A Different Kind of Summer
By Cindy Wei • Schulich Leader at University of Waterloo
In summer 2014, I spent an exciting two months working full-time in the French-speaking village of St-Eustache, Quebec. In summer 2015, my sister and I lived in Magny-le-Hongre, near the awe-inspiring city of Paris, France. Summer 2016 was spent in Kathmandu, where I volunteered in the surgical ward of Nepal’s only paediatric hospital. Needless to say, my previous three summers were not only invigorating, but also filled with learning and creating fun memories.
As for summer 2017? School.
Because the Kinesiology co-op program at the University of Waterloo follows a school-work-school-work pattern that alternates every four months, I had to spend the months of May, June, July, and a large chunk of August, in Waterloo, where I lived in lecture halls and my ant-infested apartment. Every day was a blurred cycle of study time, lectures, study time, labs, and more study time. The most important thing I learned this semester? It’s probably not the best idea to take six courses and two labs in a shortened semester. Especially if Biomechanics is involved.
In August, I had two year’s worth of furniture and useless junk that I’d accumulated - to either throw away or take home. Fortunately, people came and bought all my furniture, printers, mattress and air mattress, and others. For five nights, during final exams week, I slept on the floor in a furniture-less room, used scarves for a blanket, and studied at Menchies (which, by the way, has great wifi). Moving in the midst of final exams was a nightmare; to make it worse, I live on the fourth floor and we aren’t blessed with an elevator. I didn’t think things could get any worse until my mom discovered that my September house, for my work term in Scarborough, was a scam. Not only did we lose our deposit, but I also had to urgently search for a place to live. Before my flight home, my suitcase ended up being fifty pounds overweight, so I had to purchase a new suitcase and re-pack on the spot.
You can probably tell that this summer didn’t quite live up to the others.
The day after my last final exam and a disastrous apartment inspection, I said a bittersweet (mostly sweet) goodbye to my bare apartment and hopped onto the plane to go back to British Columbia. I hadn’t been home since summer 2016, since I did my first term of second year from September to December in Waterloo, stayed in Waterloo during Christmastime, then worked in Toronto from January through April, and started my second term of second year in May. Over a year without my dog, over a year without the cozy bedroom that I shared with my sister, over a year without Chinese buns from my grandparents, and over a year of spotty FaceTime calls that meant to serve as a virtual replacement for my flesh-and-blood family.
I must’ve been really happy to be home because I cried a lot of involuntary tears that night. Had I subconsciously been missing my family that much? Or was I truly just grateful for good Vancouver sushi? Or, maybe I was simply thrilled to be sleeping on a surface that wasn’t hardwood floor. We’ll never know.
28 days. That’s how much time I spent in Coquitlam with my family. I normally dislike using clichés, but the four weeks seemed to fly. My sister, Seline, turned my summer from a hectic, stressful time into a hilarious, though restful, month that included Elf Bowling, Barbie princess movies, audiobooks and naps, and pimple stickers.
Seline taught me how to dab, and though I’m about a year late, I’m glad she finally helped me onto the bandwagon. She taught me how Masterchef and The Bachelorette work. She showed me how to play with kinetic sand, and how to whip on any bass drop. She showed me how to hashtag, how to speak robotically, apply face masks with an oil painting brush, and how to caw like a crow. She taught me how to beat all the Survival levels on Plants vs. Zombies using downloadable cheats. Seline taught me how to use words like “conspicuous”, “rebound”, “low-key”, “pompadour”, and “injudicious”. She also taught me that I should never sleep facing her, otherwise I may wake up with tiny blobs of lotion applied systematically on every square inch of my face.
We got our nails painted, window shopped, watched plenty of dystopian/apocalyptic movies, ate incredible sushi, and made the stickiest homemade slime. We sang. Les Miserables and too much Whitney Houston, to be exact. If I sang back in Ontario, I’d be evicted from my student apartment because I can’t carry a tune. At all.
We watched America’s Got Talent, vlogs, and diving championships. Seline, who studies Japanese in school and lived in Japan over the spring, introduced me to her new favourite anime. We practiced talking in British accents (she’s mastered it). We had coffee and tea with several of our wonderful high school teachers, and even spent a day at the University of British Columbia, where Seline and I browsed the fascinating Beaty Biodiversity Museum, the Museum of Anthropology, and the picturesque Nitobe gardens.
We explored restaurants in Vancouver, one of which was a trendy vegan dinner joint, where Seline and I munched on falafels with the wise and organized, yet humble, Vivian Tsang (UBC Schulich Leader). We felt so honoured to have had the opportunity to chat with Vivian before she started medical school.
Seline and I read books. Despite being picky, I’ve always been an avid reader with a love for straightforward YA novels packed with character development and plot twists. Seline introduced me to Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard, an unpredictable and intricate cross between The Hunger Games, X-Men, Game of Thrones, and 1984. I also rekindled my love for the hauntingly beautiful When They Fade by Jeyn Roberts, a creative paranormal novel about the afterlife that had me intrigued for months. It’s been a while since I’ve fallen heads-over-heels in love with fictional characters, but I was so completely infatuated that I contacted the author, who was living in Vancouver at the time. One of the highlights of my summer was having coffee with Jeyn Roberts herself, the thoughtful and talented author who was kind enough to answer our questions about her richly-imagined characters and the writing process.
My family spent three days on Salt Spring Island, where Seline and I wrote terrible poetry, ate goat milk gelato, collected sand dollars, and attempted to paddleboard. We savoured many long and bumpy car rides while blasting Despacito (apparently, my dad’s all-time favourite song) and trying to sing Russian opera.
Thank you, Seline, for turning my summer around in four short weeks. You were absolutely a glittery glimmer of joy in what I’d expected would be a serious, solely-school, empty shell of a summer. I wish you a spectacular first semester of Grade 12, and I can’t wait to learn more from you - in precisely 101 days.