Claire - University of Waterloo

B. Chemical Engineering
Semester 2, 2015; Semester 1, 2016

Academic experience

I studied for two semesters at the University of Waterloo. I took five courses per semester, although I found the workload to be lighter than four courses per semester at UQ. This left plenty of time for weekend and mid-semester trips away. I also got to study one ‘free’ elective per semester – I chose ‘Ecological Economics’ and ‘Water: Environmental History & Change’.

The style of teaching at Waterloo is much less hands-on than at UQ; most of my classes were one-hour-long lectures with little time dedicated to solving tutorial problems. This made it more difficult to learn at Waterloo than at UQ. However, having spare time to travel on weekends and mid-semester breaks was good compensation.

Finding equivalents for my compulsory UQ chemical engineering subjects wasn’t as difficult as I anticipated, although when I arrived at Waterloo I found I had quite a few timetable clashes. Because of this I ended up studying completely different subjects to those I had preapproved. These changes were easy to communicate to UQ and I was still awarded full credit towards my engineering degree.

Personal experience

My exchange was the best experience of my life! I made many new friends from all over the world, travelled to loads of new and interesting places, and gained Canadian perspectives on issues like climate change and the refugee crisis – all within the space of nine months. 

Also within these nine months I experienced all four seasons. When I arrived in Canada in August, the weather was hot and the days were really long. Falls colours began appearing in the trees by November, and by December all the trees had lost their leaves and the snow had set in. 

The winter months were brutally cold (-40°C is a real thing!) and on two occasions all the universities and schools in Waterloo were closed due to ice storms. Winter seemed to hang around for ages - the biggest snow storm of the season occurred in early April! Rest assured that by May, everybody’s favourite blue skies and 10pm sunsets had returned.


For both my semesters at Waterloo I rented a room in a four-bedroom apartment at WCRI. WCRI is located directly across the road from the Waterloo engineering precinct – perfect for 8:30 am classes on snowy winter’s days. WCRI also hosts events during the semester (e.g. pub crawls, Thanksgiving, Halloween and Christmas parties, and trivia nights), which are great opportunities to meet new people. 

WCRI was where most exchange students opted to stay due to its location and cheap rates. Although bear in mind you do get what you pay for. My apartment was small, basic and dated, and my flatmates and neighbours were all rather anti-social. If I were to do my exchange over I would spend the extra money and rent a more modern apartment, even if it were located further away from campus.

Late in my exchange I discovered several Facebook groups dedicated to renting/subletting apartments, in particular, ‘Student Housing in Waterloo’ and ‘UW/WLU 4 Month Subletting’. I definitely recommend sourcing accommodation from these groups as rent is relatively cheap (especially close to the beginning of semester) and leases are usually only for four months.


Living and studying in Canada is cheaper than in Brisbane. I paid $450 per month for accommodation (inclusive of utilities and internet), although some ‘last-minute’ accommodation went for as little as $350 per month. Furthermore, there are some great weekend farmers’ markets around Waterloo where you can pick up cheap groceries, and public buses and the university gym are free for students!

I also found travelling to be quite cheap. For instance, if you book far enough in advance ‘Mega Bus’ sometimes offers $1 tickets to Montreal and New York! And I always stayed at hostels – they’re cheap, often offer free breakfasts and organised group activities, and are great places to meet new people. 

All up, I probably spent close to $8,000 AUD per semester (on accommodation, phone and internet, groceries and travel). You could spend much more or less than this depending on how much travelling you do.

Professional development and employability

My exchange markedly improved my self-confidence, adaptability and resilience, and I also learned a lot from my exchange friends about their home countries - like that that Germans celebrate Christmas on December 24, and that there is only one stop sign in the whole of Paris! 

Also because of my exchange, I have clearer idea of the type of career I want to pursue. I definitely want to pursue living and working overseas, and I now have a strong interest in economics and the environment which evolved because of my two ‘free’ electives.


The highlight of my exchange was the time I spent travelling after my studies wrapped up. First I travelled to Halifax on the east coast, then I caught a train across Canada to Vancouver on the west coast. From Vancouver I travelled to Vancouver Island (my favourite destination), Whistler, Banff and Jasper. 

The Canadian east and west coasts are remarkably different; it’s hard to believe they’re part of the same country. The east coast is littered with lakes and forests, and the cities have a distinct French influence. On the other hand, the west coast is dominated by The Rockies. I highly recommend seeing both coasts if time and money permit.

I did all this travelling by myself, although I was rarely ever ‘by myself’. I made many life-long friends in all the places I stayed, and by befriending locals I was quickly able to gauge which sights were/weren’t worth seeing.

Top tips

All in all, four tips I have for others considering exchange to Canada:

  1. Source accommodation from buy/sell Facebook groups;
  2. Don’t buy any winter clothes in Australia - everything you need and more is available in Waterloo for very affordable prices;
  3. Don’t be afraid to travel alone; and
  4. Have more than a full time load’s worth of subjects preapproved in case of timetable conflicts.