C/O Yoohyun Park

How are international students staying connected with loved ones this winter break?

During August of 2021, Hamilton saw a massive influx of students returning to McMaster University, including a large number of international students who were finally able to return to Canada. Due to the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on previous years, this is the first semester many international students are able to attend university in person and live away from home for the first time.

Dipto Prasun Nath, a fourth-year business student, spoke about his experiences during the holidays as an international student and his plans for the upcoming winter break. 

Over his winter breaks before the COVID-19 pandemic, Nath met up with his international friends from Bangladesh, whom he has been friends with for eighteen years. Although they’re all in Canada, they are separated by university so they have often picked a starting point to meet before travelling as a group.

“It’s nice to have your school friends around. When we move to Canada, it’s a new place where we don’t have any family. So whenever we get together with school friends we always have like, nostalgic feelings,” said Nath.

This year, Nath said he and his friends may be connecting through Whatsapp calls to keep in touch. Nath also commented on how each winter break has been a different experience for him. In his first year, Nath was invited by his roommate's family to stay over during the break.

“Every time it’s a new experience, right? I made really good friends at McMaster, I have to say that. One of my roommates, they were really nice to me. I had [the] experience of spending the winter break at a friend’s place,” said Nath.

“Every time it’s a new experience, right? I made really good friends at McMaster, I have to say that. One of my roommates, they were really nice to me. I had [the] experience of spending the winter break at a friend’s place.”

Dipto Prasun Nath, fourth-year business student

Last year, Nath stayed in Bangladesh and continued classes online, keeping the apartment he had rented during the first half of his second year. This year, he will be in Canada once again for the winter break and for the first time, his family will be visiting him for the winter break in Canada. He says he is looking forward to the visit as he misses his parents.

“In Bangladesh the coldest we get is like 10 or 15 degrees . . . so we never got to experience snow,” said Nath.

Nath said he and his family are looking forward to visiting Vancouver and Montreal during the break.

Another international student, Cleon D’Souza, plans to return to Dubai this winter break to visit his family for the first time since 2018. He looks forward to being in Dubai to celebrate Christmas, his parents' anniversary and his father’s birthday.

“The thing I miss the most is my mom’s cooking because I have not had my mom’s cooking in so, so long. I can’t wait to spend time with my dad,” said D’Souza.

“The thing I miss the most is my mom’s cooking because I have not had my mom’s cooking in so, so long. I can’t wait to spend time with my dad.”

Cleon D’Souza, Fourth-year mathematics and statistics student

D’Souza also talked about meeting his friends during the holidays in person, instead of over the internet like he had during previous winter breaks. 

“100 per cent I’m so excited . . . Usually every winter it’s [my friends] meeting and me just being virtually available in Canada. This time I can actually physically meet them, see them [and] spend lots of time with them,” said D’Souza. 

“100 per cent I’m so excited . . . Usually every winter it’s [my friends] meeting and me just being virtually available in Canada. This time I can actually physically meet them, see them [and] spend lots of time with them.”

Cleon D’Souza, Fourth-year mathematics and statistics student

Not only will D’Souza meet up with old friends, but he will also have the chance to reconnect with high school teachers and volunteers from his church that he hasn’t seen since he left to study in Canada. 

“There’s also other events, like meeting my highschool teachers . . . a lot of them played a really important role in my life. I can’t wait to meet with them and discuss things that they’ve taught me that I use in my real life,” said D’Souza. 

After so many lockdowns due to the pandemic, there is more catching up this winter break to be done than usual. Whether it’s through Whatsapp calls, flights home or visits with friends, international students are finding ways to stay connected to their friends and family this winter break.

Gugu Mpofu shares her experiences of self-discovery, wellness and being Black in South Korea

C/O @gugumpofu

Travelling is a powerful way to broaden your perspective, grow your mindset and indulge in self-discovery. Every year, many students choose to study abroad or take a gap year to discover the world and seek new experiences. However, travelling for Black, Indigenous and People of Colour, especially as a woman alone, can be scary.

Researching the safety of the destination for BIPOC is an important part of preparing for a trip abroad. Nonetheless, this did not stop McMaster alumna Gugu Mpofu from moving halfway across the globe to South Korea to teach English.

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Mpofu had wanted to become a teacher since she was in high school. It was also then that she was first introduced to South Korean pop culture through K-dramas and K-pop. Four years after graduating from McMaster in 2014 with a degree in anthropology, she made the bold decision to move to a small city called Jeoncheon in South Korea and teach English.

Although Mpofu was excited to start her new journey in Korea, as a Black woman, it still came with certain fears.

“I was really scared of racism. That was my biggest fear. I was scared to go outside during the day [for the first month] because I was like, “People could see me,” and so I [went] out at night and covered myself up just in case. But nothing [racist] happened in my city,” said Mpofu.

“I was really scared of racism. That was my biggest fear. I was scared to go outside during the day [for the first month] because I was like, “People could see me,” and so I [went] out at night and covered myself up just in case. But nothing [racist] happened in my city,”

Gugu Mpofu

The locals’ response to seeing Mpofu was mostly of surprise and curiosity. Living in an ethnically homogenous country, some were seeing a Black person for the first time. They wanted to learn more about her and approached her with many questions about her story and background.

However, acts such as old ladies touching Mpofu’s hair have occurred throughout her time there. She also recalls one incident when one of her students was feeling her skin and comparing it to their own skin out of curiosity. Despite these incidents, Mpofu was glad that she was placed in a smaller city because to her surprise, she faced more overt racism in larger cities.

Most of the discrimination in bigger cities occurred in the night scene. She has been denied access to a nightclub that claimed to not allow foreigners in even though she witnessed white girls walk in before her.

Another time, she tried to tell a DJ not to use the N-word, only for the DJ to respond with hostility saying, “This is Korea, I can do whatever I want. If you don’t like it, you can leave.”

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Much of the racism towards other people of colour in South Korea comes from stereotypes picked up from Western media and ignorance of the country’s own problem with racism.

Recently, with increasing global attention from the rise of Korean pop culture and movements such as Black Lives Matter, Mpofu has noticed more discussions about racism in South Korea. She has had conversations with her Korean co-workers and seen more conversations on social media platforms, such as TikTok, about BLM and Korea’s prejudices against other people of colour. Although small, there were also a few BLM protests held in South Korea.

Mpofu found her first few months difficult to adjust to the new culture. The greatest source of support and help for Mpofu was her students, who are still her favourite part of her job. She was her students’ first foreign teacher and they were excited to get to know her.

Living in a small city, teaching is one of the most popular work opportunities for foreigners. This has allowed Mpofu to also meet others who hail from outside of South Korea and even fellow Canadians.

Moving across the world to South Korea has taught Mpofu that she is resilient.   

“I have much more strength than I thought I did and I can do anything as long as I put my mind to it. I don’t let fear stop me. I think [moving to South Korea] was one of the best decisions I’ve made,” said Mpofu.

“I have much more strength than I thought I did and I can do anything as long as I put my mind to it. I don’t let fear stop me. I think [moving to South Korea] was one of the best decisions I’ve made,”

Gugu Mpofu

Mpofu has also learned more about herself and become more adventurous and outgoing. She is proud of her growth as an independent woman who is able to handle difficult situations on her own and is comfortable being by herself. She has also travelled to other countries within Southeast Asia and discovered more about other culture’s ways of life.

Apart from her job as an English teacher, Mpofu shares her enthusiasm for wellness and travel through her Instagram account where she showcases ways of self-love, growth and self-care. By documenting her experiences in a foreign country as a Black woman, she hopes to show that it is safe for BIPOC to come to these places and have a positive experience.

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The Mindfulness Passport is another aspect of her blog that focuses strictly on wellness and self-awareness. She offers free journal prompts to help people with self-doubt, confidence and healing.

With limited opportunities to travel during the current pandemic, these journal prompts offer a way to practice mindfulness and wellness at home. Being vulnerable and authentic with her own wellness journey has always been important to Mpofu and she is grateful for the positive responses from her audience who are on a similar path and have a similar passion for travel.

“I became this confident woman who was comfortable in her own skin [through travelling] and I just wanted to show other people that they could also be authentically confident,” explained Mpofu.

As a wellness coach in-training, Mpofu hopes to inspire and help others to be open-minded, curious and become their authentic selves.

Students in different time zones are feeling unsupported and unaccommodated by the university

By: Aislyn Sax, Contributor and Elisa Do, News Reporter

In the Fall semester of 2020, McMaster University has become a ghost town with many students enrolled in exclusively online classes or with occasional in-person labs. 

This transition has allowed many students to live away from campus throughout the school year and significantly impacted the lives of international students. With different time zones, international students now often face the challenge of writing exams at inconvenient times during the day. 

Annie Deng is a math and stats student in her third year. She decided to stay in her home country of China for the fall semester. 

"The nature of online learning amplifies the issue of my lack of social connections and support in Canada. I worry staying in Canada might not be good for my mental health,” Deng said.

"The nature of online learning amplifies the issue of my lack of social connections and support in Canada. I worry staying in Canada might not be good for my mental health,” Deng said. 

However, as soon as the semester started, Deng found that staying in China brought other challenges. Deng now has classes at 2 a.m. and realized that the Registrar scheduled her final exams at 12:30 a.m. and 4 a.m. in her time zone. 

To resolve the time zone issues, Deng considered completely changing her sleep schedule, but family duties have made this option unrealistic. Instead, she decided to change her sleep schedule just for the days of exams and tests. 

"It's simply exhausting. Even if I try to sleep four more hours during the day, I still can't function normally at those hours,” Deng added.  

Deng had contacted her professors to ask if she could write the midterm tests at a different time but was met with an unsatisfying answer.

"It seemed like my professors don't know what to say to me. [Only] one of them gave me a solid answer,” Deng explained. 

"It seemed like my professors don't know what to say to me. [Only] one of them gave me a solid answer,” Deng explained. 

When she tried to reschedule, Deng was faced with more problems. After being referred to several different places and attempting to contact people, Deng was yet again unable to seek a fulfilling answer. She heard no reply from the Registrar and the Ombuds office. She learned that the University Secretariat has an appeal form where students may submit a formal inquiry on policies. When she inquired about it, Deng was met with a reply that the appeal form only dealt with faculty-level policies, whereas time zone differences were a university-level policy. 

While each of her professors eventually accommodated her, Deng said that she would like to see clear information on who to contact to resolve time zone issues.  

According to Deng, many international students she knows are considering returning to their home countries. 

"After all, it's too hard staying in a foreign country alone during a pandemic without family around. Staring at a computer screen for lectures and knowing you can't hang out with your classmates because they are at home doesn't help," she added. 

"Staring at a computer screen for lectures and knowing you can't hang out with your classmates because they are at home doesn't help," Deng added. 

Another international student, Yifang Wang, also expressed her concerns for this school year. 

As Wang is currently residing in China, she does not have access to various websites required for their academics, such as Gmail and Avenue to Learn. Although the university offers Virtual Private Networking software for students and a network accelerator for those in China, Wang expressed that she could not get the software to work for her. Hence, Wang had to purchase a VPN in order to access the necessary tools for her studies.

Wang is currently taking a linguistics course that includes weekly quizzes and said that using a VPN has made it more challenging for them to access the quizzes right away. 

“[The professor] will give us like 10 minutes or 15 minutes, but it will take me four minutes, sometimes three minutes to load the page and he didn't care about that,” Wang said. 

Wang added that the professor would not provide her more time. The professor said there are always students who complain about the time limit. Wang believed that the professor did not consider the number of international students in the course, many of whom likely struggle with the same problem.

The university had also maintained tuition fees at the same amount as they would have had the 2020-2021 school year been in-person. This includes international tuition fees, which are extensively greater than those with Canadian citizenship.

In 2020-2021, the average international undergraduate student tuition fee in Canada is $32,019 for the year. At McMaster, Wang said that her tuition is roughly $34,000 for the year.

In 2020-2021, the average international undergraduate student tuition fee in Canada is $32,019 for the year. At McMaster, Wang said that her tuition is roughly $34,000 for the year. Despite the fact that Wang is now attending lectures that are pre-recorded rather than in-person, tuition has only increased since last year. Although recordings may be necessary due to the pandemic, Wang expressed that recorded lectures are much less captivating and motivating for her to attend. 

If international students wish to return to Canada, it is also challenging for them to do so during this time. According to the current travel restrictions, students who applied for their study permit to Canada after March 18 are not allowed to return at all, and those who applied before have no guarantee that the border will allow them entrance and can still be refused entry on a case-by-case basis.


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The university is rapidly transitioning its services to a near exclusively digital world for the first time. They have recently created the "Where in the world are you?" survey on Mosaic, which they say will be used to determine where students are located for the fall term. 

The survey comes eight months after the initial school closure due to the COVID-19 pandemic in March. It was also initiated four months after the university had made the decision for all classes to be held online during the fall term. 

"I want to see the university doing something on this matter. Right now, I feel my needs are being neglected,” Deng said. 

With months in advance to plan and navigate the digital world, international students are still not receiving adequate support for their academics.

"I want to see the university doing something on this matter. Right now, I feel my needs are being neglected,” Deng said.

Photo from Silhouette Photo Archives

By: Rob Hardy

Eight years ago, as a rookie contributor to The Silhouette, I wrote one of my very first pieces on the sorry state of the Hamilton Street Railway. It still survives online under the title of “Public Transit Blues”. So what's changed since for McMaster University students and the city itself? Not much.

Some things are a bit better and some have gotten worse, but overall I would say the HSR is the same miserable experience it's always been.

There do seem to be more student buses during peak times on campus so it's not as packed as it used to be. We also have been able to negotiate year-round bus passes for Mac students, which previously only gave us an eight-month deal.

While I believe the HSR functions as best as it can within its limitations, the truth is that this is often not even remotely good enough.

In my case, coming in from Stoney Creek, the time spent commuting is brutal. If I take the B-Line, it still takes roughly 50 minutes. Trapped in a compartment full of stale air, at times too overheated, and shaking like hell as it travels our streets, the experience can be uncomfortable.

What's worse is that unlike previously, where the B-Line used to come right onto campus, it now stops on Main Street. Having to then walk all the way down to Togo Salmon Hall, in often unpleasant conditions, is ridiculous.

Moreover, the B-Line still ends around 7:00 p.m. This results in having to make two connections, which significantly adds to the trials of an already long day. While I can understand that express buses may terminate service at night, it would greatly help if a consecutive route ran from at least University Plaza to Eastgate, even with regular stops.

I use the B-Line as merely one example. Anyone living on the mountain, who also has to first get downtown before progressing into Westdale, suffers similarly.

Part of this dilemma is that Hamilton has unique geography to contend with. Our city layout is not a simple grid like you would find in Edmonton, for example, with nothing other than a river to divide us.

But much of the fault lies with the HSR itself. My biggest issue is with buses that arrive early, causing them to leave many people behind. Sometimes I have been able to trace this to drivers who began their route early, because there is no other way, logistically-speaking, they could have already arrived at that stop.

This is notable given that the HSR has been trying very hard to rebuild ridership — somewhat of a fool's errand considering their target market is people who take the bus out of necessity.

What's more striking is that even intra-city travel within Hamilton becomes “a commute” if one were to cross the length of the city twice a day. The current system as it stands is simply too broken and not meant for people in Stoney Creek to travel by bus all the way to Ancaster mountain.

During this decade, the light rail transit promised to offer innovation, as we moved from the planning stages to acquired funding to implementation. After all, Canadian cities of comparable size can now reasonably be expected to have an alternative public transit option on their most travelled route.

But as things stand, the latest news is that certain council members are now weary of paying additional costs should the project go over-budget, a reasonable possibility considering its timeline has been continually delayed due to endless council motions on the subject.  But why should the province keep footing the entire bill anyway, especially for a city whose factions are still so divided on this issue?

While the HSR is a crucial part of Hamilton, their monopoly on public transit leaves bewildered riders powerless to really express their concerns. When we are caused to be late for school or work, an apology is pretty useless, and most people don't even bother to complain.

What some have done is stop riding. Yes, the HSR wants to regain their numbers. But many previous and potential transit users are waiting for more than a hollow marketing campaign to be convinced.


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Photo by Kyle West

Following recent snowstorms that deposited as much as 40 cm onto Hamilton streets, some Hamilton residents are using social media to bring attention to the issue of snow-covered residential sidewalks.

Currently, residents are expected to clear snow from their sidewalks within 24 hours of a “snow event.” If residents fail to comply, the city will issue a 24-hour “Notice to Comply,” followed by possible inspection and a contracting fee for the homeowner.

However, residents say both residential and city sidewalks are still not being cleared, either by residents or by the city.

The Disability Justice Network of Ontario has encouraged residents to participate in the “Snow and Tell” campaign by tweeting out pictures of snow or ice-covered roads and sidewalks using the hashtag #AODAfail, referring to the Accessibility for Ontarians for Disabilities Act.


McMaster student and local community organizer Sophie Geffros supports the campaigns and says it a serious issue of accessibility and justice.

Geffros uses a wheelchair and knows how especially difficult it can be for those who use mobility devices to navigate through snow-covered streets.

“It's people who use mobility devices. It's people with strollers. And it's older folks. People end up on the street. If you go on any street after a major storm, you'll see people in wheelchairs and with buggies on the street with cars because the sidewalks just aren't clear,” Geffros said.


Snow-covered sidewalks also affect the ability for people, especially those who use mobility devices, to access public transit.

“Even when snow has been cleared, often times when it gets cleared, it gets piled on curb cuts and piled near bus stops and all these places that are that are vital to people with disabilities,” Geffros said.


Geffros sees the need for clearing sidewalks as non-negotiable.

“By treating our sidewalk network as not a network but hundreds of individual tiny chunks of sidewalk, it means that if there's a breakdown at any point in that network, I can't get around,” Geffros said. “If every single sidewalk on my street is shoveled but one isn't, I can't use that entire sidewalk. We need to think of it as a vital service in the same way that we think of road snow clearance as a vital service.”

Public awareness about the issue may push city council.

Some councillors have expressed support for a city-run snow clearing service, including Ward 1 councillor Maureen Wilson and Ward 3 councillor Nrinder Nann.

I just don’t find it all that complicated. Cities are for people. It is in our best interest, financial and otherwise, to plow sidewalks. It’s also a matter of justice. I await the city manager’s report and ensuing debate

— Maureen Wilson (She / Her) (@ward1wilson) January 29, 2019

A city council report issued in 2014 stated that a 34 dollar annual increase in tax for each homeowner would be enough to fund sidewalk snow-clearing.

Recently, Wilson requested the city council to issue a new report on the potential costs of funding snow-clearing service.

Geffros sees potential for the current discourse to open up to further discussions on other issues of accessibility and social justice.

Hamilton’s operating budget will likely be finalized around April. Until then, Geffros and other Hamilton residents will continue to speak out on the issue.


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Photo C/O Madeline Neumann

By: Hannah Marcus

Most McMaster University students have listened to a guest speaker at the beginning of class offering an exciting summer opportunity or seen a table in the student centre displaying images of “exotic” places where students can volunteer. The combination of travelling while contributing to a humanitarian cause is certainly enticing.

If volunteering abroad is something you might be interested in, the following considerations can serve as a guide for making informed and ethical decisions. A good place to start when assessing an organization’s merit is through viewing how it advertises its projects.

How does the organization frame the volunteer experience? While dolphin rides, rainforest excursions and local village tours may seem attractive, if such components comprise the organization’s central advertisement strategy, the project’s goal is likely to provide a fun experience rather than helping the local community in any meaningful way.

The depiction of local communities through exoticized imagery — a tactic implicitly disparaging of those represented — is another aspect of the organization’s promotional strategy to be wary of.

Besides advertisements, it is important to question who is running it. Is it run by the same company facilitating the trip, a locally-based non-governmental organization, community workers or locals?

Generally, if the project is planned and implemented by the company rather than a local organization within the community, it is justified to question if the project is targeting community needs over volunteer interests.

Another necessary consideration is the length and cost of the project. Given the time restraints for volunteering overseas as a student, you may wonder then if it is possible to contribute anything meaningful.

The answer lies not necessarily in the length of your trip but in the duration of the project itself. Will your few weeks spent abroad contribute towards a long-term project that will endure for several years after your departure? Or has the organization constructed an artificial project catered to your short timeline of service?

In regards to cost, be wary of organizations charging astronomical amounts. It is not uncommon for the majority of your money going towards the volunteer company rather than the local community itself.

Finally, of greatest importance, is the question of exactly what you will be doing overseas. As a general rule of thumb, if you are not qualified to do such things in your home country, you should not be doing them abroad.

More flexible labour laws and a so-called “local skills deficit” do little to address your lack of qualification and risk of exploiting local people for your own gain. There is no reason to believe a 20-year-old westerner is better equipped to build a local school, plant trees or implement a new educational program than the very individuals who know their community best, and would likely appreciate the employment themselves.

In contrast, things like teaching English at the request of the local community, completing small tasks under the direction of local leaders or simply being a passive observer of locally-led community initiatives for your own educational exposure are common volunteer responsibilities characteristic of projects grounded in a more ethically-oriented, community-centric approach to international development.

So next time a guest speaker comes to your class to talk about a summer volunteering opportunity or you come across an international volunteer poster on campus, you can take out your mental toolbox to critically assess the merits of the organization.


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Holiday travel plans can bring us together with family and loved ones. However, because winter weather in Canada can be extreme, it’s important to take a few precautions before you hit the road so you arrive safe and sound.

The York Regional Police, based just north of Toronto, have provided a few tips to help keep you safe on the roads.

Traveling in a winter wonderland

Weathering the conditions: Double-check the weather conditions before heading out. Weather can be severe and change quickly, so it’s extremely important to know the latest weather and traffic conditions, and to leave yourself plenty of time to arrive safely.

Get road-ready: Ensure your vehicle is prepared for the winter. Investing in winter tires is a good place to start. Top-up windshield fluids and antifreeze, ensure you have enough gas for every journey, and update your car’s emergency kit. Clear snow and ice from the windshield and mirrors, as well as from the top of the car and from wheel-wells to increase safety for other drivers.

Buckle up: Always wear your seatbelt, and make sure all of your passengers do too. While this may seem obvious as it's the law, it’s also the most important safety consideration no matter the road conditions.

Eyes on the road: Drive slowly and be aware of other motorists and road hazards. Winter roadways can feature big snow-removal vehicles and sand/salt-trucks, as well as distracted drivers and crosswalks full of pedestrians with arm-loads of gifts! Take the necessary precautions and make sure you’re always in control of your vehicle.

Arrive alive: The holidays are all about good times with family and friends. Don’t drink and drive.


Plan for the best, prepare for the worst

Icy roads, limited visibility, Top 40 Radio…lots of things can impact your time on the road this winter. If you are involved in a fender-bender this season, remember to contact local police immediately if your collision involves:


View original article from TD Insurance.


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It’s the most wonderful time of the year – application season. For many in their final year of their undergraduate degree, this is a time for intense research, creating relationships with potential supervisors, beefing up résumés, and improving grades to meet academic requirements. It’s no wonder then that many students consider taking a break.

A gap year means something different to each person. It can mean a year off school to travel or to work and earn money or even to go back to school and take some classes out of interest that your degree may not have allowed time for.

For the majority of us students who did not take a gap year between finishing high school and entering university, we’ve been schooling non-stop since we were potty-trained. This amount of intense work and often prolonged stress is bound to take a toll on our mental health. Gap years may very well help students avoid academic burnout.

Beyond providing a well-deserved break, gap years host a myriad of positive benefits. They allow students to gain experiences that are beyond what the confines of the campus can offer. These experiences can then be used to supplement what was taught in the classroom to make student applicants stand out from the crowd.

Why the hesitation then to take a gap year? I have been told by friends that they fear the gap year because they fear they will enjoy it too much and as a consequence, lose any motivation to continue in academia. Graduate school is hard work. The same can be said for professional school and entering the workforce.

I argue that if you are truly secure in your goals, then you’ll see them through despite the promise of the gruelling work they require. If a year off school is enough to lose motivation in attaining a goal, that goal is likely not a reflection of your true desires.  

Ultimately, that is what a gap year is meant for. It’s the optimal time for self-reflection and to discover what you truly want from life – and that may not include the graduate program that you’re planning on enrolling in.

The fear that taking a year off school may be frowned upon by application and hiring boards is a valid fear but ultimately unfounded. Many schools recognize the value of time spent away from school. The University of British Columbia has the option to defer graduate studies for up to one year. Even Harvard University encourages students to defer their acceptance to the university and take the time to mature as a person. Taking a break after working to achieve an undergraduate degree no longer carries the stigma of weakness or laziness

Where I’ll be a year from now remains a mystery. I may be happily enrolled in graduate school or on route to some far-away destination. I’m planning for both, and others should too.

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It was suddenly the day before April and I found myself broken down and tired. With exams around the corner, my savings trickling to their end and a general lack of motivation, I needed something to look forward to as I transgress the final stretch of the academic year. 

I began to imagine myself sipping yerba mate at a café in Buenos Aires, Argentina, strolling through the Jalan Surabaya Flea Market in Jakarta, Indonesia, or even getting lost in the painted alleyways of Chefchaouen, the Blue City of Morocco.  

But like many students, the commodity of time and money maintained my imagined travels as pieces of fiction. While I hope to fly away to faraway places in the nearby future, I still needed to find a way to get my fix of wanderlust for the summer. 

The answer I was looking for happened to be poster-sized and framed in a GO bus shelter. I’ve passed by the system map and disregarded it several hundred times before realizing all the travel opportunities it presents.  

From Hamilton, GO transit lines can take you as far north as Lake Simcoe, west towards the Waterloo region and east to Niagara Falls with dozens of stops in between each direction. Combined with each city’s independent transit systems, bike share programs and widespread Uber availability, the possibilities seemed endless. 

I compiled a list of 20 new places I could visit, almost all of them by public transit and made it my goal to explore each one by the end of the summer. The plan was simple, everything beyond determining the route to the destination had to be spontaneous. 

This meant I had to rely on my natural instincts and the advice of locals for directions to interesting spots and places to eat. I also had to learn to be comfortable with the idea of sometimes not knowing where I’m going and walking for hours on end. 

This was in stark contrast to how I was used to travelling in the past. I’m known for planning out meticulous details in hand-drawn itineraries, complete with time estimates, cost calculations, printed maps and screenshots of Instagram photos.  

In desperate need to experience things in a new way, I decided to approach my 20 destinations without building any prior expectations.  My list included places like Brampton, Burlington, Cambridge, St. Catharines, Waterloo and Kitchener, which are often overlooked cities for travel and entertainment. 

I believed that each place was waiting to reveal its charm to those willing to take the time to build an intimate relationship with their surroundings. No matter where I went, by slowing down and taking in every detail, it became possible to have an immersive and valuable experience. 

Travelling with this mindset completely changed my perspective and I learned there is so much more to the towns next door.

Suddenly Cambridge’s graffiti-painted alleyways became more than just a common trait of Ontario cityscapes. I discovered that the freshly-painted murals on walls of business establishments were part of a rare project where dozens of graffiti artists showed off their skills to their community earlier in June. 

A long day of walking through Vineland farms and Prudhommes Antique Market in search of sweet peaches and vintage finds ended with crashing at a random café in downtown St. Catharines. I quickly forgot about my aching bones as I lied down on a worn-out couch and listened intently to the atmosphere changing from a quiet coffee shop to a homey concert experience as a band rehearsed next door. 

A different couch, this time a little fancier and in a Parisian-inspired macaron shop in Brampton, became the setting of a new found appreciation for a friend. As I stirred sugar into my coffee, I realized that something else was brewing within us, the trip made my friend and I open up our hearts in ways we hadn’t before. 

Local travelling forged an opportunity to reconnect with old friends and nature. I hiked the beautiful trails of Don Mills, Milton and Tobermory with friends I hadn’t seen in years. The astonishing clear waters of Georgian Bay and meaningful conversations while driving back from the Bruce Peninsula are memories I hope to never forget. 

Sometimes the commute itself was an experience. I was stuck on a bus with a handful of passengers for two hours while returning to Hamilton from Burlington the night of the infamous May wind storm. A man who had just finished a shift at a steel plant became our unofficial tour guide as we drove at a maximum speed of 10 km/hr. 

He talked about the history of the buildings around us, shared stories of growing up in Hamilton and working as a rigger on oil platforms and mines between occasional sips from a bottle of Disaronno. He had been working for 22 days straight and the wind storm was testing his patience. 

I let a stranger be my guide through Greektown in Toronto. She greeted me with a dried lavender bouquet and basil seeds. We immediately clicked like long-time friends as she walked me around her neighbourhood garden, showed me photographs from her travels and taught me a few tips on how to live in a more ethical and environmentally conscious way. 

While in Kitchener I let hunger guide me through downtown, walking briskly from one street to the next, until the irresistible aroma of wood fired pizza stopped me dead in my tracks. I ordered a Quattro Fromaggi and patiently watched as David O’Leary from Bread Heads tossed my pizza into the fire. 

Mass consumption of pizza is a hallmark of my university experience, yet somehow I managed to develop a deeper connection to my slice when I learned that Bread Heads was a travelling pizzeria. Bread Heads and I have been travelling all summer long throughout Ontario. 

David took the time to sit with me and chat about pizza and life as a Celtic musician. While looking for a wood fired oven for his backyard he came across the idea of a mobile oven and realized it was a brilliant solution to combat drab festival food.    

In another sweet shop I met Buba, who kept telling me to dare to dream over and over again as she shared her story with me. Her young family fled Bosnia when the war broke out 25 years ago. She left her aspirations and the little café she owned to start her life over in Canada. 

After facing adversity, unpredictable change and constantly putting her children first, she decided to take her own advice and start Lola, a café and chocolate bar in Burlington named after her first grandchild. 

Buba thanked me for listening to her story even though I had accidentally trespassed into her closed café. She bid me farewell with another reminder to dare to dream as I made my way to visit her neighbour, Rayhoon Persian Eatery, in the 19th century inspired Village Square. 

I felt like a nomad as I peacefully enjoyed chai with a saffron rock candy. My attention would shift back and forth from the book I was reading to the father of the owner and self-proclaimed big boss. I watched on and learned as he taught his restaurant-goers how to traditionally eat their dishes and get the most out of the flavours. 

Perhaps it was my travel backpack or the messy journal I was writing in that gave me away as being from out of town, but the big boss refused to let me pay and wished me luck on my journey. I did not anticipate these moments of kindness and wisdom from strangers, but I’m thankful for how they’ve shaped my experience. 

I’ve left every destination with a content heart and excitement for the next trip. I’ve lost count of all the clock towers, bridges, historic buildings, museums, farmers’ market and bookstores I’ve visited in every single city, but each time I come across yet another bookstore I’m consumed by the thrill of discovering something new for the first time.

Sometimes I found nothing. I’ve even walked kilometres only to realize I’d hit a dead end. But even those moments were valuable as they presented me with the time for contemplation and reflection while I retraced my steps. 

While reflecting on these trips, I learned that we tend take where we live, go to school and work for granted. I was more often than not met with expressions of disbelief when I shared stories of travelling in my friends’ hometowns. 

We are surrounded by so many unique and diverse communities yet we rarely recognize them as places worthy of travel and exploration. I didn’t need a plane ticket to sip yerba mate or walk through bustling flea markets and painted alleyways, instead I created my own versions of those experiences by paying more attention to what the cities next door has to offer. 

By: Antonio Vianna

Some cities are too big, some cities are too small. Some cities are neither big enough to be too big, nor small enough to be too small.

This statement points to the existence of one specific kind of town that is clearly not a small one, but might display some characteristics of a tiny village.

At the same time, it can have access to certain resources that are commonly associated with a huge metropolis, such as different cultures from abroad, advanced technology and complex urban structures.

These big little cities, among which I include Hamilton, define a phenomena that I call regional cosmopolitanism.

Regional metropolis  are not new.

Since Marshall McLuhan’s cosmovision of the global village, many dreamed of a future where the whole world could feel like being part of the same community.

When the Internet made this dream come true in certain senses, people from not-so-big cities had already experienced a similar feeling.

In both cities you can see densely populated urban landscapes living side by side with nature and laid-back sceneries, like Campinas’ green hills or Hamilton’s waterfalls.

Living in a big city that feels local has its perks. Although it may have a really large area, it is very likely to meet people you know wherever you go.

It doesn’t matter if you move through the different regions within these cities. Everywhere feels like an extension of your neighbourhood and you are probably going to find that guy that studied with you in high school, that friend of your family whose name you’ve forgotten or familiar faces downtown.

I am from a city in Brazil called Campinas, which is as close to São Paulo (our biggest city) as Hamilton is close to Toronto in distance and in size.

Like Hamilton, Campinas is fairly large, but the fact that there is a world-class metropolis next door sometimes overshadows its greatness.

I can’t say my city has as many things to do compared her big sister, but there are still a lot of different places to go, restaurants from all over the world, more than one sports team to support and those weird local stories that, somehow, everyone that lives there knows.

For example, Campinas is also known as Princess of the West due to its important role as commodity producer in the past.

Hamilton has the title of Steel Town for similar reasons. In both cities you can see densely populated urban landscapes living side by side with nature and laid-back sceneries, like Campinas’ green hills or Hamilton’s waterfalls.

The cosmopolitan regional cities blends things from the countryside with things from capitals in a very idiosyncratic way.

It is possible that some of these characteristics of the city are reflected in its inhabitants. The realm of psychogeography studies that.

The Ancient Greeks, for example, developed a much more fragmentary political mind than the cosmopolitan Romans, following the geographical isolated formations of their land.

This also helps explain the stereotype that people from the countryside tend to be more small-minded and provincial, whilst people from central towns usually are more snobby and individualistic.

Cosmoregional cities defy these stereotypes, being home of people that can have good and bad qualities of both.

If you live in a big city that feels like a village, it’s probably easier to gather up your friends and maybe harder to be alone even when you want to.

Everywhere is like an extension of that central square, the common place where people meet to hang out, feed the pigeons and gossip about someone else’s life.

In Hamilton, I have learned to recognize, love and participate of a cosmoregional polis. People from my city in Brazil have developed the unhealthy habit of complaining about their own town.

The only exception being a significant population who have never lived anywhere else.

I do think that criticism is important for a democratic life, even in small and not-so-small communities, but Hamiltonians showed me better and more efficient ways to do that.

Hamilton gives more space to local media, listens to the voices its people, supports local magazines, newspapers, TV channels, participates in local assemblies to discuss common issues and supports local businesses and artists.

This is good for the regional culture and economy as a whole, among many other things.

Finally, I think that cosmopolitan regionalism is a distinctive feature of the geography cities like Hamilton and Campinas share.

These cities should share more stories, to see how much they have in common, learn from their differences and be proud of their uniqueness: after all, neither super-big nor super-small cities are capable of being as cosmoregional as we are.

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