Canadian Escapade

Helena J, Bachelor of Engineering/Information Technology

University of Waterloo (Semester 2, 2016)

Deciding to go on Exchange in Canada is the best decision I’ve ever made! In Semester 2, 2016, I travelled to Ontario, Canada to study at the University of Waterloo. Waterloo is amazing and highly ranked engineering school located in the suburb of Waterloo. The campus was gorgeous, with many cool, modern and interesting buildings and recreational spaces.

Outside the University of Waterloo sign on the last day with two of my now best friends.

I lived “off-campus” at WCRI which was located across the road from the Uni. It took me 4mins to walk to class everyday – which was great, especially when it got really cold! It was an older styled accommodation which featured 4 buildings. I had my own little room and shared a bathroom with three lovely girls from Canada. We then shared a kitchen and living area with another 16 people! This made for some chaotic but fun times in the kitchen; including setting off the fire alarm with burnt slice, traditional German meals being cooked for us and communal lasagne nights. Coming from living at home to such a shared environment was awesome and gave me many opportunities to make incredible friends from all over the world.

The Canadian University life was fantastic! I got to go see the school play at their Homecoming CFL (Canadian version of NFL), Ice-Hockey, Rugby and even got involved with school sport myself. I joined an Ultimate Frisbee team with some fellow exchange students, joined the Volleyball club and even played some Squash. The amount of school spirit was something I’d never experienced back home in Australia.

Supporting the Waterloo Warriors at the Homecoming Game.

Subjects at the University were quite hard. The atmosphere was quite competitive and scary at times, especially when compared to the more laidback attitude in Australia. Lectures weren’t recorded and notes were written on a blackboard which sometimes made studying quite hard! The other students thought it was crazy that back home at QUT, all my lectures are recorded and done primarily through a computer. So adapting to academic life at Waterloo was a big struggle for me, as I had never experienced anything like it.

I cannot recommend Canada enough to anyone thinking of going on exchange though! Cost of living was on par with Australia – if not cheaper, which was great for the budget! And with the Australian dollar doing so well, I did not lose much while converting my money. Another great thing is that even though majority of Canadians speak English; we got to meet some Québécois who spoke mainly in French! I also got to do stereotypical Canadian activities like eat poutine (so delicious!!!), have an extremely intense snowball fight (at midnight because the snow started bucketing down!) and celebrate Thanksgiving (the Canadian one, not American; don’t get that mixed up!) and Halloween. An added perk to doing Exchange in Canada was the opportunity to travel. With some of the new friends I made we did many cool road trips; numerous national parks, lakes, Montreal, Quebec City, Ottawa and Chicago! I also got to travel around the USA at the end of my exchange; going to places like Boston, New York, San Francisco and Alaska!

Having fun with some friends in Chicago at the Cloud Gate.

With some many new and incredible experiences under my belt it is hard to pick a favourite or highlight of my exchange and travels. However, making so many wonderful, hilarious and beautiful friends for life would take the cake if I had to pick one. They 100% made my exchange everything that it was and opened my eyes to different cultures and ways of life. It was incredibly hard to say goodbye to everyone I became friends with at the University of Waterloo as we all shared such a wonderful exchange experiences together.

Me standing on Matanuska Glacier in Alaska in -42°C as the last part of my trip after Exchange.

A top Engineering University

My exchange semester was at the University of Waterloo in Waterloo, Ontario. I initially chose Canada because I wanted to go to an English speaking university primarily, but also because it was where I wanted to travel the most. I knew that the university was well known for engineering, and it offered a lot of the subjects that I needed which others don’t.pic 1

First Impressions

When I first arrived on campus I was overwhelmed by how big it was and how many people seemed to be there. And there were geese everywhere! While the town itself wasn’t overly large, with two major universities there were a lot of students. This also meant that a large majority of services in the town were targeted towards students. Every supermarket had 10% for students, the large plaza next to campus had discounts and the option to pay using WatCard, the student ID card there, and the buses were all free for students.

My other main first impression was how nice all of the people were in Canada. The first week in a new country/city/university was daunting, but the people at Waterloo were so accommodating. I didn’t realise how good the familiarity of QUT was until I went to a university where I knew no one, but by the end of that first week it was like home. Orientation was so much cooler in Waterloo than it is here, there was a carnival and music festival in the first week, and they also really welcome exchange students and make sure you meet both other exchange students as well as Canadian.

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About Waterloo

Waterloo was a small town compared to Brisbane, and especially compared to the other cities I had visited in Canada, but the KW area was big enough to have its own airport and was only 1.5 hours from Toronto so it made travel quite easy. Travelling within Canada is quite similar to within Australia because it is such a large country. I was lucky enough to be able to visit Montreal in both summer and winter, and it was so different from everywhere else in Canada that it was definitely one of my favourite cities. I was in Waterloo for the fall semester, and it was the best time to be in Canada; fall was so beautiful and I was also there for the start of winter and snow. And I was also there for Halloween and thanksgiving which was so cool!

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The University

On campus there were many facilities that are available to students. There were 2 gyms open 24/7 which are free for all waterloo students. They also had unlimited classes for an extra $50 a semester and an ice skating rink which we regularly used between classes. The student centre was open 24/7 throughout the entire semester. Here they had the majority of food places on campus, all of the student associations and clubs, the book store and the student federation, Feds. Feds ran the student bus which went to Toronto every weekend and Niagara Falls on long weekends and during the breaks. The student centre also had regular networking and academic help workshops, and twice a semester had beds set up for naps during the day.

As an engineering student, one of the best and most useful facilities at uWaterloo was the student design workshop. It is a complete workshop with everything that you would need for our projects like drill presses and lathes, and is open every day to engineering students.

I studied subjects from both the engineering and kinesiology faculties and the teaching style varied between them and also between departments within the same faculty. The teaching and assessment standards were much more up to the course coordinator and there was no university standard. Many of my assignments were submitted directly to the lecturer and they often extended the due date for the whole class if they felt it was necessary. While the assessment and teaching was to a higher standard than QUT it also felt more relaxed. There was also a higher expectation among both the students and staff that all the classes were attended, and people did rarely skip. This was especially important as all of my classes had a mark assigned to attendance and participation, often up to 10% just for attending a majority of classes. One of the engineering buildings was brand new, having opened the year before I went there, and it still had chalk boards installed. Some professors did not use PowerPoints and just wrote on the board so it was important to attend or make friends with people who did.

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uWaterloo is well known for engineering, and I would highly recommend it for that. The standard of teaching was so high and the experience and knowledge of the faculty was incredible. All of my professors were able to apply their real world experience to what they were teaching which was very useful. Waterloo is considered the ‘Silicon Valley’ of Canada and there were often professionals working with the students. One design course I took brought in engineers and an astronaut for us to work with which was really cool. Because uWaterloo is known for engineering, they offer all types which not a lot of partner universities do. As a medical engineering student I found it easy to find equivalent courses here.pic3


I’d been saving for 2 years for exchange and budgeted $10 000 for the 6 months I was gone and this was almost exactly what I spent. This did include staying in a homestay which was more expensive than some options but included internet and most food. However I did keep some money separate in case I needed it in an emergency and thankfully didn’t. I did a fair bit of travelling of the US and Canada before and after exchange, 3 weeks either side, as well as a few weekends during semester so that added to my expenses.

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After the obvious phone, camera and passport one must have item for exchange was a pair of good shoes, they were the best thing for the long walking days when travelling. My other tips for exchange would be to make a list and not start packing 12 hours before your flight. If you’re homesick get out of your room/house and make put yourself out there to make friends. And definitely take every opportunity your given while on exchange!