Hi everyone! I’ve officially finished my exchange at the University of British Columbia. My earlier posts were mostly full of fairly practical tips, so I thought a good topic for this post would be to summarise my experience and outline some of the things I loved (and didn’t love) about Canada!
First of all, let’s start with what’s good.
- Skiing – I spent two days skiing at Whistler Blackcomb and it was one of the best experiences of my life. People come from all over the world to ski here. If you’re on exchange at UBC, you’d be crazy not to give it a try, even if it is a bit expensive! There are also several other ski resorts closer to Vancouver (Grouse, Cypress, and Seymour) as well as many other world-class resorts around British Columbia (such as Big White, Revelstoke and Fernie). If snow sports are your thing, BC is a paradise.
- Shopping – I’m not a huge shopper, but I was very impressed by the variety and price of many items. This is probably helped by Canada’s proximity to the United States as well as the presence of big retailers like Walmart and Amazon. For example, during a Black Friday sale I picked up a pair of hiking boots for almost half the price they would have cost in New Zealand! Definitely leave some space in your suitcase if you’re coming here for a semester!
- Groceries – I found groceries to be noticeably cheaper than New Zealand and the United States, and roughly on par with Australia. Unfortunately, they are still nowhere near as cheap as the UK and Europe! (much to the complaints of my European friends!)
- Halls of residence – As much as I complain about the housing situation in Vancouver, the residence units themselves are, on the whole, pretty high quality. All the rooms and units I visited were modern, clean and very liveable. They even had dishwashers!
- UBC Campus – After almost four months, I still can’t get over how incredible the UBC campus is. I honestly don’t think there are many campuses in the world that can rival UBC in this regard. The University of Auckland and The University of Manchester (where I did my other exchange) don’t even come close. For example, UBC has a cinema, a Japanese tea garden, at least three museums (that I know of), a state-of-the-art Aquatic Centre, a rose garden, and more fountains than I can count. I could go on and on. And all of it is beautiful and well-kept.
- Access to the outdoors – On campus you have Wreck Beach (North America’s largest nudist beach!) as well as Pacific Spirit Regional Park. Further afield, you have Garibaldi Regional Park, Whistler, the North Shore mountains (Grouse, Cypress, and Seymour), Vancouver Island and even Washington State! The opportunities are endless, and I felt like I barely scratched the surface in four months.
- Public Transport – Vancouver’s public transport puts Auckland’s public transport to shame. In fact, it’s one of the best public transport systems I’ve ever used anywhere in the world, up there with London and Hong Kong. The Skytrain is amazing, and the buses from UBC are frequent and well-maintained. Aside from grocery shopping, I really didn’t miss having a car at all!
- Opportunities for travel – Vancouver is a great base for exploring Vancouver Island, Washington State and even further afield, such as the Yukon (if you fancy going to see the northern lights) and the Rockies. Even California is less than a three-hour flight away!
- Liberalism – Canada, and particularly UBC, is a great place to be a student. UBC is a very multicultural and tolerant society. Whether you’re black or white, straight or gay, you’ll feel at home here. And hey, cannabis is even legal, if you’re into that.
- Visa free travel – As a NZ citizen, you can stay in Canada for up to six months without having to obtain a Visa. No interview at the consulate, no paperwork, just a quick ETA form you have to fill out online. Easy!
As you can see, that’s a pretty long list of things I loved! However, no experience is perfect. Here’s a few things that I didn’t like so much about Canada:
- Housing – See my first blog post for more information about this one. But in short, finding housing at UBC can be a challenge if you’re not assigned on-campus housing!
- Mobile phone plans – Mobile phone plans in Canada are horrendously overpriced (about twice what you’d pay in NZ for the same service). So, I went the entire semester without a local phone number. Doable, but still not ideal! Fortunately, UBC has Wi-Fi basically everywhere
- The weather – Vancouver (affectionately known as “Raincouver”) is infamous for how much it rains. Honestly, I didn’t find it so bad – it was pretty similar to the UK but just a bit rainier. It was definitely more consistent than the notoriously unreliable Auckland weather! We were lucky to get plenty of beautiful Autumn days for hiking, and summers are always hot and dry. Also, rain in Vancouver means it’s snowing in the mountains, which is great news for us skiers! So it’s certainly not all bad. But if you could take the UBC campus and put it somewhere in Southern California, then you’d have my dream University.
- The lecture theatres – This was one of my pet peeves. While the buildings at UBC are largely beautiful, the same can’t be said for the lecture theatres inside! Quite often, the desks are far too small to accommodate your papers or laptop. This is particularly problematic for me as a left-hander. Writing a midterm or exam on these desks is certainly not an enjoyable experience. I never had this problem in Auckland or Manchester. UBC definitely needs to spend some money getting their lecture theatres up to scratch. After all, isn’t that what we’re all at University for?
- Teaching style – UBC courses place a fairly hefty percentage on coursework (and less so on exams) which is similar to Auckland Uni. This isn’t so great when you’re on exchange and want to go travelling every weekend! There’s also no mid-semester break in Term 1 (September – December), which means that all your midterms tend to fall within the space of one or two weeks.
- Canada Post – Canada Post was pretty slack when I started my semester, with Amazon packages arriving consistently late. Mid-way through the semester, they managed to become even worse by engaging in strike action! Packages from Auckland that were sent in September and October took almost three entire months to arrive! In fact, they only arrived a week before I flew home!
As you can see, the list of things I didn’t like are mostly a few minor annoyances and are by no means deal-breakers. I had an amazing time in Canada and I can’t think of many places where it would be better to be an exchange student. I’ve wanted to live in Vancouver for a very long time and it really did meet all my hopes and expectations! It really does feel like a larger and more developed version of New Zealand, and I can’t wait to come back in the future!