Saint Mary's University Review (62)

Saint Mary’s University Review (62)

University: Saint Mary’s University

City: Halifax

Country: Canada

Continent: North America

Field of study: psychology

Study type: semester abroad

Application process

I decided relatively late to do a semester abroad (I think it wasn’t until May…it started in September) and although everything was a bit late, it all worked out in time. Thanks to MicroEdu, everything was relatively easy, but I struggled a bit with the foreign BAföG. I can only recommend that you apply for it as soon as possible. You should definitely comply with the 6-month lead time recommended by the office if you can. Check to see which is better the TOEFL or the IELTS.

I looked up my courses in the university’s course catalog before I left and discussed them with the examinations office at my home university. At the time I wasn’t able to register for it, but I got exactly what I needed in Canada and did n’t have any problems with overcrowded courses. Of course, that also depends on your courses. I myself only had psychology and management courses…I heard some from the business people that they had problems getting the courses they wanted.


Overall, I found studying in Canada more strenuous than in Germany. I only had 3 courses and one of them was online. Since my courses always took place over two days, I only had 2 days at university in the first semester and 4 days in the second, but only 1 course a day. Friday is at SMU generally free (except for some lab courses). It was strenuous because you have to do a lot more than in Germany and there are a lot of taxes during the semester. In Germany I mostly only had the lecture and then the exam at the end… In Canada we had (graded) “homework” (assignments) every week and then 1 or 2 midterms under the semester in addition to the exam at the end. Since all courses had to be based on a textbook, you should read the respective book chapter BEFORE each lecture, then take notes during the lecture and then work on the assignments on the topic afterwards. Of course, everyone is free to read the book chapters or not, but it always helped me a lot;)

In general, the university system reminded me more of high school than of the university at home: you are much more tied to appointments and less independent. And you can’t just do “nothing” for the first 3 months of the semester, like here in Germany, and then study properly before the exam, because the exam at the end usually only counts for around 25% of the overall grade and the rest is already below the mark semester through assignments/presentations and/or term papers. Despite the whole crowd, I got much better grades than in Germany. Mainly because overall I found the courses easier than at home. In the exams, for example, only pure knowledge was queried and no transfer questions were asked. In Canada, the rule was (at least for my courses): Those who learn more get better grades.


I’m studying psychology in Germany and I’ve also attended courses in Canada that were mainly in the field of psychology. Some were interfaces with management. But theoretically you can take any course at the SMU for which you meet the requirements. My courses were:

  • Psychology and Law
  • Personnel Training Development
  • Political Psychology
  • Psychology of Leadership
  • Prevention and Treatment of Addictions
  • Occupational Health and Safety

Basically, I can recommend all courses. If you are thinking about taking one of them, please write to me and I can tell you more about it;)

In general, I would recommend you to choose as few courses as possible. 5 courses may not sound like much, but I knew other internationals who had taken 5 courses and were really stressed out. And you shouldn’t just spend the semester abroad at the university…

On-site support

If you have any questions, my advice is to go to the International Office. They usually have a solution for all sorts of problems (including general issues such as visa, housing, etc.) or at least know someone who can help you.

Accommodation search

Here the question arises (also for me at the time): off- or on-campus. Unlike in Germany, most students and internationals (at least in their first year) live on campus in the residences. Residences are almost like student halls of residence in Germany. For the older ones (over 21) there are apartments where you have your own room and share a kitchen and bathroom with mostly 4 people. The other rooms, on the other hand, are mostly twin rooms with shared showers and no kitchen (then you have to use the university’s meal plan and eat in the canteen every day). The best way to find out exactly what the room is like is on the university’s homepage. I thought long and hard about applying for a room on campus and ultimately decided against it. Of course, both have their pros and cons, but I chose an off-campus apartment for the following reasons :

  • Cost: Rooms on campus are extremely high. I can’t remember exactly how much it costs, but I paid about $350 a month for my roommate in Halifax (more on that later), which was a lot cheaper than on campus
  • Meal Plan: One reason campus life is so expensive is the meal plan. In some rooms on campus you have to use the plan because you don’t have your own kitchen, in the senior apartments it’s optional. I love to cook myself, so a meal plan was out of the question for me. From time to time I also ate in the canteen and it tasted good there, but friends with a meal plan told me that the food is always repetitive and very American (lots of sandwiches, burgers, pizza…).
  • Location: The main reason I didn’t want to live on campus is the location. Halifax itself isn’t that big and you can walk to pretty much everything, but the uni is in a residential area and it’s a 15-20 minute walk to downtown. That doesn’t sound like much, but you have to keep in mind that you can find EVERYTHING (really EVERYTHING) on campus. From the small supermarket to the fitness center to the hairdresser (no joke!) there is really everything and you can survive a year without leaving campus once. In addition, the buildings are connected in such a way that you can get anywhere without even setting foot outside. That may sound tempting (especially in winter with -15° and snowstorms), but most of the internationals who have lived on campus hardly knew anything about the city and didn’t know Halifax at all. I thought that was a bit of a shame, because after all you’re not only in Halifax to study, but also to experience life there. That’s why I accepted that I had to go to the university (almost) every day, even in winter with super-cold temperatures, snow and wind. butAt least now I know what a Canadian winter feels like and that’s somehow part of the adventure…

So I strongly encourage you to make the effort and look for Halifax accommodation on your own. I lived the 2 semesters in a 3erWG (with two Canadian girls) near the Commons. I found the WG via (generally a very good site if you want to buy something). Lydia, my roommate, was looking for new roommates via kijiji and after a Skype call I was promised the apartment. That was actually relatively easy. Of course you have to be lucky and also careful. A friend of mine had been promised an apartment, but it was then sold and he ended up without accommodation (of course he found something, but it was stressful for him…). My shared apartment was a 25-minute walk from the campus and was on 3 bus routes to the university (approx. 10 minutes). There was no real bus timetable (or rather there was one, but I had the feeling that the buses tend to come when they want to), but I still (almost) always made it to the university on time;) You can get a free bus ticket on the first day with your student ID. Most students who live off-campus live closer to the university than I do and it’s usually one flat share per house. The houses often have a garden, etc., which I personally think is really nice.

If you have any questions about off-campus life and looking for an apartment, feel free to write to me and I can certainly give you a few tips;)

Leisure time/excursions

And now for the most important part: free time!;) First of all, Nova Scotia is beautiful. Other than Halifax, there aren’t many (if not any) big cities, so if you’re more of a city slicker, Halifax might be a good choice. But nature is even more beautiful!!! In the fall I did a few hikes with my roommates, most of which were less than an hour away by bus. Since Nova Scotia (and Canada in general) is so sparsely populated, after a few kilometers you are already in the middle of nature.

Other highlights are Cape Breton (said to be one of the most beautiful road trips in the world), Peggy’s Cove (famous lighthouse), a national park (something with a kid…the name is unpronounceable and that’s why I always forget it;)),… Da Nova Scotia is also a peninsula, of course you also have a lot of beaches (e.g. Lawrence Beach), which are all pretty close to the city. If you can, arrive as early as possible in summer to enjoy the last days of summer and autumn, because from Nov./Dec. It’s winter and then that’s it for outdoor activities. But more about winter later…

In general, Nova Scotia is all about nature. It was a bit of a shame that traveling in Canada is incredibly expensive. Flights are usually out of the question because, for example, a flight to Toronto costs around $350 (if you book early). Other means of transport such as trains and buses are not necessarily cheaper because of the long distances and are also very time-consuming. The best thing to do is rent a car with friends and go on a road trip. But unfortunately that doesn’t work over the weekend because the distances are just too far for that. The closest major city is Quebec and it takes almost a day!!

The Canadian winter

Everyone has probably heard of the long, hard Canadian winter… After surviving one (;) ), my conclusion is: It’s not warm, but it’s not as bad as I thought;) In general, the winter in Halifax is in the Mild compared to other Canadian regions and we rarely had temperatures below -20°. Most of the time the temperature in winter was around -10° to -15°. In addition, however, there is an icy wind (it ALWAYS gets windy in Halifax!!), which makes the whole thing appear a lot colder. That means: nothing works without gloves, hat, scarf, winter coat and warm winter shoes! Wrapped up warm, however, it is bearable and we often went ice skating in the commons (for free with free skates) and tobogganing.

On the east coast there are regular weather systems in winter that bring snowstorms. In the depths of winter (January to April) there was a snowstorm about once a week, which was more or less bad. Blizzard means that it snows and winds extremely in a short time (usually max. 24 hours). Normally it gets milder again afterwards and the sun (it was really mostly blue sky) melts the snow away until the next snowstorm comes. The winter I was in Halifax was pretty cold though, so most of the time the snow didn’t melt and it piled up quite a bit. A few times the snowstorms were so severe that life in Halifax collapsed completely: all shops/stores were closed, no buses were running, we had no snow and everyone was busyfor me it was a funny experience. So get ready for something…

All in all I’m glad I don’t have a winter like this every year where you’re completely exposed to nature, but for a year it was a great experience! I was also quite impressed by the willingness to help of the Canadians, who really all tried together to get the snow under control after a snowstorm… Almost every week!

What is also important: Winter in Canada tends to be from late November/early December to late April/early May (it snowed again in May!!). Therefore, if you are planning any outdoor activities like camping, remember that April/May is still way too cold for that!

I wish someone would have told me that…

Here are a few more tips that I wish I had known before my stay!

  • the Canadian winter starts later and ends later than in Germany (April was a lot colder and snowier than November)
  • for all sorts of things (classified ads, flat shares, carpooling,..)
  • Canada is incredibly expensive: groceries, especially dairy products, fresh fruit/vegetables and meat, are about 3 times more expensive than in Germany, alcohol anyway, travel is almost unaffordable (flight to Toronto about $350 if you book early, it will be cheaper, as soon as you fly to another country, such as the States)
  • Canadians love freebies. Free activities/gifts are almost always available somewhere. Check out the Coast (free weekly magazine, in boxes all over town!) Also free canoe hire, ice skating etc.
  • Halifax is quite far to the east, far from many other big cities. If you like city trips, Ontario is probably the place for you, but for nature lovers Nova Scotia is just the thing
  • Groceries at the Farmers Market in the port are just as expensive/cheaper than in the supermarket, but from local farmers
  • Canadians are a lot nicer than their reputation suggests. After this year, I no longer question the fact that Canadians are probably the friendliest people in the world;) So if you need anything/are worried about something, then don’t be afraid to ask someone for help… The willingness to help is huge !
  • Canadian nightlife starts earlier and ends later than in Germany, so don’t be surprised if you’re in the club/bar at 10 and go home at 2 because everywhere is closed.
  • It can also be really hot in Canada. When I arrived in Halifax in August, I was so glad that I had packed some shorts “just in case”, because the temperature was around 30°C!!!

I think those were the most important points. In general, I can only recommend a stay abroad in Halifax. I had such a great time and would go back in a heartbeat! In Halifax I made very nice new friends and after 8 months the small Canadian town became something like a second home. Let yourself be surprised and carried away by Canada and the Canadians and stay tuned! : )

If you have any questions, feel free to contact me. I know how much it helps sometimes to talk to people who have been there before! : )

If you decide to go to Halifax, have a great time! Say hello to Canada for me;)

Saint Mary's University Review (62)