Marion Ferguson is the program manager for the Corbett British Columbia-Washington International Exchange Program. See more photos from this visit here.
In late November, my UW Study Abroad colleague Sarah Berryman (program manager) and I travelled by train along the Washington coast to Vancouver, and then by ferry to Victoria. We wanted to explore the campuses that make up the Canadian partners in the Corbett British Columbia-Washington International Exchange and learn from our colleagues there about how to continue improving the program.
Both schools are beautiful and staffed by dedicated and incredibly knowledgeable people who are passionate about helping students develop better insights into the Pacific Northwest region and the Canada-U.S. relationship. Each school—like each city—is unique and exciting, and will suit different student needs and interests.
University of British Columbia (UBC)
UBC certainly packs a punch. The campus sits at the very western edge of Vancouver with sweeping views of the Salish Sea and Cascade mountains. With some 60,000 students, it is a self-contained city, with virtually any amenity a student could want.
As noted in current Corbett scholar Owen Oliver’s recent blog post, UBC has a strong commitment to acknowledging and including Indigenous communities on its campus, and this was evident as we toured the grounds. Art installments across campus call out the various tribes that “host” the university on unceded land. Totems and house posts are prominent, and the Musqueam language is listed on the street and directional signs alongside English.
Sustainability is also fundamental to UBC. Many buildings are “green” or designed to be low-impact. One installed special window decals to reduce bird fatalities after a study showed how many were dying after colliding with the glass. A culture of sharing is actively promoted through an innovative “mug share”, bike share, and even a free umbrella sharing program to help the UBC community stay dry!
What made the biggest impression on me during this short visit was the amount of welcoming, intentional spaces designed for students. Despite the size of the campus in both geography and population, there never seemed to be a shortage of comfortable spaces for studying, socializing, or coming together to eat. Student services are centralized for ease of access and, more than once, I found myself expressing a desire to enroll.
University of Victoria (UVic)
While UVic cannot boast the same views or robust population as UBC, it has its own wonderful draws. UVic has the cozy feel of a small liberal arts school settled next to a vibrant college town. The campus is wonderfully manageable, navigated by a ring road that connects all of the major buildings around a welcoming central quad. Sarah and I were delighted to be ferried around the (very walkable) campus by golf cart.
The much smaller student population (21,000) makes the campus feel very approachable. In a huge school like UW or UBC, a student might be overwhelmed by the size and sheer number of options available to them, but UVic felt easy to settle into. Like UBC, the student services were centrally located and organized to be as easy to access as possible. A student-run community building (similar to the HUB) has an on-site health center, pharmacy, and movie theater.
At the same time, downtown Victoria is an easy bus or bike ride away, and students often live in town. The campus serves as the largest bus hub on all of Vancouver Island, which makes it easy for students to get to all of the major attractions. It is flat and perfect for biking—and Victoria has a reputation as the “fittest” city in British Columbia. We learned that Victoria is the home of the Canadian national rowing teams, and that many Olympians come out of UVic. We got to explore the brand-new fitness and athletics building, which rivaled the UW’s IMA in terms of amenities! The facility is also home to an innovative disability resources center, CanAssist, which promotes disability awareness and conducts research and development of assistive technologies, in which students can take part.
A significant part of my role as program manager for the Corbett Exchange is advising students as they decide where to apply and how they want to experience their exchange year. I was grateful to see, first-hand, what makes each school special. Their different strengths will suit the wide variety of students our program attracts—and the wealth of academic and extracurricular activities offered will enrich any course of study.
Most importantly, I had a tiny taste of what the students in this program get to experience: the welcoming, comfortable similarities between the major cities that make up our cross-border area here in the Pacific Northwest, and the unique flavors that underlie each one.
The Corbett British Columbia-Washington International Exchange Program, housed at the Canadian Studies Center, Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies, provides an opportunity for undergraduate students at the University of Washington to spend two semesters at the University of British Columbia or University of Victoria; and for students from the University of British Columbia and University of Victoria to spend three quarters at the University of Washington. More information about the program and how to apply is available here.