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The Vegetarian/Vegan Survival Kit: Singapore

“You’re going to Singapore? But you won’t be able to eat anything!”

“You might be able to get away with not eating meat, but you’ll definitely have to eat fish and animal products”

“Is veganism even a thing in Singapore?”

These are word for word things that were said to me when I told people I was going to live in Singapore. Whether you too are a vegetarian/vegan, haunted by these words of discouragement, or maybe you yourself have said one of those phrases above, this blog post is here to bust those myths!

Continue reading “The Vegetarian/Vegan Survival Kit: Singapore”

It did happen to all of us – dealing with the Coronavirus Pandemic whilst abroad.

On Monday the 23rd March I was, much like the rest of the country, sat at home with my family in the UK, hearing for the first time that we would now be in lock down. Just a week prior, I was saying goodbye to my sister as we both boarded flights after an amazing trip around Quintana Roo and neighbouring Islands, hers back to London and mine back to my hometown in Mexico. To say that, at this moment, I was oblivious to the virus and how it could potentially impact my year abroad would have been a lie. As my sister works in the NHS, and was also keeping herself well informed of the government’s measures, we had daily conversations whilst on our trip about the developments in case numbers, testing and travel restrictions. During this week, the global developments and updates concerning the virus appeared to be increasing in number and alarm by the day. When it was the end of our amazing trip, I was then faced with a busy international airport, Cancun, and found myself surrounded by people across the spectrum of concern for the virus: from those wearing masks continually, those with masks around their necks, those waiting in the boarding gate next to theirs which was empty instead of their own crowded one (me), and those who had absolutely no concern and would happily choose to sit right next to someone else even though there were entire banks of free seats (the woman next to me).  As I arrived back at my home in Cholula, which although is packed with international students and has a big party scene for them, is an otherwise sleepy town, I felt that surely, I’d be able to see out the rest of the year there.

The Monday I awoke to was frantic. It appeared that, almost overnight, panic had taken over the international student community at UDLAP. Flights to some home countries were being cancelled, borders were being closed, embassies being contacted and mindsets were changing and re-changing, including my own, over and over again. At this moment, the internationals appeared to move in packs: first the Americans, declared they were all leaving, then the Italians, then the French. This wasn’t about nationalism as we were, all in all, a very well-integrated group, but it was a case of people not wanting to be stranded without anyone to travel home with in uncertain conditions, especially when we were starting to hear stories of people going to the airport alone for their flights and having them cancelled, or even worse, have their connecting flight cancelled and become trapped in an unfamiliar country with no visa or rights otherwise to leave the airport. This was one of the most stressful days of my life, most of all because, I couldn’t come to a decision that I was happy with. Leaving Mexico almost 3 months earlier than I had wanted to, and so suddenly, felt too gutting a decision to bear. Yet I was faced with the concern that if I didn’t leave now, with the direct flights to London being cut to only 1 per day and a number of those that week already having been cancelled, I might be unable to come home for a very long time, perhaps until a lot later than I had originally planned. Unfortunately, none of us had any real idea of how long the virus, and the response of governments to it, could shut down international travel.

Although there was a fairly panicked group mentality, I was determined to make up my own mind. Two days may have not seemed long enough to make such a finite decision: in leaving Mexico at that point, I would not be returning to my home where I lived with international friends, as a resident of Mexico, for a long time, maybe not ever. However, I came to the realisation that what made me so happy on my year abroad was the freedom I felt; to travel to some amazing places; the nights out with friends; performing on the cheer team in front of huge crowds at football games, and that- whether I liked it or not- this was being taken from me regardless. My year abroad in Mexico had been the most incredible chapter of my life so far, and I wanted to remember it as that.

I knew that, from the amount of information I had read about the virus, I would feel too guilty to attend parties or travel, where it was still permitted. My classes were all now online and the campus virtually closed, all of the bars and clubs were shut and soon the restaurants would probably follow suit, and, most crucially, so many of my best friends and close housemates were leaving. It came to me that, whether I remained in Mexico or not, the year abroad that I knew and loved, was over. So why fight it. At this point I decided that I would make my last week a great one. With money chipped in from the rest of the housemates, we bought an inflatable pool for the terrace, and we had house pool parties every day, and all ate together each night. I also went for meals with other friends and had a final walk of the campus. Once the day of my flight came, I had already had to say goodbye to a few of my housemates and other close friends. Our house, along with a few other friends who had joined to see us off, did the traditional goodbye route we’d developed in the last few days, of all coming down on to the street and hugging goodbye as the taxi arrived to take us to the airport, and as we drove away I watched my house and my amazing friends, shrink into the distance.

The journey home was smooth and fairly stress free – apart from some shuffling of weight around in our jam-packed suitcases and rucksacks, and then as soon as I knew it, I was home. I was surprised by how normal, jet-lag aside, I felt to be at home. I thought that, alike how I was in uk customs just after landing, I would immediately be translating things I wanted to say into Spanish in my head, or resist drinking water from the tap. But it’s amazingly easy to slip back into the normality of home and, at times, almost feel like you were never away at all. I have actually heard this a lot from other year abroad students, that their life abroad feels like some kind of dream, not quite real. For this I am so glad of the decision I made to leave, because once the experience is over, apart from a few souvenirs and the friends you’ve made, all you are left with are the memories of the experience you had. I didn’t want my memories of Mexico to be distorted by the changes the virus had brought.

So, for me, my year abroad is over. I have been continuing with my UDLAP classes online and still in touch with the friends, but this is part of a new chapter for me now.

Although it may not be a particularly interesting read, made even harder by the comparison with the stories before, with my family now close by, facetimes all the time with friends, and knowing that everyone is going through struggles in some shape or form right now, I think that it’s going to be ok.

Mexico City Must Dos

Although I am usually more wowed by the breath-taking scenery that Mexico has to offer, in all of the bustle and traffic, there are some, not so hidden, city gems that have really stuck in my memory as amazing places to visit. And seeing as direct flights from the UK usually land in the Benito Juárez International Airport here, why not take a look around…

Museo Nacional de Antropología

Their collection of artefacts spanning the development of different civilisations, be that Aztec, Mayan or Olmec just to name a few, is divided across 23 permanent exhibit halls. If you wanted to look at every piece and read each plaque it would take days to get around. I would recommend having a fairly sweeping walk through the indoor exhibits, taking note of the information plaque for the overall region, and heading to the gardens, where you can find some recreations of relics tucked away amongst the plants. Also, if you have a Mexican university credential, entry is free! Whilst here, I would recommend also visiting the Bosque de Chapultapec right opposite, for a retreat to nature. There are plenty of attractions such as a castle, botanical garden and zoo, however we chose to take peddle boats on the lake.

Xochimilco

Slightly further out of the city is Xochimilco. This network of intersecting rivers has become a Venice of its kind, as the waters are filled with the most colourful, if slightly haphazard, barges. In a small group it’s not inexpensive to rent a boat privately, and each boat is priced the same – the seller should wear a government identity card. Don’t worry about bringing any food or drink with you, as once you’re on your way you’ll soon be greeted by waiters who will leap on to your boat to offer refreshments, and soon enough bound back over with a tablecloth, quesadillas, drinks and sides, all freshly prepared on a neighbouring boat. You’ll then be passed by a number of mariachi boats, which will offer to play to your liking, although you would have to pay them for this, along with boats selling clothes and gifts. There will be a number of boats selling flower headbands, and it is customary for men to by them for women, although I think that my friends actually bought them for us because they wanted to try them themselves. You can chose tours of different lengths to visit different parts of the channel network, but we just chose a route that was roughly 2 hours there and back, and during this had the opportunity to stop off at a small petting farm and a replica of the island of the dead dolls, although we politely declined the very kind offer to visit (its legend can be found here http://www.isladelasmunecas.com/). Some visitors will choose to make a party of the occasion and bring their own music, however we found it more immersive to just sit back and take in the unique bubbles of activity that passed us by. I returned to Xochimilco for an evening tour, which lead us to a floating stage for a performance of ‘La Llorona’ (the wailing woman) as part of the Day of the Dead Celebrations. The atmosphere was markedly different in this night-time low-lit tour, and the ending of the show was breath taking as the wailing woman all dressed in white appeared to float over the murky water and then suddenly disappeared on to her back as the lights went out. However, the showmanship was slightly overshadowed by the realisation that our boat was taking on water. Luckily, we had a woman onboard who gallantly downed the rest of her michelada (typical Mexican drink) and started bailing the water whilst still watching the performance – a hero to us all.

Teotihuacán

North-east of the city, you can transport yourself to another time and visit a vast expanse of what remains of this ancient Mesoamerican city. There are often a number of options to get there and back such as bus transfers and coach tours, however you can often arrange with your hotel or hostel host to order you a taxi for a fixed, and really not expensive, price for the return journey and your driver will just wait in the car for however long you would like. It is the most impressive archaeological site I have ever visited, and its walkable route connects the temple of Quetzalcoatl and the Sun and Moon Pyramids. I would recommend going early in the morning or late afternoon as the site has almost no shade and can become gruelling in the heat. Whatever the weather, any visit is worth it for the views.

‘It’ll be lonely this Christmas’? Reflections on a Christmas away from home and family.

Ever since I can remember, my Christmas Day has involved being at my own house or that of a close relative, with lots of my family squeezed around a table, or a couple of different shape and height tables, sat on emergency chairs, stools or even the garden bench, with food filling every possible space and bits of cracker debris in your gravy, dogs barking, everyone talking at once and reading out the joke already heard twice so far, and it being my favourite day of the year. So, it may have sounded like a very privileged problem to have, to feel deflated that I would be spending Christmas day on holiday, in the Yucatan peninsula of Mexico, most likely on a beach, and with 3 amazing friends, but it was how I felt nonetheless.

2/3 of the amazing friends

The preparations for our unconventional Christmas in Cancun had begun a few days before, when on a trip to a nearby town, Valladolid, we had all split up for an hour to scour the markets and shops for our not so secret Santa gifts. The biggest adventure of the evening, however, was having our car locked into the cathedral’s car park. Luckily, we were rescued by an on-site shopkeeper who managed to find a key – a Christmas miracle?

We were then tasked with the compromising of everyone’s ideas for how the festivities were going to be spent. As I was spending this holiday with French friends, this meant we were to be having a traditional Christmas eve dinner cooked by them, and a Christmas day meal, cooked by me. We decided to round it all off with a brunch in between the two, which meant crepes along with, my new found favourite French food, which roughly translates to ‘lost bread’. All of these last minute plans meant we would have to make a trip to the worst place imaginable on Christmas Eve… Walmart. Luckily, we’d split the list and paired off to make the experience more bearable, and had successfully navigated the crowds to find everything we needed apart from the ‘essential’ chocolate spread that was nowhere to be seen. We eventually tracked down the item under lock and key in customer services, it appears that mexico takes its Nutella VERY seriously. With that, the claustrophobia inducing nightmare of a food shop was successfully completed – Christmas miracle number 2, perhaps.  

In all of the festivities, my lowest point was Christmas day morning. Due to the time difference, with my family all so busily involved in the Christmas activities back home that we hadn’t been able to facetime. This was made harder by the fact that all my friends, who’s families had their main celebration the night before, were all speaking to their own families at that time, so I was feeling a bit out of the loop – quite inconsiderate of my family really, to be enjoying themselves without me… However after calls from friends back home, the family facetime, and trip to an absolutely packed beach, I was coming round to the idea that I might actually be having a good time. Following this by my cooking almost entirely, of a Christmas dinner that I was really complimented on, including by our airbnb host and her partner, a chef, made my day.

Side note – our Airbnb host was one of the most eccentric people I’ve ever met. On arrival at the property she demonstrated, and had us practice, how to open the gate with two hands so as to not ‘strain the lock’. We then found there to be notes all around the property which reinforced the double sided page of house rules – why by the way was typed and laminated, with emboldening, capitalising and highlighting for emphasis – the most interesting of these notes being an actual metal fork taped to the wall by the sink to remind us not to use metal forks in the pans so as not to scratch them. Just as we were finishing our dinner, we received a message from her to kindly turn off the air conditioning, which had been on to cool the house down from all the cooking. At the point of explaining this, we made the snap decision to invite her over, as we had lots of food still hot that we couldn’t bear to throw away when we left the next morning, and also because, even though she was a character, we were unsure if she had company, and we felt that no one should be alone on Christmas. Her and her partner arrived at our door shortly after and we welcomed them in, after which to our horror she swept round the house, throwing all the windows wide open proclaiming ‘let the air in, it’s wonderful’ – inviting in all the mosquitos for dinner as well… However, after sharing some of our meal with them, we found them our hosts to be so endearing, and ended the night not only with gifts of handmade head massagers – which is still the weirdest gift I think I have every received from a near stranger, but more importantly, had got to know the person behind the notes and the rules, as a friend – Christmas miracle number 3.

Once our esteemed guests had left, we exchanged gifts and then gathered by the pool to dip our legs in the water and take in the ‘wonderful air’ of night that had fallen. At this moment, I realised what a nice Christmas it had been, and how, as I did have the rest of my life for beloved family Christmases, missing it just once, really wasn’t so bad after all.  

Chapter Two: The Honeymoon Ends

I had never imagined that a global pandemic will happen when I went abroad for exchange. I thought once I got to Australia, all the troubles would be left behind and a whole new life would be ready to begin. However, not even after one month, I am stuck in my room, flipping through the album on my phone and lamenting that the amazing month I had has ended!

Some highlights in my wonderful first month:

  1. Two trips to Sydney

Sydney is an amazing city. It is so diverse and gives visitors different feelings. I went to Sydney twice last month. My expression may not be accurate, but I will try to convey what I felt when I visited those places by using other cities to analogise. 

Westfield shopping centre – New York, crowed, lots of big brands

Darling Harbour – the water, building and Ferris wheel are just like the view around River Thames

Opera house – magnificent and breath-taking, the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco could be used to illustrate

Beach – made in Australia, nowhere else to see

2. Commencement dinner at uni accommodation

I chose Wright Hall as my accommodation simply because it is the only one with flexible (16 meals) catering, and the choice turned out to be one of the best decisions I have made. They had so many activities going on before the Covid-19 and in the first two weeks, I felt I would never get time to study. One of the most exciting and biggest events during the year was the commencement dinner for the whole hall. It is organised once per year in March when the academic year starts. (A similar event called Valete dinner happens in November when the semester ends.) On that day, everyone dressed up properly. Dinner started from 6pm until 10pm or later. People living in different blocks in the hall gathered at 5ish, took pictures, chatted, and used vouchers to get drinks. Then we came to the dining hall to have a proper dinner, which contained starters, main meals and dessert. Some alumni came to visit, staff announced the list of students who achieved extraordinary results in the past year and student representatives gave speeches. Hall residents were arranged randomly to different tables and had a chance to talk to someone new. After dinner, students could either go back or join the disco at the balcony. It was an awesome night.

3. Breath-taking view at Mountain Ainslie Canberra

Mount Ainslie is just a 20 minutes drive from ANU campus. It has a reputation for being the best spot to see the view of Canberra. We managed to get there before sunset and encountered an amazing night view. The unexpected beauty that I came across that night was the starry sky above the mountain. Even though stargazing wasn’t new for me, this remote mountain which stays away from the city’s light pollution surprised us with a sky full of stars.

4. Canberra Balloon Spectacular

The Canberra Balloon Festival is an annual event that takes place at the lawns of the old Parliament House. People gathered at the lawns before 6am and witnessed balloons taking off. It was exciting to see how the staff lit up fire and inflated big balloons. It costs more than $300 to take a hot balloon trip, but it is free and absolutely worth it to just stand by and watch. Those balloons are in different shapes including animals and cartoon characters. Whether the balloons will take off on that day depends on the weather condition. The official website updates their decision at dawn. That means whoever wants to see the balloons needs to wake up early on the right morning. 

A Guide to Stockholm

The proximity of Uppsala to Stockholm on train is an unparalleled advantage of this student city and should make Uppsala a strong candidate for any prospective exchange student.

To get to Stockholm, visitors have the choice to take either the high-speed direct SJ intercity train, or the slower commuter pendeltåg train which has more stops. In spite of the difference in time, both trains leave Uppsala regulary and arrive at Stockholm central station within an hour and cost around 85 SEK (£7).

Whilst the cost and duration of the journey pose no problem to the foreign passenger, navigating the complexities of Sweden’s code of conduct is an ever-present worry. Whilst in the UK conductors generally turn a blind eye to passengers using their ticket for a missed train, in Sweden you would be fortunate not to be thrown off the train for this misdeed. The uncompromising conductor is a Swedish staple, one which the British eye should simultaneously hold in esteem and be wary of, like the Swede’s flat-packed furniture.

The overzealous train conductors are in keeping with Swedish transport’s ruthless efficiency and punctuality. Neither train nor bus has been delayed or cancelled during my time here, a reflection of the success of Sweden’s nationalisation programme. Though double-decker carriages and well-kept schedules are certainly not ubiquitous across the country, especially in the northern territory.

In Stockholm

Stockholm puts up the pretence of a European capital. The grandiose architecture, such as the Royal Palace (Kungliga Slott), Parliament (Rikstag) and Cathedral (Storkyrken) fosters an atmosphere of stateliness expected in continental capitals. The extensive network of buses and underground trains (115 SEK for a day pass) enables quick and easy transport across the city. And the diverse districts, from the cobbled old town of Gamla Stan to the vibrant bohemian streets of Södermalm, are synonymous with Ile Saint Louis and Le Quartier Latin in Paris.

However, Stockholm deviates from the norm in several ways. Structurally, Stockholm is different because the city stretches across fourteen islands connected by fifty bridges on the Lake Mälaren which flows out to the Baltic Sea. The waterways between the islands comprise 30% of the city, and another 30% of the city is parks and green spaces. Tourists are invited to oversee the reddish, ecclesiatical skyline from the 155-metre-high Kaknäs TV Tower or one of the many viewing platforms across the city.

Demographically, Stockholm is less crowded than many European counterparts with a population of around 900,000 in the city and 1.95 million in the surrounding area. The relatively smaller populace is noticeable around the city making sight-seeing feel less like a touristic venture.

Talking of sight-seeing, the capital plays host to a smorgasbord of cultural, recreational and artistic pursuits. Although Stockholm boasts an underground and offers ferries between Islands, I would recommend walking or using one of the app-controlled electric scooters abundant throughout the centre.

Gamla stan is a maze of tourist shops, boutiques and fine-dining. Built in 1646, the Royal Palace is prominent amongst the colourful 17th- and 18th-century buildings and is often a-buzz with the palace guard. Nestled beneath the cobbled streets in this district are pirate and Viking themed bars which are worthy of a visit despite the pricey menus. Indeed, a round of drinks at one of these venues cost upwards of £30!

Södermalm is another district deserving of your time. This formerly working-class quarter plays the part of a chic and youthful part of town. Here there are many vintage shops, cafes and bars.

Perhaps the most enticing element of Stockholm is the abundance of cultural activities. There are many free museums across the city. Alongside others, the National Museum, the Modern Art Gallery and the Swedish History Museum are three which should not be missed.

Even those museums with a price tag attached are often discounted for students. The Fotografika (photography museum) is a personal favourite. It hosts regular and interesting exhibitions from Swedish and international photographers.

Stockholm is also the home of Greta Thunberg and the origin of the Fridays for Future movement. One of which I was caught in the midst of one afternoon.

Greta: pictured taking selfies with young fans at the 14 February Climate Strike.

Though Stockholm is smaller than its European counterparts, it certainly cannot be conquered in a day. I hope my recommendations will serve as a useful starting point for anyone who wants to get acquainted with ‘the city that floats on water’.

UBC – a final goodbye

One thing I didn’t envisage when hopping on the plane to Canada last August was having to cut the trip short because of a pandemic – to be honest I would have probably thought a run in with bears or a skiing accident would have been more likely! In all seriousness, coping with the coronavirus outbreak was one of the hardest things I have had to do all year. Within a couple of weeks the place I had started to call home began disappearing: university shut and classes went online, residences became empty, and shops and attractions all around me started to close. It was a lot to take in; I wasn’t ready to go home and this was definitely not how I had hoped to say goodbye.

IMG_6023
A Vancouver skyline – a pretty amazing place to call home

UBC decided to move classes online relatively quickly, meaning I would have no more lectures or discussion groups, and campus, normally home to 60,000 students, soon became a ghost-town. Personally I struggled to keep up with the transition to online learning, because without a structure to my days, and all the uncertainty surrounding the pandemic, it became really hard to focus on my upcoming deadlines and assignments. I was devastated that I was having to leave so soon – there was so much I still wanted to do and see. After my exams I had planned to celebrate with all my friends, show my parents Vancouver, and then travel across the rest of Canada. There were also the little things I’d miss, like seeing the views of the ocean and mountains from my window or having classes with friends. However, part of me was also very worried about not being able to get home. Travel advice was changing every day and Vancouver was heading in the same direction as the UK, with stricter restrictions being announced every day. All the uncertainty and having to decide what to do was very difficult to deal with, but in the end we realised it would be safer (and cheaper – there’s only so many loo rolls I can afford!) to fly home.

After knowing that I only had a week left in Vancouver before heading back to the UK, my friends and I knew we had to make the most of it. Fortunately, professors at UBC were very kind and understanding of our situation and gave us all flexibility surrounding final assignment deadlines. This meant I had time to say goodbye to UBC and the friends I had made there. It’s almost as though the weather gods knew we were leaving because we had a full week of lovely Vancouver sunshine (which trust me is a rarity!). We enjoyed our last few sunsets on Wreck Beach, had group meals and played games, and walked around campus in a desperate search of raccoons – I still can’t believe I never saw one! We also took a few last road trips to some local Vancouver viewpoints to absorb the incredible scenery one last time.

Despite a few teary moments, I had a pretty great final week in Vancouver, and in a weird way it made me appreciate my time there even more. It gave me a lot of time to reflect on the year – all the friends I made from across the world, who I can’t wait to visit in the future once this craziness is all over, and all the incredible places I managed to visit, from the Rockies to Hawaii. I even FINALLY learnt how to ski at Cypress Mountain a couple of weeks before COVID-19 hit, so I can definitely leave on a high. Going abroad really was one of the best decisions I have ever made, and as this shows, one thing you can count on is it never being dull. And what better way to end an amazing year than with views of the Northern Lights from the plane – never too late to tick something off the bucket list eh!

Until next time Vancouver (and the raccoons!) – we have unfinished business!!

 

A bit like high school

Even though COVID-19 put an end to my experience abroad I’ve been thinking about how Arizona State University is quite different from Manchester.

First of all, there is a designated week for final exams while the rest of the semester has different deadlines. For example, only in March, I had to write three papers, one poster and an oral presentation, a group project report, and an online quiz. All these assignments are worth between 5-20% of the course. This changes my time management quite significantly because rather than having one long paper that is worth 100% of my course and four months to write it, in this case, I have many short tasks to complete, which are spread throughout the semester.

Secondly, not all courses have finals. For example, for one class the professor chose not to have us writing the final but rather presenting a group project, so the last week of the semester I will be free from that class load work and I will be able to focus on the rest.

Third, there are no official mitigating circumstances, instead, it is the student that by talking to the professor works out a different date for the assignment. This speeds up the process and, for me, it alleviated much anxiety that could be caused by the negative response of the request in some cases. In addition, attendance is mandatory and affects the final mark, so there are no podcasts like in Manchester and missing a class means lowering one’s average. This guarantees that students are almost always present and participating, even though months after the class there is no chance to rewatch it online.

All these differences made me feel as if I was in high school again, where I had less autonomy and more time constrictions. Even my relationship with the rest of the class is very different because I have about 15-20 classmates versus 90 in Manchester. So I know all of them quite in-depth, I have participated in activities with everyone, and overall I have a better idea of who I am sharing my classwork with. However, the style again resembles that of a high school and it is far from being that of a lecture, which made me lose the habit of taking many notes and staying focused for longer.

Overall, these two systems are very different but I don’t find any better or worse, it is just a question of preference. However, I also think that having the possibility to try them both was amazing because it helped me become more conscious about my study habits and preferences, and I definitely became more flexible!

Things to take Advantage of Whilst at Lund

Over the course of your time at Lund there will be many opportunities that I would recommend making the absolute most of. Unfortunately, due to the coronavirus I was unable to experience some of these, but they are amongst events that ‘make’ people’s time in Lund. These include white-tie balls,  tandem (where students cycle from Gothenburg to Lund on a tandem bike whilst people follow along on a party bus) and Kvalborg (a weekend in late April/early May where the beginning of summer is celebrated where everyone is in the city’s parks together)

ESN

ESN stands for the Erasmus Student Network. This is an organisation who run trips and activities for students across Erasmus universities. You don’t have to be on an Erasmus exchange to make use of the organisation. They run activities such as yoga, sittnings, pub crawls, games nights, local hikes and trips to national parks, in addition to trips abroad. During my time at Lund, ESN had trips to Lapland (both Finnish and Swedish), the Norwegian Fjords, Iceland, a cruise to Helsinki, St Petersburg and Tallinn. I believe the variety of trips can change but these are the types that can happen. I personally went to many of their events, as pictured below.

Student Nations

A major part of student life at Lund University is the student nations. This part of the university is run by students for students. There are 13 student nations at Lund which are dotted about the city. The nations are a really good way of getting involved and meeting people. When you join a nation, there are novisch weeks where you often get a mentor group who you prep for the week’s events with. Also, if you decide to work for a nation, which many people do, you can meet lots of people like this. The nations host a range of events also, such as yoga G&T, pizza nights, film nights, Mario kart nights in addition to pubs and clubs.

Mentor Groups

As an international novisch student, you will have the opportunity to be a part of a variety of mentor groups. These include the international mentor groups, facility-specific mentor groups as well as the nation mentor groups. I would say these are a very good way to meet people and keep yourself busy for the first few weeks at least. Even if you do not go to all of the events that are available to you, it is good to know they are there. The mentor groups often do a range of activities such as going to the beach, sittnings, tours of the city amongst many others as a way to ensure everyone and anyone can be involved.

Such a sudden end

I was in New York only a month ago, and now it’s on the news.

Every now and then I start to realize I’m in a science fiction movie, I feel like the world is grinding to a halt around me. It’s a very surreal feeling.

I’ve had to emotionally turn on a dime so many times these last weeks. When Guelph first announced that they were closing for a week to organize online classes, my housemate and I talked about taking a spontaneous trip to Montreal or New Brunswick. Four days later she had flown home.

In the last five days I’ve had to say goodbye to so many people who have made this year amazing.

These are scary times. Our everyday lives have changed in ways I wouldn’t have believed three weeks ago. It seems like the only thing anyone can talk about.

Let me acknowledge; I’m lucky. I always felt safe in Canada, life was still relatively normal when I left, and now I’m home safe.

I made the decision to come home. It wasn’t an easy one, and a rebellious part of me wishes I had stayed.

I’m finally home, after a long & stressful week. It’s more than a little silly when I think about it; I left Guelph, where there are no cases, in a country that was handling the crisis very well, with possibly a much better medical capacity to population ratio. I’ve transited through three airports, come into contact with numerous people transiting from all over the world without checks, and been squeezed onto a packed plane.

I don’t get particularly home sick. I had a plan, in case I could not get home for months; I’ve used wwooofing & workaway before, and I was ready and prepared to find a farm to work on over the summer.

Why then, did I not stay?

Mostly because of insurance. There is no guarantee that I’ll be covered, especially if I were to get stuck in Canada for months. I also don’t want to spend all my savings on surviving there, especially if I’m stuck in my room rather than taking advantage of being in the country.

I also have family aged 65 and up. If they did fall ill, I would hate to be stuck halfway across the globe.

Every situation will be different, but I think it’s important to acknowledge; these things do happen. When these choices need to be made, and all any of us can do is make sure we get the information we require, and then consider the practicalities frankly & realistically.

I’m guessing, if you’ve been on the internet in the last few days, you’ve heard people urging you to self-isolate. If you go to Manchester, you’re smart enough to realize, this is more serious than the flu. This isn’t the time to be brave or rebellious. It’s one of those times you do the boring, practical, sensible thing.

Stay safe out there.

The premature ending of my Canadian adventure: COVID-19

I’ve been holding off from writing this blog post for a few weeks now, as I knew it would be a little painful to look back on my final days in Vancouver and think about this dystopian film we’ve all been sprung into. As I sit here writing this, it doesn’t even feel real to think my year abroad ended so prematurely, and so abruptly. However, I find some solace in the fact that my final months at SFU were stolen from a global pandemic- one which has disrupted everyone’s lives, in a situation from which no one is exempt. Though I regret not travelling outside of British Columbia (saving money for a California-Mexico trip at the very END of my year) I feel like entertaining such regret is futile. The best way to make peace with this situation is to reflect on all the amazing experiences I did get to have- and the ways which study abroad has changed my life for the long-haul. Firstly, I’m going to document my final days spent in Vancouver- both those during which I was blissfully ignorant to the encroachment of a pandemic, and the ones where I was aware. Then, maybe I’ll talk about the ways study abroad has impacted me more broadly. This all has a very dramatic tone, it’s meant to be nice and reflective lol.

Following on from my previous blog post

A month ago I had written a blog post about the first half of semester 2, including the event I organised for Ban the Bottle and the things I was really looking forward to- most notably, my family coming out to visit (saving the expensive activities I couldn’t afford for this week), and a trip travelling through California and Mexico with some friends at the end.

After my last blog post, a couple of weeks of normal life followed. We were aware that the Coronavirus situation was worsening, but still felt untouched by its reach. The weather in Vancouver was amazing, so naturally we fled the SFU campus and headed downtown. Me and Maddie explored the neighbourhood of Kitsilano – one of the first places I went to last August, when the outdoor pool was open and the bikini-weather flowing. After this, we headed towards the yoga studio in downtown, but were sidetracked by a massive thrift shop and jumped off the bus to have a lil browse. We tried on summery clothes, imagining ourselves on the beaches of Mexico, ice-cold corona in hand. Instead, we were dealt a very different kind of corona, as the situation worsened over the following few days. We hadn’t been skiing in Whistler since reading break, so planned a day trip that weekend- not expecting it to be our last :((

Skiing that day was perhaps my favourite ever. I kept saying ‘lets just assume this is our last time, since this corona thing is escalating’- but everyone brushed it off, already making plans to ski again the following week. The ‘last-time’ mentality helped though, and the day was filled with a combination of off-piste, trees and jumps, with bluebird conditions. We found out that the resort would be closing the following day for the remainder of the season. At this point I began to realise the magnitude of the situation, and started to grapple with the reality that we might be flying home very soon. Everyday, me and my other exchange friends would gauge the feeling of the group- deciding whether we’d risk staying in Canada and potentially getting stuck, or if we should just fly home and admit defeat. Another idea we toyed with for a couple of days was to escape to Mexico for a few weeks, after which we would more willingly return to the UK. Each day, our plans would change drastically, and it was stressful not knowing how much time we had left in Canada. Reluctantly, we all booked flights for the end of the week, with the intention of having a proper send-off- visiting our favourite spots for the final time.

The final days

The final days- I mean the ‘flight booked’ actual final days- were weirdly similar to my first days spent in the city. Me and friends went to see our fav views for the final time, and I went off freely exploring the city on my own just as I did last August. I drank boujee coffee, took way too many photos, and chatted to friendly Canadians. I opened my eyes more, and noticed little things about Vancouver that I had taken for granted (helped by the teasing sunshine).

On our final day together, we walked down the mountain to Barnet Marine park for a chill day and a casual spot of crabbing (??). Another gorgeous day:

So that concludes my time in Canada, how strange. Being home for the last couple of weeks has been weird, almost as if Canada was all a dream. It’s been nice to just focus on my wellbeing and getting fit again (The super-fit, healthy Vancouverite lifestyle doesn’t stretch to exchange students, oh noooo), but this isn’t the return I had anticipated, and its hard not being able to wrap my arms around friends and family who I haven’t seen for ages. However, I haven’t felt the need to wallow in self-pity about what could have been – after all, everyones lives have been impacted by this, and I know I’m incredibly lucky to be in safe position back home. This definitely is not the end of Canada’s influence on me though- it has only given me greater wanderlust to keep on exploring new places. I hope to return someday, but for now, I’m staying home xoxo

Chapter One: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

Australian National University

Going on exchange while the Coronavirus is spreading in the world isn’t a fun thing. I did not want to start the blog with the virus, however, without all the troubles prior to the beginning of my semester abroad, the story will not be completed. 

After taking the final exam at Manchester, I took a flight the next day back to China, planning to stay home for seven days during Chinese New Year and then embark on a journey to Australia. However, it was at that time that the Coronavirus outbreak started in China. On the 1stof February, after I checked in at the airport and started shopping in the duty-free area, my friends texted me that Scott Morrison has set a travel ban for visitors from China. “Are you kidding me?” I walked to the airport departure board and saw flights to Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane… all cancelled! 

sdr

As you can imagine what happened next, the airport turned into a huge mess. People queuing for luggage, staff unloading and distributing them to the passengers. Each individual was wearing a mask, pushing through the crowd to get their luggage. I felt like even a healthy person could get sick or be affected under that circumstance. I finally got home with all my luggage, tired like a horse. 

sdr

It was a Saturday night, I sent emails to anyone who I thought may help. I kept telling myself to calm down, wait at least until Monday to see what they will reply. However,  I also worried that with one more day of hesitation, Britain will shut their door. Friends at uni texted me: “Hey, Ziqi. You can still come back to Manchester. Don’t have to gap.” Was this it? Were all my efforts for exchange ended up in this way? It was one of the most difficult weeks in my life. I was desperate: checked news, checked email boxes, texted Australian oversea students in China…

After struggling for one week, I weighted different options and decided to go to Thailand with two other girls for 14 days of isolation. It was my third time going to Thailand. Upon leaving there, I promised myself to never visit Thailand again. 

Hope is an important thing. Once there is hope, you will feel much better. In the flat we rented, we cooked, watched movies, chatted, and counted the 14 days down. It is true that plans can never keep up with changes. Just as I first planned to get to ANU campus early and mix up with all other students, I have now undergone an unexpected two-week vacation and missed O-week.