Becky stands in front of greenery at VIU's Nanaimo campus

5 things that surprised me about Vancouver Island University

July 6, 2023
Author: Becky Duarte

My experience as an international student at VIU

As an international student, experiencing cultural shocks when changing countries is the norm. My name is Becky, and I moved to Nanaimo from Mumbai at the beginning of 2023, as a student fresh out of high school. Here are a few things about VIU that stood out to me during my first few weeks.


Nanaimo sign in Maffeo Sutton Park

Nanaimo art installation at Maffeo Sutton Park

One of the defining things about Nanaimo is the outdoors. Outings are organized by groups in the university to explore the natural beauty by kayaking or canoeing, mountain biking or ziplining, and in the winters, skiing or snowboarding. My favourite activity is the local hikes program. For the low cost of $2 you can see scenic waterfalls and have fun trekking experiences.

Although there are many more fun outdoor activities to indulge in, there are relaxed indoorsy things to enjoy as well if you’re an introvert like me. Visiting museums, bowling alleys, cute cafes and beautiful boutiques and stores around downtown are great ways to spend down time. A personal favourite is the chilled-out pubs and karaoke bars. Coming from a place where the legal drinking age is 25, I discovered that here the age is 19. An even more pleasant surprise was the fact that there is a pub on the VIU campus, with food, beverages and, occasionally, live music. Hanging out with friends at the pub is a good way to unwind and balance out the study-work life.


Although education was my first priority after moving to a new country, other parts of making this big move like housing, learning a new financial system, immigration processes and more are also important. While initially extremely overwhelming, these were made so much easier with the help of others, and I didn’t even have to look for help beyond campus. VIU’s academic advisors and councillors were available and ready to provide guidance with any questions I had. The importance of health insurance in Canada, understanding university credits and registering for courses were a few of the many processes that were unfamiliar to me. A simple email or quick meeting could be set up within hours to clear up confusion, making transitioning into a new way of life a lot smoother.


My initial vision of university life involved many hours of continuous studying and students with their noses buried in books. When I arrived at VIU, I was intrigued to learn about the many clubs, centres and activities that go on in and around campus. There are teams of creative individuals who constantly come up with new themes for current happenings or holidays. Even during the exam season, when activities lessen, there are study meet-ups. There are also extra-curricular activities for learning a new skill or language out of pure interest and want, rather than for a course or program, which makes it easier to meet people with shared interests and make new friends.

Class schedules

View of a laptop screen and notebook in the VIU library with a view of the city beyond

View of the city from the Nanaimo campus library

I was used to waking up early to go to school, hour-long lectures followed immediately by the next lecture with only a 20-minute “recess break” in the middle of a six-hour school day. Attending three-hour lectures at university was a drastic change. Sometimes just one lecture a day, sometimes two or three but hours apart. It made university life range from relaxed to hectic. Another big difference was in class timings. I was used to my day ending by 2 pm. However, some lectures go until 8 pm here. With heavy eyelids and rumbling stomachs, those classes were a bit harder to get through, though they were made easier by the professors.


Most professors are nice, but Canadian professors are next level nice! They are ready to answer any and all questions. They are friendly and polite while being professional. Not only were they understanding about the fact that many of us are new to university, but they are also accommodating by allowing deadline extensions when we need them. This was a concept that was new and surprising to me. They recognize that the life of a student can be stressful and that assignments may not always be ready in time. So, after a little discussion, they grant a later submission date without lowering grades. Although this luxury is not always used/necessary, it definitely reduces stress and allows us to focus on other aspects of life.

This is my experience over my first five months in Canada. I am excited to continue this journey and I look forward to all the things I’ve yet to discover and learn about, both at VIU and on the Island.


Becky in front of the VIU sign at Fifth and Wakesiah streets

Rebecca Duarte is a first-year Bachelor of Arts student majoring in Digital Media Studies. She moved to Canada in January 2023 for the experience of studying abroad and living life outside India. She enjoys travelling, watching movies and playing board games. 

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