Aimee - University of British Colombia

B Science
Semester 2, 2018
The friends I made there are for life. A beautiful country and an excellent campus life, just an overall sensational time.

Academic experience

From the start I had decided that I wanted to maximise fun and do courses outside the normal scope of my degree. So, I took four first year electives - Applied Meterology for snowsports (an online course), Intro to Psyc, Intro to Spanish and Film Studies.  My 5th subject was a requirement of my degree, 2nd year Exercise Physiology.  I didn't put all that much pressure on myself to get incredible grades and it was fairly manageable to tick on through all of the assessment and to go to the classes, just so long as you stay on top of things. It was actually quite nice not having recorded lectures, since it got me out of the house plus the campus is just nice to walk around. Lots of people on bikes and skating around.  I took the semester fairly easy compared to at home, and still got ok grades anyway (probably since I took all first years!). 

Enrollment into the classes was fairly simple - UQ abroad facilitates most of it, but I wasn't initially accepted into the one course I actually needed to be in.  But, all I had to do was get this form from the exchange student support office, show up at the first lecture and get the lecturer to sign, and I was put into a prac and enrolled by day 3 of the term. 

I guess it was nice to do some weird (for me, anyway) subjects but I did wish that I had chosen subjects that interested me, instead of just going for ones that I thought would be easy. You obviously need to do work, no matter what subject, so go for things you won't hate spending doing. I also wish I had done subjects that I couldn't do at UQ.

Personal experience

It was just incredible being in such a beautiful place, meeting like-minded,  fantastic, adventurous people every day who are equally excited to make friends as you are. There was as much freedom as you could give yourself financially and academically to go on little trips and to do activities around and during the semester.  I went by myself but so do most other people, so everyone is in the same boat.  The greatest part, by far,  is how easy it is to make friends from all over the world.  It is so easy to get a group of people and go on a hike on the weekend, and meeting people through the Exchange Students Club (which I highly recommend joining) was so incredibly easy.  Living on campus also helped so much with your friends living just up the road of even across the driveway, or in your flat!  

I left AUS a month early and swung by Hawaii on the way, then spent a few days in Vancouver before I went on a road trip through the Rockies with some random exchange students that I met on the exchange Facebook page, who luckily turned out to be awesome people. (Canada is ridiculously beautiful by the way.)
I also did one little trip through the exchange club over a long weekend - basically a summer camp for adults, also fantastic, and a bunch of hikes of the surrounding mountains, mainly day trips. There are so many easily accessible hikes around the city, especially if you rent the share cars that are all over uni. Ice hockey is also must. I don't really think it matters too much where you end up going. I honestly cannot imagine how you could have a bad time. Plus, now I have people to visit all over the world.

Accommodation

I lived at Fairview Crescent.  Three very nice housemates, two of whom were Canadian and introduced me to other Canadians which was nice. Its an easy walk to uni and just a really cute and nice, quite vibe.  You had to put in applications for parties which was easy enough. There was also free food in the common spaces pretty often if you watch out on the Facebook page, plus little events and things. I think most of the exchange students were split between Fairview Crescent and Walter Gage. Gage is more central to the uni, very close to the pool and gym and everything but I think the rooms themselves are nicer at Fairview, plus just more social since it's more like townhouses instead of highrise apartments.  Always lock the front door would be my only advice, especially if you are on the bottom floor. Both places are close to Pacific Spirit Regional Park - very good for running through.

Costs

I spent more money that I expected to. I really didn't track my money, and treated myself to whatever groceries I wanted (I love to cook).  Little bits and bobs that I didn't plan for or think about seemed to drain my money away bit my bit.  I also didn't expect to make a few big purchases; concert tickets, a (sexy) new snowboard + snowboard bag and avalanche safety gear (I went to work a snow season in Japan after the semester finished at UBC), clothes and textbooks.  

Accomodation was maybe $800 a month, flights around $1500. I think I would have been fine with around $13000 all together, including the Rockies trip which was around $1000 for 2 weeks.  I maxed out on the extra HECS you were allowed to take out. 
Most things were pretty similar to AUS. Less tax on alcohol, but all prices are shown before tax, so everything is more expensive than you think, and then tips need to be added on as well. Groceries were the only thing that I would say was more expensive.  

Take advantage of free events on campus - e.g. Thursday nights in the Pit. Also try and get your money's work out of the compass card - you have to pay a flat fee for public transport as a student but you can ride as much as you like around the city.  Don't buy textbooks unless you go to class and they say that you really need it. Take full advantage of thrift stores to furnish your apartment!!!

Challenge

The biggest challenge was organising activities with friends. Last minute planning doesn't work when you need to book ferries and accommodation. A few of our plans completely fell flat when we found that everything was booked out over long weekends. Try and plan things a few weeks in advance, trips to Tofino/Vancouver Island, especially over the long weekends.  There will always be people willing to fill up numbers if you book for too many. Also just getting myself to do cool things on weekends was a struggle sometimes, especially if I left all of ht assignments for the weekend.  When I realised how accessible some of the hikes were by public transport, and found a group that were keen to hike/rent cars though things picked up.

Professional Development

Vancouver was pretty similar to Brisbane, in the way that everybody speaks English, everything was very facilitated and built up.  I don't think it was all that far removed from say living in a sharehouse in Brisbane in a lot of ways. That being said, you are essentially going alone to live in another country for a while so a certain level of independence and self reliance is a given.  I think the main thing is that you learn so much about yourself and the things you are interested in, and you learn to pursuit the things you want. It's a new setting and you choose what you want to do with it. You gain confidence in yourself and I think you end up being more social.

Highlight

I have two memories that stand out. The first was just hanging out with my main group of friends in what we called the 'Party Bunker', just laughing our heads off at I don't even remember what. It was a weeknight, we ordered pizza and sat on the floor, avoiding study. 
My second was an overnight hike and camp with one of my favourite people that I met over there. It was pretty cold overnight and we were vastly under-equipped, didn't have reception and decided on the way up where we were camping. But sitting on the side of a hill in Magnesia Meadows, overlooking the Howe Sound with a bottle of wine, watching a stunning sunset, not another soul in sight, legs aching from a massive hike up - a memory I hope I never forget. 
Plus it was a free trip! Bus accessible - would recommend.

Top tips

Honestly just DO IT. You are going to love it, no matter where you go. It is going to be pricey but not a single person that I spoke to regretted it.  You meet the best people and have the most incredible time together. Pick subjects you will love and get out there and see the sights. Order the Silk Road and a soy chai for dinner at East is East.  Meet as many people as you can in the first week but stay open to meeting other people after that too. Have a dip at Wreck Beach or just go and watch the sun set before it gets too chilly. Get around Halloween and Thanksgiving (we did our own little 'family' thanksgiving and it was lovely). Just try and squeeze the most out of it because it flew by and before you know it you are on the way to the airport.