As reading week finally arrives at UBC, I can sigh in relief after surviving four exams in the space of three days. However, it’s times like those when you’re sat at your desk at 8am doing some hardcore last-minute cramming that you really cherish the high notes in the year so far. So, with that, I decided to make a quick guide to Vancouver’s best day trips and long weekends for students wanting to make the most out of their time abroad.
One of the first adventures I embarked on was a weekend road trip through the Canadian Rockies which was organised by the Exchange Student Club (ESC). The trip cost £250 in total, including food, accommodation and travel – with everything organised by the ESC so your only job is to pay! The trip took us through the most incredible sites in Alberta including the breathtakingly beautiful Lake Louise as well as several waterfalls and novice to advanced hiking trails. Although a large amount of time is spent on the coach, the ESC volunteers provide top entertainment to make the time fly by. Once the coach reaches Banff, the real fun begins. The accommodation comes with a thermal bath looking over the snowy mountains, and there are plenty of opportunities to get to know the other exchange students and finish the weekend with a fat night out before heading back to Vancouver. Would highly recommend this as a start to the year to meet loads of great people and visit some of North America’s most beautiful sites.
If the trip to the Rockies hasn’t quite quenched your thirst for Mountain adventuring, then British Columbia has plenty to offer in the way of hiking, biking, skiing and climbing. Whatever your experience with mountain sports, there are endless opportunities to take a quick trip Northern British Columbia to escape busy city life – an incredibly effective stress-reliever I’ve found. One thing Vancouver is good for is its proximity to the Whistler-Blackcomb mountain, a world renowned ski resort. The mountain caters for all with a range of activities including snow sports, snow shoeing and biking. Day trips to Whistler are cheap and quick with Facebook groups such as ‘UBC Whistler Ride and Share’ and the app ‘Poparide’ allowing you to catch a lift almost every day of the week for around £14 return. Essentially, you can get a full day in Whistler and be back in downtown before 6pm. For those of you planning multiple trips to Whistler, I’d also highly recommend buying the Student Winter Season Pass available at the start of the season which costs £380 – considering a day pass is £85 you make back your money pretty quickly! Other local mountains nearer to Vancouver also offer similar experiences, including Grouse (1hr bus ride from UBC), Seymour and Cypress mountain.
One of the benefits of Vancouver’s location is it’s proximity to the US. A 4-hour coach ride to the lively city of Seattle will cost you between £50-£100 round trip and is highly recommended for a long weekend away. Another quick trip that you can’t miss is Vancouver Island. This huge island offers a variety of scenic hikes and water sports in areas such as Tofino (mainly accessible by car), as well as some great bars, restaurants and thrift shopping in the small European-style city of Victoria (5hr round trip by public transport from UBC campus). If you need a car, there are multiple car hire companies that let you pay by the minute, using an app to pick-up and drop off cars around the city – check out Evo and Car2Go.
Prior to coming to Vancouver, I was informed by previous students that the work load at UBC was easier than at UoM. Throughout the term I’ve discovered that this is the case in some respects, however I have found other areas more challenging causing me to adapt my approach to my studies in order to keep on top of it all. One of the noticeable differences has been the frequency of assignments and exams. Unlike the standard British system, UBC divides modules up into several methods of assessment. I’ve had at least two essays due every week, and without keeping track of everything it can be very easy to get behind. Thankfully, I’ve found that the actual work itself is more straightforward to complete, and the lecturers are more lenient with marking (also helped by reduced pressure of being on a pass/fail year). Although the regularity of assessment has improved my work ethic, one of the downsides to it is students have little time to focus their attention on one piece of work, resulting in work being rushed and preventing me from researching certain topics in depth. That being said, I have heard from my friends taking Science subjects that the work is significantly harder than at Manchester in terms of work load and content, and the level of difficulty varies greatly between courses.
The teaching style at UBC is noticeably different to Manchester. My lecturers here use different methods of teaching aside from PowerPoint presentations to engage with the students. One sociology module I took on Drugs and Society was taught by a lecturer who regularly used class debates and hand-outs to encourage students to gain different perspectives on an issue. Participation grades were also given in all my classes and accounted for 20% of the module. Higher marks were awarded to students who contributed to class discussion and had high attendance, which seemed produce the desired affect as many students were keen to speak in class unlike in my classes in Manchester. I believe the introduction of participation grading is an effective way of making lectures more interesting by motivating students to provide their own argument on a topic.
Methods of assessment are varied compared with the usual term paper or exam. For example, presentations are common, as well as smaller essays that may involve a short summary of a reading. One assignment I received was in the format of a public engagement, which in broad terms meant any piece of work that can be used to promote an issue to a target audience. At the end of the term the lecturer showcased some of the students work which I found very wholesome. I was surprised by the level of creativity used, poems, songs and even a message in a bottle were used captivate the audience. In many ways, I feel assessments such of these are more effective at getting students to critically engage with a topic and incorporate their learning into their everyday lives. After term 1, I’ve found myself talking or reading about what I’ve learned in my free-time which I rarely did last year. Overall, the work load can be stressful at first but once you become used to it, I find it’s easier to complete than at Manchester.
It’s been roughly three months since arriving in Vancouver and I really feel as though I’m embracing the Vancouverite lifestyle. I’m currently sitting in one of the many coffee shops situated on campus writing this blog, listening to Paul McCartney’s ‘Wonderful Christmas Time’ play through the speakers. It’s safe to say I’m feeling the Christmas spirit this year, helped by snowy day trips to Whistler and the festive lights that seem to give every corner of UBC’s campus a charming sparkle. Although I’m slightly saddened to not be spending Christmas in London this year, I’m confident this year will be a jolly one with my new little UBC family.
The end of term 1 has arrived so soon and I can’t quite believe I’m already saying goodbye to my close friends who are returning to their respective universities. Although things will be different next term without them, I’m looking forward to meeting the new arrivals for term 2. What’s more, the ski season is in full swing and I’ve already met some Canadians who are keen to visit the mountain at least twice a week which is ideal for me, especially considering 90% of my friends are currently from the UK – I think it may be time I branch out a little.
In reflection, term 1 has been more of a culture shock than I expected. Academically, the work load is heavy with almost two deadlines a week. Mostly, I’ve spent my weekdays in the library which has probably served my work ethic well, and devoted weekends to hikes, bikes and food. The work itself hasn’t been too challenging though, so I’m confident that now I’ve learnt how to keep on top of it all I can allow myself more free time to explore more of Vancouver’s great outdoors.
One thing I’m still adjusting to is campus life. Having become so used to living in the city both in London and Manchester, my experience living on the UBC point grey campus has been interesting. The campus is located a 20-minute bus-ride from the nearest town, and an hour bus from downtown (where most of the city action is). Because of this separation from the city, the campus is its own microcosm of the city, with a multitude of amenities to cater for every student’s need: shops, café’s, restaurants, bars, sports facilities – you name it they have it. It takes about an hour to walk from one end to the other, which is why most students have adopted alternative modes of transport. Skateboards are incredibly popular, however the skateboard culture steers away from the ‘skater dude’ stereotype, with the main purpose of owning a board to get you from A to B and by no means used for hitting the skate park with. Other students opt for niche modes of personal transportation, including electronic scooters, one-wheeled miniature Segway’s (didn’t even know such a thing existed) and even unicycles. Honestly, I feel like I’m walking around the set of ‘Back to the Future part 4’ – I think I’m going to stick to good old-fashioned walking for now. Despite the difference in lifestyle, I’m finding it all rather refreshing and look forward the new term.
My only expectations of Vancouver were beautiful scenery and good food, something I’d gathered from my research prior to my departure. However, once I’d escaped the airport after a painfully long wait in immigration, I was desperate to see for myself what the city had to offer. I was excited to experience adulthood in a completely new environment with a new set of people. When I moved to Manchester, I knew my family and friends were a train ride away, whereas this time I really felt like someone had handed me a blank canvas and a whole new load of responsibility. After having spent the ten-hour flight from London Gatwick with one of the lads from Manchester, I felt secure that I’d already got to know someone. We had planned to stay in the same hotel for two night prior to moving into the halls on campus. After familiarising ourselves with Vancouver’s high-rise urban setting and trying our first ‘Tim Horton’ coffee (something we decided was highly overrated), I already felt like I belonged in this city. The fast pace, cosmopolitan lifestyle is something I can relate to as a Londoner, but it has a certain laid-back aspect to it that suit me well. One thing I love is the contrast between Vancouver’s multiple districts, one moment you’re in the corporation hub, overshadowed by Trump’s colossal international tower or the iconic Harbour Tower, the next moment you stumble into Gastown’s haven, welcomed by the kitsch thrift shops and eateries. Vancouver is renowned for its fantastically tall architecture. The buildings are built into the clouds and are quite breath-taking as they reflect the bright sunshine and blue skies I’ve been blessed with since my arrival.
The final move into campus filled me with apprehension as I was unsure whether living away from the city would suit me. It’s taken a good week to get used to campus-life, and at times I feel like I’m in an episode of the ‘Truman Show’. One of the things that worried me most was meeting new housemates, it felt wrong that I was having to go through the whole process of living with complete strangers again. On the first day I met two of my housemates who are from Japan. Although it’s been hard to communicate with them due to language barriers, I have enjoyed listening about their home lives and feel we will learn a lot from each other this year. In a way it’s quite nice to be thrown slightly out my comfort zone.
Over the first week I was surprised how quickly I met exchange students. One of the first days we went to a Frat party, and if I wasn’t sure enough before I can now officially confirm they are not for me. It has taken me some time to come to terms with the differences between UBC and UoM, but I’m slowly getting used to it and have met some great people (mainly Brits so far but I’m working on it). Next step for me, venturing into the wild to see what beautiful British Colombia has locked away in the mountains.