The shock was real upon arriving into the rainy winter climate of Vancouver from the severe heat that I’d left in Canberra. The thought of a semester in down jackets and rain coats was not a positive way to start. However I’d only heard great things about Vancouver, and Canada in general and I would come to quickly know just how special the place is.

I was fortunate enough to live in an apartment with three Canadian guys from northern British Columbia. These boys were welcoming, hilarious and invited me along to many of the events around Vancouver, which provided an insight into what life is like for Canadian college students. Within my residence itself, there were large numbers of exchange students from all around the world. Many of them would become some of my close friends; ranging from Irish, to English, to Singaporeans, to Austrians, Mexicans and of course some Australians and Kiwis.

The University of British Columbia itself is an absolutely stunning campus situated on a peninsula across from downtown Vancouver. It has its own beach, which attracts visitors during the summer who prefer the freedom of feeling the wind on their bare body. There are running trails all around campus and the many beautiful buildings are complemented by a backdrop of dramatic snow-capped mountains. Academically, UBC is quality. I was lucky enough to partake in a placement with Amnesty International for one of my subjects, creating awareness on and reporting regarding the domestic violence issues faced by First Nations women throughout Canada.

If you love outdoor activities like I do, Vancouver (and Canada) is the place for you! Some of the best skiing in the world is within reach, with Whistler-Blackcomb and Grouse Mountains less than 2 hours away. I was able to experience picturesque winter wonderlands, including a stunning view over the city of Vancouver from Grouse Mountain (accessible during night time as well, which is breathtaking). I’d like to say my skiing adventures showed a flawless transition from novice to half decent in four months,  however a wrong turn down a black diamond run on an exchange club trip to the Okanagan resulted in my English friend Jonny and I being escorted in a snowmobile back to the village….

Although snow sports are the main activity for Vancouverites during winter, spring brings numerous opportunities for some awesome hikes and other outdoor activities. An unmissable hike is to Garibaldi Lake; a 20km round trip (mostly through deep snow in April), with stunning views. Vancouver itself is not short of interesting activities either. Riding through Stanley Park, walking along the Capilano Suspension Bridge, navigating the markets of Granville Island and hiking nearby Lynn Canyon are particular highlights.

The Canadian past-time that I most enjoyed was ice hockey. I attended four Vancouver Canucks games and although some rules are still somewhat confusing to me, I couldn’t help but get engaged in the avid support for the team. A jersey purchase was necessary and I even picked up a couple of pairs of Canucks socks! Unfortunately, this season wasn’t the Canucks strongest, and trust me, the Vancouverites won’t hesitate to tell you about it!

Vancouver is a special place. Although it’s weather doesn’t match that of Australia, it is surrounded by some of the most picturesque scenery possible. Activities are plentiful and I can say that UBC has the most beautiful campus I’ve seen. Indeed by the end of exchange I just wanted to stay another semester!

PS – I can’t help but give a quick mention to the diverse and delicious food in Vancouver. The rich-Asian heritage of Vancouver means many great restaurants for Chinese, Thai and Japanese cuisine. Poutine is the greatest Canadian meal, in my opinion, consisting in its most basic form of chips, gravy and cheese curds. However the most visited poutineries in Vancouver supply various additions such as pulled pork, bacon, fried chicken and assorted vegetables. So good!