When I decided to come on exchange to Canada, I wanted to go somewhere different, so I chose a city I had never heard of before- Halifax, Nova Scotia. Before I arrived here, I spent a week on the West Coast of Canada, and whenever I told anyone there I was coming to study in Halifax, the response was always the same- Why?? I was a little deterred but still excited (and as I have since learnt, for good reason!). My flight into Halifax arrived in a flurry of snow. I was like a child on Christmas looking out the window but got a cold punch of reality once I left the heated building. The first skill you need to learn upon arrival in Canada is the art of layering your clothes. Inside every building, the heating is raging full bore, and you have to remove gloves, beanies (or ‘touques’ as the Canadians call them), scarves, coats and sometimes jumpers too in order to feel comfortable, then load them all back on again when its time to leave the building.
The morning I arrived in Halifax was orientation day for exchange students, so I had to race to Fenwick Tower (the tallest building east of Montreal, pictured below) where Dalhousie University houses its international and exchange students. We occupy the 32nd and 33rd floors (top two floors) and have the most amazing views of the harbour, downtown and suburban Halifax. The floor is all open plan and is basically a huge common room and kitchen with bedrooms and bathrooms forming the edges. In Fenwick this semester is a mix of 3 Aussies, 5 Kiwis, a bunch of French boys, a chick from Norway, another from Beunos Aires, and a few Chinese people… quite a mix! We all trekked over to Dalhousie University for the day to learn the necessary ins and outs of life and study in Halifax.
Here’s a few fun facts about Halifax and Canada: Blue sky and sun does not mean it is warm, Halifax has the second most pubs and bars per capita in the world (great news for the party students), Canadians can rarely (if ever) tell the difference between a New Zealand and Australian accent, pedestrians have COMPLETE right of way- even if you step out onto the road in front of a bus, it will stop for you, you have to pay to receive text messages and phone calls (it also costs extra to have people’s names come up on your screen when they call), they don’t have Visa debit cards and they still use cheques (checks in Canadian spelling) to pay for things! So backwards in some ways! It is also socially acceptable to wear ugg boots (everywhere: to class, the supermarket, out for lunch etc) and the boys here haven’t been introduced to jean brands such as Nudie or Ksubi, and still get around in the ugliest baggie jeans (often paired with running shoes- yep, thats right, along with uggs in public, the joggers and jean combo is quite the norm!)
We have become quite a close group at Fenwick already, despite having only been here a few weeks. Class is slightly different to QUT. For law- everyone is post grad (except me!) so I’m the youngest in all my classes and noone can believe I began studying law straight out of high school and that if I hadn’t done a double degree I would already be working as a lawyer. Also there are no tutorials. The classes are called lectures, but in reality they are ‘lectorials’ and highly interactive. I have no assignments all semester, but four 100% exams in April, with two being closed book (eeeeeek)! There is also a lot more preparation expected to be done for each class and walking into the law library is like turning on the ‘mute’ button for life- noone dares even whisper (a massive change from the entry level of the QUT law library!). Obviously another massive difference is walking to ‘school’ in the snow.. still a massive novelty which I’m sure the regular students don’t appreciate!
We get a ‘spring break’ (they call it reading week here) in February, so myself and a few of the girls from Fenwick have booked a week’s holiday to the Bahamas. As you do! The Dalplex (university gym/ sports centre) has organised a skiing/ snowboarding day trip this weekend to the closest mountain (about an hours drive). Included in the $30 price is transport, snowboard hire, lift pass and a lesson- what a bargain!
Weather in Halifax is a little bit bipolar. Some mornings are blue sky and sun (still freezing cold) but after a 2 hour lecture, you shouldn’t be surprised if you walk out into a blizzard, 60 km/ hr winds, pouring rain, light snow or any combination of those!
Canadians are the loveliest, most helpful and welcoming people I have ever come across. As soon as you open your mouth anywhere, they are ready for a chat about where you are from and more than happy to invite you to a ‘kegger’ (keg/ beer party) at their ‘buddy’s’ place on the weekend after knowing you for a whole 2 minutes! This is definitely a student city, everyone under the age of 25 seems to be a Dal student and the nightlife (as you would expect from the amount of drinking establishments) is awesome. Live music is a big thing here, and the cover bands and original songs are indescribably good!
I would recommend Halifax and Dalhousie to anyone in a heartbeat. Living costs are much the same as Brisbane and the travel opportunities from here are endless (and quite cheap!).. I’m dreading the day this exchange ends, but I will definitely be back in Canada as soon as I can afford the airfare!