University: Saint Mary’s University
Continent: North America
Field of study: astronomy
Study type: semester abroad
I did a semester abroad in Canada from August to December 2011. A semester there lasts a total of four months, with the last month being a lecture-free period, as the final exams take place during this time. My university of choice was Saint Mary’s University (SMU) in Halifax (province of Nova Scotia, on the Atlantic coast) in Canada. I’m studying physics (Master of Science) here in Germany, which is why I was looking for science-oriented courses for my semester abroad. At the SMU, I focused on astronomy with two courses. Another course was in the physics department (three courses is the minimum for full-time students). Check jibin123.com to see Slovakia or Slovenia where to study.
The idea for a semester abroad in Canada came to me during my bachelor’s degree. But at that time I didn’t feel ready for a semester abroad, either in principle or in a subject-specific way. At the beginning of my master’s degree, I then started planning (about nine months before the planned start in Canada). My motivation was multifaceted. First of all, Canada is a country that I admire a lot and have always wanted to see. In addition, I wanted to really experience another language and culture. You can’t learn that from books. As a student you get a lot of support in planning and conducting a semester abroad. That’s why I really wanted to complete this before I finished my master’s degree.
I searched the Internet for a long time for possible entities that could help with the organization and then came across MicroEdu (CC). This page helps with choosing the university, with contacting it and with many other organizational things. The service is completely free for the student. In non-European countries, one is amazed when one looks at the university tuition fees. Now I have examined all Canadian partner universities of MicroEdu with regard to course selection, admission requirements and also the tuition fees. These were basically $5,000 upwards per semester for Canada. SMU in Halifax, on the other hand, charges per course ($1100). So I was able to decide for myself what I was able to do financially.
Finding an apartment in Canada has turned out to be rather difficult. Based on my experiences in Germany, I would rather live in a flat share in the city there and have also received a number of offers from the SMU in this regard. However, after a few emails, it quickly became clear that most of the offers were looking for students for at least one year and that the stress of a four-month stay would not be worth it for them. In addition, I would have been obliged to find a new tenant. So I decided to apply for a room on the SMU campus. Since I was looking for a flat share beforehand, my application came relatively late and I had to take part in the succession process. However, I finally got a room for four months in one of the residences.
The advantage of the residence is, of course, that you are incredibly close to student life and are socially perfectly integrated and make friends. In addition, of course, the distances to the lectures are only a few minutes. So I was basically satisfied with the opportunity to live on campus. I took out health insurance beforehand in Germany (about 150€ for the entire time). With a confirmation of this, you were exempted from compulsory health insurance ($900!) at the SMU. So this is a highly recommended approach. Special vaccinations for Canada are not necessary, it is enough to be up to the current German standard.
As far as financing is concerned, I have largely relied on the foreign student loan. Although this is only paid out monthly, so you have to advance the entire tuition fees and the costs for the dormitory, the Bafög covers a large part of the tuition fees, a contribution to travel costs and also a large part of the monthly living expenses. That covered most of the costs, even though I could only find out how high the cost of living really is when I was in Canada. Groceries are considerably more expensive there (e.g. $2 for 1L milk). This is put into perspective by the higher wages in Canada, but unfortunately you don’t benefit from it as a student. All in all, it was quite possible to eat healthily and inexpensively there.
My everyday life at the SMU did not differ significantly from that in Germany. In the morning at 10 I had to sit in the lectures, in the afternoon and in the evening I had to do my homework and study. Basically, the system at the SMU was rather schooled. Tasks had to be handed in weekly, the evaluation of which accounted for a good part of the final grade. This has the advantage that the final exams no longer account for the overall grade and there is not so much pressure. However, I found it a disadvantage to be constantly forced to have the tasks for all subjects ready on time and not being able to concentrate on one subject for even a week. In the middle of the semester there were intermediate exams, the midterms. They were particularly hard because there was hardly any time to learn specifically for them in addition to the normal lectures. Studying astronomy at the SMU has a special advantage. The university has its own observatory, which is open to students. So I was able to work on several projects there and also just watch the stars and planets there for a few nights.
My best experiences during my time in Canada were the weekend trips through Nova Scotia. There is a beautiful landscape, countless lakes and a lot of untouched nature. Many small trips were also organized by the International Center of the SMU and a great atmosphere was created between the international students. After just a few weeks we became friends because we had experienced so much together. Although I had learned English at school for many years before, I still had problems understanding the native speakers and speaking clearly at a reasonable speed in the first few weeks. But that also changed very quickly and at the end of the time I was able to understand everyone and participate in discussions without any problems.
Basically, I can only recommend the experience of a semester abroad to everyone. You get a completely different view of your home country, you see a new part of the world and you experience a new culture. These were all unique experiences for me and made my time in Canada one of the best of my life.