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Post-exchange travel

Many partner universities finish their semesters earlier than Manchester – in my case, the start of May, so I took advantage of this to travel around Mexico and Central America – having 2 months’ more travelling to what my friends teased me was already a year of holiday/travelling! 

As soon as I finished my assignments, I made the most of the luxury of not having any exams at the end of the semester, and booked a flight for a solo adventure in El Salvador. Having said goodbye to my pals and my home for the last year, Cholula, I made my way over into Central America. El Salvador has a really bad rep internationally because of high homicide rates, and very problematic gang violence, however this tends to be restricted to certain areas and El Salvador is generally a safe place to travel. I can vouch for this, having travelled solo around El Salvador for 10 days, and staying with amazing people through Couchsurfing the whole time, seeing beautiful landscapes filled with lakes, volcanoes, jungle, waterfalls, beaches, and above all, possibly the kindest people of all the countries I’ve travelled to so far! 

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Cerro Verde as seen from the top of Santa Ana Volcano, El Salvador
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Mural in Ataco, Ruta de las Flores, El Salvador

I then made my way across the border in a chicken bus into Guatemala to meet a friend from the UK, to travel all the way from the El Salvador border up to the Mexican border. Along the way, I climbed Volcán Acatenango (brutal) to watch Volcán del Fuego erupt during the night, visited the amazing diverse villages around Lake Atitlán, exploring candle-lit caves and naturally turquoise limestone pools at Semuc Champey, and toucan- and spider monkey-spotting around the Mayan site of Tikal. I left Guatemala with a heavy heart, knowing that I’ll certainly be back as soon as I possibly can to keep exploring more of its beautiful country and vibrant indigenous cultures. 

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Sunrise seen from the summit of Volcán Acatenango

Crossing the border back into Mexico, I felt like I was coming home, though the journey was something of an intense one: I ended up travelling with a caravan of migrants from Honduras and Guatemala midway through their journey across Central America, just starting their crossing from one end of México up to the other, most aiming to cross into the United States. It is important not to understate the enormity of this journey that often takes months, and the difficult political situations that make it not a decision, but a necessity, for many people to leave their homes, families and countries to make this long journey in the hopes of a life elsewhere. 

I returned back to México to meet another friend from the UK to explore the mountains and beaches of the state of Oaxaca, and then the cenotes, ruins and beaches of the Yucatán peninsula while in 40 degree heat. From there, I met up with three of my closest friends from UDLAP to go to Cuba for 10 days, for lots of music, dancing, a few mojitos, cigars, lots of rice and beans and plenty of fun, while learning lots about the complex political situation (which I cannot understate). 

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Exploring La Habana Vieja

From Cuba, I returned to Mexico City to have one final day of eating as much food as I could possibly manage, saying a teary goodbye to my best friend, and hopping onto a flight back to the UK. I won’t lie, I wasn’t looking forward to coming back to the UK as Mexico means so much to me, and is a beautiful country with amazing people, food and places, and has been the setting for possibly the best year of my life. That said, two months of travelling made the transition to UK life somewhat easier, as I came to terms with the impending return to the English ‘summer’ and the idea of having to look at my bank account! Of course, travelling might not be for you, for whatever reason, but being abroad is an awesome opportunity to take advantage of. Perhaps solo travel is something you haven’t tried yet? Go away for a weekend during the semester as a first step. Intimidated in hostels? Couchsurfing is an awesome way to meet people, stay with locals and learn about local life in ways that you can’t in hostels. Scared by language? Start learning the basics before you go – such as with TV programmes, and we all know there are plenty of apps out there. The point is: make the most of being wherever in the world you are, because it’s not every day that travel is so easy. 

Discovering the Natural Side of the USA

By Sally Lord, North Carolina State University

If you are going to study abroad in the US I’m sure that you are very excited by this amazing opportunity to travel and discover all the things that the States has to offer. The country is so vast and with each state having its own unique culture and landscape, you will never run out of new things to see! However, whilst most people have the big cities like New York, Chicago, LA, San Fransisco, etc., on their list of things to see,  most people don’t have any of the numerous natural parks on their list. This, to me, is a BIG mistake.

In my opinion the best way to experience America is through its national parks. Each one is so unique and the sheer size of them is enough to take your breath away. I visited four national parks in Utah and whilst they were all within a three hour drive of each other, they all looked so different. It was amazing that there could be so much diversity in the landscape within just one state! They are also unlike anything I have experienced anywhere else in the world, which is why I think that they are so important to visit. Cities might differ from country to country, but such metropolitan life exists everywhere. However, natural parks are one-offs, the scenery and landscapes that they offer and the unique geology that they boast, are features which can be only found in that exact location.

They are also great for day-trips because they do not require much planning. You just turn up, go to the visitor’s centre, look at the different trails on offer, choose one and then set off to explore the wilderness. Another bonus is that most national parks have a driving circuit, so you can experience the beauty from your car. This was something, which was a shock to me, I had assumed that going to a national park would entail lots of hiking but I was wrong. The parks are so big that you have to drive round them and along the drive there are stops, where you can get out, walk for about 20 minutes, see something spectacular, then get back in your car and continue to the next stop. Of course there are also more strenuous hiking trails but if you just want to experience the beauty in a more comfortable manor there is also this option.

So  next question is, where should you visit? My answer is any national park is probably worthwhile your visit, since they all have something different and equally spectacular to offer. However the parks I chose to visit were:

Canyonlands, UT

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Capitol Reef, UT

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Bryce, UT

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Zion, UT

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Grand Canyon, AZ

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As you can see they are all rather stunning and I can ensure you that they look even better in real life! Cities exist everywhere and whilst American cities may be different to cities in other parts of the world, once you have seen three or four it starts to get boring. So get out and explore the natural side of the US because I can guarantee you will not be disappointed!

 

Travelling

One of the best things about America is its diversity. Every state is like a different country, from the mountains of Vermont to the deserts of Nevada, the swamps of Louisiana to the beaches of California, which meant that although I didn’t leave the states for 5 months, it felt like I’d travelled to a multitude of different countries. I visited 11 states in total, but it definitely felt like I’d seen more than just over a fifth of the country.  If I had to pick a top 3 places I would probably say Austin, Texas and New Orleans, Louisiana and of course New York, New York.

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I surprised myself with how much I loved the South.  My preconceptions of the southern states were racism, sexism, homophobia and cowboys, so I was a little apprehensive to leave the comfort of the north. Thankfully though I didn’t witness anything that I deemed hateful. Austin was full of Pride flags and every southerner that I met was nothing but extremely pleasant. What I loved about the South was its extreme Americanness, it felt like there was a lot more culture there and that the people were really laid back and eager to befriend us.

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Texas particularly was everything I’d dreamed it’d be. There were people dressed in cowboy boots and hats everywhere. And they weren’t in fancy dress. People genuinely dress like that because, in Texas, it is fashionable. Whilst in Texas I also visited a real-life saloon. This was amazing. There was a band belting out the countryiest of country tunes whilst everyone gleefully danced the two-step. Even better than this, out the back of the saloon there was an extremely Texan version of bingo being played. The premise: a large grid of numbers was placed in the middle of the yard and littered with chicken feed. Players then paid two dollars to be given a piece of paper with a number written on it, correlating to a number written on the grid. A chicken was then placed on the grid and the chicken defecated on the number of its choice. The player whose number matched up with the number chosen by the chicken won $200.  I felt like I was in an extremely odd dream that I wasn’t sure I ever wanted to wake up from.

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New Orleans, took Americanness down a completely different route. As I sat eating beignets at café du monde, gazing at the European style architecture of the French quarter I felt as though I could have been in old Orléans. However, the constant cacophony of saxophones and trumpets coming from buskers on every street corner and the kids tap dancing for people’s spare change really emphasised that New Orleans is the birthplace of the very American culture of jazz. Everywhere you looked there were stalls advertising psychic readings and shops selling voodoo dolls, the latter unfortunately serving as a reminder that a lot of the culture here was born out of slavery.  NOLA was by far the most unique place that I visited in the US and I wish that I had been able to spend more than two days there.

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The final of my top 3 destinations felt more like home than merely somewhere I was visiting by the time I reached the end of my stay on the East coast. New York lived up to all of my extremely high expectations and even though I visited the city almost every weekend whilst I was studying at Rutgers, I felt as if I could wonder its streets for the rest of my life and never get bored. Time square really is that mesmerising. Brooklyn bridge really is that huge. Dollar pizza really is the best thing you will ever taste.

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The opportunity to travel the states for so long is something that I am extremely grateful for, and something which I never would have had the opportunity to do without study abroad. Whichever university you end up at whilst you are abroad, be sure to make the most out of travelling to its surrounding states/countries. It will make your experience unforgettable.

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Coping With Anxiety Abroad… And From Home

By George Davies – The University of Calgary, Canada

The topic of mental health is commonly discussed in the realm of studying overseas. So whilst I may not be contributing anything new to this topic, I wanted to share my experiences with anxiety during my year away. As well as the coping mechanisms I tried to deploy and useful links available during your time away.

Continue reading “Coping With Anxiety Abroad… And From Home”

5 Things I Wish I Had Known Before Studying and Living in Calgary

A brief, yet concise list of things to look out for when studying at the University of Calgary. From tourist checklists to insurance considerations.

By George Davies – University of Calgary, Canada


Since reflecting on my time in Calgary, I have accumulated a list of things I wish I understood before boarding my plane at Gatwick. From knowing the best spots to explore in town to accommodating for a truly Canadian way of life. Hence, the list below should aid Albertan-, and hopefully some Canadian-, bound students. Continue reading “5 Things I Wish I Had Known Before Studying and Living in Calgary”

Making Friends Abroad (Introvert Edition)

Claire Muller – University Of Sydney, Australia 

Hey Guys!

So, I wanted to talk to you guys today about how I dealt with making friends, whilst being an introvert studying abroad. Studying abroad can be an extremely stressful situation; you are going to another country and culture, where you know no one and you have to try to find a way to thrive whilst also focusing on studying at the same time and being an introvert (making socializing a task in itself). You know… stressful. Anyway, I’ve come up with some ways to help you in navigating through your study abroad experience.

Continue reading “Making Friends Abroad (Introvert Edition)”

Finding Accommodation In Sydney: Thinking Outside the Box

Claire Muller – University of Sydney, Australia 

Hey guys,

So, I wanted to talk to you guys about the evidently stressful topic of trying to find the right accommodation for your time abroad. When researching options, you could be lucky and find an absolute gem or be faced with your worst nightmare. However, by doing the right research and keeping an open mind, you could be surprised by the options out there.  I’m going to give you a few options that might be of interest to you, all depending on what your needs and expectations are. I’ll also include some pros and cons to spice things up a little.

Continue reading “Finding Accommodation In Sydney: Thinking Outside the Box”

Earning Money Abroad: Thinking Outside The Box

Claire Muller – University of Sydney, Australia

Hey Guys!

So, I wanted to talk to you guys about the different ways you can earn money whilst you are abroad, if you want to earn a little extra pocket money or you aren’t able to get a more ‘stable’ job, such as a waitress, but still want to earn a bit of money. I’ve included a few options in this post in order for you to get a better idea of the options out there.

Continue reading “Earning Money Abroad: Thinking Outside The Box”

My top advice for UBC exchange students…

  1. Accommodation

Here’s the pros and cons for living on/off campus:

Halls

+ Application: Quick and simple to apply online

+ Location: very convenient as near to learning spaces, gym, restaurants, cafés, bars, beaches and forests.

+ Social life: Easy to meet other exchange students

–  Location: 1 hour bus journey from downtown

–  Social life: Most of my friends found their flatmates to be unsociable as they were second/third-year undergraduates who were less keen to hang out due to already having friendship groups established.

–  Cleaning checks and quiet hours were strictly implemented limiting student’s independence

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Snowy view from Walter Gage

Continue reading “My top advice for UBC exchange students…”

How studying abroad helped me during my final year at Manchester

By Isaac Brooks

Having finished my final year at Manchester, and now getting ready for my graduation next month, it is unbelievable that it is over a year since I returned from my year abroad at Arizona State University. Reflecting back on this time it is impossible to ignore the ways that studying abroad has had a positive impact on my final year, as well as looking into the future, the next steps after graduating.

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Continue reading “How studying abroad helped me during my final year at Manchester”

Thank You and Goodbye UMASS!

By Doris Ngai, University of Massachusetts Amherst, USA

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This time last month, summer vacation officially began for me when most of my friends at Manchester are still revising for their end of May and early June exams. I went to Orlando Universal Studios and Disneyland with my significant other that I met during my semester abroad at Umass. I think the best things in life really do happen to us so unexpectedly.

Continue reading “Thank You and Goodbye UMASS!”

Semester 2: Reality Check

By Claire Muller, University of Sydney, Australia 

Hey guys!

So, I wanted to talk to you guys about my personal experience at the start of semester 2. So, to give you a bit of context, I have been studying at the University of Sydney since July 2018 and I am currently completing my second semester here. Now, before semester 2 started, I was feeling slightly apprehensive, because I wasn’t sure how it was going to turn out compared to semester 1. In my opinion, semester 1 was absolutely amazing: I met so many interesting people and made unforgettable memories along the way.

I was thinking to myself: ‘Will semester 2 be just as good as semester 1?’.

Continue reading “Semester 2: Reality Check”