International Services for Students
I arrived late on February 7, 2012 (because classes there don’t begin until late February) and my Exchange Buddy picked me up from the airport and took me to my dorm. The Buddy System affiliated with the university is excellent, as the buddies must pick up all foreign students from the airport and help them get settled in the first few days. My buddy took me to the grocery store, showed me around Prague, took me to the police station to get my student visa authorized (required by law in Prague) and took me on a tour of the university. The system also offers weekend trips to Poland, Germany, Austria and other countries. Furthermore, the Buddy System coordinators also arrange a party every Tuesday (“Nation 2 Nation”) at a different bar or club. Each week is hosted by a different country, and includes a short presentation created by student representatives from each country. Almost all exchange students – and many Czech students – attend these parties and they were often the highlight of my week.
Prague is a beautiful, fairy-tale city that offers many activities. I recommend visiting Prague Castle, Old Town Square, Charles Bridge, Petrin Hill and the Prague Zoo. When the weather warms up, it is fun to rent a pedal boat on the Vltava River with some friends and see the city from the water. There is also an abundance of cafes, restaurants, and underground jazz and blues bars to go to, with amazing architecture and a cozy atmosphere that is distinctive in Europe. For artsy students, the opera and ballet are quite inexpensive in Prague, and very well done. Similarly, I recommend a visit to the Black Light Theatre: it is unlike any show I had ever seen before, and it is mesmerizing. If you are adventurous, the Buddy System offers a Sky Diving trip that is a great rush.
The classes I took at the university were extremely easy; the professors are very lenient when it comes to exchange students. They required little work (especially compared to SFU) and were easy to get to. The university is 10-15 minutes away from the dorms by tram, and the city is 15-20 minutes away. The transportation system is excellent as the city is quite small, and the tram station is located right outside the dormitories.
If you are going to study in Prague, I believe that living in the dorms is the only way to go. Brace yourself: they are not nice but they are very cheap. I loved being able to run downstairs and knock on my friends’ doors. I did not even need a cell phone because it was so easy to get ahold of them. It was truly a refreshing break away from technology.
As I expected, there were a few challenges that accompanied my exchange. Not everyone speaks English in Prague, so pointing at menus becomes a most useful skill. Also, if you are going to be taking a taxi, be sure to write down the address to ensure the driver knows where to take you. Overall, the idea of being alone in a foreign country sounds scarier than it is. There is plenty of support for exchange students and I am sure that you will find it to be an experience that cannot be matched. I found that because I was alone, and surrounded by people in the same boat as me, it was very easy to connect with people and make lifelong friends that I cannot wait to see again.
Join us in the James Douglas Safe Study Area on January 15th to view the winning photos of this year’s ISS Photo Contest. This is also a great opportunity to meet with student participants of the contest, International Services for Students staff and representatives from SFU faculties and departments. If you’re thinking about studying abroad, this event is a great place to start your research (in addition to seeing some really amazing photos)!
After receiving more than 400 entries, we finally have our winners for the 2012 ISS Photo Contest! All photos submitted are from students who have gone away on, or are currently abroad on an Exchange, Field School or International Co-op opportunity.
Check out the winners and all other submissions on the Photo Contest website. Thanks to all who participated and hopefully this will spark your interest in studying, working or volunteering abroad!
Date: Tuesday, September 18, 2012
Time: 10:00 AM – 3:00 PM
Location: North AQ, SFU Burnaby
Join us this September for the annual SFU GO Fair, hosted by International Services for Students. This is a large annual event where students can explore study abroad as well as international coop and volunteer options. This is your opportunity to meet students/faculty/staff who have been on an exchange or field school and to hear about their experiences.
By Kelly Rowland, Exchange to Monash University, Australia
I absolutely fell in love with Melbourne in the short time I spent there. It is, as many Melbournites are keen to remind you, “The Most Livable City In The World”. Melbourne is a huge sprawling city, with suburbs that go on forever, but it still manages to seem small. The city houses everything from old Victorian buildings, to new cutting edge skyscrapers, and lots and lots of green parks. Parks which always seemed to be in use, from the hordes that descend to run the track around the Botanical Gardens the cricket games that spring up, or the people like me who preferred lazing under a tree reading a book.
In my time abroad I opted to live off campus so I would be able to live closer to the city. I’m so glad I did! I was very lucky and was able to get an amazing flat within 10 minutes of the city core. I used that to my advantage as much as possible as it meant that I could easily take part in the endless sport and festivals that Melbourne is famous for. One of my favourite experiences was the Australian Rules Football (“Footy”) matches I was able to attend. Not only is the sport incredibly fun to watch, but Melbourne “Footy” fans take the sport very seriously and love to welcome in the initiated. At all the games I attended strangers were so excited to tell others about their favourite team, and teach you the chants so you could cheer alongside them.
Melbourne also always has amazing festivals going on. With festivals celebrating everything from beer to film, something was always being celebrated in the city. My absolute favourite was the renowned Melbourne Comedy Festival that ran from March through April. It took over the city and comedians were always on street corners trying to convince people to attend their shows. I loved all the crazy acts I was able to see and I felt like I learned a lot about Australia through seeing what makes them laugh (mostly it would seem, making fun of Tasmania). I’m so thankful for the time I got to spend in Melbourne. It was incredibly hard to leave, not only the fantastic friends I’d made, but also the city I had begun to call home.
My Week in Krakow
By Eva Szymczyk, Exchange to Sciences Po Lille, France
I chose France as my study abroad country in order to improve my French speaking abilities. I also selected Europe as my preferred continent because, outside of my nuclear family, all of my family still lives in Poland; I saw this experience as my opportunity to reconnect with them. My host university, Science Po University, is located in Lille, a quaint French city situated close to the Brussels border and only a 2-hour airplane-ride away from Krakow, a city located at the south of Poland. Lille’s close proximity to Krakow made my choice of spending Easter with my family an evident one.
I remember being so eager to pass some quality time with my family; I found it challenging to sit still the week before Easter. When I finally arrived in Krakow and embraced my aunt, for the first time in 2 years, I knew that this exchange to France was most definitely the correct decision. I spent the week in Poland baking and cooking an abundant amount of Polish delicacies and dishes. My cousin walked and drove me around the beautiful city of Krakow taking me to Wawel, a castle, the Sukiennice market, and the city centre. Throughout the week I was tracing my mother’s roots and learning about her childhood and lifestyle before her immigration. I felt like I was at home; I call it my home away from home, now.
Image top left: Walking through the main square in Poland, I remember feeling very content; Image middle right: My traditional Polish Easter basket filled with sausages, eggs, bread, horseradish sauce, chocolate as well as sheep, duck, and hen figurines; Image bottom left: Posing with my aunt and uncle on Easter Saturday.
By David Di Tomaso, Exchange to Macquarie University, Australia
Going on exchange to Sydney, Australia was probably one of my best experiences as university student. Before going to Sydney I had no idea of what the city had to offer me. But after being there for a couple of days, I realized that the city had so much to offer for people because it is the oldest/most developed city in Australia located in the state of New South Wales. Sydney is probably one of the most beautiful cities I have ever seen. The most iconic suburb within Sydney is called “The Rocks” because that is where the harbor is (Darling Harbor, Sydney Harbor Bridge, the world famous opera house and the botanical gardens).
The best part of my exchange, though, was meeting people from all over the world. For example I met people from Australia, United Kingdom, United States, France, Poland, Switzerland, Germany, Spain, Italy, Russia, Indonesia, China, Japan, New Zealand, Turkey, Norway, Pakistan and Mexico. Australian culture is similar to Canada’s, although way more relaxed, but since I made close friends from all over the world I got to experience their cultures as well.
In terms of Macquarie University, the structure of classes is the same as at SFU (lectures and tutorials). The university, though, offers a lot of programs to exchange students such as cruises around the harbor, trips to the south coast, the blue mountains, Canberra (Australia’s capital city), Hunter Valley winery to name a few. The university also offers exchange students a chance to apply for an internship program. This program allows students to volunteer with a company and earn academic credit.
When I first started my degree at SFU, I had no idea that I was going to go on an exchange until I found the SFU International Services for Students. This department offers all students a chance to create an experience like this so make sure that you take advantage of what they have to offer you. Always take look for opportunities and pursue them.
Sydney is truly one of the BEST CITIES IN THE WORLD!
By Grace Chan, Exchange to Hong Kong Baptist University, Hong Kong
I notice that as I get older, I am more aware of how quickly time flies. Reflecting on when I was younger, I recall that six hours in Elementary School felt like an eternity. My birthday is also in June, which meant that for me, summer could never come soon enough. But today, every hour in a day is shorter, every week zips by, and as I sit in my room in Vancouver, I realized that already half the year has passed. As soon as it hit me, the one thing that came in my head was: what have the past six months meant to me? Did I accomplish any goals, meet new friends, or begin a new job? Needless to say, I soon decided that the greatest highlight of my year so far was the opportunity I had to move and study in Hong Kong this spring.
I could hardly contain my excitement when I first found out I had been nominated to participate in an exchange studies program in Hong Kong. I immediately called my parents to tell them and prepared for my departure months in advance. My mom suggested that I record all my experiences in Asia in a journal, but I had an even better idea: I wanted to create an online blog to share my adventures overseas with my family and friends back home. Since I was new at writing entries and have never kept a diary before, I promised to only try my best at expressing my feelings, mood and stories to my readers. Along with my unbelievably long posts, I also included copious amounts of photographs from my travels. If there is one thing that I would recommend for future exchange students, it would be to start a blog. Not only was it encouraging and touching to read my friend’s comments and their updates, but years from now, my blog will be a wonderful reminder of my journey and memories in Hong Kong.
Unlike many exchange students, I did not stay in the university dormitory but rather lived with my grandmother. I did not mind these arrangements; however, I do believe that my experience as an exchange student was comparably different to others. My mom persuaded me to live with my grandmother and reasoned that we have not spent enough time with her in the past when we visited in the summer. Although we went to dinner together, our conversations were always short and never got very close. Since my experience in Hong Kong this spring, I cannot emphasize how life changing our relationship has been.
Given the chance, I could probably sit and talk for hours about the stories my grandmother and I had. I never expected that my grandmother would share information about her personal feelings, her modest upbringing, and her painful memories with me. What a stark difference this was from the past. One of the most intriguing qualities about my grandmother is her effort and concern over small details. For instance, if my grandmother knew I had an exam coming up, she would make soup that was traditionally known to help replenish the body and boost energy in one’s brain. Or when she realized I had two hours until my next class, she would purposely walk to my school and take me out to lunch so that I did not have do wait alone. I am truly moved by my grandmother’s actions and I appreciate her so much in my life. Although I may not have experienced the typical “dorm life” that other students may have, I did become a lot closer with my grandmother and that is a memory I would never exchange.
By Kendra Wingerter, Exchange to Sciences Po Paris, France
Most people are aware that when they go on their exchange term, they are going to meet a few challenges in their new life abroad. Culture shock, language barriers, getting lost (a lot), making new friends and missing old ones. It’s a lot of change for anyone to face, even for someone with travel experience and itchy feet. But what do you do when the bigger shock is coming home?
As an SFU Vancouver student who is originally from Calgary, I knew how hard it is to leave your home and find yourself in a totally unfamiliar city, even if there are tons of fun times and new friends around you. Since I’d been through the shock of moving away for school before, I knew what to expect when I moved again, and thought that by the end of my 5 months abroad, I’d be absolutely dying to come home to familiar faces and a culture that I’m an expert at. But the lonely moments, the cultural self-consciousness, and the desire for home never came. After my first month in Paris (which is where I spent my semester abroad) I realized that the initial challenges of moving hadn’t really affected me that much, and while I considered trying to extend my exchange, I abandoned that idea thinking that even though I wasn’t feeling it yet, by the end of my planned 5 months abroad I would be more than ready to go home.
Then the half-way mark of my exchange came, and then the 4-month mark, and then suddenly I found myself packing my bags to go home, but not feeling too good about it. I had checked everything off on my Paris bucket-list, and I didn’t feel like my exchange itself was incomplete or lacking, but I liked my little apartment in the city; the hundreds of museums and historical sites that were at my fingertips every day, the luxury of being close to so many other interesting countries, the every-day language learning experiences, and the relaxed pace of French culture. I had close friends who had become more like family to me, I had favourite coffee shops and hang-out spots, I had daily and weekly routines, and I had gotten really, reaaalllly good at making crepes.
So at first leaving was incredibly difficult. I stopped in London for a few nights on my way home and during my time there I felt like I was going through the worse breakup ever. All I wanted to do was lie in bed, and cry, and eat chocolate, and hold a cat. When I first returned home, the sinking feeling in my stomach was still there, but each day as I saw more and more of my loved ones, went to my favourite Canadian coffee shops, remembered the ease of speaking in my first language, and was reacquainted with the luxuries of living in a modern culture, the idea of being at home was no longer so daunting.
I come out of this experience feeling like a stronger person, now knowing with confidence that I am capable of adjusting to and being happy in a far-away world (which, as an International Studies major, is nice to know). If I’d stayed in Paris, more challenges would have come; my friends would have gone home and I would have been left back at social-square-one, I would have had to find a new apartment and figure out a way to fund the rest of my stay. Though I miss Paris, recognizing these challenges has made it easier to leave my life there, because had I stayed, it would have been a very different life anyway. Instead of regret, I’m trying to channel any feelings of reverse culture-shock into something constructive: I see it as a positive thing that I left my exchange still wanting to be there (it means I had an amazing experience!) and I have now found my motivation to start looking up those Parisian co-op placements. Whether going or coming, every exchange has its good parts and it’s bad, you just need to focus on the silver lining to find both your feet and your smile, no matter where you are.