Wolfe Island! The largest of the 1000 Islands, and located in Lake Ontario, Canada, Wolfe Island is quaint and cute and easily accessible from city hub of Kingston. A trip to this small city involves lots of eating, coffee-drinking, and shopping, a trip to the Penitentiary Museum, Fort Henry, and the waterfront.
But getting on the ferry from Kingston and experiencing the city from the water is a whole other thing, and getting to explore the calm, sweet Wolfe Island is a great bonus adventure to add to a trip in this beautiful area.
It was a really lovely journey across Lake Ontario, giving great views of Fort Henry, the LaSalle Causeway, and the city skyline. You also get a chance to physically zoom in on the wind turbines often visible from downtown Kingston.
The island was a gem – home to Wolfe Island Bakery (have a cinnamon stick!), Wolfe Island Grill, a public library branch, and a beautiful Catholic Church. We only got to explore a small section of the island, really just the main drag from the general store to the church, and in the other direction from the ferry dock to Cycle Wolfe Island bike rentals, and in part this was due to a lack of transportation.
I would recommend renting or bringing a bicycle to expand the area you are able to explore, and I would even consider bringing a car sometime in order to see some of the beaches and sights that are further away from the ferry dock.
The run down:
Departure: Kingston Waterfront, Ontario Street, on the block between the Shell Station and the K-Rock Centre.
Arrival: Wolfe Island Ferry Dock
Travel Time: 20 minutes
Departure times: Every hour, but not ON the hour. Check out the schedule here for departure times from both the mainland, and the island
Restrictions: Only 55 car spots are available, so plan accordingly. Bike racks are available if you want to take your two wheels over. A little over 290 people spots are available per trip. We didn’t have any trouble getting a spot – literally walked right on – but I imagine in the heat of summer this is a popular activity, and it could be rather crowded.
Logistics: Almost none. We briskly walked from the other side of downtown to the terminal in under 15 minutes, and wandered on to the boat. Watch out for traffic on the mainland side, but really it’s surprisingly easy, in comparison to other ferry rides. For those with mobility issues or young children, you might want to arrive early as there seemed to be limited seating on the top deck.
*Definitely wear sunscreen!* We did not do this, and I am still feeling the results. 20 minutes on the water plus the wait for the boat on either side is definitely enough time for a serious burn!
Have you taken the Wolfe Island Ferry, or spent time on the Island? Share your stories with me in the comments! What should I see next time I visit?
Having arrived in Kingston, Ontario in the midst of spring blossoming and blooming season, I took to the streets to seek out the character of this historic city. Home to 19th century limestone buildings, waterfront access to Lake Ontario, and university life at Queen’s University and the Royal Military College, the small-ish city is constantly bustling with market stalls, open windows to cafes and restaurants, and independent shops.
Many tourists book their tickets to St. John’s or Deer Lake or Gander, and then announce that they’ve set aside a week to “see Newfoundland.” Newfoundland, for the record, is huge. Not huge like Paris is a huge city, huge like it will take all day (if you start early) to get from one side to the other and there are actually things to see in the middle so you can’t just ‘do it’ in seven days.
That being said, there are plenty of things to do and see in seven days, and if you divide up the province, they can even be done well. This itinerary will cover the easternmost side of Newfoundland to get a taste for the cosmopolitan city life, as well as the small-town, quaint bits.
Fly into St. John’s International Airport, located about 20 minutes from downtown. If you’re lucky, the pilot will take you the scenic route, coming in over the ocean and the cliffs. Spend at least three nights in the city, if you can, to have enough time to see the sights, particularly if hiking is part of your plans. Take in various outdoor activities, including Signal Hill (from the Battery walk, and via the road) and Quidi Vidi Lake. Watch the sunrise from Cape Spear, the easternmost point in Canada, or coming in the fall to see the leaves at Rennie’s River Trail and Bowering Park.
Have brunch at Yellow Belly Brewery or the Fifth Ticket on Water Street, pick up souvenirs and local goods in the independent shops on Duckworth Street, and take in a show at LSPU Hall or at the Arts and Culture Centre. Dinner at Get Stuffed, Blue on Water, The Fish Exchange, or any of the other many restaurants downtown will leave you satisfied with local flavours and products, many of which are sourced directly from the producers, farmers, and fishermen.
Visit The Rooms museum for Newfoundland history, and the Craft Council on Duckworth for locally, and lovingly, made arts and crafts. Visit one of the many historical churches in downtown St. John’s, and get your picture taken in front of the jellybean-coloured row houses (just head up from Duckworth, away from the harbour, toward Gower Street, King’s Road, or others). And if boats agree with you (they don’t with me) by all means head down to the harbour and take one of the highly thought of tours to see icebergs, whales, and various other oceanic sights. Let me know how it is – I’ll be on land with a coffee (at Coffee Matters, Fixed, or The Rocket!).
Spend a day touring the Avalon Peninsula. From St. John’s, you are minutes from Middle Cove, Outer Cove, and Topsail Beach. Various East Coast Trail starting points dot the peninsula – visit their website for these details.
You’ll want at least two nights in Trinity, to accommodate both day trips and the various activities in town. The main highlight of Trinity is Rising Tide Theatre Festival, a summer festival of Newfoundland classics and historical pieces, featuring a majority of Newfoundland actors. Spend a day at the Festival to take in the Pageant – a roving theatrical production outlining the history of Trinity and the surrounding area – the dinner theatre, and a main stage production in the evening. If you wish to meet the actors, or locals, they can most likely be found at the pub – you’ll find it. Trinity Coffee Company is roasting small batch coffee in a very small town, and you’ll want to pick one up before heading off on the Skerwink Trail, near Port Rexton, an award-winning hike with spectacular views of the ocean, cliffs, wildlife and sea stacks.
Accommodations in and around Trinity are lovely, and limited – so book early, particularly if you’re traveling in August and September. Stay right in Trinity at the Artisan Inn, or at Fisher’s Loft in Port Rexton, just a few minutes down the road from town.
This historical town plays an interesting and important role in Newfoundland’s past, and the Fisherman’s Protective Union. The entire town appears locked in the early 1900’s. Tour the factory building and see the printing press, as well as archived pieces and historical tools and household items in the museum. The surrounding area is picturesque and worth visiting once you have explored the town itself.
One of the highlights of Newfoundland is wildlife. If you didn’t get a chance to see any puffins on your boat tour in St. John’s or Trinity, don’t miss a stop at Elliston. Bring your own binoculars, or, once you’ve parked your car on the side of the road, borrow a pair once you get there. You will be able to see the puffins – birds smaller than you might imagine – on the adjacent rock. Bring a blanket, or sit in the grass and enjoy the view. Stay all day if you wish – it’s not remotely corporate, and no one will ask you to leave.
Bonavista is day-tripping distance from Trinity, or another spot worth spending a night, depending on your schedule. First on the agenda is a tour of the Matthew, a replica of John Cabot’s ship, appropriately located at his first landing place. From Cape Bonavista Lighthouse Provincial Historic Site, you may be able to spot an iceberg, and you’ll get a taste of Newfoundland history in the quaint downtown.
Take in the cliffs, the fishing boats, and the rugged coastline, before heading twenty minutes down the coast in the direction of Newman’s Cove to Bonavista Social Club at Amherst’s Cove for lunch (open during the summer, only). The self-sufficient restaurant produces and grows their own products for breads, soups, salads, and pizzas.
If you manage to cover this segment of Newfoundland in a week, you’ll have been very successful (and potentially overwhelmed). But, if you still want more, carry on west to Gander, Fogo Island, Twilingate, and Terra Nova National Park. I would recommend taking as much time as you possibly can free up to see as much of the province as possible. Nothing you see will be remotely close to mediocre, and may even make you question your eyesight. Seeing that many cool things in a week can have that effect.
Vieux-Montréal, or Old Montreal, is one of the major highlights of a visit to Montreal, Quebec. Home to Notre-Dame Basilica, the old port, cobblestone streets, and a genuine European flair, travellers can spend an entire weekend in this urban district, one of the oldest in North America.
In summer, the port comes alive with a variety of festivals, Cirque du Soleil performances, zip line rigging, and buskers. But for those who want to forgo the crowds and hype, the cobbled, restaurant-lined alleys are entertaining in themselves, with shopping and eating and coffee-drinking galore.
Olive et Gourmando – This hipster cafe and eatery serves up fresh sandwiches, breads and pastries, and a delicious brunch. Thanks to some good publicity in the blogosphere, it is often very busy, and brunch-goers can expect to wait in the entry, or spill out onto Rue Saint Paul, before getting a cozy table beside other Francophone and Anglophone diners.
Marché de la Villette – Across the road from Olive et Gourmando, Marche de la Villette offers modern French cuisine, deli meats, and fresh cheese selections in an traditional, cabin-like setting. Stepping in is like entering the perfect Quebecois cabin, with hard wood tables, low beams, and large, wholesome dishes. I highly recommend anything that comes in a skillet, hot from the oven, with a fried egg still cooking on top.
Cantinho de Lisboa Épicerie– For a quick bite of breakfast or a light lunch, try this Portugese-inspired market and cafe. Soup, salad, and full breakfasts are available in house, along with coffee, breads, and pastries. To go, pick up condiments and treats from Portugal, as well as those made in-house.
Lunch à Porter – Brown bag lunches will never be the same. Everything is Lunch a Porter is screaming to come home with me every time I stop in. From Bento boxes to water bottles and thermoses, lunching at your desk has never looked so cute.
Espace Pepin Home – The most chic and Quebecois-feeling shop I’ve ever been in for homewares, dishes, furnishings, and sweet things for the kitchen that I certainly don’t need but end up dreaming about for months following a visit. Stop in for elevensies to have a cup of vegetarian soup so you can imagine the cafe space at the back of the shop really is your kitchen.
Nüspace – I found this gem on my last trip to Montreal, and happened to be in while a group of very young children were entranced by a collection of vintage toys, a highlight of this spot. Also to be found: mix and match chairs, a room of rugs, housewarming gifts for the goof in your group, and the funkiest collection of accessories to brighten up your blank slate. Find them on Instagram (@nuspacemobilier) for inspiration, and to begin your wish-list.
Librairie Bertrand – One of my favourite independent bookstores in Montreal, the staff here say very little without prompting, allowing for solitary browsing through the huge stacks of both French and English selections. In March, Irish literary options were prominently displayed, as were recent award-winning French novels and poetry collections. Pick up a combined French-English translation of a classic to improve your language skills – one page, two languages, and no need for a dictionary!
Délices Érable & Cie – The Canadian maple syrup chain is expanding rapidly, and now has four stores in the province of Quebec (including this one in Old Montreal) and one in Vancouver. Stop in for gift sets of pure Canadian maple syrup (I brought one home with syrup, maple sugar, and maple butter – YUM) or have a coffee and maple dessert in the fresh and modern cafe. We ran in to escape a brief rainstorm, and were thrilled to find ourselves surrounded by maple everything. Try whatever is being sampled at the front of the store- it’s all delicious.
Flyjin Café – This hole in the wall espresso bar on Rue Saint-Pierre could be missed easily, but should be a destination stop for an afternoon caffeine hit. Serving high-test espresso (with beans from Anchored Coffee of Dartmouth, Nova Scotia!) and freshly juiced oranges,
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 nation’s capital because it’s a big bore. I was, naturally, appalled (though simultaneously amused at the gross generalizations people can make about cities they’ve never seen). Ottawa is chock-full of wholesome, patriotic activities for even the most over-educated Canadian history student to enjoy. And for the common folk like me, there are still things to do! A major shock, I’m sure. So, for all you international budget travellers who have read your Lonely Planet guide and learned that CANADA, of all places, is the top tourist destination of 2017, I am here to offer the surprising information that a visit to Ottawa is not a waste of time, can in fact be a cheap addition to your travels, and both fun and interesting! (Don’t fall off your chair).
One of the major attractions in Ottawa is, of course, Canada’s Parliament, home to the House of Commons, the Senate, and Canada’s government, where laws are made and gargoyles roam free. Centre Block, the most noticeable and symmetrical building on Parliament Hill, houses the Peace Tower, the tall, flag-bearing, clock-wearing structure marking time for the entire country. The Peace Tower is open to the public, and is a great place to start a tour of Ottawa, as you can orient yourself in the city with the picturesque view.
Admission to the Peace Tower is FREE (as is access to all Parliament Buildings), however, you must obtain a ticket before accessing the Peace Tower.
In order to acquire your ticket, head directly across the street from Parliament to 90 Wellington Street, where a smiling Canada Parks student will equip you with a same day ticket, allowing you self-guided access to the Peace Tower, as well as the Memorial Chamber. Tickets are offered on a first-come, first-served basis.
In some cases, a time stamp will appear on your ticket. While it is not necessary to leave the Peace Tower by the time listed, you must be starting your visit before the latest time listed on the ticket.
* If you are taking the full tour of Parliament, both the Peace Tower and the Memorial Chamber are included, so you would not need to tour them separately, nor obtain separate tickets for each.
The elevator to the top of the Peace Tower accommodates approximately 7 people, and is an 18 second ride each way. Prior to accessing the elevator, you will be required to pass through security screening. A coat check is available at 90 Wellington if you wish to expedite this process. Otherwise, an RCMP officer will gently handle all of your belongings (and laugh at anything odd you might have hiding in your bag…) and you will pass through a metal detector just like at the airport, though with no risk of being confronted by a disgruntled flight attendant at the other side.
The elevator ride includes a narrated history of the tower – if you have a funny guide like ours – and a description of the view. The student accompanying our elevator reminded us not to get too dizzy trying to catch sight of the bells, somewhat visible through the elevator window.
While there is no hurry to move quickly at the top of the tower, it is a small space. The entire visit would generally take no more than an hour.
Learn about the original clock mechanism, and play I Spy a Gargoyle from the windows at the top of the tower.
Be sure to take time to peer across the Ottawa River to view Quebec on one side and Ontario on the other, and take in views of the Ottawa skyline, and the funky roof of the National Gallery of Canada.
If you’ve been paying any attention to Canadian anything this year, you’ll know it is Canada 150 – the 150th anniversary of Confederation. This is a huge country, and has been increasing in popularity as a tourist destination in recent years. So, it seems like the perfect opportunity to put together the Ultimate Canadian Travel Bucket List, for Canadians and international tourists, in honour of Canada 150. Here it is!
Drive the Sea-to-Sky Highway (BC)
Have an ice cream at Peggy’s Cove (NS)
Ride the train through the Rocky Mountains (AB)
See a Roughriders football game (SK)
Kayak with belugas in Hudson Bay (MB)
Cruise Western Brook Pond (NL)
Skate on the Rideau Canal (ON)
Tour Grand Manan Island (NB)
View the Montreal skyline from Mont-Royal (QC)
See the tall ships in Halifax Harbour (NS)
Find the giant potato (PEI)
See crowds of puffins in Elliston (NL)
Enjoy the midnight sun in Canada’s north (YK)
Auyuittuq National Park of Canada (NU)
Cruise with narwhals (NWT)
Enjoy Acadien food and music (NB)
Chill with polar bears in Churchill (MB)
Stanley Park, Vancouver (BC)
Climb a mountain in Banff (AB)
Watch the ocean-like waves of wheat fields (SK)
See the Royal Winnipeg Ballet in their hometown (MB)
View Toronto from the CN Tower (ON)
Eat maple syrup off snow (QC)
Bouctouche Dunes Boardwalk (NB)
Drive the Cabot Trail (NS)
Visit the Anne of Green Gables House (PEI)
Hike in Torngat Mountains National Park, Labrador (NL)
See Niagara Falls from Canada’s side (ON)
Visit Whitehorse and Dawson City on the Klondike Trail of the gold rush (YK)
Sail the Northwest Passage (NU)
Tree-Trek and Toboggan in Whistler (BC)
Hang out in the Muttart Gardens (AB)
Pitch a tent in Grasslands National Park (SK)
Ferry over to Toronto Island (ON)
Ride the funicular in Old Quebec City (QC)
Visit St. Andrews By the Sea (NB)
Float on the MacKenzie River – Canada’s largest river system (NWT)
Learn about the expulsion of the Acadiens at Grand Pre National Historic Site (NS)
Snag your own cod on Change Islands and Fogo Island (NL)
Drive the Alaska Highway (YK)
Catch the northern lights in Canada’s arctic (NU)
Cross the Capilano Suspension Bridge (BC)
Peer over the edge of Cape Breton Island at Meat Cove (NS)
Relax in the Blue Mountains (ON)
Tour Head-Smashed-In-Buffalo Jump Park (AB)
Cruise the South Saskatchewan River (SK)
Take in the Winnipeg Folk Festival or Wine Festival – or both, though sadly not at the same time (MB)
See a show at Massey Hall (ON)
Ski at Mont-Tremblant (QC)
Watch the tide come in at Fundy National Park (NB)
The town of Royan, France, is located north of Bordeaux, near La Rochelle, on the west coast of the country. It is known as a seaside resort town, with beaches stretching in both directions, and is centrally located for touring vineyards, shopping, cultural activities, and the many surrounding communities. There are many accommodation options in the area, including a Club Med Resort.
We traveled on the shoulder season, so most of the tourist stops were just opening, and the ‘resort feeling’ of the town was not in full swing. A stop at the tourist information centre in town was our first stop, where we were told that the highlight of the area was Zoo De La Palmyre, home to over 1600 animals.
Entry fees were reasonable in comparison to other large zoos – 17 Euros for an adult, and 13 Euros for children aged 3 through 12.
Unlike other zoos in North America, the animals at La Palmyre were far more free to roam. The pens were large and natural-looking, and there was a notable lack of glass walls, high fences, and warning signs. European attractions in general are less concerned with warning visitors about their safety, and more reliant on the common sense of tourists.
Because of the lack of high walls and fencing, the giraffes are able to get up close and personal with visitors!
While some zoo-goers like to think of feeding hour as prime visiting time, we (completely accidentally) arrived during… mating season. Elephants and ostriches and rhinos – oh my! Not for the faint of heart.
When we visited, we got hand stamps at the entry, and were permitted to exit the zoo throughout the day for coffee breaks, or to have lunch in the town, and then to return without charge to the zoo. This was one of the best arrangements for this; in most zoos, museums and other attractions, the food is over-priced and less than delicious. Allowing visitors to leave and return solved this, as there are many cafes in Royan which offer a better meal and greater cultural experience.
As Canadians, French is not a complete foreign language, but for those non-French speaking travellers, the zoo is relatively bilingual, and you shouldn’t have any trouble with entry, or learning about the animals and their habitats.
The zoo is a 6 minute drive from the Club Med Resort, and a 5-10 minute drive from camping parks for tents and trailers.
Opening hours and entry prices for Zoo De La Palmyre are listed (in English) on their website here, along with times for the sea lion and parrot shows.
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)
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
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
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?