Daryl Tan Dexuan
Recipient of Student Experience Fund
Exchange University: Queen’s University, Kingston, Canada
Exchange Period: Summer 2022
The past semester spent on exchange was an enriching experience. Going on exchange is the highlight of many university students, and I was fortunate to have been granted the opportunity to embark on exchange as the pandemic has put overseas exchange on hold for the past 2 years. The first time travelling in 2 years brought about much excitement, as well as spending 4 months away from home studying and living in a foreign country.
First 2 months – Spending CNY in Kingston
The first 2 months of Exchange were slow, as cases of the Delta variant were surging globally. The Ontario government decided to restrict dining in at F&B businesses and limited other social activities, while our exchange school, Queen’s University, moved lessons online until the end of recess week. January was also the coldest month in Canada, and we saw temperatures dropping to -22°C and -33°C with windchill. It was cold enough to freeze boiling water when we tossed it out from a cup! Due to the circumstances, we mostly stayed at home, since classes were online, only venturing out into the wicked cold to buy groceries from the supermarket and to explore the city. Since I was living with 2 other Singaporeans from NUS, this encouraged us to cook our meals instead of ordering in, which was expensive - costing nearly $20 per meal! We prepared mostly local fare that we usually eat at home, which certainly gave us a sense of comfort being halfway across the world from home.
The house we were staying in was a 1km walk from the Queen’s campus, and we were living with 3 other Canadian students. It was a great time living with local students, as we could experience the Canadian culture and get suggestions to the best food places and things to do in Canada, as well as exchange our local culture. As Chinese New Year (CNY) falls on 1st of February 2022, it was the first time we would be celebrating it away from our families. We decided to have hotpot for reunion dinner on the eve of CNY and include our Canadian housemates and friends. We got all our ingredients from an Asian supermarket. As the supermarket did not carry CNY goodies, we decided to make some CNY snacks (pineapple tarts, cornflake cookies and fried crabstick) for our Canadian guests. Given that it was our first-time baking pineapple tarts, it was a huge success.
Recess Week – Vancouver!
The first 2 months flew by quickly, and I was on top of schoolwork as I did not have much going on outside of school. Recess week arrived in the nick of time, and we decided to take a week-long trip to Vancouver during recess week.
My first impression of Vancouver was that it was a lot warmer than Kingston, and there was a larger Asian population there. Since it was a big city, public transport was a lot more extensive and convenient. We could easily travel around via public transport, and it was a breeze compared to Kingston. In Kingston, there were only buses that plied the area which came every half an hour, and most would opt to walk instead. Experiencing this made me appreciate Singapore’s public transport infrastructure.
Getting an Ice Hockey Experience in Vancouver
For those who are familiar with Canada, we could not miss out on watching their national sport - ice hockey - and bought tickets to a Vancouver Canucks game. The atmosphere was electrifying as fans cheered on their favourite players. Unlike other sports in Canada, there was a lot more emphasis on entertainment in ice hockey, as there would be mini games for the hockey fans during breaks in the match. There was also a lottery during the match, where a ticket holder won $134,000! The winner was sitting in our section and was overjoyed. We were also lucky enough to see a couple’s proposal on the “kiss-cam” during one of the breaks in that match, and the entire stadium was delighted for them. Moreover, the match was a thrilling one, with the home team trouncing the Calgary Flames with an impressive score of 7-1, ending the away team’s 10-game winning streak. It was the first time any of us watched an ice hockey match and it was an eye-opening experience. The players glided on the ice effortlessly, while being aggressive and even getting into a couple of fights during the game. All in all, this experience made me a Vancouver Canucks fan and ice hockey gained a new supporter as well!
Vancouver and its Wonderful Nature
Other than being a metropolis, Vancouver is well-known for its nature, with numerous parks and mountains in and around the city. We decided to explore Stanley Park on one of the days to soak in the nature after touring around the urban landscape, to bring about some balance in our adventures. Stanley Park is a 400-hectare natural rainforest and was just a little north of downtown Vancouver. There was a seawall around the outside of the park, which was built to prevent erosion of the park’s foreshore and travelling on this trail took us on a scenic view of the coast. There were also signs along the way which explained the history of the park, and several landmarks like the totem poles, which were carved by the First Nations tribes, and the Brockton Point Lighthouse, that made the trail breathtaking and educational.
When we completed the trail, we were starving and headed to Granville Island nearby to check out the food options at the public market. There was a wide variety of shops selling things ranging from fresh produce to pies and pastries. We chanced upon a stall churning out fresh Montreal bagels from the oven with a long line snaking around it. Being typical Singaporeans, we knew this stall had to be good. We joined the queue to get ourselves some bagels and as expected, the bagels were amazing. The bagels were different from others I’ve had before. Montreal bagels are known to be smaller and sweeter, with a denser texture and crispier exterior, and it was a well-deserved snack after cycling around Stanley Park.
Winter Sports in Whistler
Another popular spot to visit while in Vancouver is Whistler. Since it was winter, it was the season to do winter sports. We decided to try snowboarding as it looked very fun and easy, but we soon realised how wrong we were. As we took the lift up the mountain, the views slowly changed and we could see the mountains all around us, covered in white powdery snow. Since we had never snowboarded before, we observed others who were more experienced and tried to replicate it. After some trial and error, we figured out that to slow down, you had to position the board perpendicular to your direction of travel and to go faster, the board had to be straight with the direction of travel. We practiced this many times and increasingly got the hang of it, but as we looked around us, there were many more people who had tricks up their sleeves - 360-degree spins, jumps and so on! However, I was satisfied with my progress on my first snowboarding experience and had a new-found appreciation for the sport.
Parting Ways with Vancouver – Local Food never tasted so Good
On our last day in Vancouver, we decided to head to a restaurant near our accommodation that served Singaporean cuisine. It had been nearly 2 months since we had any Singaporean dishes, and we ordered a spread of chicken rice, nasi lemak, bak kut teh and kaya toast with kopi. It was so satisfying to feast on familiar dishes, and it felt like I was back home. We chatted with the owners of the restaurant for a while, and we could tell from their accent that they were Singaporeans as well. One of them was surprisingly a former professor who taught at NUS Business School! It was such a coincidence to meet someone halfway across the world, whom we had so much in common with. Alas, our trip to Vancouver came to an end and we flew back to Kingston to complete our semester at Queen’s University.
Final Weeks at Queen’s University
In the remaining 9 weeks of the Exchange Program, the pandemic restrictions were gradually rolled back. Dining in was permitted again, while entertainment venues such as cinemas resumed operations. Lessons returned to the classrooms, and I was excited to attend classes and experience life as a Queen’s student.
My first impression of the campus was that it was well-funded and new. There were cafes, food stalls, a pharmacy, well-equipped gyms, and the sports venues had a charm to them. School spirit was very high in Canada, and the school’s logo was plastered all over the basketball courts and football fields. I had the chance to attend a couple of basketball and volleyball games and the atmosphere was incredible, as the turnout was always strong with students cheering their schoolmates on. After experiencing Canada’s sports scene, it made me feel Singapore can do better to support our athletes in this regard.
In classes, I noticed that Canadian students were quite vocal. Modules had a similar structure to back at home, consisting of different components, with an emphasis on class participation.
There were also other exchange students from various parts of the world that we had met in our time at Queen’s University, from countries such as Sweden, Switzerland, Scotland, Finland and Uruguay, and it was a ton of fun hanging out with them and exploring the city. We played escape rooms, watched movies together and celebrated events such as St. Patrick’s Day. It was a great experience exchanging cultures and learning about each other’s tradition.
Overall, this past semester spent at Queen’s University was an extremely enriching experience. I have met many friends from different parts of the world and learned about their cultures, experienced living in the frigid cold of winter away from my family and explored a part of Canada. This experience has also made me more appreciative of the things that I have back at home, such as efficient public transport, tropical weather and delicious local food, as well as opened my eyes to what the world has to offer beyond our shores.