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Panorama of the city of Edmonton

Alberta-OWL: Exchange opportunities for students

Author: Jana Haver

Every year, up to ten students from Bielefeld head to Edmonton in the Alberta region of Canada for a semester abroad. They attend lectures, study with new fellow students, take exams at partner universities—all without having to pay tuition fees. And they have ample time to discover Canada. This is all made possible by the cooperation between the OWL and Alberta regions. What experiences do Bielefeld students stand to benefit from? How can Bielefeld students become part of the Alberta-OWL cooperation? Four Bielefeld students share their stories.

Since 2018, Bielefeld University, Paderborn University, Bielefeld University of Applied Sciences, and OWL University of Applied Sciences in the East Westphalia-Lippe region have been cooperating with partner universities in the Canadian city of Edmonton: the University of Alberta, MacEwan University, the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology, and Concordia University of Edmonton. One aspect of the cooperation is a student exchange with Bielefeld University. The concept: students from Canada can complete internships in OWL through this partnership and gain international practical experience during their studies. In return, students from OWL can study in Edmonton for a semester without having to pay tuition fees, which are often high in Canada. Edmonton is located in the heart of Alberta in Western Canada and has a population of 1.3 million. There are currently exchange opportunities for students in the subjects of biology, education, gender studies, teaching, and law.

Practice-oriented studies

Luisa Köllner is a law student at Bielefeld University. She completed her fifth semester at the University of Alberta in Edmonton in autumn 2023: ‘I got to know a completely different legal system there—in contrast to our civil law legal system, common law applies in Canada. I found it fascinating to learn how differently the law can be interpreted.’ She experienced her studies in Canada as very practical and challenging due to the many legal test cases.

Luisa Köllner stands on the lakeshore, in the background are mountains
Luisa Köllner on the shore of Lake Louise in Banff National Park.

Inken Dirkwinkel is studying to become a primary school teacher at Bielefeld University. Her degree course includes an integrated special education programme. She spent winter semester 2022/23 at Concordia University. ‘At the time, I was allowed to take the subjects I wanted,’ she remembers. ‘English and educational science were among the courses I attended.’ During her semester abroad, she not only improved her language skills and learned a lot about Canadian history, she also gathered interesting insights for her specialization in integrated special education in Canadian special needs schools. The relationship with lecturers at the relatively small university was personal and informal.

Inken Dirkwinkel stands on the riverbank, with mountains in the background
Inken Dirkwinkel at one of her favourite places in Banff National Park.

Modern campus, animals in the library, and mental health

Lilli Sophie Kaimann is studying biology, English, and maths at Bielefeld University. She spent her fifth semester at MacEwan University in autumn 2023. She particularly liked the emphasis placed on students’ mental health and well-being. ‘At certain times, we students could pet cats or dogs in the library to calm down and relieve stress.’ She also has happy memories of the makerspace with 3D printer and a puzzle room at her exchange university. She recalls: ‘The campus is very modern and we were able to use the entire fitness centre free of charge.’

Lilli Sophie Kaimann sits on a fallen tree on the riverbank
Lilli Sophie Kaimann in Jasper National Park.

Minus 35 degrees and international friendships

Emelie Gottschling completed her bachelor’s degree in environmental sciences at Bielefeld. She spent winter semester 2022/23 studying at MacEwan University. She looks back fondly on her time in North America, where she forged friendships that have lasted to this day. A friend from South Korea, whom she met in Canada, wants to meet up with her again soon. She also did a lot with other international students. They went camping, hiking, and skiing. ‘It was really amazing to experience the cold winter. There was lots of snow and it was white most of the time,’ she says. When she arrived there in September, it was still 25 degrees plus. But the temperature quickly plunged to minus 10 degrees and later even minus 35 degrees.

Emelie Gottschling sitting on a rock, with mountains and a lake in the background.
Emelie Gottschling in the mountains.

Inken Dirkwinkel is also enthusiastic about Canada’s outdoors: ‘The national parks are fantastic. I even saw moose. Other experiences were also a bit of a culture shock for me,’ she recalls. Here, the 24-year-old is alluding to the great distances. I couldn’t reach much on foot and spent a lot of time on buses.’ Luisa Köllner did a lot with her flatmates from her international flat share of four directly on the University of Alberta campus: Besides Edmonton, they explored several national parks together. Trips to other Canadian cities such as Vancouver and Toronto were also on their itinerary. Lilli Sophie Kaimann did a lot with her Finnish flatmate: ‘We travelled to the Rocky Mountains. It was breathtakingly beautifil there,’ she remembers. Seeing the Northern Lights was another highlight she was able to observe from her flat window.

What the students say about their semester abroad

During her semester abroad, Lilli Kaimann not only experienced a lot, but also learnt a lot about herself: ‘I had time to think about what I want in life. And when things got difficult, I was able to rise above myself,’ she says. Like the other participants, Inken Dirkwinkel still looks back very fondly on her semester in Edmonton: ‘I’d go on an exchange again in a heartbeat.’ Luisa Köllner regards her time in Canada as hugely enriching and a unique opportunity. ‘The international cultural diversity is incredible and broadens your horizons.’ And Emelie Gottschling adds: ‘Students should definitely seize the opportunity of a semester abroad and gain all kinds of experience during their time in a foreign country.’

Mentor for Canadian interns

Bielefeld students once again have the chance to become part of the Alberta-OWL cooperation this year. At the beginning of May, students from Edmonton are coming to Bielefeld University and schools in the surrounding area for two to three months to complete internships here.

Through volunteering as a mentor, students at Bielefeld University can interact with Canadian students and improve their English language skills or prepare themselves for a stay abroad. The Bielefeld mentors are called on to support the Canadian interns in their everyday life at the university and in the city. It would also be a good idea to have regular meals together in the university canteen and possibly also undertake other joint activities in the region. Interested Bielefeld students can apply to the Team Services of the International Office at Study places for Bielefeld students in Alberta for winter semester 2025/2026 are expected to be offered again in autumn 2024. Getting to know the interns from Alberta in the summer can be good preparation for your own application for a semester place in Canada.