Purpose of this Blog is to provide information on:

(click on topics that interest you)

• Events homestay students participate in while being in the city

• English language tips for international students

Activities related to my novel about a group of international language students in the city
Profiles of Students

Sunday, November 25, 2012

The Rocky Mountains: An Awe-inspiring Look at Nature

Dramatic Moraine Lake
A trip to the Rocky Mountains is one of the most popular excursions international students can take while staying in Vancouver. This destination offers an experience of vast, protected forests and public parks amongst towering mountains and serenely beautiful lakes. To do the trip from Vancouver, you need four days. Plan to go on a long weekend and take an additional day off school. Trying to cram the experience into three days, students always regret not having an additional day. Wonderful memories will make up for the day’s schoolwork that you will miss.
If you are going primarily to see the scenery, do the trip sometime from June through September. Labour Day weekend, the long weekend of early September, is an ideal time. This is before the mountain lakes begin to freeze over, so you will see the brilliant turquoise colour of the lakes contrasting against the dark greens and grays of the mountains and the intense blue of the sky. July and August are busier, as that is when families of Canadian school children are having their summer holidays. However, Canadian Rocky Mountain national parks are so large that “crowded” does not come to mind when exploring national parks any time of the year. Note, however, that if you plan to make a trip to the Rockies primarily to go skiing or snowboarding, you should go from November to April during snow season.
On occasions when a homestay student, usually Japanese, has told me she is “going to the Rocky Mountain,” I have asked her where exactly and she has been perplexed. She has simply repeated, “to the Rocky Mountain.” Apparently she is picturing a stand-alone peak (perhaps like Mount Fuji). I have had to explain that the Rocky Mountains are not a single mountain. They are a very long range of peaks stretching more than 4,800 kilometres from northern British Columbia in Canada to the southwestern United States.


Some of the places visited in most four-day tours of the Canadian Rockies are the resort towns of Jasper or Banff and Lake Louise, or and some other sights including Moraine Lake, Bow Lake, Peyto Lake, the Columbia Icefield, Maligne Lake and Maligne Canyon, Athabasca Falls, and Sulphur Mountain, Mt. Robson, and many other peaks. Tour buses also pass through Merritt, Kamloops, Clearwater, Valemount, and other small town on the way to the Rockies or on the return trip.
European students who are accustomed to the Alps are most surprised by the relatively uninhabited aspect of the Rockies. Areas of human settlement are uncommon compared with those in the Alps. So don’t expect scenes of domesticated sheep or cows grazing on mountainsides! They simply don’t exist here. Instead, you will see vast, largely untouched forests and mountains.
A South American student that I hosted in the mid 1990s told me about her experience of being overwhelmed at the immensity of a glacier when she was standing at the bottom of it looking up. She said she felt powerless and vulnerable in feeling that it could slide down the mountainside and crush her with its enormity. But in returning to the same site nine years later, she was struck by how diminished in size the glacier had become. She said she wept in seeing this, even though she knew in theory about climate change.
Still, there remains so much to be amazed at in the Canadian Rockies—mountain landscapes of lakes, peaks, glaciers, waterfalls, canyons and, depending on which of the national parks you visit—Banff, Jasper, Kootenay, or Yoho—you might experience limestone caves or have the chance to bathe in hot springs. Also you never know what wild animals you will see. The Canadian Rocky Mountains are habitat for elk, mule and white-tailed deer, mountain goats, bighorn sheep, black bears, grizzly bears, coyotes, lynxes, and wolverines as well as being home to North America's largest herds of moose.
In talking with dozens and dozens of my homestay students who have gone to the Rockies with various tour companies, only a few have had any complaints. One recent disappointment was about substandard accommodation “The motel’s quality was really poor,” commented by Riccardo (from Italy) after his recent July (2012) trip. To ensure the hotels or motels you will be staying at are adequate for your needs, ask the tour companies you are considering for photographs of the interior and exterior of all hotels/motels used. This will help ensure that you instead feel as Gabriel (from Brazil) did after his October (2012) trip, that “the three different hotels were very welcoming.”
Also find out about the arrangements for sharing a room. Are there any options? Having four people in a room sharing two queen-size beds is not uncommon. Will you have a choice as to whom you will be sharing a room with, a bed with?
 “I didn’t expect to share a hotel room with other people, and it’s embarrassing to sleep in the same bed with another guy, however, I did,” Riccardo stated. Find this out before you sign the tour agreement so there are no surprises during the trip.
When I asked Gabriel, who is from Porta Alegra in southern Brazil, if he would recommend the tour company whose trip he went on, he answered. “Yes, this agency has professionalism, credibility and has been successful in organizing the trip.”
His only disappointment was in two pre-paid meals. Gabriel’s city (Porta Alegra) is known for its fabulous barbecues. Also his country’s cuisine centers on beef. Apparently their barbecues routinely feature a piece of steak almost the size of the dinner plate. So when Gabriel read that his Banff hotel was offering an outdoor barbecue, he was looking forward to it. He was understandably disappointed to find the beef portion of this barbecue consisted of one patty of ground beef the size of that in a regular hamburger. He was doubly disappointed the next night when the dinner featured one hotdog.
This may be standard fare for some tour companies because Riccardo had been offered the same two pre-paid meals (by a different company) a couple of months earlier and was equally let down. Yet most of my homestay students have agreed that the lunches they purchased off a regular menu (not pre-paid) were good quality and good value. Also, some of my previous homestay students have raved about the dinners they ate while in the Rockies and have shown me photographs of their memorable meals.
I recommend that Rockies-bound visitors, and not just the hungry, mid-twenties guys, take with them snacks to eat on the bus and late at night in the hotels. Include some protein (cheese, nuts, yogurt, hard boiled eggs, peanut butter on crackers), fruit (especially bananas, apples, mandarin oranges), and sweets (chocolate bars, cookies, energy bars). This will ensure you have something to munch on if the schedule of your trip is out of step with your hunger pangs.
So despite these concerns, when asked, “Why did you find the trip to the Rockies enjoyable?” Riccardo answered, “It’s impossible not enjoy being there because it is one of the most amazing places in Canada where you can see Canadian nature and mountains.”

Striated Mountains and Valley

Riccardo also commented, “The trip is so long so when you pass through the Rocky Mountains on the bus you can enjoy and admire the infinite green environment. I saw seven bears—six black ones and one grizzly. The best experience was going on the Banff gondola. The view from the top of the mountain is awesome. Unforgettable. When I was there I understood that I don’t spend enough time in nature. Ånd the rest of the tour made me realize that four days are not enough to see the Rockies. The Rocky Mountain trip was also a new life experience inasmuch as you share your trip with a lot of people that you don’t know, so it is a good chance to make new friends from other countries. You enjoy talking about things that you have never talked about before.”
In asking Riccardo how he would sum up his trip in one or two phrases, he responded, “Awesome trip I’ll remember all my life.”

Road to Coumbia Ice Fields Crop

In asking Gabriel, why he enjoyed the trip to the Rockies, he answered, “Because I was in a place that for a long time I have wanted to know. Moreover, it is practically impossible not to be dazzled by the different landscapes.”
In being asked what places he enjoyed visiting most, Gabriel responded, “Banff city, Lake Louise and Moraine Lake.”
I also asked Gabriel what optional activities he did and why he did not do other activities that were offered?
“I went on the Banff Gondola and the price was reasonable. I did not go on the snow coach on the glacier because I thought it expensive. Besides, there is only so much time.”
Another question: You said your tour guide added to the value of the trip. In what way?
“Our guide knew very well about everywhere and she was always willing to help and answer questions.”
Do you have advice for others considering making the trip?
“My advice would be to go in the summer to be able to bathe in the lakes.”
How would you sum up your trip in one or two phrases?
“A trip to the Rocky Mountains made me realize how much I like nature. This is a fantastic place where everyone should have the opportunity to visit. I would like to rent a canoe and explore the environment more. I wish I had stayed longer in the lakes enjoying the silence of the place.”

Serene Lake Louise

The photographs accompanying this article have been supplied to me courtesy of Gabriel Macedo, Brazil (the opening image and last two photographs), and Riccardo Rosso, Italy (the central two images).
There are additional photographs of the Rockies included in my online imaged novel Vancouver Memories: My Year Abroad in the section entitled “Touring the Rocky Mountains” [September Diary Entry #1]. This novel is available free of charge for viewing at www.vancouvermemories.ca.
If any readers can identify photographs in either this blog or in the novel at URL noted above, please contact me at wendy@vancouvermemories.ca. I would be pleased to receive information about any necessary corrections.
Text by Wendy Bullen Stephenson

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Gabriel: A Self-declared Academic

Profiles of Students

Another feature of this blog will be to profile the variety of international students who come to Vancouver to study at the language schools. Here is the first of such articles.

Gabriel is a mid-twenties Brazilian from Porto Alegre, the southernmost capital city of Brazil, in the state of Rio Grande do Sul. Gabriel is in a PhD program in molecular biology at the federal university there. In October he took a month leave from his doctoral programme to study at Kaplen’s Pacific Language Institute (PLI) in Vancouver. He needs to be competent in reading, writing, and speaking English to author scientific papers for international journals and to make presentations at English-speaking conferences. His first scientific paper on which he is lead author has just been accepted for publication in a prestigious, English-language science publication. He is understandably happy about that.
The metropolitan area of his city, Porto Alegre, has a population of 4,405,760 inhabitants (almost double that of the Vancouver metropolitan area at 2.3 million residents). The majority of the inhabitants are of European descent with first immigrants having been Portuguese. They were joined, in the late 19th century by many immigrants from Germany, Italy, and Poland. Today the population of Porto Alegre also includes Arab, Jewish, and Afro-Brazilian people.
As one of the richest and most diverse cities in South America and the fourth largest metropolitan area of Brazil, Porto Alegre is one of the main cultural, political and economic centers of the country. The city is situated on a five-river junction (a fresh-water lagoon) making it an important port as well as a chief industrial and commercial centre of Brazil. Gabriel says the water is not suitable for swimming even though the islands in the lagoon feature many parks that are home to diverse forms of wildlife. Still Gabriel has been intrigued to see the many squirrels, skunks, and raccoons on the city streets near his homestay in Vancouver’s West End.
Like Canada, Brazil is large. It totals 8.5 million square kilometres (compared to Canada’s 9.9 million square kilometres), but Brazil is a long, rather than wide country. Being from the southern most state of Rio Grande do Sul, residents from Gabriel’s part of Brazil feel they are different from those in other parts of the country that extends north of the equator above the Amazon River. Gabriel says that people in his state talk about wanting independence from the rest of country. Sound familiar?
Gabriel was surprised to see the considerable number of Brazilians that are attending PLI. Brazil’s economy is strong now, and the proportion of students from various countries in the schools depends on the relative strength of their country’s dollar at any given time. Also once students have a good experience in Vancouver, they go home and tell their friends, who begin to think that they too would like to come here.
Gabriel says he feels safe in Vancouver, which is one of the reasons that he and many other Brazilians like being here. Aspects of Vancouver that Gabriel has noticed as being particularly different in his country relate to food, retail items, and weather. Their cuisine emphasizes beef, rice, and beans, and they have a variety of lush fruit that doesn’t exist in Vancouver. He notes, however, that Vancouver has a wider selection of good vegetables. He has found that clothes and electronics are cheaper here (especially in outlet stores) than they are in his country. While the summer weather at home (December to March) is hot and humid, the other seasons there are similar to those of Vancouver in terms of rain and moderate temperatures.
Even though Gabriel states he is an academic rather than an athlete, has enjoyed skating and bicycling around much of Stanley Park’s seawall. Also he loved his school trip to the Rocky Mountains, where he was most impressed by the majestic mountain scenery.
Gabriel has contributed photographs to this Blog for the article about the Rocky Mountains (see Places Students Visit while being language students in Vancouver). Thanks, Gabriel, and very best wishes with your studies.

This article and photograph are 
by Wendy Bullen Stephenson 
and are posted with Gabriel's permission