Benjamin Stevens

Date: SP5, 2016
Degree Program: Bachelor of Environmental Studies
Host University: Carleton University
Host Country: Canada

Why did you choose your host university?

I chose my host university because they appeared to have a vast array of environmental science subjects that were not available to me at UniSA. My host university was also located in Canada, whose currency has a favourable exchange rate with the Australian dollar.

Perhaps most importantly, the subjects were offered at Carleton in the right semesters, allowing them to more or less line up with what I would have been studying back home.

Benjamin StevensWhat was the university like?

The university culture is the first thing you notice about going to school in North America. There were many niche university clubs and associations, and thus plenty of opportunities to participate in university life and get to know people. The campus itself was quite large, with probably 6 or 7 cafes, gymnasiums and restaurants for those who lived in residence and are on campus meal plans.

Classes were slightly different to those offered at UniSA. At Carleton subjects tended to have more numerous, smaller assessment pieces. Lectures tended to be quite interactive, with less of an emphasis on lecturing and more on group discussion or in-class quizzes. The professors encouraged class participation and were approachable for help. They were also knowledgeable in their chosen areas - in 2 of my 3 subjects the professors had contributed to or been referenced in the course textbook.

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

My exchange experience left me with a greater sense of confidence and pride in my ability to get things done. Travelling across the world to study takes a lot of organisation before you leave, and the organisation is ongoing once you are overseas. Tasks such as navigating a new public transport system, enrolling in and finding classes on campus and arranging long-term accommodation were all challenges that I faced and overcame.

I was also able to study environmental science in the North American context, no doubt giving me greater perspective about complex environmental issues that affect the entire planet.

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

There was on-campus housing available at Carleton, but the cost was typically much higher than organising your own off-campus accommodation. Many of the student residence buildings also had compulsory meal plans attached, which did not really suit my preferences. You can also search classified ads and look to stay in student share-housing.

I instead opted to search student homestay websites and was able to find a Canadian homestay family. As far as recommendations are concerned, there are definitely pros and cons of each option. On-campus accommodation is more expensive but there is obviously no commute time. Homestay accommodation is cheaper but the commute time is going to be longer. Student share-housing is also quite cheap and can be close to campus, but I had difficulty in finding suitable share-houses. This is mostly because the vast majority of them wanted full-year lease commitments, when I was only staying a semester.

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

The adjustment was relatively easy for me, as I had been to Canada a couple of times in the past. Canadians in general are quite similar to Australians in their friendly and laid-back nature. However, it was surprising to see how many slight differences I found in language, foods, etiquette, etc. These are all things that you tend to pick up on when you spend extended periods of time in a country. Living in Quebec also presented some extra challenges, where approximately 90% of households speak French as their first language and where a lot of the road signs are in French only. Most could speak English too, but I tended to be misunderstood more in Quebec than I was in English-speaking Ontario.

Meeting people was easy. You will make friends in your classes and in some cases Canadians will be inquisitive if they simply overhear your accent. I ended up making good friends with my homestay ‘parents’ (who were actually only slightly older than I am) and got to know some of their extended family quite well also. Failing all else you can join one of the many university clubs and make friends that way.

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

The adjustment was relatively easy for me, as I had been to Canada a couple of times in the past. Canadians in general are quite similar to Australians in their friendly and laid-back nature. However, it was surprising to see how many slight differences I found in language, foods, etiquette, etc. These are all things that you tend to pick up on when you spend extended periods of time in a country. Living in Quebec also presented some extra challenges, where approximately 90% of households speak French as their first language and where a lot of the road signs are in French only. Most could speak English too, but I tended to be misunderstood more in Quebec than I was in English-speaking Ontario.

Meeting people was easy. You will make friends in your classes and in some cases Canadians will be inquisitive if they simply overhear your accent. I ended up making good friends with my homestay ‘parents’ (who were actually only slightly older than I am) and got to know some of their extended family quite well also. Failing all else you can join one of the many university clubs and make friends that way.

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

Aside from the greater perspective in the applications of environmental science, I would imagine that adding an exchange period to my resume would only benefit me in the future – particularly if I decided that I would like to work in North America.

The exchange also allowed me to develop as a person, gaining greater confidence, awareness and organisational skills. Living in another country also forces you to slow your communication and speak more clearly and succinctly. We as Australians can get used to speaking in slang terms and sayings, but that doesn’t get you very far in North America!

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

The idea of going on exchange might be daunting on the surface, but most of the things worth doing in life are daunting initially. As you have probably read, going on exchange is an amazing experience and one which you have to take advantage of as a university student.

Given the various forms of Commonwealth and university funding, a great deal of the financial barrier has been removed. A lot of people have told me they regretted not going on exchange during their degrees, don’t be one of them!

Top Tips:

Go on exchange with an open mind, expect to get out what you put in. Most of all, enjoy yourself and savour the moment because, as clichéd as it sounds, a semester overseas really does go very quickly.

Areas of study and research

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