I attended Dalhousie University from August to December 2015 during the fall semester. Overall the exchange experience has changed my life by opening my eyes up to the world, and given me a different perspective of my life in Australia.
Dalhousie University is based in the city of Halifax, located on the east coast of Canada in the province of Nova Scotia. Halifax is a relatively small city, with a population around 400,000. However this population increases greatly during the university semester, as thousands of Canadian students move to the town too study at the city’s multiple universities, Dalhousie being the largest. This large influx of students makes Halifax a fun and vibrant place for any Australian students to visit.
Choosing Canada as my exchange destination, I anticipated that I would experience much colder temperatures than I am used to in Australia. Halifax had its fair share of ‘freezing’ days, with temperatures falling below 0 degrees every other day. I was able to experience several days of snow, which is always a novelty for anyone from Brisbane. As the winter clothing I would use in Brisbane was not going to be enough, I decided to purchase heavier duty winter clothing while in Canada. I would recommend waiting until you travel to the cold climate to purchase winter clothing, as your destination will likely have cheaper and better quality clothing to offer.
While living in Halifax I stayed off-campus in a house with 4 other exchange students from around the world. The house was located within 10 minutes of Dalhousie and the city centre. Initially, the prospect of sorting out accommodation in Halifax while I was still in Australia was daunting. Luckily the university was fantastic setting up a Facebook group of other exchange students where you could organize shared accommodation. We used a website very similar to Gumtree,kijiji.ca, to find our accommodation. Given that Halifax is very much a university city, there are plenty of accommodation options for students staying off campus. The house was more than big enough, 5 bedrooms, 3 bathrooms and a large kitchen and living area. The monthly rent was $800 per person, which was on the more expensive side in terms of off campus accommodation. However this rent did include all utilities, which could have proved costly given the need for heating in Halifax.
The cost of living in Halifax will depend on how you prefer to spend your money. As the rent I paid was relatively high, I chose to live modestly when it came to my weekly budget. My weekly budget was $150, which covered me for food and any other desired activities. Living off campus, I had to prepare and cook all of my own meals. For food I would make a weekly trip down to ‘Sobeys’, the Canadian version of Coles and Woolies, which was only 5 minutes from my accommodation. When first arriving in Halifax, there were several things I had to buy for the house, including pillows, sheets, towels and kitchen equipment. I purchased all of these items at Walmart, a great place for bargain shopping, located around 20 minutes on the bus from the city centre. Internet and a phone were two important things that I also had to organise when I arrived. Having wireless internet in our house was surprisingly affordable, with our internet provider Bell charging us $50 each month for unlimited downloads. For my phone, I set up a prepaid account with Rogers using my own phone, and only spent $15 a month for calls and texts, relying on WI-FI to access the internet. The only other major expense I had in Halifax was purchasing the required health insurance from Dalhousie.
While at Dalhousie I studied 4 law electives, those being Health Law, International Law, Conflicts of Private International Law and Criminal Procedure. Law school is quite different Dalhousie, with the classes being much smaller than any I had previously done at QUT. The smaller classes allowed me to get to know my classmates more and have even greater access to the professors. The way courses were delivered at Dalhousie was also vastly different to QUT. Each course had 2 lectures each week with no tutorials. All but one of my courses delivered these lectures without the visual aid of a power point, something I was accustomed to coming from QUT. Additionally, the only assessment of the semester is a final exam worth 100% of your grade. The differences between studying at Dalhousie and QUT made it far more difficulty than I had anticipated. However I undertook the challenge willingly, and spent the first few weeks adapting to the learning methods of Dalhousie. If I had to do the semester over again, I would have chosen to lighten my workload and only do 3 subjects, given that I had to adjust the way I learnt drastically and at the same time trying to accustom myself to life in Halifax. Overall I believe that my experience at Dalhousie, and the knowledge I acquired, will help me not only in my QUT studies but also in my future career.
Being able to spend four months in Halifax allowed me to explore everything it had to offer. Halifax has plenty to offer in terms of nightlife, with a huge range of restaurants, bars and nightclubs. Ice hockey is also a must do in Canada, and going to watch Halifax’s home team the Mooseheads was always a great time. While Halifax is small enough to get around most places on foot, public busses also ran in regularly, providing an easy way to get around. One of the best things about living with other exchange students is being able to share this experience with them. All of my housemates were eager to see the city and travel around Nova Scotia. In fact, one of the highlights of my entire exchange experience was a weekend road trip with my housemates to the beautiful Cape Breton Island in the north of Nova Scotia.
While in Halifax, I also grew very accustomed to Canadian culture. While most Australian’s find freezing winters unappealing, Canadians instead revel in the cold. For them, living in the cold is a part of the Canadian identity, and fits in perfectly with their national sport of Ice Hockey. Canadian cuisine also varies from Australia as a result of their cold winters. I could not count the number of times I visited a Tim Hortons, Canada’s national café chain, for a hot chocolate. Poutine, which is as simple as fries covered in cheese and gravy, is another Canadian specialty that was a regular meal of mine. Being able to experience various parts of the Canadian culture made the exchange experience that much more rewarding, and has given me even more reason to visit again in the future.
In describing my exchange experience to others, I have a habit of using the same phrase – life changing. Being able to live in another country for an extended period of time and become accustomed to another way of life was as challenging as it was rewarding. On my exchange, I was able to improve my personal skills and meet plenty of new people, make some lifelong friends and see a unique and exciting part of the world. Studying in another country has also greatly enhanced my education experience and given me different learning skills that I will be able to apply to my study at QUT. I also believe that my international experience will appeal to future employers in the globalised world we currently live in. I would strongly encourage other students to undertake a university exchange in order to experience life in a foreign culture and enhance both their academic and personal skills.