Small town Canadian Exchange

Harriet L., Bachelor of Business/Exercise and Movement Science
Dalhousie University, Canada (Semester 1, 2018)

My semester exchange at Dalhousie University was nothing short of life-changing. I met some amazing people, saw some incredible things and had some unforgettable experiences. That’s not to say exchange was all smooth sailing, however.

My first week in Halifax was probably the loneliest of my life. I knew absolutely nobody, my roommate had gone home for a few weeks before class started and orientation didn’t start for another week from when I touched down. Once orientation started, however, I quickly found a group of people who I became fast friends with and who I stayed friends with until the conclusion of the exchange. Ironically our group comprised of 4 Aussies, 5 Brits and a token German (just so we didn’t seem too uncultured). On the second day of orientation we won the international trivia competition (the first thing I’ve ever won in my life) which got us a bunch of free Dalhousie gear including hoodies and caps! From here our friendship was formed and together we planned many trips away to visit various areas of Nova Scotia and Canada. Our first of which was for my birthday – we decided to rent a lake house about an hour’s drive from Halifax and spend a weekend there. It was absolutely beautiful – particularly in autumn as the leaves were changing colour! A recommendation for anybody wanting to rent a car – Hertz rents to anybody over 20 and their rates weren’t too expensive. Between the 10 of us it ended up being about $20 each for the whole weekend hire! Throughout the semester, we also took trips to a pumpkin picking farm (a specialty for Thanksgiving), Prince Edward Island and Montreal.

Dalhousie itself was very welcoming – the orientation activities really helped facilitate friendships and get us acclimated to Halifax life. Throughout the semester the international centre also planned lots of activities for us including a trip to see the Mooseheads hockey team play (DO NOT EVER SAY ICE HOCKEY, Canadians will look at you like you’re crazy), build gingerbread houses and a handful of pizza parties. The class structure was a little different to QUT in that none of the resources were really posted online so if you missed a lecture you basically had no way to catch up unless you went to see the professor in person. Assessment wise I found it much easier than home – they tended to give ongoing assessment so everything was worth less but was less stressful and could be completed last minute if you forgot about it (not that I ever did this of course). It was also a nice reprieve being pass/fail because it meant I could enjoy my time without being too stressed about course work. I also got involved in a few different events and sports such as Lacrosse, Halloween and Thanksgiving which were really great Canadian experiences. There was also a university event called Homecoming in which everyone dressed up in their Dalhousie gear, hung out all day and then went to the men’s hockey game in the evening – it really made us feel like true Canadians!

Halifax is a very walkable city. My apartment was about a 10 minute walk from campus and, of my friends, I was actually the furthest from campus. The bus system is also pretty good for getting downtown or local hiking tracks. Students get a good deal too – you pay a lump sum at the start of semester which lets you ride the bus all year and if you leave before the year’s up then you get half back (as I did). The people are really nice and helpful, there’s a real sense of community and, being a small town of less than 500k, it has a really homely feel which I got used to quite quickly. Food in grocery stores is comparable to Brisbane but going out can be quite expensive. In Nova Scotia, the tax is 15% and then it’s also expected that you tip 15% so the price you see on the menu is never even close to what you end up having to pay!

My top tips for exchange would be to not worry about money too much – just say yes to every experience you possibly can, it’s a once in a lifetime thing for most people after all! Try to make friends with people who want the same things out of their exchange – for me it was a group who wanted to do spontaneous weekend trips and hikes. Most of all, if you are having a tough time remember that there’s likely someone on exchange feeling the exact same way so just get out there and talk to people!

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