A Semester Abroad in Calgary

Brendan S., Bachelor of Information Technology
University of Calgary, Canada (Semester 2, 2018)

Last semester I got the great opportunity to spend four months studying at the University of Calgary in Canada. It was an incredible experience, and in this blog I’ll try to give you some insight into what life was like studying in Canada.

The Uni: The University of Calgary campus is a huge place, with some incredible facilities. Beyond the classrooms, just some of the things you’d find on campus at UofC include: a concert venue, basketball courts, swimming pools, gyms, hockey rinks, an Olympic skating rink, rock climbing walls, a pub, a theatre, restaurants, the list goes on.

There was rarely a dull moment being a student at UofC. The uni is big on campus culture, so if you didn’t have work to do (rare) there was always something happening. Sports, live music, carnivals, bingo nights, free art lessons, car smashing (yeah, the Engineering faculty put on a university approved event where you could smash an old car with a baseball bat to de-stress…), movie nights, you name it. On top of this there was on abundance of student clubs, so you could always find people with similar interests.

University of Calgary Campus

I chose to live on campus, in student accommodation, or “residence” as they call it. Staying in residence was the best choice I made on exchange, and I’d recommend anyone else thinking of going to do the same. All the friends I made at UofC were people I met in my building (Cascade Hall) – there’s a really good culture there which encourages everyone to get out of their rooms and get to know each other. The university also places all the exchange students in residence together. I was annoyed about this at first (I wanted to meet Canadians!) but this turned out to be the best thing about living there. Everyone I met was in the same boat as me, and we were all equally keen to travel and engage in campus life.

Moraine Lake

I found the academic standards at UofC to be quite similar to QUT, but where I found the biggest difference was the way classes were structured. Instead of the standard weekly two hour lectures and tutorials we’re used to at QUT, all my lectures and tutorials were only an hour long, but held three times a week. This meant that even though I was only taking three units, I was in class for a few hours five days a week. The one other difference was in the amount of online content delivered. My lecturers were all different, but I had one who refused to upload absolutely anything online (no slides, no unit outline, no practice exams), so if you have to miss a lecture, you’d miss out on that content completely.

 

The Country/City: I found Calgary to have a really similar culture to Brisbane in a lot of ways. They’re both smaller cities (although Calgary is about half the size of Brisbane) and they sit very similar culturally within their countries – Alberta is very much the Queensland of Canada. Everyone  I spoke to was friendly enough, and I never experienced any real form culture shock, which made the adjustment really easy.

University Drive

One thing that was a shock however, was the cold. I arrived at the start of Autumn, where temperatures were slightly colder than our winters (averaging about 10-20°). This gave me a chance to ease into the weather, so by the time it started snowing in September I was a bit more resistant to the cold.

Calgary is an expensive place to live! Although things like fast food were cheap (I miss Tim Hortons so much), I found myself being shocked weekly at how much groceries and fresh food cost over there – especially chicken! It wasn’t all bad though, being a student you pay $150 and they give you a UPass, which gives you unlimited free public transport for the entire semester.

 

Highlights: We had the chance to see a lot of different sports over there, and though basketball and Canadian football (slightly different to American!) were a lot of fun, the obvious highlight was the hockey. Our residence arranged for us to see our first NHL game our the first week there, and after that we were hooked and went to see the Calgary Flames win five more games throughout the semester. Even if you’re not a sports fan I’d recommend going once just to experience the atmosphere!

Go Flames Go!

Calgary is located close to so many incredible natural wonders, and the trips I was able to go on were definitely the highlight of the semester for me. We did many trips to the Rockies – we had the chance to see Lake Moraine, the mountain town of Banff, Peyto Lake, the Icefields Parkway (the most incredible drive you’ll ever go on!) and Jasper National Park. We also decided to hire cars and do a big road trip into the US to see Yellowstone National Park, which was such an incredible experience.

Jasper

Exchange at University of Calgary gave me some of the best experiences of my life. If you’re thinking about choosing Calgary as your location for exchange, I say go for it. It’s a great city to live in, and there’s nothing quite like the culture of North American universities. You’ll have the chance to see some incredible sights, go on some big adventures, and make some great memories with people from around the globe.

The end of classes

This week marked the end of classes for my exchange to Canada. I honestly cannot believe how fast time has gone and in less than three weeks, when exams have been written and their ending celebrated, we will be packing our bags and leaving Fenwick Tower for the last time. The past few weeks have been a blur. So much has happened since reading week.

10 days after the Bahamas, myself, 2 girls and 1 boy from Fenwick headed to Cancun, Mexico for a 4 day long weekend during American Spring Break. Our timing coincided with the beginning of the celebrations, so things weren’t as wild as they get, but it was still an awesome experience and I would definitely be keen to return to experience more of Mexico at some point. Our flight to Mexico involved a 10 hour stopover in New York, so we made the most of the oppportunity and caught the subway into Manhattan to do a spot of shopping and a little sight seeing.

We returned to the airport to find out flight delayed due to the weather. After a few more hassles we finally got to Cancun after 1am, about 4 hours later than expected. We had been upgraded to a nicer hotel before we left but upon arrival there we found there had again been a booking issue and we were instead upgraded once more. Finally getting to our hotel after 2am was not the start we had dreamed of but vowed to enjoy our luxurious accommodation for the weekend! We woke up the next morning to be blown away by the quality of the hotel and the indescribable view! WOW. the rest of the weekend more than made up for the hassles at the beginning and we were once again sad to leave the warm weather, but happy to return to our home, Halifax (and to show off our tans to the pasty Canadians!)

Nightclub

After Cancun came St Patty’s Day. Nova Scotia has proud Scottish connections and origins, and the people of Halifax were more than willing to extend such ties to include Ireland for the day! Things could not have been greener! We arrived at the Grawood (which is the on-campus bar at Dal) at the modest time of 11:30am (very well behaved in comparison to those who went to the old maritime pub on the waterfront at 6am!!) all decked out in green finery. The bar staff were dying people’s beer green, there were shamrocks everywhere and the festive spirit was high- if I hadn’t known better you could have quite easily convinced me I was in Ireland!

The next day, despite the damage inflicted on my liver the day before, I trotted off to my family law class at 9am. Talk about dedication!
After St Patty’s things quitened down a little, as we all tried to catch up with uni work, while still fitting in a weekly excursion to the nightlife!

We have also climbed onto the roof of Fenwick Tower (33 story building) a few times, and have gotten some amazing photos.. there is a ladder to the top from our balcony, but no railing on the roof and we probably aren’t meant to get up there but its safe enough if you aren’t silly…

There is a bar down by the waterfront in the historical buildings called “The Lower Deck” and on Sundays it goes off with a beloved local covers band called ‘Signal Hill’. I strongly suggest you google them and listen to their music- they are AMAZING and definitely one of the things I will miss most when I leave here (although I have already bought one of their CD’s to take home with me!)

Well I had better get back to the books as my first exam is in 3 days.. uh ohhh- have been prcrastinating too much booking flights and accommodation for travelling post exams (around Nova Scotia, to Toronto, Montreal, Quebec City, New York and Vancouver)