Onto Ontario!

Sebastian Voges-Haug, Bachelor of Business/Bachelor of Creative Industries
Queens University, Canada (Semester 1, 2018)

I had an amazing semester of exchange attending Queen’s University in Ontario, Canada. It was definitely a worthwhile experience and if I had the chance I’d do it again. Being on the other side of the globe, attending in the winter term in which the country experienced one of their harshest winters in decades could have been a setback, but it didn’t stop me from having the best time in true Canadian conditions.

Studying at the Smith School of Business (Queen’s University)
Classes at Queen’s were different with the university approaching their teaching style in a different way. Firstly the majority of my commerce classes required participation, of which consisted of 5-10% of your grade. This not only meant attending every class (even the early 8:30am sessions) but actively engaging in discussion with your professor and classmates. Nothing is recorded so you are unable to watch lectures online, however all my professors supplied the powerpoint slides on their version of Blackboard. This may be a turn-off for some students used to the QUT arrangements, but in attending one of Canada’s leading and most competitive business schools, the professors were some of the best in the country and were all actively engaging and friendly. You will most likely end up building a great rapport with them and they are always happy to help when needed – they especially like Australians.

Living at Queen’s
Life at the university was comparable to a lot of the college stereotypes. I lived in a great share house which was only a 2 minute walk from my classes. My housemates were really welcoming and the students you meet are definitely professionals at balancing their busy academic and social lives. Queen’s definitely has the best student culture I’ve ever witnessed and it won’t take long to feel right at home. The only thing that took some getting used to was the weather – one day it would be -25C with snow and wind chill, the next it would be raining with sleet and dangerously slippery ground. Coming from the sunshine state of Queensland it was definitely different, but it was great to experience something different from the norm.The Exchange Program
The ETC (Exchange Transfer Committee) at Queen’s were extremely well-managed, who truly integrated foreign exchange students from all around the globe into the country hosting multiple events to meet other students who are in the same shoes. The executive committee is partly run by students in their 4th year, each of which became some of my best mates. They arranged multiple events and trips, from visiting Montreal and Ottawa for weekend visits, viewing live hockey games, maple syrup farm visits and overall a tonne of social events. They also have a buddy program where you’ll get to meet more local Canadians who can provide local information for anything from class registration to travel tips.

Finances
I cannot over-emphasize the importance of a budget on exchange. The cost of living in Canada on face value is very similar to Australia, however after currency exchange, you will end up losing a fair bit of money outside of your allocated budget. Tax isn’t included on price tags and tipping is expected in multiple venues, this took some getting used to. Rent and utilities are often around $600-700 a month depending on the house, and I often used $85 CAD a fortnight for food. Most grocery stores offered cheap Tuesday/Thursdays for students, so I saved my shopping for then. Health insurance is a compulsory offering by the university however it is extremely affordable, you’ll have to pay for this on the first month of visiting. The two main setbacks are phone plans and transport – both in Ontario are extremely expensive so budgeting for their payment was vital.

Important Tips for Incoming Students:

  • Join the ‘Queen’s University – Off campus Housing’ Facebook page prior to arriving. New share house listings are posted daily, often providing details and photos of the house, as well as the tenants. Every commerce student goes on exchange in their 3rd year so there are multiple places open to lease, especially in their winter term.
  • Save your winter shopping for Canada – clothes and accessories are far cheaper within the country, and are far better designed for the climate than anything we sell. One winter jacket should suffice to get into the country.
  • Sign up for a travel card with your bank– it allows you to exchange funds on the fly and I used it to pay for the majority of items.
  • Set up a Canadian bank account – Rent is oftentimes only payable through e-transfer. On orientation, multiple banks will visit the university such as Scotiabank or CIBC who can set you up free of charge.

Benefits
I had the chance to experience a lot of what Canada has to offer, from Toronto and Montreal on the Eastern side, to the Banff/Alberta and Vancouver on the west. Each region has a tonne to see and do, from camping/hiking in the Rockies to enjoying poutine and Canadian drinks in the French Quebec area. Overall exchange in Canada was the most worthwhile experience, and having made close mates from all around the globe, I would recommend it to anyone.

‘Crisps’ or ‘Chips’?

One of the first things I remember being told about exchange is that assimilating into another culture can be hard. “It’s England,” I thought. “It can’t be that hard.” If I was to study in Italy or France, a country whose first language wasn’t English; that would be hard.  Now I’ll just get this out of the road and say it. I was wrong. It wasn’t ‘hard’ per say, but it was a lot different than I expected. Don’t get me wrong, I love England. I love the perpetual cold and rainy days, the history, the Victorian architecture. But there are a few things that confused the hell out of me and here they are.

The people.
I now have many British friends, some of whom are from London. I have no problems getting along with these people – love ‘em to bits. But when I first walked through the streets of London I wasn’t met by friendly smiles, or people willing to help out the lost tourist. Instead they were steely eyed and hell bent on getting from A to B without disruption. At first it made me think ‘Oh god, why did I choose this country’ BUT I got used to it, it’s not bad it’s just different and that’s okay. Besides, now I know my way around I’m just another person on the escalator getting frustrated when some doesn’t stand on the right (this is a must: overtaking on the left, standing on the right).

Food.
You’d think being fairly similar countries the food in England wouldn’t be all too different from the food in Australia. For the most part that’s true but imagine my shock and disgust to open a blue packet of crisps (chips, I mean chips) to find not original, but salt and vinegar and that’s not the half of it. Cinnamon on donuts? Nope, sugar, sugar and more sugar. A bit of chicken salt on my chips? Ha, no. Pasito soft drink? Silly Australian, no again. Okay, I’m probably exaggerating slightly, the food is edible but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t counting down the days until I can buy a pie.

Obvious disapproval of being mislead by the blue packaging.

Language.
Yes we may both speak English but to say I haven’t had a few issues in communicating simply isn’t true. Among the few:
Pants. Get used to asking for ‘trousers’ when shopping or be prepared to have the awkward ‘ah actually I was looking for thermal trousers, not literal heated underwear’ conversation,’ you’ve been warned.
Capsicum.
My first Subway encounter went a little like this: “I’ll have the green capsicum too thanks”

Subway employee,”uh… the what?”

“Capsicum, the green stuff?”

Friend, “Emma. That’s pepper.”

*Sighs internally*

Orange squash.
Sadly I learned the hard way that this is in no way orange juice or at a stretch, soft drink. It’s cordial. It took drinking a full glass of the stuff to realise that. Safe to say the flat mates have no let me live it down.

And of course we have the obvious, thongs.
On multiple occasions I’ve gotten the ‘that’s way too much information Emma’ look when saying, “I’m just going to put my thongs on before we go.”

My point here is that YES England is an English speaking country, YES it’s very similar to home and YES it really doesn’t take that long to settle in. BUT there are some things (plenty more that I haven’t talked about here) that are simply going to confuse the hell out of you or make you feel uncomfortable so don’t be surprised or feel stupid when it happens. It takes a while and debates like ‘crisps’ or ‘chips’ still happen but I’ve finally managed to stop myself before blurting out ‘capsicum’ at Subway. Adapting is key. Enjoy England.

Life in Exeter

To most people, the prospect of living and studying in England isn’t really a challenge and in many ways it’s not. The culture is similar, the language is the same and university assessment is fairly alike. Until you get to a new country however, you have no idea what you’re in for. So… what’s it really like to live in Exeter, England?

Exeter? It’s a uni town. No hour long journeys to get to an 8.30am lecture or city protests blocking your way into campus. It has everything you need to get through uni; shops, clubs, scenery by the Quay and even Deliveroo. It’s a 3hour train from London making it the perfect place to study on the cheap but also close enough to the the big city to make weekend trips away achievable.

Day trip to London, Camden Town

The uni? From the outside it’s like being back at QUT. There’s never enough seats in the library, the food court is a nightmare and getting to the other end of campus is too far for a couch potato like me. What’s different though is the culture. QUT has societies and clubs but they aren’t a big part of student life. At the University of Exeter however, almost every student is a member of at least two societies. There’s a new social on every week and the students thrive on this sense of community. This is definitely something I’d love to bring back home to QUT.

Teaching? Assessment? Less contact hours is something I was pleasantly surprised by. Alongside a completely different teaching timetable. Weeks 1 to 11 are spent teaching, we then have a month break (which has just finished), followed by a month of exams. Assessment is fairly standard but only needing a passing mark of 40% is quite deceiving. Students rarely receive anything over a 65% and getting a 1st (equivalent to a QUT 7) is almost unheard of. So to say it was a shock when I got my first piece of assessment back is an understatement.

My flat? Thank God for uni accommodation; gone are the days when I have to get up early to make it to class on time. My flat overlooks the campus and all classes are a 5-minute walk away. The communal areas are cleaned 3 times a week and I have a bigger room than I did back home (winning).

View of Streatham Campus from my flat window

My flat mates? We have 4 English students, 1 Welsh, 1 Spanish, 1 French and 1 Australian. Living with so many people might seem like a struggle to some, but the only space we share is the kitchen/dining area. It has been the best opportunity I’ve had to meet people and make friends; living on campus is by far the best option when studying abroad.

Choosing Exeter for my study abroad experience is by far one of the best choices I’ve made. With only a month and a half left here I’m devastated at how fast the time is going. It’s made my time in England a home away from home PLUS J.K. Rowling studied here so would I come back? Definitely.