Bianca - University of British Columbia

B. International Studies
Semester 1, 2018
I fell in love with Vancouver almost straight away. I love the mountains and I love the city and Vancouver is really the perfect mix of that.

Academic experience

I studied 5 subjects while attending UBC, which equals to 4 subjects here at UQ. I studied Global Environmental Politics (Definitely recommend! Very interesting and I had an amazing lecturer), International Conflict Management, Advanced Spanish B, Visual Arts and Latin American Studies. I found that subject difficulty was about the same as UQ but I struggled quite a bit in balancing the 5 subjects, especially since I was travelling during the semester as well. I found that assessments were more frequent and due on a week by week basis, with weekly quizzes, papers and group projects rolling through more frequently. Unlike UQ where there are some mid-sem exams or assignments then a major assignment or major exam at the end of the semester. However it was still manageable! At the start of the semester I made sure to write down all of my assessment and exam dates so I could prepare and plan around those date. This made it a lot easier so I knew which days I really had to study and write assignments and which days I could go out and explore or travel around.

UBC is a MASSIVE campus. I thought that UQ was big but UBC is probably twice the size! It is also very, very beautiful. All my classes were concentrated around one side of the campus which I was really thankful about because walking in between classes can be very tedious especially when it is cold, rainy and windy. I would suggest mapping out your classes for the first 1-3 weeks so you can get your bearings around the campus. Even visiting the buildings before you start classes would be a good idea.

Personal experience

Living in Canada had been a dream of mine since I was in grade 8 so moving to Vancouver was definitely a dream come true. Nonetheless this didn't really settle the nerves of moving to the other side of the world. I went with my friend from UQ who was studying the same course as me, which made all the difference. It made me feel better and more at ease that I didn't have to experience it all by myself. In saying this, no matter if you are going on exchange by yourself or with a friend, you still grow so much. You really learn how to become independent when you're stripped away from your comfort zone.

I fell in love with Vancouver almost straight away. I love the mountains and I love the city and Vancouver is really the perfect mix of that. Arriving in snowy Vancouver, with the Christmas decorations still up everywhere, and with the mountains just behind the city lights, felt a little like coming home. I found myself not wanting to leave at all when the end of semester loomed over my head. If I could change anything about my exchange experience I would have stayed longer in Vancouver after the semester so I could see more of the city and the surrounding places.

I must warn you about the weather though. Vancouver isn't nicknamed Raincouver for nothing. In my first month of arriving it did not stop raining for what felt like 3-4 weeks. And coming from sunny Brisbane this was a complete shock. After the excitement of the first few days of settling in wore off I found the weather starting to take a toll on me. And I am usually the one that loves rain and grey, foggy days. But take heart! I promise that the sun does come out and when it does, Vancouver, and UBC, and really everyone, lights up. You find people sitting in the sun sun-baking even though it is only 5 degrees and you find that people are friendlier and smile more. Vancouver when the sun is out is 100% worth all the rain.

Accommodation

Elephant Rock on the Northern Coast
Hiking in Banff.

Along with lots of exchange students I lived on campus in Fairview Crescent. I really liked living there as everyone is very friendly and the housing is more homey than any other accomodation I saw. It cost me around $3300AUD for the whole semester, which I found worth it. It's only around a 10mins walk to main bus stop and about a 15-17mins walk to my classes. A 10mins walk down the road can take you to multiple fast food eating options and 5mins or less on the bus can take you to the nearest grocery shop. It was super convenient. The only thing that might be a con on some people's lists is that Fairview Crescent is quite old. So the apartments/houses are a bit old but nothing a little regular cleaning and decorating can't fix. All apartments/houses are 2-story, with one bedroom on the first floor, with the kitchen, lounge and toilet. And upstairs you have the three other bedrooms with the shared bathroom. I did really like Fairview and enjoyed the walks home especially when it snowed.

Budget

The cost of exchange is really up to you personally and depends on how long you decide to stay or how much you travel. But when I was budgeting for exchange I budgeted around $9000-$10,000 AUD for the 4 months of the semester. This included accommodation, food, and travelling. But it really is up to your own preferences. I found cost of living in Vancouver a little more expensive than Brisbane but it's just really important to be smart about your money. If you're going for a semester you're not likely to be working and gaining an income so just make sure to stick to your weekly budget and be smart about how much money you spend. I was very fortunate to receive a travel grant from UQ which was incredibly helpful especially towards the end of my trip.

Challenge

One challenge that I encountered was missing home. It is inevitable to experience homesickness, especially when uni assessments are piling up and mum isn't around to cook you your favourite dish ha. Things I found incredibly helpful was obviously Facetiming with friends and family back home, but also keeping myself busy in Vancouver. I constantly had to remind myself that I was living in an incredible city that was yet to be explored and I would feel better almost instantly. So have a list of activities to check off, places you want to visit, cafes and restaurants you want to eat at and I guarantee you that your longing and aching for home will be lessened.

Professional development and employability

The greatest change I have noticed since living overseas on exchange is my ability to become adaptable. This is a great trait to have, both personally and professionally. Having to learn how to adapt and thrive in a new cultural and social environment stretched my capabilities and my capacity, and I feel, has set me up well in future situations where I need to be out of my comfort zone.

Highlight

A few mentionable highlights would definitely be when I went to SF/LA and Banff/Canmore.

I flew to LA and met my best friend who flew from Brisbane there and we did a few days in LA then a few days in SF. I highly recommend travelling to the US while in Vancouver - it's super close and flights are quite cheap!

Ferry ride from Bowen Island
Ferry ride from Bowen Island.

Another massive highlight was travelling around Banff/Canmore during mid-sem break with my friend. If you travel anywhere within Canada make sure you travel to the Rocky Mountains! It is seriously breathtaking. I was pinching myself the whole time I was there. We flew into Calgary and took an airport shuttle to our hotel in Canmore. We did a few hikes around Canmore and explored around the very lovely and quaint town but we would also go to Banff which was only a 30 mins bus ride away. Banff is gorgeous and I very highly recommend hitting the Banff hot springs while you're there. It's very surreal swimming around in an outdoor hot spring when it is -24 degrees outside. We also did a few hikes around Banff and on our second last day we took a shuttle to Lake Louise and spent an afternoon there. Ice skating on Lake Louise had been on my bucket list ever since I can remember so, again, this was a dream come true.

Top tips

  • Vancouver has a really great transport system! So take advantage of this! My friend and I had a list of areas/cafes/restaurants/landmarks we wanted to hit and almost all of them were reachable via public transport. In saying this, Vancouver also has great car sharing services like car2go and Evo. My friends and I drove to Whistler one night then hiked Joffre Lakes the next day. Highly recommend it!
  • Must hit spots; Go to Cleveland Dam, head to Capilano Suspension Bridge when they have their Christmas lights still up, ice skate or snow board on Grouse Mountain at sunset and watch the lights from Vancouver city start turning on, take a ferry to Bowen Island and go on a few hikes around there, walk around or bike around Stanley Park, watch a sunset at Kitsilano Beach or English Bay, buy your groceries from the Granville markets at least once or regularly visit to score some yummy fresh treats and pastries like me.
  • I got connected to a great church almost straight away and made great friends there. They also gave me a list of the must-visit cafes and restaurants in Vancouver. If you love Asian cuisine then Vancouver is the right city for you. Some of the best Japanese and Chinese restaurants I've ever been to. Make sure you hit up Ramen Danbo. And for cafes my favourites were Revolver and Birds and Beets in Gastown or any 49th Parallel for a classic donut and coffee combo.
  • Invest in good waterproof shoes and jackets you will not regret it! Also invest in a good umbrella!
  • Go to Ikea to buy all your house/bedroom supplies, even though it's quite far away (nearest Ikea is in Richmond) I found it worth it.
Bianca - University of British Columbia