We the North? - Toronto Travel Report

    Posted on Monday, Apr 29, 2019
    I’ve tried to avoid writing travel reports for my blog entries because they can easily become either a boring summary of sights and sounds or so introspective that no one other than myself would get anything out of reading it, but I did have an opportunity to spend a week in Toronto for a conference this April and there were a few things from the trip I thought might be interesting to the broader graduate student readership. (I greatly appreciate the seven of you who read my entries each month!) This trip represented quite a few firsts in my personal and academic life – first international conference, first first-author presentation, first time in Canada (which in itself leads to a long string of first experiences, but more on those later).
    I’d like to kick this off with a short ode to Easterwood – the best little airport in the world. With your cheap parking, reliable WiFi, single security checkpoint line, and multiple flights in and out each day, it’s hard to not fork over the extra $20 or so to begin and end any trip out of the Brazos Valley from one of your (two!) jetways. In fact, if you luck out, flights out of lil’ CLL can actually be cheaper than some of the larger airports in other, more metropolitan settings.
    That out of the way, let’s talk aboot Canada. As I mentioned earlier, I had never traveled to our northern neighbor before, so I was excited about experiencing a new nation and discovering their unique cultural offerings. I was soon to realize that, at least in Toronto, the differences weren’t as pronounced as I had thought they might be. I was able to view the Toronto cityscape as I rode the train in from the airport and spotted the iconic CN Tower in the distance. This building was to be my point of reference as I navigated back and forth from downtown to our rental each day. A city of close to 3 million people, Toronto is obviously huge and densely populated. There’s a very large international contingent of residents in the city and honestly, to me that’s where the cultural differences between large American and Canadian cities emerged. Having previously spent time in New York City and Los Angeles and Houston, the city of Toronto didn’t seem overtly different from these American megalopolises, but I felt as if the international influences were more pronounced there than in the United States. I don’t have a good explanation as to why I felt this way, but that was my experience summarized. Also, Canadians are polite to a fault. I know this is a cliché and probably not news to anyone, but it’s true – a very sweet lady apologized profusely for baking me an extra pancake at one point.
    There are some must-do’s when you visit Toronto. You can go to the top of the CN Tower and get a great view of the entire city. You can go see a Raptors, Blue Jays or Maple Leafs game. You can go to their wonderful aquarium, visit the hockey hall of fame or go eat a Wayne Gretzky’s steakhouse (like my advisor advised me to). I didn’t do any of those things though. Full disclosure, I’m kind of cheap and don’t like doing “touristy” things when I travel. Instead I hopped a train and took a day trip to Niagara Falls and found the best breakfast place in the world. I rode the subway around town and found an English pub to watch a Champions League soccer game. I visited Korea Town and China Town. I walked through the incredibly eclectic arts district and saw some bizarre and amazing architecture. I ate Tim Horton’s and authentic Persian food and Canadian bacon and even had poutine (like chili cheese fries but with gravy and cheese curds instead of chili and shredded cheese). I even took a nap immediately after eating poutine.
    I attempted to stick to my own travel advice for graduate students during this trip (from one of my earlier posts - http://ogaps.tamu.edu/Blog/Blog/February-2019/Make-it-count-Attending-a-conference-and-getting-s). I was fortunate enough to get a good amount of travel funding through the university and our department, but I tried to live below my means so to speak. I presented at a graduate student poster session where I was thrilled to be able to engage with some of the leading senior scholars in my field of study. I attended a couple of social networking events and handed out a good number of my bootleg business cards. My research presentations went well, and I was sure to ask some questions and make some introductions at the others I attended. I spent some great time with graduate student friends from A&M but also made a few connections with students from other universities. It was interesting to hear about their experiences and perspectives on the field and academia.
    Overall, it was an amazing trip. I really enjoyed seeing a new city and having some new cultural experiences. I grew as a student and researcher as I gained knowledge about the field and networked with others traveling the same career path as myself. I highly recommend attending an international conference if possible and it makes sense for your position financially and provides you with valuable growth opportunities in your studies. I also can’t say enough nice things about the city of Toronto, the nation of Canada and the Canadian people. I’m greatly looking forward to my next trip (and meal) there.

    ---Jeffrey Keese
    Jeffrey Keese is a Ph.D. student in the College of Education

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