My First Few months in Vancouver…

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.

English Bay beach

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.

Top of the Dog Mountain trail from Mt. Seymour
Trip to Granville Island Market with the hostel

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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!