Pre-pandemic adventures – Spring Break!!

In the midst of the COVID-19 blues and being stuck at home I thought it would be fun to reflect on one of the highlights of my year abroad…Spring Break! For a week in February students across Canada finally get to have a rest from all the hard work at university and the vast majority spend it going away somewhere. I hadn’t really thought much about what I would do with Spring Break until a couple of my friends started excitedly talking about finding really cheap plane tickets to – drum roll please – Hawaii!! Yep, you heard right, we were going to be spending a week on the tiny island of Oahu in the Pacific Ocean (aka paradise) 6 hours away from Vancouver. If someone had told me before I had ventured on my year abroad that I would get the chance to visit somewhere as cool as Hawaii I would have split my sides laughing. But there ya go, year abroads are full of surprises!


We stayed in a lovely little hostel which was about a 5 minute walk away from Waikiki Beach, a beautiful sandy beach dotted with palm trees and surrounded by clear blue ocean. When we arrived we spent the first day walking around pinching ourselves that this was real. I have never seen so many stunning sunsets and rainbows. We soaked up the atmosphere in the evening watching a local hula dance show on the beach front, with each dance telling a different tale.


We made sure to pack the week with day trips to explore the island as much as we could – which did mean a lot of long hot bus journeys! It’s safe to say public transport in Hawaii is not as reliable as the Oxford Road bus route in Manchester – but exploring the island is doable without having to hire a car! We visited Pearl Harbour and learnt about the role of Hawaii in WW2; wandered around the botanical gardens and Chinatown in Honolulu; snorkelled in the crystal blue waters of Hanauma Bay where we spotted parrot fish, a Hawaiian Monk Seal and the famous Humuhumunukunukuapua’a fish (and if that’s too much of a mouthful, the Reef Triggerfish!); walked along the Makapu’u lighthouse trail in search of whales; and stuffed our faces with the local Asian-influenced cuisine.


One of the highlights for me was waking up at the ungodly hour of 5am to hike up Diamond Head (a volcanic cone) in time for sunrise. We hadn’t realised quite how busy it would be at this time but once we reached the summit and saw the sun rising over the ocean we understood why it was so popular. It was hands down one of the most beautiful views I have ever seen. And soooo worth the 5am start!


I also loved spending a day in the town of Haleiwa in the north of the island, with its umpteen food trucks selling pineapples and garlic shrimps, and hundreds of chickens wandering down the streets. We stopped at Waimea Valley and walked through its luscious vegetation (many films have been shot here, from Jumanji to the Hunger Games) to its waterfall where we all donned lifejackets and floated around its 30 ft deep plunge pool. To finish the day off we sat on Sunset Beach to watch the sunset over the ocean and the handful of surfers still out, eating delicious Thai food. I remember sitting there thinking how incredibly lucky I was to be able to have this experience.


The trip wasn’t without any mishaps however! A group of us managed to get stranded on the east of the island because we’d underestimated how long it would take to walk around the coast to the lighthouse and we ended up having to get help from some very laid back Hawaiian cops who were chilling in the sun. We also underestimated their public transport system and once spent over an hour waiting for a bus to get back to our hostel – but at least we had the view of Koko crater to enjoy!


It just goes to show that spontaneous trips are often the best ones!


UBC – a final goodbye

One thing I didn’t envisage when hopping on the plane to Canada last August was having to cut the trip short because of a pandemic – to be honest I would have probably thought a run in with bears or a skiing accident would have been more likely! In all seriousness, coping with the coronavirus outbreak was one of the hardest things I have had to do all year. Within a couple of weeks the place I had started to call home began disappearing: university shut and classes went online, residences became empty, and shops and attractions all around me started to close. It was a lot to take in; I wasn’t ready to go home and this was definitely not how I had hoped to say goodbye.

A Vancouver skyline – a pretty amazing place to call home

UBC decided to move classes online relatively quickly, meaning I would have no more lectures or discussion groups, and campus, normally home to 60,000 students, soon became a ghost-town. Personally I struggled to keep up with the transition to online learning, because without a structure to my days, and all the uncertainty surrounding the pandemic, it became really hard to focus on my upcoming deadlines and assignments. I was devastated that I was having to leave so soon – there was so much I still wanted to do and see. After my exams I had planned to celebrate with all my friends, show my parents Vancouver, and then travel across the rest of Canada. There were also the little things I’d miss, like seeing the views of the ocean and mountains from my window or having classes with friends. However, part of me was also very worried about not being able to get home. Travel advice was changing every day and Vancouver was heading in the same direction as the UK, with stricter restrictions being announced every day. All the uncertainty and having to decide what to do was very difficult to deal with, but in the end we realised it would be safer (and cheaper – there’s only so many loo rolls I can afford!) to fly home.

After knowing that I only had a week left in Vancouver before heading back to the UK, my friends and I knew we had to make the most of it. Fortunately, professors at UBC were very kind and understanding of our situation and gave us all flexibility surrounding final assignment deadlines. This meant I had time to say goodbye to UBC and the friends I had made there. It’s almost as though the weather gods knew we were leaving because we had a full week of lovely Vancouver sunshine (which trust me is a rarity!). We enjoyed our last few sunsets on Wreck Beach, had group meals and played games, and walked around campus in a desperate search of raccoons – I still can’t believe I never saw one! We also took a few last road trips to some local Vancouver viewpoints to absorb the incredible scenery one last time.

Despite a few teary moments, I had a pretty great final week in Vancouver, and in a weird way it made me appreciate my time there even more. It gave me a lot of time to reflect on the year – all the friends I made from across the world, who I can’t wait to visit in the future once this craziness is all over, and all the incredible places I managed to visit, from the Rockies to Hawaii. I even FINALLY learnt how to ski at Cypress Mountain a couple of weeks before COVID-19 hit, so I can definitely leave on a high. Going abroad really was one of the best decisions I have ever made, and as this shows, one thing you can count on is it never being dull. And what better way to end an amazing year than with views of the Northern Lights from the plane – never too late to tick something off the bucket list eh!

Until next time Vancouver (and the raccoons!) – we have unfinished business!!


Why joining an international society is worth it!

Some of the best experiences I’ve had at UBC have been through joining the Exchange Student Club (ESC) – I met some of my closest friends, travelled across parts of Canada, and most of all, made some incredible memories. Here are some of my highlights from Semester 1:


The first ESC trip was definitely one to remember! We stayed for the weekend at Camp Potlatch on the Sunshine Coast, a boat ride from Vancouver. If you could picture a typical North American-style camp that you often see in movies this was it – wooden cabins with very, very hard bunk beds and no electricity, big communal meals where we all chanted camp songs, and all this whilst being surrounded by luscious green forests and calm, blue ocean.

Nothing like arriving at a beautiful camp in the middle of nowhere and being told about all the bears and cougars you could potentially run into! Wasn’t best pleased to hear about a group of 10 year olds once being chased by a cougar. But luckily they taught us the trusty ‘Go away bear’ technique in which you stand up to the bear, raise your arms with your hands in the shape of claws and loudly say in a low-pitched voice “Go away bear!!”. I was very much hoping I wouldn’t have to test the effectiveness of this method at any point – especially as my cabin was one of the furthest into the forest, up a big rocky hill, where I doubt anyone would be able to hear you if it hadn’t worked. Luckily we all survived!

Of all the trips the ESC run throughout the year, I would say Sunshine Coast is a must because you meet so many people from countries across the world, and some will become your closest friends during your time at UBC. The camp offered a range of fun, buddy-making activities such as canoeing, paddle boarding, hiking, rock-climbing and archery. My canoe partner probably wished they hadn’t ended up with me when I was too busy watching seals instead of paddling! We also had campfires in the evening and all participated in a big showcase where each group had to put on a performance that told us something about the country they were from. This was a lot of fun to watch and it was really cool learning about other national traditions. I also learnt that slip n slides aren’t for the faint-hearted!! You have to cover yourself in washing up liquid and hurl yourself forward onto some wet tarpaulin that stretches downhill and race to win a flip cup battle. I didn’t quite realise how brutal this can be for your body – at the end I had battle scars that looked like I had encountered a cougar after all (see below)!


Another amazing trip the ESC run is one to the Rocky mountains in Alberta. As a geographer being able to see these incredible glacial landscapes first-hand was definitely a highlight. The infamous Lake Louise was frozen when we visited, providing this great photo taken just after I thought I heard the ice crack! This is where we also had a very slippery walk up to the Agnes Tea House for a hot chocolate. Who knew snow was so tricky to walk on?! I soon gave up on the way back and slid down the hill on my bottom – something I thought was a great idea at the time but slightly regretted  later when I had to wear wet leggings for the rest of the day! We also got to see the Athabasca-Columbia icefields – huge white glaciers, lakes, and frozen waterfalls. You know, the type of Canada you tend to see on Mac computer screensavers. There were also lots of wildlife spotting opportunities – bears, elk, deer, and a pack of wolves! Definitely worth the 10 hour coach journey to get there!!


One thing the ESC is known for here at UBC is their every other Thursday Pit nights at the university bar. They’re called YOEOs = You Only Exchange Once! Which I think is a great motto to remember – you have to make the most of everything! Each night has a different theme and they’re a great way to have fun, look slightly silly and meet fellow exchangees. These range from ‘snowpants or no pants’ (pants meaning trousers remember!!), tropical themed, to ‘where your own flag’. If you want to dance to cheesy tunes all night this is the place to be!

Beach themed pit night!


To end the first semester at UBC, the ESC held a winter gala, giving everyone the opportunity to dress up and celebrate the end of the decade. It is crazy how fast time flies here – it felt just like yesterday that I was holed up in wooden cabins with some of my, now, closest friends. Unfortunately not everyone stays at UBC for the year and so it’s a bittersweet evening having to say goodbye to lots of friends. On the plus side now I know people from places like New Zealand, Australia and Brazil (just to name a few!) so I can definitely look forward to future travels where I will be welcomed by some friendly faces.


Here’s to Semester 2 and the making of more memories!

Day in the Life – UBC

After having completed 1 semester at UBC (wow time flies!!) I thought I’d share what a typical day looks like (the fun and the not-so-fun bits!)

7:30 am

Setting off for my 8am lecture – yep you heard me right, 8am!! It’s safe to say I now appreciate UoM’s 10am lectures a lot more. But on the plus side it was pretty cool seeing the sunrise over the mountains! The view never gets dull

8 am – 11 am

Time for class! Today I had two 1.5 hour long lectures straight after each other which is quite a lot that early in the morning haha, but you learn to push through (with the help of a big Tim Horton’s coffee!). The classroom style can be quite different to UoM –  it can feel slightly like you’re back at school!

11 am – 12:15 pm

Usually between classes I’d try and catch up on a few readings and eat lunch in the IKB learning centre on campus. This library has a more chilled atmosphere compared to other ones on campus, and it’s nice to study there with friends.

12:15 pm – 2 pm

Last class of the day yay!! I was lucky to finish every day at 2pm last semester leaving my evenings free to explore Vancouver and see friends:)


2 pm – 4:30 pm

Fitting in a few more hours of studying back in my uni accommodation – Walter Gage! It’s so close to everything on campus which is really useful and plus I lucked out with a pretty incredible view of the mountains and downtown Vancouver! It can make it a struggle to concentrate on work though haha

5 pm – 7 pm

When on exchange you want to try and do and see as much as possible in the place you’re lucky enough to study in. In this case I caught the bus with friends to South Granville to explore some of the best thrift shops in Vancouver – Mintage Mall had lots of great, not too expensive finds!!


7 pm – 9 pm

The food Vancouver might be best known for??? Sushi! This was my first sushi experience EVER (crazy, I know) and I have to say it was pretty good:)) The Yam (Canadian for sweet potato) sushi rolls were delicious!! I’ll definitely be visiting more sushi restaurants this term.



UBC: tips and tidbits!

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.

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.

A stunning Wreck Beach sunset!
A selfie with the fountain seagull!
UBC’s Botanical Gardens


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.

A very rainy ‘Homecoming’ Football game!

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.

My Day of the Longboat team – we amazingly managed to placed 3rd in our race!!

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!!

  1. 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.
  2. 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!
  3. 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!
  4. Don’t expect the best grades ever – remember you’re there to have fun and explore Canada too!!

    Indulging on grilled cheeses and donuts at Breka Bakery to help us through the late study sesh!