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!
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.
By Kathy Tse, Exchange to Lund University, Sweden
These past few weeks, in conjunction with my studies and weekend trips (since my last entry I’ve travelled to Stockholm (it is such a beautiful capital!) as well as Berlin and Hamburg of Germany. Tomorrow I will be heading to Gdansk and Warsaw of Poland!), I’ve also been training myself to do more of what I’ve never done in Vancouver before, which is biking! I know, I’m a bit embarrassed to admit this too, but I’ve never been an outdoor person and biking was never something I had been motivated to try (my friends tried to teach me once but was quite unsuccessful). But when I arrived in Lund two months ago, my attitude towards biking changed.
At first, it was a bit of a sight for me that almost everyone in the city biked. I knew from previous exchange reports that many students bike and that Lund was a relatively easy city to get around to, but it never occurred to me that there would be any incentive for me to join the crowd. However, within the first week of orientation, almost half of the new students already bought a new or second hand bike, and within the second, almost all. I was asked as to why I didn’t purchase a bike, and I even remember hearing the former vice chancellor giving her one most important advice at the university’s welcoming ceremony, “Buy a bike!” It was indeed a moment of internal struggle before I finally decided to purchase one. Even though I didn’t know how to ride a bike at the time.
Of course, I later realized that although the city’s transportation system is relatively well, a bike in Lund is almost equivalent to a car in Vancouver (minus the speed). With a bike you have your own autonomy. You can go to places the bus might not be able to take you to and can have the flexibility of going wherever, whenever according to your own biking route. This seemed perfect for those who liked late night parties as well as those who liked to rush their way to class (you see this phenomenon especially early in the morning). It was also perfect for students because it was less costly than taking public transport or renting a car, and Lund actually has a very well biking infrastructure that contributed to their success as being rated as one of Sweden’s most environmentally conscious cities (You can watch a one minute news clip from BBC news : http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/8393475.stm). Oh, and as a result, the city doesn’t have any traffic jams, something I wish would happen in Vancouver!
So in the end, I became so impressed by the biking culture that I started joining the harmony and have been enjoying the rides through the streets, feeling quite healthy, accomplished that I learned something out of my usual comfort zone, and just having that extra bonus to my exchange program.
Welcome back to my exchange blog! After a week full of midterms and a quick trip to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia for the 2011 SIFE World Cup and a tour of the Microsoft Office in the Petronas Towers; I am back to write a blog post about one of my favourite things in Singapore: the rapid transit system!
Singapore’s land area is just less than 700km2, a tiny country. To travel from one side of the island to the other by car, it takes about 45 minutes, approximately the distance from Surrey to downtown Vancouver to put things into perspective. If everyone in the country drove cars, there would be endless traffic jams. This leads to one of my favourite parts about Singapore: no matter where you are on the island, there will be a bus or train to take you where you need to go!
The first component of the transit system is the buses. There is countless number of routes that buses take around the island, and where ever you walk, you are usually within five minutes of a bus stop. The buses are also very frequent during the day, so you never have to wait too long for the next bus. The key is to know which buses go where, so you don’t end up going somewhere that you didn’t want to. I find the easiest way to get around on the buses is to take them to an MRT station, where you can hop on a train.
This leads to the second component, which is the “Mass Rapid Transit” (MRT) train system that has four different lines and 89 different stations. You can take the MRT pretty much anywhere in Singapore, from Changi Airport to City Hall and even to within 10 minutes of the Singapore-Malaysia border. With the latest addition of the new Circle Line, there is now also a station that is right inside the NUS campus! The best thing about the train system is it is extremely efficient. There are signs throughout each station that direct you where to go, even estimates of how long it will take you to talk from point A to point B. While boarding a train, there are also arrows on the floor telling you how to board most efficiently. Since arriving in Singapore, I have never missed a train due overcrowding, even at peak hours; this just shows how efficiently it is set up. The first thing you will notice is the cleanliness of the stations and trains; they actually do not let you eat or drink on buses, trains, or in the stations! In the future, there will be three additional lines and over 60 more stations by 2020.
Speaking of efficiency, you can ride both the MRT and the buses with one easy pass called the “EZ-Link Card”. Essentially you purchase a card for $5 then you top it up with cash when its value gets low. Before you enter a train platform or when you board a bus you simply scan your card. When it is time to get off, you scan your card again and you are charged for your travels. In Singapore, the charge is based on the number of kilometres you travel, which makes the average trip on a bus or MRT cost around $1 SGD. You can also use the EZ Link Card for several other purposes, including paying for food, laundry, and printing at NUS.
To get from your residence to your classes or the MRT station, it is definitely too hot to walk outside with 30 degree temperatures or heavy rain. To make it easier for students to get around campus, NUS provides free shuttle bus service all over campus.
Overall, the rapid transit system in Singapore is very important to the functioning of the country and it is an easy and cheap way to get around for a student! The coolest thing is that I can travel from campus to the airport for under $3 in less than an hour, making it easy to go to class, and then hop on a plane to a travel destination within a few hours! In fact, the MRT is so important that they have a rap for the MRT that was performed at the National Day Parade this year, check it out in the Youtube video below:
MRT Song at National Day Parade 2011
That’s all for now!