Category Archives: Housing

Housing: Thunderbird vs. Marine Drive, and how much $ for furnishing a studio?

Happy New Year everyone!

That’s right. This is the first post I am writing this year, although it’s already February.

As you might have guessed, I recently finished writing my comprehensive exam (a.k.a. comps). You have no idea how happy I am to be typing away on my laptop rather than squeezing my colourful pens trying to write equations in tiniest legible form possible on my cheat sheet.

Some of you may have expected my first iMech post of the year to be filled with complaints about the exam. Don’t worry. That’s on my list of upcoming posts, and will be posted probably after I get my results back (fingers crossed!!).

Anyways, small talks aside, I actually got a question from a prospective grad student regarding UBC residences.

Now, last year I wrote a post dedicated to UBC housing, but the question from the student made me realize that the post isn’t really helpful when you’re trying to figure out how much you should budget when thinking of moving to campus (in to a studio or a one-bedroom unit where you have the freedom to furnish your own place). I can’t speak for other students, because everyone has different standard of living, and budget in mind. But if you’re thinking about budgeting in the first place, that probably means you have reasons to worry about your finances and belong to the group of most of the grad students I know. If that’s the case, then maybe my story will help — and you might be surprised to find how cheap it is to furnish a place if you just take the time to chill and look around.

So here it is Student J. This post is for you.

When I was looking into housing for coming to UBC, I had no idea I was supposed to apply for residences way in advance (like now). So I started looking into it around June or July I think, which meant that I’d be put on the waiting list along with thousands of other students who are also on the list (and ahead of me). I decided that it’s not worth waiting for thousands of rooms to free up so quickly, and resorted to a more convenient route. A family friend of mine who was living in downtown Vancouver was moving back to Toronto and wasn’t too keen on taking all her furniture with her. So I conveniently took over her lease and had all the necessities (bed, table, microwave etc) all set up for me when I arrived in the city.

That wasn’t the most affordable solution in terms of rent, mind you. But it was definitely affordable in terms of furnishing the place since I didn’t have to furnish it. When I moved out of the place, of course, I sold the furniture for her so that she didn’t have to fly back to take care of her stuff etc. So it kinda worked out for both of us I think.

I had applied for Thunderbird residences back then and was put on the waiting list for about half a year to a full year before I got an offer. And of course, as soon as the offer came in, I moved in to the campus housing.

Thunderbird VS. Marine Drive

The reason why I had applied for Thunderbird, and not keen on Marine Drive (MD) was that I wanted to live in a studio unit. I’m a really independent person with an interesting daily schedule. So I didn’t want to deal with the whole roommate issue when I take showers at 6am in the morning etc. If you look at the monthly rent for studio units, Thunderbird gives you the most affordable option with larger square feet per unit. While MD studio units may be located at a place overlooking the ocean and comes furnished, it costs a lot more ($965.13/mth for a smaller unit, $1,043.97/mth for larger unit) than Thunderbird studios that don’t come furnished ($855 – $924/mth depending on type of studio you get). Mind you, these rents go up every year, so be sure to check the official website for the latest info (

Had I wanted to have roommates, Marine Drive’s 4 bedroom units ($~800/mth/person) would’ve been my first choice. Thunderbird residence’s 4 bedroom units ($670/mth/person) tend to be less well maintained, in my opinion, and the residence community seems to be much less lively than that of MD. It’s to the level that the amount of money you pay extra to be at MD is kinda worth it. Unless you have a few people you’d like to be roommates with, I’d say go for MD if you’re thinking about having strangers as roommates. That’s totally my opinion based on my visit to friends’ places etc.

The Cost of Furnishing an Empty Student House

Now, since Thunderbird’s studio and one-bedroom units do not come furnished. So I practically moved in to an empty house. Luckily, again, one of my labmates at the time was finishing up and was looking for someone to take over his furniture. He had sold a lot of his furniture already, so I got what was left over for free (yes, $0) — an IKEA desk, a chair, a bed frame, and a couple of side tables.

But you can probably imagine that that’s not enough to make a cozy ‘get-away from the lab’ environment necessary for grad students.

The best thing is though, that once you have a place, it doesn’t really matter if you have it furnished right away. As long as you have your blankets and cooking supplies with you, you can live in an empty house for quite an extended period of time.

Luckily — again — one of my supervisor was keeping an eye out for me since he knew that I had just moved in and was looking to furnish my place.  After perhaps a few days or weeks (I can’t remember) of living in a barely furnished one-bedroom residence, my supervisor found out that his neighbour was practically throwing away furniture because the elder lady who owned the house had passed away and the house was being torn up for renovation. So, with his help, I brought a couple of my labmates over to the place and got a pull-out bed type couch, two loveseats, a chair, a mattress, and other stuff I can’t remember.

I moved out of the one-bedroom place to a Thunderbird studio unit ever since, but most of the furniture I have is from the previous neighbour of my supervisor and my labmate. I think the only additions I have from then is a desk drawer I got from another grad student for $5, another chair I got for free from a friend, an IKEA coffee table I spent maybe $30-60 on (’cause it’s the only thing I bought brand new), a $20 kitchen table, and the bench I purchased last Fall.

So, I pretty much furnished my place with essentials without costing me anything — I could’ve just gotten a coffee table from someone for $5 instead if I wanted as well.

Now, you are probably thinking, it’s a new city and you don’t really know anyone here. So who’s going to be looking an eye out for you to help you get free furniture?

Even if you don’t know many people here, I don’t think it’d really cost you much money to furnish your place. It’s more of a hassle to furnish it, than it is a drain on your bank account. That’s because most students don’t have a car, and hence think they can’t pick up that free furniture someone is giving away. But if you sign up for Zipcar or other car co-op, and have a valid license, then you can rent out trucks by the hour (about $12/hr or something usually) and can make it work.

The key is to not worry about furnishing your place all at once. Get what you can, when you can. And monitor Craigslist and Kijiji often. Because there’s always someone in Vancouver who is giving away all their furniture for free or for a couple of hundred $ but those deals go quickly. When you go to these people’s places and buy out their furniture, they’re more than happy to throw in a side table, a lamp, a whole rack of dishes and cups. These people really want to get rid of them asap than to make money off of them. Students often move from places to places as well and most of them would hate to have to throw the furniture out on the curb of a road. They’d rather someone take it off their hands for free. This makes furniture easy and cheap to find. One key ingredient for student furnishing is to have good set of friends though. Be good friends with your labmates or roomates or residence mates. Because when you’re trying to get that free couch out of a stranger’s place, there’s nothing like a couple of extra hands to help you out.

If you can afford to spend more money than just a couple of hundred bucks to furnish your entire place, then IKEA is a student’s friend. But IKEA is actually kind of hard to get to without a car, nevermind the fact that you’d have to carry huge load of stuff back with you or pay for delivery. If you are keen on furnishing your place with IKEA furniture, but not necessarily looking to get brand new furniture, then I’d say walk around campus a bit whenever you have time. Because the boards and elevators and laundry rooms are full of flyers that say “all must go by Tuesday” or “$100 for everything” etc.

Alright, time for me to catch up with some real work. But let me know if anyone has more questions or in need of an insider’s guide to coming to UBC. And good luck with your grad school applications! 😀

Do the Sun Dance…?

The sun came out!! 😀

Last week, I wrote a super depressing post about how the Vancouver weather is dragging down my days.

I apologize if reading my post made you even more depressed. But that’s truly what I felt that day. I mean, within the history of man, as far as my junior school Korean history is concerned, people did things, do the rain dance, pray to the gods or whatever, to bring rain to end drought. I really don’t recall the same kind of ritual being done to stop the rain, clear away the clouds and bring out the sun.

But I guess my deep sigh from last week must have had some non-scientific impact on the weather, because it was beautifully sunny today! I actually saw blue in the sky ALL DAY!

In addition to expressing my joy in all caps, I figured I’d share some of the improvements I’ve been able to make in terms of decorating my place and bring the mood of the blog back up from the last post.

So, as a means to defeat my super low attitude, I’ve decided to turn to the well documented method of ‘cheering up’ called retail therapy (you should try it, it’s amazing… but do it responsibly). Being in the ‘poor PhD student’ and ‘I just came back from Europe’ mode, I tried not to buy anything for myself that I didn’t absolutely need (well, not technically true, but “absolutely” is all relative). But as one of the retail therapy principles have it (I am just gonna make it a principle if it isn’t already one), you need to learn to spend money on yourself, on things that make you happy in order for the therapy to work. So last Thursday, I convinced a super awesome friend of mine to go to IKEA with me.

There, I equipped myself with a table lamp ($17), along with many other household “essentials” that I lived without but am more happy with, and … a bench.

Yes, I know, I know.

Who needs a bench, right? But no judging please. I’m simply following the abovementioned principle of retail therapy.

Now my place looks awesomely bright and lively, like this… now if I can just get a super lively duvet cover… hmmp!:

The little table lamp on the bench is actually hooked up to a programmable light timer I got for $14 at the Canadian Tire. I have it set up so that it turns on at 5:30am in the morning every weekdays, just when I am supposed to wake up and start my day with Yoga.

The first day I tried the lamp system, I ended up snoozing my alarm for three hours because, I think, the 7 watt frosted light bulb I got from IKEA was producing super soft light.

That day, I really didn’t have much of a productive day. Everything I had planned to do was delayed by three hours, and I didn’t have much energy to zip through and make up for the time lost in sleeping. So I went and got myself a 40 watt clear light bulb to give this wake-up light system another go.

And so far it seems to be doing the trick for me. I did manage to wake up super early in the morning, without feeling like I want to snooze the alarm and go back to bed. This is kind of incredible given the fact that, when I was riding the bus to meet my friend en route to IKEA, more than half the people sitting on the bus (and it was a pretty full bus as well) were dozing off, which I only blame the weather for (of course, there are other variants such as midterms etc, but you know…).

Anywho, so far I am very happy with the set-up I have. Like a diligent  researcher, I am actually keeping track of the times I am spending on different tasks so that I can figure out whether waking up early is significantly impacting my productivity throughout the day. So far, I think it is. 🙂

Getting Ready for Grad School… Part 2: Housing.

Alright. So I have to get this application written and sent by tomorrow, and I can’t seem to concentrate.

I went to MEGA coffee for the first time in a while, talked with the epic MEGA members about the Whitecaps (which, I just found out is Vancouver’s soccer team), paintball, and how MEGA’s weekly coffee social (that’s right, there is such a thing as social life in grad school) snack now includes cookies AND apples. But still, that didn’t do the trick. I still haven’t finished my application… Bah~

Anywho, I’m hoping that writing another blog post will make me feel like doing something productive this evening.

So here goes the continued discussion of getting ready for grad school.

My Thunderbird studio unit on campus. Picture taken the day before moving in. 🙂

Well, I think I made a huge error when I thought that I could look for housing around August or something. I hadn’t received my acceptance letter until mid-summer, and I assumed that I should be applying for housing when I get the letter.


I naively assumed that, since I didn’t have any problem getting in to a residence at or housing near the University of Waterloo (UW), all universities must be equipped with enough residences on campus and nearby off-campus sites to accommodate all students. Turns out that getting into a residence at UBC is a lot more competitive than UW. I think the waiting list usually grows well above a couple of hundred. Since the housing applications are processed in first-come-first-serve basis, it’s wise for you to apply as soon as you can. And that means you should be hitting that ‘apply’ button now, if you haven’t already done so yet and plan to live on campus.

Some tricky housing contract rules apply at UBC as well. Once you get in, you need to make sure you read the  contract before you sign it. While places like the Thunderbird Residences allow you to give them a month or so of notice before you move out (should you happen to do so), that doesn’t really work for Marine Drive Residences. When you sign up to live at Marine Drive, you are signing up to live at the residence until August 15th of the following year, unless you renew your contract or notify them of your intention to move in April. Otherwise, you’ll need to pay fines and will not be able to get back hundreds of dollars of deposit you need to give them before you move in.

Tricky as it may sound, living in residences can have its benefits. Most residences feature a small gym, a music room, and a commons block where people can meet/hang out. If you are new to Vancouver, chances are you’d like to meet new people and make new friends. Residences can help you with that.

But then again, your idea of grad school may involve throwing away your lifestyle from residence-bound undergrad life. If that’s the case, you can get into studio or one bedroom units on campus (technically also residences) or go off campus.

The only trouble is that independence always comes at a price. If you have a significant other, or someone you don’t mind sharing a one-bedroom with, then living on campus can be quite affordable for you. Get into a one-bedroom Thunderbird Residence unit, and you’ll likely pay a bit more than $500 per person per month. But if you’re an independent (but not in a lonely way) person who values alone-time quite a lot, the cheapest studio unit on campus, I think, is about $850 per month. If you add up the $350 difference over 12 months, that’s quite a lot of money.

Prices for places off campus are quite similar I think. If you are looking for a studio or a one-bedroom unit on craigslist, you’re likely to come across a basement unit at someone’s house from $800/month and up. Of course, anything off campus requires you to either bike or bus to campus. And if you consider the geographical location of UBC, you’ll notice that you need to go through a large patch of green land (the Pacific Park or the University Endowment Lands) before coming across the first set of traffic lights on campus.

I’ve made a little area map to give you an idea of this.

Some creative affordable solution to the housing problem includes living on a boat, living far away but cheap and not coming in to the lab everyday, and house sitting and pet sitting long-term for someone in exchange for not paying rent. Mind you, these creative solutions are not imagined by me, but I pull them from what former UBC students have done.

My little garden. 😀

Now, that is not to say that you’re stuck with terrible housing options. One of the ‘thank god’ moments you’ll realize when you get here is that transit in Vancouver is really not that bad. And UBC happens to be the last stop for quite a number of buses, including three different buses that come from downtown (#44 – express, #14, and #4), two express buses (#99 and #84) that connects you to anywhere East of campus along Broadway or 4th Ave, and a few buses that take you East also, but along 33rd and 25th ave #33 and #25).

So, getting to an off-campus home could be a couple of express bus stops away, which is really not that bad.

Well, that’s it for my babbling about the housing situation at UBC. I guess the most important thing is to think about what’s most important to you.

If you’re more of a party/adventure kind of person, downtown living could be quite good as well. It’s about half an hour+ of bus ride depending on which part of downtown you’re coming from. But the hustle and and bustle of Vancouver downtown with almost 24hour access to pizza/sushi across the street can be quite tempting. 🙂

Now that I am really into gardening, I’ve decorated all of my windowsill with my plants. And I am so glad that I’m living in an upper level studio unit with lots of window space. I would not want it any other way — at least for the summer anyway. Apparently my lettuce plants wither quickly when it’s too hot and not watered twice a day. So I tend to go home for lunch (only two minute walk from my lab) and water them — and how could I do that if I was living off campus?