Meet Alden at the University of British Columbia in Canada!
Name: Alden Chang
University: University of British Columbia
Degree Title (Major/Minor): BA Psychology – possibly with a minor in Asian Studies
Current Year of Study: 2nd year
How did you choose your university destination and course of study?
I thought that Canadian universities, including UBC, provided the balance of subject depth in studying a major, but also allowing students to explore the range of areas they may have an interest in or would like to try out.
Having been a psychology and economics student in high school during my Cambridge AS and A Levels, I found myself interested in being immersed in the world of the human mind and behaviour, and excited to learn more about its various applications – including social/consumer psychology. This was why I decided to continue my studies in this field also for my university degree.
What have been the highlights of your academic programme so far?
I am glad to say that the considerations I mentioned earlier in choosing UBC as my university destination did come true. I continue to be deeply engaged in my psychological studies, but have also been exploring other courses in areas I would never have thought I would get into. I have taken courses in archaeology, anthropology, and even asian studies – which I currently find I am really interested in. Now, I am thinking of pursuing a minor in Asian Area Studies!
I believe that my academic programme has also definitely been highlighted by the quality of professors and peers I have met throughout my journey these past two years. The level of discourse that happens in the classroom and the expertise my professor has shown motivate me to work harder in whatever I do, whether it be part of courses or otherwise. They raise my curiosities and open up my views to the wide range of opportunities there are for me to take. I hope to be able to take advantage of as many of these opportunities as possible during the rest of my university degree.
What do you enjoy most about living in Vancouver?
I would say that it is the variety of cultures that blend together in Vancouver! With people from all parts of the world living here, I feel grateful to be able to regularly exchange my views and perspectives with people from various backgrounds. I believe that this variety of cultures really opens you to so many points of view and ideas from around the world. There are many times when I have thought, “Ah, so that is how others may see this matter. That’s very interesting!”
On a personal level, being an Asian, there are also so many Asians around me, with Asian food lining the streets too! This definitely allows me to feel more at home, especially during the first months of transitioning into a completely new environment.
Vancouver is a very comfortable place to live. There are so many places to visit, and its nature is absolutely beautiful. Not to mention that the UBC campus is huge and gorgeous! We have a beach backdoor, and seagulls are always around as we are very close to the ocean. Forests are around with trekking routes, and there is always something to do outside. Though, be prepared for quite a bit of rain!
How supportive is your university to international students and, in particular, during the pandemic?
I think that UBC is quite supportive to international students, including throughout the pandemic. Even to today, UBC still provides the option of online courses, and is flexible to students in terms of their courses. Though the range of courses taught fully online has decreased a lot, there still are enough of them happening. Most of the professors, particularly mine, have always been understanding and provide students with accommodations as needed – whether it be about small things like homework and exams, but also providing class recordings and live streams for students who may fall ill or are uncomfortable with coming to class.
Arriving in Canada, I was also reimbursed for part of my quarantine fees, and my hotel was also under a special rate for UBC students. Though it may not be a lot, even a small financial help such as this can go a long way, especially realizing the many added costs of moving and travelling during the pandemic.
What have been 3 of the main challenges you have faced during your time at university?
- COVID-19 was definitely a challenge as I transitioned to life in university. Having delayed my leave to Canada for a year, there were also a plethora of covid-related preparations to take into account even a year later as I was about to leave for UBC. Vaccines, quarantine requirements, testing, etc. Not only were these extra things to physically prepare for, they also added costs to the planning of my trip. Furthermore, with another spike in cases, my start to the second semester was also returned online. With changes in delivery method, the caution related to COVID-19 (in terms of what activities you can/want to do), and the uncertainty about it, it definitely was a challenge.
- Another challenge is that moving to a new country and a new environment is already a challenge in itself. Having to adapt to a completely new setting, meeting completely new people, and having to really become independent. You could definitely miss home at times! What I have done is to make sure I am still connected to home. Engage with your family members through regular video calls, stay in touch with your friends, and this will hopefully make the transition much easier, as it has done for me.
- Finally, being an introvert, it is not as easy for me to go around and put myself out there as many others may be more confident in this respect. Especially after 2 years of COVID only being at home as well. Because of this, I often question whether I am doing enough in this new university environment. Therefore, what I have tried to do is to begin with participating in activities I am more confident in and those I am more familiar with. Taking it slowly and step-by-step. If you feel you are not ready yet, then start by observing the activities around you to get a feel of what they may be doing. Ask around, and then push your boundaries little by little.
What activities are you involved in outside of your academic programme?
Having been on campus only starting at the beginning of my second year, I have not been part of too many activities just yet, I wanted to make sure I am adapting well to the new environment, my academic programme, and taking it at a pace I feel comfortable with.
I have been part of the Indonesian community at my university. Ever since the first year, the community provided students with mentorship programmes and events to build friendships between students from my home country. As I am also studying the Korean language under the Asian Studies department at UBC, I have also been involved in the Korean Language division, helping out my professor for events in the department. Unfortunately because of COVID, volunteering organisations have not been active as of yet. I am a member of a community service club called Love Your Neighbour too, but we have not been able to conduct volunteer activities to schools and nursing homes yet. Hopefully as the pandemic gets better, it will allow the university to approve more in-person/indoor activities, and leave us with less of a constant sense of caution, and I will be able to participate in more activities in the future.
Now, after seeing the university and its opportunities, I will definitely be participating in more these upcoming semesters!
How easy is it to find accommodation? Can you describe your living arrangements?
As long as you are over 19 (legal age in Canada for signing leases yourself), it is much easier to find accommodations. I had difficulty when I was about to leave for Canada as I did not get a dorm, and was also not yet 19 making it even more difficult to find off-campus housing options. Fortunately, nearing my departure date, I was able to get hold of a dorm room, a shared apartment of 6 (individual bedrooms, with shared living spaces) from UBC, and lived there for the entirety of my second year.
If you are planning to live in one of the UBC dorms, I think that as long as you apply for them early on, there should be a large chance for you to get it. Also, UBC first years get guaranteed dorms if you apply by the right dates.
If you are looking to live in off-campus accommodations, I would suggest to look about 1-2 months prior to your planned move in date, and get as many options as possible. The demand, especially in areas near campus, is quite high. One thing to note also, is that many require leases that are long – usually 1 year contracts. If you are thinking of renting for that amount of time or even more, it will be much easier to look for rentals.
It definitely requires effort, but if you apply early and spend time actually looking for many options, you should be able to find the right accommodation for you!
For this upcoming academic year, I have just accepted an offer for a studio accommodation in UBC’s newest student residences, so I am very excited for that too!
I personally think that living on campus is much more convenient. From the stories I have been told by my friends, commuting to school everyday, especially if your residence is a bit far away, can be quite exhausting.
Do you think your university experience is preparing you well for the working world and do they offer support with finding jobs and internships?
Yes, I do think so. UBC provides students with the opportunity to participate in work-learn programs, Co-op (internship) programs, and they have career advisors to help students prepare for the working world. Many workshops on CVs, interview preparation and others related to entering the working world are also available for students many times during the year. I believe that every major/department also hosts their own workshops, tied to the specific requirements of the field of interest.
There are a lot of resources that are available for students on work, and future paths after university. Sometimes, it is just that students do not know where to look for these. These “students” also included myself. Now having actually been on campus, I try my best to ask around, and ask the advisors UBC has, and they will gladly connect me to the right people for different things.
What opportunities have you had to travel and explore during weekends and vacations?
I have had the opportunity to travel with friends and explore the Vancouver area, whether it be the beaches, forests, gardens or going on a trip for food! As students have their public transport fees included in their tuition, we can simply use public transport without limit! This makes exploring much nicer. We have multiple bus routes, metros, and even a seabus that takes us around the area. Usually, places like gardens, festivals, and museums are at a cheaper price for students, if not completely free.
If you are a student in Vancouver, a popular destination for students is a nearby island/city called Victoria. A ferry ride away, it has some incredible architecture, museums, gardens and is just a nice nearby vacation spot. This is usually for longer holidays like the reading break or winter/summer vacations.
During the start of this summer break, I was also able to travel to the nearby West Coast of the US. With just a 2 hour flight to Los Angeles or Las Vegas, there definitely are opportunities for longer holidays to major cities nearby. Many of my friends and professors also regularly drive/take a 2.5 hour bus ride down to Seattle.
What are the top 3 pieces of advice you would offer an international student thinking of coming to Vancouver and Canada to study?
If you are a first-year, incoming student to the University of British Columbia, I would highly recommend that you participate in UBC’s orientation program, Jump Start. This is a one week program to introduce students to campus, resources, and friends! Even with my year’s Jump Start program being online, I was able to meet some of my closest friends at UBC even till today. It also introduced me to amazing upper year student mentors who are always there to help you even after the program. I could only imagine what it would be like if students can experience Jump Start in-person.
The second advice I have is to fill your luggage with just the right amount of things to bring. Have something to remind you of home, bring enough clothes, but not too many things. Once you settle in, you will be purchasing new items during your time at university. Bringing too many items will make it difficult to bring them back home later on. Furthermore, if you are coming from a warm climate like I did, the jackets and coats we buy from our home country may not be enough for the cold winters of Vancouver. You will eventually need to buy thicker coats and puffer jackets there, so save the luggage space from back home!
Finally, I would advise you to take everything at your own pace. One thing I have realised as I began my journey in university, is that you should not keep comparing yourself to others around you. Whether it be about the amount of friends you have, the clubs you participate in, etc. Make sure you know what your own priorities are, where you want to go, and what you want to be doing. Then, go at your own pace. University should be a place for you to discover YOUR interests, explore opportunities YOU would like to try, and a journey of understanding yourself. So just do you! 🙂