Georgie Alford, an international student from England, reflects on her experience living in Toronto and her time at The Corner
When I first landed in Toronto the sky was thick with dark clouds and the city seemed to blend into the greyness. Having traveled from London (England, not Ontario), I am used to grey but still, I sat there looking at the bleakness and suddenly felt the reality rush towards me. I would be living here, in a country I have never visited, alone, for a whole year. The thought of this new adventure and the possibilities that lay ahead was bluntly put, terrifying.
But Toronto didn’t turn out to be bleak. It did turn out to be cold (although apparently not as cold as the winters before). Yet with an appropriately huge jacket and the other various winter paraphernalia, Toronto soon felt like home. The stereotypical Canadian friendliness was immediately striking – I was asked three times in one day whether I needed directions, something completely unheard of in London. On top of that, no one jay-walked, the “washroom” stalls had gaps you could see through, people called the city “Toronno” and the additional tax surprised me every time. The first time I saw the lake, my geography completely failed me and I mistook it for the ocean. Never before had I seen such a large expanse of water which was not the sea. Although I felt myself shrink under the sheer height of the glassy skyscrapers in downtown, the University of Toronto campus, where I would spend most of my time, was green and open.
The first semester whizzed by. I was studying hard whilst trying to get outdoors to enjoy the final warmth of the sun. I found some exceptional friends who I could share new experiences with and who I hope I will keep for life. Robarts Library, appropriately nicknamed “The Fortress of Learning” (or “Fort Learn” for short), soon became a familiar setting. I quickly found a preferred seat where I could watch the reflection of the sunset on the opposite buildings and generally, the routine of university life kicked in. From my fourteenth floor window in my small student room, I watched the colours change on the trees and finally understood the magic that is “Fall”.
However, after the sparkle of the new city living experience began to wear off, I was glad to be introduced to what would become my new family – The Corner. I had discovered The Corner through a friend who had done some placement work with them and had recommended it as a site for a research project that I was about to embark on. As an anthropology and political science student, the myriad of lived experiences that existed in such a diverse neighbourhood seemed like an exciting place to understand better.
But my time at The Corner became so much more meaningful than just research. Writing this now from London, I realize how upset I am that my time in Toronto was cut short. Unfortunately, due to the rapidly changing circumstances of the global pandemic, I got recalled back to the UK two months before I should have left. Although my time at The Corner only lasted a few months, I was immediately sucked into the chaotic frenzy of activity which makes the space so unique. Before I knew it I had started my own English class, I was helping out with the senior’s day program and the knitting class. I was writing up articles for the newsletter, and I was attending numerous meetings and events. It is not an overstatement to say that The Corner was exceedingly welcoming and most often, filled with jokes and laughter. The warmth and ease at which I was welcomed is a reflection of the values which The Corner upholds. It was where I found my real family in the whirlwind that was my time in Toronto and for that, I am enormously grateful.