February 19, 2009

Spring Break/Reading Week and Smarties/Rockets

So next week we have the week off of classes. It's called reading week here...well most people call it that or spring break...but I doubt all the students are going to be reading all week. I'm used to a two week winter break and a two week spring break...but this is good too. There is a time where students hit the wall and need time to relax and recharge (or catch up on their old work).

There are a few little differences that maybe I could be pointing out. For now there's just this one: Smarties in Canada are sugar coated chocolates while in the US they are fruit flavoured candies. In Canada, American Smarties are called Rockets.

Even though I've mostly lived in the US...if you offer me Smarties and give me Rockets I'm not going to talk to you again...honestly.



One other thing you'll notice right when you cross the border is higher prices. Price gouging is common all over Canada, but especially in small towns like Sackville where college students don't have any other choices. Think $4 for a slice of pizza or $3.50 for a bag of popcorn. Canadians might be used to it, but if you're coming to Mount A from the US especially don't be surprised at the higher prices. I'd recommend buying everything at home before you get here unless you like paying more money.

Obama in Canada

Obama visited Canada today. It was pretty interesting and a little inspiring to see Obama in Canada. Hopefully the US/Canada relationship can be repaired a bit after languishing during the past eight years or so.


Obama declares love for Canada, banishes Bush era

Thu Feb 19, 2009 10:59pm GMT

By David Ljunggren

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Declaring "I love this country" and waving to ecstatic Canadian crowds, U.S. President Barack Obama helped reignite on Thursday a close binational friendship that had waned during the administration of his predecessor George W. Bush.

Obama revived a tradition whereby new U.S. presidents make their first foreign trip to Canada, which is one of America's most important trading partners.

Bush made his initial visit to Mexico after winning the 2000 election and subsequently grew ever more unpopular among Canadians, in particular over his decision to invade Iraq.

The new U.S. leader, on the other hand, was treated like a rock star by the thousands of people who gathered in freezing temperatures to welcome him on Parliament Hill in Ottawa.

Unlike Bush, who rarely expressed much public enthusiasm for Canada, a close U.S. ally and its largest suppler of energy, Obama ladled on praise for its northern neighbor.

"I love this country. We could not have a better friend and ally," Obama told a closing news conference with Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

"I'm looking forward to this being the start of a continued extraordinary relationship between our two countries."

Obama has a Canadian brother-in-law and two of his key staff members are from Canada.

Polls show he is much more popular among Canadians than their own prime minister, quite possibly because of his relaxed style and easy humor.

"I want to also, by the way, thank some of the Canadians who came over the border to campaign for me during the election. It was much appreciated and I'm looking forward to coming back to Canada as soon as it warms up," he said to laughter.

Obama even managed to start the news conference with a stumble -- declaring that "it is a great pleasure to be here in Iow-, err, in Ottawa" -- but no one seemed to mind.

Harper -- a rather stiff and formal figure -- referred to Obama as "Mr. President" yet seemed more comfortable than he had been with Bush, who raised eyebrows by calling him "Steve" after the two men first met in 2006.

Critics accused Harper's Conservative government of taking its orders from Bush, giving him another reason to keep his distance from the previous White House occupant. There are no such problems with Obama.

"Canada and the United States are ... closer friends than any two nations on the face of the earth," Harper said.

As Obama left Parliament Hill on his way back to the airport, his armored limousine made an impromptu visit to Ottawa's central Byward Market area where he bought some cookies, pausing afterward to wave to cheering bystanders.

(Reporting by David Ljunggren; editing by Peter Galloway)

Google Analytics Update

Just a quick little update. I chose to include short updates every once in a while instead of including a site counter because Google Analytics seems more reliable and accurate and provides a lot of interesting information on visitors. It's interesting to see the specifics of what people from India or the UK spent the most time reading. As of yesterday the top ten countries by visit were:


1.2,548
2.634
3.33
4.26
5.24
6.21
7.19
8.12
9.12
10.11


I wonder how they compare to the International Students at Mount Allison. Below is the number and distribution of visitors in the past four months. I'm a little surprised that from a very narrowed set of visits to sites about/from in this small University in (technically) rural Maritime Canada 3441 have been to this site. I guess I must be doing something right. Feel free to leave any comments, questions, or requests for post topics below.



February 18, 2009

Sackville at Night

Since I got here in late August I've noticed that campus and Sackville in general seems really serene at night. Like those small towns in made for TV movies that don't actually exist (in a good way...like without the corniness and the terrible plot) that's what Sackville at night reminds me of (haha...ending a sentence on a preposition...what are you going to do about it?). Here's a few pictures from September to recently.




Downtown
Northside

Campbell
Edwards
Harper
The Owens Art Gallery
The Chapel
The Athletic Centre
Swan Pond

Between Windsor and Jennings
Downtown
Swan Pond

Mel's Tea Room


Leadership Mount Allison

So I went to Mount Allison's Leadership Certificate Award night on the January 31st (and just received my certificate due to a small clerical error), finishing the process that began in September. At the beginning of each year there is an all-day retreat at a camp in Moncton with different team building exercises, followed by a series of speakers talking about ''leadership" in different scenarios (Bathurt's Mayor, the founder of War Child Canada, and others) and a group volunteer project. Below the info from Mount Allison followed by my written response to it...a little corny I know...but true. There's also a few pictures of the Leadership retreat...which in the beginning of the first semester is a great way to make friends and meet new people.
Leadership Development Certificate Programme

The Leadership Development Certificate Programme is a peer-led experience, offered as a not-for-credit program. It's a great way to meet other students AND to foster leadership abilities AND to get involved in university life. The registration fee is just $20.

No previous leadership experience is required for the Certificate Programme.

All students, members of the University community and public are welcome to share in leadership activities. Registration takes place each year in early September.

The Certificate Programme encourages small group work, community involvement, social activism, civic responsibility, volunteer activities, awareness of group dynamics, risk-taking, and conflict resolution.

The activities include:

• presentations by four speakers

• small-group discussions on the issues raised by the speakers

• a one-day, outdoor-activity leadership retreat

• involvement in group volunteer projects

• submission of a personal reflection essay on leadership development

• closing reception.





At the leadership retreat the group team building activities helped me to enhance my self confidence as every group member was given a chance to give their opinion on how best to overcome obstacles throughout the day. I especially liked the random selection of groups that forced us to branch out and interact with people we wouldn’t necessarily work together with on campus.

In terms of the speakers, I enjoyed Pippa Moss’ lecture on her time in Africa helping a family there. It was a really good example of one person actually making a concrete difference in the lives of others. I also thought Dr. Samantha Nutt’s speech about her experiences with War Child Canada was gripping, and that she made an effective call for people to volunteer. I felt that her selflessness was refreshing, and although I have already been contemplating serving in the Peace Corps after University (I have US citizenship), it helped to renew my confidence about engaging in potentially dangerous volunteer work.

Our group’s volunteer project was collecting toys and other gifts to pack in shoeboxes and taking a day to sort hundreds of boxes for the Samaritan Purse’s Operation Christmas Child. It was the first community service activities that I had been involved in that only helped those who held particular religious views. I realized that although I myself did not wish to minister to others that my volunteer work would help bring a smile to those with very little, and that outweighed any misgivings I had about the explicitly religious nature of the organization I was supporting. In the end I was happy to have helped bring something, even small and temporary, to those in mostly forgotten parts of the world.

From this program as a whole I think that I’ve gained a more global perspective, and a more honest perspective on Canada’s involvement in different conflicts in the world. The speaker’s series and volunteer project helped me think more in terms of the global village and to have a better knowledge of conditions in some of the most dangerous places in the world.

February 15, 2009

Update: Apply Now for Canadian and American Passports

If you haven't heard about the problems in Canada in 2007 relating to Passport Canada's inability to cope with the massive influx of applicants below is one opinion piece from the Vancouver Sun at the time. There's not much individuals can do when there is a massive backlog of applications...but you can apply now to beat the rush when almost everybody on both sides of the border will need a passport to travel across the International Boundary by land.


It's time for heads to roll at Passport Canada
Vancouver Sun

What is it going to take for the managers at Passport Canada to get their act together? Furious people waiting in endless lines, angry letters and phone calls to Passport Canada staff and to newspapers, and media reports and editorials so far seem to have had little effect.

The lineups continue, as does Passport Canada's practice of telling people that they're not going to be seen after they've waited hours in the cold and rain. In fact, the agency's arrogance has reached new heights in the past few weeks.

Consider, for example, The Vancouver Sun's attempts to find out merely who's in charge of the Vancouver office. Calls to the offices of Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay and Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day failed to yield an answer.

Letters and phone calls to Passport Canada CEO Gerald Cossette went unreturned, which suggests he has no interest in serving the public or taking responsibility for the mess he's created. And Ottawa-based Passport Canada representative Fabian Lengelle told a reporter that he wasn't sure whether he should release the name of the person in charge in Vancouver. Now that's hardly the right attitude for a government agency that's supposed to be serving the public.

Ultimately, it took a tip from the public for The Sun to learn that Hal Hickey is the director of Passport Canada's western region. Naturally, Hickey couldn't be reached for comment.

Perhaps these men are hiding because they don't have a clue as to what they're doing. After all, there's plenty of evidence to show Passport Canada's negligence. It's now been more than three months since the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative -- which requires Canadians travelling by air to the U.S. to present a passport -- went into effect. That should have been more than enough time for the agency to have resolved the continuing problems.

In fact, Passport Canada had a lot longer than three months to prepare for the increase in passport applications. Auditor-General Sheila Fraser warned the federal government in mid-2006 that the agency wasn't ready for the increase in applications. Naturally, nothing was done -- which has led to the current crisis.

Despite Fraser's warning, Passport Canada doesn't even seem willing to admit its negligence. Lengelle, who to his credit is one of the few officials willing to even speak to the media, denied that the agency was unprepared, allowing only that it was "under-prepared."

However Lengelle wants to spin it, Passport Canada officials were and are negligent, and were and are arrogant. Since they seem unable or unwilling to resolve the problem -- and unwilling to even respond to public inquiries -- it's high time that we hear from Peter MacKay or Stephen Harper on this matter.

Even more so, it's time they dealt with the officials at Passport Canada, the public servants who have little interest in serving the public.

And on the American side they seem to be getting ready...but you should still apply as soon as possible. Right now, with the decrease in applications you'll have your new passport in weeks. With the few exceptions/alternatives (Children, Active Military, Native-American/ Enhanced Driver's License, Passport Card, Nexus, etc...) you'll need a passport to re-enter the country in three and a half months so I would apply as soon as you can to ensure you can still come to Canada this summer.

Make passport plans now for Mexico and Canada trips

Starting June 1, U.S. citizens will have to show a passport or other special document for land or sea travel. Be prepared for any hitches.

By Jane Engle

February 03, 2009

If you're traveling outside the U.S. this year, here are two pieces of advice: Get or renew your passport now, and think twice before planning a car trip to Mexico or Canada in June.

That's when we may see the biggest change ever for Western Hemisphere travel. Starting June 1 (unless Congress changes the deadline), Americans will need to show a passport, a passport card or other special document to return to the U.S. by land or sea from Mexico and Canada.

Despite assurances from agencies involved, there may be glitches and delays. Two years ago, the last big change in entry rules -- requiring a passport for air passengers returning from Mexico, Canada, the Caribbean and Bermuda -- inspired a stampede of passport applications and created confusion at airports. Some travelers waited months for their passports, and others just stayed home.

Although passport demand has recently fallen along with wait times, and the State Department has ramped up staffing and facilities since 2007, the upcoming change will affect far more Americans than the 2007 rules change.

Just how many, though, is hard to quantify. Out of more than 1 million people, both U.S. and foreign citizens, who legally enter the U.S. each day, about three-fourths arrive by land from Mexico or Canada, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

But the agency doesn't keep track of how many are repeat crossers or use documents that won't be accepted after June 1, said spokeswoman Kelly Ivahnenko. So it can't predict how many Americans will need to order a passport or passport card by June.

What to do to be prepared? First, study up. Second, do some planning.

A little history: In 2004, Congress, reacting to issues raised by the Sept. 11 attacks, decided to plug a potential hole in border security that had allowed Americans to present various types of identification, such as driver's licenses, birth certificates or sometimes nothing, when reentering the U.S. from certain neighbor countries.

It passed a law that, when fully implemented, would require citizens of the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Caribbean countries and Bermuda to show passports or other secure documents that established identity and nationality in order to enter the U.S. from these nearby nations.

What followed were years of increasingly complicated rules, shifting deadlines and the Great Passport Meltdown of 2007, in which wait times for passports doubled to 12 weeks or more.

Lobbyists for border countries, employers and travel industries joined the fray. Changes were phased in by mode of travel -- air, land or sea -- with plenty of exceptions.

It was not just where you traveled but how you traveled that determined what documents you would need. In January 2007, the U.S. government began requiring a passport to fly back to the U.S. from Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean and Bermuda. In January 2008, it said it would stop accepting oral declarations at sea and land checkpoints. And on June 1, it plans to fully implement the new document requirements for land and sea crossings.

What you need now: Generally, you need a passport to enter the U.S. by air from any foreign country. If you enter by land or sea from Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean or Bermuda, you may not need a passport, but you do need at least a birth certificate or other proof of citizenship, plus a government-issued photo ID, such as a driver's license. Children 18 or younger need only a birth certificate for land and sea entry from these areas.

What you'll need starting June 1: The same rules apply for air travel: passport required.

If you're arriving from Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean or Bermuda by land or sea, you'll generally have several choices: a passport; a passport card, a new type of ID that the U.S. government began issuing last year; an enhanced driver's license, a new high-tech version offered by a few states; or so-called Trusted Traveler cards such as SENTRI and NEXUS for frequent border crossers.

There will be various exceptions for land and sea crossings from these destinations. U.S. and Canadian children younger than 16, for example, will need only proof of citizenship, such as a birth certificate; in organized groups, the cutoff will be age 18. Passengers on cruise ships that sail round-trip from a U.S. port may need only a birth certificate and a government-issued photo ID (although the cruise line or foreign countries they visit may require a passport.)

You'll find a summary of the current and new rules at a website maintained by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, www.getyouhome.gov.

How to get the right stuff: The State Department's travel website, www.travel.state.gov, (click on "Passports for U.S. Citizens") is one-stop shopping for information on passports and passport cards. It has instructions and forms.

But you don't have to go to D.C. or even to a regional passport agency (there are two in California, one in L.A. and one in San Francisco) to get these documents.

If you're renewing, you can download the form from the State Department website and mail it in. If it's your first time, you can visit any one of thousands of so-called passport acceptance facilities, such as post offices, to get what you need.

Go to a passport agency only if you need your passport in less than two weeks for travel or less than four weeks in order to obtain a foreign visa. You'll need to make an appointment.

A passport costs $100 for adults and $85 for children younger than 16 (renewals are less); a passport card costs $45 for adults and $35 for children younger than 16.

It's recently been taking about three weeks to process applications, the State Department says, but allow more time to make sure you get your passport.

The bottom line: A passport gives you the most flexibility; it's good everywhere. To save money, you might consider a passport card if you plan to cross into nearby countries only by land or sea, or as an extra ID.

But also consider this: You never know when you may need a passport.

While reporting on processing backlogs in 2007, I met a family struggling to get passports to fly to El Salvador to visit a relative who had fallen ill. Processing a passport can take days, weeks or even months if you have paperwork problems. A crisis may not wait.

It's all about thinking ahead.