My university exchange started prematurely with a week in New York City over New Year’s Eve. It was a truly remarkable experience wandering the streets of the Big Apple and the atmosphere of New Year’s Eve, front and centre in Times Square, is something I will never forget. If you’re going on exchange on the east coast of Canada, NYC is definitely not a bad detour.
Moving on to my Canadian exchange, the University of Waterloo is located in a tri-city of about 500,000 people which has a very strong focus on university culture and tech-heavy industries. My first experience arriving in Waterloo was also something I won’t forget anytime soon.
I was dropped outside of my residence at 10 o’clock on a Saturday night in -20 degree snow with no money, no phone, no keys and no idea of what on earth I was doing in this wretched place! However, quick thinking and some well-placed snowballs thrown at some completely random bedroom windows allowed me to gain access to what would be my new home for the next 4 months.
Despite my small success, things still weren’t entirely looking up once we hit the town of Waterloo. Waiting in the line for a club for an hour and a half in a windy -35 degrees Celsius on one of my first nights in Canada is something I don’t think I could ever get used to! Standing there with my mates, watching each other’s hair start to freeze and their faces turn a pale blue, was as equally humorous as it was torturous. However, things started to look up when I opened my mouth and spoke.
“Oh My God! I love British accents!” which I’d reply, “oh really? Me too…”
After some puzzled looks and whispering amongst the Canadians I’d quickly spill the beans and to their delight, announce that I was in fact Australian.
Their reception of me was fairly typical of what I had heard from other Australians abroad and consequently, was an enjoyable culture shock. Not only were they incredibly intrigued by Australians, the locals were also very hospitable towards us. This made the transition into Canadian culture so much easier. It should also be noted that some of the Canadian girls displayed, what can only be described as, uncontrollable excitement towards anything Australian. Gentlemen, be warned. You should always be armed with an Australian driver’s licence to prove your authenticity!
In regards to the University of Waterloo, its attendants take their studies very seriously. The culture on campus can be described as very studious and competitive, however, there are also strong vibes of success and innovation, particularly in the areas of engineering, science and IT. If this doesn’t sound like you don’t despair, there are plenty of fun electives to choose from, free sporting facilities to take advantage of and the other universities within the area combine to make the night life a buzz. I personally recommend taking advantage of the free gym and joining the Skiing and Snowboarding society to enjoy the Canadian slopes at a discount.
Reading week, essentially the Canadian version of spring break, was one of the craziest weeks of my life. It basically involved the congregation of Canadian university students in beach resorts in Cuba, fuelled by unlimited food and drinks. This experience is hardwired into Canadian university tradition and culture, with Cuba and Mexico being the prime destinations. It cannot and should not be missed!
Overall, as my University Exchange comes to an end, I can honestly say it has been the best experience of my life thus far. The beer may be watery and the weather is every bit as cold as you can possibly imagine, but the Canadian people are simply wonderful and the scenery is so incredibly beautiful that I can do nothing but highly recommend Waterloo and Canada for a semester abroad.
Montreal with the Crew
– William McRae