I have just wrapped up eleven intensely awesome months in Edmonton studying at the University of Alberta. Before I left everybody told me to take every opportunity, and to take the chance to (almost!) never say no. This year has been the most amazing and unexpected adventure, from climbing the peaks in the Rockies, down to even theCamping simplest-sounding task of grocery shopping! The amount of things I’ve ticked off my bucket list is huge. I have skied all over British Columbia (Whistler/Blackcombe/Revelstoke/Cyprus Mountain/Kicking Horse) and Alberta (Marmot Basin/ Sunshine Village/Lake Louise); I’ve camped under the stars, both exhilarated and terrified of the bears that might be closing in on me; I’ve lived out of home for eleven months; I’ve been to Seattle, New York, Providence, Boston, Chicago, Cincinnati, Philadelphia, Vancouver, Calgary, Montreal, Niagara Falls and Toronto; I’ve made friends from Norway, Sweden, England, Scotland, France, Germany, New Zealand, Brazil, and of course, Canada! And I’ve had my first WHITE CHRISTMAS (I got really excited OK), my first Thanksgiving and my first taste of -43°C!

But the most fun I had was in and around the Uni of Alberta’s campus and its city of Edmonton. Student life is so different and personally I think better than at home. Everyone lives in residence, and Lister Centre on campus has been phenomenal – I’ve lived in Schaffer tower, with a single room, private bathroom and shared kitchen facilities. My floor is like my second family and those last few days of goodbyes were so incredibly bittersweet, I just know I’ll be back. In my opinion, there really is no other way to experience the Uni of Alberta. There is always someone around to hang out with, someone to grab a bite with, someone to drink with, someone to go to drop in with – oh yeh! And then there’s dodgeball… the most intense and addictive sport you will ever try, played every week in the terms in the Lister gym (At the U of A all students also get free access to the gigantic gyms, pools, ice skating rinks etc in the big yellow Butterdome which is awesome). In Lister the motto is “Dodgeball is everything to everyone” and they’re not wrong. You will become addicted and you will (probably) cry when it’s over. There are so many social activities – including ski trips - organised for the residents here, I’ve truly never had a dull moment. I can’t recommend it highly enough. At the uni itself, I also managed to be a part of their student union’s first ever student musical, “Young Frankenstein”, which was amazing – we totally take our UQ student theatre for granted! I also played volleyball on a rec team and took ice skating lessons for a semester – they have free skating hours on their uni rink too. I couldn’t think of anything more different to Brisbane than heading down to ice skate on a Sunday afternoon with my floormates…for free!

Tips; You should go to the Clubs and Associations Fair at the beginning of the year – you’ll score free t-shirts and memberships to some awesome clubs; my two were the Outdoors Club and the Ski and Snowboard Club. I went on a trip with both of them – they were soo cheap and soo much fun! Plus there are post-trip meet-ups at the clubs and pubs a week afterward with discounted drinks and nibblies – do it.

You HAVE to go to a Golden Bears Hockey game, and a Pandas Volleyball game. Cheering for your uni’s team helps you blend in and you will meet sooo many people!
The only Lister downside was the meal plan – it’s deceptive. You think $2100 a semester is a lot, but the residence food outlets are seriously inflated and you are better off getting the cheapest meal plan, using it to buy milk/bread/cheese/coffee/snacks etc in Lister and around campus, and then coughing up a few dollars at Safeway for a load of groceries – cooking a couple breakfasts and dinners a week will seriously cut your spending – I just bought the biggest meal plan, and it didn’t last me the whole year. I ended up four weeks short and had to scrounge for food that I hadn’t budgeted for. But, if I’d known I would have been much better off (and probably would have eaten a lot healthier too).

The other incredible upsides to Lister are across the road – Champs and Dukes, the local student bars/pubs. Honestly, you’ll understand. Just go, even if you don’t feel like it.

Learn the Cadillac Ranch line dance as soon as you can. Otherwise you will stand out. Line dancing and country music are a thing in Alberta.
Don’t take heals. You will NOT wear them. Like ever. Most nights out you’ll hike through knee deep snow anyway. If you absolutely must have some then make them heeled boots so you’re feet are still warm. I ended up chucking mine to save room in my packing. A pair of flats will get you through but you’ll most likely be wearing boots, uggs, or converse type shoes, even when you head out.

Fall in love with Tim Hortons – it’s seriously the best cheap coffee and iced coffee and hot chocolate and snacks ever. Sacrificing a few $5 starbucks cups will save you heaps of dough for travel – plus, during March and April they have their Canada-wide “Roll up the Rim” Competition, where one in six cups has prizes ranging from free coffees to free cars… the locals love it and you will too.

DON’T freak out about the cold. I am the last person who enjoys not being able to feel my hands – but I was absolutely fine. Indoor heating means you will never be cold in any class/room. Buy yourself a couple of pairs of fleece leggings if you’re worried, but honestly, you can survive the winter in jeans. You will definitely need ugg boots – but buy them when you arrive, they’re $10-30 depending on your taste, and you will ruin them in the winter and then chuck them out before you go- easy. I bought a ski jacket when I was here that was nice enough to double as a coat during the day – worked out really well. You should check out Sportchek’s sale sections if you’re going to buy – and it honestly doesn’t matter what colour your jacket is – everyone wears their ski jackets all through winter and you will learn to recognise people by their relative colours etc when they have a scarf bundled around their neck and a hood up. Also, buy mits, not gloves – it’s not a myth, mits keep your hands warmer. ‘Layer, layer, layer’ is your mantra and you’ll breeze through -43.

Before you book any ski trips, check out those offered by the Ski and Snowboard club, and if there aren’t any for when you want to go, they buy bulk lift passes and sell them discounted to member students – drop by their office and see what you can get your hands on for cheaps and then start planning. If you plan to ski or skate a lot like I did, it’s also cheaper to buy your own second hand gear and then sell it at the end of your exchange – there are heaps of places around that facilitate.
Definitely try and get on either the Outdoors club or Ski Club’s New Year’s trips – both are absolutely awesome and great value and don’t require any organisation on your part. In my year the Outdoors club went down to California for some surfing, rock climbing and hiking – a friend came back from it with a tan while I had not seen a day above 0 the entire time – I was a little jealous.

Also, go to class. The profs are allowed to fail kids for not going. I found the smaller class sizes and Lister’s proximity to campus made me a much more regular attendee than at home anyway. As far as classes went, I got to take both film and music classes – I was that really annoying girl constantly emailing my advisors and faculties to get a really long list of courses approved before I left, and I am soo glad I did. I ended up changing some of my second semester courses after my first semester there because there were a couple of profs I really liked and some of the other students recommended or turned me against certain subjects, but I was soo happy I had the flexibility to do that. So definitely scour the course catalogue for anything and everything you might be interested in taking and getting credit for while you are putting together a study plan.
Lastly, if you can, absolutely 100% go for the entire academic year. My two semesters were so different. My first was predominantly spent with the internationals (most of whom were only there for a semester) travelling and the like. My second semester was soo much more authentically Canadian, as there were very few internationals left. My friendships with all the Canadians were cemented, real winter hit and I honestly really settled into their way of life in the second half.

I can’t force anyone to go abroad, but if I could, I would. You will honestly learn so much about yourself – like how much $1 Kraft Dinner you can deal with in order to preserve funds for the European trip you decided to tack on the end of a year’s exchange. But you’ll also learn about a new culture, you’ll meet a bunch of people who will change your life and you won’t be the same ever again. Seriously, don’t think, just go. It honestly doesn’t get more different or more authentically Canadian than the University of Alberta in Edmonton.
 

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