1 Bachelor Plus Program University of Alberta, Philipp Leberer
2 In summer 2010 after attending an information session about the Bachelor Plus Program, something started that I may call the most important single event in my life and what led me in fall 2011 to Edmonton and the University of Alberta. My name is Philipp Leberer and In Freiburg I study forestry and Environmental Sciences since the winter term of If you are interested in the Bachelor Plus Program or already applied for it you are doing the first (and most important) of many steps that will change your life (for real) when you are actually doing this program. I am grateful to everybody who made this experience for me and other students possible. Canada is of course for students in the field of forestry one of the most interesting countries to visit and especially to study in. To help future students I try to give some insights and information that are maybe not always easy accessible for people from outside. Especially for successful applicants I give these information in a chronologically order as you need them. The very beginning Don t panic. Everything is going to be ok. When you don t start to organize your stay only a few weeks before you leave you should be fine. You are fortunate that you are in a program where you don t have to organize every last bit by yourself. The people you want to speak to when you have questions during the process are Pamela Minty (the Student Advisor International for our faculty) or Alex Drummond (he is from the Alberta School of Forest Science and Management & Dept. of Renewable Resources, the forestry section in the faculty) or just me. I give you the contact details at the end. If you have any question in your preparations don t hesitate to contact these people. Application at the university It s pretty simple, just fill out the form and get the documents they need (for example a certified transcript of your grades in Freiburg). Don t bother too much with the selected courses you decide later what you are going to take but be sure to already think about it. Other than our predecessors we didn t need an English certificate for the university. A letter by Prof. Spiecker that states that you are capable to communicate in English is sufficient.
3 Visa This is maybe the most important single step you need to do: apply for a study permit at the Canadian embassy. Without this all your plans are screwed. So apply not too late and see that you have all the documents required. You find all information here: and here in German: If you send them a post-paid envelope you get your study permit via mail. Mine was there maybe a week after I sent all the documents but it can take significantly longer so better send this early. A big question for me was what dates I should use for the study permit. Because you know that you have to do an internship after your studies and want to make sure that your study permit is valid for that, but at that time you are not enrolled at the university anymore (what the embassy can see since you have to include a letter with the dates). I just tried to get one for a full year (end of August 2011 to end of August 2012) and I even got one issued until November. Other preparations Book your flight as early as possible and try to arrive some days before class start. It gives you time to orientate yourself a little bit and maybe already meet some new people you will be studying with. The sky shuttle will bring you to the city, at least that s what I heard. We (Simon and I) were lucky and were picked up at the airport by Simon s friends. Accommodation After our predecessors gave the advice to stay off campus to save money and not mentioning any pros for staying on campus I decided also to search for something off campus. Today I would probably try to get into a residence. Therefore I want to give some arguments for and against this. Cons: - a little bit more expensive - sometimes bad location (e.g. supermarkets) - in Lister meal plan required Pros: - not far to university - probably best location for transit (everything meets at university)
4 - always people around In my opinion the extra money for the residences is ok since you really want to enjoy your stay there and it s not said that you find a decent room off campus for much less. I visited several very crappy places (basement, very smelly, dirty etc) and the landlord still wanted around 600$ for that. I found a room that s ok for 575$ but I rarely see my housemates and need around 30minutes to get to campus. So I give you the advice to try to get into International House, the best residence on campus (in my opinion). If you like doing stuff with other international students you fir perfectly in here. Even though I m living not here I am there every other day for cooking, with other people, watching movies or just hang out. The staff organizes many events you can participate (if you want to) and the community is very diverse (they even have some Canadians in there). The residence is very new and every room has an own washroom and two kitchens per floor. Only downside here is maybe that you have to buy all your cooking stuff by yourself. The Lister residence is louder and not as nice in my opinion (also depends which hall, one is very new the others pretty crappy) also since most of the residents are first year students it s louder. Main reason not to stay here may be the mandatory meal plan you have to pay for. It s basically a certain amount of money you have to load on your student card and you can buy food in the food court in the first floor. So you have to eat at Tim Hortons and tons of other fast food since you can t use the money on the other stores on campus. East campus Village can be all right but sometimes (depending on roommates etc.) not pleasant. Since Simon is living there he may give you a better opinion about that. Banking and Money I have an account at the well-known Deutsche Kreditbank (DKB) with free money withdrawal in Canada. Also I have a Deutsche Bank account, which allows you withdraw money at Scotia Banks without charges (just make sure your Deutsche Bank card is activated for North America). Assitionally I opened a bank account at the local CIBC bank. It s free for students (you just need your study permit) and opens some new possibilities for you (e.g. paying with their debit card without the fees of a credit card). As you probably know the living costs are a bit higher here in Canada (and some say especially Alberta) you will need more money than at home. Especially food in the supermarket (milk products!) and drinks in bars are more expensive. Also here is no such thing as a Mensa so you either bring your own food (there are microwaves everywhere) or you have to buy from one of the fast food restaurants.
5 Insurance Since the insurance of the university doesn t cover everything (for example one international student needed an ambulance and should now pay over 400$ for the short way to the hospital) I pay for a travel insurance in Germany (ProTrip S for 36 per month). It s not perfect since you have to pay for the insurance of the university as well, but Simon and I found a way to get out of this insurance. Information was pretty scarce on this topic but with a few easy steps you can save the 200$ or so this insurance would normally cost. The only way to get out of the insurance is if you have Alberta Healthcare the insurance that every Albertan inhabitant gets for free! The university accepts no other insurance. All you have to do to get Alberta Healthcare is to prove that you are currently a resident of Alberta and that you will be there for more than one year. As proof it is enough when your study permit is valid for more than one year and to show a bank statement or the lease for your room. With this you go to a registry (those are privately operated administration offices where you can get most of the legal stuff. There you apply for Alberta Healthcare. After a few days you get your Alberta Healthcare card and are now officially under insurance there. With this card you have to go to the international centre where you can finally opt-out of the universities insurance. Sounds complicated but it s not, if there are questions just ask us. The most difficult part was to get the information that it s possible and how it s done. Arriving To have a place to stay for the first days I recommend booking a hostel in advance. Most of the international students are doing this and therefore it can be quite full at that time. Even if you already have a room to stay, I know that especially for the on campus residences, you probably can t get in there right away. If you applied for an on campus housing but didn t get a room, try asking when you are there in person, I know some people that got a room that way. Check out the university and the neighbourhoods, maybe also the River Valley Park a very nice place to walk in late summer. The University The Campus has not much in common what you know from Freiburg. Most of the buildings are concentrated at the north campus but it still can take some time to get from one building to another because of the huge area. People living on campus don t really have to leave ever, since there are stores for
6 basically everything from food to books and travel agents. But nevertheless you should leave the campus to experience some other stuff Edmonton has to offer. And for that the University is probably the best location to start since its central and much of the bus lines stop here. Also the LRT (Light Rail Transit, kind of a tram) has a station here. The professors and your fellow students will be very kind and try to help you as much as they can. Canadians are very open to meet new people so I think it s easier to find friends here. Also most of the international students (and there are many) will be happy to meet and learn with you. When you are not sure which courses you want to take visit a few and then decide, you have several weeks until you have to build your final schedule but some courses fill up faster than others (I never had this problem, but it can happen). The grades are composed of several assignments. Often you have to write at least one term paper and two exams, one in the middle of the term and one final in the end. But courses are very diverse in that way. Some consist only of writing papers and participation marks other have other assignments and several exams throughout the term. Make sure you visit the Transitions, an event organised for all new international students where you get free food (always good), have fun and meet new people. Also many important information can be gathered at these first three days. For example they will tell you there how you can get your ONEcard, your student card for this year. Basically it works like the one in Freiburg so you can use it in the library to rent books, pay for printing or food and it acts as your ticket for the transit system. Online Tools The University has some quite sophisticated online tools (I think better than what we have in Freiburg). Beartracks: enroll in or drop classes, see your grades and schedule, pay your fees eclass: works basically like CampusOnline UofA apps: your UofA address as an googl account with all the benefit a google account offers (data, calendar) Maybe you need some time to find everything, just play with it when you get your login data. My Courses In the fall term I took the following courses: - Disturbance Ecology (REN R 440) - Protected areas planning and management (ENCS 462) - Forest Ecosystems (FOR 322) - Utilization of Wildlife Resources (ENCS 474)
7 I can recommend all of these courses, after adding that the protected areas course covers some kind different topics than I expected. The workload is pretty different for the courses since for example Forest Ecosystems has three hours of lab per week additional to the lectures. In the winter term I took: - Advanced Silviculture (FOR 423) - Waste Management and Utilization (ENCS 475) - Forest Fire Management (REN R 340) - GIS Applications in Renewable Resources (REN R 426) GIS Applications was by far the most work intensive since we were only five students and everybody got the attention of the instructor more than usual. Mobility Coming around in Canada is compared to European standards very hard if you don t have a car. In the city that s not a big problem since the bus system is pretty good and you can buy a bike if you want to (you see some people use their bike even at -30 C). A good address for buying a cheap bike are the Edmonton Bicycle Commuters (http://edmontonbikes.ca/). They operate a small repair shop where you can build your own bike out of scrap parts, repair your bike or buy one that was put together by some volunteers. You can use this bike workshop for a small fee and there are people that help you if you have questions. The bike community in Edmonton is pretty big for a Canadian city and tons of friendly people will help you with everything. If you have some spare money you can also buy a car to be more flexible during weekends or for trips to the Rockies or elsewhere. It s cheaper than at home that s for sure but still quite expensive. Since I already know that I m going on a road trip after I m done with the studies and the internship here, I bought a car in the beginning to get the best value out of it. If you need tips regarding this, just mail me. It s very easy but you have to think of certain things in advance. The city I m not a big city fan at all; I can t appreciate the beauty of cities in general. That said Edmonton differs not really in any kind of every other North American city. It s not pretty but it works. One big thing might be the River Valley Park system. It is pretty nice and the city advertises that altogether these parks are bigger than the central park in New York. Also the Saskatchewan River can look beautiful during sunset or with a crust of ice. The river divides the city in roughly two pieces: the northern part with downtown and the southern part with the university and Whyte Avenue.
8 I m in the southern part most of the time since I m living there, the university is there and Whyte Ave is in my opinion the best part of town. The thing that made Edmonton special for me was the good connections I made during the year because especially in the summer there is lots of stuff going on in the city and the parks get really beautiful when everything is green. Climate As you know it can be cold here. Very cold. So be sure to have some warm clothes (from home or bought in Canada). This year winter is very warm (we had only about 2-3 weeks of C) and we don t have much snow, last year it was the complete opposite and weather changes here pretty fast. A very neat thing is that Edmonton has little annual precipitation and since I m here we had only a few days of rain altogether. Sports This area is way more sophisticated than in Freiburg. Very different kinds of sports are offered and there are clubs for almost everything. During the long winter the indoor facilities are your best friend and they are huge. With two pools, several gyms, a hockey rink, squash and racquet courts and rooms for other sports the Butterdome (or better Van Vliet centre) is very big and even after almost 5 month I don t always find the right way immediately. In summer of course various other activities can be done outside. We had the luck of a very long summer until late October. Try to use this time in the beginning to visit the Rockies, they are also beautiful in the winter too but you can do just so different things you shouldn t miss. A good start for this is to enter the outdoors club, which organizes multiple trips to the Rockies and elsewhere. But try to be early for the sign ups since most of the trips are full immediately. All the clubs are presenting themselves in the first week in a big club fair where you can inform yourself. I hope I covered the basics. If there are any questions just shoot me an I will try to help you as much as possible. For example if you want to hunt legally for big game here you have to apply before August 31 together with a hunter host from here for your license. Sadly that was too late for me but if you wish I could try to talk with some guys here if they would do this (no guarantee though).
9 After the academic year After finishing the academic year at the U of A end of April I stayed in the city for an internship for two months. I was able to get an internship at a research facility funded partly by the government of Alberta called Alberta Innovates Technology Futures or AITF. The facilities I worked in are located about 100km east of Edmonton in Vegreville (home to the world biggest Pysanka!) where I was busy helping in the ecological research group. Tasks were for example clean seeds of native plant species, work with tadpoles in amphibious research, install voice recorders in the boreal forest or control deer cameras in the boreal. The whole time was amazing even without getting paid for the job it was fun every day. The people were very friendly and anxious to answer my questions. My status during the internship was a volunteer since I didn t have a work permit. If you want to get paid it s a bit more difficult. Most important thing is that you start organizing very early. Basically you need another visa since the study permit doesn t allow you to work after the term is finished. I started to organize that too late since I was misinformed that you could work on campus with the study permit. So there are a few options you can try. 1. Get a real work permit: pretty hard since your employer has to prove to an institution that there is no other person in Canada who can do the job. That s almost impossible for assistant jobs you re most likely apply for. Information: 2. Get in the international experience program: you get a work visa for one year but spots are limited and I didn t want to sacrifice this visa for only two months of work. Applications for 2013 will start probably in November Information for this program can be found here 3. The solution that looks the most promising to me is to get a work permit for a coop or internship program. All the information can be found here: After the two months internship I travelled around Canada and the United States crossing the country from west to east coast and back to Edmonton. The single most amazing thing I experienced was to hike the North Coast Trail on Vancouver Island.
10 And again I want to thank everybody who made this exchange possible especially Prof Spiecker, Marianne Stadler and Mr Niethammer from Freiburg as well as Alex Drummond here in Edmonton. The experiences I made and make here changed myself and my view on some aspects and will help me in my future for sure. The friendships that I will take from this year will hopefully last long and enrich my personality further. The year I spent in Canada in this ridiculous amazing program wasn t the last one I was gone in the big north. It s more a when I will be back not so much an if. These two pictures were taken on the North Coast Trail, a unique experience you should consider doing
11 Contact Data Alex Drummond: Pamela Minty: Philipp: Whatever you do, join the Outdoors club!
12 Some Impressions The River Valley in fall Deer butchering Workshop (in ENCS 474) Somewhere in Jasper National Park
13 Field trip to a trapper in ENCS 474 Osoyoos in British Columbia The UofA Hockey team The Bears Between Banff and Lake Louise
2013-2014 Report 1 exchange/placement application process preparation As for every exchange you have to do quite a lot of paperwork prior to departure. Make sure you do this in time to avoid stress. counselling/support
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