Laura - Queen's University (Kingston)

B. Science
Semester 2, 2017

Academic experience

During my semester abroad I took a reduced course load of 3 compulsory courses (BIOL321- Animal Behaviour, BIOL205- Mendelian and Molecular Genetics, GEOL104-The Dynamic Earth) and an elective (GNDS120- Women, Gender, Difference).

Animal Behaviour was the most interesting uni course I have taken thus far, not only because a lot of lecture time was spent watching cute animals do even cuter things, but also because the professor who both coordinated and taught the course implemented a highly effective active learning strategy. As a result, the course was really engaging and easy to keep up with.

Unfortunately, in contrast I found the other courses to be a bit dry in terms of teaching, however, a commonality between all the courses I took (and most courses at Queen's) is that there is much less emphasis on final examinations. Weekly online quizzes were very common, which individually were not weighted too highly but added up over the semester, making it easier to keep up with the course materials. While it was sometimes tedious to keep up with all little quizzes and assignments throughout the semester, it took off a lot of pressure from studying and cramming, making it easier to leave weekends free for exploring.

The greatest academic challenge for me was group work. Group assignments seem to be very popular at Queen's and for those who are not used to their grade being highly dependent on a stranger's work can find this to be rather uncomfortable. The best advice I can give in this regard is just to make sure you read everything your group mates write before submission to avoid total shock when you get back your grade, but essentially the smart thing to do is just keep up with your individual assessments so you aren't too heavily reliant on the things you can't entirely control.

Personal experience

My greatest personal gain from going on this exchange was the friendships I made, not only with locals but also with other exchange students from around the world. It was these friendships that really made the exchange the amazing experience that it was.

Living in a university town like Kingston made it very easy to connect with people, since everyone had a very open and friendly attitude. Being in a completely foreign environment really pushed me to branch out whenever possible, which is a skill which I think will greatly benefit me in the future.

I also had the opportunity to travel quite a lot in both Canada and the United States before the academic semester began and on weekends. The Exchange and Transfer Committee (ETC) at Queen's was great at organising affordable trips nearby as well as organising events, like attending a local hockey game, which were all great experiences.

Accommodation

I lived off-campus in the residence of St Lawrence College. This was my first time living with a roommate and I was pleasantly surprised by how well we got on. The great thing about living in residence was that it made it easy to connect with other exchange students at the start when I didn't know anyone.

The vast majority of Queen's students live in share houses close to the uni and many exchange students go for this option too. All buses in Kingston are free for students so even if you are not living exactly walking distance from campus it is very easy to get around. While it can be rather daunting to move into a house with strangers, everyone is super friendly, so chances are whoever you end up living with, you'll get along with fine even if you don't end up best friends forever.

Budget

Luckily the exchange rate between CAD and AUD is almost 1 for 1. Living in the residence cost about $3500 for the semester which included utilities (excepting laundry) and wifi. An additional ~$30 was spent on laundry. As I mentioned before, buses are free for students in Kingston. My roommate and I spent about $200 on basic kitchen appliances and other small necessities like bed linen and crockery.

Naturally, extra travel is the largest cost when on exchange, after all, the reason we go is to see new things. Kingston is a great place from which to go on weekend trips to nearby cities and sights, for example Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, Mont Tremblant and Algonquin National park are all reasonably close by. Luckily getting around is pretty easy and reasonably cheap but keep in mind that it's better to save in excess before going than to have to turn down a great experience.

Professional development and employability

On exchange I found myself to be more open to getting to know new people and getting involved in a range of different activities (including trying out for the Queen's Quidditch team) which would normally be outside of my comfort zone. I think the most valuable thing to take away from this for me was that no matter where I am, or who I am with, whether or not I have a good experience is determined by my attitude more so than anything else.​

Highlight

The highlight of my exchange was a weekend trip I did to Mont Tremblant with 4 other exchange students. We rented a car and spent just one night in the cheapest hostel we could find but it was such a fun weekend that we all felt like we had been on a week-long holiday when we got back. The town of Mont Tremblant was rather empty as we went after the hiking season had ended but the weekend before the ski season, so it was like the mountains were ours. We spent the best part of a day hiking in at least ankle deep snow. The little ski town is absolutely beautiful and definitely a place I would recommend checking out if you have the chance.

Top tips

The best advice I can give is just go for it. I have met so many different students and am yet to speak with someone who did not consider going on exchange a wonderful experience. It can seem daunting but there is no better way to appreciate what a place has to offer than by completely immersing yourself.