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School of hard knocks

Former and current students in Halifax have hit the town, gained the weight, gone to the parties, landed in jails and survived. Learn from their triumphs and mistakes.

Don't be unreasonably afraid of the dark

During my first term of university, I never went out after dark. During many of those lonely nights indoors I imagined sunset as opening a Pandora's box of serial killers, rapists, robbers, flukemen, chupacabra, boogens, ghoulies and, most terrifying, amorous frat trash running wild and with impunity. I had plenty of homework I was happy to dive into as an excuse to avoid testing my suspicions about nighttime and its demons.

My off-kilter ideas about the dark were fuelled by a couple of things, one being my confused notions of what could happen and what is likely to happen. That is, abstract probability confused with immediate possibility. Although it's not likely to happen every night, mugging can and does happen---so back in first year, I thought if I never went out, it was never likely to happen to me.

The other facet of my fear of the dark was my fear of the unknown. I assumed that every dark street was Dracula Alley and that every bar after 8pm was Pervert Central because I had never been out after dark to a bar before. I was aware that this was no way to live and needed someone to kick down the metaphorical dorm-room door in my psyche that barricaded me in every night. Finally, during a Model UN trip to Montreal, my fellow model ambassadors wouldn't take no for an answer, and I was terrified yet grateful to have my suspicions squashed. I got over my fears of the unknown and learned the parameters of what is likely to happen after dark during that trip to Montreal, simply by getting over myself and just going out.

I think that the two facets of my fear of the dark exacerbated one another. How could I know what could happen to me after dark if I never went out after dark? Once I started going out in the evenings, I began to have more fun at university in general and, most importantly, I started to feel like an adult on my own, not just away from home for the first time. ---Hillary Titley

Observe the noise bylaws and be polite to cops

I thought I was dreaming 'til I woke up in jail. When I saw the cold steel bars and heard my rambunctious cellmates, it didn't take any pinching to know this was very real. The sun was just rising when the sheriff let me go home. Walking the three blocks to my apartment, I wondered...did I really spend the night in the brig for playing bagpipes?

The previous night was the first big bash of the school year: a backyard barbeque. Even after weeks at school, last year's students in my undergrad program still had a lot of ice-breaking to do. Most people in the class came from outside the province. For example, the Albertan grilling my steak said he'd never heard bagpipes before.

So, I pulled the pipes out just before 9pm that Friday night. The police arrived soon after. (FYI, the noise bylaw in Halifax begins at 9:30pm on weeknights, 7pm on weekends. Seems counterintuitive, but that's the way it goes.)

Now, I won't take all the credit for the police showing up---it was a party, after all. But, my bagpiping probably had a lot to do with it. Still, we weren't rowdy and it wasn't even noise bylaw time, yet.

Granted, bagpipes are loud. My pipes register around 130 decibels, which is akin to a nearby jet engine. Historically, the police are quite fond of pipers. Before moving to Halifax from Prince Edward Island, the police had never bothered me (for bagpipes). Police officers and bagpipers share many of the same parade routes, after all.

Still, these curmudgeonly constables in charge of calming down the party didn't share in this pre-established camaraderie. They gave tickets to the tenants of the house. And I got a verbal warning for being loud. The cops told me they would "remember me."

What I didn't plan on was meeting those same begrudging police officers downtown later on. And I probably didn't have to use such colourful language about them crashing the party when we met. But still, I don't think I would have slept in a cell if I wasn't piping earlier that night. ---Jonathan Grady

Learn how to cook and get out once in awhile

I had always had a fascination with Halifax and when I got accepted into school here, I jumped at the chance to live on the east coast. I'm a mover, having lived here, Toronto, Germany and Edmonton all in the span of five years, so it's fair say that I've learned a few things about adjusting to life in a new city.

Here are a couple tidbits to keep in mind: Learn to cook your favourite comfort meals. Trust me on this. Moving out and venturing on your own should automatically mean learning to cook some staples lest you want to gain the frosh 40 or go bankrupt buying takeout.

Pastas, stirfrys and salads are good options, but I can't tell you how many times I've been stressed out and all I wanted was a steaming bowl of wontons and noodles at 3am. Somehow, greasy pizza and donairs, no matter how secret the sauce is, won't do. For me, there's something about wontons and noodles that's like a warm hug. Sure, Halifax has lots of great things to offer, but it doesn't have that much in terms of ethnic foods. Call up your mom or trusted cooking adviser and ask about your favourite recipes. Jot down all the ingredients and secrets and get cooking.

Also, make friends outside of school. Well, duh. But if you're doing a small program, like I did---I had about 50 classmates whom I saw day in, day out---it's easy to become lazy and just hang out with the same people. There's something comforting about making immediate friends, but it's exciting to move to a new city and make a wide array of pals. And if you're planning on staying in the city afterwards, it's wise to have friends who actually live there, not leaving to return home elsewhere.

Keeping a well-balanced lifestyle, diet, friends or otherwise, is key. After all, variety is the spice of life and it's a spice you can find in Halifax. ---Michelle Kay

Look beyond the campus 'hood for a decent living situation

I remember talking to a first-year girl about whether she would come back to Halifax in the fall. Being in third year and naturally wiser, I was about to remind her of life beyond King's campus, when she said something that threw me off: If she came back she'd find a place in the north end a couple of weeks before school started. She wasn't worried.

When I was in first year, I was worried. I knew who I was living with by February and signed a lease by March. My three roommates-to-be and I went from place to place, all within reach of campus, contemplating whether to take the house with a room so small you'd need a raised bed to fit in a desk, or a kitchen the width of a bowling alley (we went with the latter and hung a photo of a real kitchen to remind us of life outside the lane).

We thought $550 each (utilities not included) to live in what was a five-bedroom house, converted into three apartments housing 13 tenants, sounded reasonable. Our location, so close to Dal you could see my roommate changing from your seminar in the McCain building, had its pros and cons. Pro: running home to go to the washroom (read: shitbreak). Con: The only north I knew was a residence called North Pole Bay on King's campus (read: sheltered idiot).

I loved my second-year home, because ignorance is bliss. My wallet and I would've also been happy living off-campus for less than $400 a month, with a landlord that knew my name.

Learn about the different neighbourhoods in Halifax and what they have to offer before choosing to live in a glorified residence. If you do stay on campus, at least remember there's an entire city that keeps going despite your term paper deadlines and exams.

As for my friend, she made it to her second year and found a lovely north end apartment weeks before school. I spent a lot of time sitting in her big kitchen, wondering what the fuck I had been thinking.

---Angelina Chapin

Learn how to hunt and gather

A cautionary tale for King's foundation year students---if you are living on campus, you will hunger. Seven years ago this September, I was a lot like you. I was hungry for knowledge and the gnawing brought me to King's. But after the dying out of frosh week pizza parties and snacks as a footnote to sherry, I found that the dinner bell tolled for 5:30pm to 6:30pm without exception (nowadays dinner goes to 7pm). I wasn't used to such an early dinner and it seemed like the more I ate at the meal-hall buffet, the sooner I'd be hungry burning through FYP reading in the evenings.

I found myself in Chapel Bay, reading Dante's Inferno and empathizing with the gluttons in the third circle of hell: not so much the wallowing in black slush and being mauled by Cerberus, but all the eating it took to get there. I salivated like Oliver Twist at the title of Rabelais' Gargantua & Pantagruel. As the evenings wore on and St. Augustine's pear-thievery was looking better and better, I would usually break down and walk to the convenience store for some overpriced microwave ravioli, in the absence of an orchard to rob.

I was new to Halifax (and towns with more than one restaurant) so I first got my bearings by snack hunting. My dorm-room window pointed towards mecca, which was Quinpool Road when it came to food. The trek up Oxford was like a pilgrimage for when we'd reached peak pizza---and the Freeman's, Razzy's and Dairy Deli boxes piled up to the size of a third roommate. Missed meals were a fact, but breakfasts on the weekend could be made up at the Ardmore Tea Room or the Spartan. A great solution to the hungry-by-8pms came in the form of the health food store Great Ocean (now Planet Organic) and their portioned salads, quiches and other fridge-ready second dinners. Suffice to say I always kept a fridge full of Imperial cheddar.

While my roommate nostalgically saved the bottle from his first university beer, for me a rogue curry stain on a dog-eared page of Plato's Republic is just as fond a memory.

---Sam Worthington

Borrow and invest wisely

If you're like me, you never planned to stay very long in Halifax. Maybe three years, tops. I came here for love in 2003, but after a year of intermittent employment, found myself tumbling into academe. Halifax is like a big game of Marble Maze: The road tilts like the one in that Nissan Rogue commercial and you find yourself falling into the nearest university, the one down on the corner, with satchels and pens and homework raining down around you.

If I'd known then what I know now, I would have bought a house in the north end. Yes, my finances were problematic from the lack of work, but I should have begged, borrowed and stolen to put a down payment on some little peninsular two-bedroom place with a postage-stamp backyard and an unfinished basement. In the five years since I arrived, a house I could have picked up around Hurricane Juan for maybe $150 grand would, today, probably be more in the range of $250, even with only minimal renovations. But I wasn't thinking I'd be here this long. A lack of foresight means I'm still spending $6,000 a year in rent instead of building equity and exploring the mysteries of caulking. And now that the market is plateauing, the same expectations for the years to come may not apply.

And there's more I could have done. I could have cut up my credit cards. (Well, at least two of them, maybe leaving one for emergencies.) I could have arranged for a line of credit through my bank, to take the debt off the plastic and keep it all under one, more reasonable, rate of interest. One smart move I did make was to apply for debt relief from my student loans. That helped a little.

It took me awhile to figure this all out. If I'd gone to my local bank early on for some face-to-face advice from one of those crisply-dressed money managers, I could have saved myself a bundle. But time---and hard borrowed cash---has a way of slipping past without noticing, so figure out a plan before you go in the hole.

---Carsten Knox
Frosh five
1. Don’t go broke mismanaging your money.
2. Slay the mythical creatures in your imagination.
3. Eat as your mama intended, or at least figure out how to find food when the prey has gone to ground.
4. Go off-campus to locate a kick-ass pad.
5. Find chums outside your program. You can complain to them about your classmates.

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