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Top tips for thriving not just surviving Amsterdam

All things considered Amsterdam is a very easy place to live for a foreigner, with 90% of people speaking English. However, there are a few things I wish I had known to buy or to do which would have made my first few weeks easier. So here are some things to consider when moving here:

Set up a dutch bank account: up until Christmas time I managed to get by using my international bank card. However, it was causing me a bit of hassle, as lots of shops here only take dutch cards. Also, online shopping using dutch companies is impossible without a dutch card. However, since I got a job and had to set up an account I realised how worthwhile it is to have one. I recommend ING for a free student account.

Get a bike ASAP: I actually brought my bike with me from home, as I was lucky enough to have my dad drive me here. But if you can’t do that, then I suggest either renting one from Swapfiets for €15 per month, or you can buy a v cheap one at Waterlooplein.

Order a student OV chip card: for the super windy and rainy days when you can think of nothing worse than cycling, you’ll need to have a student OV chip card to allow you to take public transport (unless you want to fork out a fortune for the standard ticket).  You can order them online and they give a discount on all transport.

Museumkaarts: are a must if you like museums. Going to exhibitions in the Netherlands can become expensive, so if you want to go to more than 4 times I would recommend you get a card. It costs about €60 to get one, but if you buy it at the museum the cost of the visit is deducted.

Free food: there are quite a few spots in the city for free or cheap meals. Taste before you waste is a charity which hosts dinner’s twice a week. You can also go to their food market and get free ingredients.

Booze: annoyingly, I wandered around the supermarket for about 15 minutes looking for vodka before I mustered up the courage to ask where the spirits were. Turns out, in the Netherlands if you want spirits you have to go to a liquor shop.

Flixbus: by far the cheapest and easiest way to get around; both to different dutch cities but also further afield.

Although this blog isn’t super exciting, I do wish I knew these things and I hope it is useful for whoever comes to Amsterdam on exchange.

 

 

Adapting back to Manchester: life after studying abroad

While you are studying abroad, one of the last things you are thinking about is returning to Manchester to finish your degree. Whether it is a single semester, your final year or returning to do a masters, returning to academic life in Manchester offers a unique set of challenges which is not often associated with the process of studying abroad.

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Having spent an academic year at Arizona State University (ASU), one of the main differences I found was the weather. This may not sound like a big deal, but having gone almost an entire year not having to wear anything more than shorts, it can be surprising how much of a difference walking to a few lectures in the rain can do. This can significantly affect your mood and potentially your academic progress. I found the best way to overcome this was remind myself why I had chosen the University of Manchester in the first place, which involved getting stuck back into my course and playing football again after a summer off. After the first week or so once I had adapted to Manchester to being the norm again and stopped drawing constant comparisons with my year abroad, I soon found that this initial shock could be easily overcome.

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While studying abroad there can often be a big difference between the academic side whilst abroad compared with back in Manchester. This means that getting back to Manchester and doing assignments again can be daunting. This is especially the case for returnees like me whose year abroad did not count towards their final grade but instead was pass/fail.  In addition to this, courses in Manchester may also include information from the previous year, which you may not be aware of if the classes during your study abroad did not cover the same topics. Getting by this may include spending a little extra time on assignments and study than you would normally need to initially, however this is far outweighed by the benefits of studying abroad and all the amazing experiences you have had. This is also not that of a big deal in the long run, in my own experiences I only had to deal with acclimatizing to doing assignments in Manchester for the first couple.

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The biggest challenge I found, which is probably different for different people, was going from studying abroad where I was travelling and constantly experiencing new things to being back in Manchester, where the initial shock of moving back is replaced by a sense of familiarity and the every day. Going from one to the other is often coupled with not enjoying Manchester as much as you used to and the feeling that your study abroad never actually happened. While I was walking to the Ali G it was hard to believe that just a few months earlier I was travelling around America on the back of studying there for a year. Despite this however it was good to see people again that I hadn’t seen since the last summer and overall getting back to Manchester after a summer of seeing friends and family isn’t so bad. While studying abroad is a great experience and one I wish I could re-live over and over again, returning to Manchester is often not discussed or viewed as part of the process. Overall I found that because of this when I returned back it took me a while to get back into my stride. Once I had done this however, I could get on with finishing my degree while being able to look back at all the fantastic memories I had of the time I was away.

A Mexican Manifesto

It is hard to encapsulate and create an image of the beauty of Mexico without visiting – but I’m going to try anyway…

Mexico’s diversity is something I have been absolutely blown away by; although not difficult when you consider that by area, it is the 13th largest country in the world, and fits a large number of European countries within its boundaries! This gives rise to an astonishingly diverse range of cultures, which vary dramatically between states and regions, with varying music and dance, clothing, language and customs in each community. Given that my workload is not nearly as heavy or demanding as in Manchester, I have been able to really take advantage to travel extensively and far and wide in this amazing country. From cities in which the colonial legacy is obvious such as Puebla and Oaxaca, to small indigenous towns of Chiapas, from vast archaeological sites of previous civilisations, to the vast metropolis of Mexico City, from beautiful beaches of the Pacific Coast in Oaxaca or the Gulf in Veracruz, to dense pine forests inundated by the migration of monarch butterflies in Michoacán, from the mountains and volcanoes surrounding my own home in Cholula, to the waterfalls and Chiapas, Mexico is a country rich in, climatic, environmental and cultural diversity. Naturally, this could not make it more interesting for a Geographer!

 

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Among Monarch butterflies in Michoacán

Continue reading “A Mexican Manifesto”

Vancouver and Beyond – travel recommendations for your time at UBC

As reading week finally arrives at UBC, I can sigh in relief after surviving four exams in the space of three days. However, it’s times like those when you’re sat at your desk at 8am doing some hardcore last-minute cramming that you really cherish the high notes in the year so far. So, with that, I decided to make a quick guide to Vancouver’s best day trips and long weekends for students wanting to make the most out of their time abroad.

One of the first adventures I embarked on was a weekend road trip through the Canadian Rockies which was organised by the Exchange Student Club (ESC). The trip cost £250 in total, including food, accommodation and travel – with everything organised by the ESC so your only job is to pay! The trip took us through the most incredible sites in Alberta including the breathtakingly beautiful Lake Louise as well as several waterfalls and novice to advanced hiking trails. Although a large amount of time is spent on the coach, the ESC volunteers provide top entertainment to make the time fly by. Once the coach reaches Banff, the real fun begins. The accommodation comes with a thermal bath looking over the snowy mountains, and there are plenty of opportunities to get to know the other exchange students and finish the weekend with a fat night out before heading back to Vancouver. Would highly recommend this as a start to the year to meet loads of great people and visit some of North America’s most beautiful sites.

Lake Louise, Alberta
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Alberta

If the trip to the Rockies hasn’t quite quenched your thirst for Mountain adventuring, then British Columbia has plenty to offer in the way of hiking, biking, skiing and climbing. Whatever your experience with mountain sports, there are endless opportunities to take a quick trip Northern British Columbia to escape busy city life – an incredibly effective stress-reliever I’ve found. One thing Vancouver is good for is its proximity to the Whistler-Blackcomb mountain, a world renowned ski resort. The mountain caters for all with a range of activities including snow sports, snow shoeing and biking.  Day trips to Whistler are cheap and quick with Facebook groups such as ‘UBC Whistler Ride and Share’ and the app ‘Poparide’ allowing you to catch a lift almost every day of the week for around £14 return. Essentially, you can get a full day in Whistler and be back in downtown before 6pm. For those of you planning multiple trips to Whistler, I’d also highly recommend buying the Student Winter Season Pass available at the start of the season which costs £380 – considering a day pass is £85 you make back your money pretty quickly! Other local mountains nearer to Vancouver also offer similar experiences, including Grouse (1hr bus ride from UBC), Seymour and Cypress mountain.

One of the benefits of Vancouver’s location is it’s proximity to the US. A 4-hour coach ride to the lively city of Seattle will cost you between £50-£100 round trip and is highly recommended for a long weekend away. Another quick trip that you can’t miss is Vancouver Island. This huge island offers a variety of scenic hikes and water sports in areas such as Tofino (mainly accessible by car), as well as some great bars, restaurants and thrift shopping in the small European-style city of Victoria (5hr round trip by public transport from UBC campus). If you need a car, there are multiple car hire companies that let you pay by the minute, using an app to pick-up and drop off cars around the city – check out Evo and Car2Go.

Seattle, USA

Should I Stay or Should I Go? Reflecting on my trip back to the UK

A post for students planning to study abroad for the ENTIRE year.

By George Davies (The University of Calgary, Canada)


Before the start of my study abroad experience, I had not planned on returning to the UK until the following summer. I had assumed that my schedule in Calgary would not be able to accommodate for any time to take a trip home. Moreover, it seemed to me that it would have only be a backwards step. Coming all this way across the Atlantic and half of the North American continent, it seemed foolish and a waste of time to venture back to where this story began. Continue reading “Should I Stay or Should I Go? Reflecting on my trip back to the UK”

What I learnt from my first semester at NC State

By Sally Lord, North Carolina State University

Its Friday afternoon and I am sat in a coffee shop on Hillsborough street. Nothing particularly interesting is happening, I am just catching up with my friend, organising my life and doing a bit of homework. But it just hit me how comfortable I am here in Raleigh, how at home I feel with  the day to day life here. My life in England feels so far away and in some ways it is! Its been 5 months since I left the UK and whilst I definitely do miss it, and miss the people there, it really hasn’t been on my mind as much as I thought it would. I’ve really settled into my life here at NC State, to the point where I can’t quite believe that I am going to have to leave here in 4 months, leaving behind everything that has been my entire life for the past 5 months. It is such a bittersweet feeling, it makes me sad that I am going to have to leave but also makes me feel incredibly lucky to have had this experience in the first place. So in the light of this realisation, I decided it was time to reflect on my first semester here at NC State and share some of the things which helped make it such a great semester.

Firstly, I loved having the opportunity to work as part of a group in one of my classes. It was for the Physics Lab module I had to take and I worked with two Americans on a group project for the whole semester. The reason I loved it so much is that I formed such a close relationship with both of the guys because we were spending so much time together. I learnt so much about America from them and we would regularly discuss different issues, comparing the average British view on the topic to the average American view. It was such a fun environment to work in and I left every class feeling as though I had learnt something new about America. It really made me feel as though I was having a true exchange experience because I was sharing my culture with people who were very interested in it and they were sharing theirs with me. It felt like I was getting an authentic insight into America and what it is like for the average person. So I would recommend to everyone that they try and take a class that involves group work. It is the best way to meet different people you might not otherwise come into contact with and it is the best way to learn a lot about the country you are studying in.

Secondly, one thing that I learnt last semester is that it is very important to get a good work-life balance, even more so than in Manchester. Being on exchange is like being on a holiday that never stops, people are always up to travel, experience new things, hang-out, the list is endless, but one thing for certain is that it never stops! Therefore, it can be overwhelming to try and manage uni work when everyone seems to be constantly socialising and the fear of missing out is real. It is also made harder when your year abroad counts towards your final degree and most other exchange students are just on pass/fail. This is something I found particularly difficult because I actually had to try with my classes, whilst all my other friends were cruising through them doing as little work as possible because it didn’t matter too much. It took me a while to get to grips with this lifestyle but once I worked it out it didn’t feel too bad. One thing that definitely made it easier was that over here people love studying together, which meant that having to stay up late studying could be turned into something social. I often find myself going with a  group of people for a study session at the library, which makes it feel not as bad. You can work for a couple of hours, then take a break together before getting back to studying. You kill two birds with one stone; you are productive but surrounded by friends which is great!

Thirdly, one of my greatest realisations after being here for a year is just how small the world is. It sounds ridiculous but it is true and it haws already had such a positive impact on my life. Since being here and loving living abroad, I have applied for a research internship in Germany this summer. This is not something I had thought about before and if I hadn’t studied abroad I am not sure I would have decided to apply. But living in the US for the past semester gave me the confidence to apply because I now have the mindset that no matter where you are in the world you will never feel that far away from home. Facetime and social media mean that no matter where you are in the world you will always feel connected to home. I facetime my family once a week and this regular contact with them makes me feel as though I am not really missing anything and that I am still a part of a home life. Also having met international students from all over the world helps make the world feel smaller, because there is a comforting face in so many places. Australia no longer seems alien, I know people from Ecuador, India is now in my top three places to visit and South Africa seems like a viable travel destination. I am now so excited to explore and having contacts all over the world means that this desire to discover the world is a much more achievable dream. The world feels like my oyster and I just want to take every opportunity I can to discover it, because I know that I will never be too far away from home.

The First Day

By Issy (University of Sydney, Australia)

The First Day

Morning

After around 32 hours of travelling between time zones, at 9am local time I arrived at my Halls of Residence at the University of Sydney. With hair like a bird’s nest wrestling my heavy luggage into the building, the sight of me inspired pity in two girls that I will now forever remember as my ‘first friends’ in Sydney. They clearly recognised from experience the state I was in! After an extra sweaty check-in to my bedroom having mistaken the heating unit for air conditioning, I decided that it was time get a few of the important administrative bits and bobs out of the way so I could kickstart my new life.

Afternoon

PHONE – I didn’t manage to get my SIM card unlocked before I left the UK which delayed the process a little so get that sorted if you can – but don’t panic if you don’t manage to either – It just means I had to wait for around two days before I could purchase a new Australian SIM card.

BANK ACCOUNT – Commonwealth Bank in Australia is definitely the one to go for! Take along your passport, confirmation of enrolment and national insurance number for a smooth process – I rang my Dad at 4am English time asking him to rummage through my room at home for my old pay slips to find my national insurance number (This didn’t go down so well with him but the Aussies at the bank found it hilarious!) I suggest sorting your bank account out after you’ve sorted a SIM card as you can set up your Online Banking straight away then.

OPAL CARD – In Sydney, students are entitled to a Concession Opal Card which provides you with city travel at a much better rate than an Adult Opal Card. However, it requires an online application that I hadn’t yet completed. So, if you’re really prepared, get that sorted before you set off and use your accommodation address so that your opal card is delivered ready for your arrival! If (like me) you’re not quite as organised, I’d recommend just using an Adult Card temporarily which can be bought at most corner shops while your Concession Card gets processed – it will still be a life saver for those buses that are ‘PREPAY ONLY’.

DUVET – Taking a bus to Broadway Shopping Centre (with your swanky new Opal Card) is a great way to finish settling in. With a few different shops stocking homeware, I was able to compare prices and sort out a duvet and kitchen supplies on a budget. Even better, there is also a supermarket so you can get that fridge full all in the same trip. Make sure you take note of the size of your bed – I didn’t even know that ‘king-single’ was a size until I realised that the single sheet I had bought wasn’t going to fit!

Evening

Although the sleep-deprivation still prevailed after a power-nap, I decided to explore my Halls of Residence a bit more. It was during this jaunt that I bumped into the girls that had helped me earlier and we arranged a trip to Glebe Market (it has every stall you could possibly imagine as well as live music next to a massive picnic area) for the coming weekend – Our first of many trips to come! Despite being so tired and ready to curl up for the night, summoning up the last dregs of energy really taught me the importance of putting yourself out. Even now, I will always use the communal spaces instead of doing little tasks in my room like working or filling in my diary – coming across new people during these mundane activities is such a good way to engage with others. Who knew that writing a shopping list could spark such great conversation?!

You can’t pump your own gas in the State of New Jersey.

 

‘Just do it! Even if you don’t want to come to the UK, just do it, anywhere you go, you’ll have an incredible time I promise!’

That was me, promoting studying abroad at the Rutgers University Study Abroad fair, two weeks in to my six months stay in New Jersey. In the weeks and months leading up to my semester abroad, I was beyond petrified. I didn’t want to leave my friends behind, I was scared I wouldn’t make any new friends, the fact that I wouldn’t be old enough to drink made me feel like I was reverting back to being sixteen again and the thought of having a roommate was such an alien concept to me that it freaked me out beyond belief. These fears however, evaporated almost as soon as I stepped off the plane at JFK.

True, I did find it a little hard at first to adjust to some of the cultural differences in the US. The food is weird (Americans bleach their eggs and their attempt at cheesy chips tastes like something that Ant and Dec would force down your throat in a bush tucker trial) carrier bags in supermarkets are free ( my first trip to Walmart turned in to an anxiety inducing fiasco, with me staring in horror at the hundreds of plastic bags the cashier was throwing at me) and it is someones entire job to put petrol into people’s cars because apparently the people of New Jersey can’t be trusted to do it themselves.  But aside from that, adapting to life across the Atlantic, was far easier than I expected.

In the short time that I have spent here, I have tried to fully immerse myself in American culture. I attended a basketball game that was more like High School Musical than High School Musical itself, I watched the Superbowl (possibly the most unnecessarily theatrical performance I have ever witnessed) and I actually quite enjoy having a roommate.

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Not only has studying abroad been an amazing opportunity to embrace American culture, it has also allowed me to meet and befriend exchange students from all over the world. I celebrated Australia day, have been cooked French crepes and Spanish Omelette and I now know that Weetabix is basically valued as an Australian delicacy.

One of the main reasons that I chose to study at Rutgers was because of its close proximity to New York City, somewhere I have dreamed of visiting for my entire life. Last weekend I visited the city for the first time and it absolutely did not disappoint. Everywhere you look you feel like you’re in an iconic movie or TV show, and although you feel like you’ve seen all of the city before, there is nothing like experiencing it in real life. At sunset, we got a lift to the top of the Rockefeller centre and were met by an incredible view of the New York Skyline. No photographs could ever do the scene before us justice, although the pictures still look amazing. I’m eager to visit the city again and with the train from my university to the centre of Manhattan taking less than an hour, I could pretty much stroll through Central Park every day if I wanted to.

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With a Ski trip to Mountain Creek booked for next weekend and plans to travel the states after my final exams, I am becoming increasingly more grateful that I took the leap to apply to Study abroad and know for sure that this will be a semester that I will never forget!

CENTRAL PARK

 

Hello Umass Amherst!

“Take a step out of your comfort zone they say, that’s where the magic happens…”
I remember a girl that went abroad before me once came up to me and said : “ The best memories you will have of Manchester are the times when you are not in Manchester”,  I will never forget those words because she could not be more right about it, but then again, my views are very subjective as the experiences and memories that I make at Umass does not mean that everyones is going to feel and experience the same things as I do. I wake up each morning in Umass feeling beyond lucky to have this opportunity from Manchester University, and I am also proud of myself to have chosen to take this path of studying abroad.  Although it has only been my second week at Umass Amherst, I genuinely feel as though I have been studying here for more than two years already.  For the past one week at Umass, I attended a few organisation meetings, made a few local American friends during class room discussions and during spring rush , but also met a few exchange students from my hometown Hong Kong during the international coffee hours at Blue Wall which is held once every two weeks for international students to gather and chat amongst one another. If you do not know where Amherst is, it is basically where the famous American poet Emily Dickinson is born. If you do not read literature, fear not, Amherst is a really safe and cosy time located on the east-coast in a small town 20 minutes away from Northampton MA and a 2 and a half hours bus journey to downtown Boston (south station). I would suggest you taking the Peter Pan bus from Haigis mall which only costs about 40 dollars and is located on campus so it is very convenient. I spent last weekend auditioning for one of Umass’s Acapella group and also attended spring rush for a sorority called Delta Xi Phi multicultural sorotity. I find that greek life is such a big part of American college life here in the States, where the main philanthropy and focus of this group is doing active community services and helping out in homeless shelters which is something I am extremely passionate about. A few days ago there was also the famous Superbowl game night which is one of the biggest American football game in the nation and the two teams that competed against each other was the patriots and Los Angeles Rams (Tom Brady yay). You also have the riots after the games which were pretty intense and insane. Some people climb trees, you see toilet rolls flying across mid-air, chanting, dancing, police officers, the whole experience was really something wild and never in my life have I encountered such an event in my life before. The residential area that I am staying in is called Southwest, and it is basically the equivalent of Fallowfield in Manchester.  If you don’t know how serious American’s take football (no I don’t mean football as the English would call it, but American football thank you very much) no but seriously, they take it very seriously! SO GO PATRIOTS! ! !

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Blog I written on the plane before I got to the US

14th of January (The day of departure from Hong Kong International Airport )
Hello, readers of my blog, today is the 14th of January, I just hoped on flight CX812 to Boston, 15 hours direct flight from HK to Boston Airport… Just woke up from an incredibly odd dream but hey at least I fell asleep for a bit on the plane to regain my energy when I land in Boston. It is currently 9:22pm in Boston, slightly jet-lagged but I am incredibly excited to finally arrive to the States. The flight attendant had just announced that we will be starting a descent into Boston Logan international airport in approximately 20 minutes, despite the delay we faced earlier. This will be the first time in a long time since I have been to the US, the last time I came here to the United States was when I was 12, joined a summer school program in San Diego. Having to spend the next 5 months in Amherst Massachusetts will be a whole new chapter and a brand new experience for me.

On arrival thoughts and first impression

1. Look to your left first not to your right before you cross, the direction is different over here
2. Spanish is common
3. The PTVA buses in Amherst are free, you can also take the bus to Northampton which is very close to Walmart and target via the public transportation if you show them your student ID
4. Tipping! (Say no more)
5. The bigger, the better, all the portions, especially with the food here, are huge! But you can’t go wrong with Umass dining food because it has been voted the best college dining experience in the nation
6. It can go from 3 degrees to -20 degrees in just one night, so be prepared and geared up for the chilly cold winters during January and February (Gloves and hats are essential! ) btw, keep in mind that the temperature is measured here using fahrenheit not celcius
7. Get yourself an unlimited meal-plan (especially for someone like me who isn’t really big into cooking or is no where near close to being good at cooking, I find that it is really convenient here that the university provides dinning hall food for us so I can finally say no to takeaways from Archies, and a massive YES to Hampshire Dining hall. I would say the top two dining halls are Hampshire and Franklin, but if you have dining dollars, why not go for a nice meal at the Campus center and splurge on some baby berk burgers and fresh smoothies?

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8. Go to the activities fair and join in as many clubs and organisations as you possibly can (I am going to the spring rush event for two sororities to see what this greek life is about! unnamed-4.jpg

9. Weekdays are reserved for school work and studying. Weekends on the other-hand are when the people go out to frat parties. Unlike in the UK where people go out on most nights, here, people work hard on the weekdays and play REALLY hard on the weekends. If you have instagram, go check out : zoomass to get the latest tea on what students here are up to on the weekends. The work load I would say is pretty manageable but you definitely get more work here from your professors than you normally would over in Manchester, as I have to submit a discussion post every week and actively participate in in class discussions.

10. Active participation and in class participation counts as 15% of the overall grade ! You really get a sense of closeness with the professors and tutors here. Plus Americans really do emphasise on individualism and personal achievement, so go ahead and put yourself out there during lessons, do your daily readings and stay focused!

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Basically, as unbelievable as it sounds, I think I really found myself in the US. Anyways, I will talk to you guys and keep you guys updated very soon so this is all I have to say for now, see you all in a few weeks time!

Academic Life at Lund University

I’ve been really impressed by the Swedish university system in my time at Lund, and it has some quite big differences with what I’m used to in the UK. One of these main differences is the way the term/ semester is organised. Instead of doing modules that last for the whole term, with exams or coursework at the end, the semester is broken up into two blocks. This means that courses run for a shorter, more intense period. I found this beneficial because it means that rather than having 4 modules all running at the same time, you focus on two for each half of the semester. I think this is better for learning, as it allows you to read deeper into each topic and the information is fresh in the mind when it comes to assignments or exams.  

I’ve been taking a number of modules focusing on climate change and sustainability, which has been very interesting to learn from a Scandinavian perspective. Sweden consistently tops all the charts for lowering its emissions and investing in greening its economy. Lund University is also a leader in this field, with a whole department (with its own building!) dedicated to sustainability research. My lecturers have been professionals with decades of years both working in these sectors as well as being involved in research, which has meant the quality of education has been really good!

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Lunds beautiful main library.

I’ve also been able to take courses outside of my usual Geography programme, for example I have just started a Political Science module on the Israel Palestine conflict. This is one of the main benefits of a year abroad, you can broaden your knowledge in a way that is difficult with the busy schedule at home university.

An Ode to Rotto

Where: Rottnest Island, Western Australia.

When: November 2018 (Coming into Australian summertime, so it was hot!)

Rottnest Island a ferry ride away from Perth, is one of the ‘must see’ places I had been told to visit since I moved to Western Australia. For any of my fellow geographers, Rottnest is a sandy, low-lying island formed on a base of aeolianite limestone. Alongside Garden Island, Rotto is a remnant of Pleistocene dune ridge. The island was separated from the mainland about 7000 years ago due to sea level rise. However, human remnants have been found on the island dating back 70,000 years. The indigenous people of land known as the Noongar people, call the island Wadjemup and lived on the island before it detached from the mainland.

 The island is around 20km and we managed to explore it in a day. We hired bikes, stopping off and enjoying hidden beaches throughout the day. However, we plan to go back for a weekend and camp over-night.  The wildlife in Rottnest is what makes it so special. Extensive reefs surround the island, that you can see in the incredibly clear water as you arrive by ferry, and snorkel in the warm waters. Bottlenose dolphins and migrating humpbacks are welcome visitors of the island and the Perth canyon just off the island is one of the main habitats for blue whales in Australia.

Overall, the absolute highlight of Rottnest or as the Aussies call it Rotto. Aside from the great views, beautiful beaches, amazing snorkelling or enjoyable cycling tracks are the super friendly quokkas. These little creatures are marsupials, and like kangaroos carry their joey’s in their pouches. They are about the size of a cat and just as friendly, allowing you to approach them seemingly unfazed by humans. The island actually gets its name from the Quokka. In the 1600’s Dutch colonisers believed the Quokkas to be giant rats, and thus named the small island ‘Rotte Nest’ after the Dutch word Rattennest meaning rats nest. Rotto is one of the few areas in the world where the native quokka can be found. This is due to the exclusion of natural or introduced predators. Their only predators being snakes, who thankfully aren’t as friendly.

Known as ‘the worlds happiest animal’, Quokkas are celebrities on the island with many trying to get a quick pic with the creature.

The picture that made the Quokka famous (2012).
Roger Federer and a Quokka.
If you close one eye and squint, it looks like Michael Buble and a Quokka.

I can’t wait to go back and visit this rare and uniquely beautiful island, and hopefully meet up with some more Quokkas.

Several months back into normality

Georgi Fogarty (University of Queensland)

It’s been seven months since I waved goodbye to Brisbane and five months since I returned to sunny, sunny England (to clear up confusion the two-month gap was not all spent in transit, although the flight can feel that long – I spent this time working in Greece). The time has absolutely flown and the tan has definitely disappeared, but now I’ve just about had the chance to take a breathe since being home, it’s time to reflect on the ups and downs of returning from such an incredible experience of a year abroad.

The down sides.

Despite returning in late August when the days were long and the air was warm, writing this now in bitter January makes warm weather seem like a very, very distant memory. One of the questions I’ve been asked most since being back is ‘don’t you really miss the weather?’. Yes. Yes, I do miss the weather. Please stop reminding me about how warm I was this time last year while I’m in my draughty student house without heating.

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Almost as beautiful as Oxford Road

Another aspect I’ve not been enjoying adjusting to is regaining the academic mindset I’d built up during first and second year at Manchester. Not only did I find my course content easier last year, I also didn’t feel such extreme pressure to achieve the top possible grades due to only having to pass the year, so found myself a little more relaxed  than usual. Now coming back to my fourth and final year of university I’m finding myself having to having to mentally re-train myself to pile the pressure on, as there’s no way I can be coasting at the most important stage of my academic career so far. Don’t get me wrong, having a more relaxed year is never something you’ll hear me complain about; however having to hit the ground running again when I’d gotten used to strolling was a bit of a shock to the system.

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Back to living in the library

Finally, I never thought I’d hear myself say this but I miss my job. I spent many, many hours last year working in an extremely high-quality, high-pressure restaurant which I didn’t particularly enjoy. However, the fact that the minimum wage in Australia is twice what it is in England meant that despite the higher living cost I was living like a queen to some extent. I definitely took this for granted at the time; although I’ve been lucky enough to get my job back at the same lovely family-run restaurant I worked at during first and second year, pay-day doesn’t quite have the same thrills and it feels extremely frustrating being paid half the amount for the exact same hours.

 

The positives

Coming back from Australia definitely has not been all doom and gloom. Seeing my friends for the first time in over 14 months had to be one of the best feelings in the world. One of the things I did dislike about Brisbane was being in a completely different time zone to most of my friends – if we wanted to call, it would have to be planned in advance so we could do the maths in terms of time difference, and the internet was so poor in my house that calls were usually distorted and cut off prematurely. One thing that I’d missed so much about Manchester is having all of my friends a stone’s throw away, and this is so great to be able to experience again. Many of my friends also went on a year abroad meaning they’re now back in Manchester which is extremely lucky, and being able to properly hear about all of their experiences face to face has been incredible. Saying goodbye to all the friends I made last year was hard, don’t get me wrong, but this was made easier due to the fact that most of the people I met in Australia actually go to University in Leeds. This means if I do need someone to moan to about the cold to or take a stroll down memory lane with, they’re only an hour or so away.

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An Australia-themed reunion with friends from Brisbane in Leeds

Despite what I previously mentioned about having to pile the pressure on myself for fourth year, I quickly realised upon beginning classes again that having an extra year of knowledge has been more beneficial than I could have ever imagined. Classes I took last year have given me an entirely different perspective and background knowledge on topics involved in the modules I’m studying this year, meaning I’m far better able to form opinions and arguments. I am very aware that I’m stating the absolute obvious here and that of course an extra year of studying at university will give people an academic advantage, but I’m finding it incredibly beneficial and it’s always good to address.

Lastly, as strange as it sounds being framed as a positive point, one thing I’ve found extremely positive about being back is knowing that I only have one more year of commitment tying me to living in the UK. Having experienced living abroad has only increased my urge to live in different places and try new experiences. Although I am enjoying being back home and finishing my degree, I’m finding it so exciting knowing that this time next year I could be anywhere in the world, and having a home base and being surrounded by supportive friends and family while I explore all my options is such a good feeling. Having an open road with no set plan after summer is a little scary, but I’m definitely looking at it as although one door is closing, countless more are opening and I’m excited to get back out there.

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