Getting accepted in an exchange program at the University of Victoria is the first step to a great adventure. The island is a really beautiful place to live and the experience that you will gain after leaving the place is priceless. But before coming to Victoria, you must have a lot of questions about where to live, what to do, what to bring.
Most exchangers leave their country for the first time. Some of you may even take a plane for the first time in your life. Coming to Canada and more specifically to Victoria is a choice that all the exchange students will not regret. But before coming, anxiety, stress and fear of the unknown are the usual feelings one can face. So preparing yourself is a good solution to calm you down.
Where To Stay ? On or Off-Campus ?
Staying on or off-campus is a question that usually has no correct answer. Both options will give you a different experience and both are truly great. To help you, here are some advantages to these two different locations.
- No time lost on commuting back and forth from your home to campus,
- You will not miss any event created for students because everything starts here,
- You can sleep right until ten minutes before the beginning of class and still be on time,
- Party on-campus ? No need to worry about how to get home with a bus or pay a cab,
- Party downtown ? So many people live on campus so you probably will not miss the last bus or you can share a cab (which is really cheap because you can easily find 3 other people to come with you).
- You get a break from being on campus,
- You discover a different area than the University grounds (most of the students living in residence on-campus don't leave the University at all),
- You will live with a family or with students that have been there for a long time, unlike people on campus who only stay there for a term or two and do not really know the city,
- You place can also be close to campus so you would have everything in one place.
From my point of view, after studying in the University of Victoria for more than a year, I know that living on-campus is absolutely wonderful if you stay for only one term because you spend more time with other exchangers and get to experience new things with them. You discover everything at the same time and because you only stay one term, you will not have time to do everything.
For people staying for two terms, you get more time to settle in and will probably get to meet Canadians if you live off-campus. You also have the opportunity to live outside of campus and also rent a place is a very good experience that you should not miss. You also discover the city in a better way than staying on-campus.
What To Do Before Coming ?
First, get in touch with the International and Exchange Student Services (IESS). They will help you from the moment you get into the exchange program until you go back home and even long after that. Since they do not have all the experience as a newcomer, they will even redirect you to international students who have been in contact with exchangers and who know how the situation is when you first get in town. That is one of the greatest source of information.
Book a room at the Ocean Island Backpacker hostel for a few days up to a week. Prices are good and the place is right in downtown. It is usually full of exchange and international students at the beginning of the term so you get to know them even before the start of class.
If you are staying for more than 2 terms, get the AON insurance until you arrive in Victoria where you will apply for BC Healthcare. The latter usually takes 3 months to be effective, that is why you will need the AON insurance.
Change money to get Canadian currency, for when your credit card does not work when you arrive. If possible, check with your bank if they have a deal with a bank in Canada. Otherwise, consider getting an account at the Royal Bank of Canada (RBC) or Scotia Bank because they have Automated Teller Machine (ATM) on campus, which are really useful because you do not have to pay fees when you withdraw money.
When opening an account, you will get a debit card (usually free) that will be useful because if you pay cash all the time, you will most likely end up with a lot of 1 or 2 cent coins.
What To Pack ?
You can buy most of the material you need when you arrive but some objects reminding you of home should be brought with you.
Make Yourself Home
Bring some photos of your friends and family that you can stick on the walls with blue-tack. If you have special linens, bring them too, you will avoid the hassle of having to spend extra money when coming.
Bring a towel, your toothbrush and toothpaste, some soap and flip-flops. Especially if you stay at a hostel, flip-flops are always useful to go to the shower.
What Clothes Should You Bring ?
Even though Victoria has the mildest weather in Canada, you should be ready to come with a warm coat and/or a raincoat because it rains a lot. Do not forget some good shoes. Hiking shoes are recommended for outdoor activities and because of the rain.
The best way to dress is in layers. It is very convenient to be able to get more or less clothes during the day and to control your warmth.
If you follow these advises, you should be fine when arriving to Victoria. Bring your most positive attitude and enjoy your exchange as much as you can because before you know it, you will not want to leave !