Art Blogging 12: Canadian Gallery Rec.: Bata Shoe Museum

I’ve been very fortunate to have the chance to explore a large number of art galleries in my own country, or at least in the eastern half of it. Today’s post is going to look at one art gallery that I particularly recommend – or, at least, I consider it to be an art gallery.

All about shoes: Footwear through the ages. Image from batashoemuseum.ca
All about shoes: Footwear through the ages. Image from batashoemuseum.ca

The Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto is my recommendation, and here’s why. As someone who doesn’t particularly care about shoes (and I can’t wear anything with a heel due to an old sports injury in my ankle), I think it’s pretty remarkable that this gallery can make me care about foot-coverings for the duration of a visit. And boy, does it do that! The permanent collection that shows the evolution of footwear through time and cultures is really fascinating. The displays are colourful and well-curated, easy to follow, and there’s plenty of space to sit down and contemplate your surroundings (nice for someone like me who takes forever to get through exhibits).

Two temporary exhibits that I’ve visited made quite the impression, one that was on Canadian native culture and another on French 18th-century shoes. Oh, and another on basketball shoes. This year is their 20th anniversary, so I suspect the event line-up will be wonderful. At a glance, the exhibits Standing Tall: The Curious History of Men in Heels and Fashion Victims both look wonderful and luckily are on until next summer, so I hope to have a chance to visit.

Apparently a shoe from France meant for crushing chestnuts. Image via batashoemuseum.ca
Apparently a shoe from France meant for crushing chestnuts. Image via batashoemuseum.ca

Admission is quite reasonable especially for students, and they have a pay-what-you-want night on Thursdays. If you’re in Toronto and looking for a slightly eccentric museum pick, this is the place for you! Check out their website here.

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Decorating Your Dorm on a Budget

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Going through some old photos I found some of my dorm room from the first year I was in university. Are you ready for this? Okay, look.

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Did I have way too much shit in that room? Yes, absolutely. But for some students (like me) I think it’s important to take the time to decorate and make a dorm room fun. It was a great way for me to destress, I enjoyed changing up the decorations, and my friends thought it was fun when they came over. It was a tiny single room so making it cheerful was important.

So here are my suggestions on things you can pick up for cheap and incorporate into your decorations. Everything keeps in mind that these things need to be temporary, not damage the walls, and be relatively inexpensive.

1. Gift Wrap

I was always confused why nobody else picked up on doing this. I used to buy rolls of cheap gift wrap from the dollar store (they usually had some solid colours, sometimes metallics) and put them up on the walls for blocks of colour. In my dorm photo you can see that I used an ill-fitting pink wrap to cover the bulletin board. A larger size roll would have covered it completely. It makes a nice base for sticking other things on, too.

2. Postcards and other papers

If you’re like me and have hoarded postcards from travels and holidays, as well as from places I’ve lived, then these make great additions to collages or bulletin boards. Photos work in the same way, but I found that everyone had photos up, so that wasn’t so unique a suggestion. I’ve also put up pages from magazines, flyers from shows I’ve attended, and pamphlets from various things.

3. Flowers 

In an ideal world we would all either be rich enough to buy fresh flowers all the time, or live in a climate where it doesn’t snow. I’m in neither of these categories so I used a lot of fake flowers in decorating my room. They were easy to pin onto bulletin boards, put into empty wine bottles to make a display, or stuck in bookshelves to try and cheer up those textbooks.

4. Curtains

Here’s where I ended up going a little overboard, but who cares? I got adhesive hooks from the dollar store and really cheap curtain rods (or you can use wire or whatever you can find) and hung sheer curtains from the ceiling to make a canopy bed. Was it frivolous? Absolutely. Did I feel like I was living in a cool fort while I studied? Totally. Add in some fairy lights and you’re in a happy study palace.

5. Paper Chains

I would get really tired from reading and buy a big pack of construction paper and work on making paper chains. It was nice and brainless and they were also fun to hang in the common rooms for parties. These are easy to make in school colours so it can be fun. Different shapes are nice too, if you have a lot of spare staples you can join together circles or diamonds and hang them in front of windows for a nice effect.

6. Tissue Paper Flowers

I made a bunch of these for my second apartment, which was much bigger, and I had a habit of decorating it with giant things since I had so much space. I had a big cardboard tree at one point in the corner, too. Anyways, the flowers are giant and fluffy and can be in whatever colours you want. Check out online for tutorials if you don’t know what I’m talking about (or maybe I’ll do a tutorial eventually!)

Do you have other ideas for decorating a dorm room on a budget? I miss the days of being able to do whatever I wanted in a small space like that! It really made the creativity work hard.

Surviving School While Studying Abroad

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Sometimes it seems like the least important part of studying abroad is, well… the studying. When a new country, new friends, and new experiences are just waiting for you to enjoy them, it can seem impossible to remember to take care of schoolwork at the same time. Lots of students that travel abroad will say that they learned more outside the classroom, after all. But here are some tips to help prioritize that pesky coursework.

take interesting classes

Often you’ll have some flexibility about what you take. Try and enrol for courses that really catch your interest. Introductory courses are rarely much fun and can be easy to ignore; if a class is challenging but exciting, you’re more likely to want to spend time on the work.

befriend profs and classmates

This will make you accountable for going to the classes. If the professor knows who you are, they’ll notice if you’re missing, especially in smaller classroom settings. Befriending classmates means you have someone to sit with, study with, and go for after-class drinks with. Where’s the downside to that?!

make study trips

When you have a free afternoon, pack up your study materials and catch a train or bus to somewhere interesting. Work on the trip over, and then find yourself a nice beach, cafe, or library to settle down in. The change in location will keep things fresh. I did this with Penzance, on my days off. I would take the 2-hour train ride down, take a walk on the beach, then sit in a cafe and work until it was time to train back home. Much more fun than sitting in a dorm room working!

live close to campus

This may be difficult, depending on your situation, but the closer to campus the better. If you have a big walk or bus ride ahead of you, it’s much easier to just hit the snooze button, especially on bad-weather days. If the distance is shorter you’re much more likely to muster up the strength to attend class.

You’ll be glad that you went to class and did your assignments once you are back home, and you remember that your time abroad still shows up on your transcript (unless you are lucky enough to have a pass/fail system!) Different school systems can be hard to integrate into, such as the ones in Canada and England. Remember that the bare minimum is attending class, and you’ll be able to figure out the rest as you go along!

My Carry-On Bag for Short Flights

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I’m heading out to Halifax next week, a flight that I take fairly regularly, and was thinking how the entire process of packing feels automatic now. It just takes a few minutes to pull everything together now, and I thought I’d share with all of you what I drag along with me — on short haul flights, at least.

I consider a short-haul flight anything less than six hours. I’ll do another post sometime about long-hauls, but this will do for now. I’m a big sleeper on airplanes, and I think my carry-on items represent that.

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1. The Bag
I’ve got a backpack that I could use to carry everything, which would probably be more comfortable were I going on foot from the airport. However, when I have a ride to my destination or am taking a taxi I’m more than happy to use my faux leather duffle bag. It’s really straight forward, one big open space, and I can use it for a few things (as I do here) or throw enough clothes in it for a week. It’s surprisingly capacious. When looking for a bag like this online, try searching for ‘weekender bag’ or sift through ‘duffle bag’ while avoiding anything that might look in place at a gym.

2. Phone and Headphones
This is obvious but I figured for the sake of being thorough I would include it. Don’t forget your headphones or you’ll be the saddest traveller. I like earbuds instead of big headphones because I always fall asleep and earbuds don’t bother me between my head and pillow. But perhaps you can find some really comfortable big headphones!

3. Lip Balm
I wither like a raisin when flying so I love to bring lip balm and also a travel sized hand cream if I have one. Don’t bring anything too scented since you’re in a closed space with strangers who may have sensitivities. I love Eos lip balms (who doesn’t?) but also anything from Burt’s Bees. I’ve gotten some great ones at organic food stores before too, I’m happiest using locally made ones.

4. Sunglasses
Even if it’s an overcast day on the ground, once you’re above the clouds the sun is bright and strong. I never close my window as I love looking outside when flying so I throw on my sunglasses every time. Also makes sleeping a bit more pleasant if you’re shy about sleeping where others can see you.

5. Gravol
I always bring Gravol to knock me out for flights that I want to sleep through. If there’s going to be rough weather and turbulence I definitely want to sleep through it, and Gravol makes me calm. Definitely take it on an empty stomach if you want fast effects. I’ve done that at the gate and been fast asleep before the plane even takes off. Helps if you’re going to be adjusting to a different time zone and you want to force yourself into a new sleep pattern! (I’m not sponsored by this company, by the way.)

6. Watch
I make sure to wear my actual watch when flying through different time zones. Not only does my phone not adjust until we land but I like to set the local time for my destination when we leave. This gives a head start on adjusting to time differences, and it helps keep track of how long you’ve been flying for.

7. Water Bottle
Because I am constantly protesting against places that force you to buy expensive beverages I usually travel with an EMPTY reusable water bottle. Make sure there’s nothing in it pre-security. I just fill it up wherever I can find a tap after getting through to the gate (make sure you’re in a place where it’s okay to drink the tap water, of course). I would also recommend one of those bottles that fold up when they are empty. That would save space.

8. Passport and Holder
Obviously you’re bringing your passport, unless you’re going somewhere domestic that you don’t need it. I always use it as ID just in case. I look cute in the photo, anyways. I have a Roots leather passport case that I love because it makes it so much easier to find the damn thing in my bag. Passports are small and dark and easily lost. Keep it in a holder.

9. Scarf
I always bring a big scarf because airplanes are cold and I use it as a blanket when napping. Pretty self explanatory. Don’t bring anything itchy.

10. Neck Pillow
They are the absolute lamest thing to tote around but I love them. I have a grey one and even use it at home sometimes. I’m pretty uncool. But nothing makes for a more comfortable flight that a place to lay your weary head. If space is an issue get one that is inflatable but with a cloth case. I’ve borrowed one of those before and it was fantastically convenient and comfortable.

11. Entertainment
Not pictured above, but of course you’re going to need to be entertained. Not everyone wants to sleep the flight away like I do. If you’re an important business person or maybe a writer you can bust out your laptop, but that’s rarely comfortable for the people sitting beside you and is cumbersome to fit on the tray tables. I’ll load movies onto my iPad and carry a book (paperback usually), or bring a notebook for writing. I’ve seen some people bring knitting onto flights and I think that is awesome. Just don’t bring anything sharp and I would even recommend plastic needles, but that’s probably not mandatory.

12. Snacks
Also not pictured above, snacks are imperative to my happiness on airplanes. I will occasionally cave and buy the overpriced airport snacks but more often that not I’ll pack a lunchbox and take it with me. Liquids are the only problem going through security so I’ll pack a sandwich and some veggie sticks and bag of almonds. Again try to be considerate of allergens and avoid peanuts especially. There may be food import laws if you’re travelling internationally so just check and see that you’re in the clear to bring snacks. You usually will be.

Okay, well I think I’ve procrastinated packing long enough! Happy travels everyone, and if you have anything to add to this list, let me know in the comments! xo

How to Make Friends When Studying Abroad

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It is a fact that international students are some of the most fun, open-minded and interesting people that you can meet when studying or travelling abroad. It may seem daunting at first to try and make friends when you arrive in a new country, especially if you have never been there before, or are travelling alone. But fear not! There are plenty of sure-fire ways to make new acquaintances.

international societies

Every campus that I’ve been to has had some sort of organization for international students to get together and meet each other. They run a variety of events and socials, and this is a great chance to meet others who are in the same boat as you. You might find a friend here who is willing to tag along to other places with you, too!

campus clubs

It’s important to get to know the locals, as well. If there’s a club day on campus, go check it out and find a group that is involved in a hobby you enjoy. You’ll already have something in common, and they expect that new members won’t know anybody when starting out!

volunteering

It might be too difficult to get a part-time job while studying abroad, or maybe your visa doesn’t allow it. But you can always get involved in volunteer experiences, both around campus and in the city. Check local message boards and ask around to see who needs volunteers. A great way to meet like-minded people.

couchsurfing

I met some of my favourite friends abroad through couchsurfing.com, and other travellers I know found roommates through it, too! People who are passing through the area love to meet up for drinks or socializing, particularly on the weekends. Check out what locals are registered as interested in meeting up, and look and see if there are any meet-ups planned for the region. Everyone I’ve met through this has been really free-spirited and fun.

but don't stress

Going off on your own might be scary if you don’t know anybody right away. But don’t worry about it — friends come naturally as you start establishing a new routine. Roommates, classmates, and neighbours are all around and eventually work their way into your life. Being social isn’t easy for everyone, but taking a relaxed approach to it makes it much easier. Have fun and don’t take things too seriously. But don’t forget to do your schoolwork!

The big question: “Should I change my major?”

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One question seemed to crop up with all my friends in University at some point or another. Whether they had spent one semester or seven, there was always a moment in insecurity whether they had chosen the right academic path.

The first time I heard about this problem of indecision was right before I left the job that I had all through high school. I was heading to university in a few weeks and all the older staff members had plenty of advice to share. “I changed majors four times,” one of the librarians told me as she was scanning someone’s library card. “Finally I had to graduate so I just picked something. I still don’t know that I made the right choice.”

That certainly wasn’t comforting, as I was heading into a program I knew little to nothing about. I was starting the theatre studies program at Guelph, and though I had taken plenty of media courses, theatre was completely foreign to me. I was friends with some kids who were in the school play, but that was about it.

After a semester of theatre classes I quickly figured out that I was in the wrong program. I liked the field trips to see local performances and the brief lectures about ancient Greek plays, but I couldn’t get my head around the modern scripts and performance art. I sat in my dorm room and tried to think of what I could possibly do that would be enjoyable for my next semester.

I remembered my high school history teacher, and how much fun he had made studying ancient history. He let us use the classroom at lunch times to watch HBO’s Rome and we spent more time studying the Imperial period than anything else that year. A little googling and a few emails later I was meeting with the head of the Classics department, and he enrolled me in all the right courses the next semester.

I never looked back since that change, and I’ve never considered switching majors since. I found my niche and though it has been challenging, it’s also been rewarding and above all, interesting. This is the stuff that catches my attention and that I want to continue learning about even outside of the classroom. I think that’s a good sign that you’ve found your right major.

So my advice is: absolutely change your major, if you think you’ll be happier. Being able to find your passion is a luxury and university will often allow you to do that. Try elective courses to get a flavour for different subjects if you’re unsure. Schedule meetings with professors to talk it over. The best part is, if you think you’ve made a mistake, you can always change back. You won’t lose credits for experimenting, after all.

What to Pack When Studying Abroad

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I spent ten months studying abroad in university. Never having been to Europe before, I packed up my things and was shipped off to the University of Plymouth in England. I didn’t return home to Canada once during the entire time, and let me tell you, it was a learning experience!

One suitcase and a backpack were all I had with me when I landed on foreign soil. In retrospect, I could have done a lot worse packing, sure. But I definitely could have done better. So, here are my recommendations for what to bring if you’re embarking on a similar adventure.

clothes

Here’s the hardest part — how to decide what of all your beloved outfits to bring along? I was not strict enough with myself. Listen: you can buy nearly everything when you get there. Pack statement pieces that you can’t live without, sure, and enough basics to get you through a week, maybe. But there’s no sense in bringing every shirt and camisole and pair of leggings you own, even if that’s all you wear. Budget for a wardrobe when you arrive, even if it’s basic. In the UK, places like Primark and Next can help you get started.

shoesAre you experiencing winter where you’ll be? If so, boots are expensive and if you already own some, it might be easiest to just wear them on the plane so you’ll have them with you. I brought a pair of leather knee-high brown boots, and a pair of brown leather dock shoes. Both are staples for me and I picked up running shoes for cheap after I settled in. Fancier shoes for going out are abundant and pretty low-cost, if you aren’t looking to invest in designer pieces.

cosmetics

I have a fairly rigid makeup routine so bringing along a cosmetics bag was necessary. But in terms of shampoo, lotions, anything you can buy at a drug store, don’t bring it along with you. It’ll be fun to try out new products, anyways.

laptop

If you’re studying, you will inevitably have a laptop. Get a back-up drive, they’re so small these days and will absolutely save you if something happens to your laptop while travelling — I got off a plane once to find that my laptop, which had been in my carry-on, had a complete motherboard failure and I lost everything. Don’t let this happen to you. I also travel with a tablet as it is lighter and great for outings. I stopped into a coffee shop every time I got lost to use their wifi and google maps. Also great for on-the-go blogging.

phone

Cancel your phone plan. Or at least put it on hold. You don’t need it when you’re travelling abroad for extended periods. If it’s useful (like an iPhone or other large tablet-like phone) bring it along to use on wi-fi. Otherwise just forget it and pick up a new phone when you get there. I got the cheapest and saddest phone for 10 pounds and then used a pay-as-you-go service while I was in England. It could send texts and make calls, and even had a game on it. Plus it was absolutely indestructible. Did the job admirably.

camera

I’m not here for camera-shaming: use whatever you’ve got, and use it well. I alternate between taking photos on my iPhone, my point-and-shoot digital camera, and my Nikon. I travel with all three; I’ll leave the big ones at home if i’m going out at night, or in a big city I don’t feel safe lugging it around. There’s a time and a place for each one, but I’ve never been disappointed with a simple iPhone shot to preserve the memory.

electronics

In general, don’t bother bringing any. You’ll need adaptors, and some things just fizzle out. Hair dryers, curlers, and straighters are all out of the question — I fried my straightener so please learn from my lesson. Evaluate if you really, really need one, then buy it there. I could surrender my straightener for a good blowdryer, if the situation called for it. And generally any electronics that need a grounding plug should just be left behind — if you have a Macbook, get the little thing that lets you change the plug for the charger. That’s one piece of technology you don’t want exploding in your face.

gifts from home

This is something I almost forgot, but my Mom was good enough to help me out with. If you’re making friends from other countries, or need to give a thank-you gift to hosts while travelling, bring along something from your country to give as a gift. I had a bunch of maple candies and tiny maple syrup bottles (which, by the way, I never found for sale in the UK). I ended up cracking one open for my own pancake use, actually, but that’s neither here nor there.

At the end of the day, you’re going to have to fit it all in one bag, and bring it all back in the same thing. If there’s room in your suitcase going over, that can be filled on the return trip. Shipping things back can be expensive, but might be worth it if you’re collecting amazing souvenirs through your extensive travels. I was lucky enough to have my family visit me and help bring back all my junk after my year abroad — a favour they love to remind me about!