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Big city guide for small-town students

by | Jan 4, 2017 | Downtown | 0 comments

I arrived in Edmonton a few short days before I started university, with a car full of my belongings and hope for the wonderful things that my time in the city would bring me, but I quickly discovered that there is more to the city than being able to have pizza delivered to your front door.

Within my first few days in Edmonton, I often found myself lost, confused and, at some points, a little terrified. My maiden voyage with the Edmonton Transit System (ETS) was, by all definitions, a disaster. I took the wrong bus and ended up at a bus depot on the far edge of town, and when I asked the driver which bus would take me back to the university, he told me, “The blue and grey one.”

That day, I called a friend and asked for help with understanding the city’s bus system, and since then, I’ve been collecting any tips and tricks I can get my hands on to help me get through my first semester living in the city.

I’ve put together this survival guide for my fellow small-town students, in hopes that others can avoid making my mistakes – or at the very least, know how to handle the aftermath.

Safety in the city

Urban living has a lot to offer and can be an incredible experience, but it’s important to make your safety a priority. There are obvious ways to stay safe, like avoiding travelling alone at night, but there are other precautions that you should take as well.

Have a contact, such as a relative or friend (even if they don’t live near you), who you can tell when you’re headed out and where you’re going, so you can let them know when you’ve arrived safely.

There are also apps that will let others know you’re safe, such as StaySafe Personal, which is available for download for iPhone and Android. The app works by using a GPS tracker, and will automatically notify emergency contacts if you don’t check in.

Meeting new people

One of the perks of being surrounded by such a high volume of people in the city is that there are countless ways to meet new friends and professional contacts.

Edmonton has plenty of volunteer opportunities and recreational sports teams, both of which provide a chance to meet people with similar interests. MacEwan University, for example, is home to a variety of clubs that cater to dozens of different interests and hobbies. For those interested in getting more information on MacEwan’s clubs, a comprehensive list can be found at

Taking advantage of public transit

Not only do the services offered by ETS make for an environmentally-conscious method of travel, but they also offer a low-cost alternative to driving to school every day. Save money by cutting out things such as parking and gas costs by taking the bus or LRT.

ETS might seem difficult to understand or use effectively, but with some time and a bit of patience, you can master the routes and plan your trip. Printed route brochures can be picked up at locations throughout the city, as well as in PDF format at Some apps that are useful in planning a route are ETS Live to Go and Google Maps.

For small-town students, we’re accustomed to being delayed by rogue cattle on our back country roads. Similarly, travel time in the city can vary due to traffic, construction and accidents, so always allow for this by leaving early.

Get to know your city

Navigating around a new city can be intimidating, but this is another opportunity to take advantage of the many mapping apps available. Explore the city by visiting important landmarks, which can be found at

Make sure you mark important locations, such as your home address, school, work, and transit stations, in order to quickly plan a route. Technology does fail on occasion, so it never hurts to also carry a hard-copy map of your city, or even a note with important addresses.

While these techniques are useful when first arriving in a new city, it’s best to wean yourself off of these apps and test your recall by attempting to plan your route on your own.

Managing your finances

There are a lot of great things to do and amazing places to eat in the city. The cost of these fun nights out can add up quickly, however, so it’s a good idea to develop a weekly and/or monthly budget for yourself in order to keep your finances in check.

Set aside a certain amount of your budget for concerts, movies, eating out, and any other special activities you might plan. Affordable entertainment, such as open mic nights at local coffee shops and bars, is also offered within the city.

Being prepared

The move to the city can be exciting, with plenty of opportunities to enjoy the comforts and conveniences of city living, but there are a few things that you should keep with you to stay prepared.

Not all businesses are able to accept debit or credit cards, for example, so carrying cash with you will prevent you from finding yourself in a bind where you can’t pay for something such as bus fare, an LRT ticket or a parking meter. It’s also proactive to carry a phone charger with you, in case you end up being away from home longer than anticipated and require it.

Enjoy your new life

I traded in the familiarity of dirt roads and wheat fields for city sidewalks and the towers of downtown Edmonton. I went from passing someone on the street in my home town and saying, “Hey, Larry! How are the wife and kids?” to getting yelled at by city police for unknowingly jaywalking.

Hopefully this guide helps students who are new to the city to not only survive, but to thrive as well.

With these tips in mind, get out of your comfort zone and explore all that MacEwan and the city of Edmonton have to offer. Use this time to meet new people, try new things and, most of all, enjoy city living!

Cover photo supplied.

Emily Ireland

The Griff


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