Bachelor of Engineering
Bachelor of Engineering

My name is Andrew and I am writing this testimonial after my exchange experience in the Fall Semester of 2013 at the University of Alberta in Edmonton. I am a Mechanical Engineering student now in my final year post-exchange.

I chose to study at the U of A to join a fellow Mining Engineer I had known from first year. We had talked about doing an exchange together for a while and I really was not fussed where I would go. In general, the advice on exchange is simply to go ahead and do it which I also now advocate.

As it turned out, Edmonton was one of the coldest, far-north-reasonably-populated cities in Canada. Arriving in the summer and experiencing mid-range temperatures, I tried to put off purchasing expensive but essential winter gear. This did not last long as temperatures slipped from 0 to 10 to 20 in the negatives with some uncommon days below -30. Then suddenly overnight the temperature could quickly snap into the positives again following a chinook (Weather Event). I have been told this can sometimes confuse the rabbits which are abundant on campus and turn white for the winter to have the snow start melting on them. I had never experienced snow or sub-zero temperatures before this exchange, so found the radical climate difference amazing. Enduring the cold is no doubt worth it for the ski/snowboard opportunities, especially when you are situated only a few hours’ drive from the Rocky Mountains.

I found the subjects I studied relatively easy which allowed me more time to enjoy the exchange. Note: Subjects are marked on ‘the curve’ at the U of A, unlike UQ’s percentage bands. Having taken for granted the recording of lectures at UQ, the use of more old-school teaching methods and having to actually attend every class was painful at times. This of course was my own experience with delivery methods dependent upon the professor. As 5 courses is standard in North America in comparison to our 4, there is not as much content in each of their classes. I was not so impressed with there being no practicals for the fluid mechanics and vibrations classes I took knowing that my fellow students back home were able to experience this. The university was also under budget constraints at the time which meant that one of my subjects had only one tutor and another had no tutors at all which was another downside. That one tutor that I had however was one of the nicest I have ever had and was more than happy to sit down for however long it took for the student to understand the problem. This is again just my small sample of the much broader engineering department within an entire university.

As I financed my own trip, budget was always considered. Not that it was structured at all. I saved a fair amount of money just by buying in bulk and eating cheap but mostly healthy meals. I found that some foods were about the same as back home or a tad bit more. Then some other foods were substantially cheaper (eg. Canned Salmon) depending on where I shopped. Safeway is the closest major supermarket which is walkable and accessible by bus. There were also some organized shuttles to ‘Real Canadian Superstore’ which is large and has some great deals. It is also compulsory to pay for unlimited transport within the city of Edmonton so take advantage of that at all times. The gym is another sunk cost hidden within these compulsory fees which is pretty good value – Excellent if you like the gym considering you have to pay it anyway.

The residence I stayed in was HUB mall on campus. My friend and I chose this residence as there is no compulsory meal plan, it was reasonably priced (Just under $600 CAD a month for twin share) but you do however have to furnish it yourself. This is really NOT recommended for semester long exchange students but renting a large pick-up truck, which is the vehicle of choice of Albertans, and picking up free furniture was an adventure in itself. Kijiji is the website for buying and selling everything in Edmonton including the free furniture my friend and I obtained. I found residence services quite a painful part of my exchange. They were so late in organizing my friend and my accommodation after getting the first contract completely wrong, that I was trying to scan and send documents a mere few weeks before moving in and already having left the country and travelling. This was also after signing up for the guaranteed accommodation months before and waiting on them. After their lateness, confusion and mistakes, I was not able to stay with my friend from UQ. Although HUB mall did have some good arranged activities and trips, I would not recommend it as a good residence for exchange students as it is nearly entirely populated with long term international students. If you are looking to meet Canadians as well as a more diverse mixture of cultures, a few students I made friends with had a great time at Lister Centre and International House.

I could tell you about many of the places I travelled to before and after Edmonton in transit and in the surrounds of Western Canada but I would encourage you to read about these places yourself. I experienced and recommend Vancouver, Jasper and Banff National Park as well as wherever you are transiting through. If you haven’t travelled to that place before, may as well hop off for a few days and look around! Canada is pretty dam far away so there is a lot you could do along the way. I did a small tour around LA including Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon on the way over where as my friend arranged a Contiki in Spain. When you are studying however you are a fair bit limited travel wise. Their mid-term (not called semester!) break was only 4 days and was more of a long weekend. With Canada being so large, there is not that much happening around Edmonton. The places that I went and enjoyed however which you can do on the weekends with organized trips are: Elk Island National Park, Horse Thief Canyon and Drumheller which has the Royal Tyrrell Dinosaur Museum. Calgary, the largest city in the province is also 4 hours drive south of Edmonton. The other experience on my exchange that I enjoyed was a trip to the Oil Sands which included a tour of the Shell mine site. It was great seeing the entire truck and shovel operation and learning about the heavily relied upon Oil Sands which is the biggest Importer of oil into the US. There was a diverse collection of students on the tour including Engineering, Science and Political Science students amongst others. Anyone with an interest in Energy and the Environment would get good value out of going to the Oil Sands (My trip was overnight staying at Fort McMurray).

For the remainder of my exchange after finishing my exams I stayed with a Canadian born-Australian friend who came from Calgary and was spending summer at home. I was able to meet his friends and stay with the nicest, most accommodating families I have ever met which were very welcoming over the Christmas period. There was a lot of beer pong, country bars and general drinking involved in my final weeks which were wrapped up with a very rewarding ski trip to Lake Louise.

Thanks for reading my testimony and if you end up going to the U of A, I hope I was helpful and good luck!

Top Tips:

·         You will need a coat, gloves and boots as a minimum but can get away with an ‘Australian Jumper’ and a few layers till at least mid-October. West Edmonton Mall (famously large) is about 20 minutes bus away. Really depends on how much you want to go outside. If you stayed on campus all semester, jumping from building to building which are mostly connected with ‘ped-ways’ would only require you be exposed for a few minutes.

·         Prepare yourself for the mostly confusing, budget-altering tipping culture, knowing when to tip and how much. Tax is most often not inclusive in price (In oil rich Alberta, tax is only 5 percent in comparison to British Columbia’s 13 percent).

·         Canada is very large and domestic flights are expensive. Make sure to make time either side of your studies to be able to travel to all the places you want to see. (Definitely Jasper and Banff National Park as well as Vancouver).

·         Ask a local where to go tobogganing

·         Take advantage of all residential or university organized field trips

·         Go see a Hockey game whether it be the university team (cheap) or the NHL

·         Beware of black ice – One of my lecturers was out the rest of the semester following shoulder surgery from an incident.

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