After six months away from the University of Toronto and the city itself, here are just some of the many things I miss about the city and my time studying there!
1. Tim Hortons
Tims is an institution – its hard to explain why. It’s simply always there for you when you need it, morning, noon and most of the night. Coffee, TimBits, surprisingly addictive Chilli where you’re not entirely sure what all the ingredients are but somehow that doesn’t matter, it has almost everything you could want in the vicinity of fast food. Continue reading “10 Things I miss about living in Toronto and studying at U of T”→
After living in Calgary for two months now, I have had the
opportunity to experience not just what the city has to offer but the
surrounding areas as well. One of the key attractions of Alberta is the Rocky Mountains,
which contain some of the world’s most amazing landscapes. Within a short
driving distance, you can be immersed into beautiful national parks with truly
The first park I visited was Banff, and more specifically
Lake Louise. This is a famous lake that is surrounded by a vast mountain range
allowing stunning views. We took the opportunity, while it was still warm, to
canoe on the lake before it freezes over. This gave a whole different
perspective of the lake as instead of looking at it from the edge, you were
within touching distance with the emerald green water. The contrast of the warm sunny weather with the snow capped mountains in
the distance was a truly increadible sight. There was also a short hike up to a
viewpoint allowing you to see the lake from above. On the way was a small
teahouse, which was a great lunch spot after a tiring walk!
After seeing Lake Louise, we
went to see Lake Moraine which was easily accessible by bus. We were very keen
to see this particular lake as it closes for the winter months. The lake was a
more azure blue shade which I personally prefered, which looked great with the
sun shining. There were more great views although we didn’t have the
opportunity to see it from above as the trail was closed. After seeing these
lakes we headed back to Banff town, which had a small ski resort type feel. It
was full of buzzing restaurants and shops, with plenty of places to buy clothes
or souvenirs. It also ran a regular shuttle bus back to Calgary, which came in
very useful after an action packed weekend!
A few weeks later we decided
to do our first challenging hike in a place called Kananaskis, which was one of
the closest ranges from our campus. We drove to a fairly desolate location and
ventured through a small gap in the trees to start our hike. We were further
excited by the chance of seeing the famous Canadian wildlife such as a moose or
if we were lucky a bear. Sadly we didn’t see either but this was compensated by
seeing the spectacular view at the summit of the mountain. It gave great views
of the surrounding ranges and vegetation that could survive the harsh
conditions at the top. It was not a popular route with lots of tourists so it
was very peaceful at the summit and gave a real sense of harmony.
The third place we visited was Jasper national park which is one of the better known parks in the Rockies. Like Banff, there was a small town full of shops and restaurants which gave us a chance to have some great food in the evenings. It wasn’t just the views in Jasper that were amazing but the 5 hour drive from Calgary provided some stunning scenery. Whilst driving we stopped at a few locations along the way including Bow lake and .. Icefield. It was incredible to see some of the most beautiful mountains that Canada has to offer from the window of a car. This also gave us the perfect excuse to stop the car regularly and absorb the view from the side of the road. Once in Jasper, we attempted the most difficult hike to date. It was relatively short at 8.6km but had an elevation of 1300m over this distance. As this was in late October, the weather was getting colder and as we approached the summit, we encountered some very steep and slippery terrain. At some points the snow was also knee high and made for a challenging but enjoyable day. Sadly the day was slightly overcast, so the further we ascended the more the visibility diminished. After a very tiring day it was nice to relax and enjoy some downtime in the hostel and have a nice meal out with friends.
No matter the day there’s always plenty of things to do and see round Melbourne’s campus from free BBQs and live music, to cosy study spots and farmer markets – the list is endless! So if your wanting to make your day at uni a little less studious and a whole lot more enjoyable, here’s a quick guide to my N.1 spots on campus.
Kasha Yip, University of California, Santa Barbara, USA
Week 5 has come to an end, and so has my first set of midterms. After 6 weeks of experiencing life on the West Coast, it’s time to share a few of my first impressions of UCSB and the little, neighbouring town of Isla Vista. (I have pretty pictures at the end.)
1. People say “hi” to you on the street.
In England, it’s not a usual occurrence to strike conversations with strangers around you (or at least during the day). Now that I think about, I don’t even smile much at people when I’m going about my day in Manchester, never mind greet a random student I walk past around campus.
But the moment I stepped out of my Lyft in Isla Vista, a random girl walked past me and my suitcases and said “hi”. I’ve come to realise that you can walk or even bike around IV, and people going past might smile at or greet you, or even chime a passing sentence into your conversation.
2. My timetable is so empty…
You need to take a minimum of 12 units a quarter to be considered a full-time student, and at UCSB, that generally means taking minimum 3 modules each quarter.
My current modules only consist of 2 lectures lasting an hour and 15 minutes each a week, which altogether adds up to 7 hours a week of contact time. Compared to my ~16 hours a week at Manchester, I’m practically never in classes. (Note: some modules do come with sections, which are like seminars that complement the lectures, that are around 50 minutes long.)
Don’t let the small amount of contact hours get you excited though…
3. Readings are compulsory.
In Psychology at Manchester, majority of the set readings are supplementary and optional. Though there are some modules that will test on the reading (Social, I’m looking at you), most lecturers will only test on the lecture content.
At UCSB, though, reading is compulsory, and you can bet there will be a question on your exam that delves into an article you were set in Week 2. If you don’t keep up with your readings, you will end up having to at least skim through them the day before your exam.
4. Exams in Week 4 and 90 is an A?!
So Midterms are a thing in the US. It felt like I’d only just started school and then suddenly I was having 2 exams a day after each other 2 weeks ago and then another one just last Thursday. I now have 2 weeks “off” (I have a paper due next Monday and a 500-word blog for Friday) before I have another 2 Midterms and then Finals 3 weeks after that.
From the perspective that 60% is a 2:1 and you’re doing really well, it might seem that getting 90% is impossible. Even further, the equivalent 70%/1st in the UK is not easy to get. But, and I’ll get into it more in a separate blog, I personally think getting a 90 here is easier than getting a 70 at home (for my classes at the moment, at least), so I wouldn’t worry about passing! (I didn’t say don’t revise, though.)
5. Wait, I’m broke.
Food is expensive. Everywhere. But compared to the prices at places like Lidl and Aldi, grocery shopping here is not cheap. My first shop costed $100. Granted, that included necessities such as shampoo, toothpaste, detergent, suncream, etc., but I definitely cried a little inside when I saw the total.
My average shop will cost around $40-50 at the cheaper supermarkets, which is not that expensive considered this is Santa Barbara (rich people) and it’s equivalent to around £30-40. But Aldi gives me my weekly shop for £20 if I’m indulgent. And $50 doesn’t even include snacks. You can understand why this makes me sad.
6. Oh yeah, the beach!
So 5 would have been a nice number to end on, but I couldn’t have gone this whole blog post without talking about the beach. If you’re planning to come to UCSB, it’s probably one of the things you’re most excited for, and I don’t blame you.
Everyone living at UCSB and in IV is within a max 25-minute walk and 10-minute bike ride (if you’re slow) to the beach. I’ve even been lucky enough to live in a house on Del Playa Drive, where my balcony overlooks the ocean.
Whether you want to tan, swim, surf, or watch the sunset, the beach is the place to go. It’s beautiful and it’s amazing, and it still doesn’t feel real that it’s my back garden for the year. Just to inspire you (and because I have like 50 pictures of the sunset so far), here are a few pictures. Like, have you even been to IV if you haven’t taken at least one sunset picture?
I don’t think I’ll ever not stop mid-cooking to take multiple sunset pictures. Maybe one day I’ll wake up early enough to get a sunrise.
It’s only November, and it feels like everything is going so fast already (thanks, quarter system). But Thanksgiving is coming up soon, and I definitely know what I’m thankful for.
Living and studying abroad is already expensive, and unless you’re able to get a part-time job/paid internship alongside your university contact hours (which are 5x that of Manchester’s), having fun while still maintaining a sustainable living situation can be tricky. I had heard that Amsterdam was an expensive city before I got here so I was ready to spend mindfully in an attempt to budget but I failed within the first two weeks of getting here. I found it too easy to get caught up in spending on little things and forget that a few euros here and there adds up really quickly.
Writing this post has made me beyond thankful for my Erasmus grant, but there is only so much that this will cover, especially when you’re broke but living in a city that has so much going on – like Amsterdam. So I’ve decided to put together a little list of tips that have definitely helped me save a substantial amount of euros here and there. Some of them might be a bit extra…but desperate times = desperate measures!
I can’t quite believe I’m already a quarter of the way through my UBC experience, but I am absolutely loving life in Vancouver! Now that I have fully settled in to the busy UBC lifestyle, I will attempt to put some of the many things I have learnt and experienced whilst being here down on paper.
Main Mall in fall colours!
The Ladner Clock Tower by Main Mall
UBC has a massive campus, full of things to do and see – it’s so big that I still get lost sometimes! One of the must-do UBC experiences is the weird and wonderful Wreck Beach, where suns out bums out is taken very literally. Yes, UBC has its very own nudist beach, and during the start of term it is full of people socialising and relaxing. It is known for having a ridiculous number of steps to walk down to the beach (and unfortunately back up again!!) but wow the sunsets are definitely worth it. Another site on UBC I’d recommend visiting whilst the sun’s still out (sadly it’s not called Raincouver for nothing) is the Botanic Gardens which has a tree canopy walkway and some lovely trails. It also has the Museum of Anthropology located on campus where students get in for free! UBC is located on the territory of the Musqueam Peoples, and the museum has an incredible collection of Indigenous artefacts and totem poles. The main mall, where the majority of buildings are located, is surrounded by huge trees which all turn bright orange and red in ‘fall’ and it is so beautiful. This will normally be swarming with people because UBC is home to 60,000 students! UBC is also home to one of the campus’ biggest celebrities: the fountain seagull, who is always there to photobomb your pics.
Within the first couple of weeks I felt like a true Canadian watching the UBC ‘Homecoming’ football game in the pouring rain with a giant thunderbird poncho on. I still have absolutely no clue what the rules are and struggled to find the ball half the time, but it was a lot of fun and a chance to get some free merch.
Since being here I have also taken part in UBC’s Day of the Longboat, where you race in dragon boats across a section of Jericho Bay in teams of 10. It is so hilarious trying to canoe and stay afloat when none of you have any experience whatsoever – a definite highlight of my time at UBC so far! I’d also recommend checking out some of the UBC ice hockey matches because they’re really cheap for students and a great alternative to the Vancouver Canuck matches.
Unfortunately you do have to do a bit of work too and as an exchange student it can be hard getting the balance between studying and having fun. For me UBC’s academic system has been one of the hardest things to adjust to because the work load is a lot more continuous than back at Manchester. I would highly recommend to any future UBC students to take full advantage of the first month and travel and see as much as you can in Vancouver and the surrounding areas, because from October onwards the library and Tim Horton’s will become your best friends! Assignments and mid-terms all seem to come at once, and unlike other universities you don’t get a study break in term 1, making it quite hard to juggle deadlines. However, each assignment/exam is worth a lot less so it does reduce the pressure on a single piece of work, and once you start figuring out what each professor or class is looking for it becomes a lot easier to manage. Don’t worry you will still manage to have a lot of fun, but my friends and I have come up with some useful (hopefully!) tips to help find the balance and ease any worries!!
If you’re struggling with an assignment or you have a lot of deadlines at once go and talk to your professor! They understand you’re exchange students and don’t want to be holding you back from experiencing as much of Canada as possible, so tend to be flexible and generous with deadlines. I had a midterm that clashed with the exchange trip to the Rockies and my professor arranged a make-up assignment for me to do after the trip.
Don’t get too hung up on or stressed about the work load! It can seem overwhelming at first but remember you are only on exchange once and I have found that the standard of work at UBC is easier to that at Manchester. Breka Bakery is nearby and open 24 hours so buy yourself a cheeky donut to help you get through the late study sesh!
Try and chat to people in the first couple weeks of classes because it really helps knowing people for when you can’t attend a lecture or if you’re unsure of what the professor expects of you. For example, I am so used to having to so wider independent reading at UoM but here referencing is almost non-existent in the work I’ve done so far. Also it’s a great way to meet locals!
Don’t expect the best grades ever – remember you’re there to have fun and explore Canada too!!
After spending the last few days in sweatpants revising and writing essays I was craving a change of scenery. So I finally submitted my essay late last night so I’d have today free to explore. This morning I consulted my list of places I really should visit and headed to Petite Italie – Montreal’s Little Italy, home to a number of independent cafes, second hand shops, art work spaces and one of the largest open-air markets in North America; Marche Jean Talon. The trip also allowed me to test my metro knowledge as it was the longest journey I’d done so far.
The short video hopefully gives a feel for the area, which I’d definitely recommend visiting for anyone studying in or visiting Montreal. As with many places here the aesthetics of the of ‘Little Italy’ sit on that slightly strange line between European and American archiceture and urban landscape, making it an interesting place to visit in itself. However, the real selling point is the market – packed with fresh fruit, veg and flowers. Apart from PA (the best and cheapest supermarket I’ve found) this is definitely the best place to grab your greens, especially if you live slightly outside of downtown or have a metro pass (which are really good value, especially if you’re riding everyday for uni). It’s also a really fun experience and there’s a great atmosphere. I’m excited to go back and see what it’s like when the snow comes!
These blog posts are all well and good, but if you’re interested in studying abroad I think one of the best things is to see what a week in the life is like. I know before I signed up I was on YouTube searching for exchange student vlogs – to much avail! Anyway, here goes a week in the life of an SMU Law Exchange student in mid-October (peak workload season, yipee).
This blog post comes at a good time for me, since it feels as though I haven’t paused for a minute since I arrived here over 2 months ago! I’m gonna try and write about my first impressions of Vancouver and SFU in retrospect, and reflect on what’s changed.
I decided to fly out in mid August so that I could take time to familiarize myself with the city before uni kicked in. Studying abroad was something I’d talked about with friends and family for over a year, and to finally have arrived gave rise to such a conflict of emotions. I was nervous and didn’t know what to expect, but at the same time I was so excited to be embarking on a journey like this on my own.
I was suddenly alone is this seemingly huge city (I’ve since realized that the city itself is pretty small and walkable) with no concrete plans as to what I would do with these first few weeks at the hostel. In my mind, the first few days felt like they ran in slow-mo… I hadn’t met anyone yet and I felt unusually shy (and I am not a shy person). I knew that these were normal feelings though, so I just allowed myself to explore freely and took myself out for lunch and drank weird coloured fruity beers. I’d caught the very end of summer and was amazed that I could be sat on the beach, with the mountains ahead of me and city behind me.
Lone travelling was a new experience for me, but I got over myself pretty quick and tried to initiate conversation with everyone I could – turns out hostels are great for this anyway (Plus, Vancouverites are very friendly, sometimes suspiciously so haha). The hostel hosted daily outdoor activities which allowed me to meet people in a similar situation to me and to get out into the spectacular great outdoors on my doorstep. With the hostel, I hiked the Dog Mountain trail from Mount Seymour, which I found to be really meditative… literally didn’t look up from my feet til we reached the top. Hiking wasn’t something I’d considered a passion of mine back in Manchester, but I quickly realized the therapeutic effect of simply being around nature- I could honestly get hooked on that euphoric feeling you get from the mountain top.
A week into my stay at the Hostel, some fellow Manchester Geographers (who were going to UBC) joined me, and we cycled round Stanley park, ate poutine and attended an outdoor movie screening near the beach (Textbook Vancouver tourist things ya know).
The time to move up to the SFU Burnaby mountain campus came around very quickly, and once again I bundled myself into a taxi with my embarrassing amounts of luggage to move into residence. The location of SFU’s main campus was one factor I was apprehensive about, since it’s a little isolated from the city (I’ve since found ways around this, though). My first impressions of SFU Burnaby can be summed up in three words: quiet, concrete and construction. The brutalist architecture of SFU is apparently world-renowned, but I found it to be incredibly dull- very far from the vibrancy and mixed-design of UoM. The architecture has grown on me though, and I’ve come to appreciate the functional building design, which allows you to travel across campus [almost] without getting caught in the rain. The construction was also a little dis-orientating on move in day, and residence lacked the buzz I had encountered when moving into Oak House back in Manchester.
To an extent I was expecting this though, and had read lots about the unsociable reputation of SFU- owing to its commuter campus nature. However, I promised myself I wouldn’t carry any expectations with me- after all, UK student culture is pretty unique and socialising might just take a new form… I quickly met other exchange students, and we kinda bonded over our shared bafflement of the lack of freshers events. After a few trashier nights out on Granville street, we discovered the underground scene, which partly resembled what I was used to back home. Regardless of the nightlife, I understood that Vancouver was so unique, and boasted outdoor experiences that simply don’t exist in the UK.
Though SFU residence is a 40 minute bus ride from downtown, It hasn’t restricted me from getting out as much as possible. I now use the bus ride to listen to podcasts and have come to value this time. Though I initially had plenty to moan about regarding the mountain-based campus, perks include a free gym membership, access to the pool and sauna, a selection of shops and restaurants and spectacular views over Vancouver. Below are some photos taken on campus.
A few of my highlights from my exchange so far are:
Going to Squamish with exchange friends. We hiked the Stawamus Chief first peak (best view i’ve EVER seen) and stayed at the cutest hostel for a night. Very wholesome times- this is where all the cool outdoorsy Vancouverites retreat to.
Hiking the Grouse Grind. I’d heard from many people that this hike was a real mission, and required prime fitness to get you to the top. I felt such a sense of achievement reaching the top, which was topped off with stunning views over Vancouver. I’m so excited to come back to Grouse during the ski season
All in all, I’ve had some ups and downs here and have faced challenges along the way. But the compilation of great people, incredible outdoors and the general buzz of living in a new place has made these first few months some of the most enriching in my life. I can’t wait for the ski season to arrive, which will hopefully allow me to meet some more Canadians!
My alarm is usually set for around 7:00 as my classes here can start as early as 8:30am. Attendance is recorded so there’s no sleeping through my alarm! I’ll shower, get ready for the day and head to one of the four different dining halls on campus for some food.
7:45am – Breakfast
As if it isn’t mentioned to us enough, UMass dining is rated number 1 in the whole country, so unlike the catered halls I was used to in my first year in Manchester the food is actually enjoyable! There’s a lot of variety and so many options to choose from. Today I resisted the tempting chocolate banana bread and opted for fresh fruit with granola instead.
8:30am – Classes
After breakfast, I head to my first class of the day which is around a 10-minute walk away. The college campus here is gigantic and can take up to 30 minutes to walk from end to end. Luckily all my buildings are grouped close together so it’s never too far to get to. I had four classes on this day back to back, so I didn’t finish till 2:15pm. I had a surprise pop quiz in one of my classes, meaning the professor decided randomly to give us a mini exam on concepts we had learnt in the previous few lectures. I’d never had one of these before, so it caught me by surprise (as I’m sure they’re intended to!). It has definitely taught me to stay on top of all the work and assignments I’m given and to be prepared for the unexpected.
3:30pm – Studying
After picking up a quick lunch from the grab and go at one of the dining halls, I head to the library to make a start on all the homework, quizzes and projects I’ve been given. It’s non-stop work and assignments here! I think this is the earliest point I’ve ever been to the library during a semester – typically I only venture to the library in Manchester in the final few weeks of the semester in the approach to exams. One of the benefits of studying in the library is the incredible view! It’s the third tallest library in the world, with 28 floors making it a great spot to study at.
5:45pm – Yoga
After finishing some homework, I meet up with a friend and head to one of the free gym classes at the recreation centre on campus. This day I went to a yoga class, which is a good way to unwind after a long day of classes and take my mind off all my assignments. The sun was beginning to set during the class, which provided the most incredible view to look out on to!
7:00 – Dinner and chill
After grabbing dinner with friends, we decided to have a card night and watch a film. Despite the intense workload, I find there’s still the opportunity to enjoy spending time with friends and meeting new people. Finally, I head back to my dorm ready for the next day.
I study Chemical Engineering, and I am only taking Chemical Engineering modules at UMD. So the differences listed below are based on what I have experienced. (It may be different for other courses at UMD).
1.Everyone writes in pencil here! Over the past few weeks, I have realised how much I cross out with pen and waste so much paper.
Let me tell you a funny story. In one of my classes, I decided to take notes on paper using a pencil instead of pen. I had to erase something, but I did not have a rubber in my pencil case. So, I turned to the person next to me and asked quietly if I can borrow her rubber. She stared at me weirdly, and obviously I was confused. What did I do wrong? Oh, maybe she didn’t hear me I thought. Hence, I repeated myself “can I borrow your rubber?” and pointed at the end of her pencil. She gave it to me like she didn’t want to give it to me. For the rest of lesson, I was just baffled. My next class was in the same room; I sat next to my friend and I told her about the awkward situation. She burst out laughing! I was even more confused. She immediately went on her phone and showed me a page on urban dictionary: “ Rubber: (American English) a condom, (British English) an eraser”.
Now it all made sense! From then on, I am very careful on what words I use, yet I am still curious if there are other words like this!
2. As a chemical engineering student, you are expected to be good at unit conversions. As a US chemical engineering student, you are expected to be good at unit conversions both in imperial and metric system. The conversions that my Year 7 teacher told me to memorise have finally become useful.
3. I feel like I am back at school! We get homework every week, and they get graded and count towards your final grade! (There is no such thing as catching up/cramming for exams during the holidays here :’) ). Also, during the semester, we have mid-terms and presentations to do… so you really have to be on top of your work. One of my friends said that a lecturer said, I quote: “if you’re not ahead you’re behind”.
4. In most UK Universities to achieve a 1st class you need to obtain an overall grade of more than or equal to 70%. Whereas to get a grade equivalent to a 1st in the USA, so an A+, you need to obtain an overall grade of 94%. I have realised when I was studying at The University of Manchester, I was not aiming for perfection, I just wanted to get a good understanding of the topic and be able to answer questions. But here, I am driven to be a perfectionist. My work ethic has changed because of the different criteria.
5. You are allowed to bring your dog to class here! (If the lecturer and all the students in the class are okay with it). In my Protein Engineering class, most of the students are dog lovers, so we’ve had at least someone bring their dog to class a few times so far this semester!
6. I assume that Universities all over the world take cheating in exams or homework very seriously. In my opinion, I feel like UMD are a little over the top with “academic dishonesty”. For every mid-term exam or quiz I have sat, as well as writing my name and module on front of the paper, I have had to write “I pledge on my honour that I have not given or received any unauthorised assistance on this examination/assignment”.
7. Being a chatterbox is fine in the US! You get credit for it. It counts towards your final grade. At the University of Manchester I am used to having 80% of my final grade being based on my exam and 20% based on my coursework. Whereas at UMD, (it varies from class to class) the grades get weighted as: 30% final exam, 20% homework, 20% midterm, 20% presentations and 10% participation.
People have asked me which education system I prefer…. during the start of the semester I said I liked the UK system as I am used to it. However, now that I am half way in, I am starting to like this system; I have immensely improved my work ethic and time management because of the consistent stress throughout the semester. Moreover, it has made me into a perfectionist which in my opinion is a benefit in the workplace (let’s get them bonuses!). Best of all, I do not need to spend this year’s Christmas break revising aka cramming for January exams (except for one distance learning module). #onemonthoffreedom
Our all time favourite university liquor store because Tesco and Aldi does not exist Be sure to try out insomnia cookies, they are the best thing that ever happened to mankind, oh and Antonio’s pizza of course! Southwest? The best! I mean, you gotta give the RA’s in Prince hall some credit for their creativity
Southwest? Still the best place to be on campus Casual Friday night in…
I will miss all the funny, unforgettable and fond memories that I had made at Umass! Study abroad is a once in a lifetime opportunity and I would recommend it to everyone if you have the chance to do it, do it! You won’t regret it.