before they get snowed on) and everything smells like the ocean. Approximately 5 km from downtown St. John’s, Bowring Park is accessible by bus, but of course easier by car! The 200 acre park is connected with the Grand Concourse, a network of 125km of walking trails all across the city. This is not to be confused with Bannerman Park, in the heart of St. John’s, which is also excellent but very much not the same thing (I make this mistake every. single. day).
During your visit, don’t forget to feed the ducks at the pond, and visit the Peter Pan statue, the Caribou Monument and Beaumont Hamel Memorial, see the swans, and peek over all of the bridges.
Located at the narrow point of the River Exe, which feeds into the English Channel, the little village of Topsham sits looking out over sail boats. After weeks of big cities and disappointing English breakfasts, a bus ride into Topsham from Exeter is just the break that travellers need. The best four things about Topsham can be summed up in a handy mnemonic: the 4 B’s. (I’m in full out study mode, sorry – you’re all victims of it now!)
Take a walk on the boardwalk! Topsham’s boardwalk network offers calming views of cows and the countryside, and let you wander in designated areas to view the nature conservancy zones and learn about the wildlife. Use the viewing boxes to imagine yourself as a farmer in the south of England!
Eat anything (or everything) at The Lighter Inn and of course have a pint. Sit by the bar and stay warm, or by the window and watch the little bitty boats come in and dock.
There are, as I mentioned, a number of sweet little sail boats that wander in and out of the harbour and look absolutely nothing like red double decker buses or tiny discount airlines and make you think you could actually be on holiday and not on some kind of budget round the world gap year adventure.
If you are mildly athletic – as in, the opposite of me – you could rent a bicycle and ride along these gorgeous trails, which is really the best part of Topsham, if an oasis by the sea, only a forty minute bus ride from Exeter with little boats, hearty and delicious lunches and boardwalks don’t do it for you.
So you head off to Cape Breton in search of Nova Scotian ocean air and those autumn colours you know are out there. You drive through the national park, stop in cute towns, listen to Celtic music and eat lots of fish. And then, as you’re nearing the mainland again you think, god, I’ve heard so much about the Acadians. I’ve learned Acadian history in school, I’ve visited monuments and spoken French in Nova Scotia and Quebec and now, I’m in Cape Breton, at the edge of the world, and all I want is a true Acadian lunch!
I know, I’m clairvoyant right? So you drive away from whatever adorable B&B you’re staying at, you stop at Pomquet Beach where temperatures rise to regular old beach temps even though it’s the Atlantic, and then you return to your thoughts of lunch. Just like I do. I got your back on this one.
Head up to Chez Deslauriers (on a Friday in July and August) and say Bonjour to the lovely volunteers from the Pomquet Development Society who will take your contribution to their cause, seat you at a clothed table by a window looking out on one of the most gorgeous and calming views you’ll see, and eat beans. Or meat.
You will dine alongside locals, while mothers and daughters serve lunch in both official languages, and be given a serving of strawberry shortcake so huge it’ll be hard to believe. After lunch, walk it off at the interpretive centre, and one one of the many Pomquet Acadian Trails the Society maintains. Bring bug spray – the mosquitoes particularly enjoy strawberry shortcake-scented blood.
You will have then consumed a massive, delicious, and authentic Acadian lunch, including baked beans, ham, fricôt (chicken stew filled with potatoes and dumplings – giant balls of dough shoved in with gravy YUM), pâté (a tri-meat pie) and homemade bread. Obviously, you’ll be so happy and full, you too will look like this:
The land and the buildings at Monk’s Head all have historical significance, but the real gem here are the people: lovely, welcoming, generous, and happy to share their history and heritage with visitors. The only downside of this beautiful place is that we were one of only a few groups of tourists! Go! Visit! Eat!
If you follow One Red Phone Box on Instagram, you’ll have seen a whole whack of photos of a magical place that actually resembles fall scenery, and you will not have believed that they are actually pictures of Newfoundland. St. John’s autumns usually go something like summer-summer-summer-snow, with a glimpse of autumn leafery before the ice and sleet and fog and flurries cover them all up. This year we have had real, honest to goodness fall weather, with days warm enough to be outside. The trees aren’t confused, and the city looks good. Novel.
If you aren’t following me on Instagram (@oneredphonebox), firstly whyever not?! and secondly, here are some of the photos you have been missing, plus extras of the beautiful fall scenery and the Rennie’s River Trail in St. John’s.
Want to see more of this beautiful city? Try these outdoorsy things in St. John’s!
Where is your favourite leaf-spotting location? Leave us a note in the comments!