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Thursday, 1 May 2014

Read the Fine Print

Okay, calm down, calm down, you can stop the applause, yes I'm back. You can thank my Kindle for dying and giving me nothing better to do.

If you have ever emailed people of importance only to realize your utter stupidity in the email after it was sent, you understand how I feel. About two weeks ago, I received a document from the University of Exeter (the school I am going to next year) containing a Pre-CAS Contract and a CAS Data Check. I've gathered that a CAS is basically a file containing student information, and I will probably never come to know what the letters in the acronym represent. For all I know, it could be Cool Aphid Structures and the whole system is a lie. Better not push it. Anyhow, I received this document and was told that I was required to check and sign it before resubmission in order to get a CAS ID number which apparently is needed if I want to get into the country. Welp.

It was all going fine and dandy until I came across this:

Alright, really it said "Qualifications: QCF_NQF6", but it looked like gibberish. I have an Ontario Secondary School Diploma. This was nonsense I did not need in my life. I figured a QCF_NQF6 must have been the British equivalent to my qualifications, so I did a little research with my best friend, Google, and you know what I found? Zilch. Well, I came to the understanding that a QCF and an NQF were not meant to be placed together, and a level 6 was equal to a Bachelor's degree. Oops.

I thought back to when I applied and if I had given any indication that I had a Bachelor's degree. No wonder I got into places like Bristol so easily, I thought. They think I already have a freaking Bachelor's. If this mistake were to be corrected, would they realize I wasn't as qualified as they had thought and kick me out? They had every right to.

Panicking slightly at this point, I contacted a few friends who were currently in various school systems in England to see if they could shed further light on what a QCF_NQF6 was. None had a clue. Soon, I realized that my application for accommodation was invalid because when I had thought I entered my CAS number, I had really just entered my reference number, which is not the same thing. I had to get this CAS thing figured out soon or I'd be living on the street next year.

I emailed the university about the issue. One week went by, no response. I sent another email to a different address. Another week went by. At this point I was worried I wouldn't even have it figured out in time to apply for a visa. It was time to take out the big guns.


I put the document on his desk, pointed at it and told him he needed to fix the problem. He picked up the papers, narrowed his eyes, and pointed to a line I must have ignored. It read, "Section 2: Programme Information". My eyes drifted upward to the top of the page, which read, "Section 1: Personal Information".

"Jess," my dad started. "this isn't stating what qualifications you already have. It's stating what qualifications you will have upon completing the course at Exeter."

...Mmm, that's a facepalm and a half.

I really spend a long time writing emails to important institutions, such as the university I hope to attend next year. I quadruple check those emails to ensure there are no spelling mistakes or errors in wording, and they sound respectful though not robotic. I do the same thing when reading important documents. I read that line, that silly "Section 2", over and over. Sometimes, things just don't process the way they should.

Hanging my head in shame, I scanned the copies of the signed document, carefully emailed them, and then proceeded to email the university (who has still yet to respond) to explain my mistake. Hopefully I will receive my CAS number soon and will be able to resubmit my application for accommodation.

Until then, I think my Kindle is recharged. Peace.

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Cross-Cultural Greetings

Greetings are a very important aspect of first impressions. They say a lot about a person; whether they are inviting or reclusive, comfortable or anxious. As a foreigner, however, greetings can be confusing as fudge.

Back in Canada, there were three ways you could acceptably greet a stranger.

1. The Nod and Wave

This is possibly the most informal and withdrawn of greetings, but is commonly used with diffident youths. Jerk head upward in the stranger's general direction, and raise hand swiftly at approximately chest-level. Keep hand upright and without deviation until time of wave is completed. Always raise hand after the nod, or not at all. Waving is recommended among female youths. Be sure to retain eye contact during procedure, else one may seem presumptuous. This method allows one to not seem too eager, whilst acknowledging the existence of another human being.

2. The Handshake

This is the most formal and common of greetings. It is often used when a friend introduces another, but is always used within the work environment. Subtly wipe sweat off palms. Extend right arm forward, and slightly cross to the left side of the body. Rotate hand so it is vertical to the ground, palm facing left. Grasp hand of stranger with medium strength. Raise and lower forearm twice before releasing. Smiling is recommended during procedure. This method is formal and businesslike, whilst remaining friendly. It allows for a safe first impression if the traits of the stranger are unknown. Can be applied in any situation.

3. The Hug

This greeting has the potential to be socially dangerous, but helps to form quick friendships if used properly. Stand closely to stranger, lean forward, and wrap arms around them. It is most acceptable to wrap the right arm above their left shoulder, and the left arm below their right shoulder. Hold for approximately 2 seconds. Longer could result in one being thought of as having inappropriate affections, and shorter could result in the same, with the additional trait of being self-consciously awkward. This method is generally used when a friend is introducing a very warm and sociable character. It is possible this person enjoys building strong, open relationships quickly, and thus will appreciate the hug of a stranger. If they are misinterpreted, however, it can cause for an uncomfortable disconnect between the two parties.

It is difficult enough to anticipate the proper greeting in the country I grew up in, with all its signals and exceptions, but greetings in Belgium are a whole different ball game. None of the above actions are an acceptable way to greet a stranger. The acceptable way to greet is a kiss on the cheek. This would be easy enough to assimilate to if not for the exceptions.

From what I understand (I may be entirely incorrect, mind you), in Wallonian-Brabant (French-speaking Belgium) it is proper to kiss once for a stranger, twice for an acquaintance, and thrice for a close friend or family member. Things can get confusing quickly, however, as it is also proper to kiss a close friend or family member once. In Flemish-Brabant (Dutch-speaking Belgium), however, it is the exact opposite. It is proper to kiss thrice for a stranger, twice for an acquaintance, and once for a close friend or family member. What, then, is appropriate for a multilingual city like Brussels? And I thought figuring out friendship statuses was difficult before all of this pressure.

You would think this would be difficult as it is without further complications.

I go to an international church, where the message and worship are in English, but can be translated into many different languages through the use of headphones. It is a popular destination for many Christian travellers, and we are visited by many new people from all over the world every week.

This is where things get confusing.

I am not even going to get into the struggle of coming into contact with completely new greetings from around the world that I am not aware of. Let’s stick with Belgium and North America for now.

There is always a moment of hesitation when two parties don’t know how the other person greets. Will they be offended if I greet them in a way they’re not used to? What if they’ve never been kissed in greeting before? Does a handshake seem too cold and distant? The fact is, as both parties worry about this, searching for signals from the other, oftentimes they are both completely comfortable with any form of greeting. They are in an international church, after all. Both tend to also be aware that the other person probably feels equally as flexible, but one can never be sure.

The resulting incident tends to be a hesitating step forward-step back embracing greeting jumble. I have accidentally touched someone’s crotch, kissed someone’s hair, and groped someone’s chest. I am probably now known as the Town Pervert. If you are reading this and have once been one of my accidental victims, please know that I am not a pervert. I am simply flustered by cross-cultural greetings.

Social Obligations

Yes, today is a day where I do not, in any way, desire to function like a normal human being should. The fact that yesterday and the day before were equally as underachieving is irrelevant. Today I am remaining in my Care Bear pyjamas and only leaving my bed to gather food for my nest.

It seems the universe would have it that every time this is my attitude, it is just then that I am given social obligations. I couldn't have random encounters with strangers while I looked my best, could I? Of course not, that would be no fun. I was leaving my cocoon of plush covers and interneting to grab a snack when the doorbell rang.

The horror.

It was bad enough that I looked like I had spent the night crawling through the gutter, but I certainly wasn't prepared to embarrass myself further by attempting to speak French with my limited knowledge of the language. I was positive it would end up with me just staring at him, hyperventilating, trying to understand the strange sounds coming out of his mouth. It usually did. This social encounter was surely going to traumatize me for life.

I had to act fast.

I eyed my snack longingly. There was no time. Empty handed, I picked up my feet and shot up the stairs like a catnip-infused feline. Peaking through the curtain on my bedroom's window, I waited until I saw the truck disappear before daring to breathe.

This isn't the first time this has happened. I am both introverted and extroverted, and only the new day's sun can decide which side of my personality will overcome the other in the Battle of Social Responsiveness. For no reason whatsoever, I can go from laughing with strangers in a crowded room to (literally) running away from other human beings with panic in my throat. As there is no warning for this shift in personality, it can cause for some quite uncomfortable situations. The most uncomfortable, of course, being during my attempts to flirt.

Things would be going splendidly when all of a sudden my brain would decide, Woah there, going a little fast aren't you? Let's slow things down a little. There you go, now you don't know how to speak. In fact, now you get frustrated by the notion of speaking! I'll make you want him to leave, just for good measure. There, that cooled things down a little. Don't worry, I'm only looking out for you.

Unfortunately, the next day I would go back to wanting to speak with him until my lips fell off. You can see how sometimes opposites don't attract when they exist within the same person.

Somehow I have kept some pretty sturdy friendships despite my fluctuating personality. I may run from the ring of a doorbell, discontinue a conversation mid-sentence, and decide every so often that I prefer the company of my cat, but I genuinely quite like people.


Monday, 17 March 2014

The Rogue Blood Vessel

It is quite normal to get a nosebleed during dramatic weather changes or if a basketball mistakes your face for a net. Unfortunately, I never had such excuses.

There is one blood vessel in my nose that gets a little too excited sometimes and decides to burst every so often. One day, I decided that the hour-long nosebleeds were a little too much for me, and went to the doctor's office to get the vessel cauterized. I was told it was too damaged, and cauterization wasn't an option. I would have to live with that rebellious little bugger until it decided to grow up.


I was on the bus one time, and if you have ever experienced buses in downtown Ottawa during rush hour, you know what I mean when I say this bus was crowded. As I shoved my way onto the cattle cart, I found a place to stand squished up against the front window of the vehicle, a spotlight for the faces of the audience heading home from work. I was about half an hour from home when it started.

I felt that awful trickle down my throat and looked back at the crowd in horror. I grabbed a receipt from my pocket just as blood began pouring from my nose, but my efforts were futile. My arms were lined with red and it wasn't slowing anytime soon.

It was then that one lady shouted to the rest of the bus, "ANYBODY GOT A TISSUE? THIS GIRL NEEDS SOME TISSUES." I watched as, one by one, ladies began rifling through their purses and men began shaking out their pockets. The bus driver nearly swerved off the road checking his coat. Thank goodness for mothers with snotty children.


Ottawa has some pretty nasty mosquito swarms during the limited summer months. It is generally survivable unless the scent of your blood becomes extremely enhanced by, say, a nosebleed. It was one of those days where you felt like things couldn't get any worse, but lo' and behold, the universe found a way to make it so. I was frustrated and tired and generally upset after an awful day at school, and began my walk home.

There was a wooded path between my old school and the house I used to live in, which was about a half hour's walk. As I walked, I burned off some steam, and felt like the evening would be a little brighter.

It was then that the universe decided to curse me.

There was no crowd of huddled strangers this time to assist me with tissues, but no one to embarrass myself in front of either. I had nothing to stop the nosebleed, so it didn't take long for my hands and arms to be covered in red.

That's when I was attacked.

It felt like every mosquito in town swarmed me that day. By the time I escaped the trees and stepped onto my street, I had about 40 bites. I was about to step up to my house when I realized I had forgotten my key. Knowing that the door was always kept locked, I kept walking in the hope that my sister would have her key at work. I stepped inside the gas station she worked at, but instead of my sister standing by the counter, it was a very attractive coworker of hers. And there I was, face caked with dried blood, legs bumpy and swollen, and eyes wild with rage and confusion. I am a wonder with first impressions.

I left, planning to wait on my doorstep for a couple hours until one of my parents or my sister, wherever she was, got home. When I got there, however, I decided to ring the doorbell even though I knew no one could be home.

My sister opened the door.

I cried.


You know in anime, when after a character sees someone really hot, blood bursts from their nose because of the increase in blood pressure?

Well, that happens to me.

I would be in the middle of some lovely one-on-one romantics when suddenly that superfluous vessel would decide it was the perfect time to join the party and third wheel my date. Tip: Ladies, if a man is being too forward, bleeding on him and ruining his favourite shirt is a foolproof way to ruin the mood.

On the bright side, after a bad breakup, you can always look back and smile at the ruin of his shirt.


There are many stories of my rogue blood vessel, including one in the middle of a church service (I try to ignore the irony), but I think that is enough embarrassment for one day. Stay tuned for more embarrassing stories, because unfortunately, I have many.