Skip to main content

UBC survival tips — Corbett scholar Kari Li

UBC campus in spring. Photo credit: Kari Li.

June 24, 2019

To the aspiring, intelligent, and passionate Huskies who will soon be joining the community of Thunderbirds, I am here to offer some tips to help you survive the first week at the University of British Columbia (UBC).

Course Registration

  • Faculties (departments): When you submit your exchange application you have to report your major and will be accepted into different faculties. Your faculty determines what kinds of courses you have access to.
  • Terms: As for the course registration, there are not many differences between UW and UBC. UBC has two winter terms and UW has three quarters for one academic year, excluding summer terms at UBC and the summer quarter at UW. The second winter term at UBC will end in late April. Since the fall quarter at UW doesn’t begin again until late September, you will have an approximately five-month summer break in-between.
  • Schedule: Plan your course schedule wisely. While UBC students can be easily added into a full course on the first day of class, exchange students have to go through a different process that will take extra time (note: in this case, don’t be surprised if there is already one assignment due during that wait, and your professor may or may not waive your first assignment). I would recommend you get on the waitlist if there is one, and consistently refresh the registration page day and night for an open spot until the last day. This it is the easiest and quickest way to get into a course and save yourself from filling out forms, obtaining signatures, finding offices, and waiting to be added. I assume that you probably already know or may have experienced most of these aforementioned steps since the processes at UW and UBC are very alike. As exchange students, we do have some advantages to talk a professor into taking you in a full course or a course that is not offered at your department. Keep calm, stay optimistic, and there is always a hope to get in.
  • Course selection: Another tip to help you select your course besides your interests, major requirements, and personal development, is to log onto the UBC SSC (student service center) grade distribution webpage to to get an idea of the average grades for a given course. Different departments may have different grading policies in terms of grade inflation: some curve the course grade down, some curve up a bit, and some try to keep everyone within a range. As a result, it is very likely that you will not know your final grade until it is posted on your SSC. Everything is subject to change.

I have only taken ten courses at UBC across numbered departments in the Faculty of Arts and Education. If you will be in the Faculty of Science or in Sauder School of Business, you can reach out to our program coordinator, Marion Ferguson, and she may connect you with a former Corbett Scholar who has more knowledge of your questions.

Libraries and Study Spots

  • First thing first: there is no 24-hour library at UBC.
  • Expect the libraries to be always packed with people unless it is early in the morning or late at night.
  • Even during the weekend the libraries, particularly the Irving K. Barber Learning Centre (IKB), will be full at around noon. During finals season, IKB will have extended hours of operation.

You should try to explore different libraries on campus, the smaller ones and the bigger ones, to see which one you like. It entirely depends on your study preference.

Some of my favorite spots if you are looking for a place to study outside of your room: The Education Library in the Scarfe building is a quiet place to study during midterms and finals. Bean Around the World coffee house is one of my favorite places to study by myself and with friends. The lobby of the Walter Gage residence is another nice place to study if you are looking for a quiet spot. There are many more hidden study spaces in different buildings, like the second floor of Buchanan and the first floor of Ponderosa.

Academic Resource Center

If, during your time at UW, you rarely access the CLUE center, writing centers, or any other tutoring services, then don’t worry about this and move on to the next section. If you only use the writing center and would like a comparable experience at UBC, you can make two 30-minute appointments at the Learning Commons at IKB every week. If you need additional help, try to go to your professors’ office hours more frequently, form a study group or find private tutors.

Student Organization and Activities

One of the quickest ways to get to know all clubs at once is to attend Imagine day to browse through the booths and sign up for the ones you are interested in. Keep in mind that many student clubs at UBC require at least a $10 (CAN) membership fee to join. If you are not sure about whether you would want to be part of a club, you can ask them if you can attend the first meeting and then decide if you would like to join them. If you sign up for a club and never hear back from it, which is not unusual, you can try to attend its first meeting, find it on the club day to sign up again, or move on.

There are tons of other types of activities on campus that you can do depending on your schedule and interests. If you would like to join a lab, such as a psychology lab, it is not too late to start looking for one during the first week of school, as some professors will still have open positions in their labs at the beginning of the term. By week 3, the chances of getting in will drop dramatically, for many openings will be filled by then. Try to plan early and always have an updated resume or CV ready with you.

REX poster project. Photo credit: Kari Li.

There is a club called REX for students who are interested in getting research experiences and mentorship. I had a fun time participating in its panel discussion to talk with researchers who were passionate about their research interests and with aspiring students who were eager to start their own projects. The group matching process was straightforward. I came up with a list of top three mentors I would like to work with, wrote a brief rationale for each of them and formed a research group with other students. For some areas, such as biology, mentors could be more selective, as there was an upper limit for the numbers of people in one group. Some of my friends didn’t get into group they were interested in the first round and applied for the second round. I was lucky because I was matched with my top choice and got into a group with two other students. In March, we presented our poster at a conference. Overall, I would say, it was nice experience for the first-year students to understand the process of conducting research from scratch, to be familiar with the ways to collaborate with a mentor and group members, to practice presenting a poster at a conference in formal attire and to add this experience into their resume to apply for a guided research project or a lab position in the future.

During my first term at UBC, I was also in a service fraternity where I got to know many local and international students in the community through events and services and formed my mini group. In my second term, I was more involved in the Chinese Language Program and actively served as a language partner. I was able to extend my volunteer activities to the Confucius Institute at the British Columbia Institute of Technology, where I helped out with the preparation for the Chinese New Year celebration and Chinese Bridge speech competition. My exchange experience was greatly enriched by these activities. I hope you will be able to find your niche during your time there.

Chinese Bridge Speech Competition. Photo courtesy of Confucius Institute at BCIT.

Health Insurance

  • Make sure to purchase the UW study abroad insurance. You need it before you can go to UBC and it is very hard to get waived (I tried). Buy the first three-month British Columbia health insurance because it is mandatory. If you like, you can keep your Washington health insurance. I heard that starting in 2020, you may not have to pay for the MSP (medical services plan) coverage as a college student. But you should double-check the policy with student services at UBC when you arrive.
  • A doctor’s note was required to request any make-up exam for a course. However, starting the winter term 2019, UBC will no longer need a doctor’s note to prove a hardship. It is still better to double-check with the UBC staff if you need to arrange an alternative exam.


I didn’t feel like I needed a Canadian phone number because I had my phone on a U.S.-Canada international roaming plan. I didn’t have any troubles using my Washington phone number for calling people, accessing Wi-Fi, making appointments, and filling out official documents. There was one occasion when a Canadian number was necessary: the UBC health clinic would not allow a non-Canadian number to make an appointment for an office visit. Other that, unless you really need it, a Washington phone number is fine.


The bus system in Vancouver is similar to the one in Seattle. The biggest difference is that Vancouver has the SkyTrain and Seattle has the Link light rail. In Seattle, we can tap with our Husky cards to get on a bus, but an additional transportation card is needed for UBC students. This must be activated monthly. Getting to the downtown area from the UBC campus takes time. At UW, we can hop on the Link and—voila! We arrive downtown in no time at all. At UBC you take a bus and, at least 40 minutes later, finally get to the downtown area. But the good thing about UBC bus system is the short wait (10 minutes) between buses.


There are not many food choices near the UBC campus. The Nest is just like the Hub, and the same goes for the food options. The University Village at UBC is a small food court and could be a slightly better option than the Nest. If you need to buy groceries you can go to West Brock, on the far west side of campus. Save-On-Foods is okay and convenient, since it is the closest store to campus. I personally liked to go to the Safeway, which is 15 minutes away from campus by bus. Alternatively, you can always cook at your dorm or go-off campus for food (the farther the distance from the main campus, better the food options). I liked to go to Yaletown because of the variety of good restaurants. From there, you can take the water taxi to Granville Island, which has lots of good food options. In Vancouver people are very proud of their sushi rolls. There are some good spots in Yaletown where you can find sushi fusion. If you are looking for sashimi, other areas like downtown could be a better choice. Burnaby and Richmond are two places for the best Asian food in Vancouver area. Kitsilano and Kerrisdale are closer to the UBC campus and you can find some very good restaurants, grocery stores and neighborhood shopping centers there*.

My favorite sushi place near campus, the Green Leaf Sushi Café in Kitsilano. Photo credit: Kari Li.

*Note: I used to go there once a week as I was taking an ice-skating class at the neighborhood rink in winter. The UBC Thunderbird Sport center also offers a high-quality ice rink that is free for UBC students to access. I highly recommend you go during weekdays because there will be fewer people on the ice.  

I hope you will find these tips helpful to navigate your first week of learning and living at UBC! There are many more things waiting at UBC for you to explore. The view from campus is phenomenal and the view at the Rose Garden is breathtaking. I encourage you to go develop a personalized experience of your time studying at UBC and living in Vancouver.

The Corbett British Columbia-Washington International Exchange Program Fund 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.