The University of Alberta - International Summer Programme, Canada
The course was designed to allow participants to enjoy their free time and explore Canada!
David on Alberta Summer School
How did you find the Summer School, academically?
There was 49 people on the programme, and this was split into 2 groups for the workshops in the afternoons. The course isn't designed to be academically challenging, and is more designed to introduce you to Canada and its customs, as well as trying new things and leaving your comfort zone. The programme is interesting and informative, but not intended to be challenging and there is no assessment or examination. There was occasionally small bits of homework, but rather than being challenging or boring tasks they were just small tasks such as finding a video to present or writing a couple of lines about yourself. There were tasks designed to test your soft skills, such as teamwork and presentation skills, with the main project throughout the programme being to design a poster on a certain week of the programme in a small group. There was time allocated for this however it was necessary to spend some time outside of this to complete it. This was not assessed formally and the best poster was simply voted on anonymously, as the course was designed to allow participants to enjoy their free time and explore Canada rather than spend it studying or working.
What extra-curricular activities did you take part in?
There were a lot of activities throughout the programme. These included trips to West Edmonton Mall, Whyte Avenue, the Alberta Legislature building, Fort Edmonton Park, Calgary, Banff (including a gondola up the Rocky Mountains and Lake Louise), the "A Taste of Edmonton" festival, Snow Valley Aerial Park, Volunteering at Prairie Urban Farm, Leduc #1 Museum + Energy Discovery Centre, the 'K-Days' festival, a "learn to curl" workshop and volunteering at various places depending on your preference, personally I volunteered at Edmonton Humane Society (animal shelter) and YES (youth hostel). In addition to these activities which were part of the programme, I visited Elk Island national park where I explored and went canoeing, Southgate mall, downtown Edmonton, a couple of parks, South Edmonton Common outlet mall, the university gym including a climbing wall and basketball court, various bars and a restaurants and a nightclub.
What was the accommodation like?
The accommodation was slightly dated and rooms were shared, however there was adequate facilities (other than there wasn’t many coat hangers provided so I had to buy more upon arrival) and shared rooms was a good way to meet people and meant nobody was isolated. The males were on one floor and females the floor below, with each floor sharing a common room and kitchen which was a great way for everybody to socialise and mix together on each floor every night and allowed everybody to get to know each other well. There were 3 bathrooms on each floor with 3 showers and 3 toilets each shared between around 6-10 people I believe. Rooms seemed to be mainly allocated according to what country your home university was in, meaning there wouldn't be a language barrier between roommates and there was a few people who didn't have a roommate. There was a cafe in the accommodation as well as the kitchen however it closed at 3pm and was quite expensive, but pots and pans and plates etc were available to hire for a small deposit so it wasn't an issue. There were also cheap laundry facilities on each floor.
How did the experience enhance your international outlook?
I learned that in South Korea everybody turns one year older on New Years Day rather than their actual birthday, and people are 1 year old when they are born, rather than 0.
I also learned that in Canada volunteering is very important, and almost everybody volunteers regularly.
Finally, I learned that in China it is not considered important to treat everybody with respect, so it is uncommon to tip waiters or waitresses or say thank you to bus drivers or say hello to strangers, as everybody is much more reserved and judged heavily on their education and profession.
What advice do you have for future students attending this summer school?
You are given a $300 cash card, but since the cafe at the accommodation is expensive and closes early, chances are you will only use this for 1 meal a day whilst at university. A good idea is to cook with other people (and hire the pots and pans to share between a few of you), and buy foods such as instant noodles and pizzas which can be cooked easily. Eating out regularly can be expensive, and there are lots of shops at West Edmonton Mall and South Edmonton Common. I spent around £600 but I ate out a lot and bought alcohol regularly, but I didn't spend much on shopping. For people who plan to shop more or eat out less this will vary, but ultimately it is down to how strict you are with yourself financially. Most people had a lot of money left on their cash card at the end of the programme and used this in the campus gift shop to buy souvenirs.
There is no preparatory work required, and everybody should speak English, but some students are more fluent than others, particularly in the first few days. The programme pretty much covers all there is to do in Alberta, as there isn't actually a huge amount going on, but South Edmonton Common is a great place to go for very cheap shopping as there is a lot of outlet stores with huge discounts, and prices are much lower than West Edmonton Mall.
There is 1 free weekend on the programme, and I used this to organise a trip to Elk Island National Park. This was a good day although there isn't a huge amount to do other than walk around and we went on a very hot day, but there is a lake where you can canoe. If you were to do this the there was a new shuttle service that was being trialled whilst we were there, but seats were limited so book well in advance if you want to go there, or do as we did and get together a large group and hire one of the yellow school busses you will probably use for trips on the programme (these come with a driver and aren't too expensive when split between a large group), we also went to downtown Edmonton as there was a farmers market going on and had a walk through China Town which isn't really worth doing other than the Asian supermarket which is very cheap and a good place to stock up when you first arrive, particularly for cheap fruit and veg and instant noodles, other than this China Town is quite a rough area just containing a couple of restaurants. Southgate mall is a smaller and more quiet version of West Edmonton Mall if you want to shop without as much hustle and bustle, and there are outdoor BBQ facilities in most if not all the surrounding parks such as Emily Murphy park if you wanted to have a BBQ (there is also one as part of the programme).
The gym isn't free but is good quality if you did want to pay, although it's expensive, and the climbing wall is slightly overpriced as you can only do the basic area without a training session which isn't really feasible during your short time in Alberta. Facilities such as the basketball court are free but equipment must be hired at a small fee, and can be paid for using your cash card. Nightlife isn't good in Alberta, and you must have ID in bars even if you don't plan on drinking alcohol, ideally with the date of birth written in English. On Wednesday's most bars do discounted chicken wings and beer which is a good chance to go out and relax with cheap food and drinks. I visited Hudson's and The Pint, both on Whyte Avenue, and had good experiences at both, although Hudson's is better with a larger group as bigger tables are available and bars get busy on Wednesdays for the wings and beer deals.