Nikki Wirawan describes his experience studying as a Vancouverite

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Nikki (second from left) and friends at the University of British Columbia.
Nikki (second from left) and friends at the University of British Columbia.

I think it’s around the year 2008 when I met with one of PKN STAN’s alumni who had just been granted a scholarship to continue his master’s degree in Australia. I listened to his wonderful story about studying abroad and it instantly sparked my interest in finding an opportunity to study abroad in the future. Now, 12 years later, I am two months away from finishing my Master’s degree here in Canada.

I am currently taking a Master of Public Policy and Global Affairs program, a 20 months professional program at The University of British Columbia (UBC), in Vancouver. The program is a mix of public policy and international affairs courses with a strong emphasis on the practical application of the policy and professionalism building.

Canada is quite a popular destination for undergraduate students from Indonesia, but for graduate programs, Canada, especially UBC, is not as appealing compared to say, other universities in the US, Australia, the UK, or even Japan.  In UBC, there are more than 100 Indonesian undergrads and a few PhD students, but I haven’t met any other Indonesians Master’s students here. Weirdly, it has always become one of my primary reasons to continue my study in Canada. I wanted to force myself to adapt to a new environment since I believe that it provides the biggest opportunity for self-development. Of course, attending courses, studying new theories and concepts are important, but I believe that the experience of living abroad and adapting to its values is the more valuable thing to have.

Meeting with Indonesian Ambassador to Canada.
Meeting with Indonesian Ambassador to Canada.

There are a couple of stereotypes about Canada. I found that the stereotype of Canadians being polite is pretty much true. That politeness and the politically-correctness nature of Canadians, in general, made my early days of adjustment living in Vancouver smooth. At school, however, the adjustment process was more challenging. Most students in my program here are active and well-spoken. It’s been quite a challenge for me to keep up with them in class discussions, but it’s been a great learning opportunity for me, and I am grateful for that.

Another stereotype of Canada is that the weather is extremely cold, which is not entirely wrong. Most Canadians live within 100km from the U.S border, that’s including Vancouverites (demonym for Vancouver) who live around 50km away from US’ Washington state. That means, while it is located further north of the US, most Canadians experience a quite similar climate with the northern part of the US. In fact, Vancouver is considered to be the city with the mildest climate in Canada. During my study here, the temperature has never gone lower than -7 and higher than 28 degrees Celsius.

Demographically, Canada is a very diverse country. You can easily meet people from different parts of the world. Metro Vancouver has the second largest population in Canada and more than 50% of its population are ethnic minorities. The multicultural society can also be seen in UBC where around 31% of its 61,113 students are international students coming from 160+ countries. Since there are a lot of minority groups here, social issues, such as racism, self-identity, and immigration are both prominent and sensitive. It’s also a challenging thing to adapt since I have to always be careful in addressing others during classes, meetings, or simply when hanging out with my friends here.

Term 1 Ending Class.
Term 1 Ending Class.

As a city, Vancouver itself is not that big. It has a beautiful downtown area, but it is much smaller compared to say Toronto, Seattle, and even Jakarta. The UBC campus itself is located at the tip of the Northwestern part of the city, one-hour bus drive away from the downtown. I enjoy living in Vancouver because the city gets the best of both worlds, the busy downtown, and the peaceful nature sides. The city is pretty accessible and it has a solid public transportation system. There are Skytrain (a mix of LRT and MRT), long-distance trains, busses, ferries, and even seaplanes. Vancouver is also blessed with natural beauties. It is heaven for hikers, skiers, and those who love nature. The multicultural demographics also help the city earn the title of “Culinary Capital of Canada”, where people can easily find countless food options from all over the world.

City of Vancouver Project Team.
City of Vancouver Project Team.

Vancouver unfortunately, is not an affordable city to live in. The astronomically high housing price has been a major issue since decades ago. For students, it would be quite a task to find affordable rooms to stay in. However, the city has consistently been regarded as one of the most livable in the world. Vancouverites are so into environmental issues, something that I have also learned a lot since the first day I arrived here.

Overall, my experience studying and living in Vancouver has been great. It is probably not the most affordable place to live but the adaptation process has been quite smooth. The bureaucratic process for things like insurance or housing tenancy is also much simpler here. I am sure that I am going to miss the city when I go back to Indonesia.

Nikki Wirawan
Nikki Wirawan