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Canada eh! From Cowtown to the Rockies

Yuanyan – University of Calgary – Canada

Semester 1, 2023

Bachelor of Engineering (Honours) / Bachelor of Science

My name is Yuanyan and I am a civil engineering and environmental science student. I completed my exchange in Semester 1 2023 at the University of Calgary in Canada. I wanted to go on exchange to Canada because I had never seen the snow before and wanted to experience a climate that was completely different to Australia. I chose the University of Calgary due to its proximity to the Rocky Mountains and the units offered were similar to QUT. I saved up my very limited electives as a double degree student and only studied science units whilst overseas.  

Arriving in Calgary  

I arrived in Calgary a few days before New Years and spent some time exploring in the city centre. My first impressions of the city were “Wow its cold!” and “Look at the snow!”. I was very nervous on my first night as that was when it really hit me that I was alone in a foreign country and about to start a whole new life. This feeling quickly blew over as I went out the next day and explored what the city had to offer and I was excited for the adventures ahead of me. I spent my New Years Eve ice skating at the public skating rink and watching the fireworks display at the Calgary Tower. 

Student life 

The semesters are different in Canada, so I was studying during their winter semester or semester 2 of the academic year. This made me a bit nervous about meeting people as there were less activities planned for the welcome week. I decided to live on campus and experience being able to walk to class in under 10 minutes, which was a luxury compared to my usual one-hour commute to classes. Living on campus also helped with making friends as the residence leaders organise different social events where I met people from all over the world who became some of my really good friends. Another perk of living on campus was that the building I lived in was connected to classroom buildings by heated underground tunnels, this meant I did not have to brave the cold in the middle of winter to walk to class. I was very lucky to get a roommate who was also on an exchange program from Sydney, we became super close and went on some great adventures together. As most our friends lived in the same building, it was great being able to just go and knock on their doors to see what they were up to. We also attended different sports games that the university team played, including basketball and ice hockey. 

Studying of University of Calgary was very different compared to QUT. The lectures and tutorials are spread out across the week as one-hour classes so there are more opportunities to interact with the professor, teaching staff, and your fellow students. None of the classes are recorded, which encouraged class attendance, so the lecture halls were always full, even in below zero temperatures. The units I was enrolled in did not have any assignments, most my assessments were written midterm exams, and these were often multiple-choice exams.  


The campus is about a 15-minute train ride into the CBD and about an hour drive to the famous Rocky Mountains town Banff. This allowed for some fun nights out on the town with friends and also great opportunities to explore the Canadian Rockies. The weekend after welcome week activities, a big group of my new friends and I rented cars and drove to spend a day in Banff and Lake Louise. It was an amazing day witnessing the incredible snow-covered mountains, frozen waterfalls, and I even got to ice skate on the frozen Lake Louise! Our big group eventually planned a ski weekend to Banff, and I learned how to ski for the first time. After the first trip, we were hooked, so came another ski weekend, and another… I got to see a lot of the Canadian natural environment and one of the highlights of my experience was seeing the Aurora Borealis light up the night sky.  

During the mid-semester break, we went on a group trip to Vancouver, and I also got to visit New York City. After the semester was over, I had planned to stay an extra two months to travel. One of my friends and I went on a very spontaneous trip to Mexico, where I got to visit my first of the Seven Wonders of the World. My parents took a trip to come visit me and we did a road trip through the mountains and then flew to Toronto and visited Niagara Falls. By this time, spring was well underway, so I was very lucky to get to see the once frozen lakes thawed and flowing. I then took a trip to visit the well-known French Canadian cities Montreal and Quebec and I had some of the best poutine (Canada’s national dish) and the best almond croissant ever (I still think about that croissant to this day). As the temperatures got warmer, I was able to go on a few hikes in the Rocky Mountains, took a couple of dips in ice cold lakes, and even saw a grizzly bear on one of the trails! I returned to Lake Louise the weekend before I returned to Australia and this time I got to canoe on the lake, and now I am able to say I have both ice-skated and canoed on the same lake.  

Hot tips  

The six months I spent in Canada was spent making memories with some unlikely friends and below are some tips I have for anyone wanting to complete an exchange semester in Canada or another country.  

  • Make sure you have valid visas if you plan to visit neighbouring countries.  
  • Say yes to everything social during the first week and get out of your comfort zone, it will help you with making friends.  
  • Save up your pocket money and apply for financial support if you need it. Exchange is a big financial commitment, make a budget, but make sure you have a backup plan so that you don’t miss out on an experience because you were trying to stay within budget. That being said, it depends on how much you want out of your experience, you can still have an amazing exchange experience without spending a ton of money.  
  • Be prepared to do the work for your courses, it’s not all play and no work, you will have to work hard if you want to free up your weekends for trips and social events.  
  • Make the most of your experience and savour every moment, it will go by in the blink of an eye.  

If you are even thinking of submitting an exchange application, do it! It will be the best time of your life and you will make some amazing memories that will stay with you for a lifetime.  

Find out how you can apply for exchange via the QUT Student Exchange website.

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