My time here at UDLAP is coming to an end – and of course, it flew by. I arrived here fresh-faced and having no idea what to expect… and I finish having learnt a lot, met amazing people and leaving a part of my heart here in beautiful Cholula.
Studying a private university – named one of the best universities in Mexico (and one of the most expensive) – has been a completely different experience, and has given me new understandings of various education systems and teaching and learning styles.
Having made my home here, constructed a life and friendships here means that leaving is an odd feeling, but all good things must come to an end. However, what I am more and more sure of, is that I’ll be back to Mexico before I know it.
But – that’s not the end of my adventure just yet! I’m off to take advantage of being in Central America and will be travelling to El Salvador, Guatemala, more of Mexico and finishing this amazing year in Cuba, before making a heartbreaking return to the UK soon. Don’t get me wrong – it will be good to be back, but I can’t help but feel I would love to stay here. I’ve learned so much and met incredible people, and feel that in my heart, I’m a bit mexa, soy mexa de corazón. I’ll be back, Mexico.
My name is Claire. I’m a third-year psychology student, currently on exchange at the University of Sydney for a year. I arrived back in July 2018, so this article is long overdue, but I wanted to tell you guys about how my arrival and the initial week in Sydney went.
I officially left Europe on the 17th of July. Saying goodbye to the fam at first wasn’t that bad, I was probably too excited about the journey ahead. However, once I reached Doha (Qatar), that is when reality struck me like a ton of bricks. I was thinking to myself: ‘Why did I have to pick an exchange destination literally across the other side of the world? What was I thinking? I mean I’m going to be gone for an entire year, if something happens, I stuck there.’ I might have also been panicking a little because I had never taken a 13hour flight by myself before.
Thankfully, the plane landed in Sydney without any hiccups and I had slept through most of it, so there wasn’t much to worry about in the end.
One thing that I was worried about (other than everything else I mentioned before) was the Australian Customs. Having watched multiple episodes of Border Patrol Australia, I was expecting to be stopped at any moment (even though I literally had nothing but clothes in my suitcase) and bombarded with questions. Surprisingly though, that wasn’t the case. It actually went quite smoothly and nothing drastic happened, such as being stopped.
As I said before, #worryingfornothingproblems.
(Insert GIF of peace sign here)
Some family friends came to the airport to come to pick me up, which I was very thankful for because I would have probably gotten lost. They dropped me off at my accommodation and helped me get set up there. Once they left, some of my housemates came and introduced themselves and the rest is history. The accommodation had a pretty good social aspect to it. You ate dinner with everyone else, so you were able to talk to others and get to know people then. They organized social events, such as thrift-shopping in Marrickville or watching movies every night. Therefore, I was able to get to know people and make friends much more easily.
When it came to my initial week in Sydney, I had arrived a few days before ‘Orientation’ in order to not feel jetlagged, for when I will have to talk to new people. I was kind of wary about whether I would be able to make new friends because I am an introvert. However, during Orientation, the university had organized two food stands (ice cream and waffles), though, the queue was extremely long. Thankfully, whilst waiting in the queue, I met some people, who would later become my friends. Everyone is pretty much in the same boat, so it’s quite easy to get people talking and become friends with people.
Afterward, the rest was history.
Well, that was my initial experience in Sydney! Hope you enjoy it!
Before leaving to go to America, the prospective exchange students were made to go to a meeting titled ‘it won’t happen to me’, where we had to sit through a PowerPoint of horrific incidences which previous exchange students had been involved in, e.g. being caught up in natural disasters or deported for underage drinking. The aim of the PowerPoint was to encourage us students to be vigilant whilst on exchange and consequently, I completely ignored any advice that was given. ‘Nothing like that is going to happen to me’, came my irritatingly annoying thoughts, ‘nothing like that ever happens to me’. When I saw the price of health insurance for one semester ($1200) I very nearly refused to get it, purely as a matter of principal. Thankfully though, I was eventually persuaded, and I cannot begin to articulate how thankful I am for that.
A few weeks into my stay in New Jersey I went on a university organised day skiing trip. Not many of the others in our group had skied much before, if ever, so my arrogance took over and I decided to attempt to show off my mediocre skills. Terrible decision. I have been skiing since I was five and never in all that time have, I ever injured myself. ‘You wear my waterproof gloves’, I told my roommate, who, with it being her first time on the slopes, didn’t have any proper kit and had spent a considerable portion of the morning on the floor. ‘I’m not going to fall over so you need them more than I do’. Ten minutes later I was face first in the snow, screaming in pain with my elbow twisted at a very disturbing looking angle.
A few of us had decided to challenge ourselves by going down a black slope and had taken the incredibly embarrassing liberty to photograph ourselves with the ‘experts only’ sign that was situated at the top of the slope before careering off down the piste. By this point, it was nearing the end of the day so the snow had begun to melt and become extremely slushy. As I made my way towards the bottom of the mountain, my ski got caught in a lump of snow, propelling me into the air. I crashed down onto the ice and felt a sharp pain in my right elbow. ‘I need to go to the hospital’, I thought instinctively.
Being lowered down a mountain, strapped to a sledge pulled by a man on skis is terrifying. Primarily, this is because, it is pretty much impossible to ski at a speed slower than about a million miles per hour. Once we’d reached the bottom, I was transferred on to another stretcher, this one on wheels, and taken into the emergency room. A woman named Tammy felt around my arm for a bit, much to my protestations, an ever more concerning look on her face.
‘Girl we need to get you to the ER’
In the ambulance on the way to the hospital the paramedic ran some tests.
‘Your blood pressure is pretty high, are you feeling stressed?’
I was in fact, very stressed, my chief concern being that outdoor activities wouldn’t be included under my health insurance. The thought of thousands of dollars of crippling debt is the last thing you want to be thinking about when you’ve just suffered a severe injury and I suddenly felt a surge of pride towards the NHS.
After spending a traumatising six hours in the hospital, consisting of X rays, pain killers and a lot of screaming, my arm was finally put back in to place and slotted in to a sling. The doctors wheeled me out into the waiting room where my friends had laborously waited for me (thanks guys) and helped to load my dysfunctional body into the mini van which was taking us home.
That night, two of my flatmates had to use scissors to cut me out of my t shirt since moving my arm was so excruciating. The process took about half an hour and when the top was finally removed, we discovered that my entire arm was covered in a deep purple bruise.
The next few weeks constituted of Doctors appointments, ibuprofen and me realising how insanely useful having two functioning hands is (have you ever tried grating cheese with one hand? Absolute nightmare.)
My bill for the hospital was over 10 thousand dollars, not counting the ambulance bill which was an extra $1500, for a 20 minute journey. I’m not entirely sure how much of this bill will be covered by my insurance but It will cost me a lot less than if I hadn’t bothered to take out insurance at all. Essentially, the moral of this story is, take the meeting seriously, don’t be arrogant and definitely take out health insurance because it could in fact, happen to you!
After possibly the longest summer break ever (a whole 4 months!), I am finally back for my second semester at the University of Auckland. I spent most of the summer travelling around, with the highlights including a trip to the South Island where I visited Milford Sound in Fiordland and hiked the Abel Tasman Great Walk, which had some of the most beautiful beaches I’ve ever seen.
However, whilst I could write post after post on all the amazing landscapes and attractions New Zealand has to offer, I thought I’d focus this one more on how the academic side of university varies here compared to Manchester.
1) Different case study examples
Studying Geography and Geology, I often get taught case studies that help consolidate understandings of how geographic and geological process work in the real-word. I’m now taught from a southern hemisphere perspective, and all my modules tend to refer to concepts and case studies relevant to New Zealand, Australia and the surrounding Pacific countries. New Zealand is a much more interesting place geologically than the UK, which was part of the reason I chose to come here, and so far, I’m really enjoying learning more about specific geographic and geological topics I wouldn’t have exposure to back at Manchester. For example, in my Engineering Geology module there was a significant focus on Australian mining as these is a common field for NZ geologists to go into. It’s also cool to see features I’ve only ever seen theoretically in books, such as a back-arc volcanic chain, as a real-life example of New Zealand’s Taupo Volcanic Zone, as it really helps to visualise and identify processes and end products.
2) Continuous assessments
As is the case for many universities abroad, it is more common for modules (called papers here) to be continuously assessed throughout the semester, in contrast to maybe one large coursework essay and a final exam worth 60-100%, which was common for me at Manchester. This means each week, on top of attending lectures and the readings and note writing associated with these, I have to complete assessed labs, each worth 5-10%. Mid semester tests are also common and can mean that by the actual exam, as much as 80% of the module has already been completed. For example, in one of my modules, I’d already done 30% of the work by week 3.
Whilst this takes pressure of during exam season, as exams have a much lower weighting than at Manchester, more work is required throughout the semester. In order to complete the assessments, you need to be up-to-date with lecture material, which can be a good thing as it forces you to keep motivated and engaged, however means the work can seem very full on and stressful at times.
3) Lots of computer-based laboratories
Initially I assumed my assessed labs would be similar to the geology practicals I had at Manchester, which are very hands on in a classroom. However, I was surprised as here, for both my Geography and Earth Science modules, labs are much more computer-based. There seems to be a focus on using programs such as Excel, Arc GIS and specialist modelling software to process and analyse data sets, aiming to relate this back to concepts learnt in lectures. Having limited prior experience with such, it took me a while to fully understand what was going on and how some of the programs work. Whilst these have been beneficial, expanding my knowledge and letting me use some really cool programs, such as one that processes seismic reflection data, I think I prefer the practical style back at Manchester, where it’s a lot more hands on and easier to understand the relevancy of what I am doing.
This one might be a bit specific to studying Geography and Geology, however, my friend who does Psychology also has lots more computer labs than back home, so maybe this might be an observation for science subjects in general?
As mentioned above, exams are often weighted a lot less here than they would be back at Manchester, which does ease the pressure and stress during the exam season. Mid-semester tests also mean that the material has been revised before, which make final revision a lot easier, especially as in some cases, where material covered in the mid-semester test is excluded from the final exam. So, whilst I’ve found exams here a lot less stressful than at Manchester, the format in which they’re held can be a little weird. For starters, it’s common for exams to be held on Saturdays or late in the evening (my friend once had one that started at 8pm!). Each exam, regardless of subject, also has 15 minutes reading time before you actually start writing which can be confusing when you’re not expecting it and try to start writing immediately which isn’t allowed!
Hopefully this post has been helpful for those considering studying at Auckland or New Zealand in the future!
By George Davies – The University of Calgary, Canada
Studying in Calgary should definitely be at the top of your list if you enjoy being outdoors. Home to the fastest ice in the world, as well as the stupendously stunning snow-capped Rocky Mountains, Alberta ticks every box for any alfresco adventurer. After spending almost seven months in this corner of the world, I’ve had my fair share of experiences. From carving down heavenly white powder to scrambling up unrelenting rock faces, I have accumulated a string of thoughts on the best places to visit and investments to avoid as a travelling student. Which I hope may be of some sort of guidance for those new to the Albertan scene. Allowing you to make the most of your time in the province and beyond. Continue reading “Skiing, Hiking and Whatnot in Alberta”→
Spring has sprung and as I finished my mid-semester exams I took the opportunity to take in some more of the Swedish environment and culture.
One of the biggest traditions and an important part of student life in Lund is the Ball weekend. Effectively a much bigger, much fancier version of a sittning (see earlier post) the Sydskanska Nations annual spring ball took place this year in the Grand Hotel. There are a few things that separate this event from your average shindig, firstly that its probably the fanciest thing I’ve ever been a part of, with a strict white tie dress code. The guests also attach a series of small medals to their tuxedo/ ball gown, each earnt for engagement in a specific aspect of student or civil society for a certain period of time. I managed to get my hands on one for being involved with a nation, but I was definitely a small fish in a big pond of heavily medalled sharks.
Much of the speeches and songs were of course in Swedish, which made everything quite confusing as an international student, but still a lot of fun. A three course meal was followed by a live band and barbershop quartet, and then the large hall was cleared to make room for ballroom dancing. As the ball drew to a close, the guests gathered at the hotel entrance for a torchlit procession through the streets of Lund up to the Sydskanska Nation building, where the entertainment continued late into the night. If this wasn’t enough, the morning after brought with it a brunch sittning and more live music well into the afternoon. It was interesting to see how much events like this are part of Swedish culture, and it was definitely a unique and different experience compared to student life in the UK.
While you are studying abroad, one of the last things you are thinking about is returning to Manchester to finish your degree. Whether it is a single semester, your final year or returning to do a masters, returning to academic life in Manchester offers a unique set of challenges which is not often associated with the process of studying abroad.
Having spent an academic year at Arizona State University (ASU), one of the main differences I found was the weather. This may not sound like a big deal, but having gone almost an entire year not having to wear anything more than shorts, it can be surprising how much of a difference walking to a few lectures in the rain can do. This can significantly affect your mood and potentially your academic progress. I found the best way to overcome this was remind myself why I had chosen the University of Manchester in the first place, which involved getting stuck back into my course and playing football again after a summer off. After the first week or so once I had adapted to Manchester to being the norm again and stopped drawing constant comparisons with my year abroad, I soon found that this initial shock could be easily overcome.
While studying abroad there can often be a big difference between the academic side whilst abroad compared with back in Manchester. This means that getting back to Manchester and doing assignments again can be daunting. This is especially the case for returnees like me whose year abroad did not count towards their final grade but instead was pass/fail. In addition to this, courses in Manchester may also include information from the previous year, which you may not be aware of if the classes during your study abroad did not cover the same topics. Getting by this may include spending a little extra time on assignments and study than you would normally need to initially, however this is far outweighed by the benefits of studying abroad and all the amazing experiences you have had. This is also not that of a big deal in the long run, in my own experiences I only had to deal with acclimatizing to doing assignments in Manchester for the first couple.
The biggest challenge I found, which is probably different for different people, was going from studying abroad where I was travelling and constantly experiencing new things to being back in Manchester, where the initial shock of moving back is replaced by a sense of familiarity and the every day. Going from one to the other is often coupled with not enjoying Manchester as much as you used to and the feeling that your study abroad never actually happened. While I was walking to the Ali G it was hard to believe that just a few months earlier I was travelling around America on the back of studying there for a year. Despite this however it was good to see people again that I hadn’t seen since the last summer and overall getting back to Manchester after a summer of seeing friends and family isn’t so bad. While studying abroad is a great experience and one I wish I could re-live over and over again, returning to Manchester is often not discussed or viewed as part of the process. Overall I found that because of this when I returned back it took me a while to get back into my stride. Once I had done this however, I could get on with finishing my degree while being able to look back at all the fantastic memories I had of the time I was away.
It is hard to encapsulate and create an image of the beauty of Mexico without visiting – but I’m going to try anyway…
Mexico’s diversity is something I have been absolutely blown away by; although not difficult when you consider that by area, it is the 13th largest country in the world, and fits a large number of European countries within its boundaries! This gives rise to an astonishingly diverse range of cultures, which vary dramatically between states and regions, with varying music and dance, clothing, language and customs in each community. Given that my workload is not nearly as heavy or demanding as in Manchester, I have been able to really take advantage to travel extensively and far and wide in this amazing country. From cities in which the colonial legacy is obvious such as Puebla and Oaxaca, to small indigenous towns of Chiapas, from vast archaeological sites of previous civilisations, to the vast metropolis of Mexico City, from beautiful beaches of the Pacific Coast in Oaxaca or the Gulf in Veracruz, to dense pine forests inundated by the migration of monarch butterflies in Michoacán, from the mountains and volcanoes surrounding my own home in Cholula, to the waterfalls and Chiapas, Mexico is a country rich in, climatic, environmental and cultural diversity. Naturally, this could not make it more interesting for a Geographer!
All things considered Amsterdam is a very easy place to live for a foreigner, with 90% of people speaking English. However, there are a few things I wish I had known to buy or to do which would have made my first few weeks easier. So here are some things to consider when moving here:
Set up a dutch bank account: up until Christmas time I managed to get by using my international bank card. However, it was causing me a bit of hassle, as lots of shops here only take dutch cards. Also, online shopping using dutch companies is impossible without a dutch card. However, since I got a job and had to set up an account I realised how worthwhile it is to have one. I recommend ING for a free student account.
Get a bike ASAP: I actually brought my bike with me from home, as I was lucky enough to have my dad drive me here. But if you can’t do that, then I suggest either renting one from Swapfiets for €15 per month, or you can buy a v cheap one at Waterlooplein.
Order a student OV chip card: for the super windy and rainy days when you can think of nothing worse than cycling, you’ll need to have a student OV chip card to allow you to take public transport (unless you want to fork out a fortune for the standard ticket). You can order them online and they give a discount on all transport.
Museumkaarts: are a must if you like museums. Going to exhibitions in the Netherlands can become expensive, so if you want to go to more than 4 times I would recommend you get a card. It costs about €60 to get one, but if you buy it at the museum the cost of the visit is deducted.
Free food: there are quite a few spots in the city for free or cheap meals. Taste before you waste is a charity which hosts dinner’s twice a week. You can also go to their food market and get free ingredients.
Booze: annoyingly, I wandered around the supermarket for about 15 minutes looking for vodka before I mustered up the courage to ask where the spirits were. Turns out, in the Netherlands if you want spirits you have to go to a liquor shop.
Flixbus: by far the cheapest and easiest way to get around; both to different dutch cities but also further afield.
Although this blog isn’t super exciting, I do wish I knew these things and I hope it is useful for whoever comes to Amsterdam on exchange.
As reading week finally arrives at UBC, I can sigh in relief after surviving four exams in the space of three days. However, it’s times like those when you’re sat at your desk at 8am doing some hardcore last-minute cramming that you really cherish the high notes in the year so far. So, with that, I decided to make a quick guide to Vancouver’s best day trips and long weekends for students wanting to make the most out of their time abroad.
One of the first adventures I embarked on was a weekend road trip through the Canadian Rockies which was organised by the Exchange Student Club (ESC). The trip cost £250 in total, including food, accommodation and travel – with everything organised by the ESC so your only job is to pay! The trip took us through the most incredible sites in Alberta including the breathtakingly beautiful Lake Louise as well as several waterfalls and novice to advanced hiking trails. Although a large amount of time is spent on the coach, the ESC volunteers provide top entertainment to make the time fly by. Once the coach reaches Banff, the real fun begins. The accommodation comes with a thermal bath looking over the snowy mountains, and there are plenty of opportunities to get to know the other exchange students and finish the weekend with a fat night out before heading back to Vancouver. Would highly recommend this as a start to the year to meet loads of great people and visit some of North America’s most beautiful sites.
If the trip to the Rockies hasn’t quite quenched your thirst for Mountain adventuring, then British Columbia has plenty to offer in the way of hiking, biking, skiing and climbing. Whatever your experience with mountain sports, there are endless opportunities to take a quick trip Northern British Columbia to escape busy city life – an incredibly effective stress-reliever I’ve found. One thing Vancouver is good for is its proximity to the Whistler-Blackcomb mountain, a world renowned ski resort. The mountain caters for all with a range of activities including snow sports, snow shoeing and biking. Day trips to Whistler are cheap and quick with Facebook groups such as ‘UBC Whistler Ride and Share’ and the app ‘Poparide’ allowing you to catch a lift almost every day of the week for around £14 return. Essentially, you can get a full day in Whistler and be back in downtown before 6pm. For those of you planning multiple trips to Whistler, I’d also highly recommend buying the Student Winter Season Pass available at the start of the season which costs £380 – considering a day pass is £85 you make back your money pretty quickly! Other local mountains nearer to Vancouver also offer similar experiences, including Grouse (1hr bus ride from UBC), Seymour and Cypress mountain.
One of the benefits of Vancouver’s location is it’s proximity to the US. A 4-hour coach ride to the lively city of Seattle will cost you between £50-£100 round trip and is highly recommended for a long weekend away. Another quick trip that you can’t miss is Vancouver Island. This huge island offers a variety of scenic hikes and water sports in areas such as Tofino (mainly accessible by car), as well as some great bars, restaurants and thrift shopping in the small European-style city of Victoria (5hr round trip by public transport from UBC campus). If you need a car, there are multiple car hire companies that let you pay by the minute, using an app to pick-up and drop off cars around the city – check out Evo and Car2Go.
By George Davies – The University of Calgary, Canada
Before the start of my study abroad experience, I had not planned on returning to the UK until the following summer. I had assumed that my schedule in Calgary would not be able to accommodate for any time to take a trip home. Moreover, it seemed to me that it would have only be a backwards step. Coming all this way across the Atlantic and half of the North American continent, it seemed foolish and a waste of time to venture back to where this story began. Continue reading “Should I Stay or Should I Go? Reflecting on my trip back to the UK”→