Sofie - University of Toronto

B. Civil / Environmental Engineering
Semester 2, 2016

Academic experience

I was in my second semester of third year studying Civil/Environmental Engineering when I went on exchange. I got to take courses for both these majors. Initially I thought doing 5 courses would be really hard but I just found a random geography course that interested me and I actually really loved it!

The main difference I found between the academic system at UofT and UQ was the amount of assessment and constant workload. In my courses at home I usually only have a midterm and a final but at UofT I had weekly assessment for almost all courses. This meant I actually studied a lot during my exchange, but the content was less difficult and the fact that the courses were pass-fail made it much easier and less stressful! 

At UofT there are also two different engineering systems - engineering vs engineering science. Engineering science is a more competitive program and the courses are harder. It's not easy to tell which program a course is in before you start your exchange but I would recommend seeing how you go with it. The two engineering science courses I took were actually really interesting and enjoyable because the profs are really good and the classes are small which makes it more personal.

Personal experience

I had an incredible experience on exchange - I got to travel to places like Alaska and the Canadian Rockies, study really interesting courses with great professors, and make amazing friends from all over the world (although a lot of Aussies and Kiwis too, which was nice!).

The fall semester is such a great time to go because you get to experience Toronto in 35 degree heat, its full-blown fall colours (wow!), and if you're lucky snow and cold towards the end!

Accommodation

I lived at Chestnut Residence, which is off-campus but owned by the university. The building is an old hotel so the rooms are big and every room has its own bathroom. Chestnut provides food all day (8am-10pm) which was really convenient and there are lots of options. I generally liked Chestnut although the atmosphere was a bit weird and people weren't too friendly. Having said that, I did make some of my closest friends there! The location is awesome - right in the middle of downtown, behind Nathan Phillips Square. If you decide to stay at Chestnut, make sure you go for a midnight ice skate at the rink at Nathan Phillips and check out Hong Shing (the Chinese restaurant down the road open until 4am)!!!

Budget

Canada isn't cheap, and Chestnut was a very expensive residence, but I would say generally it's pretty comparable to Australia. 

  • A subway token cost $2.90. The thing with the subway is that a token will take you anywhere from one stop to the complete other side of the city. So it's worth it if you're travelling far but for shorter distances, it's better to walk
  • Concert tickets are super cheap and there're heaps of events happening all the time so make sure you check it out! The Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) is great if you're there in fall!
  • Megabus/Greyhound have really cheap fares to a lot of cities near and far. There are also tonnes of nice provincial/national parks around Toronto so renting a car and going camping for a weekend is an amazing, cheap way to see these.

Professional development and employability

Personally, I really enjoyed the classes, had great professors, and my exchange actually motivated me to continue with engineering and really showed me what fields I want to work in. Outside of class, professional development will really just happen if you try. I had a professor who organised lots of both in- and out-of-class talks and events which I found interesting, so I attended them and met some really interesting professionals. Apart from that, I went to some events organised by the Sustainable Engineers Association (SEA) which I would highly recommend. I didn't expect for the academic aspect of exchange to be such a highlight but it really made my exchange!

Highlight

One night during finals there was a massive snow storm, so some of us at Chestnut went out at around midnight with a toboggan, sledded down the ramp at the city hall and made a big snowman inside the 'O' of the Toronto sign on Nathan Phillips! 

Also, seeing a moose in Algonquin! Definitely go camping and canoeing in Algonquin if you get a chance, especially during the fall when the leaves are changing colour!!

Top tips

  • Follow BlogTO on Facebook/Instagram, they post a lot of cool things happening in the city
  • Although the workload is heavy, don't stress about it. I tried to get all of my work done during the week so I could go away on weekends, which worked out great. Doing well during the semester also meant I had the most relaxed final exam block ever. That's the time when you'll feel like you need to do everything you haven't done because you're leaving so soon, and the fact that I had time meant I actually had some of the best times of my whole exchange during these two weeks!
  • Don't leave Toronto/Canada the day after exams finish! If you can, stick around or travel for a while after, because I can guarantee you won't want to leave straight away.
  • Join UTOC (The University of Toronto Outing Club) - they are an awesome club who have a cabin out in the woods, 2 hours from Toronto. It's a great way to meet people and be outside in Ontario's "cottage country"

I absolutely loved my exchange and I couldn't recommend applying more! You will learn so much, see so many things, and meet so many great people!