5 Things I Wish I Had Known Before Studying and Living in Calgary

A brief, yet concise list of things to look out for when studying at the University of Calgary. From tourist checklists to insurance considerations.

By George Davies – University of Calgary, Canada


Since reflecting on my time in Calgary, I have accumulated a list of things I wish I understood before boarding my plane at Gatwick. From knowing the best spots to explore in town to accommodating for a truly Canadian way of life. Hence, the list below should aid Albertan-, and hopefully some Canadian-, bound students.

1. The City

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A sunset view of downtown Calgary. Prince Island Park.

Firstly, it’s important to know that Calgary is a very unusual city. As the photo above shows, the city certainly has the signature North American skyline. But don’t be fooled by these glass giants. I would argue that the soul of the city can be found in its surrounding neighbourhoods, in particular; Inglewood to the east, Kensington towards the north and 17th ave and 4th street just south of the tram line in downtown.

Unlike downtown, these neighbourhoods have much more of a lively setting with doses of old-town vibes. Whilst the glittering downtown jungle of skyscrapers may take you back by their grandeur, it is the likes of the famous ‘Red Mile’ on 17th, as well as Sunfest at Inglewood that provides any travelling student with a good measure of Canadian culture.

2. The Weather

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It does snow, quite a bit! Lake Louise, Banff National Park.

It does get nippy. Given the altitude Calgary finds itself at over 1,000m, it becomes a new kind of cold. With no moisture in the air, the Mancunian ‘chill’ pales in comparison to the harsh frozen winds that drop in from the nearby glacial mountains. Despite this, it is key to get outdoors and make the most of all the seasonal activities Alberta has to offer. In hindsight, I wish I could’ve arrived to Calgary sooner and left a lot later.

Summer in the prairie province has so much to offer. With the world renowned Calgary Stampede kicking off in early-July and the Calgary Folk Music Festival taking over the city later on in the month. I wish I had known to budget for an extended stay for these warmer weather festivities.

To add to this, if you’re a keen hiker it is important to note that most of the alpine hikes are accessible from July to September. So if you’re planning on hiking and making it to the summit, get those hiking boots on as soon as you touch down for ice-, frostbite- and avalanche-free hiking.

3. The Ways of Canadian Academia

Fortunately for Manchester students, the enrolment procedure at the University of Calgary (UoC) is pretty much the same as at home. With the out-dated enrolment shopping carts and module selection. My only advice would be to make sure you enrol on as many courses as possible before you’ve even left the UK. Especially if you’re studying abroad for two semesters. I ignorantly forgot to enrol myself onto second semester modules, expecting to do this towards the end of the first semester. Little did I know that when my time came to browse next semester’s available modules, all spaces had been taken. So to avoid panicky emails and stressful meetings with professors, make sure you get your name on the class list by September. Like everyone else.

As the video above shows, stress can cause a lot of problems whilst studying abroad. Don’t be me.

In terms of the Canadian way of learning, I wish I had not committed as much of my time to term-time assignments. Although my year was based on pass/fail, assignment marks could easily be made up elsewhere on the course, given the continuous style of assessment.

4. Canadian Sports

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One of the Calgary’s Flames’ many games during the normal season of the NHL.

Going to watch any form of Canadian sports is a MUST when in Calgary. And it is way cheaper to watch games early on in the season for all respective sports. With regards to ice hockey, the cheapest option involves purchasing ‘normal season’ tickets through university accommodation or with the Student Union. Given the success of the Calgary Flames’ team last year, you should expect play-off games to be even more expensive. That’s if they make it through again.

One sport I wish I could’ve watched more often, and especially live, was the Calgary Roughneck Lacrosse team. As well as playing in the city’s Saddledome Stadium, the lacrosse team also play an animated and violent game. Just not on ice. Tickets for this are notably cheaper.

And finally, there is no need to worry if you’re looking for a bit of action with sports on campus. The UoC’s sports teams, aka the ‘Dinos’, offer a plethora of events (which are all free). My favourites have been Canadian football, volleyball and basketball. You’ll come to find that the UoC’s sports teams are pretty successful, especially the women’s teams. Moreover, this year’s Grey Cup winning team, Calgary’s own Canadian Football League (CFL) team the Stampeders, once had The Rock play for them at the University’s McMahon Stadium!

5. The Adage: ‘It Won’t Happen To Me’

Just make sure you’re covered on insurance.

If I wasn’t then two dislocated shoulders, a deep laceration in my hand and a ruptured appendix would’ve cost me around £45,000 all together. And before studying abroad, I would’ve proudly claimed to be a ‘healthy’ individual!

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