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Bondies Abroad | 10 tips for surviving student life in Canada

Emma Bastian spent a semester on exchange at the University of Western Ontario. She shares her top 10 tips for thriving on exchange in Canada.

1. Join in on the patriotism

Just like any other North American University, Western students thrive on school spirit. Western merch is the favoured attire for most students and the university colours, purple and white fill the town of London, Ontario. To call it university pride is an understatement - from Homecoming to football games, you will feel like a ‘Mustang’ in no time. Beyond school spirit, Canadians are naturally patriotic, celebrating all occasions big and small. I experienced my first Thanksgiving and Halloween whilst studying abroad!

2. Know that public transport has its quirks

One thing to note is that not everything goes to plan when you are on the other side of the world. Although you may plan everything down to the exact bus route, you will soon discover that it is easy to get lost in a new town (maybe more than once!). Learn to roll with the punches when your bus is delayed or when it is at capacity and you have to wait for the next one in two feet deep snow.

3. Don't be afraid of the wildlife

One thing you don’t see every day in Australia... squirrels! I stood out from day one as an Aussie foreigner after I spotted one dashing up a tree and pointed with excitement. But it’s the little differences like this that make you realise you are a long way from home! (And don’t worry, they are harmless... as long as you don’t get too close!)

4. Be prepared for negative temperatures

If exchange isn’t enough of a rollercoaster adventure, London deals out a variety of climates. I arrived in late August as Canada was in their ‘Fall season’ which allowed for me to enjoy exploring the outdoors. However, it wasn’t long until my wardrobe transformed from the left image to the right. People really aren’t joking when they say layering is key. My top tip? You can never be wearing too many socks! Also keep in mind when you are enrolling in classes that if you have a night class you will be waiting for the bus at 9pm in -20°c weather (I didn’t think that one through!)

Nigara Falls, Ontario

5. Get to know other Western students by renting off-campus

Western University is located two hours from Toronto in a small town called London. I was fortunate to connect with a group of Canadian locals over social media and move into a share house with them. While on-campus accommodation is quite expensive in comparison to Australia, renting off-campus is very affordable which allows budget for additional travel. If you are fortunate to find a group of students in off-campus housing to live with, jump at the chance because it is a fantastic way to make lots of local friends.

6. Take every opportunity to travel

You can’t visit Canada without checking out the scenery. I am still in awe of the beautiful landscape I was fortunate to explore on a Canadian Rockies tour in British Columbia (West Coast). During the tour I was able to meet people from all over the world who were either studying or travelling. There is no better way to learn about other cultures than sitting around a campfire making s’mores in Alberta!

7. Become an NHL fan

There is nothing more Canadian than attending an Ice Hockey game and what an experience it is! It didn’t take long for us to learn the chants and cheer on the Toronto Maple Leafs (the one and only team to back according to any Western student).

8. Visit Montréal

There are many picturesque places to travel in Canada but my favourite was Montréal! The French speaking town located in the province of Quebec is reminiscent of Europe, filled with cathedrals and beautiful cafés. I felt as if I experienced two exchanges in one with the diverse culture and landscape.

9. Make Tim Horton's your best friend

It might not be Blackboard café, but who wouldn’t give two thumbs up to donut bites and coffee for under $2! Just be warned, this is a staple food group for all Western students so prepare to wait in line.

10. Visit a lake

What is Canada known for? It’s lakes of course! The aqua blue glacial waters are absolutely mesmerising and not something you would see back home at Burleigh Beach. It is definitely an experience to add to the bucket list.

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