University: Vancouver Island University
Continent: North America
Field of study: psychology
Study type: semester abroad
I spent the 2013 summer semester at Vancouver Island University in Nanaimo and would like to present my experience with living and studying, the location and Canada in general. Check mcat-test-centers.com to see Griffith University Gold Coast.
During the 4 months I lived in the student residences on campus in a shared flat with three other students. It is recommended to register for the halls of residence as soon as you have been accepted for the VIU, as there is said to be a long waiting list and places fill up quickly. Although I applied for a room late (October), I was lucky and was accepted for the flat share. Alternatively, you can also live on campus in a traditional dorm and in a 20-bed house, where you share the bathroom with one other person and the kitchen and common room with everyone. Although I originally really wanted to live in a shared apartment in the city, I have had good experiences with the apartments on campus and would definitely recommend them! The biggest plus is that you are not dependent on Nanaimo’s public transport and can quickly go home between / after the lectures without having to waste time on the bus. In addition, you get to know a lot of nice people very quickly, with whom you can also meet up spontaneously in the evening – we often cooked together, played cards or celebrated! It is a pity, however, that you only get to know Canadian culture and everyday life very little if you live with other international students. But I also found it very exciting that my roommates came from completely different parts of the world and that we were able to talk a lot about our families, our ways of life and our everyday life at home.
I found it a bit annoying that everything had to be bought new when moving into the shared apartment, there were no pots and pans, no crockery, cutlery, kettles or the like. So I bought a lot from the superstore, as did my roommates, and then we borrowed a lot from each other.
I would advise against buying the Linen Package, which includes towels, bath towels and duvets, sheets etc. I used it because I found it convenient not to have to worry about it on site, but you can get bedding and towels for less, or you can bring some from home and leave them there after your stay.
Student Housing offers a shuttle twice a week that takes students to larger supermarkets. Within a 15 minute walk is University Village which has a pharmacy/drug store, supermarket (though more expensive), Starbucks and a liquor shop.
From time to time, activities are offered in the halls of residence, such as a welcome weekend, free dinner, games evenings, and a barbecue at the end of the semester. The Cedar Center offers laundry, rentals of vacuums and irons, use of a grill, and rental of a room for evening activities.
I learned a lot in the library, which has several quiet areas, computer workstations and group rooms. You can learn great there and have a beautiful view of Nanaimo! That’s what I enjoyed the most there – you can see the mountains, the sea and the harbour! The rest area was closed at 10pm on weekdays and 5pm on weekends, but the computer area was open all day! Right next to it is the cafeteria that offers various hot dishes, pastries, drinks and desserts. The food is quite expensive there, so I would recommend others to bring their own for lunch. There is also a small cafe in the library where you can buy coffee, biscuits etc.
The lecture rooms I visited were all well equipped and fairly modern. In the respective buildings there are often (computer) workstations that can be used by the students.
The gym is also directly on campus and can be used by students free of charge. In addition to the equipment rooms and the squash court, various fitness courses (Zumba, Yoga, BOP, running, etc.) are offered there, but these are subject to a fee. I took the Zumba class twice a week and it was really great! In addition, the swimming pool is only a few minutes’ walk away and the hot tub is highly recommended in cold rainy weather.
I completed the 6th semester of my psychology degree at the VIU. Courses are selected online before the semester begins. I received an email that I could register for courses and did so within a few hours – but a lot was already booked. You definitely have to be very quick! I chose 5 courses in advance, some of which I was still on the waiting list at the beginning and then moved up to the beginning of the semester. In the first week of the semester I attended all 5 courses and then decided on the ones that appealed to me the most. Even if you’re still on the waiting list, you can attend the course in the first few weeks and, if you’re lucky, you’ll slip up! In order to achieve the 15 credits required by my home university, I took the following three courses:
All in all, I found the workload to be quite high, because in addition to the final exams, there are often 1-2 midterms per subject, projects, presentations and assignments that have to be completed and submitted during the semester. In each subject, literature is given at the beginning of the semester, which should be read in preparation for the lecture. So you are really busy with learning, group meetings or pre-/post-work every week. However, I would rate the demands placed on the students as somewhat lower than at my university in Germany. My impression was that the grades were better than one would expect at the home university.
My courses were rather small with a maximum of 25-30 students, which I really liked! The professors were friendly, tried very hard to organize the lectures and were always open to questions. My previous fear of feeling uncomfortable or overwhelmed in class was not confirmed at all! I got the impression from all the lecturers that it is really important to them that the students understand a lot and take something away from the lectures.
Life / LEISURE
Since Nanaimo is a fairly small and quiet town, there isn’t much to do without a car. At the weekend you can visit 2 or 3 clubs, but they all close at 2 a.m. Thursdays are always a party at the Student Pub on campus; there are quite cheap drinks and live music! The evenings there were always nice and definitely worth a visit!
Buying or renting a car is a great way to use weekends or days off to drive around the island. Some excursions and activities are offered by VIU such as skiing on Mount Washington, trips to Victoria and Vancouver, baking cookies and visiting neighboring islands and the Dinghy Dock Pub.
The gym offers a variety of sports activities such as surfing in Tofino, downhill and cross-country skiing, hiking, kayaking, rafting, rock climbing and more. I’ve used many of these and would recommend them to anyone!
We also organized many excursions privately with other students: We were often in Vancouver (shopping, Stanley Park, celebrations), once in good weather by seaplane instead of the ferry, in Seattle (easily accessible by bus), on Mount Washington for a ski weekend (also by bus), skiing in the Pacific Rim National Park on the island and on Grouse Mountain and enjoying the fantastic view over Vancouver from there! Skiing is a must for winter sports fans there. As an alternative to Mount Washington/Vancouver you can also drive to Whistler, but that is a bit further and a lot more expensive.
There is definitely plenty to see and do if you hire a car or are well connected by bus. Many students have flown to Hawaii or California during or after the week-long Reading Week, or have seen more of the island or Canada in general. So if you have saved a lot in advance, you can do many nice things!
Unfortunately, I had the impression that everything in Canada is very, very expensive! In addition to the high costs of studying, there are also high rents and money for groceries, books, excursions, insurance, transport, etc. The books in particular are very expensive and can often only be borrowed from the library for one day. I bought all my books used from the university bookstore or from the Student Union and am still trying to sell them there. In general, some of the professors went out of their way to find a used copy for students who were only staying there for one semester. Flights should be booked as early as possible, otherwise you will quickly pay around 1000 euros.
I got to know the Canadians as very friendly, open and, above all, helpful people who are constantly asking questions and starting small talk without appearing superficial. I always felt comfortable and in good hands there, and would always go to Canada to see so much more of the really great landscape and wildlife! The semester abroad was a really nice experience, despite some criticisms that I listed above. If I decided to do it again, I would definitely go to a larger city that has more to offer students. If you go there, allow yourself some time before and after to explore the area and Canada/North America. On the other hand, I found the university great and would recommend it!