Fourth-year Biochemistry and Molecular Biology student ambassador Jia-Lynn Tham talks about her semester abroad in the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada. 

Hi all! 

I spent the second semester of 3rd year on exchange at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. I knew I wanted to go to a university outside the EU and decided on UBC because of its renowned biochemistry department and comprehensive programme.   

Applying For Exchange

The application process is fairly simple – just rank 10 universities you’d like to go on exchange to and you’re set! It is important to research the modules offered at the universities and ensure there are modules equivalent to what you would take here at UCD – this is crucial in getting your application approved by the exchange coordinator of your faculty.

There are so many different universities that UCD has partnered up with, and factors such as the cost of living, visas and language requirements should all be considered when making your decision. Attending the information talks organised by the UCD Global team is helpful as you’ll be able to speak to a student that’s been on exchange, as well as get an idea of the application timeline and deadlines.  

The Canadian Experience

Going on exchange is a great opportunity to immerse yourself in a completely different culture and really get to know the city you’re moving to. In 4 months, I got to experience so many “Canadian” things: I went dog-sledging, to ice hockey games, ate poutine and spent many evenings ice-skating at the rink on campus. We went skiing, and on endless Tim Hortons runs. During the spring break, my friends and I did a road trip through the Canadian Rockies, stopping at different National Parks to snowshoe and explore. It was an incredible experience, even if it was beyond cold at -26°C.  

As the weather warmed up, the Exchange Student Club (ESC) organised a camping trip to Tofino, Vancouver Island where we learnt how to surf! Although it was lashing rain and our tents got soaked, I had a great time with my friends, furiously trying to keep warm around a campfire on the beach. The ESC organised events catered for exchange students and if you do go on exchange, I highly recommend joining a similar club! Just like in UCD, joining clubs and societies is a great way to get involved and make friends.

Studying Abroad

My semester abroad also allowed me to gain exposure to different learning and teaching styles. At UBC, there was more emphasis on continuous assessment and active participation. This was great for engaging more with the material. Students were keen on interacting with the academics during lectures, and we were encouraged to have discussions – you could talk and discuss in the libraries, and there were smaller areas dedicated for “quiet study”. 

UBC offered many interesting and unique modules – I took an elective called Hong Kong Cinema, where we learnt about the Hong Kong film industry from the post-war period to now. Every week, we would watch a Hong Kong movie from a different era and discuss the different filmmaking styles and genres. Going abroad offers an opportunity to learn about things you may not get a chance to at home. 

 

Friendships

Another highlight of my semester abroad was all the friendships I made with people from all over the world. Although we spent a relatively short time together, many of these friendships were very meaningful and I have no doubt I made friends for life! I was lucky enough to be assigned flatmates with whom I got on really well, and who were all exchange students as well. This meant we were all on the same page of making the most of the short time we had in Vancouver. On weekends, we’d go for hikes, explore downtown and check out the food scene (which was unreal)

Vancouver is a beautiful city and has a relatively mild climate compared to the rest of Canada. It is surrounded by both the ocean and a mountain range so there are tons to do, especially if you enjoy being outdoors. It is also extremely cosmopolitan, with strong influences from cultures all over. This was reflected in the food, diversity and identity of the city which was so different from what I was used to here in Dublin – it was really exciting to always be discovering something new! In no time, Vancouver had become a home away from home and all too soon, it was time to say goodbye.

Going on exchange was an extremely enriching and life-changing adventure, and easily one of the best times of my university years. I got to learn and experience so many new things, and will always cherish the memories and friendships made along the way. 

If you’re thinking of going on exchange, I encourage you to take the leap of faith and go for it – do your research, apply, and remember to enjoy every bit of the experience!