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Sammy, how are you doing in Toronto?

Bachelor's thesis at the University of Toronto, Canada

Sammy, what made you decide to do your BSc thesis abroad?

I always regretted not having studied a language abroad after graduating from secondary school. I was also interested in how people work in other countries and cultures, and in how well I could adapt.

Your stay wasn’t easy to arrange, especially with regard to the visa process. Do you have any tips for future students?

The application process is long and expensive. Students who need a work or study visa for Canada should submit the visa application at least six months before departure. Unfortunately the Canadian authorities in Switzerland do not offer any support, so I had to travel to Lyon for my visa. Lyon is a beautiful city and I was able to combine the visit with a weekend away, but if you have a busy schedule you might be under pressure due to the tight deadlines. The whole visa process cost me about 1,200 CHF, mostly due to the medical check. To complete this, you must travel to either Zurich or Geneva, as there are only two medical examiners in Switzerland who are authorized to do this. These doctors are aware of their monopoly and charge accordingly.

Your host university is the University of Toronto. Why did you choose this university and Canada?

I did not consciously choose the University of Toronto or Canada. Christian Berchtold (research assistant at HLS) arranged the contact. However, when I learned that the lab where I will be working is affiliated with the University of Toronto, I was very pleased. The U of T, as it is also called, is a renowned university in an extremely multicultural city. Canada has always been a attractive place for me, as all the Canadians I had met up to that point seemed very cosmopolitan and friendly. I found their manner to be a good mix of British decency and US American openness.

What is your everyday life like at the U of T?

My daily routine is not very exciting. The lab isn’t on the university campus, but in a hospital - it feels like I'm going to work. After work, I feel more like a student because I go with my room-mates to the university's fitness centre or soccer field, which are on campus. The U of T is huge. There’s a whole district which consists only of university buildings and there is a real campus feeling.

When you walk around the campus, you feel like you're in a Hollywood movie between the old and new university buildings.

Sammy Meier

You travelled to Canada for almost 6 months to write your BSc thesis. What is it about?

My project is about research in the field of neurodegenerative diseases. It involves a completely new approach to reducing the concentration of cellular prion protein in the brain. Since new treatments are always associated with risks, my job is to learn about the pharmacokinetics (uptake, distribution, metabolism and elimination) of the new drug. For this I mainly use an nLC-MS system, which is used to analyse different properties of the active ingredient by means of various biologically oriented assays. However, I am not allowed to reveal the exact mode of action of the new active ingredient at this point.

Besides working at the hospital, there will hopefully be time to get to know Toronto and the surrounding area. What impression has the city left on you so far?

Toronto is a very diverse city. For example Chinatown, where I live, is very different from the neighbouring Little Italy. This is evident not only in the signs of the stores and restaurants, but also in the people you meet on the street. There’s no real centre, as in European cities. Each "community", as it is called here, has its own specific area. In Chinatown, for example, you'll find restaurants and small supermarkets, while in Kensington the streets are lined with second-hand stores and bars. Soho is known for its nightlife scene. But other districts also offer many possibilities. The number of bars and clubs depends on the customs of each culture.

I like to stick mainly to the surrounding neighbourhoods, since they offer everything I need, and go to other parts of the city from time to time. Even though Toronto has almost three million inhabitants, it is still manageable in terms of area. If you take a 40-minute walk, you can easily cross the entire city.

Does that mean you're often out and about on foot? What other options does the city offer?

Because of the central location of my shared apartment, I can reach everything on foot. There is also the possibility to rent bicycles, which can be picked up and returned at different places in the city. Due to the cold winter temperatures, I have not made use of this yet. Toronto also has an extensive public transport network. There are trams, buses and the underground. You can either buy a season ticket or pay with a prepaid card.

You mentioned that you live in a shared apartment. What is it like?

The shared apartment is near the university campus and I found it through a Facebook group. It's in one of those classic suburban houses that you find in Toronto by the hundreds. The house is a bit dated, but the price is alright given the central location. Housing prices in Toronto are comparable to Zurich. China-town is very central. My flatmates are students or ex-students aged 23-30, with whom I spend most of my free time.

You have been in Canada for about 2 months. What highlights have you already experienced?

Besides my passion for natural sciences, I am extremely interested in history. Therefore, visiting the Royal Ontario Museum was a highlight for me. If you like the natural history museum or historical museum in Basel, you can't miss the ROM. It offers a huge exhibition on different sections of the earth's history. On my first visit, I spent 7 hours in the museum and I can say that at most I got an overview of all the exhibits. I will definitely go there again.

As a good tourist, I also visited the nearby Niagara Falls. The falls and the neighbouring town of Niagara on the Lake are definitely worth a visit.

My biggest highlight, however, has nothing to do with sightseeing, but with the local people. On a Friday evening I lingered a bit in a nearby park to enjoy the last rays of sunshine. I was approached by a group of young people and spontaneously invited to spend the evening with them. We visited a bar and later a club. The group had known each other for more than ten years, but they took me in as if I had always belonged to them. I am still in contact with them today and go out with them from time to time. This experience reflects the openness that exists here in Toronto.

What other experiences can you share with us?

Toronto is the most multicultural city on the North American continent with 260 nations. Each community brings its own culture that blends with local as well as other cultures. It took me almost three weeks to find someone who could claim to be a true Canadian. Almost everyone is an immigrant or second generation. This is no wonder, because Canada as a completely independent country, isn’t even 100 years old.

As for food, classic Canadian cuisine can be seen as a daring crossover between British, French and German food culture. Personally, I've eaten more Chinese, Japanese, Indian, Hungarian and Italian here and I don't regret that decision 😉

Sammy, thank you very much for the interview.

FHNW School of Life Sciences

FHNW University of Applied Sciences and Arts Northwestern Switzerland School of Life Sciences Hofackerstrasse 30 CH - 4132 Muttenz
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