Lily - University of Waterloo

Bachelor of Mathematics/Science
Semester 1, 2018
Participate in activities that you wouldn't have the opportunity to in Brisbane. Go skiing, build a snowman!

Academic experience

My enrollment at the University of Waterloo (UW) was a bit of a happy accident. I had originally planned for the warmth of Singapore, however, due to lack of placements, I was recommended to go to UW instead. At the University of Waterloo, I was required to take 5 courses during the Winter semester. These were: Introduction to Optimisation (CO227), Coding Theory (CO331), Introduction to Rings and Fields with Applications (PMATH334), Elementary Number Theory (PMATH340) and Fields and Galois Theory (PMATH348). One thing I observed while picking my subjects was that there was a much wider selection of subjects to choose from, particularly in the Pure Mathematics department. For example, Galois Theory is not offered at UQ, so it was lucky to be able to learn content that I would not have otherwise. 

The first noticeable difference in the academic atmosphere at UQ and UW was that there were no lecture recordings. It was quite an old-school experience with everything being written on blackboards (rather than Blackboard Learn). However, lecturers were quite accepting of students taking photos of the boards - in my experience, some UQ lecturers do not appreciate students photographing their handwriting.

The second variation was that there were no tutorial classes for second and third-year courses. However, since class sizes were quite small, I didn't find this to be an issue. All courses still also had teaching assistants ("tutors" at UQ) with visiting hours, so additional help was still available. 

Overall, however, I found the course structures to be much the same at both universities, with three hours of lectures per week, assignments due roughly every 2 weeks for most courses and a midsemester and final exam for all courses.

Personal experience

Living away from home for such a long period of time with originally no connections in Canada forced me out of my comfort zone. In contrast to my normal personality, I was more outspoken and found myself participating in events that I generally would not have - such as art night. Planning my travels gave me an opportunity to exercise my research and organisation skills; I visited Ottawa, Montreal & Quebec all during Reading Week (Midsemester break), since it was more economically viable than visiting after my exchange.


During the Winter term, quite a few of the on-campus accommodations were closed; I eventually opted to stay in a relatively new building (Claudette Millar Hall) that had only been completed a few months prior. Since it was a new building, it included most amenities (a vast food court, gym, laundry, study spaces, etc.). As a mathematics student, it probably would have been a little more convenient to stay in a residence closer to the main mathematics building; however it was still only about a 15-minute walk.


Luckily, the exchange rate between CAN and AUD is approximately 1:1, which allows for very easy converting. I had very few expenses during the actual study period, since I had paid for my meal plan and accommodation in advance, which cost me about $5000. Local travel around Waterloo was free, which was extremely convenient. Transit systems was cheaper than Brisbane, about $2-3 for a trip, and generally did not require commuters to "tap off", as routes were kept within certain zones. In particular, the transit systems in much of Ontario could all be paid for with just a Presto card.

Professional Development

I decided to apply for a study permit which cost about $150 and allowed me to work on campus. I wanted to familiarise myself with a different national curriculum and offered to tutor first-year students in both mathematics and chemistry. One thing I was immediately grateful for was the high minimum wages in Australia; the average tutor wage was $15-20/hr in Ontario whilst the rate is $30-45 in Brisbane. However, on-campus tutoring was highly demanded and so I was able to recover the costs of the permit whilst making a bit of pocket money. 

I also volunteered to work at the Mathematics Society as an Office Worker. It was interesting to see a student society that had much more responsibility (the office offered lots of services such as book/board game loaning and printing) and was more integrated into the faculty department. It also gave me an opportunity to meet lots of other like-minded students and develop my customer service skills.


Some of the must-dos of my exchange were:

1. Visiting the St Jacob Farmers' Market, the largest year-round market in Canada and drawing up to 1,000,000 visitors annually. They also offer a tour to the nearby sugar bush to explain maple syrup production. 
2. Visit the Elmira Maple Syrup Festival - the world's largest! Includes a pancake flipping competition using all kinds of wacky equipment. 
3. Poutine (best in Quebec) & Beavertails.

Top tips

1. Canada geese are much more terrifying than ibis and bush turkeys; keep your distance. 
2. If nothing else, join the International and Canadian Student Network (ICSN) and International Peer Community (IPC). It is a great opportunity to meet other exchange students and Canadian locals.
3. Participate in activities that you wouldn't have the opportunity to in Brisbane/Australia. For Winter term, this largely includes winter activities. Go skiing, build a snowman!
4. Don't overpack - lots of good winter clothes are on sale at the start of the Winter term. Otherwise you have to pay large fees to ship belongings back (and CAN-AUS is much more expensive than other destinations), or bring all your winter gear as you're travelling in the heat of Spring/Summer.