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!
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!