UQ Program: Bachelor of Commerce/Law

Going on exchange to UBC was an experience that exceeded all my expectations. Before leaving, I had talked to a lot of different people that had gone on exchange to UBC and they had all said the same thing. It won’t be anything like what you’re expecting. But it will be so much better.

UBC sits out on a peninsula about 10 minutes west of the city. It’s situated next to Kitsilano, a suburb with an eclectic mix of cheap student rentals nestled in between million dollar mansions. It features a huge variety of restaurants of all cuisines including several excellent sushi restaurants, which have been at least partly responsible for giving Vancouver its reputation for world class sushi. Along the north side runs a huge beach which on summer nights (when the sun sets after 9pm) hosts a social volleyball competition for hundreds of people. The locals are more than happy to let you join in on a game, or you can simply head along for a barbeque and watch spectacular sunsets. UBC also features its own special beach. Wreck Beach is a renowned nude beach and hippy hangout. On sunny days the beach is filled with revellers working on a full body tan, while food stalls cook hot dogs and drinks salesmen wander between the beach goers, selling cool refreshments and other recreational products.

The campus itself is beautiful. It is surrounded by remnants of the pine forest that used to grow there, and large parts of it have been carefully preserved. The campus is massive (bigger than UQ) and features its own anthropological museum, which is definitely worth a visit. The university has a rich multicultural atmosphere, and the Student Union Building is constantly holding special events, from the September Turkey Sale where you can pick up brand new snow gear at a fraction of the price, to bake sales and the constant barbeques of the many student societies holding various fundraisers and events.

Living on campus was an experience in itself. UBC features various student accommodations, but without a doubt the best place to live on exchange is at Fairview Crescent. Walking through Fairview, you could mistake it for a small ski village in the French Alps. The townhouses, all adjoined, are back dropped by huge pine trees and, from the right angle, the Ski Mountains that sit on the north shore of Vancouver. The place is constantly buzzing with activity, and you can be assured that on any given night, someone is hosting a house party. Fairview seems to be the place of choice for international students, and the multicultural mix makes for a friendly and fun atmosphere.

Studying at the Sauder Business School, I was blown away by the calibre of the education. Students there were hand selected from the huge number of applicants, and there is a strong focus on group based learning. Working with such talented and personable individuals made class much more interesting than the standard format learning environment, and the mix of assessment was impressive – in one class I was required to keep an online blog, another I had to put on a suit and give a presentation to a company executive.

Being on exchange is much more than going to class though, and I spent much of my time downtown. Vancouver features a first-class transport system, with express busses to the CBD running from campus every 10 minutes. Vancouver is a vibrant city made up of several different districts, each with their own reputation. Gastown is definitely worth a visit, especially during one of the various festivals it holds. Whether it is the Blues and Chili festival, the International Jazz festival, or the International Comedy Show, you’re sure to find something to entertain you.
Of course nearly everyone that goes to UBC takes advantage of its proximity to Whistler. Whistler is about two hours drive from UBC, and bus is definitely the cheapest and easiest option for getting there. Once the season kicks off in late November, Greyhound runs a special bus service that leaves from campus early Friday morning and returns late Sunday. Otherwise you can catch a bus from the main terminal downtown with services leaving regularly all day. Staying in Whistler can prove to be difficult for the unprepared, but there are several options. The HI Hostel is cheap, but is situated about 15 minutes from the chair lifts and the centre of town. UBC actually owns its own small hostel which is almost exclusively used by students. It is however situated out near HI, although not as far away. For stays longer than a week the Southside lodge at Creekside is a great option, putting you literally 350 metres from the Creekside gondola. The best piece of advice I can offer is to join the UBC Ski and Board Club. The club organises several trips to Whistler, including a trip on opening weekend. It is also a great way to meet locals and can often lead to excellent hook-ups for couch surfing. They can also get deals on skis, boards and gear, and hold buy-nights at ski shops throughout the season.
One fact about Whistler that is often overlooked is that during the summer it converts itself into the biggest downhill mountain biking resort in North America. It also features spectacular bush walks, pristine lakes and an excellent summer night life.

I arrived in Vancouver a month before school started, in order to check out BC during the summer. The best way I found to do this was to get on a Moose Bus. Moose Tours are hop-on hop-off tours which cater to students and young people. The drivers are often students themselves working summer jobs and the tours take you all through the Rockies, including Banf, Lake Louise and Kelowna, as well as taking you out to Vancouver Island where you can check out the famous surf beaches in Tofino (it actually had a pretty good break), as well as trying sea kayaking, whale watching, and white water rafting.

Canada is very much like Australia in that it is a massive country full of natural wonders, extreme sports, dangerous animals and friendly people. As my Canadian mate put it Canadians are just Aussies with a different accent who snowboard instead of surf. There is a lot of truth in this. They share a similar sense of humour and are ridiculously polite. One thing that I couldn’t get over was the politeness of drivers to pedestrians. More than once I stood waiting for a gap in traffic on a main road, only to have the cars stop and hold up traffic to let me cross! It was this sort of friendly nature that made it easy to find common ground and make friends with the locals, opening up opportunities that don’t exist when you are simply a tourist. Going on exchange to Canada was definitely the best decision I ever made.
 

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