Dennis Hipke at Brock University, St. Catharines, Canada


Studying abroad is the opportunity to see a new world. You will gain new experiences – personally, as well as for your prospective career, expand horizons, and investigate yourself in relation to your own country and the world. In addition, it is a great opportunity to enhance personal growth, become more independent, boost your career development, and finally yet importantly combine your studies with travelling and exploring a foreign country. I can say that it will change your life and you will come back as a new person. In this report, I give you an overview and some inside looks on my personal experience spending a semester abroad at Brock University, St. Catharines, Canada.

General Information

The city of St. Catharines, in the heart of the Niagara region and in a UNESCO biosphere reserve, is home to Brock University. St. Catharines, which is located in southern Ontario, atop the Niagara Escarpment in Ontario’s peninsula, has a population of approximately 130,000 people. Besides that, St. Catharines is within an hour’s drive of Toronto, Hamilton, Niagara Falls and Buffalo, N.Y. and therefore easily accessible to major attractions, and airports. The Niagara region is well known for its mild climate, award winning wine industry and outstanding natural features such as the Niagara Escarpment and Niagara Falls.

Brock University is a mid-sized university with over 17,000 students of whom approximately 1,800 are exchange students. Therefore, it is not unusual to hear a mix of various languages and even some German on campus throughout the day. The university was established in 1964, and is named after Major General Sir Isaac Brock. Brock’s landmark is Schmon Tower, the tallest building on campus. It can be seen from all over the city of St. Catharines and the largest resident of the tower is the James A. Gibson Library, which is housed on seven floors of the tower, so you could say that the library is a little bit bigger than our library in Remagen. Schmon tower is also the central hub for all arriving buses to the campus. Besides that, Brock offers six student residences that are home to more than 2,400 students, first and foremost first year students though. If you are going to live on campus, you can choose between dormitories and townhouse units, with options of purchasing a meal plan and/or cooking facilities.

Walker complex is worth mentioning too. It is the largest recreational facility in the Niagara region and includes a food court, the Ian D. Beddis Gymnasium, The Zone fitness centre, the Eleanor Misenor Aquatic Centre, the Leo LeBlance Rowing Centre, and varsity gymnasia. If you are into sports, you will not be disappointed by a lack of opportunities at Brock University. Brock has Squash courts, tennis courts and you can even register for different sporting programs that are called intramurals.

What else is there to know about Brock’s campus? Brock has multiple food courts, which are fairly expensive though, and you will even find two Tim Hortons, a famous Canadian donut and coffee brand, and a Starbucks on campus. Last but not least, I would like to point out Brock’s Bookstore. Here you can purchase all of your textbooks both new and used, as well as general books, and stationary. They also carry a large selection of Brock’s own merchandise clothing and memorabilia.

Studying at BrockU

Brock currently offers over 72 undergraduate programs, 32 Master’s programs, and 6 doctoral programs and has seven academic faculties (Faculty of Applied Health Sciences, Faculty of Business, Faculty of Humanities, Faculty of Mathematics and Science, and the Faculty of Social Sciences). If you would like to check out the various options of courses that Brock has to offer, you can log on to There you will find all the information you need in order to create your schedule to study at Brock University. If you decide to study at BrockU, you will have to enroll for a minimum of three courses but up to a maximum of five courses. I would recommend registering for four courses. That way your workload will not be too big and you can still combine your studies with travelling and other leisure activities. Usually first year courses are considerably easier than third or fourth year courses. Pay attention to the way you put your schedule together. If you have Mondays and Fridays off like me, you can make longer travels throughout the term. If you are going abroad, you do not want to study all the time, right.

Learning style and Assessment

Another important issue you need to be aware of is the difference between the Canadian educational system and our system in Germany. The Canadian education system is marked by progressive evaluation. That means that the final grade is not based solely on one major exam at the end of the semester like in our system. It is based on an accumulation of grades for usually smaller assignments given throughout the semester in combination with one or two larger assignments halfway through or at the end. Basically, you will have to write one or two assignments or papers throughout the term, write one or two mid-terms, maybe give presentations, and write one final exam. At the beginning, this system will feel a little bit like being back in school again and it is linked to a bigger workload during the term because you frequently have to work on assignments and prepare academic readings for lectures. On the other hand, it allows you to track your own academic progress throughout the semester and you may have even passed a course halfway through the term. My personal opinion of the Canadian system is a positive one. You have to take an active role in your own learning. Due to the fact that there is always something to work on, like writing papers for a course, doing research for a project or assignment, and giving presentation, you will retain more from your studies.

Organizational issues

Before you start your adventure, several things have to be planned beforehand. You will have to go through your application process for BrockU, maybe apply for a scholarship (BaföG, DAAD, Fulbright etc.), book your flights, and create a bank account, etc. Here are some tips that should help you planning your semester abroad:


One major subject is to find affordable and convenient accommodation for your stay. While there is the option of living on campus since Brock offers six residences, I would suggest choosing to live off campus. Due to the fact that generally first year students live on campus, you will most likely be living with 17-18 year olds on campus. Another disadvantage is that you may have to obtain a meal plan and the food courts are pretty expensive. You will not find the healthiest food in the food courts for our standards either. As a general rule, students that are coming over for just one term will not stay in one of the six residences that are offered by Brock.

If you decide to live off-campus, you will be living in a town house with several roommates, unless you choose to live on your own. Prizes for a room are around $400 which is approximately 250€ considering the current exchange rate. Brock offers a variety of resources for students. You can visit to find more information. There, you will find listings from Landlords that offer apartments, houses, and/or rooms as well as students that are looking for housemates. Moreover, the homepage gives you the opportunity to post a listing yourself, saying that you are looking for accommodation. In my experience, you should start looking for accommodation 4 weeks before you are going to St. Catharines. You can create a list of interesting offers and then decide which one you are going to select as your new home for the next 4 months.

The difficulty or struggle selecting your apartment with the help of this online tool is that you can never be sure what you will get even if you have seen pictures of the apartment and/or room. Therefore, my personal advice to all of you would be to look for an apartment on site. I know it is a bit risky. You are flying to a foreign country without having a place to stay, right?! I can assure everybody that you will not have any trouble finding a place to stay. Even one week before school, there are plenty of offers available. The advantages are obvious. You meet your potential roommates and you can take a look at the apartments, and/or rooms for yourself before making a decision. Everything has to be planned and organized beforehand and you will have to set-up meetings with landlords and/or students that are seeking tenants and /or housemates. This can be stressful and nerve-racking at some time. It is worth all the hassle though. If you are still concerned that you might not find your potential home on the first day, you should ask your Brock guide if you could crash at his or her place for one or two nights or simply get a place online before heading over.

Tuition Fees and Insurance

Depending on which term you are going to Brock University, you will have to pay your tuition, UHIP (health insurance), bus pass, and ancillary fees by a certain deadline. Again, I would suggest paying your tuition on site since wiring the money is linked with additional costs and therefore fairly expensive. Most of the exchange students went to the Finance Services, located on the 12th floor of Schmon Tower, and payed the tuition in installments of $ 500 per day since Financial Services would not accept bigger amounts.

Having said this, the University Health Insurance Plan (UHIP) is mandatory for all international students, yet you should arrange an international health insurance. I used my international health insurance once during my travels after the term. After I got sick, I had to go to a walk-in clinic and advance the payment to receive treatment. My international health insurance refunded all of the money and in case of emergency, this special insurance should also cover the costs for taking you home, which is not included in UHIP.


Going abroad is fairly expensive and probably one of the main reasons why many students are discouraged to go abroad. There are a lot of ways to fund your semester abroad. Possibilities are organizations such as DAAD, Fulbright, Studienstiftung des deutschen Volkes and AuslandsBaföG (Link AuslandsBaföG). Even if you are not eligible to BaföG in Germany, you may be granted Auslandsbafög like I did. It is worth considering those options to find out if there are ways to fund a semester abroad with scholarships. The reasons why you may be granted Auslandsbafög are the high tuition fees and flight costs for such a stay. Rounding off, I can say that it is definitely worth giving a try.

Arrival/Study Permit and Visa

Since RAC students will be studying at Brock for just one term, which means staying for fewer than six months, there is no requirement for a Study Permit and/or Temporary Resident Visa. However, a Study Permit would allow you to work on campus but it is not easy for a study abroad student to find employment.

Yet, if you are planning to visit the US, you need to fill out a form (ESTA). This form will allow you to go to the US, as often as you want, for 90 days straight there is no need to do this in advance because Germany is a participant of the Visa Waiver Program, therefore you can fill out the form at the border, which is connected with the payment of $6.

No matter if you are arriving via the US in Buffalo (Buffalo International Airport), or via Toronto, Canada (Lester B. Pearson International Airport), both airports are served by Niagara Airbus, a transportation company, which will pick you up and take you directly to your accommodation in St. Catharines ( In the case that you are arriving trough the US, you will need to fill out the ESTA-form 72 hrs upon arrival (ESTA-Formular). Personally, I stayed in Toronto for a couple of days before heading to St. Catharines and used Coach Canada ( but more on where and how to travel in the next paragraph.

Travel opportunities

Travelling is one of the major reasons to spend a semester abroad and Canada offers many opportunities to explore its beautiful and breathtaking scenery and landscape. Most of you might not know it, but Canada is the second largest country in the world even bigger than the US. A special feature of the Niagara region is that it is located within the Great Lakes, an collection of freshwater lakes located in eastern North America, consisting of Lakes Superior, Michigan, Huron, Erie, and Ontario. They form the largest group of freshwater lakes on Earth with 20% of the world's surface fresh water. Ontario furthermore provides provincial parks such as the Algonquin Park, where you can enjoy outdoor activities, a must do if you spend your semester in Canada. Possibilities are unlimited: canoeing, whitewater-rafting on the Ottawa River (, hiking, Niagara offers a lot of hiking trails, and camping. If are lucky you might even catch a glimpse of a moose or a bear. Brock used to have an outdoor club, that organized trips on a regular basis, but unfortunately the request for funding was voted down and the club therefore does not exist anymore.

Another great option is city sightseeing. St. Catharines has a perfect central location and is therefore easily accessible to major cities and airports. Riding the bus would be another cheap alternative. I made trips to Toronto, Montreal, and New York. Other exchange students went to Chicago, Ottawa, or Quebec City. There are even more opportunities: Boston and Washington are not that far away, Detroit and many more cities are around the corner as well. Getting to New York City took me 10 hrs on an overnight ride by greyhound (, and cost me just $ 64. You have to purchase the tickets 21 days in advance otherwise the price becomes more expensive. If your money is a bit tight, greyhound is definitely a great way to travel for little money.

Sports fans will be thrilled and get their money's worth as well. You can watch Baseball in Toronto with the Blue Jays. Before my semester started I went to a game to see the Jays play the world famous New York Yankees. If you like Basketball, you can watch the NBA Live in Toronto with the Raptors too. The Bills are at home in Buffalo playing in Ralph Wilson Stadium in front of over 70,000 people, so if you like American Football you can watch the NFL Live there. Not to forget the sport that Canada and its culture stands for: Hockey. The Toronto Maple Leafs and the Buffalo Sabres are two teams playing in the NHL within an hour of St. Catharines. Other possibilities would be Brocks own team the Badgers or the Niagara Ica Dogs that are playing major junior hockey in Niagara Falls. To get cheap tickets you should check out, there you can find tickets to other events as well. You can see there are plenty of opportunities to kill time while being abroad and there is even more that I could write about but you will have to experience it yourself. Finally, I would like to give you a couple of general helpful tips and sum up my report.

College Life

Every Thursday the place to be is Isaac's Bar and Grill, one of Brocks Dining Halls. On those Thursdays, Isaac's turns into a party club/bar. In addition, you will find many options to go out and have fun. Either on house-parties where you will find those characteristic red cups most of us know out of movies, with lots of drinking games such as flip cup and beer pong that Canadians love to play ( Besides that, during the weekend most of the students go out downtown to the various bars and clubs. In addition to partying, you have other opportunities to spend your free time during the day in St Kitts that is how everybody calls St. Catharines. On campus, you can use the big recreational area and you can sign up for other programs as well. For instance, you can play in an intramural league, which is a great way to get to know new people and have fun trying out some crazy sport.

General Tips

Anyways, last but not least I just wanted to give you some general tips, little things that might help before you get to St. Catharines. One thing you should remember is to get a credit card. Most of the time you will use your credit card while staying in Canada, since Canadians are using real money very rarely. In addition, it is helpful if you are planning trips and you have to pay online for hostels, flights, and/or other things. On top of that, if you get a credit card you should be able to get cash from an ATM without having to pay any charges. Also, you might need a cell phone. There are lots of companies to choose from. Unlike than in Germany in Canada you even pay for incoming calls and text-messages. I would recommend going to the Pen Centre in St. Catharines, which is a big Mall. You will find stores where you can get a SIM-Card. Rogers and Bell are the biggest providers but there are other cheaper ones like Virgin mobile.


Well, I hope that I could give you a good idea about Canada, the Niagara Region, St.Catharines, and Brock University and what you will expect if you decide to spend a semester there. Personally, I can say that I enjoyed my time in Canada; I met a lot of people and did many crazy things. If you do have any questions about my time in St. Catharines, feel free to contact me at

All the best,


  • Dennis