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The ending of exchange: summer

It has been one month since I left Australia, and during this month I got some new advices to share with you guys going for exchange.

If your time abroad counts towards your credit in Manchester, there is this thing called ‘Grade Conversion Form’ you need to complete. There is one for each course, and needs to be signed by your course instructor. Better do this earlier than later, as some instructors are on leave during winter/summer break and do not answer your emails. The sooner you get your grade conversion forms signed the sooner your grades can be converted to a Manchester one.

Another implication is your course units selection. You need your Manchester grade to enrol in courses next year. Right now the course selection portal is open but I am not able to enrol, this is because I do not have my Manchester grade for last semester yet.

My advice for your preparation would be do not just focus on your life there, but also take into consideration of what might happen after you return. Preparing for everything will definitely make your exchange a much smoother one.

Expect the Unexpected

Ailsa Jones ♦ Queen’s University, Canada

Since my exchange has finished and I’ve come home, I’ve been attempting to answer my family and friends’ inevitable and well-intentioned questions about my semester abroad. Even though my generic response is something as brief as ‘amazing, thanks,’ I don’t think it does justice to both the best and difficult aspects of my exchange. As much of a cliché as it is, my semester abroad was easily one of the best things I’ve ever done, but I think it’s also important to be honest about the harder parts of studying abroad that are rarely discussed.

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Travelling after Studying

Amy Williams, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

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Sea Otter at Seattle aquarium

Obviously, studying abroad so I could travel after wasn’t the reason I chose the exchange year course, but I’m not going to lie, it was a perk. Considering a lot of people do this, I figured I’d write down some things I learnt about planning travelling, and actually travelling.

Plan, plan, plan. You can’t plan too much. There are times where you might want to leave things to fate as it were, but other times things need to be booked in advance. A lot of things like hotels and flights are cheaper when booked in advance, which I’m sure you know. It also means that you’ve looked in advance for things to do in the places you’re going to, and so know what to book in advance, and what to leave to the day etc. It also means that you’re more likely to stick to your budget.

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Grand Canyon, West Rim – take lots of water!

BUDGET! If you have saved up and have plenty of money, you will be fine, but I’d still suggest having a budget. You never know, you may wander into a Sephora (or another shop you like). Don’t forget to add suitcase expenses to your budget. I made an excel spreadsheet, with the rows of the places I was going, and then columns of hotel, airplane, food, tours, cash. You can do your own, but it’s a basic one. It might seem a bit too far, but it meant I knew I wasn’t going to get stranded in the middle of America with no money. It also means you know how much you’ve spent, and don’t have to check your bank account a lot, or carry around a lot of receipts with you.

Make a quick list for family. It can be very simple – just the place you are, where you are staying, and the dates you are there for. Gives them peace of mind, and means someone will always know where you are.

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Orlando ft. rain

Hotels vs. hostels vs. Airbnb. Saving money vs. decent living. In some places you are limited by where you can stay. I went to Yellowstone, and I really didn’t want to camp, it was airbnb. There were some hotels, but in this case they were more expensive, especially as they were closer to the car. If you use money saving websites to book hotels, then set your rating of cleanliness to a decent level, that way you can hopefully find a cheap but acceptable place to stay.

Arguments. People do differ, but as a person who needs time to themselves to recharge, I knew being with the same person for 5 weeks was going to be difficult. My advice would be get it out. If something annoys you, or they do something you dislike, say something fairly quickly, That way, when you get tired, you’re less likely to have a massive argument where everything spills out. Also make sure you agree on most things, and compromise when you can’t. A larger group can make this difficult, but at least you’ve tried to include everyone in the planning.

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Capilano Suspension Bridge – not for those who fear heights…

Lastly, a few more singular things I’ve learnt, mainly for America:

  1. Car hire for under 25’s means an additional charge is added on top of the original car hire
  2. If you go to New Orleans, have one day where you do very little, that way you can really experience the night out before, the heat is terrible when you don’t have a hangover, so I wouldn’t try it with one
  3. When are you coming back? So try it whilst you’re there
  4. Pack as lightly as possible – souvenirs
  5. Travel with old towels – you can give them away before you fly home
  6. Share toiletries, and have small bottles that you can refill rather than big ones that don’t run out
  7. If you want to see moose in Yellowstone, they’re most active at sunrise so it might mean a very early start
  8. You can never drink too much water in Vegas, or at the Grand Canyon
  9. America is bigger than you think it is…

I’m sure I’ll think of other tips once I’ve posted this, but as a quick list I travelled to: Nashville, Orlando, New Orleans, Las Vegas, Salt Lake City, Yellowstone, Seattle, Vancouver. If you go to any of these places, feel free to contact me if you have any questions.

Coming home

Alice Logan, University of Copenhagen, English and American Studies

My time in Copenhagen finally came to an end in the last week of June and it’s taken me a while to fully reflect on my experience there.  Never in a million years did I think that I would feel like I’d truly lived in Denmark or that I’d miss it after coming home, but that’s exactly what has happened.

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Joining NUS mountaineering

By Monika Kvassheim, National University of Singapore

The most standard advice on how to get to know people when starting university is to get involved in a student club. I went to the fair at NUS and wanted to try a new sport. Though several clubs where open for beginners, I got the impression most of the clubs were for people who already knew the sport. However, the mountaineering group was very welcoming and said anyone could come to training, for free and with no commitments. When I went for the first training it was mainly because I kept failing to motivate myself to run in the heat and humidity, I did not imagine I would end up climbing a 5863 meter peak in Himalaya with them.

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NUS academics

By Monika Kvassheim, National University of Singapore

Studying at NUS was very different from in Manchester. As I study physics, the department in Manchester is large and at NUS it is tiny, so the differences might be larger for me than other courses. It is a general thing though, as far as I understand, that coursework is heavily weighted at NUS in all faculties. If there are a lot of students in a class it is marked by a bell curve. This means that to get better marks other people need to do worse than you. While this protects students against hard exams, it can also create a study culture where people are not willing to help each other. I in no way experienced this, but I heard stories about it from friends in other faculties.

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Science library. 15 minutes before it closes they play classical music to chase people out.

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Facing the challenges of learning a new language abroad

Gemma Sturt, Università degli Studi di Firenze (IT)

They say that all things worth having don’t come without hard work, and this has never been more true in the case of studying abroad in a second language.

Coping with learning Italian on the go and developing my communication skills have been the most fundamental aspects of my experience studying abroad and easily the biggest hurdles I’ve had to overcome as a Erasmus science student trying to get to grips with living and studying in my second (tentative) language.

When I moved out to Italy last August I immediately found talking in Italian quite challenging, partially because I hadn’t been able to develop a totally solid foundation before I left and also due to the large difference in learning style between Chemistry (my degree) and that associated with learning a new language. I decided to come over to Florence early to attend daily Italian classes in the weeks running up to the start of my courses, which I have to say helped me immeasurably. I’d recommend doing something similar to anyone wanting to start from a strong position at the beginning of the semester.

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If all else fails getting the point across between the Italian/Spanish/English, a quick game of charades never goes amiss…

 

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Australian winter: tis the sea-sun

By Georgi Fogarty, University of Queensland

 

No matter where you are in the world, there will always be that short-lived sigh of relief between the last assignment and the start of exams. Fortunately for me, coming towards the end of my time in Australia motivated me to seize this fleeting moment devoid of academic stress and do something useful with it. So once my last few assignments were submitted and I had returned from Stradbroke island (which you can read about in another of my recent blog posts), I had decided that I am no longer a mainland person and started researching my next getaway. Having recently explored the second largest sand island in the world, I set my sights on the only thing better: the largest. Fraser island!

I quickly discovered that this wasn’t going to be the cheap and easy ride that Stradbroke was. The route to Fraser was much longer and far more expensive, involving 4 hours on trains up to the Sunshine coast, another hour and a half coach to a privately-owned ferry port and a ferry over to the island, which as it is privately owned costs $160 for one vehicle(!). The trip also includes other sky-high costs such as a national park fee, camping fee or accommodation costs and all the other necessary amenities like food, as supplies on the island are few and far between. Due to not having time to plan our trip too thoroughly, we decided to go with a tour group. These are extremely popular and there are several companies that promote similar routes; after a fairly short cost-benefit analysis we decided to stick to a 2 day 1 night whistle-stop tour.

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The beach adapted 4×4 hybrid coach picked us up from Noosa Heads on the Sunshine Coast at ridiculous o’clock in the morning on day 1 and took us further up the coast to the ferry port (a humble shack on the beach) where we crossed the surprisingly short distance to the island. Fraser island is what you’d expect from an island formed entirely from sand – almost nothing but beaches, trees and cliffs. Extremely natural and unspoilt, or so it felt in the dead of winter, anyway. Our tour guide later explained to us that during the summer periods when the island is at peak tourist season, each attraction you can stop at has between 500-600 people swarming around. We very luckily avoided this and had most attractions to ourselves within our tour group, which consisted of 11 people. Our tour guide was incredibly knowledgeable on the island’s history, geography and Aboriginal culture and told us extensively about each point we visited. When we first arrived, we were driven down 75 Mile Beach (yes, it’s huge!) to our first stop: Lake Birrabeen.

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The water was freezing but so blue, and we had a little splash about before being whisked off through the jungle to our second stop, an area in the woods called Central Station. It was named this during the height of the logging industry that operated on the island before it became a protected national park. Central Station now houses the remnants of this industry; all that’s left are some derelict houses and machinery amongst the redwoods. A little eerie, but still beautiful. Logging stopped on Fraser around 50 years ago and the recovery is slow but sure. As well as the hundreds of tree and plant species, it’s also home to native wildlife such as Dingoes and koalas. We unfortunately didn’t see any of these, however we did manage to catch a glimpse of sting rays, sharks, dolphins and whales from a lookout point called Indian Heads the next morning, which more than made up for it!

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Shark-watching from a (very) safe distance.

We spent the night at a relatively luscious resort somewhere along 75 Mile Beach, which was extensively fenced off to prevent any Dingoes wandering in and wreaking havoc. The stars were incredibly clear due to the complete lack of light pollution, which always makes a refreshing change after spending lots of time in a city. Our stops the next day included Indian Heads, a beautiful freshwater stream called Eli creek, and my personal favourite: a huge rusted shipwreck, which washed up on Fraser island in the 1960s. It was used as a hospital ship in WWI, and later for bombing practice by the Australian army after it was found beached on the island (uninhabited of course). By the afternoon of the second day we were absolutely not ready to say goodbye, but our time was up and we very unwillingly parted from Fraser and all its beauty and charm. I’m not prepared to accept that I’ll never visit Fraser Island again, and it’s given me even more motivation to revisit this area of the world again as soon as I can.

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Us with ‘The Maheno’

The Final Travels

With the end of April came the end of exams and the end of a fantastic year at McGill. Although it was sad to leave behind all I had known for the previous 8 months, I was eager to begin my travels that I had been planning and dreaming of since this Canadian experience began. At the heart of these dreams has always been road tripping through the Rocky Mountains and we took no time to hang around before embarking.

After a night stopover in the cowboy city of Calgary, we picked up the car and set off on a hefty 6 hour journey to Jasper. This took us along Icefields Parkway, the absolutely stunning road that runs between Banff and Jasper National Parks. Jasper, a small town nestled up in the dramatic mountainous landscape, was beautiful. Easily the most picturesque place I’ve ever been. Whilst in Jasper we hiked, hiked, and hiked again. The highlight was the Valley of the Five Lakes as despite being told all lakes would still be frozen at this time of the year, we discovered one of the lakes to have completely thawed to the picture perfect turquoise colour so famously associated with the Rocky Mountain. A trip back down the Icefield Parkway, with a midway stop at the dramatic Athabasca Glacier, took us to Banff where more hiking ensued, along with well needed relaxation in the thermal springs as well as some more unsuccessful bear spotting.

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Jasper National Park

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Leaving Australia

Saying goodbye is not easy, especially to something you like a lot. To me, leaving Australia, leaving the beautiful nature, leaving all my friends… It is quite sad. But all good things come to an end. Sigh.

Anyways, a few leaving tips for ya all Manchester students coming to Australia for exchange.

First of all, cancel you bank account if you are not going back in the near future. I think some Australian banks, including Commonwealth Bank which I’m with, charge you for having a savings account. Therefore, cancelling your account might save you some dollars.

Go to places you want to go and see things you want to see — it might well be some time before you can go back: It is literally at the other end of the world! (to UK) Also, make sure you leave nothing behind. Once you are back in UK, what’s left in Australia probably will have to be there forever.  I believe posting stuff between these two countries are not quite easy: when I first moved into my accommodation, I was informed by reception that I had a postcard in my mailbox. It turned out to be a postcard addressed to the previous occupier of my room, and had been sent from London in June, 2017 :))) It was Feb, 2018 then already. Sooo you know better not to post anything unless necessary.

Finally, meet all your friends you make here and give them hell of a hug! Who knows when you’ll see each other again? I know for sure I’m gonna miss those lovely people!

Student housing – the more the merrier?

Georgi Fogarty (University of Queensland, Australia)

 

Housing can be one of the biggest worries when moving abroad, especially when you don’t particularly know anyone that’s going out with you. As a bit of a social butterfly, I had my sights set on a living situation that would allow me to meet a lot of people -ideally university halls, or a share house if not. Unfortunately, university halls were extremely far out of my budget which initially worried me as that’s where I’d envisioned myself; halls seem perfect as everybody is in the same boat of not knowing anyone. So in a slightly less than ideal but fairly common situation, I found myself arriving in Australia in July and being welcomed with open arms by a hostel ( admittedly not the homeliest) while I searched for somewhere more permanent. I’ll admit it’s not the best situation to be in when you’re brand new to a country but the time flew by and after a week of manic house viewings, estate agent visits and sending messages on all sorts of housing advertisement sites, I found myself signing a contract into a student share house. It was pretty much exactly what I’d wanted – a house in one of the most sought-after suburbs in Brisbane filled with other brand new international students, all small fish in a big shiny new pond. The catch? The house had the capacity to accommodate 30 people. That’s 30 raucous students under one roof. It definitely set me up for an interesting year.

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All of these beautiful people under one roof?

 

 

THE LOGISTICS

  • The old part of the house is an ‘Old Queenslander’ style, the same as most residential houses around the East coast of Australia. This basically means it’s big, airy, wooden and set on stilts for ventilation. It’s then been extended backwards, forwards, sideways, below – most possible directions – to make room for the 29 bedrooms (one is designed for 2 people to share).
  • We have two kitchens (one upstairs, one downstairs), 5 bathrooms, 2 living areas and a very comfortably sized garden with a barbecue: great for if the kitchens get overcrowded at mealtimes.

THE DRAWBACKS

  • Without a doubt, the mess. Imagine this: everybody has a glass of water and completely unintentionally forgets to wash up the glass. That’s immediately 30 dirty glasses covering every surface, table, wall, floor, ceiling – you get the picture.
  • You’re never alone. This can be bittersweet when the time comes that you come home from a long day at uni and just want to make a cup of tea without having to make conversation with 16 different people in the kitchen.
  • There is a definite and prominent lack of resources. At 7pm when 17 people are battling for the dinner rush front line on the ONE oven in the upstairs kitchen, things can get a little hectic. The same happens when 6 people simultaneously run for a shower before uni. Chaos.
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Mid attempt to round up the troops in the garden

 

THE POSITIVES

  • First and foremost, the social aspect was amazing. With so many people, there will always be somebody that you get along with, and maybe one or two that you don’t – but honestly that was never an issue. Chances are, in a house full of 19-25 year olds that have all chosen to do a year or semester abroad in Brisbane, you’re going to have a lot in common with most of the people. Although despite the commonalities in mindset, it was such a great way to meet people from different social, educational and cultural backgrounds.
  • You’re never alone. I’m aware that this was also a negative, but for me the benefits of this point drastically outweighed the costs. With 30 restless students it’s extremely rare that nobody will be down for a weekend away, or even just a trip to the supermarket. One quick message in the group chat and within minutes you have a fully-fledged convoy, no matter where you’re off to.
  • Being around international students, everybody is in the same boat of coping with homesickness, university stress and all the drawbacks of a year away from all that you’re used to. This means that there was the most incredible unspoken support network. Everybody just gets it.
  • With 30 people, although house events are a mess to organize (I’d compare it to herding cats) when everybody pulls together it means you can get some seriously great games of rounders underway.
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The residents at Byron Bay, NSW.

 

30 people was an incredibly fun yet a little overwhelming experience when you’ve only ever lived in 6 or 8 people flats, but I’d do it again 10 times over. I was so full of apprehension arriving in that hostel alone last July knowing that the easy choice of university halls simply wasn’t an option, but looking back I’m incredibly glad I took the matter of housing into my own hands. Maybe it’s not for everyone, but from now on I’ll always vote for the more the merrier.

 

Go West

Ailsa Jones ♦  Queen’s University, Canada

If like me you were drawn to Canada through the stereotypical images of mountains, scenic lakes, and the exotic wildlife your best bet to see all three is going West. Having spent a substantial amount of my exchange in Eastern Canada, it made sense to make my way Westwards following the end of the semester to see whether Instagram had been doing it justice.  Continue reading “Go West”