Before coming to study at the University of Amsterdam I had heard that there were many differences when it came to academia, some of which I learnt before I even arrived…however I would say that it is more different that I expected and it resulted in me struggling a little at the start. Therefore I thought it would be a good idea to write a blog post about it to prepare other students who want to study here.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
I am officially back in Manchester, and back into my studies back at uni here. I thought I’d write a little blog about how it feels to be back studying in Manchester, when i’ve not been back here for quite some time!
In many ways, it feels like I never left Manchester. Memories of my time spent in Arizona almost feel like some kind of distant dream, like something that never actually happened. It’s hard to believe that a few months ago my average week looked like sunbathing by my dorms pool, preparing for a weekend away in a cool city, and of course a few classes in between all of that stuff. Now, I’m back in the North of England, where rainy days are commonplace, and there isn’t an outdoor pool in sight. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not all bad. I adore the city of Manchester, and I always have. My friends are here, my family are only a short drive away and England is simply just home, where everything makes sense and is familiar again.
However, it is hard to adjust back to life in Manchester, and life in a British university, after spending time in an American institution. The academic work in Manchester is a whole different ball game to the American way of doing things, and it is a little daunting to have to adjust to the level of reading I have here once again! Gone are my days of small intimate classes where we discuss and learn together, and everyone waits for my input just to hear my accent. I’m back into my lecture theatres of 200 people, where I frantically type on my laptop to take in all of the information that my highly-esteemed lectures throw at me. Then there’s the dissertation, the giant research project that i’m expected to embark upon soon. It’s certainly a process, to adjust back to life here again.
Irrespective of all of that however, I wouldn’t change the experiences I had abroad for anything. I learnt so much about myself, and about a new culture whilst I was away that I feel like my whole life is different now. I am now that slightly annoying friend that brings up America every chance I get, or somehow finds a way to weave it back into the conversation. Every little part of life reminds me of being in the US, and all of the experiences that I had there. I think those 6 months in Arizona will be formative for the rest of my life.
Being back in Manchester isn’t all doom and gloom in reality. I’m catching up with friends, getting back into my societies and church, and exploring this vibrant city again with a whole new appreciation for it. I had my third and final (yikes) freshers week, and made the most of that with amazing friends. Plus, I am loving my new modules this term, and am being taught by some of my favourite professors at Manchester. Ultimately, life is different, but life is good. If you’re considering studying abroad, I’d encourage you to just do it. It will be an incredible experience, it will change your life, and you won’t regret it.
This is me signing off here for the final time, thanks for joining me on this journey, I have loved documenting my experience through this blog.
With the focus on you, the traveller/student/wanderer, transitioning abroad can be tough. There is no doubt that it could be the personal journey of a lifetime. But how much do you want this adventure to be about you?
By George Davies (The University of Calgary, Canada)
Being thrusted into a world of independence and personal adventure can be daunting. One noticeable theme that developed whilst preparing for, and moving into, my year in Canada was that of feeling self-absorbed. In no way was I ungrateful for the opportunity that lay ahead on the other side of the pond. I was also prepared for my family and friends to be excited and intrigued by my upcoming adventure. Yet, it felt like the spotlight was unavoidable, and largely consumed the weeks leading up to my departure. Continue reading “A Year of Self-Indulgence?”
Emily Barnes // University of Auckland
I’m now well in to the second half of the semester here at Auckland which is strange as all my friends back in Manchester have only just started. And to be honest, whilst I have been having an amazing time here, it has made me feel a little homesick, hearing about everyone back home reuniting after summer and doing things together whilst I’m here on the other side of the world stuck writing essays and lab reports. Over the summer it was easy to push life back at Manchester to the side as I was out here having an adventure whilst they were all either working or just chilling, all dispersed across the UK. But, now everyone is reunited back in Manchester and I’m the one left out whilst they’re all starting third year it has thrown me a little. However, I think it will just take a bit of time for me to readjust to this new normal!
Feeling homesick is something that is certain to hit everyone at some point during a year abroad, however I think it’s important to remember that in general, you’re almost definitely having a more exciting, interesting and rewarding experience than you would have had back home. I’d advise trying to keep busy when you’re feeling down, organising to meet up with people and to also plan lots of things for the upcoming week so that you’ve constantly got something to look forward to. I’ve also found video calling friends from home also helps, as it makes you feel a little more involved in uni life back home. The time difference can make this pretty funny though, as last week I videoed my friends whilst they were dressed up ready to go out, yet I’d just woken up and was eating breakfast!
Anyway, I’ve had an amazing month or so out in New Zealand since I last wrote. Mid semester break has been and gone, in which I went on a week-long field trip down to Gisborne for one of my classes. Part of the reason I came here was to learn more about coastal geography as it isn’t really offered in Manchester, so to actually go out and study wave processes in the field was really cool and interesting. We spent the week out on a shore platform working with wave pressure sensors, wading in water up to our knees at times and even got chased by a lone seal one afternoon!
The second week, I flew with a couple of friends down to Christchurch in the South Island where we picked up a car and drove it back up to Auckland. This was probably my favourite week here so far as we got to see such a diverse range of different landscapes, including snow capped mountains, volcanoes, beaches and lakes – all in one country! It was also nice to chill out for a bit after an intense first half of the semester. I’ve also been on a few weekend trips out exploring the North Island – one to Taupo, an area with lots of geothermal energy and hot springs, and out to Mt Taranaki which is a huge standalone volcano in the middle of an otherwise flat area of the west coast.
These trips have made me realise just how much there is to see and do here in New Zealand and that even with a year to explore, it’s still going to be a push to see everything I want to!
Abigail Herd (University of Amsterdam, Netherlands)
The 17th September marked a month of my time in Amsterdam, a city which I am now proud to call home. Within a month of being here I have completely fallen in love with the city, country and people.
By Ruby Smith (UBC, Vancouver)
My only expectations of Vancouver were beautiful scenery and good food, something I’d gathered from my research prior to my departure. However, once I’d escaped the airport after a painfully long wait in immigration, I was desperate to see for myself what the city had to offer. I was excited to experience adulthood in a completely new environment with a new set of people. When I moved to Manchester, I knew my family and friends were a train ride away, whereas this time I really felt like someone had handed me a blank canvas and a whole new load of responsibility. After having spent the ten-hour flight from London Gatwick with one of the lads from Manchester, I felt secure that I’d already got to know someone. We had planned to stay in the same hotel for two night prior to moving into the halls on campus. After familiarising ourselves with Vancouver’s high-rise urban setting and trying our first ‘Tim Horton’ coffee (something we decided was highly overrated), I already felt like I belonged in this city. The fast pace, cosmopolitan lifestyle is something I can relate to as a Londoner, but it has a certain laid-back aspect to it that suit me well. One thing I love is the contrast between Vancouver’s multiple districts, one moment you’re in the corporation hub, overshadowed by Trump’s colossal international tower or the iconic Harbour Tower, the next moment you stumble into Gastown’s haven, welcomed by the kitsch thrift shops and eateries. Vancouver is renowned for its fantastically tall architecture. The buildings are built into the clouds and are quite breath-taking as they reflect the bright sunshine and blue skies I’ve been blessed with since my arrival.
The final move into campus filled me with apprehension as I was unsure whether living away from the city would suit me. It’s taken a good week to get used to campus-life, and at times I feel like I’m in an episode of the ‘Truman Show’. One of the things that worried me most was meeting new housemates, it felt wrong that I was having to go through the whole process of living with complete strangers again. On the first day I met two of my housemates who are from Japan. Although it’s been hard to communicate with them due to language barriers, I have enjoyed listening about their home lives and feel we will learn a lot from each other this year. In a way it’s quite nice to be thrown slightly out my comfort zone.
Over the first week I was surprised how quickly I met exchange students. One of the first days we went to a Frat party, and if I wasn’t sure enough before I can now officially confirm they are not for me. It has taken me some time to come to terms with the differences between UBC and UoM, but I’m slowly getting used to it and have met some great people (mainly Brits so far but I’m working on it). Next step for me, venturing into the wild to see what beautiful British Colombia has locked away in the mountains.