In August of last year, I was fortunate to be given the opportunity to study at the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada. Even though I was only there for one semester, I experienced some amazing things and made so many great friends.
However, looking back, there are several ways I think I could have made life easier for myself, both in preparation for going abroad and whilst there.
Perhaps one of my biggest concerns when preparing to go away. I was worried that as a person who is accustomed to somewhat miserable but generally mild weather in the UK, a Canadian winter was going to be a shock greater than my feeble British constitution could handle. Consequently, when I arrived to beautiful, hot and sunny weather I found my collection of mostly jumpers and jeans extremely inadequate. It was about as hot as the recent heatwave in the UK, except it was actually consistent and didn’t spontaneously decide to tip it down every 5-6 days.
When it reached November and the first signs of snow appeared, I found that it was much easier to adapt to the cold than I had expected. They’re much more prepared for (comparatively) extreme weather than we are, as usually by the time I awoke, snow had been cleared from most paths and all the buildings were effectively air conditioned, so that even if you hadn’t dressed up warm enough, you wouldn’t be cold for long.
If you’re only going for one semester, I wouldn’t worry too much. I did not invest in proper winter gear and did not freeze to death. That said, I was also repeatedly informed that the worst of the winter comes after Christmas in January and February and the thickest coat I owned was “not a winter coat” so if you’re staying for the whole year consider investing in some proper winter boots and a coat while you’re out there.
Also consider how far north you want to travel – in Quebec it was significantly colder than in Guelph – I don’t have many photos of the cities there because I didn’t want to take my gloves off to press the camera button.
2. Bank Account:
I regretted not opening a Canadian bank account while I was out there. I thought that I wouldn’t be there long enough to warrant the extra hassle, but 3 months is a long time! It meant that I couldn’t use the website Canadian students use to transfer each other money. Not the end of the world, but it was very inconvenient and an added expense when using my credit card, so I would definitely recommend opening one.
This may vary across courses and course levels, but I personally found that my assignments were more frequent but less difficult than in UK. As a result, I found that it was even more important than usual to stay on top of assignments and lectures, so that I had time to make the most of the opportunities available.
Start early. It might seem like you have a long time, but it’ll go really quickly! And you’re only going to get busier the longer you’re there. The University of Guelph student union conducted trips to places like Niagara Falls, which makes it easy to visit (relatively) nearby interesting places. Finding transport independently can be difficult, inconvenient and expensive.
If you’re planning on travelling after the school term is over and you live in halls of residence, be aware of your host University’s move out date. At the University of Guelph, if you’re not staying for the second semester you have 24 hours after your last exam to vacate the premises, including your belongings. Not very long to sort out luggage storage or say goodbye to all your friends, so better to have planned ahead if this is what you want to do.
Finally, and most of all:
Enjoy it! I know I’ve just spent paragraphs listing ways to mess up but I genuinely had an amazing time and can’t recommend studying in Guelph enough. Hopefully this goes to show that any problems you have won’t be anything more than an inconvenience, and will not stop you from meeting exciting new people and going to incredible places.