All semester, I have focused on speaking to students who have come back from a semester abroad. So, for the last post before Christmas break, I thought it was time to switch gears.
Aaron and Sarina are students studying here, at UFV, from Switzerland. They were kind enough to tell me their stories and opinions about school here amidst the chaos of finals weeks.
Julie: So the two of you decided to study here for a semester out of country. How is it? Did you always want to come to Canada?
Sarina: I really like it here. It’s been great!
Aaron: Yes, it is really nice here. We didn’t necessarily always want to come to Canada to study, but in third year at our university, you have the option to go abroad. We came to Canada because we knew that it was beautiful and a great place to be!
S: And it is our first time travelling outside of Europe.
J: Wow, so that is a pretty big adventure! Are there any differences that you found immediately being here?
A: Well, Switzerland is a lot smaller. And it is much easier to get around! So that was very different. It’s also a lot colder in Switzerland. I live very close to the mountains, so I can literally just walk up the mountain and ski down. But it was interesting because we got here around the time you were having a big storm, and then it rained for a long time.
S: Yes, all we could think was “I hope it isn’t like this the whole time!” But we have been lucky with the weather. As for just living, everything here is quite spread out and you usually have to have a car. We ended up getting a car to travel to the university.
J: So you’re not living on campus then?
A: No, we are actually living with a host family. It is easier than living on campus for us, and they are so welcoming and amazing! They have hosted students from Switzerland before. They have helped us do a lot of cool things around here, and we are very grateful.
J: Being with a host family, I’m sure that you got to have some unique experiences. You were here for some of our holidays, too.
S: Yes! It was really nice to do Thanksgiving, with all the friends and food. We don’t really have anything like that at home. And Remembrance Day was interesting.
A: We were also here for Halloween. We sort of have it in Switzerland, but it is much more exaggerated here! It was entertaining. We will be here for Christmas, too! We don’t go home until after Christmas, so it will be interesting to see how it compares to what we do at home.
S: It’s funny – there are so many Christmas lights here! The trees seem to be overloaded with them. At home, it is a bit more subtle.
J: I definitely understand what you mean! Sometimes there are just too many lights on some of our trees and even houses. So how has the university compared?
A: Well, at home, we go to a specific teaching university. We take 5 courses, some English and then other subjects as well. We have mandatory classes – but here, it was nice that we could take whatever we wanted. And the schools are pretty similar in size, so that helped.
S: In Switzerland, we have school every day with regulated and specific classes. I liked that I could make my own schedule here and take other classes – even if we had to take 5 classes!
A: There were two things that I found really different in class. In Switzerland, school is much more formal. We call the professor by their last name, but here it is more relaxed and students know their professors by first names. It was easy to adjust in English but it would have been weird in German! And it was strange that we could not take notes on laptops in some of our classes. At our university in Switzerland, we always take notes on laptops!
S: We were really lucky coming here, because the International Office was amazing. Jag was a really big help! It was easy to get into our classes and transition to life on campus.
J: Well, it seems you were pretty lucky with our schools being similar, but I’m glad you got to take different kinds of classes as well! What about other things that you’ve done – tried any foods or been to sports games?
S: I had never tried sweet potatoes or turkey. So eating it at Thanksgiving was really interesting! It was good!
A: We tried bacon and poutine, what we were told were typical Canadian foods. And Tim Hortons is so great! It’s so cheap. Things in Switzerland can get really expensive, so it was exciting to have good, cheap coffee!
S: Yes, Tim Hortons is so great! For sports, we went to a football game. It was really interesting, because we don’t have that at home.
A: We went to a hockey game, too, which was really cool. It’s funny though – compared to games at home, it was so quiet! Usually at games at home, people are cheering and really loud. It didn’t feel like that at the game, but it was still a lot of fun!
J: Wow, seems like you have truly had the Canadian experiences! I know you’re only here for a semester, but have you gotten to travel around a little bit?
A: Not a lot, because it can get pretty expensive. But we went to Whistler. I really liked Whistler! We have mountains and resorts similar at home, but it was interesting to see. There was a bike race on the highway going up so it took forever to get there. We also went to Seattle, and we have been to the local lakes and waterfalls in Abbotsford, Mission and Chilliwack.
S: We went to Gibson’s as well. And of course, Vancouver. I really like Vancouver! It’s nice, and it feels smaller than other big cities. It was easy to get around and there was lots to do.
J: Well, it seems like you’ve done pretty well! You made it to the USA with Seattle and have seen quite a bit of BC.
A: Yes! I hope we can see a little more before we leave in December, but we’ll see. Studying abroad definitely makes you want to travel more.
I think any student who has studied abroad would agree completely with Aaron’s statement. At the end of December, Aaron and Sarina will go home to Switzerland after what they found to be a great semester abroad. We wish them safe travels and good luck with the rest of their schooling!