Thomas: Cultural Canada

Climate

Game of Thrones may have finished but WINTER IS STILL COMING here in Montreal. It’s only early/mid-November, temperatures are already negative, and we’ve had over 20cm of snowfall in just the last couple of days!!! Recently, I splurged on some new winter boots as my feet were getting cold and it can be dangerous walking on the very slippery city streets. I am so thankful in retrospect that I’m only doing the Fall Semester here; good luck for anyone coming from New Zealand’s summer to this horrendous climate in January for the Winter Semester! Brrrrr.

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McGill University – Montreal

Tax & Tips

Asides from climate, there are a few differences between home and here, with one of the main differences being monetary: tax and tips. Everything can appear reasonably priced in Quebec until you add 15% in tax and then tip on top of it. Not tipping can earn you dirty glares as it is culturally expected here. You should tip anywhere that offers some sort of service: cafes, diners, restaurants, hairdressers, tour guides, and even bus drivers (though not on the general public transport system fortunately).

Language

Montreal, as a city in the province of Quebec, has French as its only official language. My ambitions to brush up on my French whilst living here were short lived though: everyone speaks English. Outside of Montreal, however, in smaller towns of Quebec, French is prevalent, and English could be a barrier (so I’ve heard). There isn’t much in terms of language that is significantly different to New Zealand, except for the one word “eh” – a request for affirmation or attention, that they stereo typically end every sentence with.

Everywhere is Different!

Culture in other areas of Canada changes dramatically between provinces and cities. A trip to Toronto and down to Niagara introduced me to a little bit of America. Toronto as a city I found was much less interesting than Montreal, however, it did contain a couple of hidden gems such as Graffiti Alley and its much larger Chinatown.

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Graffiti Alley – Toronto

Niagara on the other hand was a vibrant and touristy city which additionally boasts incredible waterfalls, daily fireworks during peak season, and borders America – completely different to what we experienced in Toronto.

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Niagara Falls – Niagara

Drinking

Drinking culture (as I have experienced it so far) is much less excessive and more responsible than how I have experienced it back in New Zealand – I have enjoyed it much more since coming to Canada and do not feel the equivalent social pressure to binge drink that I often do amongst peers back home.

Exchange Advice

If considering an exchange to Canada, you should try to know what you want to get out of your exchange before choosing the appropriate university. Know the location, climate, culture, etc. of the province and city before you go so you can choose what will suit you best!! Montreal is fantastic to experience some real cold, a white Christmas (hopefully!! for me), a little French culture, and locality making areas such as New York, Ottawa, Toronto, Quebec City, and Mt. Tremblant accessible for weekend getaways.

 

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Mt. Tremblant with Fall Foliage

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Meg: Accommodation at McMaster

My house is currently covered in the first snow of the year which I’m absolutely in love with! It’s also what I want to talk to you about today. One of my biggest worries before I left for my exchange was my accommodation so I want to help you figure out what would work best for you.

 

First Arrival

Lots of exchange students have different plans when they first arrive, but a buffer of time before classes start is useful to give you a chance to adjust. Most flats or residences only let you move in late August or early September so Airbnb is a great option before then (it does pay to ask if you can move in early though). 

If you’re in on-campus accommodation you’ll want to be there at least a week before classes start for Welcome Week. For off-campus, I’d recommend the same as MIX club runs an amazing week of events that are great to get to know other exchange students keen for adventure.

 

On-Campus Accommodation 

At McMaster accommodation works a little differently than at UoA. The first thing to know is that while you can apply for an on-campus residence, very few exchange students live on campus – it’s usually only for first years. While exchange students can apply in upper years, you should consider if it would suit you to stay with younger students.

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Hedden Hall

A meal plan is compulsory in residence, it works like a prepaid card for restaurants on campus. This can be hard to go back to if you’ve spent time cooking for yourself or it might be one less thing to worry about. 

If you decide to try applying make sure to keep on top of application dates and look at other options too. It’s all based on a lottery system so even as an exchange student you won’t be given preference.

Off-Campus Accommodation

After first year, most students choose to live in student houses nearby. My house is a ten minute walk from the edge of campus but the buses are free to students so you can look further away if you’d like. The most popular student areas are Westdale and Ainslie but lots of students commute.

 

For off-campus accommodation, it pays to start looking early. I found my house in May for a September move-in date and as I wanted to sublet for both semesters I got very lucky with proximity and price. If you’re only on a one semester exchange it can be even more of a challenge so you’ll need to get looking early and keep your options open. 

 

 

It is possible to find a place once you’ve arrived, you wouldn’t be alone, but competition is steep at that time of the year. It’s best to get onto it early and let yourself enjoy getting settled in. 

Overall, no matter where you end up staying you’re going to have an amazing time. Don’t let worries about where to stay overwhelm you. As long as you make the most of it, it will be the right choice for you.

Meg

 

PS: Here are some bonus pictures of the fall because even though winter’s on its way, I’m still not over the beautiful leaves!

 

Meg: First Impressions of McMaster University

Adjusting to a New Adventure

I’ve been in Canada for almost 6 weeks now and it’s already become my new second home. The McMaster University campus might feel like a movie set sometimes (maybe because it is), but the people I’ve met and the experiences I’ve had so far are as real as it gets.

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My first time on campus!

My time here has been hectic in all the best ways. It started out with an outdoor orientation experience which let me make heaps of new friends by stranding us in tents and canoes in the Canadian wilderness for a few days. The MOOSE eXchange programme has been a highlight of the trip so far! Once semester starts, MIX Club is the place to be for exchange students with an action-packed week of events from arcade night to hiking. Joining some of McMaster’s 350 clubs has also been a great way to get involved with Outdoor Club a must-try. Planning weekend trips with your new friends is also a great time, especially before winter hits. You don’t need to worry about a shortage of things to do!

 

 The first few weeks are amazing and intense but make sure to take care of yourself. With the excitement of a new adventure, the adrenaline from so many new situations and the extreme highs and lows of getting settled in, it’s even more important to take some time to breathe. Whether it’s by writing a journal, hitting the gym or sitting under a tree on campus to read, anything you find relaxing can help stop you from burning out. This way you can carry on making the most of every moment!

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In my first week, I spent hours each evening exploring Hendrie Valley
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Leave from Cherry Hill Gate and you’ll see heaps of these adorable little buddies

The best part of exchange is that everyone’s in the same boat when it comes to nerves, excitement and wanderlust. There’s no doubt that change is hard but you’re not alone in this experience. By getting to know people it all seems far less daunting and luckily your chance to make friends doesn’t end after week one. Take every chance you can to introduce yourself to someone new, you already have the perfect topic to talk about – Canadians love a Kiwi accent.

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I made some great friends when I lost my main group on an exchange trip to Niagara Falls

My new normal here in Canada is something I’m working hard not to take for granted. Enjoying every moment, making the most of every opportunity and looking at the world from a new perspective gets easier every time I try. I can’t wait to keep you posted on more of my adventures and introduce you to my new home!

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Meg

Thomas: Try to See EVERYTHING

Approaching the date of departure from home was neither exciting nor intimidating; however, the gravity of my adventure ahead finally dawned on me the morning of my flight, before saying goodbye to family and friends at the airport. I suddenly felt much more apprehensive about my decision to travel abroad. The 13-hour flight from Auckland to Vancouver was as uncomfortable as it sounds – trying to sleep was as futile as trying to stay awake. At 14:00 local time, the flight touched down, and I took my first step onto Canadian soil. Getting through customs was pleasantly much easier than I anticipated – all that was required was my admission letter and eTA. My first ten days overseas were spent staying with a family friend in Vancouver so as to facilitate my transition into a very new environment.

Vancouver is a beautifully designed city with so much to offer and a stunning surrounding area. I spent two nights in Whistler, as well as a night in Victoria on Vancouver Island, whilst exploring British Columbia (BC). Whilst in Vancouver – after recovering slightly from the horrendous jet lag – I tried swing dancing, hiked Grouse Mountain, visited Deep Cove, and did many other typical touristy attractions that the city had to offer.

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Bloedel – Vancouver, BC

Whistler, I would describe, is the Queenstown of Canada – boasting picturesque snow-capped mountains, blue lakes, and a quaint village. I tried my first poutine from Zog’s, which did not fail to satisfy. Other highlights of this three-day adventure included walking the high-note trail, the Peak2Peak Gondola, cycling to all the lakes, swimming, and staying at the pod hotel. Thus far, Whistler has been my favourite trip within Canada.

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Poutine – Whistler, BC
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Whistler Peak – Whistler, BC
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Alta Lake Park – Whistler, BC

My Victoria trip began with an early seaplane flight from Sea Island, followed by a whale-watching tour where we spotted dozens of orca whales. I spent the rest of the afternoon exploring the town, then the evening at Hermann’s Jazz Club – one of the oldest in Canada. The town boasted beautiful Victorian architecture.

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View from a Seaplane – Vancouver Island, BC

Following my ten-day holiday in BC, I flew to Montreal and moved into my university accommodation at Solin Hall. Since then, I have visited Ottawa, the McGill Outdoors Club Clubhouse, been canoeing, and am planning a tip to Mt. Tremblant this coming weekend.

Based on my limited travel experience over the past month, if I were to offer one piece of advice to those going abroad, it would be to make the most of every opportunity you can. Try to see EVERYTHING. Travel to different cities, don’t be afraid of new food, and treat every day as the opportunity it is – because you may never be back to wherever it is you are. I have found that studying overseas provides an ideal environment to travel in for the first time.

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Lachine – Montreal, QC
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Ottawa – Ottawa, ON

Seb: A Summary of My Experiences

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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!
  3. 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!)
  4. 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!
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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!
  8. 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!
  9. 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.
  10. 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:

  1. 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!
  2. 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
  3. 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.
  4. 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?
  5. 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.
  6. 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!

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Eliza: Final Reflections

I have been back in New Zealand for about two weeks and am already missing Canada and my time at UBC. Truthfully, I have struggled to write this post as it is really difficult for me to look back on the most wonderful time I have had without getting too emotional. I can safely say that my four months in Vancouver was a life changing experience that left me with some fantastic memories and life long friendships. It has definitely been adjustment coming back to New Zealand summer after a few months in the cold weather, but I am loving the sun so far.

I thought I would use this post as a place to look back on my favorite memories of my time away. I got the opportunity to live on campus at Fairview Crescent, and loved being so close to university, as well as getting to live with some fabulous people. Over the four months, I became really close with my three roommates, Camryn, Sara and Jordyn. Coming home after a day of uni and getting to hang out with them all was great, and the house had a really positive and fun vibe. All three of them were from different parts of Canada and introduced me to their friend groups, meaning I was able to make friends with heaps of really cool local UBC students.

While on Exchange I got the opportunity to travel twice. Over thanksgiving weekend I went the Rockies with the UBC exchange student club and a hundred other exchange students from all over the world. It was a super fun trip where I met lots of interesting people and took in the gorgeous scenery that is the Canadian Rockies. After the last day of classes, I was able to go away for the weekend with another exchange student from the university of Auckland, Abby. I really enjoyed Seattle and exploring, but must say that Vancouver had to be my favourite city by far.

Some of my fondest memories were just spending time with all the lovely people I met whilst away. I managed to find some nice people in all my classes and in my group project assignments, as well as through my room mates. Me and my room mates really enjoyed having movie nights together, and watching friends, a show we all loved (we even had a friends poster hanging up in our living room!). As weird as it sounds, I really enjoyed the hours spent at the library with my room mate Sara and good friend Mary, studying for finals.

Overall, I am extremely grateful to have had the opportunity to study the last semester at UBC. I had so much fun and fell in love with Vancouver, UBC and all the welcoming people I met along the way. Coming back to Auckland and re-adjusting back to life at home has been bittersweet. I am happy to be back with my friends and family, enjoying the beautiful weather, but part of my heart will always be back in Vancouver. Vancouver will always be a second home to me, the first place I moved away from home and where I made some close friendships with people I already miss dearly.

To anyone that is thinking about exchange, I highly recommend you go for it. I had the time of my life and wouldn’t trade my experience for anything. Although it may seem scary, you will have the most amazing time and won’t regret your decision!

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Some exchange friends (left to right: Finja, Will, Me, Antonio, Há, Jenny, Lotte)
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Team REME – Archaeology group project. (Left to right: Simran, Rachel, Brynn, Me, Andreea)
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Last Hockey game in Canada with Mary!
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Gingerbread house decorating with the roomies! Showing off our creation with Camryn
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My UBC memory box. Decorated in the school colours, containing all the things and memories I collected during my exchange. Something I will treasure forever!

 

 

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Seb: What to Bring (and Not Bring) to UBC

Hey guys! I’m currently heading towards the end of my finals season in UBC, which means I’ll be leaving Canada in just over two weeks! I’ve wanted to live in Vancouver for many years and I’m happy to report that this place lived up to all my expectations! Looking back on my time here, I thought it’d be useful to share some things I’d recommend bringing (and not bringing) on your exchange at UBC!

Do Bring:

  • Waterproof hiking boots – In Vancouver it tends to get a little bit wet during the winter months. Having a nice pair of waterproof boots will keep your feet warm and dry while walking between classes, and they’ll double as hiking shoes for trails up in the mountains! Don’t be that person putting themselves in danger on a slippery, rocky hiking trail by wearing running shoes!
  • A good rain jacket or a ski jacket – For similar reasons, having a good ski jacket will be very useful both for up in the mountains and staying dry around campus.
  • Waterproof pants – For the same reasons above. Especially if you plan on cycling. Wet jeans aren’t a fun time!
  • A credit card – I signed up for a credit card just before I left Auckland and I’m so glad I did! Some car rentals and hotels require a credit card (not a debit card) as a pre-authorisation. They also come in handy for renting ski gear, bikes etc. Having a credit card will also give you that peace of mind in case you forget to top up your account balance and your debit card declines (awkward!). I think most banks offer a fees-free credit card with their student package, so get amongst that. Just remember to pay if off in time!
  • A travel card – I’m not a big fan of pre-loaded travel cards because, for regular purchases, I don’t think they offer better rates than your regular bank card. However, where these cards are very useful is for withdrawing cash from ATMs. Travel cards will typically allow you to do this for free, while if you use your New Zealand debit card it might cost you about $7 per withdrawal. Canada is better than the USA, but not quite as good as NZ, when it comes to accepting bank cards universally. So, it does still help to carry some cash with you just in case. Also, No-Frills (the cheapest supermarket closest to UBC) only accepts Mastercard or cash, so bear that in mind.
  • A travel power adapter and a NZ multi-board – Travel hack 101: Bring a NZ multi-board with you and charge all your devices with just a single power adapter. Boom!
  • A headlamp – During winter the sun sets at about 4pm. Having a headtorch is really useful for hiking, running or cycling in the dark!
  • Some thermal base layers – Polyprop or merino base layers are great at keeping you warm (even when it’s wet), wick moisture away from your body, weigh very little and take up next to no space. These are a no brainer. Don’t forget thermal pants!

Don’t Bring:

  • Food from home – I was pleasantly surprised by how much New Zealand (and English) food I could buy in Canada. Whittaker’s chocolate and Tim Tams are both available at Save on Foods on campus. In fact, Whittaker’s chocolate is actually cheaper here than it is back in NZ! However, I haven’t seen any Milo yet!
  • Stationery – Get that stuff here! There is a Staples on campus (similar to Warehouse Stationery) that has everything you need
  • Bedding – Again, just buy it here! Go to a thrift store or Ikea or see if any outgoing exchange students are selling!
  • Kitchen appliances – These probably won’t work here anyway (since the voltages are different).
  • Lots of hoodies and jumpers – Around Vancouver and UBC I’ve pretty much adopted a three system: A t-shirt, a merino jumper and a rain jacket on top. This way, I just wear a fresh t-shirt every day and keep the outer layers clean! This saves heaps on laundry and meant I had to pack a lot less (since these are typically quite bulky items). I don’t have a huge wardrobe to choose from, but who cares? You’re on exchange! Anything you can also use as a mid-layer for skiing would be a smart choice!

I thought about including ski/snowboard equipment on this list but I couldn’t quite decide. I think that’ll depend on how much skiing you plan on doing here, how good your gear is back home, whether you’ll be travelling before, what your airline’s luggage policy is etc etc. Personally, I didn’t bring my ski gear with me and I’m happy I didn’t. I’ve found renting to be a much better solution for me!

Anyway, it’s been a wonderful time at UBC and I can’t say enough good things about Vancouver, British Columbia and Canada in general. I’ll be very sad to leave, and I can’t wait to come back some day (maybe on a more permanent basis next time?).

I still have one more blog post to write, by which time I’ll be back in New Zealand. So that’ll be a good chance for me to reflect on a lot of the things I liked and disliked about my exchange!

Until next time!

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Throwback to the “Sunshine” Coast trip when it rained for two days straight…
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I joined a UBC intramural football (soccer) team and got to play at Thunderbird Stadium!
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The beautiful trees in Pacific Spirit Regional park, just on the edge of UBC campus!