Duncan - University of Waterloo

B. Mechanical Engineering and Computer Science
Semester 1, 2017

Academic experience

At Waterloo, I studied 5 subjects to match the workload at UQ. For computer science, these were Discrete Mathematics and Computer Systems. For mechanical engineering, Weld Design Fabrication and Quality Control, Fire Safety, and Energy Transfer in Buildings. I found the course content to be quite comparable to UQ, although the courses did cover a little less. The assessment tended to be a little easier than UQ.

I enjoyed, for the engineering courses, that the lecturers were very approachable and the class sizes were smaller. The class size is due to the Co-op program - students spend every second-semester doing work experience, and such, each year level is split into two groups. I thoroughly enjoyed the electives at Waterloo as it is a very 'practical' university, and such, we did problems where we had to design according to building and weld standards.

The computer science courses I also enjoyed and found were a good level of difficulty.

I found Waterloo to be quite different from UQ. At UQ, I tend to rely on lecture notes being posted on BlackBoard, so in lectures, I listen closely and take brief notes on things the lecturers say but aren't on the notes. However, at Waterloo, lecture notes are not often posted online, and lectures are not recorded. This meant that in lectures, I found myself writing constantly as I would only have my own notes to refer back to afterwards. Some of my lecturers also wrote on blackboards or whiteboards and didn't use slides.

I found this a challenge as I had to attend lectures and take comprehensive notes as otherwise, I would not have notes or the information to do assignments and the exams. As I did not have friends in most of my classes, to begin with, I also couldn't rely on anyone else. I found uni less flexible because of this, but I feel that I needed to do less revision for exams because I knew the content more thoroughly.

Personal experience

I really enjoyed the exchange not just from an academic perspective, but also from a personal perspective. I lived out of home for the first time in a country I had never been to and had no friends in. I made lots of friends at Waterloo - some local Canadians, and others who were international students, or exchange students like myself.

I travelled through North America before, during, and after my exchange which was also rewarding. I visited French Canada - going to Quebec City for the winter carnival, and travelled locally - on a lake cottage trip with the outdoors club, to Niagra Falls, and to the Elmira Maple Syrup Festival. After my exchange, I road tripped the west coast of USA and Canada with three friends I made during my time at Waterloo - a Canadian I met on the lake trip, and two other Australians (from Melbourne and Wollongong) I met in my residence.

I found that I have become a much more proactive person because of my exchange - there were many times when I had to balance my study and enjoying being a student a Waterloo. I needed to be proactive so that I achieved well academically while maximising the opportunities that I could take while in Canada.

Accommodation

Winter Activities trip with Outdoors Club
Winter Activities trip with Outdoors Club

I lived on-campus at Waterloo, at the residence called University of Waterloo Place (UWP). I loved being so close to campus! I chose the residence that was closest to the engineering buildings at university and this proved to be a good choice - during the winter, walking through thick snow in -20 weather, a shorter walk is a much better than a longer one.

I chose not to get a food plan and cooked myself. At Waterloo, the food plan is a credit on your student card that you can use to buy food at a discounted price. I was glad I did not get one, as my residence, UWP, did not have food available to buy, rather I would've had to walk into uni for every meal.

I liked being able to meet people at my accommodation and go to events organised for my floor and building at UWP.

Budget

The residence cost me $1500 for the semester, including all utilities and internet. Public transport around Waterloo was all free with the student card, and walking to downtown Waterloo was very easy from uni. Food cost about $1200 for the semester (about $90 a week). You could travel to Toronto for a day, costing about $45 return on a Greyhound, or $15 on public transport. Going to Quebec city was expensive as domestic flights in Canada are pricey - flights were $600 return, but I got an Airbnb for $42 a night. I did Niagara falls through the university so that cost about $30. The cottage trip with the outdoors club cost approximately $350 for a week, which I thought was really good value and the trip was definitely worth it.

Professional development and employability

The engineering electives I studied at Waterloo will help with getting a job, as they are directly transferable skills - designing air ventilation systems, designing welds to standards, and performing investigative fire engineering.

I also had to adapt to a new study environment quickly and independently which was a good experience and will help when adapting to a workplace.

Highlight

The highlight of my experience was the cottage trip with the outdoors club - 13 students from the university, exchange and local, hired a cottage in Haliburton County and spent the week doing activities such as snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, and tobogganing. It was great to see a more rural part of Canada, and the frozen over lakes were beautiful. I met some really great people and ended up travelling with 3 people from the trip after the semester.

Top tips

I recommend that you go on exchange somewhere that you have never been before, and preferably somewhere that is very different to Brisbane. You will have a lot of fun and not regret it!

Duncan - University of Waterloo