Reflections On Returning To Manchester… A Year On

By Sophie Black (University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada)

It’s been a year since my time at UBC ended.

The sense of spontaneity and adventure has long gone, taken over by the dreaded dissertation and final year stress.

Living in Canada for the year taught me to be flexible, open-minded to different cultures, and adapt to new ways of thinking and doing things. I have grown in so many ways – I have more confidence, I am far more independent, and my mum says I am noticeably more mature (I’m not sure what she is insinuating… but I’ll take it as a complement!). It has made me more appreciative of what I have – a spin on the phrase ‘you don’t know what you have until it’s gone’. Since I lived ‘without’ them for a year, now I have returned from Canada I value my family and friends so much more.

My year at UBC undoubtedly made me feel so much stronger academically. This was only compounded by the fact that I was able to take modules beyond my Geography degree, spreading my understanding into the anthropological, sociological and psychological realms. I have frequently found myself referring back to concepts and theories I learnt out at UBC, subsequently making my essays and exam scripts seem interdisciplinary in addition to giving the impression I have gone way beyond the reading lists!

My time abroad has led me to constantly encourage younger students to take the same path. When the academic year started again in September, I took the opportunity to become a Global Guidance Ambassador for the International Programmes Office. This job has run perfectly alongside my final year of university, giving me eight hours a week when I can escape from my dissertation and just chat to students who are thinking about studying abroad. It has enabled me to share my wonderful experiences and hopefully encourage more to take the same opportunity. It does, however, come with one major downside: I am SO jealous of all the students who still have their time abroad ahead of them!

I totally appreciate those who find the idea of studying abroad terrifying. I too had many an evening of tears to mum in the weeks prior to my flight out to Vancouver, panicking about being away from home for so long. Yet think about it this way: how many people have you ever heard tell a story of their awful time studying abroad? How many say they regret going? (hint hint) Going on exchange is an incredible experience. If you have the chance, go!

Hopping Over the Border…

By Sophie Black (University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada).

The ease of accessing the west coast of the USA from Vancouver is ideal: in a few hours you can reach Seattle by car, and in under two hours you can touch down in San Francisco. Two cities too good to miss out on!

(hover over each photo for more info/click on the first one to go though the gallery!)



San Francisco


Really hope my holiday (‘vacation’?) photo albums have tempted you to take a trip down into the USA!



By Sophie Black (University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada)

Upon reading through Sarah’s Top 10 (read her fab post here) I’ve taken it upon myself to think of a few more things to see/do in Vancouver…

  1. Menchies : Yes, I shall place the best frozen yoghurt on campus at number one. Menchies is delicious, and if you live in Fairview then it can become very dangerous for your (limited) study abroad bank accounts!
  2. Beach at Kitslano: If you catch the sunset over the Royal Vancouver Yacht Club the view can be so beautiful. There is a twenty-year waiting list for boats to be housed at the marina here – and you can see why. Only about 10 minutes away from campus, an evening on Kits beach is a must!
  3. Granville Island: Famed for its indoor food market, spending a day on Granville can also include a very inexpensive water taxi journey over to Yaletown or even an evening spent in one of its theatres.
  4. Cycle Stanley Park: make the most of the cheap bike hire shops and spend an afternoon cycling the sea wall at Stanley Park. It will 1) Make you realise how huge the park is; 2) Probably make you feel very very lost in the maze of cycle paths, yet; 3) Give you some awesome views, especially of the Lions Gate Bridge!
  5. Beaches on Campus: Yes, I am aware of the incredible beaches fellow study abroaders have nearby (Aussies, I’m looking at you!), yet UBC has a few too. Walk the stairs of doom down to the nudist Wreck Beach (yeah, I said nudist…) or take the smaller, far quiter option of the next beach along. There are even a few bizarre ‘watch towers’ covered in graffiti to somewhat spoil the view!
  6. Serene Vancouver Island: Take the opportunity to escape the hustle and bustle of Vancouver and take a ferry ride over to Vancouver Island. I was lucky enough to have family living in Nanaimo, where I spent Thanksgiving. Stereotypical ideas of ‘Canada’ can certainly be found here: silence, forest…and even elk. Well, when I was on the ferry to the island I did spot a pick-up with the body of a enormous Elk that must have been hunted somewhere up in the North!
  7. Capilano Suspension Bridge (at night!): the suspension bridge runs a free shuttle service from downtown every few hours throughout the year, so there is no excuse to miss seeing the incredible views and braving a walk along the bridge! BC Residents are given an annual pass the first time you visit the bridge, so visit both during the day, but also when the Canyon Lights event is on during Christmas time. Fairy lights galore…
  8. Hitoe Sushi: Started with food so I shall finish with food… I had tried very little sushi before I made my way to UBC, yet I have come home a sushi devotee. The best can be found on West 4th– only around 10 mins on the bus from campus, Hitoe is so delicious and so cheap. My mouth is watering just thinking about it!

Just a few to consider venturing out to do while in Vancouver!

Please comment below with your own favourite things to see and do 🙂


The Curry Mile or UBC’s Main Mall? Academic Differences between Manchester and UBC

By Sophie Black (University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada).

So If I am honest, the four days I have had back at UBC following Christmas at home have been dominated by one emotion: stress! The modules I was originally registered on turned out to not be my kind of thing, so the task of trolling through pages of courses to try and find ones that fit into my timetable and aren’t already full is quite a challenge. It would be easier if there wasn’t so much choice! The ability many of us exchangers have in choosing modules from pretty much any subject is a fantastic opportunity to delve into new topics, yet at the same time can be a little overwhelming.  I would definitely recommend signing up for five courses, trying them all out and then dropping the one you enjoyed the least.

Initially, UBC seemed very similar to Manchester – yet as the weeks go by it is clear they are both very different academically. Today was the first day I had a lecture in a proper lecture theatre – last semester, all of my modules were taught on classroom levels. This means interaction with lecturers and (in most cases) pretty quick feedback times when you hand in essays and exams. I’ve had no modules with a tutorial or seminar included, which means a more chatty, relaxed and friendly atmosphere with the lecturer is somewhat hard to come by.  Teaching styles have varied a lot – one lecturer last semester used an old-fashioned school projector and didn’t put anything online… Yet compare this to another module whereby I took part in online discussions with students at the University of Singapore and the University of Western Australia!

Agreeing with Sarah’s post, there is definitely much more work to do here at UBC. Consistent readings, midterms, essays and final exams means there is no break  – especially in the first semester where there is nothing like reading week. Be prepared for this jump! Nevertheless, the work does seem easier, plus coming to UBC with a seemingly higher standard of essay writing skills than equivalent UBC students means essays and exams are marked highly.

As a final point – the highlight of my academic time here at UBC is the campus. It is absolutely beautiful, with fantastic views of the mountains, lots of green space and wonderful gardens. The leafy green walk along the pedestrianised ‘main mall’ to lectures is going to be missed when I go back to the long old curry mile!

First week at UBC!

By Sophie Black (University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada).

Yes, I made it! I’ve been here for a week now and settled in pretty quickly.

Moving to Canada suddenly hit me when I opened up the window on the plane and saw the Rockies in all their glory. Wow, they looked incredible! Even the pilot said there couldn’t be a better day to fly…

Canadian Rockies

 Immigration was pretty quick and easy, plus both of my suitcases came off the plane (phew!). The easiest way to get from the airport to accommodation was by taxi (you could use the skytrain and busses yet a 13 hour+ trip means a very tired and hungry  traveller!) The taxi was pretty easy to catch and cost $45 including a tip.

UBC Fairview Crescent

I am staying in Fairview Crescent, self catered university accommodation separated into flats of four or six. Upon arrival, my room looked pretty bare…

Yet I quickly erected photographs, bunting and free maps from the geography building (!) to make it a little more homely.

WP_20130903_001 WP_20130905_005

 Thankfully, for the first few nights my flatmate lent me some bed covers to sleep with. I was able to quickly find pillows at a local department store, yet a lot of confusion arose on the topic of a duvet. Seemingly, a ‘duvet’ is very uncommon here – most people use a ‘comforter’, being a duvet and bed cover in-one. Hence, I went on a trip into the downtown and discovered the Canadian version of TKMaxx, where I was able to find a comforter and pillowcase set for about £43. What happens when it comes to washing my bed-linen, I don’t know…

Transport around Vancouver is very easy due to the compulsory U-Pass all students buy. This is a card much like the stagecoach bus pass in Manchester, yet the U-Pass is also valid on the Sky-Train. Busses are very simple to use here, as the name of the next stop is displayed on a screen overhead. It costs about £87 for the pass until December, definitely worth the money!

Denbar 'Celtic Treasure Chest'

It doesn’t take long to realise how expensive the food is here. A trip to the supermarket leads a painful dent in the student loan! To my surprise, cordial/squash doesn’t exist here in Canada – instead they have juice ‘crystals’ that you add to water. Bizzare! A necessary trip to the British food shop in Denbar (around 10 minutes away by bus) quickly came about through cravings for Robinsons Apple and Blackcurrant!

UBC Flag Pole

The weather has been beautiful and very warm – my favourite place on campus is at the ‘flag pole’, where a view of the mountains and rose garden is lovely! The campus here is very large yet so green and clean, making the 20 minute walk to and from lectures really enjoyable.

Here are some thing’s I have been getting up too this week…

Thanks so much for reading!

Sophie 🙂

(p.s. any questions are welcome in the comments section below!)

Preparing to leave for UBC…

By Sophie Black (University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada).

Since my final second year exam, time has absolutely flown by. With so many warnings about the expense of studying abroad, I have spent much of my time working to earn as much money as possible. Usually I’m pretty organised, yet with only a few days to go, I seem to have an ever-growing list of things to do!

Keep in Contact

I’m not ashamed to admit I am a homebird, hence the thought of spending so much time away from home is pretty scary. I do have a few relatives in Vancouver who I have been in contact with over the past few months who assure me there will be home-cooked meals on offer (phew!). I would definitely recommend getting in touch with any relatives or contacts in the area before you leave, just to gain some much needed reassurance and support!


Tips for packing your life into two (pretty small) suitcases

  1. I started a packing list two weeks prior to departure, and referred back to it when additions needed to be made. If begun early enough, its definitely a great way to be sure you are taking everything you need. I have only two suitcases to pack all of my belongings in – a significant challenge!
  2. Roll your clothes instead of folding. In my experience, you fit so much more in! Leave thicker jumpers for the top, and pack everything in really tightly.
  3. Write your name/address/flight number on an A4 page and place it on the top of everything inside your case. It just gives you a little more comfort in knowing if it gets lost it will eventually find its way back to you.
  4. Bed covers…pillows….duvets….don’t bother trying to fit them in – too bulky. Far easier to just hunt down some inexpensive ones when you arrive!
  5. Don’t forget to include a few photos and things to put up onto your walls, just to make your room feel a bit more homely when you arrive!
Suitcase, please don’t get lost!


I have opted for a Travelex ‘cash passport‘ to take with me, as it seemed like the easiest and quickest option. You can order it all online, the terms and conditions/charges are really clear, plus it’s simply a relief to know I’m going out to Canada with it all already sorted. The only catch is the conversion rate they set themselves, yet for the sake of saving any hassle once arriving in Canada and having to organise transferring money over to a bank account, I thought it was worth the £50 or so I lost. I’ve also exchanged some sterling to Canadian dollars to take some out with me so taxi’s from the airport and initial expenses can be paid for. I shall report back in later posts on how successful the above were!

Only a few days to go now, doesn’t quite feel real yet…

Thanks for reading,

Sophie 🙂