Matthew - University of British Columbia

B. Environmental Science (Hons)
Semester 2, 2017

Academic experience

I took 5 courses at UBC as is required while on exchange; two third year (BIOL306: Advanced Ecology and GEOG310: The Environment & Sustainability), two second year (GEOB207: Biogeography and CONS200: Foundations of Conservation) and one first year (EOSC114: The Catastrophic Earth: Natural Disasters).

On average I found the courses at UBC to be an easier standard than UQ. That being said, they do not provide lecture recordings to students so you really need to attend lectures or make friends in the class (which isn't hard as most people are super friendly) who can catch you up on what you missed if you don't make it.

It was also really refreshing studying at UBC as they were very progressive in terms of indigenous rights, acknowledging traditional ownership and incorporating traditional knowledge into conservation planning which was something I felt I had been lacking. BIOL306 was also a pretty challenging course as it was quite poorly organised and the lab reports were pretty intense and they do not give a lot of guidance for what they are expecting in the lab report, so if you find yourself in that scenario try talking to the course coordinator or a tutor and explain that you are unfamiliar with the expectations of e.g. lab reports at UBC as you're on exchange and they should be happy to help you out.

Personal experience

I got to meet a ton of incredible people during my exchange, both local and other exchangers from all over the world. I was fortunate enough to road trip a fair bit of the west coast of the US from Seattle to San Fran camping in places like the Jedidiah Smith Redwoods and Lake Tahoe as well as getting to visit Banff and see a bit of the Rockies before the semester began. I really encourage trying to fit a decent amount of travelling in before the semester starts if possible as it allowed me to make the most of Summer over there.

Vancouver is an incredible city with great food, friendly people, and an insane amount of nature right on your doorstep. Almost every weekend I'd be out hiking and exploring one of the local mountains with other exchange friends and they are all incredible; Cypress, Seymour, Lynn Canyon, Quarry Rock, Gardener and Grouse. Use your long weekends wisely as well, I used mine to go to Victoria on Vancouver Island (definitely go to Tofino as well if you have time, everyone has good things to say about it) and Fairbanks in Alaska which were both beautiful places. Also try befriend a local with a car or find a group of exchangers that are keen to rent a car to get out to places like Joffre Lake, Lake Girabaldi, Squamish or Whistler.

Accommodation

I lived on campus in Walter Gage which had its pros and cons. It was great being in the same tower as almost all my exchange friends which makes it really easy to hang out. The foyer of Gage is newly renovated and really nice but the rooms themselves are fairly outdated but have everything you need. There are 6 bedrooms in each unit, two showers, one toilet and a kitchen and living area. I was fortunate to be best mates with some of my roommates and the two others were friendly but kept to themselves mostly. I recommend trying to talk to your roommates early and work out chores and things like cutlery, plates, glasses and cooking ware as none of it is provided.

Budget

Rent at Gage was around $2700 for the semester and most people recommend having at least $10,000 saved all up for your general exchange and then extra for additional travelling before and after.

I always shopped at No Frills as it is by far the cheapest supermarket option but would supplement my groceries with veggies from the grocer on campus which was fairly affordable. I would usually spend $100 per shop and that would last me for 2-3 weeks although beware that your first shop will be more like $200 as you buy all your staples like flour, sugar, etc.

I also travelled through some of Eastern Canada and Europe once my semester had finished and I highly recommend booking a world trip flight ticket if you plan on doing something similar as it was substantially cheaper than booking flights individually. You also get unlimited travel on the public transport as part of your UBC fees as well so take advantage of it and avoid paying for taxis.

Professional development and employability

Exchange was a lot about independence for me as it was my first time travelling solo and I didn't have the same support as I did back home. I definitely found the start of my exchange the hardest as I was missing my friends, family and partner back home immensely and felt fairly lost at times while trying to figure out travel, living and academic plans.

I had a lot of trouble with my housing application and subject selection to begin with which felt pretty overwhelming at times as I'd had a pretty chaotic first month of travelling but I ended up having an amazing time travelling and once I figured out my housing and subjects and starting making more and more friends I soon started to feel a lot more settled and at home. My overall advice would be to just keep persevering when things get tough as there were points when I honestly couldn't see how things would work out but it all ended up working out in the end and I got to make some pretty incredible friends and memories along the way. So I'd say, self-management, international contacts/networks, new perspectives, adapting to new situations and insights into other cultures were the skills and attributes I gained from exchange.

Highlight

The peak of my exchange was probably seeing the Killers live on campus as it was one of the best acts I've ever seen but other than that it was just all the little adventures I got to go on with my friends whether it was hiking/snowshoeing a mountain, kayaking through the fjords, checking out the city, eating out at the places recommended by locals or just chilling out at one of our rooms and sharing a homecooked dinner and a cup of tea.

Top tips

  • Going on exchange for the Winter Session term 1 is great because you get to arrive in summer when it's still warm, experience a proper autumn and see the leaves change colour (go for a stroll/run through Pacific Spirit in Autumn and you'll know what I mean) and then transition in the cold and hopefully get some snow!
  • Try to head to North America a month or so before your semester starts as it allows you to do some awesome hiking and see a lot more of the States/Canada while it's still warm and take full advantage of the cost of your flights.
  • The semester flies by so be proactive and try plan an activity or two for every weekend and try book trips to Vancouver Island or further well in advance so you avoid paying top dollar.
  • If you're vego like myself then definitely hit up restuarants like Meet on Main, Chickpea and Tera V Burger. Burgoo is great for comfort food, rain or shine for ice cream (on campus) and Grounds for coffee has the best cinnamon buns. 
  • Exchange nights at Koerner's are fortnightly and always a good time plus pretty cheap and a good way to meet more exchange students.
  • If you like to go running then I highly recommend the Spanish trail through Pacific Spirit Park as it's beautiful and you come out at the water and get to run along some of Arcadia beach. 
  • It's also only $30 to sign up to the gym for the semester which means it's also very packed but if you pick the right time to go and have a bit of patience it's well worth the price.
  • The aquatic centre is free for students as well as the ice rink so definitely make use of those with some mates as they're good fun.
  • Try making friends with some locals that like to have a share house and like to have house parties as they were a lot of fun and something different than the usual Koerner's or going out in the city.
  • You really do get out what you put into exchange so make the most of your time and push yourself but also take time to relax and have a cuppa in between all the chaos.