I was a full-time student at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada from September 2014 to April 2015. I wanted to study abroad in Canada and Vancouver looked like a good city to spend a year in! I knew I wanted to do a year abroad from first year so I had a lot of hopes going in, but they were very vague: meet new people and do new things!
I studied law at the Allard School of Law at UBC. It was different to Scotland as over there law is a graduate degree so my classmates had already done an undergraduate degree and were several years older than me. This meant that they were very focused on law as a career and less as a general degree as many treat it in Scotland.
Vancouver as a city is amazingly positioned between sea, forest and mountains. Canadians are lovely people as well, very welcoming and helpful especially when I was very new to the city! A station worker even got on the skytrain with me and my friends to make sure we got off at the right place and got on the right buses!
Studying with people who had a bit more life experience and different perspectives has opened up my engagement with various issues. Also, having to participate in classes as part of your grade has made me much more comfortable doing so in classes back at Edinburgh and more confident in the value that my opinion and thoughts have to discussion. On a personal level, it has made me want to travel a lot more! It has made me more comfortable in not knowing what I want to do career-wise after meeting older twenty-somethings on exchange who don’t know what they’re doing either. I think it has opened my eyes to so many possibilities of things I could do with my time.
In the first semester I did a lot of tourist-based things and various day trips and some farther afield, mainly based around the amazing sights of mountains and lakes in Canada which are just on a completely different scale from the UK. I also got to spend Christmas with a friend of mine and her family in Texas which was such a warm time, to be back with a family who cared so much about me and made sure we had a great time.
I definitely became a lot more confident. Being alone in a new country forces you to have to make new friends and adapt to new experiences (like having to go to the liquor store before 9, and definitely not on a Sunday!). I also became more motivated: it was up to me to make the most of my experience and no-one was going to do it for me. Of course it’s easier to be motivated about travelling around the Rockies than studying, but making myself take classes outside my comfort zone made me motivated to do well and prove to myself that I could learn new things. One of my favourite classes was Islamic Law and Legal Theory which I went into knowing something about five pillars of Islam, and came out of able to discuss the transition of Islamic legal theory through history and the reasons for it. One of the most challenging things I did was to hold two one-hour seminars for that class on substantive Islamic legal texts and be able to explain them and the reasoning behind them. Coming out of that seminar with my professor praising our explanation and discussion was the best I’ve ever felt about any university work I’ve done.
Studying in Vancouver was an absolutely amazing experience that I would recommend to everyone! Even if it helped me just academically or personally I would be happy, but it made me so much more confident in both areas. I think the key to enjoying it is try to say yes to everything possible (budget and time-wise of course) and don’t let fear get in your way of doing something. You know no-one in this country; it doesn’t matter if anyone judges you! My only regrets are chances I should haveIn the second semester I also travelled a bit, but by this time Vancouver was more like home so I spent a lot of time with my friends just like we would in Edinburgh, exploring the city but feeling more comfortable. I wanted to take this chance to embrace things I had no idea how to do and learn new things so I took up playing touch rugby with the law women’s club and learnt how to snowboard at Whistler, an amazing ski resort close to Vancouver. After my exchange I took advantage of our early finishing date to travel around the US with one of my close friends that I made there which was absolutely amazing. taken but didn’t.