University of Ottowa

  • by Kate Harrison

Kate Harrison in OttawaDoing a year abroad with university is the best life  choice I have ever made. Moving to Ottawa was a huge  step for me, especially as I have lived at home with my  mum during my studies in Birmingham. Hardly  knowing anything about Ottawa before moving was  both a frightening and exciting experience, but I can  honestly say that I have already learnt some important  life lessons.

Before moving to Ottawa, I was adamant  that I would study in a big city in the states for the  year. If anyone even brought Canada into conversation,  I would almost instantly pester them about it stating  that it was ‘not for me’. So here’s my first advice tip:  Do not be disheartened if you do not get your first  choice on a year abroad, moving somewhere  completely unexpected has been a great challenge for  me, and I really could not imagine living anywhere else  at the moment! Ottawa is a wonderful place, and the  people are absolutely fantastic. Canadians are polite,  friendly and always willing to help you where they can.  When I first arrived in August I was overwhelmed at  the level people were willing to go to for me, and I  could not be more thankful for that!


Kate Harrison in OttawaI think it’s important to stress how much easier it felt gaining entry to Canada for a year abroad,  when compared to the states. Unlike the US where you  can expect to attend interviews and pay quite a lot of  money, all you need to do for Canada is apply for a  study permit online. It’s pretty simple in theory, but the  websites can be rather confusing… so just make sure if  you ever to apply to read everything carefully and pay  attention to small print. It is also relatively cheap to  purchase a permit- and another perk is that they last  longer than your length of study. I finish classes at the  end of April, but my permit expires in July- which  means lots of time for travelling! With Canadian study  permits, it is so simple to go to the states if you wish.  When flying you simply apply for a VISA Waiver, or if  using a car or coach you just need an I-94 to cross the  border. It’s all very cheap, which means that travelling  to the States is extremely doable during your year in  Canada.


Luckily for me living in the Capital, I am in  a major Canadian city- but it’s somewhat smaller than  the average capital. Being a government city, it’s fairly  quiet, not too overpopulated and insanely clean. There  is also enough to do here without getting bored; there are lots of museums, live events, places to eat out, and a decent night life to experience. There’s plenty of sport too, NHL has just come out of lockout again so  for hockey lovers, they can check out the Ottawa  Senators play at the Scotiabank Place. Currently the  Rideau Canal is open for ice-skating- which is the  world’s largest outdoor skating rink, so if you have  skates definitely bring them if you visit Ottawa in the  winter! Winterlude Festival is also soon approaching-  this is a yearly event which essentially celebrates all  things cold. There is ice sculpting, ice slides, skating,  and live music. People are afraid to even leave the  house in England when it is cold, but here in Ottawa  people truly embrace the winter.

Kate Harrison in OttawaOne other thing to stress about Ottawa is that the  climate is insane- I cannot stress enough that if you  ever visit Ottawa during the winter, you need to WRAP  UP WARM! When I arrived in August it was +40 (which  is hotter than I’ve ever experienced in England), now  it’s reached -40 so, get a coat, and all the warm  accessories to go with it and you will be good (coats  can be pretty pricey here, but you get what you pay  for). The snow is literally unbelievable in Ottawa, as  one night we had at least 3 feet of snow fall. Waking up  to it was honestly the best moment of my life. I thought  3 millimetres was great, but then I moved to  Canada…..

My biggest lesson on my year abroad so far  has been how to use money wisely. I have worked part-time since I was 16 so saved as much as I could for a  potential year in North America, I also saved my  student loans, bursaries, and scholarships to ensure I  had enough for the year. Furthermore I haven’t had the  option of having a parent to bail me out, so I’ve had to  learn the hard way: work and saving were key to being  able to move to Canada. I cannot emphasise enough  the importance of saving for a year abroad, Ottawa is  fairly pricey, and does not have ‘value’ supermarkets as  such, and things are not always cheap. For example I  ended up paying $400 on books alone for my Winter  term, plus health insurance is necessary and that can  set you back around $600. I cannot stress how  important insurance is. My best friend flew out to me at  Christmas time, and sadly ended up in the Ottawa  Heart Institute Hospital for 3 days. This set her back at  least $25,000 in charges, but she’d fortunately got  cover. You never know what will happen when on a  year abroad, so definitely get insurance!

Furthermore, you need a fair bit of money  to travel and go places; I’d suggest using the  Greyhound and Megabus service as much as possible,  as it really saves you a lot of money. Ottawa luckily has  some great transport links and is really close to  Montreal and Toronto is around a 6 hour drive.  Greyhound buses run regularly, and if you don’t mind  spending hours on a bus, you can save a lot. If you can  afford it, flights also run from Ottawa to New York City,  Washington DC, and other US destinations- they aren’t  too expensive, a return to NYC cost me $400, and  literally took an hour. However, I did happen to lose my bags on a layover in Toronto… this was not a  pleasurable experience!

In a bid to save some money, I also  decided to live off campus this year. Using the  University of Ottawa buddy programme, I was really  fortunate that my paired buddy knew two girls looking for a room-mate. I must admit the house is not exactly close to campus, but it has saved me around $200 a  month in rent, and I’m used to public transport, so it’s not really a big deal (student U-passes are affordable  and last the entire two semester period). I also love where I live, as it is a town house in a suburban area called Nepean. The house is bigger than mine in  England, so it’s really nice to come home in -40  weather to a wood fire and a king size bed! When  looking for houses, it’s all really a game of luck, you  can advertise yourself on sites such as Kijiji and  Craigslist, but I found that asking around and  networking before I came was the easiest option. Some  people came out homeless, and then stayed in a hostel  whilst house-hunting. This wasn’t the option for me, so  I advise anyone who gets stressed by housing to plan  well ahead of time!


Snow in OttawaI have found a major difference in the  university system here in Ottawa. I will jump straight to  the point: assessment is more frequent, and you can  expect as many as 15 assignments per semester. In  general, so far they have been extremely varied in  assessment- standard essays, large research projects,  group projects, debates, exams and weekly writing  protocols have been frequent in my classes. I’ve found  that it’s actually quite easy to do well over here though;  I averaged an A in my autumn term, and found that the  workload was larger, but somewhat easier. Make sure  you do all your work before deadlines, as professors  can be extremely strict out here! Classes are structured  differently too, 3 hour lectures are not uncommon, nor  are 8:30 starts- this doesn’t bode well with a hangover  so be sensible. Also you get marked on your attendance  in some classes, so make sure to make a conscious  effort to get to class… The University of Ottawa offers a  variety of courses, varying from the law surrounding  Indigenous women, American film, US foreign policy,  US poetry, Canadian cultural history and much more. I  was shocked at the number of classes on o?er to me!  The teaching standard is brilliant, and I could not fault  the professors I have had thus far.

To finish I thought I’d give an idea of some  of the things I’ve been able to do so far…

I’ve been dog-sledding, tubing, sun-bathing  on a beach in Ottawa, visited a pumpkin festival,  toured Canadian Parliament, visited a six flags park,  visited Toronto, Montreal, New York City, Kingston,  Calabogie ( a Ski Resort), Cornwall, The St Lawrence  River, The Ottawa Heart Institute (unfortunately) and so  much more I cannot even remember. I’m also going to  Chicago, the Maritime Provinces, Quebec City and  Washington DC before I go home! My year abroad has  already been extremely memorable, and I cannot stress  enough how amazing the opportunity is.

Kate Harrison is in her final year at University of Birmingham studying ACS and History


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