Vancouver on a budget

I didn’t anticipate just how expensive Vancouver and BC would be. I could write all about how I wished I’d saved up more money during the summer prior to departure, but an equally strong case could be made for my spending it- which ensured I had a memorable farewell summer with friends who I wouldn’t see for a while. Given the current circumstances- with summer 2020 being CANCELLED and everything- the no-raaagrets approach is even stronger. I like to avoid doing the whole ‘shoulda coulda woulda ‘ thing (Serves 0 purpose), but before I get on to my ‘Vancouver on the cheap’ tips, I will completely contradict that in the interests of prospective exchange students.


Get your work permit sorted BEFORE you get there

This first one might not apply to you savvy savers out there, but for those of you who do plan to work AND play, I would recommend looking into this sooner rather than later. A couple of days in, I discovered the extortionately priced phone plans in Vancouver (expect to pay at least double UK prices), a bigger tipping-culture (tip everyone, and don’t insult them with a mere 10% ) and RIDICULOUSLY expensive cheese (which is also pretty gross so I would advise binging on this to the MAX before leaving the UK).

It also became pretty apparent that my study commitments weren’t too time-consuming, and with a couple of weekdays off during the week (if you choose SFU over UBC), I defo had time to be earning a lil moolah on the side. So, I had this realisation that I might need some more money to live out my Vancouverite dreams, but I kept giving myself excuses to the delay the work permit process (e.g “I’m still settling in to the city” or “I don’t have a Canadian bank account yet” or “maybe I can fill out LOADS of surveys online and earn p that way”…). When I did finally get round to arranging a meeting with a study abroad advisor, I’d been notified that i’d need to send off my study permit to be amended, which would take 2 MONTHS. Once I had received my study permit and SIN number (Basically like a national insurance number) I had to complete a BC ‘Serving it Right’ course to enable me to serve booze.

I finally found a job that seemed perfect for me with a hospitality and temporary staffing agency, which would allow me all the freedom to earn money according to my own schedule. I did actually manage to get a few shifts accepted for April, but apart from those, none of the employers accepted my shift requests, as I had no stars or reviews to get me going – I was essentially the equivalent to an uber driver with 0 stars :(( If that wasn’t sparse enough, the 2 shifts I did have planned were cancelled due to COVID19 anyway. I think this was a sign from the universe that I wouldn’t be needing this money for the California-Mexico trip that was coming up. Though a bit of extra money would’ve helped me travel around more, I still had enough to go on weekends away in BC, and managed to secure a Whistler season pass, which allowed for plenty of fun in the mountains.

Anyway, the moral of the ramble is… Get that work permit sorted before leaving the UK and you’ll be good to go!

Find your Lidl/Aldi equivalents pronto

The SFU campus is on a mountain, 40minsish away from the more reasonably-priced food shops, which understandably pushes you towards the Nesters Market on campus. However, If you choose to shop at Nesters every week, you could be paying up to double for your food shop. I know its a bit of a trek away, but a 40 minute bus journey to either ‘No Frills’ (can assure you’ll be thrilled with those cost savings) or Walmart (Asda vibes) will help you to save money aside for the more exciting parts of your study abroad experience. Sometimes I had classes at the SFU downtown campus, so I’d try to coordinate my weekly shop with this- Or I’d make a trip out of it, using the food shop as an excuse to get me off the mountain and out into beautiful VanCity.

Soak up that late-summer sun as soon as you arrive

I arrived in Vancouver a couple of weeks prior to the beginning of my exchange, in Mid-august. The beaches (such as Sunset, English Bay and many more around the Stanley park sea wall) are gorgeous. The ability of Vancouver to shape-shift and evolve throughout the seasons is one of my favourite things about the city. When I first arrived, it had a Venice-beach vibe, with people playing beach volleyball and roller skating along the seafront paths. The city then descends into a rainy Fall season, before pulling through with snow outside the city to accommodate for winter sports. Though all the seasons bring with them new opportunities, I would advise making the most of that late summer sun when you first arrive!!

Fun things to do on the cheap

Yoga by donation

My favourite yoga studio is the Karma Teachers centre (45 W Hastings street) – a place you can indulge in all kinds of yoga/meditation at a price you decide. The studio is volunteer-run and is so beautiful- all round good vibes and a great way to mingle with locals (smiling through your legs in downward-dog) from every corner of the city.

Cycle around Stanley Park

You could walk if you wanna save the cash- which would take like 3 hours- but I defo recommend renting a bike (From Spokes or any of the other shops close to the entrance of Stanley park) for around $7 an hour- a small price to pay to cycle round the sea wall and feel that fresh sea breeze in your face. If you begin the cycle from Spokes rental shop, the first section of the seawall cycle path treats you to gorgeous views of the harbour, Vancouver rowing club, the aquarium and totem poles. Around the next corner, you are hit with views of the ocean and snow-capped mountains facing you, before passing under the infamous Lions Gate bride and finishing through a long stretch of beaches. You get to see so much of the city from the Stanley park peninsula along the sea wall, but if you have some extra time, I recommend checking out the interior of the park- which is actually a temperate rainforest (great for a gentle forest bathe).

Go to Deep Cove- buy a doughnut, and do the Quarry Rock hike

I did this little trip so many times- it’s a proper-gem, only a couple of buses away (which you can use your compass card for) and fulfills the quintessential Canadian coastal village vibe that lacks from Metro Vancouver. First, be sure to cop yourself a doughnut from Honey’s Doughnut’s and let that digest (I promise it’ll be one of the tastiest things you ever consume) before proceeding to the Quarry Rock trail head. This trail constitutes a section of the larger Baden Powell trail- which takes you all the way to horseshoe bay if you fancy a day-long hike. The Quarry Rock section is a 1.5hour journey through densely-green areas with giant Douglas Fir trees surrounding you. The trail leads you through higher and lower terrain, before arriving at the rock viewpoint, where you can indulge in insane views of the Indian arm and mountains around Belcarra. You can actually spot the SFU campus across the water at the top of Burnaby mountain.

Stay tuned for charity ride nights at the local mountains

I never actually attended one of these- as they were all cancelled due to weather conditions and Corona- but the charity ride nights (often advertised through SFU ski & board club) offer cheap lift-pass rates (normally around $15 to ski from 5-9pm) and a chance to experience breathtaking night-time views of Vancouver (if you’re blessed with clear skies). You can rent all the ski gear from the Mt Seymour, Grouse Mountain and Cypress mountain resorts for around $40 if you don’t have your own, but if you’re an avid skiier/boarder I recommend purchasing some second-hand (More on this in the following section).

Iceskating in Robson Square

This is a free winter attraction in Downtown Vancouver, though you do have to rent skates for $5 if you don’t happen to have a pair of your own kicking around! Though it might not mimic the Canadian ideal of frozen lake skating (found in the neighbouring Alberta province) , it is a great inner-city attraction to enjoy on the cheap. I think there’s a similar set-up across in North Vancouver in the Shipyard area which is pretty cool.

Sunset at Burnaby mountain park

If you’re at SFU, you might find that this view point will become an important part of your daily routine- the views across the city at sunset are sure to pull you out of any bad-mood, relieving stress and reminding you yet again why you chose Canada. You can see the lights of downtown melting into the peninsula of Stanley park and densley packed forest, and are surrounded by mountains at every angle. You can also peep the ski-resorts at the top of Grouse, Cypress and Seymour mountains, lit for night-skiing.

Go to Lynn Canyon rather than Capilano suspension bridge

Any list of ‘things to do in Vancouver’ will encourage you to go and see the Capilano suspension bridge in North Vancouver. But those views come with a $50 price tag and crowds of tourists trying to get that insta-perfect shot of Capilano Canyon. The cliffwalk section is pretty cool and is bound to supply you with great views, but a free-alternative and less touristy option is Lynn Canyon, which has a similar suspension bridge overlooking the Canyon and waterfalls. There are also swimming holes with ice-cold glacial water which will defo perk you up if you’re feeling bold.

I wish I’d done this more, as it gives you a great perspective of downtown Vancouver from afar and has a quirky but peaceful vibe in the Shipyards area. The Polygon gallery is architecturally stunning, and offers by-donation exhibitions whilst boasting views across the water. Pay what ya can!

More expensive things that are worth your money

Paradise night club (Chinatown)

So Vancouver isn’t exactly renowned for having great nightlife- with the Granville street strip of quite mainstream clubs (top-40 vibes)- being the main destination for partygoers. However, the more alternative scene for Techno and electronic music is existent and is mainly publicized through Resident Advisor. The city – once notorious for having a pretty dead music scene- has experienced a boom in recent years in techno and house events , so if this is your cup of tea, its defo out there! Along with Open Studios, Dolly, the Waldorf and Gorg-o-Mish, Paradise (my personal favourite) will satisfy that itch for a proper dance. It’s located in a China town basement, and isn’t easily identified from the street- with no flashy lights or signage. Once you manage to find it though, the descent into the basement is reminiscent of a house-party, with a pop up bar and an intimate dance-floor setting. Paradise is also one of the only clubs open til late.

The Cambie bar and grill

The Cambie has a lil place in my heart. This place is the closest you’ll get to a British style student pub, as its attached to a hostel (meaning lots of young people) and requires you to queue up at the bar to buy drinks- Most bars in Canada pursue a more formal table service, which doesn’t allow for as much mingling or candid conversations with people. The Cambie gets pretty lively at the weekends, and transforms into a cheesy club night which can be quite fun. Cheap drinks too!!

Guilt & Co – Jazz bar in Gastown

If you want a more fancy evening out, Guilt&Co is such a cool spot for live jazz music and some cocktails. It’s very dark in there with candlelit tables and a mildly sensual vibe…

Buy skis from Sports Junkies

Like I mentioned earlier, avid skiiers/boarders may wish to purchase their own gear for the season and I couldn’t recommend Sports Junkies more. I managed to buy a decent pair of skis, poles and boots for around £250- this’ll save money on rentals in the long-run. They also guarantee a buy-back service at the end of the season, so you can easily return your skiis and get some cash for them if you don’t wanna fly them home.

Go thrift shopping in Mount Pleasant

This area, just outside of downtown Vancouver is full of trendy shops and cafes, boasting some great thrift shops if you wanna cop a bargain!

The premature ending of my Canadian adventure: COVID-19

I’ve been holding off from writing this blog post for a few weeks now, as I knew it would be a little painful to look back on my final days in Vancouver and think about this dystopian film we’ve all been sprung into. As I sit here writing this, it doesn’t even feel real to think my year abroad ended so prematurely, and so abruptly. However, I find some solace in the fact that my final months at SFU were stolen from a global pandemic- one which has disrupted everyone’s lives, in a situation from which no one is exempt. Though I regret not travelling outside of British Columbia (saving money for a California-Mexico trip at the very END of my year) I feel like entertaining such regret is futile. The best way to make peace with this situation is to reflect on all the amazing experiences I did get to have- and the ways which study abroad has changed my life for the long-haul. Firstly, I’m going to document my final days spent in Vancouver- both those during which I was blissfully ignorant to the encroachment of a pandemic, and the ones where I was aware. Then, maybe I’ll talk about the ways study abroad has impacted me more broadly. This all has a very dramatic tone, it’s meant to be nice and reflective lol.

Following on from my previous blog post

A month ago I had written a blog post about the first half of semester 2, including the event I organised for Ban the Bottle and the things I was really looking forward to- most notably, my family coming out to visit (saving the expensive activities I couldn’t afford for this week), and a trip travelling through California and Mexico with some friends at the end.

After my last blog post, a couple of weeks of normal life followed. We were aware that the Coronavirus situation was worsening, but still felt untouched by its reach. The weather in Vancouver was amazing, so naturally we fled the SFU campus and headed downtown. Me and Maddie explored the neighbourhood of Kitsilano – one of the first places I went to last August, when the outdoor pool was open and the bikini-weather flowing. After this, we headed towards the yoga studio in downtown, but were sidetracked by a massive thrift shop and jumped off the bus to have a lil browse. We tried on summery clothes, imagining ourselves on the beaches of Mexico, ice-cold corona in hand. Instead, we were dealt a very different kind of corona, as the situation worsened over the following few days. We hadn’t been skiing in Whistler since reading break, so planned a day trip that weekend- not expecting it to be our last :((

Skiing that day was perhaps my favourite ever. I kept saying ‘lets just assume this is our last time, since this corona thing is escalating’- but everyone brushed it off, already making plans to ski again the following week. The ‘last-time’ mentality helped though, and the day was filled with a combination of off-piste, trees and jumps, with bluebird conditions. We found out that the resort would be closing the following day for the remainder of the season. At this point I began to realise the magnitude of the situation, and started to grapple with the reality that we might be flying home very soon. Everyday, me and my other exchange friends would gauge the feeling of the group- deciding whether we’d risk staying in Canada and potentially getting stuck, or if we should just fly home and admit defeat. Another idea we toyed with for a couple of days was to escape to Mexico for a few weeks, after which we would more willingly return to the UK. Each day, our plans would change drastically, and it was stressful not knowing how much time we had left in Canada. Reluctantly, we all booked flights for the end of the week, with the intention of having a proper send-off- visiting our favourite spots for the final time.

The final days

The final days- I mean the ‘flight booked’ actual final days- were weirdly similar to my first days spent in the city. Me and friends went to see our fav views for the final time, and I went off freely exploring the city on my own just as I did last August. I drank boujee coffee, took way too many photos, and chatted to friendly Canadians. I opened my eyes more, and noticed little things about Vancouver that I had taken for granted (helped by the teasing sunshine).

On our final day together, we walked down the mountain to Barnet Marine park for a chill day and a casual spot of crabbing (??). Another gorgeous day:

So that concludes my time in Canada, how strange. Being home for the last couple of weeks has been weird, almost as if Canada was all a dream. It’s been nice to just focus on my wellbeing and getting fit again (The super-fit, healthy Vancouverite lifestyle doesn’t stretch to exchange students, oh noooo), but this isn’t the return I had anticipated, and its hard not being able to wrap my arms around friends and family who I haven’t seen for ages. However, I haven’t felt the need to wallow in self-pity about what could have been – after all, everyones lives have been impacted by this, and I know I’m incredibly lucky to be in safe position back home. This definitely is not the end of Canada’s influence on me though- it has only given me greater wanderlust to keep on exploring new places. I hope to return someday, but for now, I’m staying home xoxo

SFU Semester 2 so far…

In my experience, study abroad can sometimes feel like living in a different world, (especially at SFU, which is so different to UoM), in which you feel like everything back home has paused, and you’re sprung into this new life- one which you never would have encountered without the study abroad programme at Manchester. In that sense, it’s easy to keep breezing along and riding the wave, but I wanna make sure I’m savouring every experience- even the seemingly mundane moments- I encounter here. I’m over half way through my 2nd semester at SFU, and in light of the limited time I have left here in Vancouver, I wanted to look back at the spring term and all the special moments that have made a lasting impression on me.

Returning to snowy Vancouver

It was weird going back home for Christmas for 3 weeks- there were things I started to appreciate about England that I hadn’t ever really noticed. My hometown looked like an idyllic toy-town with tiny winding roads (compared to the contrast of Vancouver’s wide, airy grid-system) and it felt great to be able to order a casual pint of beer at the bar (They’re all about table service and formality over here…) and hear Brits chatting spiel in the background- the bar culture in Vancouver isn’t as lively, but I would say the beer is better (They love a weird craft beer out here).

Anyway, I was feeling a bit nervous about returning to Canada- I think because I knew that this would be the last time I’d be coming back, and we’d no longer be able to use the excuse of ‘it’s calm we’ve got another semester’. I didn’t know what the spring term was gonna bring- especially having lost some great friends (Aussies, Kiwis, Germans etc) who returned to their home universities at Christmas. Thankfully, I can say that this semester has been amazing- with the frequent skiing as the main factor in that. I had been itching to get on the slopes throughout semester 1, so you can imagine how good it felt to start using our season passes and own [very battered] skis.

Within the first few days of being back at SFU, Vancouver lived up to its reputation of being a cold, snowy, Canadian city- though one that defo doesn’t know how to function with snow. So for a couple of days, Vancouver kinda shut down and travelling around was slow (got stuck in the cold a few times). But this didn’t stop me and my bestie from home (she flew all the way from Brighton!!!) getting out (see pics below).

Trips to Whistler

One of the major reasons why I chose Vancouver as my study abroad destination was because of its great outdoors and access to world-class skiing. Within Vancouver itself, there are 3 mountain ski resorts (Grouse, Seymour and Cypress) which are small, family-oriented resorts that offer day and night skiing. So far I’ve only been to one of these; Mt Seymour, for an evening of night skiing. Unfortunately, it was super foggy and the vis was bad (which was worsened by my dark, reflective goggles- look good but so impractical haha), but I’ve heard that on clear days you can see over the whole city. I intend on doing a ‘ride night’ with the ski club here, since they offer discounted evening passes to these resorts.

Though Vancouver itself boasts lots of options for skiing, Whistler (2 hour coach drive away) was the real-deal, and the £450 student season pass made this so worth it, baring in mind a day-pass costs upwards of £100. During the first few weeks of the semester- when uni commitments were low- we tried to get up to Whistler once a week, using Whistler Rides and Skylynx coaches to do day trips. Though this was tiring- having to wake up at 5am to catch the coach from downtown and returning to campus around 9pm- days spent in Whistler always fill me with gratitude, and offer a mental reset, a good cure for home sickness/stress etc.

My highlights of Whistler so far are spending the reading week there with 3 other exchange friends, staying in the H.I hostel and being able to apres and party without rushing for a coach back to the city (Whistler is known for having decent nightlife, where only Friday and Saturday nights are dead??). There’s no shortage of Aussies in Whistler either, which can only be a good thing right? All 4 days spent skiing over the reading break treated us to blue skies and sunshine (though very icy), and we were lucky enough to go inside an Ice cave near the top of Whistler mountain. See pics below for my highlights so far.

Midterms & what’s next…

Coming back to reality after reading break in Whistler was weird. As much as I love the city-life aspect of Vancouver, I sometimes find the SFU campus (located 40 min bus ride from downtown) a little isolating and boring. However, sometimes all it takes is a little reminder of the beauty surrounding me, and I head over to the mountain park view point (I’ve taken endless pics of the views from up here- it’s defo my favourite spot) or drag myself off campus to go to a yoga class at KarmaTeachers (a beautiful studio that offers free or by-donation yoga). After all, the stereotypical Vancouverite lives n breathes yoga, hiking and Lululemon- so I might as well try and milk that before heading back to Manchester.

I had a couple of midterm exams after reading break, which I tried not to stress too much about… hopefully that’s all good. Last semester I joined student-led activist club ‘Ban the Bottle’ as their new events coordinator, and I’m so excited to have organized my first event for them last week. The main goal of our club is to literally, ban the [plastic] bottles on campus, urging people to utilise the water refill stations located all around campus. After lots of back-and-forth communication, we successfully hosted an event screening of the beautiful documentary ‘The Heart of the Fraser’, which deals with the issue of environmental degradation the Fraser river, a declining salmon population and the associated issues with operating industry and agriculture on the river’s floodplains. The screening was followed by a Q&A panel discussion with the film’s director, professor Ken Ashely (who was very involved with the project and film) and the Pacific Water Research Centre’s (PWRC) executive director Zafar Adeel. We also gave out free ‘Ban the Bottle’ reusable bottles to everyone in the audience, as well as popcorn and logo stickers for promotion.

We’re super happy to have confirmed with the SFU facilities team that plastic bottles will be removed from all shops and vending machines on campus in Summer. The next event to plan will be a celebratory social/party at the end of semester, hopefully with the announcement of an exact date. See pics from the screening event below (credit to Ryan De Jong).

Right now my focus is on making the most of every last day in this beautiful city, as well as saving money for travelling- hopefully through California and Mexico- at the end of the semester!

Uni life at SFU- academic differences

I’m well into my second semester at SFU, and haven’t reflected in a while. I’m starting to feel like this is my permanent life now- I’m in the swing of things and I know how things work around here… I’m no longer hyper-aware of my British accent and don’t jump at the sound of a Canadian one anymore haha. Things seem to be going very fast, so I wanted to pause and look back at some of the academic/general uni-life differences between SFU and UoM – hopefully this will be useful to future exchange students and will give you a little heads up as to what to expect!

‘School’, ‘Class’ and ‘Prof’ – the lingo is just like in the movies

This threw me off quite a bit at the start, but these words get thrown around a lot. Apparently, Canadians don’t distinguish between ‘school’ and ‘uni’- it’s all just ‘school’, which I would say is somewhat reflected in the general atmosphere on campus. SFU does feel a little more like school and I’m not sure why…

When chatting to your Canadian classmates about which ‘classes’ you’re taking, be prepared to blurt out the full course-code, otherwise they’ll throw you a puzzled look. For instance, rather than talking about my “Geographies of Consumption”class, it would be referred to as GEOG325. Sounds kinda weird but everyone seems to know every possible course code out there- quite impressive, really.

Grading systems

Unlike the percentage and class system used at UoM, SFU uses a letter grading system- from A+ to D, which is then calculated to a Grade Point Average (GPA). Sometimes, assignments will get marked as a percentage and then translated to a letter grade- they definitely use the full scale a lot more than at UoM. In the UoM Geography department anyway, a 70 constitutes a first-class grade which anyone would be chuffed with. But at SFU, a 70 is a bit mehh- that took some adjusting to.

Little and often

Prior to moving to Vancouver, I had heard that the Canadian university system favoured more assignments/assessment with less weight. I initially thought the workload might be too hard to keep up with, but I’ve actually found it pretty manageable.

In the case of Geography, a typical class might devote 10% of its grade to tutorial participation, which usually consists of the submission of weekly discussion questions – this is a sneaky attempt to make sure you do your readings ahead of time, and it works. Then, you might have to write a couple of papers/essays amounting to perhaps 15% each, deliver a presentation and sit a midterm and final exam. I’ve actually really enjoyed the diversity in assignments- a combination of group-work (doing things like presenting at an urban planning expo and participating in a mock council meeting) as well as personal research and reflection. Though the workload is arguably higher than UoM, I would say its definitely easier.

Your grade is kinda negotiable & extensions are a thing

This sounds like some kind of twisted cliché of a student trying to coerce their prof into boosting their grade, but it’s actually a pretty reasonable policy. Since my year abroad is just pass/fail, I haven’t had to question any of my grades, but some professors do welcome students to challenge them if they feel they met the criteria for a higher grade. At SFU, you are really encouraged to take charge of your education and to make the most of the resources available to you.

Also, I’ve found that some of my profs have more lax rules on deadlines. Understanding the pressures of student-life, they encourage you to consult with them if you have any concerns regarding deadlines- granting you an extension if they see fit.

Participation, discussion and debate is really encouraged

Though I’m not a shy person, the larger class sizes of lectures at UoM would often discourage me from putting my hand up and contributing- I guess it’s the fear of blabbering out something completely nonsensical. So when I had my first lecture at SFU, I was horrified that the lecturer wanted us to stand up and deliver a welcoming speech about who we are, ‘fun fact’ and all. However, I was so shocked at how calm and comfortable the Canadian students were with introducing themselves and speaking their minds. Honestly, sometimes it sounds like they are reading straight out of a text book- so annoyingly eloquent. Gradually though, I’ve become comfortable with offering up ideas- aided by the talkative 2-HOUR tutorial sessions, which I feel allow me the freedom to be messy and open with my thoughts.

Going to uni for the ‘uni experience’ isn’t a thing

The UK is notorious for it’s party-centric university experience, where social life is often a priority for students. At SFU, many of my classmates still live in their family home in Vancouver, or balance a full-time job with their studies. By consequence, they seem to place more importance on their studies. To cater for this, there is more flexibility in schedules, meaning some classes are as early as 8.30am and finish as late as 9.30pm!! SFU doesn’t exactly have a reputation for being a party uni (no fear- the good nights exist with a bit of digging), so it can sometimes feel like students are on and off campus in a heartbeat. This means that social cohesion and a sense of student culture is a little lacking compared to Manchester. This took a while to get used to, but having found like-minded people with the ski-slopes on our doorstep, there’s been no shortage of fun to supplement the work.

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!