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Academic life at UBC

Prior to coming to Vancouver, I was informed by previous students that the work load at UBC was easier than at UoM. Throughout the term I’ve discovered that this is the case in some respects, however I have found other areas more challenging causing me to adapt my approach to my studies in order to keep on top of it all. One of the noticeable differences has been the frequency of assignments and exams. Unlike the standard British system, UBC divides modules up into several methods of assessment. I’ve had at least two essays due every week, and without keeping track of everything it can be very easy to get behind. Thankfully, I’ve found that the actual work itself is more straightforward to complete, and the lecturers are more lenient with marking (also helped by reduced pressure of being on a pass/fail year). Although the regularity of assessment has improved my work ethic, one of the downsides to it is students have little time to focus their attention on one piece of work, resulting in work being rushed and preventing me from researching certain topics in depth. That being said, I have heard from my friends taking Science subjects that the work is significantly harder than at Manchester in terms of work load and content, and the level of difficulty varies greatly between courses.

The teaching style at UBC is noticeably different to Manchester. My lecturers here use different methods of teaching aside from PowerPoint presentations to engage with the students. One sociology module I took on Drugs and Society was taught by a lecturer who regularly used class debates and hand-outs to encourage students to gain different perspectives on an issue. Participation grades were also given in all my classes and accounted for 20% of the module. Higher marks were awarded to students who contributed to class discussion and had high attendance, which seemed produce the desired affect as many students were keen to speak in class unlike in my classes in Manchester. I believe the introduction of participation grading is an effective way of making lectures more interesting by motivating students to provide their own argument on a topic.

Methods of assessment are varied compared with the usual term paper or exam. For example, presentations are common, as well as smaller essays that may involve a short summary of a reading. One assignment I received was in the format of a public engagement, which in broad terms meant any piece of work that can be used to promote an issue to a target audience. At the end of the term the lecturer showcased some of the students work which I found very wholesome. I was surprised by the level of creativity used, poems, songs and even a message in a bottle were used captivate the audience. In many ways, I feel assessments such of these are more effective at getting students to critically engage with a topic and incorporate their learning into their everyday lives. After term 1, I’ve found myself talking or reading about what I’ve learned in my free-time which I rarely did last year. Overall, the work load can be stressful at first but once you become used to it, I find it’s easier to complete than at Manchester.

Halfway there

It’s been roughly three months since arriving in Vancouver and I really feel as though I’m embracing the Vancouverite lifestyle. I’m currently sitting in one of the many coffee shops situated on campus writing this blog, listening to Paul McCartney’s ‘Wonderful Christmas Time’ play through the speakers. It’s safe to say I’m feeling the Christmas spirit this year, helped by snowy day trips to Whistler and the festive lights that seem to give every corner of UBC’s campus a charming sparkle. Although I’m slightly saddened to not be spending Christmas in London this year, I’m confident this year will be a jolly one with my new little UBC family.

The end of term 1 has arrived so soon and I can’t quite believe I’m already saying goodbye to my close friends who are returning to their respective universities. Although things will be different next term without them, I’m looking forward to meeting the new arrivals for term 2. What’s more, the ski season is in full swing and I’ve already met some Canadians who are keen to visit the mountain at least twice a week which is ideal for me, especially considering 90% of my friends are currently from the UK – I think it may be time I branch out a little.

In reflection, term 1 has been more of a culture shock than I expected. Academically, the work load is heavy with almost two deadlines a week. Mostly, I’ve spent my weekdays in the library which has probably served my work ethic well, and devoted weekends to hikes, bikes and food. The work itself hasn’t been too challenging though, so I’m confident that now I’ve learnt how to keep on top of it all I can allow myself more free time to explore more of Vancouver’s great outdoors.

One thing I’m still adjusting to is campus life. Having become so used to living in the city both in London and Manchester, my experience living on the UBC point grey campus has been interesting. The campus is located a 20-minute bus-ride from the nearest town, and an hour bus from downtown (where most of the city action is). Because of this separation from the city, the campus is its own microcosm of the city, with a multitude of amenities to cater for every student’s need: shops, café’s, restaurants, bars, sports facilities – you name it they have it. It takes about an hour to walk from one end to the other, which is why most students have adopted alternative modes of transport. Skateboards are incredibly popular, however the skateboard culture steers away from the ‘skater dude’ stereotype, with the main purpose of owning a board to get you from A to B and by no means used for hitting the skate park with. Other students opt for niche modes of personal transportation, including electronic scooters, one-wheeled miniature Segway’s (didn’t even know such a thing existed) and even unicycles. Honestly, I feel like I’m walking around the set of ‘Back to the Future part 4’ – I think I’m going to stick to good old-fashioned walking for now. Despite the difference in lifestyle, I’m finding it all rather refreshing and look forward the new term.

Fancy coffee powering us through the week

Student life in Lund, Sweden

As my first semester in Lund comes to a close, it seems like a perfect time to reflect on the good and bad things (the weather) I’ve experienced here in Sweden. Lund is a small, very pretty university town in Southern Sweden, with beautiful old buildings and houses that look like they’re made out of gingerbread. Studying and living as a student here has been a completely different experience to my first and second years in Manchester.

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Lund Cathedral, built in the 1100s, one of the most visited churches in Sweden.

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Houses, Lund, built recently of gingerbread.

One of the main factors in this is the way student life in Lund is organised, through “nations”. The nations are similar to a students union, although there are 13 individual ones dotted all over the town. They are named after the different regions/ counties in Sweden, and in the past your area of origin would determine the nation you join. They are basically social clubs, each with a different priority, some are focused around music, others sports, but most are quite general and all are open to everyone. Becoming a member of one nation gives you access to events at all of the others. They are run completely by student volunteers, and put on all sorts of different events such as film screenings, lunches as well as pubs and club nights. I was amazed by this, and to be honest I can’t imagine this working in the way it does anywhere apart from Sweden, particularly not in the UK.

Working/ volunteering at a nation doubles up as a social event and is a good way to make new friends. I found this is the best way to meet Swedes, particularly as an international student. Workers are given free food, and are effectively paid (informally of course) in beer and are thrown a thank you party a week after working a shift. Another popular event in Lund nations are “Sittnings”. These are gatherings where a three course meal is served, song books are passed around and the nation leaders direct everyone through a series of songs. These are often highly cultural, and are often about the area in Sweden that the nation is named after. The songs are also often very funny and light hearted, especially as the singing usually gets quite rowdy, with people standing and banging on the tables (Swedes love a sing song).

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A Sittning at Blekingska nation, 2019. They usually start in a very civilised way, then get gradually looser as the night goes on.

This all makes the student life in Lund surprisingly lively, and wasn’t what I was expecting when I first took in the quiet, picturesque town.

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly of Studying Abroad

There is no doubt that going away for a year to a foreign land can be remarkable. The endless stream of Instagram posts and vlogs are clear evidence of this. From the shots of students lost in the urban paradise of Hong Kong, to my fellow Mancunian travellers taking snaps in the idyllic rural landscapes of South America. For those that want study abroad, there is certainly enough substance out there to tickle your taste-buds and inspire you to go on an adventure.

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The year of two summers…

Emily Barnes // University of Auckland

One main advantage of studying abroad in New Zealand or Australia is that by starting the semester in July, you’re finished by early November and get to enjoy a four month summer break. This is made even sweeter by the fact that it’s cold, wet and wintry back home and everyone is still at uni, stuck revising for exams. Having said that, I have revised for and sat three separate exam seasons this year, so I think my rest is well earned.

The last half of this semester was pretty hectic, finishing all my coursework, revising for exams and saying goodbye to all my one semester friends that had finished their time abroad. The actual exam set up was a little different here compared to Manchester, and I was a little confused in my first one where we were given 15 minutes of reading time to look through the questions prior to the actual exam beginning. This can be taken as a blessing or a curse as either you read the questions and know how to answer them, or you’ll just be sat there for 15 minutes panicking once you realise the questions don’t refer to any of the topics you actually revised! Most of the exams were also done in lecture theatres which made them feel slightly less formal and serious than the ones I’ve taken in Manchester.

In between revision, I did manage to get out and about a bit, including a three day ‘revision break’ down to Tongariro National Park, where a few friends and I hiked the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. As it was early spring, there was still loads of snow all over the place and it was so pretty and scenic. We also walked past the volcano that Mount Doom from Lord of the Rings was based off which was really cool!

 

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In front of Mount Ngauruhoe (Mt Doom)

 

As my exams finished on the 1st of November, I decided to head over to Australia before the weather got too hot and spent a month travelling up the east coast from Sydney to Cairns, stopping multiple times along the way. I saw so many cool animals out in the wild, including kangaroos, koalas, dingos, crocodiles, sharks and even some poisonous spiders! My favourite part of the trip was visiting Fraser Island, the largest sand island in the world, where we drove on the beach and got to swim in so many beautiful lakes. I also got to ride a horse on the beach which was amazing and has been a dream of mine for some time now.

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Riding Dolly along Rainbow Beach in Australia

I’m now back in Auckland, enjoying the sunny weather and Christmas festivities whilst looking for a job as all these trips don’t come cheap! Hopefully I can spend the next couple of months saving up a bit of money for when I head down to South Island in the new year for some exploring there!

Academic differences between UoM and UvA

Before coming to study at the University of Amsterdam I had heard that there were  differences when it came to academia, some of which I learnt before I even arrived. However, I would say that university here is more different than I initially expected which resulted in me struggling a little at the start. Therefore, I decided it would be a good idea to write a blog post about it to prepare other students who want to study here.

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Back in Manchester

By Pamilla Kang, UCSD, USA

Sorry to break from all the great blogs about travelling and being abroad, but I’m back in Manchester and it’s about bloody time I reflect on my year abroad and moving back home. 

Turns out, it’s not as easy as you’d think moving back to Manchester after a whole year abroad. I actually found it quite hard the first few weeks of being back – I was a bit down and restless. At first, I wasn’t really sure why because I was really excited to move back, but I gradually realised that the change of moving universities and having very different lives within a year was stressing me out.

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The UoC’s Solution to ‘Weather Sensitive’ Students

Dropping to around -15.1 degrees Celsius during its harsh winter months, the weather in Calgary is a little different to that in Manchester. Although I don’t miss the soggy Mancunian weather a great deal, the gruesome stories I have been told about frost bite, as well as the violent arctic winds that sweep across campus, has me slightly worried.

Continue reading “The UoC’s Solution to ‘Weather Sensitive’ Students”

Adjusting your attitude and approach to studying

It has now been exactly two months since I arrived at NC State on the 14th of August. We have had eight weeks of teaching, though very few of these weeks have consisted of a full week of teaching what with national holidays, Hurricane Florence and Fall Break! The midterms for all my classes have now been completed and so I wanted to reflect on the changes I have had to make to my daily schedule, study style and expectations of the classes.

Firstly, something that I had to adapt to was how my daily schedule here was going to be different to my daily schedule in Manchester. I wasn’t going to be able to cling onto the routine I had become accustomed to in my first two years back home, instead I was going to have to readjust my schedule to fit with the norms of college life in the US. Mainly what this meant was that I was going to have to get used to working much later! Students here tend to work late most nights of the week, which is something I prefer to avoid in Manchester. At home I tend to travel into uni for my first lecture and then stay until around 7pm, or later if I have work due, and then go home, eat and relax. I do all my work before I head home and so when I get home I know that I can relax, I rarely work at home or late at night.

However, in the US most people take a break from around 5pm until 8pm, during which they go to the gym, socialise and eat. Then they resume studying in the evening and work from 8pm until 12pm most evenings. This is something I had to really adapt to because I had tried so hard to get all my work done during the day in Manchester and leave eating dinner as the last activity of the day so that I could spend my evenings unwinding. However, I quickly had to move my average time for dinner earlier by about 2 hours from around 8 or 9pm at home to 6 or 7pm here. I then had to mentally readjust to the idea that the late evening was for work and the early evening was for socialising. This complete flip is something I feel that I have only just about got used to.

Secondly, I had to rethink my study style, in particular my attitude towards the weekly homework assignments I am set here. At NCSU, like in Manchester, I am set weekly problem sheets for my physics classes, however the big difference is that at NCSU the weekly problem sheets are graded. Since the assignments are so similar, it took me a while to shift my attitude and start taking the homework problems more seriously. My attitude had to shift from just trying my best and then revising anything I didn’t understand in the tutorial, to aiming to get everything right. Part of this shift in attitude was realising that I needed much more time to complete the homework properly and then giving myself this time. I feel like this is something that is very common across all disciplines; the need to adapt to the fact that everything that is set as homework is linked to a grade. Even reading, which you may feel you can get away with not doing for seminars at home, you have be vigilant with here since there is often a small quiz based on the reading, which counts as part of your grade. Everything is important because everything counts and because of that people tend to work consistently throughout the week.

However, it is not all bad! Whilst I do feel that you have to stay on top of your work and work most evenings, I think that if you work into the late evening during the weekdays you don’t have to work that much on the weekends. I haven’t felt as though I have had to work too much during the weekend. I sometimes spend Sundays working but I have also already had four weekends away and it hasn’t hindered me too much! Second positive is that studying is a much more social activity here than it is in Manchester, at least in my experience. Therefore, whilst you might be studying later rather than hanging out with friends at the pub during the week, you are probably going to the library with friends, so you aren’t spending the evening alone. This also helps with the fact that all the homework is graded – people love to study together so you can work with them to complete your homework as long as the final write-up is yours.

Finally, the third thing I had to change was my expectations of the classes. They are much more informal, and it is true that the Professor has much more control over the course logistics and content. In one of my classes, we were set to have an exam and some of the students in my class asked if it could be changed because they had another exam the day after and he just agreed to move it to the week after! The classes are much more interactive which creates a more informal atmosphere, similar to that of an A-level class rather than a uni lecture theatre. My exam expectations were also something that had to be changed – they are very very different to Manchester exams, mostly due the informality of them. This is partly because there are so many exams, which makes them a lot more familiar, and partly because they are taken in the classroom without any invigilators or long announcements. However, they are still important because they typically count as 20-25% of your grade, but the frequency of them means that people typically only revise in the few days leading up to the exam.

Brisbane’s infamous 22 person house

“Wow – that must be pretty crazy” is the standard response I get when I tell people i’ve been living in the 22 person house known as ‘Westella’ for the past few months. Honestly, pretty crazy is not a good enough description of the place – a more accurate description would perhaps be beautifully berserk. This post is a tribute to my experience in an international shared house and will hopefully encourage those considering to live abroad in the future.

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A few housemates and I having a fire on one of the rare beaches where it’s legal

I’d say I was extremely lucky in finding out about Westella. Most of us that live here discovered it by word on the street; after attending a few study abroad sessions you would be approached by a returned student like “Ay pssst, there’s this accomodation that I think you would be interested in”. One of my Italian housemates found the place by zooming into the city on google maps and picking the first accommodation he saw (not sure i’d recommend). The website was not at all convincing (have a gander and see why: http://www.westendstudentaccommodation.com), but considering the phenomenal dent the other accommodation options would leave in my student loan, and after a few more recommendations by other students, I decided to go for it nonetheless.

I travelled to Australia knowing no one, though was lucky enough to have Jonno, an Australian contact to pick me up from the airport (I forgot to sign up for the university provided pick up anyway – oops). It being Australia and all, the first thing I was greeted with as I walked up to the door was a MASSIVE spider sitting right outside the window of my room. Along with the spider I have 3 housemates from France, 2 English, 4 Irish, 2 Germans, 2 Danish, 1 Dutch, 3 Italians, 1 Australian, 1 Pakistani and 1 ghost – because every student house has at least one. I did not expect to come to Australia and meet so many Europeans. Luckily all of them speak English, decently enough, and they soon became like a family to me. In the short time of only 3 months I genuinely feel I have made some lifelong friends living here.

The house itself is located in an area called West End, which could be compared to the likes of Manchester’s Fallowfield. We have a nice local kebab shop and supermarket, it’s quite a dodgy area and is a bus (and ferry) ride from university.

If you are planning on moving into a shared house and expecting to be able to focus longer than 5 minutes I would check to see if there are any coffee shops or libraries nearby. I will admit that personally, the noise people make in the house isn’t distracting in itself. I instead rise up to the challenge of being even noisier.

From what i’ve experienced you can make anywhere feel like home. Moving abroad is a brave thing to do and the first step is definitely the hardest. As long as you take that big step and embrace the quirkiness of wherever you end up, moving abroad is completely worth it.

 

 

Leros – ‘Island of Outcasts’

By Georgi Fogarty (University of Queensland, Australia)

After 12 months on the other side of the world, a lot of people I had met on exchange were openly excited to get back to their own country, home and family. However, I was not ready to accept the fact that my year away might finally be over and decided to further postpone my trip back to the UK (much to my parent’s despair). I found myself splitting up the journey with a 7-week long stopover beginning in Athens, where I would catch an overnight ferry to a small Greek Island, Leros. Spending over a month here was to be a very interesting experience, partly due to the island’s incredibly speckled and prominent history.

Leros is not exactly renowned for being a tourist hotspot, despite being close to party islands Kos and Rhodes. The island is only around 30 square miles, which meant that the strangeness of the living history was condensed and intensified. Looking in any direction had the tendency to blow your mind. Going back around 100 years, Leros was occupied by Italians and was used primarily as an army base during the early 20th century, with many buildings constructed to house Italian soldiers. These are now mostly used as shelter for sheep, however the paintings done over 100 years ago by Italian artists remain in crumbling buildings up in the hills. These are easily accessible by a short hike and are completely riddled by bullet holes – mostly from the British. Additionally to the troops’ stations, an extremely grandiose mansion was built in preparation for a visit from Italian dictator Mussolini. Mussolini never visited the island, but the house is still intact (if not slightly worse for wear after 80 or so years’ neglect). Everywhere you look on the island there is unmoved debris from the second World War; my friends and I took a boat trip out to an even smaller nearby island and I dived from the boat into the clear blue water only to find myself face-to-face with a 4 foot wide rusted bomb shell sitting in the shallows. This was a fairly common occurrence.

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A faded painting inside the kitchen of an Italian army base.

The strangely prominent relics of Leros’ past don’t stop at bomb shells though; after the second World War, Athens’ mental asylums became incredibly overcrowded and patients were shipped over in their boatloads to Leros. Buildings that were formally used to house prisoners of war and were allegedly used as concentration camps were transformed into an asylum, which operated until the late 1990’s when a reporter shot an exposé of the conditions inside. The conditions were horrific, with over 3000 patients having died in the asylum. Mentally and physically disabled patients were often chained up and deprived of clothes; the staff were residents of the island with no medical training. The asylum and buildings surrounding it still stand (neighbouring Mussolini’s house) and are completely accessible.

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The front of the asylum.

I went to explore out of morbid curiosity and was met with what looked like a set from a horror film from the 60s. Empty bed frames, medical journals and medicine bottles lay amongst dead pigeons and peeled wallpaper – unsurprisingly, I didn’t stick around for long.

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What remains of one of the bedrooms in the asylum – I would love to know the context behind the painting.

What may be more haunting than the asylum itself though is what now lies in the old courtyard. As Leros is only a few kilometres away from Turkey, it’s a common first step towards gaining sanctuary in Europe for refugees. On such a small island, over 10% of the population is now refugees. Crowded boats arrive weekly having made the perilous journey from the shores of Turkey. The main camp for the refugees is now in the grounds of the abandoned asylum; a sprawling cluster of storage containers, each housing up to 10 people.

In the time I was on Leros, I had the pleasure of getting to know many of the refugees that were living on the island. For many of them, their stay there was just a waiting game; the average length of time that they wait on the island while the Greek government is processing their claim for asylum has increased from a matter of days, when the borders were open, to a year. During this period they legally cannot leave the island. I can’t say too much on the topic of Greek immigration laws, only what I have learnt from the people I have met, but it seems like an incredibly long process that can go one of a few different ways: acceptance (meaning that they are able to leave the island for Athens) or rejection. After one rejection, they are able to apply for asylum again, however after the second rejection they are usually put into jail and risk being deported. On top of this, there doesn’t seem to be much of a pattern for who gets rejected or accepted, which makes waiting for the answer even more painstaking. Witnessing professors, doctors, architects, students and people from many other walks of life waiting in limbo from a decision that could make or break their immediate future was a harsh reality check to say the least. This, altogether with the intense and brutal history of the island made my stay there an extremely strange and extremely eye-opening time. Having said that, I definitely plan to return – just one more year of university to get through before any more jetsetting, though!

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Final Reflections on Case Western Reserve

By Imogen Henry-Campbell, Case Western Reserve, USA.

Now that I have been back in Manchester for a few weeks, it is a lot easier to reflect on study abroad and what I learnt over my year in America.

Studying at Case Western Reserve has given me a much better work ethic and made me a lot more organised. I know how to use my time more effectively and it has made me a lot more motivated when doing my work. If you want to be pushed academically then I think Case is the right place for you.

Participating in study abroad, in general, has given me extra confidence socially and academically. I find it a lot easier to speak to new people and find common ground with different types of people. Academically, I found that I can trust my abilities and knowledge more and work better independently as I had fewer friends on my course to work with.

I was worried that after a year abroad a lot of my friends would have graduated, but there are so many other students who have studied abroad or who have done industrial placements. It also meant that I have got closer to certain people on my course. So, if you are worried about the fact some people have graduated, I would say be open minded and see it as an opportunity to meet new people.

Mainly though, I have realised that a year goes so quickly and nothing has really changed in that time (apart from the cost of a meal deal rising to £3.50).

Overall, year abroad is a challenge. There were many times where I wanted to go home but I am very glad that I didn’t. If you are considering it, I would say go for it, but also be prepared to find it difficult. Don’t compare your time away with anyone else, and ignore other people’s social media posts. Everyone will have their own unique experiences and I wouldn’t change my year for the world.