By Uschi, Canada, Simon Fraser University
Wow, a whole month here has completely flown by! So much has happened during this time, but I feel like it has definitely taken me up until the one month mark to start feeling properly settled here. Let me try and synthesise the main points of the first few weeks:
Firstly, be prepared to be completely exhausted, disorientated and at times completely overwhelmed during the first week. The first few days were so intense and a whirlwind of new faces, places, and endless orientation activities. After the third day I think I lost track of the amount of different welcome talks, speeches, and orientation activities I had been to. At this point no one has any clue what’s going on, and everyone is trying to desperately cling on to the few friends they have made. If you’re reading this having just arrived and feeling a bit lost/ confused/ doubting why the hell you’ve decided to move halfway across the world then I can assure you those feelings are normal and will definitely pass! A month in, I’m having the best time and all those initial ‘rabbit in the headlight’ feelings are long gone. Now that classes have started and I’m in the habit of studying again, going to lectures, going to the gym, and having a routine everything feels a lot more normal.
Secondly, if you’re coming here expecting a fresher’s experience like that of Manchester you need to change those expectations. The first nights activity organised by the ‘Welcome Week’ committee here was painting jam jars with glittery paints and making your own ice cream sundae (I kid you not) on the lawns outside our accommodation. Although these activities are perfectly pleasant, they weren’t perhaps what springs to mind when you think of first night at uni, and a far cry from my experience of freshers at Manchester a couple of years ago. However, at this activity I managed to meet a bunch of other exchange students and we instantly bonded over our bafflement and bemusement at the evenings entertainment. Even drinking a civilised IPA from one of Vancouver’s many craft breweries whilst painting said jam jar was out of the question, as drinking in public here is illegal. However, a month in and having had the chance to explore downtowns nightlife I can reassure anyone considering coming here that you won’t be stuck doing arts and crafts in your evenings for the year; I have discovered many delicious restaurants, cool coffee shops, and quirky cafes downtown as I have got to know my way around the city.
If you’re deciding on what accommodation to go for at SFU, then definitely go for the Townhouses. It’s where are all the other exchange students are, and although it it’s tad more pricey than the other options, it is definitely worth it! The Townhouses are purpose built mini houses that sleep four people, with two bathrooms and a shared kitchen and living area. I can honestly say I was very pleasantly surprised when I moved into my accommodation here; the bar wasn’t set very high as I thought it wouldn’t take a lot to be nicer than my room in Oak House, but when I moved in I was so happy with my room. Decently sized, with a desk, really big wardrobe space, and my own balcony looking out at Canadian pine trees!!
My house mates are all third year full time students at SFU; two from Canada and one from China. While I was initially a bit disappointed that I wasn’t living with any other exchange students as it would have been helpful to be living with people who were going through a similar experience to me, it’s been really nice to live with people who have local knowledge. When you apply for the Townhouses you are given the option at some point in July to do ‘room selection’ and choose who you want to live with, but at that point I didn’t know anyone else going to SFU so I went for a lucky dip. However, a lot of the other exchange students I have subsequently spoken to requested to live with other students from their home unis, so if there are a couple of you coming from Manchester then this is something worth bearing in mind…
The university here is a campus uni so everything is in one place, which definitely has its advantages and disadvantages. Be prepared for a lot of concrete; the university was designed by Arthur Erickson (one of Canada’s most renowned architects) in the 60s, and has been described as a ‘brutalist acropolis’, although I believe this too be too harsh a judgement and you quickly become accustomed to the concrete. In fact, I think it actually works well as a stark contrast to the luscious nature of Burnaby mountain park surrounding the uni, not to mention the beautiful vistas of snow topped mountains in the distance. There’s everything you need to get by in your everyday existence on the mountain; lots of coffee shops and eateries, a bank, a bookstore, a small (and extortionately expensive supermarket), a liquor store, and one bar. There’s also great sports facilities; the gym here is free for students, and only ten minutes walk from the accommodation, so I am finding no excuses not to keep active whilst I’m here. I’ve also signed up to do yoga classes here; whilst I certainly won’t be doing a headstand any time soon, finally after 22 years I can now for the first time touch my toes. I would definitely encourage taking up something new during your time out here!
Sometimes it can feel a bit claustrophobic up here on campus, especially when the weather is grey and rainy (classic Vancouver), so I would definitely advise getting off the mountain as much as possible during the first few weeks to properly explore the city. It takes about an hour to get downtown from campus; you can either get the bus straight down, or the bus and then the sky train. The transport system in the city is pretty good, and as a student at SFU you get a compass card (Vancouver’s version of an oyster card) which is topped up with a ‘U-Pass’ which means you get unlimited access to all the trains, buses and sea-ferries in the city. The city of Vancouver itself is probably one of the coolest places I’ve ever been, and you won’t be short of things to do here. Highlights so far have been lounging on third beach in the last of the summer sun, walking around Stanley Park, and climbing Grouse Mountain (2,800 steps of hell, but worth it for the amazing view at the top).
Exchange life is such a bubble, and life back in England already feels so long ago and it’s only been a month. It’s been such a whirlwind, and after a having a year out from university last year and working, I’m honestly so happy to be here and back enjoying uni life again. This weekend a whole bunch of us exchange students are renting cars and heading to Vancouver island where we are staying for thanksgiving. I’m really excited to have an explore of the island, get out of the city for a bit, and just to spend some time with all the fab friends I’ve made so far.