University Life in Alberta, Canada

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Karen Mitchell (22, Aberdeen) is a Public Relations student who spent 5 months at Mount Royal University in Calgary, Alberta Canada. Here she tells us about student life in Canada and her new love for the Rocky Mountains.


What were your reasons for applying to study abroad?

I’ve always enjoyed exploring new places and meeting new people but I didn’t do a lot of international travel when I was younger.

Studying abroad seemed like a good opportunity to see if I would enjoy travelling long-term. It forced me to get a passport, which I had never had before, and spend 5 months away from my family.

I knew that Canada was available as a host country for RGU and as soon as they mentioned it I thought of the Rocky Mountains, I didn’t know anything else about it!

Tell us what studying in Canada was like? Was it what you expected?

Studying in Canada is very different to the UK. Classes were really fun but intense, and I’ve never met such hardworking students. Managing the workload was hard at first. I kept all my assignments and tallied them up at the end – I completed 62 pieces of coursework over the semester!

Classes were often specific to Canada in general, which was really interesting. I learned about the Canadian film industry, non-profits and government organisations, and the differences between Canadian and UK journalists. I was also there during the 2016 US elections between Hilary Clinton and Donald Trump, which as you can imagine was a hot debate topic in our journalism classes!

Even though it was intense I’m glad I had the experience as it prepared me for my final year of uni at home. Lots of friends who didn’t study abroad found it hard to keep up in 4th year but I had practiced at Mouth Royal.

What was your favourite part of the experience?

Probably exploring Canada overall. Outdoor sports is so ingrained in Canadian culture, like hiking, snowsports, canoeing and mountain biking. Obviously the weather is a lot nicer than in Scotland but what I found interesting was that everyone enjoyed these things, they weren’t niche activities and it was a very welcoming atmosphere.

I remember we woke up at 2am to drive to Kananaskis National Park for a sunset hike. We sat on a ledge and watched the sun break through and light up Barrier Lake below us, it was so pretty! I also enjoyed skiing at Sunshine in the Rockies. Spending all day in the mountains is so liberating.

What was the biggest culture shock?

How tiny Scotland is compared to Canada! I met people from Newfoundland which is roughly a 7-hour flight away from Calgary. The distance between places to so large so you really rely on public transport or your own car.

Also, the weather in the winter. It’s a lot colder (-30 degrees at one point!) and drier

than Scottish winters, and you need lots of clothes before heading outside, or you freeze.

Did the experience open up any opportunities for you?

The experience opened up my eyes to travelling in general and the job opportunities in a different country. I’m thinking about going back in the future. I have the option to apply for a 2-year working VISA, which I’m looking into to.

How are your language skills?

Canada has two official languages: English and French. Calgary in the West is mainly English speaking so I didn’t have any problems with the language, but the local dialect of English was different to mine; a lot of ‘eh’ on the end of sentences which I had to decipher!

Can you tell us 3 lessons you learned while studying and living in Canada?

1. Be prepared.

Near the end of my semester my UK bank car was hacked online and some of my money was stolen. My bank cut off access to my card which was good, but I couldn’t pay for anything. Luckily I was able to join my parents account, but then I lost that card whilst skiing so had to have money wired over. No matter where you’re travelling to, always have backup plans A, B, C and D!

2. It’s OK to feel homesick and overwhelmed

No matter where you are, studying abroad is a big decision. Spending time out of your comfort zone affects people in different ways. My homesickness came and went and some days were harder than others, especially around Christmas. This is OK and normal. Remind yourself why you’re on study abroad and let yourself accept how you are feeling.

3. Don’t life for granted

I learned a lot from my fellow international students, and the Canadian students, about their different cultures, but I also learned a lot about myself. I realised I shouldn’t take life for granted and say ‘yes’ to more opportunities. I travelled solo for a while after Christmas. I was so nervous but it was one of the best decisions I made. I’m not afraid to take risks now and I’m always looking to challenge myself.

Finally, what would you say to students who are thinking of studying abroad?

Definitely think about it. Even if you don’t think you’ll like it you might end up wishing you could stay for longer. Also, go with no expectations.

It sounds like strange advice but if you expect certain things you could be disappointed. Going without expectations allows you to create positive memories and experiences.