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American Academic Differences: For Dummies

By Pamilla Kang, UCSD, USA

Welcome to your guide to… academic life in America (and more specifically UCSD).

Werk werk werk 

I’d say that the main difference is the amount of work there is to hand in. For example, this quarter I have a lab report and two homework assignments to hand in every week (urgh). I also have a quiz every other week for one of my classes, which count for 40% of my final grade so they’re pretty important (urghhhhh). This means that you have to stay on top of things, and not just leave your work until your exams at the end of the semester! Although this can be really challenging, and some weeks I get quite fed up at the amount of work, I’ve found it a much better system since you learn things week by week rather than trying to cram all your revision in before your one exam…

The good old library behind some trees (btw the prison in the film Inception was based on the design of the UCSD library hahahahaa)

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Erasmus, disabilities and long-term health conditions

As a former exchange student and a student with a disability, I thought I knew all there was to know about the funding and support available to disabled students, but alas I was wrong.  Indeed, there are more options than I first thought.

When I decided I wanted to go on exchange, I was adamant I did not want to study in Europe and instead wanted to go as far away as possible, as I felt this would make the most of my time away.  Since I have been back, I have found out more about the options available in Europe, which are particularly helpful to those who feel they would be unable to study abroad due to their health condition, without the help of additional funding.  Whilst I am fortunate that my disability proved fairly unproblematic, as I didn’t have to transport equipment or copious different medications, had I realised the benefits to staying in Europe, I might have given it a chance.

What benefits?

Firstly, is the additional funding available through Erasmus+.  Not only are you entitled to the Erasmus grant, but you are also able to apply for a higher amount to help cover additional costs arising as a result of your health.  Whilst there is no absolute guarantee that you will be awarded this additional sum, it is worth considering, especially as there is no set limit of funding through this avenue.

Secondly, is ‘other funding’.  This is quite difficult to access information on but worth exploring. For some courses, it is possible to obtain funding from private bodies, notably Google have scholarships for technology-based degrees, but there will be different options available to you, depending on your course.  It is also worth contacting different societies (e.g. the Epilepsy Society) and charities to see if they are able to help. It isn’t always possible, but you may find they are able to help, especially if you are willing to promote their cause.

Thirdly, is proximity to home.  As I have already mentioned, I wanted to get as far away as possible and it is absolutely possible to do this with a disability or health condition.  This said it is worth thinking about the likelihood of problems with your health- if you are really unwell its much easier to fly home for the weekend, or for a hospital appointment if you are in Poland compared with New Zealand!

Finally, is the law (sorry, I am a law student, so it had to be said!).  Although the laws in European countries do differ, there is a greater consistency when compared to other parts of the world.  There are some clear benefits of European laws, including the prohibition of discrimination on the grounds of disability (EU Charter of Fundamental Rights) and the protection of rights of persons with disabilities (UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities).  Interestingly, the EU is currently contemplating a European Accessibility Act, which aims to increase accessibility for all, but with a particular focus on education, which could make a huge difference to those with disabilities and health conditions studying in Europe. Of course, there are many countries with disability legislation of their own and so this maybe be unproblematic, but I would really recommend having a look at the protections legislation can offer you in your desired country.  Remember, what is considered a disability in the UK may not be considered a disability in another country!

My Advice

There is definitely more to consider when applying to study abroad when you have a disability or long-term health condition, but it doesn’t make it impossible.  The greatest advice I can offer to students thinking of embarking on an exchange is to first disclose your condition to the university and more specifically the exchange office and secondly, to really consider all options.  I have friends who studied in Europe and absolutely loved their time there- it doesn’t really matter where you go, it is what you do with your time that will shape your exchange.



Christmas in Whistler & End of Semester 1 Reflections…

By Uschi, Simon Fraser University, Canada.

The end of December/ beginning of Jan has been crazy busy with exams, moving house, going skiing in Whistler, saying goodbye to various friends leaving Canada, and starting the new semester. But I’ve finally got a bit of a lull and thought I’d update everyone on my news, as well as offer some reflections on the end of the first semester and how the last four months in Vancouver have gone.

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Going Home for Christmas

Snow doggo
Snow Doggo

When you study abroad for a year, going home for Christmas isn’t as simple as it normally is. Despite the Manchester to London train being expensive, flights to and from America do actually manage to top that, and so whether you stay abroad or go home is a question that needs to be asked.

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My first month in Singapore

People were often quite surprised to hear me say that I was going to be studying in Singapore. Having only met a very small handful of people from Manchester who were even going anywhere else in Asia, I was apprehensive myself before I left. It occurred to me that maybe I had made the wrong decision deciding to go somewhere so completely different from the UK, while others seemed to all be going to the slightly more familiar USA, Canada or Australia. Four weeks down the line it is safe to say that I definitely picked the opposite place from Manchester, but it was also definitely the right decision.

I chose to study in Singapore mostly for the ability to easily travel around South East Asia. However, being here has made me realise that there is a lot more to see in Singapore than I had originally thought. During the week I had before lectures started, I managed to see the majority of the main sights of Singapore. While the famous Gardens by the Bay and the Marina Bay Sands are both magnificent, my favourite part of Singapore so far is in fact the little cultural hub of Little India. The first time we went was on one of the few rainy days, but this was nevertheless brightened by the intense mass of flowers and garlands that are scattered throughout the markets here. Walking through one of the main markets, you are immediately bombarded with the sights, smells and colours of different fruits and flowers that surround women in a variety of beautiful saris and other Indian style dresses.

Despite this, the actual campus of the university was not quite what I expected. Through being a campus university it seems to me more like how I would imagine an American High School than a university. For one, all the local students are extremely dedicated to both the university and their halls. The majority of them walk around in university t-shirts and I’ve seen and heard some singing their hall anthems while walking through university- this is obviously not something you see in Manchester. At times the campus has definitely felt claustrophobic, living and working in the same place throughout the week, but ultimately I’ve accepted this as a form of motivation to work during the week, allowing myself to make the most of the weekends.

The most exciting part about being in Singapore has to be the travelling that I have done and that I plan to do. Luckily for me, I found a piece of home in a girl from Newcastle University who I met on my first day at NUS. Both of us are very keen on travelling and in the past four weeks have managed to go to both an Indonesian island called Bintan and Penang in Malaysia. The highlight of both of these must be the 2 hour hike we did in Penang National Park that took us to beaches named ‘Monkey Beach’ and ‘Turtle Beach’. Although there weren’t monkeys or turtles actually on either of the beaches, there were an abundance of monkeys especially in the nature surrounded them. Turtle beach in particular was beautifully quiet with pristine white beaches and a pearly blue sea. However, it was the startling backdrop of the tropical jungle that surrounds the beach, that set the place apart from anywhere I have been to before. It was honestly breathtaking and almost scary looking out at the expanse of sea ahead of you only to look back to the tremendous and almost oppressive jungle behind.

What I love most about Singapore is it’s collaborative individuality. It has no single point of reference which is what makes it so unique. Within any single area in Singapore there is a bit of India, a bit of China, a bit of Malaysia, even a bit of London in the skyscrapers. Yet it still manages to hold its own within its amass of culture. The skyscrapers are that bit more clean than in London, the Indian food places and shops seem to be that bit more organised than they would be in India and overall Singapore has managed to create it’s own distinct identity within the bundle of cultures that have established themselves.

The ‘Cloud Forest’ (a part of     Gardens by the Bay)
A beach in Bintan Indonesia

Two Weeks in Copenhagen

Alice Logan, English Literature and American Studies, Univeristy of Copenhagen

After just two weeks in Copenhagen, I already feel at home in this beautiful city and am slowly acclimatising to the depths of Danish winter.   I defy anyone to not have positive first impressions of this incredible city.  Copenhagen boasts beautiful architecture, both modern and Renaissance, canals to rival Amsterdam, a multitude of ornate gardens and the most beautiful harbour that’s so colourful it can cheer you up even when the sky is grey (which it is 90% of the time).


Candid Nyhavn photo as modelled by my parents

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North Vietnam by motorbike

By Monika Kvassheim, National University of Singapore

My favourite trip last semester was motorbiking from Hanoi to Sapa in Vietnam during recess week. Warning, recess week at NUS is like reading week in Manchester, except in Manchester it’s treated like a recess week and at NUS it’s actually treated like a reading week. After a night train from Sapa to Hanoi and flight to Singapore on Sunday I had to take a midterm 8 am on Monday, worth it, but challenging.

Hanoi is one of my favourite Asian cities, the old quarter is great and there are terraces like this everywhere. The Bánh Mi is amazing.

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Weekend trip to Mount Kinabalu

By Monika Kvassheim, National University of Singapore

Mount Kinabalu is in the Malaysian part of Borneo. It is 4095 meters above sea level and really really cool. It’s a two day climb and you have to join a group with a guide, since it’s very regulated. They only let 130 people up there per day, which I think is part of what keeps it nice. I went with two friends one of the weekends last semester. We started the weekend early and flew to Kota Kinabalu Thursday afternoon and Friday morning we were picked up and taken to the start of the trek.


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First semester reflections and a road trip

After I had got back from Texas, which was a trip to celebrate the end of my exams, I arrived back just in time to celebrate Christmas here in Phoenix. This was a good chance to spend time with the new friends I have made in my first semester both from the US and abroad. All in all I cannot believe how fast the last few months have gone, and it is weird to think that I am already past hallway through my year abroad. This is a good chance to reflect on my first semester, as there are a lot of key differences between ASU and the University of Manchester. I think the largest is how much more intense the learning style is here compared to at Manchester, this is most apparent in the form of exams which I must take every couple of weeks here whereas at Manchester they are only at the end of the semester usually, which is the case with Geography anyway. Another big difference is that the lectures are usually split over two a week rather than one, and there is greater interaction in the lectures, with participation actively encouraged and even given extra credit in some classes. These are some of the differences I wasn’t aware of when I first came here, although I knew that the weather here was going to be a lot better than in Manchester, it was so warm I got to spend Christmas Day round the pool!

Antelope Canyon

After Christmas I was lucky that my parents flew in to visit me from the UK on New Year’s Day. Las Vegas was one of the places they had always wanted to go and so we arranged to meet there, as it is only a quick 45 minute flight from me. After spending a few days with them there, we organized a road trip to get back to Phoenix as my classes started the following week. This road trip started at Las Vegas, and then we crossed into Arizona at the Hoover Dam and took a tour of the dam and power-plant. We then went to the Grand Canyon West Rim, and did the sky-walk there, and then went to the South rim which I think it the best place to go to see the Grand Canyon. We then went up north to Horseshoe Bend and the Lower Antelope Canyon near Page, before crossing into Utah to go to Monument Valley, which is where a lot of the old western films where shot. On the way back down to Phoenix we then went stayed in Winslow and went to the meteor crater there, which is the oldest proven meteor crater on earth. My parents then stayed an extra week in Scottsdale in the sun before leaving back for the UK, while for me classes started for my second and final semester here at ASU.

Monument Valley

Texas at Christmas

I had decided before my year abroad that I wasn’t going to come home at Christmas and instead commit to the full year and make the most of the time by seeing more of the US. To celebrate the conclusion of my first semester here at ASU I decided to take a trip to Texas, as it was another place that I had always wanted to go.  The flight from Phoenix to Dallas only took a couple of hours, most of which I spent asleep as it was during the night, and I landed at 6am local time, as Texas is an hour in front of Arizona. After a couple of hours in the airport catching up on my rest, I took a bus to the railway station and then the train to Fort Worth, which was the first stop on the trip. At Fort Worth, which was traditionally the gateway to the west, I went to the Stockyards and Cowboy Museum, and also saw a cattle drive down the main street with Texas Longhorn cattle.


Dallas was the next place I visited, which is where JFK was assassinated. At the Deeley Plaza, where it happened, a guide gave me information on the site and how the events unfolded. Just outside of Dallas I also visited Southfork Ranch, which is where the famous TV show Dallas was filmed, although I haven’t seen the show myself the tour was still interesting, and I am glad that I spent an afternoon there. After Dallas it was a short two hour bus ride to Austin, which is the state capital of Texas as well as the live music capital of the world. I visited the LBJ Presidential Library and Museum as well as the State Capitol Building, which is where I had a guided tour which took me through the history of the building and also Texas itself.


My final stop on my Texas trip was San Antonio. Despite arriving in the rain, this my favorite place which I visited as this is where the Alamo is, the site of the famous last stand at the Alamo. Taking place in 1836, it was one of the first battles for Texas Independence from Mexico and is famous as the Texans held out for 13 days despite being vastly outnumbered. As well as visiting the Alamo I also went to the Rainforest Café at San Antonio, which is located on the Riverwalk, a winding canal in the middle of the city with bars and restaurants on either side. My Texas trip ended with a night in the San Antonio International Airport, as my flight was cancelled due to a power outage at the Atlanta Airport where the plane was coming from. The next available flight was 6 am when I was originally meant to fly at 9pm, which all in all ended quite an eventful Christmas trip to Texas!


Fall Break

My Fall break in October was the first time that I didn’t have classes since the semester began all the way back in August. Although It was only four nights, as ASU doesn’t give a full week because it splits it up with the later Thanksgiving break, I decided to go somewhere that I had always wanted to go, the San Diego Zoo. Instead of just going straight to San Diego, I thought that it would be a good idea while I was in California to visit LA, as they are only a two hour bus ride apart. Because LA is so much bigger and there is so much to do there, I decided to split my time into two nights in LA and one in San Diego, however with the travel times included it worked out to be two full days in each, as I was making use of the Greyhound Bus system and travelling through the night.

santa monica

My trip started at the Phoenix Greyhound bus station to get the 1am bus to LA, however I ended up spending the night in the station with my fellow passengers as the bus was delayed by 6 hours as they couldn’t find the driver! Despite that start the eight-hour bus ride was uneventful as the scenery was mostly desert until we reached the urban sprawl of LA. Arriving in the early afternoon, I used the subway to get to Hollywood where my hostel for the next two nights was. The rest of the day was then spent along Hollywood Blvd. The next day was spent in Hollywood, climbing up Mount Hollywood to the Griffith Observatory to get a good view of the Hollywood sign, walking along the beach and pier at Santa Monica, which is where route 66 ends, and then looking round Beverly Hills and Rodeo Dr.

uss midway

The next morning involved the two hours bus ride from LA to San Diego down the Californian coast. Once I arrived at San Diego I decided to go first to the USS Midway Museum, which is a retired aircraft carrier used in the Vietnam War and Operation Desert Storm. On the ship there is also decommissioned fighter-jets, bombers and helicopters that had been used all the way since World War Two. The final day of my Fall Break trip was then spent at the San Diego Zoo, and because my bus ride back to Phoenix was late that evening, I decided to get up early and make it to the zoo for the opening time, so that I could make it a full day there. Named the best zoo in the world by TripAdvisor, it has over 600 rare and endangered species and 3,500 animals altogether, and so even though I was there all day I probably didn’t get to see everything! Overall my favorite animal that I saw was the Giant Panda, and it capped off a great way to spend my Fall break.

San Diego Zoo

Letting Go of Expectations

Before I came to Guelph I have to admit I was apprehensive about what kind of experience I was going to have. I love living in Manchester for the city it is: the arts, music, culture and people. Guelph is much smaller, and I would be living on campus compared to being in Fallowfield in Manchester. Not least of my worries was the nauseating idea of moving back into halls after leaving Oak House behind in second year!


I wish I could tell past myself to shut down all those worries. I spent so long concerned about comparing the two universities that I forgot that two completely different things could be just as good as each other. Living on campus has been the most amazing experience so far. Not only can I walk through the snow to get to class instead of catching an overfilled magic bus, I am constantly surrounded by things to do. Every single person I have met has been incredibly welcoming and it has made it so much easier to settle in than expected. There really is a true sense of community at Guelph University, with people of all ages, backgrounds and nationalities mixing. One of my favourite moments so far has been sitting round a table eating dinner with people from five different countries, and realising how easily we got on immediately.

I haven’t explored the city itself much yet, but what I have seen so far I love. It is much smaller than Manchester, yes, but I am glad it is small because it means I will be able to know the city completely by the time I leave, as well as having the opportunity to travel to other places without missing out on too much. I am glad now that I chose to come to Guelph, as it has provided me with almost the exact opposite university experience to Manchester and I am enjoying it just as much. I would encourage anyone going on exchange to push themselves to have as different an experience as they possibly can – because why come on exchange to live the same life as you do back home?

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I am fortunate to be surrounded by so many other exchange students who are as enthusiastic as I am and willing to try any and all experiences. Already we have visited Toronto and Niagara Falls, and we have so many trips organised for the future. Whether it is going to ‘The Frosty Mug’ (The annual Varsity Ice Hockey game), eating poutine or celebrating Australia Day, I am learning about so many different cultures and traditions and loving every single second. I guess what I am trying to say in the most roundabout way, is that you have to let go of any expectations when studying abroad. Be prepared for ups and downs, yes, but I prepared myself for too many downs, and so far I haven’t had a single one.

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Niagara Falls lit up at night!