Tor - University of British Columbia

B Advanced Science
Semester 1, 2019
"Too many people say no in life" and "Just send it" were frequently uttered. Also "I love exchange"

Academic experience

So I had to do 5 courses to be credited with 4 UQ courses, this was a bit annoying as I had many friends doing 4 or even just three... seemed to be just the Australians that had to do 5 - however I think this is the standard study load at UBC and I didn't find it too bad. Different people will say different things about whether courses are harder or easier than UQ and really it depends on your degree and the specific courses you choose - just be smart about it and choose ones that you think won't take too much of your time so you can spend more time enjoying yourself. I chose subjects that I already had good background in and that were exam-heavy so I hardly had any assignments and could get away with very little work outside of exam season and that worked very well for me. Lectures not being recorded is a bit of a pain especially on those hungover mornings when you have an 8am or 9am... but it is what it is. I found it very difficult to get courses credited, despite the fact that I had saved up electives - so make sure you save up as many electives as possible and allow yourself flexibility. Just realise that you probably won't be able to find an equivalent of the course you want to do over there that UQ abroad will approve, so have lots of backups available! Much of it you don't actually sort out until you are over there and you may change a couple of classes in the first two weeks but I didn't find that a problem.

Personal experience

Before you go on exchange you hear a lot of waffle about how you make such amazing lifelong friends and blah blah blah... But it is actually true. You find yourself surrounded by like-minded people (those also willing to go on adventure like exchange, who are also keen to party and have fun, but who are also intelligent and educated), from all over the world. If you do it right you might end up as lucky as I was, with a group of friends that you're slightly worried are better than the ones you have back home and that you don't ever want to leave - saying goodbye was very hard but many I hope to see again! 

For me a big reason for going to UBC was for the skiing, I had two season passes; one for Grouse (one of Vancouver's local mountains - you can even get there by public transport or a very easy Evo ride) and one for Whistler (the big one). The ski season wasn't actually the best and so I ended up only using the Grouse pass several times (which still probably paid it off as I got the early bird price) and instead made the trek up to Whistler (which will always have better snow) most weekends for a day trip. It's an incredible ski resort - absolutely massive!
I also visited Banff and Jasper during the Spring Break and that was amazing - highly recommend a visit!
Vancouver island is also a very cool place to explore - especially if you get off the beaten trail and find yourself in a campsite with nobody else for miles!

I think the main personal skills I developed were definitely mostly social in nature – going to a country not knowing anyone is intimating and, as with anything that pushes the boundaries of your comfort zone, you learn a lot from it!

Accommodation

I lived on campus in Fairview crescent. My advice: Live on campus and live in Fairview crescent. Fullstop.
Put it as your first preference and Walter Gage as your second preference. Basically they put the majority of exchange students in Fairview and then a few in Walter gage and while the latter may have it perks, you want to be where the party is and they aren’t super close to each other. I’m pretty sure you can request a transfer once you’ve already moved in so if you get put in Gage don’t panic. Wait until you’ve moved in then find some friends who have a free room in Fairview and move there. If you’re a quieter or less outgoing person Gage may suit you.

Costs

Costs vary for everyone on different things. I'd just say this as a general rule: Between the grants/scholarships, the HELP loans, money from family and all your savings – aim for between 15-20k AUD depending on how much travel you plan to do before/after the exchange. Maybe you could get away with less, but you don't want to run out. Just know its always going to cost more than you think it will so don't be too relaxed with your money at the start and suffer later on.

Challenge

I was actually extremely lucky on my exchange; I made friends before we even moved into Fairview, I landed a couple of housemates who became two of my best friends (most weren't so lucky, but you are all neighbours anyway that it doesn't matter too much), and I ended up with a really tight group by the end of it. But I would say that for many people exchange was not such a great time. Many I think were too shy in the first couple of weeks which doesn't seem like a big deal, but it is. First impressions are everything and in those first couple of weeks friendship groups are already forming and if you don't make the effort, you could miss out and find it very difficult later on. My advice is to go to everything you possibly can and meet as many people as you possibly can and have as much fun as you possibly can - and you'll end up meeting lots of fun people who like to do heaps! Exchange is a once in a lifetime opportunity so if you wake up one morning feeling lazy and netflix looks more tempting than a day skiing with some potential new pals, take a look at yourself and think about whether you are wasting this fantastic opportunity.

Professional Development

I think the most valuable skills I developed during the exchange were social skills and my opportunity-taking ability. I think these skills are important in all areas of life further down the track.

Highlight

Highlights for me were definitely the skiing and all the uni parties - especially the legendary end of semester "block party" which occupies the whole centre of campus. It's such a whirlwind of crazy experiences and you end up doing more in four months than you'd usually do in years.

Top tips

Season passes!! If you are going to UBC in the winter (Term 2) and want to ski, make sure you buy a season pass before the end of November (so a month before you even leave). I had many friends who got caught out by this as Whistler stops selling their season passes after this (which cost only $650 for students!) and the day passes are ridiculous (almost $200). Also other mountains increase their prices substantially after this too (Grouse for example). 

As already mentioned, I highly recommend staying in Fairview!

Evo! A car share app that you will know all too well by the end of exchange. There's no Uber in Vancouver so this is the cheap taxi alternative (although sadly not an option for nights out) and they have roofracks for skis! A small effort to sign up that is definitely worth it (google for promo codes for free sign-up).