Sarah - University of British Columbia

Bachelor of International Studies
Semester 1, 2018
Some of my best memories were made in the time that I was overseas.

Academic experience

Although I had saved up some electives for exchange, I chose to study mostly political science subjects as I found that UBC had a great selection. If you're doing a similar degree to me, I would highly suggest taking Global Environmental Politics - a truly interesting course with an amazing professor. 
In terms of difficulty, I would say course at UBC and UQ are about the same, the only difference being the workload. If you're full-time, you'll be studying 5 subjects instead of 4, and the assessments are more continuous, operating on more of a week-by-week basis instead of 3 or 4 major assessments spread out across the semester, so just be prepared for a thicker schedule.
Also, the lectures aren't recorded, so it's imperative to make some friends in your classes to share notes with in case you happen to miss that 8am lecture.

Personal experience

Before going on exchange, I was terrified at the thought of living overseas alone, but as soon as I got there I found that I had stressed myself out over nothing. Between class-work, exploring the city and trying new things, I had adapted to life overseas in no time. It's important to keep yourself busy - the student exchange club (UBCESC) and other clubs around UBC are always organising something, so you're never short of things to do or people to meet.
Also, British Columbia is BEAUTIFUL. It'd be a crime not to explore as much of the province as possible. Whistler, Joffre Lakes, Capilano and Bowen Island are just some of the amazing natural wonders around Vancouver, and they aren't too difficult to get to. You don't want to get to the end of your exchange and realise you've hardly gone anywhere. Travelling abroad is truly inspiring, humbling, terrifying and invigorating all at once, and I know my experience definitely changed how I place myself in the world.

Accommodation

Like many other exchange students, I lived on-campus at Fairview Crescent. It cost me around $3600AUD for the semester, and it was definitely worth it given how close it was to the university, and its student-centred culture. Fairview houses a whole mix of exchange students and locals, so it's easy to find a few people to get friendly with. It has a very cozy and homey feel to it, and the cafe in the centre of the complex is a huge bonus (try their hot chocolate - it's delicious!)
The other residence of choice for exchange students is Walter Gage - it's a bit further into campus for around the same price, and has a more hotel vibe to it, so it just depends what kind of housing you prefer.

Costs

How much you budget really depends on how long you'll be overseas and what you plan to do over there. If your're only going for the duration of the exchange with minimal travelling/sightseeing, $9000 should cover your needs, but if you're like me and want to do extra, you should definitely have a bit more in the bank. The OS HELP loan takes alot of the stress out of budgeting, but you'll definitely need to save more of your own money on top.
Transport is cheap and easy around Vancouver - once you pay  $150CAD to UBC you get unlimited bus and Skytrain travel for the semester, so you don't have to worry about constantly topping up your compass card (that being the go-card equivalent). For the places that are unreachable by bus or train, Vancouver offers some decently priced car-sharing services which you're able to use as long as you've had your licence for a pre-determined period of time. My friend and I signed up for Car2Go, and splitting the costs between us was worth it to drive to some of those hard to reach wonders.
I personally found grocery shopping to be a bit more pricey in Vancouver, but eating out was definitely cheaper. Just remember: tax is added at the register, and restaurants and services will expect about a 15% tip.

Professional Development

The independence which comes with living overseas on your own for a semester is definitely important in progressing in your life and career. Also, being pushed out of your comfort zone and into places where you have to try new things, meet new people and go to foreign places is important in testing your adaptability, which is a pivotal skill throughout life's changes and challenges.

Highlight

Having the opportunity to see mountains and landscapes I'd only ever seen on desktop wallpapers was definitely a highlight of my time abroad. My friend and I went to BANFF during the mid-sem break, and although those iconic blue lakes were all frozen over, it was still just as breathtaking. UBC itself was an amazing campus to attend, and seeing the mountains out of my classroom window was definitely a sight that I'll miss. There are so many places to explore on campus, like Wreck Beach, the rose garden and Pacific Spirit National Park, so I didn't have to go very far if I wanted to see some of the best that Vancouver had to offer. UBC is probably the top place to see winter turn into spring - the rain turns into snow and then into bright flowers and cherry blossoms, and it all feels very much like a dream.

Top tips

- Have dinner at the Old Spaghetti Factory in Gastown. Trust me, it's the best meal you'll ever have.
- Watch the sunset at Kitsilano Beach. It's only a 13 minute bus ride from UBC, and there's plenty of restaurants and bars around if you wanted to grab a bite afterwards.
- If you're like me and go during winter, be warned: there's more rain than snow, so bring an umbrella and some waterproof shoes! It gets snowy in February, and there's nothing quite like walking to class in a winter wonderland.
- ALWAYS bring extra money, just in case. Whether it's a bad problem, like getting your wisdom teeth removed (yes, I had to do that), or a good problem, like a spontaneous trip to Mexico, it's important to be prepared for whatever life throws are you.
- Travel after your exchange.
- Preparing for exchange is lengthy and stressful, but trust me, it's all worth it.

Quote

Some of my best memories were made in the time that I was overseas. The things I learnt, the people I met and the places I went all hold a place in my heart, and I'm so thankful to have had the opportunity to go.