Abby - University of Alberta

B. Wildlife Science
Semester 2, 2017

Academic experience

University of Alberta (or U of A as everyone calls it) has a range of great courses! I studied four courses related to my Wildlife Science degree including animal nutrition, introduction to global change and my two favourites: conservation biology and behavioural ecology. It was great because not only did I get to learn about Canadian wildlife and all things related but I also got to study subjects that aren't offered at UQ Gatton. 

The Profs (Lecturers) were all wonderful and with relatively small classes it meant we were able to have some great discussions and debates. However, unlike here, the lectures at U of A aren't recorded so it does mean that you always need to attend class or you miss out. 

The assessment in most of my classes was quite different. I had at least one mid-semester exam for every class and in some courses two mid-semester exams. There were a lot more assignments as well, with one class having one due nearly every week. Fortunately they were a usually smaller and so were quite manageable. Whilst the assessment at U of A seemed like a lot and meant that I was handing in multiple pieces of assessment every week, it did spread the work out over the semester and meant that my final exams weren't quite as stressful as they often only covered a third of the material we had learnt.

Personal experience

I can't even fully explain or measure what I gained from this exchange, it really is a once in a lifetime experience!

I made a tonne of really great friends from all over the world that I intend to visit one day and vice versa. Two of my flatmates became some of my best friends and we able to experience the whole thing together. Before going on exchange I wasn't very confident in making new friends or talking to new people. If there was a party or people were hanging out and I only knew one or two people I probably wouldn't have gone or would have felt very uncomfortable. But the great thing about exchange is that everyone is in the same position! Everyone wants to meet new people, make friends and make the most out of their experience. So in a really good way it forces you to get out of your comfort zone. You end up meeting a best friend in the laundry mat or inviting people to your birthday celebrations that you just met the week before or going to Thanksgiving dinner where you only know a handful of people out of the whole room and coming away with a bunch of new friends!

I was also very lucky in that I got to visit a whole heap of places throughout the country. I wasn't sure how much travelling I would get to do throughout the semester so I booked my flights allowing for a few/couple weeks either side of the semester. This meant I got to see many places in both the end of spring when it was lovely and warm and in winter when it was a winter wonderland!

Before uni started I travelled by myself through Vancouver, Victoria on Vancouver Island and Banff. I saw Orcas, Grizzly bears, Elk, the most beautiful coloured lakes, the stunning Canadian Rockies, walked on a glacier and so much more! I went to Jasper twice during the semester (once on ski trip with the U of A ski club - join it so you can go on ski trip! I had only skied once beforehand), Drumheller, Elk Island National Park, school and NHL hockey games and visited everything Edmonton had to offer. After the semester had finished I flew across to the east of Canada and to visit Toronto, Niagara Falls, Montreal, and Quebec city whilst it was a winter wonderland! I was even joined on part of the trip with one of the friends I had made from uni. And that's only part of my trip!

Accommodation

I decided to live on campus at U of A, as I never had the chance to live on campus before and thought it would be easiest seeing at I was only there for a semester. I ended up choosing a residence called HUB Mall, which is a self-catered and mainly for upper year students. It's a slightly odd concept with a mall at ground level open to the public, consisting of food places and then some random shops like a jeweller, law office, art framing place etc. Above the mall was the accommodation with 1 bed studio apartments, then 2 bedroom and 4 bedroom shared apartments. I opted for a 4 bedroom apartment as it was the cheapest option and I wanted to live with other people. You only find out who your flatmates are on the day you move in so it's all very exciting and interesting! 

Our apartment was furnished which included the big things like fridge, oven, table and chairs, couch, beds, mattresses and desks. However we still had to buy quite a lot of stuff to make the place liveable like cutlery, pots, plates, linen, pillows etc as none of that is included. The uni does however organise a bus trip to Ikea in the first week we moved in which was very helpful. But I would suggest to only get to essential stuff that you can't live without and get it from a second hand shop or cheap shop (Dollarama was my best friend). Not only will you save your precious money but it also means you aren't stuck with a whole bunch of stuff that no one will buy or wants at the end of the semester when you're trying to move out. I ended up donating what I could but there was so much stuff that we ended up just having to throw out and it was such a waste!

HUB was an amazing place to live! There wasn't a week that went by that there wasn't something going on, whether it was a movie night, cookie decorating time or free food! Most of the other students who lived in HUB were international or exchange students, with a few Canadians floating around. It was great because I got the chance to meet and become great friends with people from all over the world who were also keen to make the most of their experience abroad. I've also heard from friends that International House is also a great residence for exchange students. If you are looking to meet more Canadians on your experience it's probably better to look for accommodation off-campus. However, I found it was the other international or exchange students that were more willing to travel and do things.

Budget

I tried to live as cheaply as possible so that I had more money to spend on travel and other fun experiences! If I had to estimate it was probably around $12,000 to live for the semester and a lot of travel. Which does seem daunting at first because who has $12,000 sitting around, right! But between the OS-Help loan, the Travel Grant (Apply for this!), the money I managed to save beforehand and the help from Centrelink (yes they will pay you while you're studying overseas) I managed ok!

ACCOMMODATION

  • HUB 4 bed furnished apartment for 4 months: $2400 (plus a $500 deposit you get back) 

TRANSPORT

  • You purchase a Upass through the uni which gives you unlimited travel on the public transport in Edmonton (this will be your best friend!): $145

FOOD

  • I tried to stay beneath $60 a week. Try to avoid shopping at the normal grocery stores and instead hit up the budget places like No Frills, it'll make a huge difference! Meat is a little bit more expensive over there.

TRAVEL

  • This is what I spent most of my money on! I don't have a total figure but to give you a bit of an idea for the 16 days I spent travelling after uni:
    • Hostel accommodation cost me about $650
    • Flights to and from the east coast cost $650
    • Transport about $150 as I caught buses between the cities
    • Food and entertainment I'm not quite sure but you can keep cost low by cooking your own dinners at the hostels and eating out occasionally. There's also a tonne of free or very cheap stuff to do everywhere. 

There's a lot of other little costs as well that you have to budget for that all add up like health insurance, travel insurance, laundry, printing, application fees, Canadian phone card etc. 

Professional development and employability

The knowledge I gained and different perspectives I was exposed to I feel will give me an advantage down the track when applying and in future jobs. Also my exchange strengthened my ability to work and build relationships with people from all different backgrounds.

Highlight

This is a tricky one! It's so hard to pick just one thing that was a highlight. I had so many great experiences. But I think the best thing was probably the people! I met so many great people that made my adventures 100 times better and made me feel at home in Canada.

Top tips

  • MAKE IT HAPPEN! Work three jobs, live off two minute noodles, sell your car - do whatever you need to get the money and go on exchange! You really won't regret it. I came home with basically no money but a huge smile on my face and memories to last a lifetime.
  • SAY YES to every opportunity while you're over there - you don't want to come home with regrets! 
  • Don't worry about the cold! I'd never been in anything below about 0 and I managed to survive many -35 degree days!
  • Don't bother trying to buy winter stuff here, get it while your over there (second hand is a great option)