As part of the Freemover program of the University of St.Gallen, I completed my exchange semester at Capilano University in the fall semester 2017. The following sections provide an overview of the most important points of my stay in Vancouver.
Organization in advance
The organization of the exchange turned out to be very easy. The “MicroEDU” organization helps students organize their exchange at various universities. This service is free of charge for students. An email to MicroEDU is sufficient to receive all relevant documents and information about the desired university. The only requirement for registration at Capilano University is basically 80 points in the TOEFL language test.
With the help of MicroEDU, the process of organizing and communicating with Capilano University was very easy. I recommend this service to everyone because MicroEDU is very knowledgeable and the organization is so much easier. The most important points in advance are the enrollment process and the specification of the desired courses. With guidance from MicroEDU, these steps shouldn’t be a problem. It should also be mentioned that an electronic visa (ETA) is required for Swiss and German citizens to enter Canada. This can be requested online.
The information that you run the risk of not being able to travel to Canada without a return flight already booked has not come true in my opinion. Many exchange students came to Canada without a booked return flight and had no problems entering the country. However, it can be worthwhile to book a return flight together, as the price then tends to be lower. It can make sense to book the return flight flexibly in order to be able to adjust the date of the return journey if necessary. When traveling via the USA, an electronic visa (ESTA) must also be purchased online.
What I also recommend is to register for the Capilano University mentoring program. With this offer, every exchange student is assigned a mentor. These mentors are Canadian or international students who complete their entire degree at CapU and often have exchange experience themselves. Especially in the run-up to the exchange and in the first few weeks in Canada, my mentor was a great help.
Capilano University is located north of Vancouver (North Vancouver). The rather young university, only officially a university since 2008, has significantly gained in reputation in recent years. It accommodates an average of more than 11,000 students, of which more than 1,000 are “international students” from more than 70 different nations. The university can be easily reached by public transport from the surrounding districts. The campus is surrounded by forest and literally merges with the surrounding nature. Since the campus is rather small, orientation is very easy after just a few days. In addition, all courses are held on one campus, which means that no long distances have to be covered to change course rooms.
The university’s infrastructure is very good. The library is very large and offers several study places and computer stations. It is divided over two floors, the upper floor being the “silent zone” and the lower floor being used for group work or other meetings. If necessary, different rooms can be reserved so that you can work on projects undisturbed. In addition, the university itself and the Student Union offer various events. The offer includes a wide range of exam and career preparation, general information events such as the introductory day for new students, to leisure activities such as bowling or film evenings. The Capilano University also has a sports program that covers the most popular sports.
The teaching methods and course design are quite different from most courses at European universities. Small classes (maximum approx. 30 people) and a more personal relationship with the teacher make you feel like you have been back in high school. In addition, there are always several smaller examinations in each course, which usually make up between 5-30 percent of the overall grade. This forces everyone to repeat the treated material regularly. Most courses include a final exam in the last two weeks of the semester. This is a maximum of 35 percent of the total grade. I perceived the quality level of the courses as mostly average. However, the quantitative extent of the courses and the time required during the semester should not be underestimated.
In many courses there is no compulsory attendance. However, I would recommend attending the courses regularly, as exam-relevant content is often only addressed in the lesson and many instructors include attendance in the grades in the interests of goodwill.
Switching to the English language shouldn’t be a problem. For many of the students, English is not their mother tongue and the largely accent-free Canadian English is easy to understand.
The range of courses at CapU is very diverse and can be accessed on the university website. The choice of course is simple and is carried out by the university itself based on a priority list that is submitted with the registration. Even if exchange students are prioritized when choosing courses, there is unfortunately no guarantee that they will receive the first-mentioned courses. Since the definitive course allocation is made by those responsible at the university and subsequent changes are cumbersome, it pays to be flexible in your choice of course and to specify a few alternatives.
There is a maximum of four courses for exchange students (exceptions possible). This corresponds to twelve Canadian credits or 24 ECTS.
In my exchange semester I took the following courses:
Finance for Manager
The course was structured in two blocks of 1.5 hours per week. The theory was often explained in the first weekly lesson and an extensive example was solved in the second. In addition, a quiz had to be taken every week on the chapter in question, which makes up ten percent of the overall grade. In addition, two midterms with 20 percent grades were carried out and a group work (20 percent) was written in which the financial situation of a company was evaluated. This course relied heavily on the students’ own initiative, as the material was often only touched on superficially in the lessons and the content then had to be deepened in self-study. However, I have heard from fellow students that other instructors have made more effort to bring the content closer to the students.
The course took place once a week in a three-hour block. In addition to various theories, a simulation was also part of the course. In this, different strategic decisions for a fictitious company had to be made every week in a group. This simulation took up about half of the class time. With a quiz on how the simulation works, a company presentation and a business plan for the relevant company, the simulation was also part of the grading process. In addition, the theoretical basics of the course were tested using a midterm and a final exam. Even if the content is treated very superficially and, in my opinion, too much weight is attached to simulation in this course, I would recommend this course to others.
Professional selling skills
This subject convinced me the most. The main component of the course was to learn various skills that allow the sales person to respond adequately to his counterpart and to increase the chances of success in closing a deal. The various methods were practiced in practical role-plays, which resulted in a very high learning effect. In addition to a short group paper and a presentation on a theoretical basis, a report based on an interview with a sales person was also requested. This task was very demanding, but at the same time opened up an opportunity to gain valuable practical insight and also to establish contacts in the local economy. The final exam consisted of an individual sales talk with the instructor. It was about apply the skills learned and sell the teacher an object of their own choice. I would recommend the course anytime. However, it should be noted that the instructor retired after this semester. So unfortunately I cannot say whether the course will be continued and, if so, whether the content of the course will be retained.
The main aim of this course was to develop an awareness of various cultural differences between countries, but also other cultural groups (e.g. ethnic groups). In addition to various theoretical concepts, numerous case studies were also dealt with and discussed. In addition to a midterm and a case study, which is prepared in the group and then presented to the class, the course includes numerous examinations that contribute little to the overall grade (4-5 percent). As a result, a large number of examinations had to be completed, which led to an above-average amount of work. For this reason, I would only recommend this course if someone likes to discuss cultural characteristics and is not afraid of the above-average effort.
The housing situation in Vancouver is very difficult. Measured by demand, the supply of affordable apartments is extremely small. I was able to rent a renovated room in a three-person shared apartment through «Bell Accommodation». Here it is worth sending an inquiry in good time, as the rooms are booked out very quickly. Another option is the “CapU Residence”. This accommodation is located near the university and is designed as a student residence. This offer also includes three meals per day in the rental price. Private offers can also be found on offer portals such as “Craigslist”. However, caution should be exercised on such portals, as not all offers correspond to reality. Another student dormitory is also being planned, which will be directly adjacent to the campus. However, I do not know when this will be completed.
Regarding the location, I recommend North Vancouver (Upper and Lower Lonsdale or Lynn Valley), Burnaby or Downtown. Accommodation in the east of Vancouver can also be attractive in terms of price and distance to the university, but be sure to avoid the region around East Hastings / Main Street.
Although the university itself is also in North Vancouver, the way to the university from Downtown and Burnaby is the same depending on the location in North Vancouver. It is also an advantage to only have to take one bus to get to the university. The bus system is good, but the buses are not sufficiently coordinated and often run late. This can result in longer waiting times when changing trains.
The best location is Lower Lonsdale in North Vancouver. From there you can take the Sea Bus (ferry, which connects North Vancouver with Downtown) to the city center quickly, at the same time you have good connections to the university and the area is quiet. In addition, it is not a problem to get home from downtown by night bus.
Compared to Switzerland, the cost of living in Vancouver is a little lower. For the accommodation I would estimate 750-1000 Canadian dollars (CAD) per month. This varies depending on the type and location. In contrast, eating out in Vancouver is relatively cheap. Most groceries are also cheaper than in Switzerland. Nevertheless, even if you often cook yourself, I would expect CAD 350-500 for food and household items. I have often cooked myself and always paid attention to a healthy and balanced diet, which would put my expenses on the upper limit of this spectrum. The costs for public transport (60 CAD per month) are added to the semester fees by the university.
Depending on the leisure activities and weekend trips, additional expenses may arise. If not absolutely necessary, I would not turn the savings screw at this point, otherwise you might miss out on unique experiences. Basically, the prices are usually stated exclusive of taxes and tips. So often 5-20 percent has to be added to the price.
Another cost item was a Canadian mobile phone contract. For 40-50 CAD, offers for unlimited calls and SMS can be found in Canada with 1-2 GB of mobile data. I would recommend a Canadian number, as this variant is often cheaper than buying a data package in Switzerland. Since Whatsapp is not very popular in Canada, many students prefer to communicate via SMS and telephone.
As a payment method I would generally recommend cash or credit card. It is not absolutely necessary to open a CAD account. However, we strongly recommend that you have a credit card (e.g. Travel Cash Card).
Vancouver and Surroundings
Vancouver has a lot to offer as a city. With almost 2.5 million inhabitants (greater Vancouver Area), Vancouver can certainly be viewed as a major city. However, the city is very clear and orientation is easy. A large part of downtown can also be explored on foot. If you are not sure whether you are on the right track, the Canadians are very helpful and happy to provide information. A special characteristic of Vancouver is certainly the connection between big cities and nature. Stanley Park can be seen as the green lung of the city and is easy to explore on foot or by bike until autumn. Numerous beaches such as English Bay, Second and Third Beach but also Kitsilano Beach invite you to linger. From there it is also possible to swim in the Pacific on warmer days. For people with a romantic streak, the beaches are also ideal locations to watch beautiful sunsets.
Another plus point of Vancouver is that you can reach many hiking trails within 30-60 minutes and have the impressive Canadian nature on your doorstep, so to speak. The hiking trails are extremely well maintained and marked. In addition, various hiking routes can be researched very well on the Internet. There are also special offers for other outdoor activities such as mountain biking. Vancouver is therefore ideal for outdoor fans.
Here are some activities that can be done in half a day:
- Grouse Mountain: The Grouse Grind is a good fitness program. The record for almost three kilometers and 850 steps is less than 25 minutes. Perfect view of downtown as a reward on the summit (in good weather).
- Fromme Mountain: Various hiking and biking routes
- Mount Seymour: Various hiking and biking routes
- Lynn Canyon Park: Very nice to swim, especially in summer. Also a good starting point for short hikes.
- Lighthouse Park: Various shorter hiking trails with very nice views of downtown Vancouver.
- Granville Island: Local produce market.
- Jericho Beach: Option to rent canoes and view the Vancouver skyline from the water.
- Deep Cove: Also very nice for short hikes and swimming in summer.
In addition to many smaller excursions, there are also numerous other options in the vicinity of Vancouver that are recommended as a weekend excursion (or longer): Vancouver Island; Victoria; Tofino; Jasper National Park; Banff National Park; Whistler; Seattle; Portland
Whistler is also highly recommended for exercising in winter. However, I would certainly plan more than two days here. Other options for people who are staying in Vancouver after the end of the semester (at CapU as early as mid-December) are trips to the USA (Los Angeles or Las Vegas), but also cheap offers to travel to Mexico can be found.
As described, there is a lot to do in Vancouver. However, since the time required during the semester is often very high, I recommend planning trips in advance and arriving a little earlier, or staying a little longer in Vancouver after the end of the semester in order to have enough time for various trips.
Life in Vancouver
I settled in very quickly in Vancouver. The people are friendly and, as mentioned, very helpful. According to Act-test-centers, Vancouver is a very quiet city with little big city hustle and bustle. I also always felt safe. The only thing you have to get used to is that there are a lot of homeless people. This can be a little uncomfortable at times, but again I never felt threatened. The quality of life in Vancouver is therefore very high and comparable to Switzerland or northern Europe in general.
Since Vancouver is a culturally mixed city, with a little openness you quickly get to know people from different countries. Contacting Canadians is also not a problem, especially at the university, if you are a bit open. Even if many exchange students came from Switzerland, Germany and Austria, it was no problem to get to know people from other nations. In addition, the university organizes various events which are intended to promote contacts between exchange students and between students in general.
The only thing you have to get used to are the longer distances. Particularly with the occasional unpunctual bus connections, a short grocery shopping trip can take an hour or more. However, this can be managed very well with a little organization.
Looking back, I can say that I felt very comfortable in Vancouver and had little trouble finding my way in everyday life. I can describe the exchange semester as instructive and enriching from a personal as well as academic point of view. Even though many exchange students were able to speak German, I have certainly improved my English skills, both verbally and in writing. It was also a very exciting experience to get to know another university system. I can also book the different work ethics of the students in group projects and the challenges associated with them as valuable experiences that will be helpful for further tasks.
The change of perspective and being forced to leave one’s familiar surroundings has also brought me a lot further as a person. Combined with the many very enriching and valuable contacts I was able to make with a wide variety of people during this time, I can highly recommend an exchange in Vancouver to everyone.
I hope that with these passages I was able to provide an insight into my exchange semester and show the experiences I made. If you have any further questions, feel free to contact me.