Don't be nervous about not knowing anyone, you'll soon make friends

Sophie in a cafe
Sophie Ashdown
Summer school at University of Alberta in Canada
MEng Civil and Structural Engineering
Sophie went to the University of Alberta in Canada on a summer school.

Why did you decide to study abroad?

I decided to study abroad because I wanted to spend time in a country I had never got the opportunity to visit before; in order to experience new cultures and meet new people. I was also really excited by the prospect of travelling alone, without any friends or family, to explore the country for myself.

What were your top  three highlights whilst studying/working abroad?

  1. Visiting a viewing platform in the Rocky Mountains is one of my main highlights. It was a wonderful experience with outstanding views.
  2. On one of our last days in Edmonton, a large group of us organised a BBQ in the large park which runs along the edge of the North Saskatchewan River. It was a really nice evening and a good way to say goodbye to Canada and each other.
  3. The best part was meeting new people from countries all over the world. I made some amazing friends and learnt so much about different cultures and traditions. I enjoyed spending time with them after classes; attempting curling for the first time and indulging in food and drink on weekly ‘maple wing Wednesdays.’

What would you say to someone who was unsure about spending a period abroad?

Enrolling on the Global Scholarship programme was one of the best things I have ever done, I have no regrets in choosing to study abroad. Participating in this program gave me the opportunity to learn things I would never have had the chance to learn on my civil engineering degree. Meeting students from countries all over the world taught me more than I ever hoped to learn about different cultures; not only did I absorb Canadian culture, I also enjoyed learning about Asian cultures from my Chinese, Korean, Singaporean and Filipino class mates.

Being a student in a different country is a unique experience which largely differs from being a passing tourist. It gives students the opportunity to meet interesting people within their field which they would rarely get the opportunity to meet.

If you are unsure about spending time abroad because you are anxious about being away from home, do not worry. Embrace the experience because I guarantee when you look back on your trip, you won’t remember that one night you felt a bit home sick; you will remember the fantastic times you had with the interesting people you met. You will not regret it.

What is the one thing you wish you'd known before you left?

There is no reason to be nervous about not knowing anybody in the country! There were many other international students there that were in the exact same position as me. It was very easy to meet people and I settled in a lot faster than I expected to.

What are three things to do in Alberta?

  1. Visit Elk island national park. The national park is about an hour’s drive away from Edmonton (a group of us hired a cheap bus for the day) and has an area of 194km², making it Canada’s largest fully enclosed national park. It is an area of outstanding national beauty! I would recommend hiring a kayak on Lake Astotin or hiking on one of the many trails, hopefully you will see some Elk!
  2. Go to as many festivals as you can. Edmonton hosts various different festivals over the summer period. I would recommend going to the food festival and indigenous people festival. I would describe these Canadian ‘festivals’ more as British ‘carnivals,’ full of plenty of things to buy and eat!
  3. Visit Banff and the Rocky Mountains. Banff is a small picturesque town just on the border of the Rocky Mountains. The drive from Edmonton to Banff is approximately 4 hours so I would recommend staying overnight in the city of Calgary. A cable car is available just outside of Banff which takes you up into the mountains; the views are breath taking and I would definitely recommend the trip. Calgary is also worth exploring as it is a very vibrant city.