Seb: Budgeting in Vancouver

Vancouver is infamous for being an expensive city. In this post I want to help share some assorted tips and tricks that I’ve picked up during my time here to hopefully make your time in Vancouver easier and more affordable.

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A beautiful Autumn day on campus!

Groceries:

  • There are two big supermarkets you’ll be going to – Save on Foods (on the edge of campus) and No Frills (a 15-minute bus ride from campus. The Canadian equivalent of Pak ‘n’ Save).
  • Groceries are overall a bit cheaper than NZ, especially if you shop around. This is partly because groceries in Canada are tax-exempt.
  • If you go to Save on Foods, which is typically more expensive, get a MoreRewards card (like FlyBuys) and take advantage of their sales.
  • Supermarkets don’t sell any alcohol, you can only find this in dedicated liquor stores.
  • There are a couple of op shops (thrift stores) close to campus. You can get everything you need for your kitchen/room from there (no need to go all the way to Ikea!)

Transport:

  • Campus is big – buy a bike or use a bikeshare service (Dropbike)
  • Don’t buy a car – Make friends with locals or use a carshare service (they are very affordable if you split between a full carload)
  • Public transport in Vancouver is amazing
  • You are required to purchase a public transportation pass when you come to UBC. You’ll be surprised how much use you’ll get out of it (even if you live on campus!)

Skiing:

  • Buy your passes for Whistler before October 7 to get the cheapest price
  • Whistler is totally do-able as a day trip from UBC. No need to pay extortionate prices for accommodation in the village!
  • There are also several other ski fields (Grouse, Seymour, Cypress) closer to Vancouver which are less than half the price of a day pass at Whistler
  • Ski gear is significantly cheaper here than in NZ. Find a second-hand store or Ski swap event for some sick gear. Sometimes brands will even come to UBC and set up a pop-up outlet store.

Housing:

  • Don’t stress over choosing between Walter Gage or Fairview Crescent (the two halls of residence where most exchange students end up). They’re both nice and well-located.
  • Walter Gage is apartment style and located right in the middle of campus.
  • Fairview Crescent is townhouse-style and is effectively its own little village slightly further from the lecture theatres but in a nicer, greener area.
  • If you’re unable to secure housing at UBC, the HI Jericho Beach hostel allows long-term stays for around CAD$300 a month.

Other:

  • Canadian University students (including exchange students) get six months of free Amazon Prime. Score!
  • Mobile plans in Canada are extortionate. At least double the price you’d pay in NZ for the same service. You’ll have Wi-Fi most of the time anyway. Just buy some Skype calling credit or a calling plan and you’ll literally save hundreds of dollars.
  • If you’re brave enough to risk a $10 haircut, Chinatown is the place to go.

Travel:

  • There’s no mid-semester break in Term 1 (September – December). If you want to go travelling, do it before/after the semester or go during a long weekend.
  • Don’t just arrive on September 1st! Get to Canada early and do some travelling around beforehand.
  • Hiking season in Vancouver lasts until around October (when the snow starts to fall!).
  • Join the Exchange Student Club. They run lots of fun events and also rent out tents – handy!
  • Under the United States Visa Waiver Programme (this is what you’ll be admitted under if you arrive in the US with an ESTA), travelling to Canada won’t reset your 90-day clock. So, if you want to visit the USA you’ll have to do all of it within a 90-day period (unless you get a travel visa – but this will add extra time and cost).
  • Vancouver Island is amazing but is also deceptively hard to get to. The UBC Surf Club runs a trip to Tofino every semester which is probably the cheapest, easiest and most fun way of getting there!

Canada:

  • I’d highly recommend going to a Vancouver Canucks game (ice hockey). Go to a pre-season match in September for the cheapest tickets (~$20).
  • In Canada they don’t call it ice hockey. It’s just called hockey.
  • Tim Horton’s is always a good idea.
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Garibaldi Provincial Park, near Whistler. All of this is less than 2 hours away from Vancouver!

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Canadian canoeing on the Exchange Club’s Sunshine Coast trip!
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Surfing in Tofino. Yewwwww!

 

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Eliza: Adjusting to Life in Vancouver

I have been in Vancouver for just over a month now and it still feels surreal to be here. The landscape is breath taking and the campus is huge! Although UBC isn’t located in city central like the University of Auckland, you can hop on a bus and be downtown in around 40 minutes so it is still convenient if you want to visit.

I managed to secure a place in on campus housing and am living in Fairview Crescent, which is town-house style housing. It is a complex with around 700 residents. I love the layout of townhouses with a brick courtyard in the middle. The complex has a really homey feel and even has a coffee shop in the middle – perfect for studying! I have 3 roommates: Camryn, Sara and Jordyn. They are all domestic students from Canada and were so welcoming when I first arrived. Our house has a really fun dynamic and we have all become great friends!

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Fairview Crescent
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Keith Urban Concert with the roomies! (Left to right: Sara, Jordyn, Me, Camryn)

Throughout my first few weeks of lectures I did notice some differences compared to New Zealand in the class layout. In classes, there are is a lot more participation required. It is a part of your grade and you normally get marks through the use of a clicker to answer questions. I have this in two of my classes and really enjoy using it. The questions are normally reviews of the lecture and give hints as to what the lecturer sees as important concepts to grasp, so they give a good indication for what could be assessed in midterms, assignments, etc. They also track attendance, which means there is no lecture recordings. The lecture recordings are definitely one of the things I miss most about the Auckland system, as they were a great way to look back on anything you missed or didn’t understand during the lecture, so it has been adjustment not having them as a back up.

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i-clicker: used in classes to answer questions and track attendance

While it is important to keep up with studies and stay on top of assignments, it is just as important to make the most of your time while on exchange and go out and explore, and this is one of my main goals during my exchange. Over the last month I have been lucky enough to visit downtown Vancouver several times, go hiking at Joffre lakes, go to a Keith Urban concert with my roommates, and even have a weekend away in the Rockies over thanksgiving break!

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Sunset in Banff, Alberta
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Columbia Icefields, Alberta
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Joffre Lakes with Abby, another exchange student from UoA

Overall, I have had an amazing first month at UBC and although it has been an adjustment compared to my life in Auckland, I am really enjoying myself and am excited for what’s to come over the rest of my exchange.

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Lake Louise, Alberta

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Seb: Housing at UBC

Hi everyone! After six weeks of travelling through the United States and Western Canada, I now find myself at the University of British Columbia! I want to start off this blog series by talking about housing because this is definitely something I wish I’d known more about before I came here.

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First of all, the University of British Columbia (UBC) isn’t really located in Vancouver. It’s about a forty-minute bus ride from downtown. This creates a beautiful campus environment, with everything from swimming pools to beaches to walking trails to supermarkets to sports stadia.

With such a large and beautiful campus, unfortunately this creates massive (massive) demand for on-campus housing.

But that’s fine, I thought. I’m an exchange student. I’ll definitely get accommodation on campus.

See, the thing is, UBC doesn’t actually guarantee residence for exchange students. I knew that when I applied, but figured it was more of an escape clause for them in case of exceptional circumstances.

Unfortunately, that’s precisely what happened to me! Back in June, about a week after everyone else started excitedly chatting about which hall of residence they had been accepted into, I received my wait list position via email. It was almost 3000. No that’s not a typo. A wait list of three thousand people for housing for the Fall semester. Yikes! Apparently the total waitlist was as long as six thousand.

My understanding of the housing system is that it’s pretty much a lottery. Despite doing everything I was supposed to – choosing my preferences, applying early, paying the application fee – I still didn’t get a place.

Fortunately, I wasn’t the only person in that situation. From anecdotal evidence, I’d guesstimate that about a quarter of exchange students this semester found themselves with no housing. Finding accommodation, as a student, for just a few months in a city like Vancouver (with a rental market that makes Auckland look pretty tame) is not an easy task.

Naturally, this put a lot of stress and pressure on me just as I was heading into my Semester 1 exams back in Auckland. Fortunately, I was lucky enough to find a sublet on-campus through Facebook, but I know I was extremely lucky to have done so.

Overall, I didn’t feel like the probability of not being assigned housing was adequately communicated to me by UBC and it just caused me a lot more stress than I had anticipated.  I also didn’t like being left in the dark while all my friends had received housing offers.

If you do find yourself in this position, don’t panic! The best advice I can give is to join all the relevant Facebook pages and find a group of people who are also looking for accommodation so you can search together. Also, if you’re going in the Spring Semester (Auckland Uni’s Semester One) apparently there is less demand, so you may have better luck! Expect to pay somewhere in the region of CAD$700 to $1200 for a room in a shared unit close to campus.

UBC is a great place but, goodness gracious, the housing situation here is a really challenge. But if you can make it through it, then it’s totally worth the effort! UBC are responding to the huge demand for on-campus housing by committing to building 6300 new beds in the next 10 years. For us exchange students, that can’t happen fast enough!

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Sunset at Wreck Beach, just a 15 minute walk from my residence. Not bad, huh?

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Reflections: Shirley

Final thoughts are usually something of a mixed feeling for me. Even the name itself just pushes you to face all the preparation, all the hidden fears and excitements of living a life elsewhere for half a year and all the amazing memories that have come out of it is about to end. Usually I would find myself in a state of blankness, that really horrible feeling of dread and knowing that at least for the next little while, I will leave behind adventure for the mundane monotony of home.

But in actual fact, that was not how I felt leaving Montreal. Of course I would miss everybody that I have met and had a great connection to without a doubt, and I appreciate that the time and experiences I had were unique and special. But somehow the things I learnt about myself, about how to progress with my life and how to think about things from a different perspective made me particularly excited to come home. And nobody is more surprised about that revelation than I am. It’s like what they say, you never really find the things you look for until you stop looking. And I wasn’t prepared to find this newfound appreciation not just for the world outside of my own country and the lovely things that comes with it, but of it instead. I didn’t even realise I had missed New Zealand that much until I could not stop smiling landing back from a long journey and savouring the sunlight instead of the snow. There are too many new ways of changing my lifestyle and mindset to better ones that ultimately I appreciated the experience for what it was: As a big learning curve that ultimately gave me exactly what I needed at this point in my life.

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It’s only fitting that this last post should be a visual highlight reel of my experience in Montreal, and along with the various posts I as well as my fellow exchange students have done over the past half year, hope that it inspires even just a few of you to take the plunge. These snapshots what words can’t capture, only that the feeling after having achieved and experienced all of this makes me feel very lucky and extremely grateful. It can be scary, intense and at some points no matter if it’s organising it of simply living it. But in all honesty, nothing could make your university life more memorable. In twenty years, it won’t matter as much what grade you got in which paper. That won’t be the conversation starter when you have work events, family gatherings or social reunions. But for me, the special times like watching my first ice hockey game, or hiking in sea of golden leaves during a storm, or having a white Christmas on top of a mountain… Those I will share time and time again with fondness and happiness.

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Thank you to everyone who supported the content; Giving a glimpse of my adventure was such a creative outlet to share those incredible moments and I enjoyed it every step of the way. And as cliché as it may sound, it cannot compare to actually living it. Don’t believe me? I dare you to give it a try.

Keep up to date with my adventures through Instagram (shirleyxjiang) and my personal travel blog (http://pageparisienne.blogspot.ca/)

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Wanderlust: Shirley

Some people may be thinking that exchange life is more like normal life at home but in a different place, and in a lot of ways they are right. The length of time is definitely long enough for certain habits and routines to development and the ones around you take really no time at all to become family. But it is also a way of life that is exciting and thrilling, unrelenting and often tiring at the same time, which may sound unappealing but would definitely not be done in any other way. Because the soul source of all those feels that makes the whole experience so vibrant and worthwhile comes down to one thing: The ability to travel.

There are limitless easy possibilities when you find that you’re in a country surrounded by other regions and countries rather than by sea, and I can say without fail that each and every exchange student would have taken absolute advantage of this to see more, taste more, learn more and feel more. So for a fun post that might even give you a bit of inspiration with where you might want to do your exchange in the first place. By no means do I love Montreal any less, I thought I could give a brief little rundown of all the other places I managed to wander to.

The first and certainly the one that set the standard was Quebec City. Granted a massive push of summer heat even at the end of September, it was like we had walked into a beautiful European town that really glowed and you just couldn’t help but smile wherever you went. With a huge French influence that really appealed to what I love personally, the days spent just walking around and enjoying the delicious food on outside terraces while listening to street jazz music was just the perfect start to my exploration of this part of the world. It was exactly the type of holiday that I love, and a perfect way to get excited about my next endeavours.

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The second destination could perhaps be considered a must hit for eastern Canada and while I could have chosen a better time than before a heavily weighted midterm to go, Toronto was a place that appealed to me in ways I couldn’t have imagined myself. Being the biggest city within Canada, the rich variety of things I saw whilst I was there really made an impact, and the engineer inside me really appreciated that even without the CN tower, those tall buildings downtown were extremely impressive. And of course the Niagara Falls were not at all disappointing, but I loved the fun and amusing township most of all which everyone had somehow forgot to mention. While it was undeniably more slightly stressful than what I was used to, perhaps it was the most surprising trip that led me to a place I seemed to think I had a full grasp on yet found I knew barely anything at all. But isn’t that what travelling is all about?

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If Quebec City was the epitome of a perfect summer vacation, then Ottawa was its equal in every way as a winter getaway. And in true contrasting style, we managed to fill a house full of new friends and roommates to have a wild weekend away, where we could celebrate coming together from all over the world and make unforgettable memories while we had the chance. It was true a time of bonding, with one of my best friends and my roommate treating ourselves like queens in an outdoor mountain spa in the dead of winter. I cannot even convey the luxury of having warm water wrapping around you as the morning light faded to a chill night, and when the lights and candles started to glow through the steam, we experienced our first real snowfall. It stayed until the next day when we walked our way through Ottawa in absolute awe of this magical setting to consolidate a very heart warming and lovely weekend away.

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The final and certainly biggest destination was the only one I had set my eyes on before I had even left for my exchange experience because who could deny an opportunity to explore the concrete jungle? New York was absolutely spectacular. It was impressive and grandiose and interesting in so many ways, but I could not believe how lucky I was to get a full week and a half to spend there, including the infamous New Year’s Eve. Snowstorms and high winds did nothing to knock our spirits to wander anywhere and everywhere that we could, and I don’t think we could have taken more advantage of being there than we did. Rooftop parties, food and cafe hopping days, shopping getaways… we went big because as sad it was, we knew we were going home.

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But what a perfect way to finish off a massive adventure that held nothing back and gave us everything it had. If something like this doesn’t convince you that an exchange is worthwhile, I really don’t know what will.

Keep up to date with my adventures through Instagram (shirleyxjiang) and my personal travel blog (http://pageparisienne.blogspot.ca/)

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Campus Life: Shirley

It’s not hard to imagine what is most exciting, most intriguing and most anticipated for an exchange: The new experience. Sometimes it is easy to be blinded by the places to travel, the new foods to try and the activities to do that it overwhelms a very big aspect of this experience, notably achieving a different academic perspective. For me personally, I would definitely like to start by confessing that all and everything fun and amusing became a front runner as a priority with this journey, which therefore put my academics more so on the back burner than what I am used to back at home. I thought to myself, it would be an absolute crime if this opportunity of all opportunities was spent sitting inside studying my precious days away.

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I did take me a while to see that university and campus life is inclusive of having a good grasp on what is going on, and discovering McGill along the way with its similarities and differences is not a hindrance to the experience but a part of it. Looking at these pictures of the beautiful campus and feeling pride towards being a part of such a diverse and strong student community there, it really does form a great part of the journey. A lot of aspects were very much on par with what I was used to at Auckland. Others, whether it arose simply because it is a different university or due to the fact that I am in a particular situation on exchange here, took some time to adjust to. Leaving behind for one second all the other envious bonus advantages from being overseas that comes to mind whenever somebody goes on exchange, I think that it is fairly important that the reality of education and spending a lot of time immersed in an academic setting is told.

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With regards to that, these would be my personal top five campus life related advice I would have loved to receive had this been a year back when I was planning my exchange, and would certainly now help others to have a better idea of what to expect.

  1. In the lecture room setting, expect to work a little harder if you want those social relationships.

Exchange students come in all forms, some are naturally more outgoing while some like to take it slow and build relationships at a relaxed pace. But meeting people back at home university is a different game to doing it in a new place. It’s so important since for me at least, my relationships within my cohort always give me an academic support that I find extremely useful. In saying that, it is definitely more difficult to break into established groups and simply put, more effort and courage is required than it would have been starting your first year where everyone was openly looking for friends. Just remember though, everybody is super friendly and generally people love a fresh new perspective. And if anything, you’re on exchange! What have you got to lose?

  1. Do everything that you want to do, but don’t feel upset if you can’t do everything.

Without a doubt any university will burst a whole myriad of clubs involving sports, music, hobbies and so much more that offer a very vibrant experience. I would definitely recommend them as they certainly are enriching and act as a very nice way to meet new people. As an example, my French conversation mini-course definitely helped me brush off my language cobwebs and I have meet people who I have made memories with already and will keep in contact with in the future. But it’s important to accept that with all these priorities on the list, you realistically cannot to it all. It is healthy to achieve a nice balance of what you want to do vs what you can do, so that it can be integrated into the campus lifestyle without feelings of overwhelming stress and fatigue. If you have the energy, do it. But don’t mistake it for pushing yourself too hard.

 

  1. Take the time to understanding the personal requirements of the courses you have picked.

 

My story will help clear this particular point a bit more. Of my papers, the ones which deemed a good match for what would have been my third year level at home was a first year maths paper and a fourth year structures paper. Having full confidence in mathematics and finding structural design the most difficult component of my civil degree, you can imagine my surprise when I scraped by with abysmal maths grades while soaring through with high scores for structures. This insane outcome taught me something I think every exchange student must accept: You have to take some time to evaluate what you need to dedicate more time to in terms of study because it isn’t necessarily the same as before. This will help with study efficiency and productivity to leave more time for all the other travel and leisurely things that are waiting.

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I expect that everybody wanting to go on exchange is looking for one thing within campus life – something different. So the best thing that you can do is to be prepared for it all as best you can and enjoy every different thing that comes with it which will make for some interesting stories when you get back home. After all, nothing beats a good but unpredictable story.

Keep up to date with my adventures through Instagram (shirleyxjiang) and my personal travel blog (http://pageparisienne.blogspot.ca/) J

 

Food, Glorious Food: Shirley

Anybody who knows me will be able to say without hesitation that this is the post for me. How is it possible to complete an experience without trying out all the flavours of the region, spending endless hours reading mouth water articles and sniffing out the hidden gems within the city? Even in the two months I have been here now, I have already gone to crazy limits like lining up for half an hour at midnight to have that authentic poutine, or posing as a different person on two different days to get another taste of the new brownies they’ve created at the chocolate shop. And sure there were some very shameless moments of whipping that camera out to get the best angle, wishing that somehow technology could help retain the scents and flavours in reality, but I would of course brave that for these delectable bright photos and wonderful experiences.

In fact, I’m not even that embarrassed because food appreciation is everywhere in Montreal. It is literally bursting through the city no matter how distinct the neighbourhood is and where you might happen to stroll past. The tasting culture here is so high that one of the most recommended activities that someone may ever find themselves being advised to try is to go on a walking food tour, where the city and all its charms can be discovered step by step while the fuel of classic foods and satisfying flavours makes the incentive for the next destination ever the better. The university even gave us as exchange students various opportunities to experience all of this with their own hosted tours – and what better way to make new friends on a sunny weekend but to stroll down the streets of Montreal with a famous bagel in hand and a nice iced drink to go with it?

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There is definitely no lack of good food, and while the city prides itself with its stunning and cafes each with a unique flair as well as the vibrant atmosphere which comes with causal bars and restaurants, there is no lack of variety either. Running all the way back to the classics here which I was most excited to try as somebody who has never set foot in Canada, all the way to modern hybrids of different flavours and combinations. It would be an endless mission to taste even a portion of what is there to offer, although I have, without question of course, gladly accepted this strenuous challenge. Smoked meat sandwiches, out of the oven bagels, hearty poutines, fresh salads and colourful juices, warm coffees, sweet beavertails and decadent desserts… Those only make up the tip of the massive iceberg that has me yearning for more. And with the transition into the colder months now, the options are endless and there is no doubt I will continue enjoying taking pictures of all of these even if I get a fair few more worried glances cast my way.

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But as much as eating out can be amazing and without a doubt some of the best conversations, the best laughs, the best memories were created with outings like that for me so far, there are always other options. In the shoes of a student trying to travel as much as I can, you can imagine that when the dreamy haze parts and reality hits in the form of a very depleted looking bank account, it doesn’t take major maths skills to know that those are only ‘treat yourself’ moments. Don’t get me wrong, there isn’t a single week that passes by without several of those, but living independently means you can get creative. I understand that cooking isn’t something a lot of us have time for nor have a heap of experience with, but it’s all a fantastic learning experience when you have so many others around to share tips and tricks from their parts of the world. I actually love developing this skill because it helps me to become healthier, more budget friendly. And of course it proves to myself that I, as well as any student capable enough to set their mind on exchange, can make some delicious food and innovate at home too.

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See if you can spot the homemade good sprinkled in there, but I’ll let the photos speak for themselves, not to mention I absolutely die for how vibrant these pictures look! After all, there’s not much more I can say without feeling hungry again!

Keep up to date with my adventures through Instagram (shirleyxjiang) and my personal travel blog (http://pageparisienne.blogspot.ca/)

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