Exchange report - Student at KI
Home university: University of Toronto
Study programme: Biomedicine (Master's)
Exchange programme: INK
Semester: Autumn semester 2016/2017


As an international Master's student at KI, it was clear to me from the beginning that I'd like to experience life sciences outside Scandinavia. Before my exchange at University of Toronto I had never been on exchange - the timing never seemed quite right. However, going abroads during my last year of Master's felt like a good idea: I'd be able to experience both working in a lab and studying in North America while committing only to a short project. I had the latter strongly in mind as I wanted to "test the waters" whether or not I liked the way of doing science outside Europe before continuing to a PhD.

As I didn't do any clinical work, I did not have to undergo a medical examination or vaccinations before my arrival. Generally people working with biological patient material/cell lines require a Hepatitis B vaccination/set of vaccinations, which I had received at KI before the exchange.

Arrival and registration

I arrived to Toronto only four days before my first lab meeting with my supervisor. This, however gave me enough time to adjust to the time difference as well as to get to know my neighborhood and St. George campus, where my lab and lecture halls were located. 

Generally speaking, I'd advice to arrive to the destination about a week earlier, but if time doesn't allow it, don't worry. Not everything has to be fixed before your project/courses start. The communication between UofT and KI is rather well established and I started receiving welcome letters and critical information packages via email about two months prior to arriving, which made things start smoothly. The university held several introductory days that included tours in the campus, a welcome bag and guidance to living and studying in Toronto. Only one day was mandatory and required registering. I didn't find it very useful in terms of information but it did give some idea about the population of the other exchange students. 

I was also assigned with a mentor that I could choose based on short virtual introductions given by the mentors. This would likely be very useful to undergraduate students, but I was a bit too occupied with the classes and lab to attend the social gatherings with my mentor. It is not mandatory to attend the meetings as their purpose is mainly to provide support and to introduce exchange students to each other.


Toronto is a pricey city in terms of accommodation: be prepared to pay a higher amount of rent compared to what you'd pay in Stockholm. An average (private market) price of a room in a house varies from CAD$ 600-1100, depending on the area (proximity to St. George campus or Downtown etc.) and the type of housing. UofT housing is not that much cheaper, but the locations are quite convenient for students studying at St. George campus. Everything else apart from housing and public transport (especially monthly pass) is slightly cheaper in Toronto: eating out, buying groceries, alcohol and other goods is less expensive compared to Sweden.

As an exchange student, you will have to pay a CAD$200 fee for UHIP health insurance that every student at UofT is obliged to pay. This is mandatory even for KI students who get the Kammarkollegiet insurance, but is useful for general health issues. UHIP, however, does not include prescribing students with drugs.

How to keep the costs low? I'd recommend shopping in bigger grocery stores (such as No-Frills) and limiting the use of public transport, if possible. I find it very easy to walk or bike in Toronto and the streets are safe even during nightime. Some grocery stores (like Metro and BulkBarn) have a 10% student discount on a given weekday, which contributes to economical living.

Labs might be able to compensate for the work which, however requires to apply for a study&work permit from the Canadian Government. If the stay in Canada is under 6 months and you won't receive a salary or a stipend, there is no need to apply for a study permit. It, however, makes some things easier, like opening a bank account or applying for a credit card, for example.


If the student housing situation in Stockholm seems bad, be prepared for a similar experience when trying to find housing from Toronto. Months of August and September are the hardest months to find suitable housing as plenty of Canadians and international students are coming in at once. However, there are plenty of options:

University of Toronto has their own accommodation source (very smilar to KI housing) but they mainly offer housing for undergraduate students and the rents are not significantly cheaper compared to private market.

As an international graduate student, I was not offered housing, which is why I turned to private housing. I was a bit desperate as I didn't want to book a hotel/hostel for a few days while searching for housing, which is why I opted to rent a room in a house near campus, without seeing the place beforehand. I Skyped with the landlord two times to make sure I knew how the place was and was quite content with it. It takes about 30 min to walk to my lab and lecture halls, which is why I don't really need to use the expensive public transport.

I found student Facebook groups the best way to find housing but you can also search from Kijiji and Craigslist. As always, there are a lot of scammers on all these sites. Never agree to sign a lease or make any transactions before seeing the place yourself or having a Skype chat or something equivalent with the landlord. Many friends of mine managed to find housing from helpful labmates in Toronto, which might be a safer way to find at least temporary housing.It was surprising that many landlords only have tenants that sign a 12-month lease. However, the tenant often has the right to sublet their room if they're returning back before the lease expires.

Studies in general

Graduate courses of UofT are said to be less labour-intense than their undergraduate ones. I found that they were quite a lot of work, as there was a lot of self-studying and reading involved. My impression is that the teaching methods are rather similar compared to KI but the style of evaluating student performance may vary: I personally prefer the cumulative grading at KI (journal clubs, lab demos, presentations, assignments etc.) and found that many courses at UofT put emphasis on long essays and final examinations. I did enjoy the discussional approach to teaching; the lecturers often challenged students to participate in discussion and motivate their opinions and arguments. 

To my surprise I found that the classes I took only had a handful of participants, which enabled a very tailored learning experience for us students. In my case the professors were very flexible about deadlines and continuously asked students for feedback and their own ideas about the course structure. However, this likely depends a lot on the faculty and the course/courses of choice.
St. George campus and an ad for the field relative to my thesis project.

Courses during the exchange period

Courses corresponding to semester 3 at KI
I took two courses in the faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences to replace the elective track back at KI. I chose the courses based on my own interests and the fact that that kind of pedagogic content is not included in the Biomedicine program. Both classes were small, which enabled a very student-oriented way of learning. The other course, Introduction to Pharmacoepidemiology, included a lot of smaller course work (presentations, assignments, critical appraisals), which I really appreciated. The other, Multidisciplinary Aspects of Addictions, was more heavy on self-learning and required quite a bit of literature review for the essay assignments (no final examination). All in all, I'm happy about my course selection; it was definitely out of my comfort zone but I learned a lot.

Language and Culture

I did not experience a language barrier since English is the main language in Toronto. In order to experience the French-speaking parts Canada, one has to travel to Montreal and Quebec, which are a bus ride away from Toronto.What comes to the culture in Toronto, it is really difficult to pinpoint it to one thing. There are many nationalities present in the city, which also translates to the culture in the university; only about 40% of my fellow colleague students or labmates were Canadians. I, however, experienced Toronto as quite American, compared to the rural parts of Canada. Toronto is somewhat of a hectic city, which shows in customer service, for example, but overall people are very helpful and friendly.

Leisure time and social activities

UofT has plenty of activities for incoming exchange students from sports to parties and other gatherings. I went to a few but enjoyed going out with my roommates and lab colleagues better. A majority of the other exchange students are undergraduate students (19-22 yeas old), and might have a different take on their exchange experience. For me the time in Toronto was quite work-centered (as I had hoped for), which is why I wasn't very active on the official exchange student activities. I wanted to socialize with Canadians who knew the city better. This turned out to be very interesting as there is a lot of underground culture in Toronto and it often happens that the most interesting concerts, art events and bars might not be on the average exchange student's map.

Registering for a UofT student card, TCard, gives you access to not only libraries but sport facilities, which in my opinion are excellent! They offer a variety of physical activities from meditation and yoga to crossfit and other more physical sports.


There is no way around it: go on exchange! The beauty in doing so during Master's is that you can tailor the experience by your own motivational goals; you might be interested to test the professional waters outside Sweden, network with other scientists, experience foreign cultures, travel or simply chek that "exchange experience" off your list.

Keep in mind that finances, work/accommodation arrangements and other mundane stuff will sort themselves out (in my case, with a lot of work) and that that is only a small fraction of the whole time abroad. I've matured quite a bit during my exchange; it's a wonderful feeling to know that you can make it in a new country both professionally and personally.