A Semester Abroad in Calgary

Brendan S., Bachelor of Information Technology
University of Calgary, Canada (Semester 2, 2018)

Last semester I got the great opportunity to spend four months studying at the University of Calgary in Canada. It was an incredible experience, and in this blog I’ll try to give you some insight into what life was like studying in Canada.

The Uni: The University of Calgary campus is a huge place, with some incredible facilities. Beyond the classrooms, just some of the things you’d find on campus at UofC include: a concert venue, basketball courts, swimming pools, gyms, hockey rinks, an Olympic skating rink, rock climbing walls, a pub, a theatre, restaurants, the list goes on.

There was rarely a dull moment being a student at UofC. The uni is big on campus culture, so if you didn’t have work to do (rare) there was always something happening. Sports, live music, carnivals, bingo nights, free art lessons, car smashing (yeah, the Engineering faculty put on a university approved event where you could smash an old car with a baseball bat to de-stress…), movie nights, you name it. On top of this there was on abundance of student clubs, so you could always find people with similar interests.

University of Calgary Campus

I chose to live on campus, in student accommodation, or “residence” as they call it. Staying in residence was the best choice I made on exchange, and I’d recommend anyone else thinking of going to do the same. All the friends I made at UofC were people I met in my building (Cascade Hall) – there’s a really good culture there which encourages everyone to get out of their rooms and get to know each other. The university also places all the exchange students in residence together. I was annoyed about this at first (I wanted to meet Canadians!) but this turned out to be the best thing about living there. Everyone I met was in the same boat as me, and we were all equally keen to travel and engage in campus life.

Moraine Lake

I found the academic standards at UofC to be quite similar to QUT, but where I found the biggest difference was the way classes were structured. Instead of the standard weekly two hour lectures and tutorials we’re used to at QUT, all my lectures and tutorials were only an hour long, but held three times a week. This meant that even though I was only taking three units, I was in class for a few hours five days a week. The one other difference was in the amount of online content delivered. My lecturers were all different, but I had one who refused to upload absolutely anything online (no slides, no unit outline, no practice exams), so if you have to miss a lecture, you’d miss out on that content completely.

 

The Country/City: I found Calgary to have a really similar culture to Brisbane in a lot of ways. They’re both smaller cities (although Calgary is about half the size of Brisbane) and they sit very similar culturally within their countries – Alberta is very much the Queensland of Canada. Everyone  I spoke to was friendly enough, and I never experienced any real form culture shock, which made the adjustment really easy.

University Drive

One thing that was a shock however, was the cold. I arrived at the start of Autumn, where temperatures were slightly colder than our winters (averaging about 10-20°). This gave me a chance to ease into the weather, so by the time it started snowing in September I was a bit more resistant to the cold.

Calgary is an expensive place to live! Although things like fast food were cheap (I miss Tim Hortons so much), I found myself being shocked weekly at how much groceries and fresh food cost over there – especially chicken! It wasn’t all bad though, being a student you pay $150 and they give you a UPass, which gives you unlimited free public transport for the entire semester.

 

Highlights: We had the chance to see a lot of different sports over there, and though basketball and Canadian football (slightly different to American!) were a lot of fun, the obvious highlight was the hockey. Our residence arranged for us to see our first NHL game our the first week there, and after that we were hooked and went to see the Calgary Flames win five more games throughout the semester. Even if you’re not a sports fan I’d recommend going once just to experience the atmosphere!

Go Flames Go!

Calgary is located close to so many incredible natural wonders, and the trips I was able to go on were definitely the highlight of the semester for me. We did many trips to the Rockies – we had the chance to see Lake Moraine, the mountain town of Banff, Peyto Lake, the Icefields Parkway (the most incredible drive you’ll ever go on!) and Jasper National Park. We also decided to hire cars and do a big road trip into the US to see Yellowstone National Park, which was such an incredible experience.

Jasper

Exchange at University of Calgary gave me some of the best experiences of my life. If you’re thinking about choosing Calgary as your location for exchange, I say go for it. It’s a great city to live in, and there’s nothing quite like the culture of North American universities. You’ll have the chance to see some incredible sights, go on some big adventures, and make some great memories with people from around the globe.

A Canadian Experience

Lachlan L., Bachelor of Engineering/Mathematics
University of Calgary, Canada (Semester 2, 2017)

My name is Lachlan Leech and I study Electrical and Aerospace Engineering and Computational and Applied Mathematics at QUT and I was fortunate enough to go on exchange for one semester to Calgary, Alberta, Canada. I attended the University of Calgary (U of C) as of September 5 to December 21, 2017. However, before arriving at my new home I spent a month travelling around Eastern Canada to experience the best that Canada has to offer. That being, Toronto, Niagara Falls, Ottawa, Montréal and Quebec City!

Upon reflection, living and studying in Canada for six months was without question the best time of my life; I can finally understand why everyone who has been on an exchange has similar thoughts! Based solely on my experience, even though Canada is a Commonwealth country and therefore has a lot of similarities with Australia, there are still vast differences. These differences ranged from architecture, costs of living, climate and people to people culture. I found that in Canada, their architecture ranges from technologically advanced buildings to historical chateaus and castles such as their Fairmont hotels and French buildings, whereas Australia mainly has modern buildings as seen in Downtown Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne. I found their cost of living to be similar to Australia however their housing, food, gas, and transport is cheaper. The only shock I found about Canada, even though I was expecting it was the climate. In Calgary, the climate was constantly fluctuating due to the Rockies to the West and the farm lands to the East, to the point whereby one day could see temperatures of 10 degrees and then go to -20 degrees the next! I experienced an amazing culture shock which was evident in their citizens. Canadians and Calgarians in particular are without question the most amazing and kind-hearted people in the world; always kind, respectful and always helping their follow citizens and tourists through any situation.

In terms of the U of C, I found that life on campus was quite similar to QUT with respect to class sizes, rooms and the method as to which a unit and degree is delivered and taught by professors. However, there were vast differences that were evident between both universities. I found that the U of C is more like a mini city due to the fact that they allow boarding on campus, whereas QUT doesn’t. With this, the students are more connected and are seen as more of a family. They also have all amenities on campus such as Dentists, Doctors, Convenience Stores, Restaurants, Stadiums, etc which was amazing. In terms of Academics, Canadians are expected to get grades greater than a pass (>= 60%) to proceed to new units and as a result of this system, they bell curve! I found that to be a big difference and quite harsh on students considering that they usually take 5-6 units per semester and not 4 like at QUT!

The greatest highlight I had in my time in Canada was meeting people that I know are going to be lifelong friends. From frosh week they were all so fascinated with Australia and all wanted me to experience the best of Calgary, from seeing Hockey matches to exploring Downtown Calgary; the University of Calgary, whether it was going ice skating at Olympic Stadium or seeing their Dinos play football; even to close by places such as the Rockies (hiking around Banff and seeing Lake Louise).

Obviously, my advice to students considering going on exchange is to go. It’s a once in a lifetime experience that will change the way you look at the world as you’ll be immersed into another culture that will surpass all your expectations!

 

Canada Eh?

Georgia Christie, Bachelor of Science/Bachelor of Laws
The University of Calgary, Canada (Semester 1, 2018)

I arrived in Calgary on the 1st of January and could not believe the amount of snow that was covering the city; I found out later that Calgary had a massive cold snap in the days leading up to NYE with temperatures dropping to -30°C. So, I was quite terrified and unsure how I’d survive an entire winter. However, you do get used to the cold and start thinking that -5°C days are warm days.

The University of Calgary was quite different to QUT. Classes are not recorded and I even had a political science prof (lecturer) who did not upload any slides online, so if you missed a class you missed a whole heap of content. The university is very focused on sports, and as a student you get access to the gym and all the sporting facilities. During the winter semester, it’s all about hockey and there are plenty of games you can go watch. There’s also the Olympic Oval which was the ice-skating rink used in the 1988 Winter Olympics and it is open for public use.

I stayed in residence at Cascade Hall for the semester and this was where most exchange students stayed, so there were always other international students around. This also meant that I spent most of my time with other exchange students rather than Canadians.

My exchange experience was incredible and I experienced so many uniquely Canadian things. At first, Tim Hortons is a very confusing concept: it’s not a café and it’s not fast food but somewhere in the middle but after a while, Timmies becomes a staple for all road trips, ski days and early morning classes.

The Rocky Mountains are only a short drive away from Calgary and this is where I really enjoyed the North American winter. Alberta is    home to many world-class ski resorts and I was lucky enough to ski and even try snowboarding at a lot of them. It is definitely easier to enjoy the Rockies by getting a car and exploring all the mountain villages. Banff and Jasper are very popular towns with great nightlife, food, hikes and of course skiing. I highly recommend driving up the Icefields parkway from Banff to Jasper, it is truly one of the most beautiful drives in the whole world.

Canadians really live up to the stereotype of being very nice people and they love Australians, so it wasn’t difficult to feel at home in Calgary. I was shocked at how country Calgary is, there is always country music playing at clubs/bars and people actually wear cowboy hats and boots around.

Without a doubt, the best part of exchange is the people you meet. I met many other exchange students, Canadians and people from all over the world who were travelling Canada. The people I became friends with on exchange are friends for life and I can’t wait to visit them all again. After my semester was over, I travelled around Canada, New York and California for a month. I definitely recommend travelling to eastern Canada because it is so different from Calgary or Vancouver, so you miss out on the full Canadian experience if you just stay on the west coast.

My exchange experience was by far the best thing I have ever done and I can’t wait to go back to Alberta again one day.

Calgary – things to do and know

5 weeDowntown Calgaryks into my exchange at the University of Calgary and I have some updates for you back home.

My last post had lots of information about the university and O Week at U of C. This time I would like to focus more so on Calgary and Alberta. Calgary is the perfect city in size, people and activity. Calgary has about 1.1 million people meaning that it has a lot of great services but isn’t too big.

 

 

 

Firstly – transportation

Calgary has two train lines, the Red and the Blue. While staying at U of C you will likely only use the Red line which travels NE to SW. Although the train isn’t all that quick around Calgary, it is convenient and takes to right into the heart of the downtown area. There is a stop at the university (although it is on the other side of the campus), and stops to all major areas including sporting grounds.

Calgary’s buses are decent. I find them comparable to ones in Brisbane, not super fast, but not horrible either. There are a number of routes traveling from the university to close shopping malls or districts, however, unless going somewhere nearby, the trains are generally easier. The best part of public transit here is that you pay $130 at the beginning of the semester to get a UPass sticker for you university ID, which you then show the drivers, and you don’t have any more to pay.

Taxis are not as expensive here as back home (but you will hear Canadians complain about them). You will be expected to tip though, so keep that in mind and maxis aren’t really a thing. There is sadly no Uber 🙁

 

View from Ha Ling Peak, Canmore

Secondly – activities

There is an abundance of fun activities to do in Calgary and the surrounds. Small concerts are held on the university grounds every so often as well as around the city reasonable frequently. Keep your eyes peeled for posters around campus or the city. If not in Calgary, then artists usually perform in Banff which is a rather short bus trip away.

There are incredible hikes or walks close to the city. I recently hiked Ha Ling Peak in Canmore (about 1 hour drive), which was difficult (partly due to my fitness level, but also due to the thinner air) but definitely worth it for the view. It gets quite cold up the top so bring layers!

 

Radium Hot Springs, BC

Radium Hot Springs, BC

10 friends and I also took a road trip to Radium Hot Springs, British Columbia (BC). The trip was about 3.5 hours (if the van hadn’t broken down) and absolutely worth every penny! As we drove to Radium, every corner brought new mountains and magnificent views, while the town itself was full of awesome walks and, of course, hot springs!

If you are looking for something closer to Calgary I would recommend ice skating or catching a game of Canadian football or ice hockey. You can ice skate on campus at the Olympic Oval for $5 skate and helmet hire. Entry is free. All U of C Dinos games are free and the football games walking distance from campus (the hockey is just a train ride away).

At a Hitmen game

^^This is Josh^^

Calgary Stampeders (football) games are walking distance (McMahon Stadium) and you can get tickets in the nosebleeds for $25 (if you buy a few days early). The Calgary Flames (ice hockey) games are held at the Scotiabank Saddledome a bit more expensive and worse seats but look for deals on StubHub or for student games.

 

Otherwise the Calgary Hitmen, a team in the WHL (so under 23 ice hockey) also play at the Saddledome and tickets will likely be cheaper.  Or if you’re like me, become friends with someone who gets free tickets (thanks Josh)!

 

 

Of course I should mention all of the bars and clubs around the city. Everyone has different tastes so I will let you figure that out for yourself. I will say that The Den (on campus) turns into a conveniently located club on Thursdays, and that Commonwealth is also popular. As far as bars go – Ranchman’s on Saturdays (country), Kilkenny’s (at Brentwood – about 10 minutes on the bus and great for sports) and The Ship & Anchor (17th Ave SW – great for food) are all a bit of fun. It’s a good idea to carry cash out, as some places only take cash at the bar. Ladies also get in cover-free on Wednesdays at Cowboys because it is ladies night. Remember to tip!

Stephen Ave Walk

Stephen Ave Walk

And of course, more known things like the Calgary Tower, Stephen Ave Walk and the path along the river are also great for a free day.

 

 

Finally – weather

Be warned that the weather can change quickly. One day it will be cool, but sunny and the next day will be snowy. Dress in layers!

 

That’s it for now but as usual, if you have specific questions, email me at emma.blatz@ucalgary.ca.

 

University of Calgary – O Week

It’s Sunday around 11pm and I’ve just completed O Week at the University of Calgary for Fall 2016. It’s been a great week! I know many exchange students decide to blog towards the end of their time abroad, however, I thought a running recollection of my time in Canada could be more beneficial, and honest.

I still don’t know a whole lot about Calgary as a city, or U of C as a uni, for that matter, but what I do know is that I am already in love with this place and the people. I live in Yamnuska Hall, the largest on-campus residential building at U of C. Yam houses mostly second year students from all over the place. My roommates are both from Hong Kong, I’ve met a Sri Lankan, Georgian (the country, not the state as he so often reminds people), Germans, Scots, South Africans and Dutch girls, oh, and Canadians. The rooms in Yam are bigger than I expected, quite new and in my case, quite messy. There is plenty of space and storage (you can’t seYam Hall roome in the photo but there is a wardrobe to the right of the photo). There is a great deal of support for students who are moving into residence for the first time including student volunteers that help you move all of your belongings to your room.

 

There are plenty of opportunities to meet new people and fit into the Res life during O Week. I have great Student Representatives (SRs) who are responsible for organising events so that we have a great time. There is a meet and greet on the first night with other members on your floor, and perhaps more excitingly, the bar/club on campus, The Den, has a massive Move In party for Res students. (The Den is also renowned for it’s ‘Thursden’ nights but get there really early or really late so you don’t have to wait in line for 2+ hours.) On the SaturdayRez Rodeo the SRs host an event called Rez Rodeo which is essentially a competition between buildings and floors. Each floor has a theme (ours was Monsters University), you dress up as much as you want and participate in games to win for your floor. It’s a bit silly but it is again another great way to meet people and have a bit of fun.

 

The next few days are filled with Orientation and events where you get a lot Rexof free stuff! I did not attend any formal orientation events because a lot of the content was directed at first year uni students who are clueless about uni life! There is one event specifically for Exchange and International students which aims to ease your transition into Calgary. This event (I was told) was very informative and contained a lot of practical information about getting around the city. If you don’t attend for the information, you can meet some great people in your faculty, or get a photo with Rex the mascot for the U of C Dinos!

 

The biggest and most exciting element, in my opinion, are the sporting events during O Week! My second day in the city I attended a Calgary Stampeders (Canadian Football) game against their big rival Edmonton. This was unbelievable! The atmosphere was great and it is easy to make friends at the game because you have to ask a million questions to understand what is going on. There are fireworks, cheerleaders, JETS!, a lady riding on a horse and all the other stereotypical football things you can imagine. The stadium is walking distance so I just followed the crowd. I would recommend beer, merch and a jacket because it can get cold if the sun isn’t out. Oh did I mention merch? It’s big out here. Just buy some andKickoff go with the flow. I haven’t come to regret it yet.

The other big sporting event is the Kickoff game for the U of C Dinos against one of the bigger rivals, University of British Columbia. Before the game there is a tailgate party for U of C students (mostly) which has free t-shirts, food and face painting. There are also free fun activities, however I didn’t get the chance to participate because the lines for everything are MASSIVE! Seriously crazy. Entrance to the game is free for students but make sure you have your ID. Afterwards bars in the city tend to go off which is good and bad, I guess. If you’re up for clubbing then Commonwealth downtown is a good option but be prepared to pay cover and tips.

 

Generally, so far, so good. It’s quite easy to get around in Calgary with the bus stop and train station walking distance from Yam. There are only two train lines in Calgary so even I can’t get lost and ‘Plan Your Trip’ (like Journey Planner) for the buses. There are shops quite close to campus, although a bus or train is probably preferable over walking and lots of locations for food. There is a Dominos below me which will mean that I will probably be super fat by my return, however it is more expensive than back home. Also, coffee here sucks. Don’t be afraid to approach people and make friends – Canadians live up to their friendly stereotypes.

I’m also happy to answer specific questions (if I can) that you may have about U of C, Calgary or Canada (I traveled parts of the country before exchange). Please email me at emma.blatz@ucalgary.ca and I will do my best to respond.