Several mental breakdowns, 6 holidays and a global pandemic later, I’m leaving the land of the Merlion…
Prior to moving to Singapore for the year, I had never even travelled beyond Europe. What lay ahead of me was a mystery, aside from the wild assumptions strangers told me and the random bits of information I got off google…
If I could go back to a year ago today, this is what I would tell 2019 Poppy.
And believe me, if there’s any place to take amazing insta pics – it’s Singapore.
One word on everyone’s mind when you think about Canadian food, is poutine. Well, that and maple syrup. Speaking of which, did you know that Quebec produces about 70% of global maple syrup production? I didn’t know that either! That also explains why almost all Quebecois desserts are doused in the sugary substance. Interesting, eh?
One of those would be la tire sur la neige, also known as Canadian maple taffy. As my very limited command of French has taught me, sur la neige literally means “on top of snow”. How it’s made is that boiled maple syrup is poured on top of snow, and wrapped around a wooden popsicle stick once it cools a little, making a golden gooey mass of maple-y goodness. Just be careful not to get it in your hair though! I learnt that the hard way.
La banquise is one of the most popular poutine places in Montreal, and once I had tried it, I completely understood why. Poutine piled high with other toppings like guacamole, drowning in heaps and heaps of gravy and cheese curds… It makes a foodie like me weep. Standing in the freezing cold to get a table was totally worth it for a treat like this.
When my friends and I headed down to Quebec City that one weekend in February, we stumbled across a cute little restaurant that served only Quebecois food. Of course we had to try Quebec dishes while in the old town! Pâté chinois, oddly translated to Chinese pie, is a Quebec style shepherd’s pie. The one that I had the luck to try looked like a deconstructed version of the traditional dish, with the stewed beef resting on a bed of buttery mashed potatoes and a glorious side of preserved cherry tomatoes. It was truly the stuff of gods.
Ah, so many dishes, so little time. It was a pleasure to have experienced all that I have.
This was not how it was supposed to end. I was supposed to have stayed with everyone till the end of April, before bidding goodbye to a time well spent in Canada. Unfortunately, life had other planes in store for me, and the pandemic saw me flying back to the opposite end of the world, bypassing Manchester altogether.
Now, I am back home, back in sunny Singapore. Things could not be more different here.
You know, I’ve always had an affinity for islands. Born and raised on my island country, I moved to the UK for my studies about two years back. Then for exchange, I went to Montreal, also situated on another island. Despite being islands, all three places have been vastly different for me. Going from Montreal, where I only saw the streets start to clear themselves of snow when it hit mid-March, to Singapore, where we don’t even have the four seasons. It may sound crazy, but I miss that constant snowy weather that we had in Montreal. Now, I turn on the air-conditioning in my room everyday in a bid to refrigerate myself, very unlike how I would crank up the radiator in Montreal to remind myself of Singapore. They say absence makes the heart grow fonder, and in this moment I cannot think of anything truer.
Saying goodbye to the city wasn’t the only difficult thing. Saying goodbye to my friends, and my housemates, was really hard. As a person who has moved to many places, I should be good at saying goodbye, but I never really am. I get used to it, but I’m not good at it, if that makes sense. Living together with 29 other people, I got used to the continuous presence of friends in my life. It is so quiet now.
They say that you make lifelong friends on exchange, and I think there’s truth in that. From the numerous dinners together, to the road trips and the birthdays, these are people that I will never forget.
The six months I was able to spend at Lund University was a truly incredible time. Definitely coming with its highs and lows but nevertheless, I would relive it in a heartbeat if I had the chance. The video shows just a few snippets of the year.
Things I would do again:
- Make the most of ESN- amazing opportunities and trips/activities both nationally and internationally. Organised for you. Decently priced. Great way to meet people.
- Join all the mentor groups at the beginning of the year- great way to meet people and keeps you busy at the beginning (you also don’t have to go to every event there is).
- Join a nation
- Join Skåne netball team- this meant I was meeting new people who were not just students. Also did some tournaments which was fun as I had not really played netball that competitively before. Simultaneously, it was also a chilled and relaxed atmosphere where you could take it as seriously as you wanted to
Things I would do differently:
- Travel more within Sweden
- Choose different module choices for the first semester as I enjoyed my second semester modules far more and did better in them
- Start looking for housing earlier than I did, I think in hindsight I would start looking for housing before even getting a place at Lund as you can always cancel it if something better comes up and then you have got some certainty and your own space for when you first arrive
- Somewhat linking to the last one, I would do my best to try and live within Lund, when I moved into Lund from Åkarp, I could really see the ease of being in the city and being able to cycle pretty much anywhere in 10 minutes compared to having to catch a train or bus
By Issy Jackson (University of Sydney, Australia)
Newtown is almost like the Fallowfield of Sydney! It’s a studenty suburb that is super close to a lot of USYD’s colleges and residences including the famous Queen Mary Building and its new rival, the Regiment. King Street is a buzzing hub of shops, restaurants and bars; it is the beating heart of USYD’s social life. After spending farrrr too much money in basically every single establishment that it has to offer, I’m well equipped (if slightly financially destabilised) to talk you through my favourites.
Picture this. Little old Issy has made one of her first ventures out of her accommodation on day one to go and sort herself out with a SIM card. Vodafone may be at the top of the to-do list, but she is distracted by a poster. It’s a burger. And it’s a stunner. Surely you can’t pick a phone contract on an empty stomach?!
The best thing about Soul Burger is that it is completely vegan – and absolutely nothing about it reveals that fact. They pride themselves on re-creating timeless classics that you would never know are vegan. Rather than your classic Portobello mushroom or tofu burger, they’ve actually created plant-based alternatives to meat. Even many of my friends that are meat-lovers were shocked at the opportunity to order a Chilli Beef Burger with Dirty Cheesey and Bacon Fries! Getting the app was a great shout as well – sharing Sweet Potato Fries in Camperdown Park with friends was even sweeter when the fries were free.
My Favourite: The Satay Tofu Burger is one of the cheapest on the menu but not one to be missed. Peanut sauce everywhere, need I say more?
Thai Pothong is one of the BNOKS (Big Name On King Street). I’d heard about it before from some family friends in England and when it was the topic of conversation at work in Sydney too, I realised that they must be doing something right in there! It’s a massive restaurant with two floors and is almost always full, which surely speaks for itself. Make sure you book a reservation! Full of East Asian statuary, wall art and plants, they’ve created a really cool sense of culture inside which makes your lunch or dinner feel like a bit of an event. With loads of really friendly and attentive staff, you will want for nothing as they are perfectly tuned in to an empty wine glass or rice bowl. The best part: it’s BYOB! Ten minutes before our booking, about fifteen of us met outside the bottle-o just next door to pick out the cheapest beer and wine we could find to keep the bill down. Although you’re getting a full-on dining experience at Thai Pothong, providing your own drinks prevents it from breaking the bank which is great for big groups of students. P.S. It’s voted the best Thai restaurant in Sydney!
My Favourite: Penang Curry, Penang Curry, Penang Curry.
THE ITALIAN BOWL
The Italian Bowl works a little differently to how we might normally expect to eat at an Italian restaurant. They don’t take bookings so you get to queue outside on the bustling street and wait for a space on one of the communal tables. Again, it’s BYOB so people tend to enjoy some tinnies in the sun while waiting for a seat. In true Aussie style, everyone’s up for a yarn so I have to thank The Italian Bowl for the many random friends that I’ve made in that queue!
The idea here is that they absolutely nail classic pasta dishes. Firstly, you chose from all sorts of fresh pasta like fettuccine, linguine, ravioli or even potato gnocchi. Then, and this is the best bit, you get to choose from an abundant list of sauces. There’s eighteen different choices and I wouldn’t be surprised if I’ve managed to get through the whole lot in my time. From your basic Napolitana all the way to a fancy Mare E Monte, there’s definitely something for everyone. Priced at around £10 per pasta dish (and they’re quite hefty), it’s not extortionate but it’s definitely a treat.
My Favourite: I liked going a bit rogue and trying something a bit different; the Chicken Peppercorn did not disappoint.
LENTILS AS ANYTHING
Now this one is the dream ticket!! Before I went to Australia, I’d had lots of chats with older students who had already been on exchange to USYD. As soon as I said that I would be living near Newtown, every single one recommended Lentils as Anything. Run by volunteers (if you have a spare evening, definitely go and give them a hand), it’s a brilliant manifestation of wholesome Aussie community. They operate on a ‘pay-as-you-feel’ basis, so after eating you have the opportunity to make a monetary contribution as you wish. This means it can provide food to those in need. Of course, this is a great gesture of social cohesion which fosters the inclusion of many different social groups. Even the long benches, that you share with others as you dine, promote a sense of community.
Great ethics aside, the food isn’t half bad either! With a completely vegetarian menu, the choices are changed daily depending on what produce is available. The whole experience is all the more collective when people lean over and ask you which dish you’ve gone for because they’ve never seen it before. There’s usually about three different plates on the menu, with an option for dessert or chai tea too. As well as the more consistent options like Thai Green Curry and Chilli Con Carne, they also include some more niche, adventurous dishes that really embody veggie creativity like a garlic and lemon courgette linguine. Both economically and environmentally ethical, Lentils as Anything really is a win-win.
My Favourite: Spicy Chickpea Pasta. I’ve not looked at a chickpea in the same way since.
It’s only right to end on a sweet treat and it’d be rude not to include my very own second home. Where do I even start with Messina? As I have generously undertaken market research for you all and selflessly tried the whole menu, my conclusion is: the more, the merrier. The vast range from mango or dark chocolate sorbet all the way to dulce de leche or white chocolate hazelnut gelato, meant that even going about thirty times a week didn’t make the choice any easier. You can have as many testers as you like, though! What’s more, there is a Special’s Menu which includes unconventional gelato combinations, usually adorned by a very on-trend and witty name. For example, they made a Fairy Bread gelato (after the renowned Aussie delicacy) which was toast and butter flavoured gelato with hundreds and thousands all over it. If you’re really in it to win it, have one scoop and dine in to sit and watch the making process through the window to the back – then you can have a second scoop of whatever is fresh out of the kitchen!
My Favourite: It was a rarity that I’d leave Messina without at LEAST one scoop of Super dulce de leche, earning its name by having actual in-house dulce de leche woven through. Take a bow, Messina.
Harry Forster, National University of Singapore
A brief overview of the trips I took and if I think they’re worth the buck…
- Lombok (a more undeveloped Bali, yet it offers a lot of the same opportunities)
- Amazing food – a vegans dream, cheap cheap… make sure you try the Nasi Goreng & Mei Goreng!
- Activities, activities and more activities: white water rafting, scuba diving (manta rays, shipwrecks), sunrise hikes and of course surfing all year around – are just some of the things you could get up to!
- If you like dancing into the night, Bali is home to Asia’s best beach parties … Oldmans & Sandbar is where to be (every night).
**Stay in Canggu, Lay Day Surf Hostel (avoid Seminyak & Kuta)!
- Kuala Lumpur (the cliché exchangers first getaway)
Overall, it was one the most modern and clean cities I’ve been to in SE Asia outside of Singapore. The Batu Caves are worth going to, most likely for that Instagram post, be ready to be sweaty.
This will most likely be your first escape from Singapore and its prices… However, be aware that Kuala Lumpur isn’t as cheap as you’d anticipate!
- Tioman island (a divers dream, not much attraction to the island besides its waters)
- Langkawi (a great short trip)
Langkawi was one of my favourite islands during my time, a great weekend trip. Lots of water sports, cheap motorbikes and white beaches.
*would recommend staying at ‘bed altitude’ hostel!
- Easy to get to/ fast transport – can get the bus from Singapore.
- Can be done on the cheap – £20 return bus.
- The worse food in SE Asia (for me).
I only have positive things to say about this island… extremely cheap, filled with some great adventures, beaches and day trips to other nearby islands.
Cliff jumping at Kawasan falls was great – only if you’re prepared for a 15m jump off a waterfall!
Great for diving – Malapascua for the Thresher Sharks, Oslob for the Whale Sharks and Moalboal for the famous Sardine Run.
- Palawan – El Nido & Coron
Both of these islands are known for their day trips… do you think you’ve got what it takes to hack a full day of lagoon and beach hopping?
It’s a hard life!
*I’d highly recommend catching the 5 day boat trip from el Nido to Coron (if you’ve still got enough cash to keep you afloat)!
This is a little surf island located in the southeast region of the Philippines -making it super hard to get to!
But if you do, it’s home to some of the worlds’ best breaks (recently held the world surf championship).
Like the rest of the Philippines it’s plagued with palm trees and white sands, however it is one of the more expensive spots due to the wave-seekers
Also surfing brings a more bohemian crowd (one that does not only break a sweat over the waves, but also over how instagram-able their smoothie bowl is)!
- Bangkok (the shorter stay the better)
- Koh Tao (a personal fav but an extremely difficult place to get to)
- Phuket (a means to an end – Phi Phi)
- Phi Phi islands (beautiful beaches but there isn’t much to do beside party or dive)
Sorry to sound like your mother but… be careful. I’ve experienced a lot of bad things happen in this country:
- NYE my phone as well as my friends wallet were pickpocketed.
- Another trip, a friends phone was stolen in the airport and never found.
- A close friend was assaulted on his way home after a night out.
**I would not recommend visiting the Phi Phi islands out of season, everything from the clubs to the restaurants were closed for renovations.
- Goes without saying the food is phenomenal here!
Overall, in my opinion there’s better ways to spend your time and money in this region.
- Don’t plan before arriving, circumstances change i.e. monsoons, typhoons…
- Remember low season usually means no nightlife!
- A trip always costs more than expected.
- Book last minute as Southeast Asia’s the weather is extremely volatile.
Hope this helps!
Harry Forster, National University of Singapore
Last week I received my final grades from the National University of Singapore, officially marking the end of my time as an international exchange student. For me, these grades do not only indicate the academic progress that I’ve made, but they also remind me of the personal development I’ve made over the past year.
To demonstrate this, I’m going to reflect upon some of the objectives I set out before undertaking my exchange:
- Experience new culture: I was fortunate enough to be linked with a local Singaporean family for the entirety of my exchange. This benefited me immensely, allowing me to gain an invaluable insight into local events such as Chinese New Year.
- Learn new skills: previously a scuba diving novice, now I am looking to take this skill to a professional level… also, I’ve mastered the art of falling off a motorbike (that’s definitely one for the CV)!
- Network: I forged connections and developed lifelong friendships in every continent across the globe. For example, some of my best friends are now situated in: Canada, Germany, Holland and South Korea… (they tell you in your pre-departure meetings that a year aboard is expensive, but they don’t tell you that your post-departure trips are even more expensive)!
- Push yourself out of your comfort zone: living over six-thousand miles from home, inevitably, I have had to face a wide range of new and unfamiliar circumstances whether that be new flatmates or speaking in a foreign language.
- Taste new cuisine: I experienced a plethora of different food; frog soup to Filipino Balut.
- Take up new interests: hours of non-stop surfing without a break, actually no, I broke my rib…
I am truly grateful for this unforgettable opportunity and it is something that will resonate with me for the rest of my life.
Top Tips for New Exchange Students
- “It won’t happen to me”… unfortunately, it most certainly will.
Not to mention the obvious global pandemic during my time… but its almost certain, you’ll to encounter some kind of emergency scenario, whether that be an earthquake, a typhoon or a trip to A&E.
To paint a realistic picture, all of those events listed above happened to me… an Indonesian earthquake, a Filipino typhoon and multiple medical trips. For example, I tallied up a total of four countries in which I have been admitted to A&E during my time as an NUS exchange student (Thailand, the Philippines, Indonesia, and Singapore if you’re curious).
- You will NEVER have enough money or time to do everything on your travel to do list 😦
For me, I didn’t get a chance to embark upon half of my travel plans… it’s pretty simply really, the more you travel, the more you want to see. You’ll meet people all across various hostels in Southeast Asia that’ll recommend you countless places, which is great, but one day your travel during exchange will come to an end.
A word of wisdom, its more often than not that you’ll go over any travel budget so make sure you’ve got supplementary funds – can you get an over-overdraft?
For my Next Chapter
I am now looking forward to commencing my summer internship at the Department for International Trade within the Civil Service.
Once again, I believe this will be an invaluable opportunity, and I hope to build upon the skills I have developed over the course of the past year.
Sweet dreams, Singapore xxx
Harry Forster, National University of Singapore
Firstly, my scuba novice journey started right at the beginning of first semester, where I found a fellow exchange student who was also down to take the plunge…
After a bit of scrolling, we came across a Singaporean dive shop that offers an integrated package: including the Open Water certification and a fully funded dive trip to Malaysia – only for £400 (Roughly the same price as what the certification costs alone in other places such as Europe)!
So if you’re another newbie who’s up for starting scuba, Southeast Asia is one of the cheapest & best regions to try it – I really can’t recommend this enough!
Not Your Normal Noel
The same day as I finished my final exam of first semester, me and a dive buddy jetted off, spending the first three weeks of our xmas holidays in the Philippines… could have been worse!
First things first. We rented motorbikes and headed to Malapascua, small island situated off the coast of Cebu.
The main attraction to this archipelago is to go see the Thresher Shark. But first we had to get our Advanced Open Water certification (so we could dive down to 30 meters).
The sharks tail grows to the same length as its body, and they use this tail to kill their prey...
Next, we went to Moalboal to see the famous ‘Sardine Run’ – a twisting mass of billions of sardines.
Then, Oslob to see the Whale Sharks – the largest shark in the world.
Finally, Boxing Day did not hold your usual sort of festivities…
No turkey but Thai, no charades but shipwrecks!
Instead of a 3 course dinner, it was 3 dives… The main course was diving the 85m King cruiser wreck.
The wreck is a passenger transporter that sank in 1997. It hit the Anemone Reef with over 100 people onboard (all survived so no skeletons were seen).
Just to add to this once in a lifetime opportunity, we were lucky enough to catch a glimpse of the solar eclipse during our dive interval!
Semester Two Dives
In Semester two, I got in three more dives; they were in the Philippines. Shock.
This time they were off the coast of Coron. There are over 10 shipwrecks off the island…
- It is said that it takes a month to dive them all (so I will definitely be returning at some point in the future)!
Akitsushima is a 115m seaplane tender of the Imperial Japanese Navy, it was sunk during WWII in Sept 1944.
I’m in no doubt that this hobby has only just started for me. It has already changed my future travel plans dramatically, rather than just looking at where the best weather is, you also start checking when and where are the best places to go diving.
I’ve set myself the goal of completing my divemaster qualification, this is the highest qualification you can achieve before being an instructor. Also, I fancy doing it soon because I want to dive before all the oceans are ruined! So I’ve set myself the ambition to complete my divemaster before I’m 30. For me, the most appealing places are:
- Gili islands – Indonesia
- Great Barrier Reef – Australia
I know I have taken up a very expensive lifelong habit, but at the same time, I really can’t thank this exchange experience enough for starting it.
5 months, 17 dives… Till next time!
By Issy Jackson (University of Sydney, Australia)
I’m sure we’ve all been to our fair share of football games in the UK. But with four different football ‘codes’ down under, watching live matches is ever so slightly different …
Soccer culture and what Aussies call the ‘English Premier League’ culture could not be more contrasting. I couldn’t believe that I was watching Sydney FC play against Adelaide United whilst sat in the sunshine with a picnic blanket on a small hill next to the pitch. I’m used to being cramped into a damp stand where a roof over your head is an absolute treat. The attendance for the A-League champions numbered only 11,217 spectators, similar to the capacity of League One side Rochdale AFC from North Manchester. As you can imagine, the chants aren’t quite the same as in the UK but I can assure you that the language is just as fruity! If you get the chance, I’d definitely recommend getting your hands on some AFC Champions League tickets. When Sydney FC played against Shanghai SIPG, we got the chance to see big names like Oscar, Ricardo Carvalho and Hulk play on Australian soil.
AUSTRALIAN RULES FOOTBALL
If you refer to ‘football’ or ‘footy’, Aussies from Melbourne will normally assume you are talking about AFL – although those from New South Wales and Queensland might contest this and argue that Rugby League is the ‘real footy!’ A great way to immerse yourself in quintessential Australian culture is by heading to see an ‘Aussie Rules’ match for yourself. I was lucky enough to visit the Melbourne Cricket Ground with my friend whose family are members at Richmond Tigers (big thank you to the Bales!) Unlike in England, four Melbourne-based teams put their rivalries aside to share their home games at ‘The G’ so there is plenty of opportunity to watch AFL at one of the world’s biggest stadiums. Even walking down the Birrarung Marr, the famous walkway towards ‘The G’, was a special opportunity in itself. The Indigenous-titled path was full of fans singing and chanting together. We watched ‘The Tiges’ beat Melbourne Demons on ANZAC Eve, a commemorative occasion that celebrates national unity. Australian identification within AFL is paramount and so this was a perfect way to experience true ‘Aussie’ footy.
Rugby League’s cultural significance is demonstrated through the acclaimed ‘State of Origin’ series between New South Wales and Queensland where they battle for their hegemonic sport. Rather than having a home ground for a particular club and sport like Manchester United exclusively playing football at Old Trafford, the Leichardt Oval in Sydney is used for lots of different football codes and lots of different teams. A big group of us watched Sydney-based NRL teams West Tigers and Manly Warringah – a great rivalry to witness. West Tigers only have around five home games here per season so their supporters flocked to Leichardt for the nearly sold-out event. Such was the competition between these two teams that you could literally hear the hits of tackles throughout the intimate yet packed Oval.
Although Rugby Union is much more prevalent in the UK, it isn’t quite so popular in Australia. Their love for Rugby League is much more significant. We watched a Super Rugby fixture where New South Wales Waratahs beat Queensland Reds at the Sydney Cricket Ground which was completely different to what I have experienced at the other football ‘codes.’ NRL at the Leichardt Oval was filled with close-proximity viewing, yet Super Rugby at the SCG was the polar opposite. Unlike being part of the vast Aussie Rules audience at the MCG, the Super Rugby fixture only attracted about a third of the SCG’s capacity. Being normally used for cricket or Aussie Rules Football (which is played on a circular field), it was a really interesting experience to be physically distanced from the action. Clearly, the cultural significance of sport internationally is completely different. I’d really recommend going to a Sydney Swans AFL game to see what the SCG would be like when full to the brim.
Overall, watching live sport in Australia is something not to be missed. Australian Rules Football and Rugby League have rightfully earned their title of ‘footy’ which is really interesting to encounter for us Brits who have grown up on just one football ‘code.’ Being able to actually experience the different aspects of this sporting dispute provides a great insight into this great debate amongst Australian culture! Which camp will you choose?
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.
SHOULDA COULDA WOULDA
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.
Get the seabus to North Van – Polygon gallery
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!