When I was at university I told myself I would wait until I was finished to travel. I’d studied abroad before during highschool, so I thought I shouldn’t at university. Why? No idea. If you have the opportunity to travel, always take it!
By my second to last year of university in New Zealand my feet were far too itchy and I realised deciding not to travel during university was stupid (duh). Why would I not take the chance to go and live somewhere else for a semester, to experience another country and to do it through university, which makes it much easier? No need to necessarily get a job like when you normally move abroad!
I finally decided to study abroad in Canada which led to me applying to study abroad at the University of Victoria on Vancouver Island. Six months later I embarked on my second living abroad adventure. It may or may not have been a time in my life when I was much chubbier and more babyfaced….
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Wait, where is Vancouver Island?
Vancouver has an island? Yes! But it’s not actually in Vancouver. Off the west coast of Canada, near Vancouver, you can find Vancouver Island. The climate is similar to Seattle, in that it’s mild and it rains all winter, but in the summer it’s beautiful, or so everyone tells me. My study abroad finished before then!
Victoria is the capital of British Columbia, and it’s located at the southern tip of Vancouver Island. You can fly there by seaplane from Vancouver, fly to the airport, or take a combination of buses and a ferry from Vancouver. Depending on how well you time the bus and ferry connections it could take anywhere from 4-6 hours from central Vancouver to central Victoria. There are ferries to and from Seattle and Port Douglas in the United States too.
Vancouver Island is known for its art culture, and it was an amazing place to study abroad. The beautiful scenery and abundant outdoor things to do on Vancouver Island meant we were never short of places to see. It’s also known as a haven for wildlife and is one of the top destinations to experience wildlife.
Studying abroad at the University of Victoria, Vancouver Island
There are three accommodation options if you study abroad at the University of Victoria in Canada. You can stay in the dorms, stay in cluster housing, or find your own accommodation.
The dorms are full of first-year university students, so I wouldn’t really recommend them if you’re doing a study abroad in Canada when you’re a bit older. Studying for a law degree meant I was already 22 by the time I studied abroad, so hanging out with a bunch of 18-19 year olds in their first year who had already spent a semester together didn’t work out so well. I felt old, they had already formed friendship groups and I was well past some of their first-year antics. Unfortunately, I was in a dorm with no other study abroad students, even though there was another dorm full of study abroad students! In hindsight, I should have asked to move into that dorm.
If you can, try and get cluster housing with other study abroad students. I was a bit late applying for my study abroad at the University of Victoria so I missed out but its basically apartments on campus. You can then do your own cooking and have usually older flatmates or other study abroad students.
Finding your own student accommodation in Victoria is also an option. A best friend of mine found her accommodation through Craigslist, and it was the fully furnished room of a girl who was on her own study abroad outside of Canada so it worked out perfectly.
The University of Victoria in Canada is a really great place to study abroad. There are tons of clubs and activities to join in on. I took two snowboarding trips with a university club and it was a great way to meet people and to see more of Canada.
The campus itself is pretty cool too. There are wild bunny rabbits that run all over it. Yes, actual bunny rabbits.
What are the top things to see around Vancouver Island?
Speak to anyone who knows about Vancouver Island and normally Tofino will come up. It’s a beautiful town on the west coast popular with surfers and whale watchers. There are hot springs nearby and it is basically one of the most beautiful areas of rugged coastline I have ever seen. It also featured in the Twilight movie, which I may or may not have been obsessed with at the time (please don’t judge me…I hear you).
You’re pretty spoiled for choice when it comes to ski fields in British Columbia, but Mount Washington is the closest one to Victoria on Vancouver Island itself. It gets a lot of snow, so much so they even shipped snow from there to Vancouver for the Winter Olympics. I had my best snowboarding lesson ever on the mountain and it was a good spot for beginners, plus very affordable even for a student!
Salt Spring Island
Between the mainland and Vancouver Island, there’s a ton of islands just waiting to be explored. For Easter Weekend a friend and I chose Salt Spring Island and it didn’t disappoint, even if we did have to find somewhere to stay after the first night of failed camping because there was a storm. One of the locals helped us to find accommodation for the rest of the weekend and it was one of the coolest places I’ve ever stayed. A tiny little self-contained hut on the side of a lake.
Salt Spring Island is known for it’s crafty and alternative nature, and there are great galleries and art spaces to discover all over it. Add in the amazing walks and views, plus the friendly nature of the locals and you can have a great time here. It’s like Vancouver Island on a teeny scale. There’s not much of a bus network but you can hitchhike safely around the island, and the locals even let the teenagers do so.
If you get island fever then Vancouver isn’t too far away. This city is truly a place where nature and urbanisation meet. You can literally be in the mountains skiing or snowboarding and then kayaking in the sea within an hour. There are parks and shopping and amazing restaurants. Vancouver has quite a big Asian influence, plus it’s right on the ocean which meant some of the best sushi and Japanese food I have ever had.
Whistler is a little over an hour and a half from Vancouver, and it’s one of the most well-known ski resorts in Canada. It has the typical ski town and beautiful scenery. I saw some of the Winter Olympic Games there, namely the bob-sledding (I’m a 90’s kid, I had to see it because of Cool Runnings…), and I loved exploring this little place. If you don’t have much time it’s a good place to go from Vancouver to get a feel for what it’s like in the mountains.
The Canadian Rockies
If you do have time though you can’t go past the Canadian Rockies. It’s a long whole day drive, or two days if you want to split it, from Vancouver but it’s stunning. The mountains themselves are remarkable, and the small towns in them are just as fun. Banff is quite commercial, and nearby Jasper is a bit less so. The Columbian Ice Fields and Icefields Parkway in Jasper National Park are an amazing part of the Canadian Rockies to visit. Lake Louise is probably one of the most photographed places in Canada and when you go there it’s not hard to see why.
I went at the end of May which meant the lake ice was too soft to stand on, but it’s beautiful in any season. The shoulder season is a good time to visit to see more snow, but for it to not be too freezing. Plus at that time of year, we could drive the Icefields Parkway between Banff and Jasper, which closes in the winter. We saw a black bear while we were driving, and got to stop at the Columbia Icefield and go on a massive ice truck onto a Glacier.
If you’re studying at the University of Victoria or just travelling to Vancouver Island it’s tempting to see a lot of what’s outside of the city, but Victoria itself is really interesting. You can visit the parliament of British Columbia and the Royal British Columbia Museum.
There are the Butchart Gardens, which is one of the best gardens in the world to visit and take high tea at Empress Hotel located next to the harbour. There are even floating houses on the harbour and if you head down to Beacon Hill on a clear day you can see across to Washington State. Don’t miss pancakes at John’s diner, especially with the special cream cheese and maple syrup sauce. To die for.
Don’t miss pancakes at John’s diner, especially with the special cream cheese and maple syrup sauce. To die for.
Why you should study abroad
There are so many reasons to study abroad! Studying abroad turned out to be one of the highlights of my university life and another great expat experience. I met some amazing people and I took a lot of trips to beautiful parts of Canada. I’d highly recommend a study abroad in Vancouver if you couldn’t do Victoria, just because the west coast of Canada is amazing.
It’s universally acknowledged that studying abroad means more travelling and partying than actual study. I couldn’t afford to fail a subject since otherwise it would put me back by 6 months, so I still studied my fair share, but I realised what I rut I had got into in New Zealand with just studying all the time and not organising enjoyable things to do to give me a break. I think this can happen to a lot of students.
Studying abroad gave me a new appreciation for my life at home, and I went back determined to make it better than it had been before. This is true of a lot of travel, but I found it especially important at a time in my life when I hadn’t realised how inwardly focused and stressed I had been (possibly the reason for the aforementioned chubbiness..). Studying for my degree was difficult, but I think I could have been a lot happier if I had learned some of those lessons from studying abroad earlier.
Studying abroad can also widen your horizons as you make more contacts around the world and already gain international experience before you finish your study. It’s a great thing to have on your CV and speak to potential employers about. A lot of people worry about taking time off from work to travel (which you shouldn’t by the way, life’s too short) so this is a great way to squeeze in some travel without worrying about your career.
Did you study abroad or have you thought about it? Do you know someone who could benefit from studying abroad? Tell me about it below!
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