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Hamish McKenzie - comic sans'd, London, Ontario

Saturday, May 07, 2005

Back to skool

After a year as an editor of Critic, with an Honours degree under my belt, and with public speaking experience at various engagements (ASPA Awards, 21sts, weddings) I wouldn't have thought standing up in front of a group of strangers to introduce myself would be so hard. Difference was, I was standing up in front of a group of Canadian strangers, and I wasn't drunk. I think the latter factor had more of an influence.

All I had to do was be like everyone else: get up, tell them who I was, where I was from, and what I graduated with. I was hoping there would be a few more international students in the Master of Arts Journalism programme at the University of Western Ontario. I didn't want to be the one that was 'different'. Well, I did, but I didn't want them to find out like this... "Ummmm, my name's Hamish McKenzie" -- and this is the first time in memory that I can remember actually feeling my heart pounding against my chest (it was as if it wanted out of there) -- "I graduated from the University of Otago, which is in Dunedin, New Zealand". Cue whispers: "He's from New Zealand? Oh, we have a New Zealander..."

I don't know, it's not something that would usually make me nervous. Actually, I have to admit I like having a different accent over here: it's often a good conversation point, and usually it makes people more interested in you than they otherwise would be. But I knew that everyone would stare at me, and I knew that as soon as I opened my mouth I would reveal myself as being not one of them. It really made the 'first day back at school experience' real for me -- I totally felt like I was the new kid in town.

So I stayed shy for a while. Didn't talk to people, hid in corners, curled up with a blanket in the sick bay, poked my tongue out at the pretty girl with the pig-tails. Luckily we had lunch at the Grad Louge, which luckily serves beer on tap. (Fuck, I should warn everyone contemplating coming to Canada: beer is expensive here. Even the cheapest shit is about $8 for a six-pack -- and it was $6.50 for a pint of Stella in this "reasonably priced" bar. Then you've got to tip the bargirl, which I always forget to do...) The beer loosened me up, and thankfully a few others, and now even I have friends to play with in the weekend.

Really, the beer (only one, mind) is one of only four things I can remember from my 'orientation day' (being postgrads, we don't get a week of it like the freshers do in September). The nervous introduction is the second thing. The third thing is that I found out my intensive one-year 'you're-not-going-to-sleep-because-the-workload-is-so-heavy' programme actually starts on Monday -- not in a week-and-a-half's time like I thought. The fourth thing, and so far the most depressing aspect of the course, was that the information sheets they distributed to us were printed entirely in Comic Sans. It's enough to turn a man to $6.50 beer.