Bachelor of Science (Ecology, Plant Science), 3rd year
Bachelor of Science (Ecology, Plant Science), 3rd year

Academic experiences

I enrolled in a variety of Botany and Ecology courses whilst on my exchange.
I found a few differences between UQ and UofA; UofA does not record lectures, some lecturers do not post notes online, there are fewer practicals offered and assignment submission is generally in class.
So let’s just say, my class attendance definitely improved while at the UofA!
On the plus side, the lecturers (or 'profs' as they are called there) are super approachable and the class sizes are quite small, facilitating more student-teacher interactions.
The lecturers always go out of their way; they provide sample exam questions at the end of each class, give thorough feedback on exams and assignments, and run help sessions prior to exams.
Out of all my courses, BOT382 ‘Drug Plants’ was the most interesting and I would recommend those with a chemistry/biology/pharmacology background to give it a go.
Some of the challenges I faced was funnily enough, understanding the Canadian accent!
This did take time.
Another challenge was the Population Ecology (BIOL331) tutorials; my Microsoft Excel knowledge in regards to Computer Modelling was limited so I struggled at first (UQ Ecology courses use R).
The BIOL331 assignments also proved to be interesting; we spent one Friday night attempting to estimate snowshoe hare abundance at the university.
Hares are everywhere at the UofA (especially at night) so it should be easy, right?
Not a chance.
The hares must have known we were coming.
It took a solid two hours before we spotted any!

Northern Lights at Yellowknife

Personal experiences

My exchange was an experience I will never forget.
From seeing the Northern Lights and dog sledding in Yellowknife, to watching live hockey, learning to country dance, hiking in the Rockies, going to Winter festivals, playing Dodgeball, white-water rafting in 4°C water, trying snow sports- the semester just flies by!
You will meet and form friendships with people from Canada and all around the world, learn and appreciate new cultures and see the world from a completely different perspective.
I will never forget the people I met (especially the ISOFA crew and 8S) and all the crazy adventures we had.

UofA in Winter

Accommodation

I lived on-campus in Schaffer Tower, Lister Centre.
Schaffer is a tower of mostly 2nd and 3rd year students, and comes with a compulsory meal plan.
Living in Lister is fantastic as it is relatively close to classes, you get to meet other Canadians and there is always something to do (i.e. dodgeball 24/7).
Dodgeball is basically a religion there and you will learn to love the sport as I did.
Lister also runs Vahalla (a Schaffer-wide floor competition) in the beginning of the semester and it is the craziest thing ever.
I was on 8 Schaff and my floor was absolutely incredible, winning both Vahalla Spirit and the JP Cup (Dodgeball Competition) for the 2014-2015 Season.

And if there is one thing I learnt:
“Shrek is love. Shrek is life!” (8 Schaffer’s dodgeball chant, 2015)

With the ISOFA crew at Mt Robson

Academic development and employability

By going on exchange, I have improved on a number of skills (e.g. time-management, organisational skills, interpersonal communication, problem-solving) that are highly valued in the workplace.
The skill I have improved the most in is communicating and interacting with individuals from different countries and cultures.
Workforces are becoming increasingly diverse, therefore intercultural communication skills are essential in terms of employability.
I also have become more independent and adaptable.
You will face a range of problems - you might have ended up on the wrong train, or got lost for the hundredth time, or cannot decide which poutine flavour to choose from - and it is up to you how to solve it.
Going on exchange also exposed me to new and unfamiliar environments (literally), and taught me how to cope with it.
I remember the first day of Winter Transitions as we toured around campus with the wind whipping snow in my face and thinking: What have I done???
I had never felt so out of my depth.
But by taking each day as it comes and meeting new people (and dressing warm), you adjust in no time.
And if you can survive a Canadian winter, I really believe you can get through anything!
Embracing change and realising no problem is too big is a great mindset to have, particularly in the workforce.
In terms of academic development, I learnt through my courses about new techniques and technology utilised in the plant science field at the UofA.
I was also exposed to a new way of teaching (BOT303) that greatly consolidated my botany knowledge and helped me understand plants on a different level.
Another useful skill I acquired through my BIOL331 tutorials was how to use Microsoft Excel to run computer modelling.
I definitely have a newfound appreciation for Excel now!

8 Schaff after JP Cup!

Highlight

It is too hard to pick just one highlight!
One highlight that always makes me laugh is how me and my friend decided to go to Yellowknife to see the Northern Lights.
The decision making process basically went like this:
Friend: Want to see the Northern Lights?
Me: Sure, let's go!
Then booking everything in about an hour at midnight.
It was one of the most spontaneous trips I've taken and the lights were absolutely incredible!
Sometimes the best experiences are the ones you never would have planned.

Lake Louise. Above: In spring. Below: In winter!

Top tips

Tips (specific for those considering UofA or Canada in winter!)

1. TRAVEL.
You are in North America, make the most of it!
I was fortunate enough to see Jasper, Banff (Lake Louise), Valemount, Canmore, Toronto, Niagara Falls, Montreal, Kamloops, Halifax, Charlottetown (Anne of Green Gables!!), Whistler, Yellowknife, Vancouver, Vernon, New York, Boston and Portland.
There is so much to see, the only problem is deciding where to go!

2. Watch the hockey!
The UofA hockey team (the Golden Bears) are the current champions of the University Cup (= intense matches) and the games are generally free.
Also make sure to see a NHL game (e.g. the Edmonton Oilers) to get a taste of the hockey atmosphere!

3. Take every opportunity that comes your way.
Eat Poutine (looks gross but do it).
Try Tim Horton’s coffee (this may require several attempts).
Play Dodgeball.
Try absolutely everything and take lots of photos!

4. Don’t let the cold deter you from doing an exchange in winter!
There are times when it is freezing (the first day of university reached -40°C with wind chill) but Canada’s indoor heating is well-equipped to handle the cold.
I would recommend either bringing a winter jacket and boots with you or go shopping straight away if you come in the middle of winter.
I bought my jacket from Kathmandu beforehand and trust me, you and your jacket will become inseparable.
At the end of your exchange, you will also have the added bonus of having layering down to a fine art and forever consider anything near zero "warm".
Another tip if you plan to study in winter is live on campus (Lister or International House are the best options).
Off campus may be slightly cheaper but you may turn into an icicle while waiting for public transport.

5. Edmonton may not be the most popular Canadian exchange destination (compared to UBC, McGill) but for those wanting to try the road less taken, DO IT!
Being in Edmonton, you are close to the beautiful Canadian Rockies, have easy access to ski clubs, are close to West Edmonton Mall (the largest shopping mall in North America), have the opportunity to see lots of festivals, and the beautiful North Saskatchewan River valley (the largest stretch of urban parkland in North America) is right next to the UofA!
You will also pay one of the lowest provincial taxes in Canada, which is a bonus for the shopaholics out there.

General tip: Go on exchange!

No matter where you go, you will have a great time and come back a different person.
Going to Canada was one of the best decisions I have ever made!

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