Vancouver Island University Student Review
My semester abroad at Vancouver Island University in Canada was a very educational time. In contrast to what the professors preached to us before, the application and the rest of the organization before it started wasn’t that inhumanly difficult. It has always been a dream of mine to go to a colder country for a semester abroad. Therefore, I narrowed down my desired countries to Scandinavia and North America. Canada was my top favorite in the end.
I applied to two Canadian universities: in Nanaimo (Vancouver Island) and in Winnipeg. I was accepted at both universities. As I said before, the application wasn’t impossible. I needed a certificate of achievement from my university, proof of sufficient language skills, a photo and a few other documents.
After it was clear that I was going to VIU (Vancouver Island University) and my international student loan had been approved, I booked the flight and looked for accommodation. I decided on my university’s homestay program and I don’t regret it a bit. I would recommend it to anyone out there. Unlike in your own apartment or student residence, you are “at the mercy” of the language around the clock. There wasn’t a single day, even if I wasn’t at university, where I didn’t have English around me. I also got to know friends for life through my host family. The organization was not difficult for this either. I had to fill out a form with my food preferences and my wishes regarding smoking, animals, sports etc. A few weeks before I left, I received the name and address of my host family. Of course, I searched the house directly via Google Earth and contacted them by email. That took away my fear of the first day with a completely strange family. I’m already 23 years old, but hey, a new country, even a new continent, that’s a bit scary.
Everything went amazingly well. I had a good trip with a fellow student who had also applied through searchforpublicschools.com. My host family was just great and just as you imagine it to be. My host parents live in a nice big house and have two daughters. I’ve felt at home since day one and was able to communicate well with my host family straight away. Another student from Japan lived with us at the same time. She was still in high school and stayed for a full year.
The events started just a few days after my arrival. The first three days were for orientation and were super well organized. Everywhere on campus, peer helpers were walking around explaining ways to you, or helping you in some other way. For example, I was not told where the nearest EC machine is (by the way, the Sparkasse card worked fine with the ATMs), no, I was brought there personally.
The campus is on a mountain and you can look over to Vancouver from the classrooms. It can be exhausting to have classes in one of the buildings at the top of the mountain, but the campus is really beautiful.
The weather was also very good until mid-October. I was able to walk around in shorts for a long time and explore the beautiful island, see photo “Me in good weather” (these are the locations of the Twilight films). I went on a lot of trips with my host family. They have included me a lot in their family life in general. I went shopping, to the cinema, we made DVD evenings at home and everyone tried to make my stay as pleasant as possible.
Studying itself is a little different than in Germany. I come from Bremen University and am used to lectures with several hundred students (including seminars with only 20 students, of course), but at VIU I had courses with a maximum of 12 students. Those numbers got even smaller after the add and drop deadline was up. The students there have the habit of taking a lot of courses at the beginning and can decide until the beginning of November whether they want to drop any. At the beginning I selected 5 courses and then had to switch one to audition myself because the workload became too much for me. I was very surprised that I couldn’t cope with the 5 courses when in Germany I attended up to 12 courses per semester and had a lot more time there. Later on, I was told by fellow Canadian students that you can take a maximum of 3 courses per semester; that is better managed. You have to read a lot for the courses. In Germany we tend to concentrate on discussions, but at VIU I had the feeling that I had to read and reproduce dully. I spent around CAD 300 on books, and it didn’t have to be. Unfortunately, I did not know beforehand that there are often only individual parts or poems from many books. You can often find these books much cheaper on the Internet, or even read them for free on the Internet. For example Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, which I spent nearly $ 100 on. So check out beforehand whether you can get the book cheaper than in the bookstore on campus.
The VIU has a good library with a lot of PC workstations (you have your own DiscoveryAccount, on which your documents are saved). Help is offered for essay writing, which you should use if you can find the time. The course selection, the change of a course and the allocation of grades is done via the student account on the Internet.
The cafeteria is a bit expensive, so I only ate there once. It is run by the students who take cooking.
The bookstore / university shop is a real gold mine and you should stop by more often. There you can stock up on souvenirs very well and there are great discounts every now and then; so keep your eyes open. True spelling is much cheaper elsewhere.
The professors are not much different from those at my home university in Bremen. They are helpful and easy to talk to, and e-mail is very much appreciated by everyone.
Away from campus, I had to struggle most of all with the bus system. That was a real disaster. I was very surprised that there are not actual stops everywhere. If you are not on the main street, you often only have a tree or an electricity pole with tape wrapped around it with a bus on it as a stop. Nowhere are the stop names on it. They are not called up on the buses or marked anywhere. Even the timetable is only given rough times and the names of the stops. I was very desperate about it for the first few days and kept getting lost. In general, I think that you are better off with a car in Nanaimo. The buses come at very long intervals and are nowhere near the standard, that you know from Germany or other European countries. Quite simply because everything over there is fixed on the car. Even banks have some. The distances are much too big to walk to the next gas station anyway. There aren’t any sidewalks or cycle paths either.
In addition to university, I played football in a club in Canada. I trained with the university selection until November and when the season was over I played in the normal Nanaimo United team. There are quite a few sports options. Even the campus has a gym that has it all. The only difference is that there is no swimming pool directly on campus. However, the Aquatic Center is not far from the university. There is also an ice skating hall and some parks in Nanaimo where you can do sports (I saw tennis courts and basketball facilities while driving by). For example, my host family spent a lot of time in the dance studio. The daughters even danced at a very high level of competition.
There is plenty of shopping in Nanaimo. While the malls aren’t exactly big, it seems like a favorite pastime for Canadians to hang out there. There are some of these malls in Nanaimo. Woodgrove Mall was the one I found the best. The best shops were there. There are two movie theaters in Nanaimo (as far as I know). What surprised me was that you don’t buy a seat when you buy the card. The principle is first come, first served. Perhaps you should know that if you don’t necessarily want to sit in the very front row.
Back to studying. Due to the four-month semester, the exam phase is scheduled for the beginning of December. I only had three exams because some professors have chosen other types of exams, such as another long essay. What I know from Germany does not apply: the final exam and attendance alone count. At the beginning of the semester, the professors at VIU handed out questionnaires detailing exactly how the final grade would be obtained. Mostly it was presence and professionalism (= punctuality, preparation, cooperation), mid-term exam, 1. Short essay (up to 1000 words), 2. long essay (up to 5000 words) and finally the final exam.
All in all, it was an important experience I gained in Canada at Vancouver Island University. It’s different than in Germany, but you can find your way around and get along well with your studies if you make an effort.