Eliza: It’s Beginning to Look a Lot like Christmas

The seasons have definitely started to change here in Vancouver! We ended daylight savings a few weeks ago, and now the sun is setting by about 4.30 and the temperatures have started to drop…although there is no snow yet! The leaves have mostly dropped off the trees, and it is starting to feel a lot more like winter here!

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The streets were filled with the brightest orange leaves for weeks while the trees dropped their leaves!
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Beautiful sunset at Westbrook Village, the local shopping area next to campus

We are heading into the last week of classes this week and I am still absolutely in love with Vancouver and really enjoying the classes that I’m taking. With only three and half weeks left of my exchange, I am beginning to feel really sad that my time in Vancouver is nearly coming to an end. The last few weeks have been pretty hectic, filled with midterms and assignments, but we are finally on the home stretch. The last few months have just flew by and It’s hard to believe that I am already in the last month of my exchange.

As the weather has changed, so has the vibe around campus. Following Remembrance Day on November 11th (known as Armistice Day in New Zealand), everything has become more Christmassy. They have hung up string lights along main mall, and Christmas events such as gingerbread house decorating and Christmas themed movie nights hosted by my residence (aka. Rez).

Me and my room mates set up the Christmas decorations in the house last week, including our very own Christmas tree!  We already have Christmas music going too! Also as the weather is getting colder, it is the perfect weather for hot chocolate, and I am on the hunt for the perfect Christmas jumper (and it will actually be cold enough to wear one!).

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Our Christmas decorations! (Camryn, Jordyn, Me)

It seems that Christmas is starting earlier here in Vancouver, as Christmas festivals and markets are already popping up around the city. I went with two of my room mates, Sara and Jordyn to a Christmas candy festival in Yaletown, and have plans to go to the German Christmas market and the VanDusen festival of lights (both of which I have heard great things about).

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Eating Maple taffy with Sara – made by pouring maple syrup into the snow and rolling it up on an ice block stick!
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Some of the lights hung up around downtown Vancouver! (Jordyn, Me, Sara)
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At the Yaletown Candy Christmas festival. Sitting on a seat carved out of Ice! (Jordyn, Me, Sara)

I am loving getting into the spirit, and finally getting to experience a cold Christmas season!

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Eliza: Advice for Moving to a New City

I have been in Vancouver for around 2 months and am absolutely in love with both the city and UBC. Since my arrival I have been working hard to adjust and make the most of the short time I have here.

Prior to arriving in Vancouver, I was a bit nervous about my decision to move to the other side of the world alone, but shortly after arriving in the city my fears were eased as I completely fell in love with the city. Although it was a bit isolating and overwhelming at first, I quickly immersed myself into the university culture and made some great friends, especially my room mates. It’s easy to get overwhelmed and feel out of place, but I have come up with some of the things that have helped me the most so far on my exchange.

Here are my top Five tips for adjusting to a new place and making connections:

  1. Put yourself out there!

Go say hi to someone new in lectures. It really is as easy as sitting down next to someone new, introducing yourself and getting a conversation started. Don’t forget to ask for their Facebook/number so that you can keep the connection going and find them next class! I know it may seem awkward at first but if you are confident about it you will start to make connections in no time. Not only in this a good way to make some new friends, but it is also super helpful to know people in your classes for help with studying, assignments and any questions you may have.

  1. Join as many clubs as you can.

Clubs are a great way to meet like-minded people, as well as doing something you enjoy! My club recommendation at UBC is the Exchange student club. They are a great organization that organizes a large range and number of events from bar crawls and ice skating, to entire weekend trips away (I recently went to the Rockies with them and it was fantastic!).

  1. Don’t feel disheartened if you don’t make connections right away.

It takes time to get to know people, and though it may be awkward at first, you’ll build up friendships over time. A good start if you don’t know anyone is always getting together with other Auckland students currently in UBC, and building up from there.

  1. Connect with other exchange students.

They are in the exact same boat as you and will be trying to make new friendships too! Joining the UBC incoming exchange student page is a great start, as other students post all the time about activities they are going to do with open invitations. Through this, not only do you meet people but you also get to go out and see some of the beautiful sites that Vancouver has to offer!

  1. Try to immerse yourself into Canadian culture as much as possible!

Thanks to my three wonderful Canadian roommates, I’ve been lucky enough to try some of the Canadian staple snack foods such as maple cookies, ‘ketchup’ flavoured potato chips and a range of ‘all dressed’ flavoured snacks.

These Five things were a huge part of me being able to adjust so smoothly and really enjoy my first few weeks on exchange. Although the first couple of weeks was a sort of limbo where I was not ‘good’ friends with anyone, I now have made some really strong friendships that I’m sure will be lifelong!

Here are some photo updates of what I’ve been up to the last few weeks!

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University Hockey Game with One of my roommates Cam (left) and a friend Thora (middle)!
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University Basketball Game!
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Noah Cyrus concert with one of my Roommates, Sara
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My Halloween costume with my room mates (Jordyn on left, Cam in the middle) We were ‘spice girls’

 

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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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