Joel, R. Bachelor of Mathematics
University of Ottawa (Semester 2, 2016)
My first night at the University of Ottawa in Canada’s capital city was 30 degrees Celsius and muggy. Not at all the weather I expected, but perhaps that was simply thanks to my lack of research into my host city. My housemates were chatting in the lounge as I walked into my new home, a Chilean, Russian and a Belgian rounding out our multicultural apartment, and they made the next 4 months far more welcoming than that first hot night.
Before arriving in Canada I took the opportunity to visit Europe, managing to visit Paris, Brussels, Amsterdam, Vienna and Munich before finally heading to North America. I then spent another couple of weeks in Kelowna BC, Canada, a beautiful town which offers a huge amount of outdoor activities and natural beauty.
As the first weeks in Ottawa went by I took the opportunity to explore and meet my neighbours, generally fellow exchange students from places like Ireland, Sweden, England, China, the Netherlands and everywhere in between. Ottawa is a curious mix between city and town, not as big or busy as Toronto or Montreal, but with just as much history. Originally a frontier logging town, Ottawa prospered into the home of Canada’s government. Separated from Quebec and one of its cities, Gatineau, by a large river, Ottawa is a city of beauty and variety as I came to discover during my time there.
Eventually the university semester started and I began my first classes in a new country, an experience that ended up feeling very similar to those I had at home. Professors used technology to present lectures, answered class questions and gave assignments, just like they do at QUT. The only major difference was the rack of winter coats hanging at the back of the classroom by the time cold weather came through in about November. Snow followed soon after, transforming an already beautiful city into a winter wonderland (as corny as that sounds).
My apartment, while not luxurious by any means, was cosy and sufficient enough to keep me alive through the cold weather. I was relieved to find the cost of living similar enough to Brisbane, with goods roughly the same or cheaper in Ottawa. My housemates and our neighbours grew accustomed to the idea of spending 15 minutes or more just layering up enough to brave the -25 degree weather to go get some shawarma or poutine from the local store.
Through all the pitfalls of a new country, like dealing with tipping, winter clothes and the rules of hockey, I was lucky to have a tight group of friends to go through the same experiences. We shared trips to Toronto, Montreal, Niagara Falls, even managing a week in Cuba, and meeting people like them has been the most important takeaway from my time overseas. My advice to future exchange students is to focus on that network of friends, push yourself to talk to anyone and everyone. Any city in the world has things to do, but it’s the people in that city that sets it apart and makes exchange a truly worthwhile experience.