Hannah Hassam

Date: SP5, 2016
Degree Program: Bachelor of Social Work
Host University: Ryerson University
Host Country: Canada

Why did you choose your host university?

I chose Canada because I wanted to go somewhere English speaking. I have never been there and heard good things about Canada and Canadians. I also had friends living in Toronto and Ryerson was the only option in Toronto. I’ve been to America a few times and the fact that Toronto is so close to New York was really appealing.

What was the university like?

Ryerson was a really great university, really big, typical North American style college experience. The campus was right in the middle of the CBD, so it was really accessible and easy to navigate. The classes were really lively, a lot of interesting discussion, the students were really outspoken and everyone was given their time to speak. My favourite thing about the university was the course material, and the guest speakers and lectures.

The coursework was a little daunting at first, mainly because I was unaware of the standard that was expected, but the supervisors were eager to help and I gained confidence after my first few assignments. It was a little hard learning the online system, and they tend to expect hard copies of assignments, as opposed to turning things in online like we do here. But I eventually got used to it.

What did you gain from your exchange experience and has it changed the way you think or altered your approach to life?

I feel like I definitely got an extra edge on my classmates by going to Canada, in terms of what was included in the course material, my general perspectives have been broadened by what I learned studying at Ryerson. It also made me appreciate not just living in Adelaide but living in Australia in general. I have now experienced what it is like to live in another country and I was able to do this without having to sacrifice my studies.

What accommodation options were available to you?  How affordable was accommodation and would you recommend the same option to others?

I was lucky enough to be able to live with my friend, who was doing air bnb at the time. I lived in a really nice part of Toronto (Parkdale) and ended up paying a lot less compared to the other UniSA students that were doing the same exchange programs in Toronto. It was really handy living with someone I knew because I was able to borrow household items, saving me having to buy them, which is what I heard others that were in student accommodation had to do. I was also able to learn about the neighbourhood from people that had been living there, which was really helpful. The suburb I lived in had pretty much everything I needed, supermarkets, clothes, food, bars, late night food spots, laundry, and there was a bigger shopping centre nearby. I would definitely recommend living in Parkdale to any other students heading to Toronto.

Describe your travel experiences; did you travel locally or to neighbouring countries? 

Apart from a stopover in Hong Kong on the way there and back, I only travelled outside Canada once, to New York for about 5 days. I caught the Megabus, which was really cheap ($77 return, but they have trips as cheap as $1) but not the most pleasant experience, mainly because it was over 12 hours to get there. If I hadn’t been on such a tight budget I would have flown instead. I had a lot of fun in NY, I met up with friends from Australia and friends that live there. It was really interesting because it was just after the election and it was fun being there with friends that I hadn’t seen in a while. I didn’t do a lot of tourist type things, but I did see Times Square and went to the September 11 museum, which I highly recommend, and I nearly got into a taping of Saturday Night Live.

I also spent a few days in Montreal, I was visiting a friend that’s been living there. It was really beautiful and much more French than I expected. It was really different to Toronto, as a cab driver told me, Montreal is like Europe and Toronto is like North America. My friend and I went for long walks along the canal, ate really nice food, and drank a lot of beer. The highlight of the weekend was doing karaoke for over 6 hours and a bar that was also a bowling alley.

Describe how you adjusted to life in a different country and how you met new people.

I met some great people, some through my friends that have been living there for a while, and others through mutual friends back in Australia. It was a little strange at first, adjusting to a new country. Culture shock was mainly caused by small roadblocks; such as not being able to find something specific in a supermarket, or getting a bit lost, or trying to work out the public transport. The weather was also a big shock. I had never experienced cold like that before. I was intimidated at first, and thought I could get away with not wearing thermals under my clothes, but I soon learnt that that was impossible. I was told about the wind chill factor, saying that it feels about 10 degrees colder than what it says, and they weren’t lying. If it was even slightly windy the cold was so much worse. Another thing I didn’t appreciate was how much slower you end up walking because the ground is so slippery. It was definitely an experience and something that I will never forget.

Can you see any benefits from this exchange to your future career?

Absolutely. I went there with a specific objective to learn about First Nations people, from a social work perspective because I am interested in Indigenous issues in a professional context. I learned more than I ever would have expected and it has definitely broadened my knowledge and given me incredible insight into what is possible. Its inspired me to work somewhere remote, and I’ve even thought about going back to Canada to work.

I’ve also learned how adaptable I was to new situations. I didn’t find it terribly difficult being in new social socials, and quickly felt comfortable enough in class to voice my opinions, and ask for help. So all in all, it was a good confidence boost, because being somewhere unfamiliar can bring out a lot of insecurity.

What advice would you give to a student who was hesitant or considering joining the exchange program?

That it is a once in a lifetime experience, and you will definitely not regret it. I have had to make sacrifices for doing it; such as having to quit my job, being set back financially. But it was definitely worth it, especially if you haven’t ever lived anywhere else, want to travel, want to make new friends, learn a language, and generally broaden your horizons and really learn what’s out there.

Top Tips:

PSave a lot of money before you go, cut back on having to pay for things you aren’t using back home, as they add up. Make arrangements to travel as much as you can, and try and coordinate with friends so you have people to visit, its much better to travel to somewhere and be with someone who can show you the local perspective rather than the tourist perspective. Lastly, don’t forget that it’s not just a holiday that you still have to study and to not overdo it all the time.                     

Areas of study and research

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