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The Highs and Lows of Starting Second Semester

By Lauren Howie, The University of Melbourne

After an incredible 4 months off uni, the stress of essay deadlines, 9ams and rushed breakfasts has become a strange and distant memory.

Before coming out to study abroad I was anxious about my second semester. Would I have friends staying for the whole year? Would I need to find a new house? Would I be ready to go home? 

Continue reading “The Highs and Lows of Starting Second Semester”

Uppsala Universitet: ‘run by students, for students’

In my first week here, a pair of Swedish students gave the University of Uppsala a glowing endorsement. They told me that Uppsala, with 40,000 strong student population, was a University ‘run by students, for students’

By Lucca Di Virgilio, Uppsala University, Sweden.

The Carolina Building. This is the main library of Uppsala University which sits on a hill overlooking the city.

In my first week here, a pair of Swedish students gave the University of Uppsala a glowing endorsement. They told me that Uppsala, with 40,000 strong student population, was a University ‘run by students, for students’.

After an agonising process of scrutinising this claim, I must say, begrudgingly, it would be misleading to characterise the Univerity of Uppsala as anything other than a sort of student-utopia with the phrase ‘run by students, for students’ it’s unofficial motto.

In this University town, that is close enough to Stockholm to visit at the drop of a hat, it is clear to me that the student always comes first. In the two subsections that follow I will show how when it comes to student-wellbeing Sweden has got it right.

Social Life

The postulations of the snus-taking Swedes have particular resonance when it comes to Uppsala’s social life.

In place of having societies, Uppsala University has student-run nations instead which, in exchange for a small fee, offer an eclectic range of sporting, musical and artistic pursuits. The nations are different sizes, from the towering and impersonal Stockholms nation and Västmanlands-Dala nation to the smaller yet friendlier Kalmar nation of which I’m a member. Although students stopped being required by law to join a nation in 2010, joining a nation offers myriad benefits. Not least, day-to-day entrance to nation bars, cafes and restaurants which are heavily discounted and weekly club nights. Being a member of a nation grants access to any nation-run activity across campus and allows international students to participate in the fabled Gasques which are traditional dinner parties culminating in Swedish hymns and dances.

Though the nations were created as homes-away-from-home for students coming from different parts of Sweden historically, their exclusivity has broken down with age. Now they have become a quintessential part of Swedish university culture which attracts thousands of international students each year. Indeed, students breathe the life and soul into the nation’s by working as part of the administrative or catering team where they can accrue points which can be used to apply for free residence at the nations. Though work at the nations is usually on a volunteer basis, consistent contritution to the nation opens the door for student to friendships and housing opportunities in their final year.

Naturally, the larger nations offer a greater range of events job opportunities and scholarship prospects as the recipients of most funding, nonetheless for the home-sick mancunian, the smaller ‘alternative’ nations have the most to offer in the way of concerts, jazz-nights and music sharing meet-ups.

As you’d expect the club nights in a small Swedish city are a far-cry from the broad palate offered in Manchester, most of the nation’s club nights feature the same dance-floor filling tracks you’d expect to hear on Capital FM. Nonethless, there is a indefinable charm to the way students flock to the clubs, in freezing cold or blistering wind, on any day of the week when they’d probably have a much more enjoyable time listening to the radio at home. Perhaps, it is the student-run ethos of the club nights which inspires students to come out in droves?

Student accomodation in Uppsala adds another dimension to the social life at the finger tips of students. By far the largest and most popular student area is Flogsta, a suburb that is the same distance from campus as Fallowfield is from the SU. The complex itself is a thriving community of students who live in twelve person flats in seven storey blocks. Though aesthetically they are strikingly similar to Owens Park Tower, these flats are all self-catered, come equipped with an ensuite and cost a little over 4300 SEK (£327) a month with heating included. The fact that these flats are not owned outright by the University means that the building-complex also plays host to families who rent privately from the landlord.

Flogsta on a cold morning.

The international presence in Flogsta is overwhelming and each flat is a petri-dish of cultures and nationalities. In my own, there are undergrads and postgrads from Mozambique, Germany and Japan to name a few. The heterogeneity of the accomodation offers the opportunity to educate yourself about the different cultures, try different cuisines and make contacts all over the globe.

The mix of cultures, absence of any security presence and size of the student population creates wild possibilities which I hope to go into greater detail about in later posts. But, perhaps the most apt example of the solidarity and freedom of expression found in Uppsala is the Flogsta scream, everyday at 10pm students in the Flogsta flats join in arms to scream from their windows and balconies to allieviate the pressure of academic life, which, conveniently, I will discuss now.

Academic Life

Freedom is as much of a factor in the academic arena as it is in the social arena of Uppsala University. Each department is devolved and has complete control over its syllabus. The autonomy of departments extends to the architectural design of the university, with each department having its own building with cafes, libraries and study spaces for students. Last year, 29% of the University’s profits of $75 million USD were reinvested into the improvement of undergrad and postgrad courses taught in each department. Clearly, the upkeep of the academic environment is high up on the university’s list of priorities.

For Humanities, Arts and Languages, the course structure is vastly different from Manchester. As oppose to studying three modules per semester, students undertake generally a module each month or two comprising 7.5 or 15 credits. And attend one to three 2-hour lectures a week plus the occasional non-compusory seminar. Though this system is not without its qualms, it nonetheless allows for very independent learning which affords students the time adjust to Sweden and time to join in at the Nations.

Student well-being is also at the heart of the University examination system since students can retake exams if they fail or miss the first exam they can retake without penalty. Though this system trades off the competitive edge UK University students attain by having one proper shot at a good grade, it mitigates the liklihood a student is having an ‘off’ day when exam season rolls around. Perhaps this is only possible due to the simplistic grading system used in Uppsala consisting of Pass/Fail and Pass with Distinction. Swedish exams are traditionally an hour or two longer than UK exams too, which gives students room to breath in a claustrophobic exam hall

Bike racks are commonplace across the city. Pictured here is one outside of Uppsala Central Station.

The academic life of any student in Uppsala would not be complete without a second-hand bike. Uppsala certainly does not break the mold of the Netherlands and Scandanavian cycling culture. The ubiquity of cycling lanes and bike racks throughout the city makes buying a bike seem like a prequisite for fully embracing the student life. Bikes are easy and affordable to buy from one of the many second-hand bike shops in Uppsala or the Flogsta facebook page between 600-1000 SEK. And even easier to maintain as most cycling shops offer free repairs and servicing.

In light of these points, it is clear that the centrality of student well-being to Uppsala University is as clear as the Swedish sky.

On-arrival thoughts & first impressions of Rutgers and New Jersey – Is this it?

By Noor Namutebi (Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, USA).

Driving from Newark Airport to my accommodation (Easton Avenue apartments) was surreal as 1. I was extremely sleep deprived 2. This was the first time I had ever stepped foot in the USA and it was, for lack of a better word, crazy. The drive was not entirely representative of what my university area would look like, as it was mostly the outskirts, but I got incredibly excited when every 10 minutes we would pass a well-known American food chain (like Olive Garden).

New Brunswick

Growing up in the hustle and bustle of London has skewed my ideas of what a ‘city’ entails, I admit. I would describe (the very little I have seen of) New Brunswick more as a college town. Imagine if the main university campus was in Fallowfield, almost. New Brunswick is one of three, big university campuses of Rutgers, the others being Newark and Camden, with Newark being the more metropolitan campus I believe (and where the airport is). What I didn’t entirely grasp before I came was that New Brunswick was split into another 5 campuses. I live on College Avenue which is considered quite social (it has the frats, bars, if you’re 21, and has the train station which is one direct train into New York) but there are others including Livingston, where I have two out of four of my classes. There is a free shuttle bus system which operates between the campuses and has peak and quiet periods depending on the time or weather. Whereas this was difficult to get used to at the beginning, as societies were are held on different campuses and I was making friends who did not live on my campus, it can be quite refreshing. The other campuses are way greener and calming than the hurry of College Avenue and therefore I would recommend either taking a class on another campus or joining a society based there, for a change in scenery and to get out of the bubble that can come with living so close to your classes. Plus, the bus to/from Livingston passes by the Raritan river which goes through New Jersey so sometimes, if you’re on it at the right time, you can get a good view of the sunset on the journey home and make people on Snapchat jealous.

The LX bus on a good day.

Having a roommate

The view from my apartment (it looks better at night).

Having a roommate is not a thing at all in the UK so the idea of having one in a completely foreign country was quite daunting, especially after hearing horror stories online. My roommate, luckily, is lovely and easy to get along with but the first couple days was quite an adjustment. It felt like someone kept walking into and sleeping in my room but I couldn’t do anything about it because they paid half the rent. However, it feels more normal over time and when she goes home at the weekend the room feels unusually empty and I wonder how I used to spend extended amounts of time in my room alone before!

Education

Goodbye to lectures and seminars which now come under the umbrella of one ‘class’. One interesting thing which I found out upon arrival and going over the syllabus of each of my classes is that active participation is a big deal in America. In one of my classes, up to a third of my overall grade is based on ‘participation’ which includes attendance and punctuality as well as vocalising your opinion in front of your peers. This has been good so far as not only does it absolutely force you to go to every class unless you are on your actual deathbed, it forces you to think about the topic at hand more, in order to ask questions or say something smart.

Side note: Speaking with a British accent in front of an all-American class kind of feels like you’re obliged to say something interesting because they’re already paying close attention to the uncommon sound.

Walmart

I have dedicated a whole section to Walmart because I genuinely think a whole book could be written about how it is an allegory for the whole United States.

“Voted New Jersey’s #1”?

At the end of my orientation day they had ushered us into a coach to go to a retail park to shop for some essentials as it was impossible to walk to any of the bigger supermarket chains. Everyone automatically flocked to Walmart as it is, truly, one of the biggest cultural exports of the country. The coach driver told everyone to come back to be picked up in either an hour or an hour and a half. I had written a shopping list so I thought I would be in and out in 30 minutes, at a push. Really, how am I going to fill an hour? I thought naively.

From the moment I entered, my senses were ambushed. Not only did it have the size and feel of an industrial factory as well as tens of people running around, there was a McDonald’s inside to your right as soon as you entered. That was the first time I had truly felt like I was in America.

I walked around the store approximately 5 times trying to balance buying food as well as necessary things I needed for my apartment. Table mirror? Check. Tortillas? Check. However, I was not prepared at the sheer amount of choice that was presented to me. In the UK, when going to buy kidney beans at Tesco, for example, I expect there to be maximum of three, maybe four, options. In Walmart, and the country which is the number one defender of free market capitalism, there were at least 20 (I wish I was exaggerating).

A film about my first week in America.

I had so many ideas for healthy dishes which I had made at Manchester (in cooperation with Lidl) and would hopefully prevent me from gaining the dreaded ‘freshman fifteen’ or supersizing myself. However, these ideas suddenly seemed so drastically distant when the news dropped that this Walmart had. No. Vegetables. They had drawn me in with the beans but apart from those that were in a can, vegetables were not present in the building. I looked in shock at the worker who informed me that you had to go to a ‘Super Walmart’ for that rare, rare produce. Why is it the vegetables, and not the Mcdonald’s or the film section or the clothes section, or the thirty different ice creams, which makes a Walmart ‘Super’? I thought to myself. Oh America.

The view I grind for, we are not the same.

I eventually found vegetables in a local Hispanic supermarket and an Aldi nearby but I will never forget that Walmart experience, a cautionary tale which I tell every American when they ask me how my experience has been so far. And now I pass it on to you, it’s my first amendment duty.

México 101: All of the essentials (that I can think of) for moving to this beautiful place.

VISA

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• In the UK: You’ll need to organise this through the Mexican embassy (all information can be found online) and make a trip to London to bring all your documentation. There they will then take your passport and hold on to it for a few days to process all your documents and put a temporary student visa inside.

• On the flight: you will be handed a migration form so just follow the instructions and make sure you fill out the bottom part aswell (which is a repeat of the same information because one of them is your copy)

• Arrival in mexico city: in immigration just hand them the migration form and your passport, they will then give you back one part of it which you MUST KEEP SAFE and hand to UDLAP when required.

• In terms of getting your temporary residence card, udlap will then sort everything. In your induction you’ll be told at what point to bring your immigration form and then don’t worry about how close to the 30 day limit it appears, the student services will sort all the paperwork for you and even drive you to the embassy, just keep an eye on your student email for updates.

FLIGHTS

• Flying to mexico city is most likely much cheaper (and direct) than flying to the nearest airport, Puebla. You can then get a coach directly to Cholula (more on that in the transport section)

• Aeromexico (is usually the cheapest but skyscanner.com is a really good website to compare flights and is great for internal ones. (P.s. the baggage policy for Aeromexico is confusing but to make the most of it, take a big suitcase in the hold, but also a small one in the cabin as well as a backpack in the cabin).

MONEY

• The currency is mexican pesos (mxn) and for ease of conversion i always approximate $25 =£1, although obviously this may change

• I would recommend getting either a Monzo or Revolut card while you’re in the UK- they have lower charges for withdrawing cash then most major cards, and the apps are really useful for managing money or instantly seeing the conversion of what you’ve bought/ withdrawn. However, the fact is that for either of these cards you will go over your £200 limit/month of free withdrawals in another currency, however after that limit, the charges are not extortionate and I just consider it as a foreigners tax.

• Once you’re there: try to use BBVM and Santander cashpoints as they seem to charge the least to withdraw and you can also often select if you want to withdraw the pesos in terms of pounds from your account to avoid charges.

HOUSING

The majority of international students live in big shared houses. I would strongly recommend this as it’s super sociable, especially since houses are often linked, and its a great way to meet people from all over the world as well as Mexicans

If you choose to live in halls, you are much more likely to live with all Mexcian students (great for Spanish) however you will be subject to the strict rules such as in terms of having guests in your room, curfews, noise restrictions etc..

Good options for international houses include:

• Casa Roja: my home. Luis the landlord is super sweet amd the rent is really good value (i pay 3800 for a big double room en suite) you can enquire directly from their instagram (casaroja.housingcholula) page, and will most likely be speaking to someone living there currently who will then pass on the whatsapp of Luis.

• Casa Naranja: the landlord Ray is lots of fun and super friendly. He is also the boss of Cholula Capital, a student travel company, and runs a number of trips during the semester https://www.facebook.com/casanaranjahousing/

• Another housing company, which admittedly I am less familiar with, is ‘changapachanga’ and other houses such as casa condor, and casa olimpus, which can be found online. All residences thus far are part of an event called ‘Thirsty Thurs Preocupeo’: the houses take turns to host parties every Thursday which are really popular with international students and open to all students.

• Casa Real houses https://www.facebook.com/Casa-Real-587225684727415/: here you will find a number of houses run by the legendary Oswaldo, owner of a rival travel group, travels life. Most of these houses are all in a little community right by UDLAP. The Casas Reales also have their shares of events, ‘Peda Reales’: ticketed house parties with themed music rooms, organised every month or so, and of course which are free for residents to attend.

MOBILE/ INTERNET

I would recommend you buy a ‘Telcel’ pay as you go sim once you arrive (a quick search on google maps should show you where your nearest is, often inside corner shops – i would advise buying it once you reach Puebla as otherwise you will have a foreign state’s area code which may make it confusing for when you add Mexican contacts)

You can then choose how you want to top up your phone, and can do this in store but i find it much more convenient to do through this link: pqtmex.telcel.com. You can choose different packets including calls and texts if you wish, but i usually prefer to just pick the ‘internet amigo’ as almost all your communication in mexico will be through whatsapp (‘por whats’), and these packets also mostly include unlimited social medias -although beware this does not include online calls so i try and save these for wifi. I usually by the £300 of 3.5MB for 33 days top up and the internet usually lasts me, as long as i’m careful.

WATER

In short, don’t drink it – from the tap. I’ve had absolutely no problems using it to brush my teeth, wash dishes, and for hot drinks or cooking food when fully boiled. For your drinking water, you’ll be buying large tanks of water. If you have a shop super close, as in Casa Roja where we have one downstairs, you can just go and get it as and when. Otherwise, it’s about equal price (35 pesos) to organise a drop off, whereby within a 2 hour selected time frame they will carry the water right to your room. You’ll also want to buy a pump (from Walmart or Bodega) to put in the top because pouring straight from that full bottle is nigh impossible. Whatever form you buy it, make sure to save your empty plastic tank and swap it for your new one with a big discount. You’ll be saving money and the planet.

TRAVEL

Coaches: for long distances, i.e. from the airport at cdmx to cholula, i would recommend Estrella Roja or ADO coaches. You can book both of them from your phone or at the desks in airports and bus stations and they will take you safely and comfortably. The only issue mind is that they have a great habit of not shouting out the stops, so its good to keep an eye on google maps if you’re not sure, or as we did in on our coach from the airport to cholula, get off when you realise you’re the only ones still sat on the coach.

Taxis: i would highly recommend uber. It’a super cheap, you have an online trace of where you are and is really convenient. However, as with any countries, you hear one or two stories of people having strange drivers, so best not to travel alone if it can be avoided (although i have always felt super comfortable when alone in ubers here). Didi is a Chinese version of uber which often works out cheaper but requires you to pay in cash, and is useful for areas such as Yucatan (i.e. cancun) where they don’t have uber. Avoid hailing taxis on the street, as a foreigner you will most likely be ripped off and its less secure. If you have to take a taxi from the street, in mexico city only take the official pink taxis, and in other areas try and book a taxi from inside a bus or coach station where you can prepay.

Blahblah: this is an app for sharing a person’s car who is already taking the journey you wish to make. I have had a good experience with it so far, and the driver has to present valid documentation. You can also personalise your profile to include things such as whether you’re comfortable with pets or how talkative you are during journeys – although it appears that our ‘rarely speak’ election was largely ignored by our very talkative driver.

Hire cars: can be very convenient and cost effective when travelling with a group. Just keep in mind that there will be additional charges per day for any driver under 25, and also that the deposit is required on the credit card of a driver, although we have found on one occasion that Monzo, although a debit card, has worked for this purpose.

BUYING THE ESSENTIALS

For fruit and veg there are lots of independent fruterias where you pay based on weight. Then most other essentials bread, milk, simple toiletries etc can be found in little independent corner shops or in oxxo and superroler (small chain stores). For everything and anything else there’s always a walmart, bodega or a soriana not too far away.

The Manc Student: An Unexpected Journey (post-uni travelling)

…A brief account of my journey to Middle Earth (aka. New Zealand, aka. land of beautiful mountains)…

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Milford Sound, New Zealand

Most study abroad students, it seems, save at least a few weeks post-exams (after the official study abroad period) to travel. And why not! Having travelled so far to a place like Australia, NZ was temptation too great to resist.

One of my best friends from primary school, Joel, lived in Wellington at the time I studied abroad, so before i’d even left for Australia we planned a grand tour of NZ south island for the weeks after my time at UQ had finished. We arranged the trip with a company called kiwi tours, and before I knew it UQ exams had finished and I was flying out to Wellington to see Joel again. It was pretty crazy to re-unite – I hadn’t seen him for 3 years! We hung out for a bit in Wellington then took the ferry to south island to start the trip. At the beginning it wasn’t all fun, because transitioning from lovely sunny Australia at the near height of summer to the mild NZ temperature of 15 degrees was terrible. I remember curling up in the corner of the ferry wearing 4 jumpers and my woolly hat, just shivering all the way to south island.

We started in a little coastal town called Picton where we boarded the kiwi tours coach, which travelled clockwise around the coast of the island for 2 weeks. In a nutshell the trip was mostly jumping between hostels in coastal towns and cities. At each stop there would be loads of different things to do. To name a few, me and Joel ended up surfing on the west coast, kayaking in big glacial lakes, bungie jumping the world famous Nevis bungie jump, went mountain biking and partied with loads of other backpackers we met along the way. Bye bye leftover money 🙂

One of the most notable sights on the trip was Milford Sound, a famous fiord on the west coast of south island with the most incredible views. If you are ever fortunate enough to find yourself in New Zealand, this is a sight you shouldn’t miss (Also, if you didn’t already know, most of the Lord of the Rings was filmed in New Zealand, and i’m a massive Tolkien nerd. I was insanely excited to visit places like the southern alps, aka. misty mountains in the LotR flms, which were just as notable as Milford Sound).

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Nevis Bungy, Christchurch, New Zealand

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Kayaking in the trendy coats they made us wear

Hostel living was tough but rewarding. You have to cook your own dinners in most hostels, meaning a quick shop at the nearest supermarket at each stop. The diet was mostly pasta and snacks like crackers. At one point we came across a fruit market which sold Joel a massive 8kg sack of apples for 7 dollars, so that kept us going for a bit too. The sleeping situation in hostels also takes some getting used to. You could be sharing a dorm with 4 people in one place and 20 people in the next, and alarms will be blaring from 4 am. But it’s all worth it because you meet some amazing characters in these places, and the freedom of hostel living is what backpacker culture relies on.

After the 2 weeks exploring the south we travelled back to where Joel was based on north island, Palmerston north. I stayed with the family Joel was living with, who graciously hosted this random smelly English backpacker for a week. It just so happened that during my stay there, the family were hosting a wedding ceremony! It was an honour to be a part of the wedding, which involved features of Māori culture, elements of which are still deeply rooted in the life of many New Zealanders and which remains a deeply loved cultural heritage.

Unfortunately I didn’t have time to explore much of north island before my return trip to the UK, but it’s on my future travel plans list! The north island is known to be the more culturally rich of the two islands, whereas south island is where most of the famous natural sites and mountain ranges are. If you visit I would recommend spending at least 2 weeks on each island to experience the minimal amount of what there is to see in NZ. For such a small country, it is so rich in new experiences. So if you have time post-studies, don’t rush off back home if you don’t have to! Experience the country you’re in and anything else you want to see nearby without the stress of university.

 

Uni life at SFU- academic differences

I’m well into my second semester at SFU, and haven’t reflected in a while. I’m starting to feel like this is my permanent life now- I’m in the swing of things and I know how things work around here… I’m no longer hyper-aware of my British accent and don’t jump at the sound of a Canadian one anymore haha. Things seem to be going very fast, so I wanted to pause and look back at some of the academic/general uni-life differences between SFU and UoM – hopefully this will be useful to future exchange students and will give you a little heads up as to what to expect!

‘School’, ‘Class’ and ‘Prof’ – the lingo is just like in the movies

This threw me off quite a bit at the start, but these words get thrown around a lot. Apparently, Canadians don’t distinguish between ‘school’ and ‘uni’- it’s all just ‘school’, which I would say is somewhat reflected in the general atmosphere on campus. SFU does feel a little more like school and I’m not sure why…

When chatting to your Canadian classmates about which ‘classes’ you’re taking, be prepared to blurt out the full course-code, otherwise they’ll throw you a puzzled look. For instance, rather than talking about my “Geographies of Consumption”class, it would be referred to as GEOG325. Sounds kinda weird but everyone seems to know every possible course code out there- quite impressive, really.

Grading systems

Unlike the percentage and class system used at UoM, SFU uses a letter grading system- from A+ to D, which is then calculated to a Grade Point Average (GPA). Sometimes, assignments will get marked as a percentage and then translated to a letter grade- they definitely use the full scale a lot more than at UoM. In the UoM Geography department anyway, a 70 constitutes a first-class grade which anyone would be chuffed with. But at SFU, a 70 is a bit mehh- that took some adjusting to.

Little and often

Prior to moving to Vancouver, I had heard that the Canadian university system favoured more assignments/assessment with less weight. I initially thought the workload might be too hard to keep up with, but I’ve actually found it pretty manageable.

In the case of Geography, a typical class might devote 10% of its grade to tutorial participation, which usually consists of the submission of weekly discussion questions – this is a sneaky attempt to make sure you do your readings ahead of time, and it works. Then, you might have to write a couple of papers/essays amounting to perhaps 15% each, deliver a presentation and sit a midterm and final exam. I’ve actually really enjoyed the diversity in assignments- a combination of group-work (doing things like presenting at an urban planning expo and participating in a mock council meeting) as well as personal research and reflection. Though the workload is arguably higher than UoM, I would say its definitely easier.

Your grade is kinda negotiable & extensions are a thing

This sounds like some kind of twisted cliché of a student trying to coerce their prof into boosting their grade, but it’s actually a pretty reasonable policy. Since my year abroad is just pass/fail, I haven’t had to question any of my grades, but some professors do welcome students to challenge them if they feel they met the criteria for a higher grade. At SFU, you are really encouraged to take charge of your education and to make the most of the resources available to you.

Also, I’ve found that some of my profs have more lax rules on deadlines. Understanding the pressures of student-life, they encourage you to consult with them if you have any concerns regarding deadlines- granting you an extension if they see fit.

Participation, discussion and debate is really encouraged

Though I’m not a shy person, the larger class sizes of lectures at UoM would often discourage me from putting my hand up and contributing- I guess it’s the fear of blabbering out something completely nonsensical. So when I had my first lecture at SFU, I was horrified that the lecturer wanted us to stand up and deliver a welcoming speech about who we are, ‘fun fact’ and all. However, I was so shocked at how calm and comfortable the Canadian students were with introducing themselves and speaking their minds. Honestly, sometimes it sounds like they are reading straight out of a text book- so annoyingly eloquent. Gradually though, I’ve become comfortable with offering up ideas- aided by the talkative 2-HOUR tutorial sessions, which I feel allow me the freedom to be messy and open with my thoughts.

Going to uni for the ‘uni experience’ isn’t a thing

The UK is notorious for it’s party-centric university experience, where social life is often a priority for students. At SFU, many of my classmates still live in their family home in Vancouver, or balance a full-time job with their studies. By consequence, they seem to place more importance on their studies. To cater for this, there is more flexibility in schedules, meaning some classes are as early as 8.30am and finish as late as 9.30pm!! SFU doesn’t exactly have a reputation for being a party uni (no fear- the good nights exist with a bit of digging), so it can sometimes feel like students are on and off campus in a heartbeat. This means that social cohesion and a sense of student culture is a little lacking compared to Manchester. This took a while to get used to, but having found like-minded people with the ski-slopes on our doorstep, there’s been no shortage of fun to supplement the work.

TWO DAY TRIPS IN SYDNEY THAT AREN’T TALKED ABOUT ENOUGH

By Issy Jackson (University of Sydney, Australia)

Everyone knows about visiting the Blue Mountains, but here are two day trips that are kept slightly more secret! Go on a Sunday and you won’t pay for than $2.80 for transport too…

Figure 8 Pools

The Figure 8 Pools are at the end of a beautiful coastal walk in the Royal National Park. All you need to do is get the train to Otford and you can immediately swap the boom-and-bustle of central Sydney for kilometres and kilometres of serene coastline. The bushwalk itself isn’t the easiest and takes about an hour and a half as you trek through forest and hills, but the whole time there are beautiful views of the Pacific Ocean to be enjoying as you descend further towards the pools. At the end of the walk, there is a little bit of rock-hopping before you’re met with the beautiful purple and blue rock pools that get nice and heated by the sun! We took a picnic and spent an hour or so having lunch and a swim before heading back up the coastal track before high tide.

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Figure 8 Pools 

Palm Beach

Palm Beach is one of Sydney’s Northern beaches and can be accessed by bus from Circular Quay or Central Station. It usually takes over an hour but the incredible view is well worth the wait! I even enjoyed travelling through each Northern Sydney area and seeing the differences between each of these beach-based communities. The best part about going to Palm Beach is the short walk up Barronjoey Head to the heritage-listed lighthouse. The views at this summit are like nothing I have seen before; the long, thin extension of land has a shoreline on either side so there really is water all around you when you’re sat on the rocks at the top of the hill. This is definitely one of Sydney’s best photo opportunities! It’s worth remembering, though, that the tide can get incredibly strong here, so it’s best to save the swim for when you get back to some of the calmer waters in central Sydney. Nonetheless, this beautiful beach offers mind-blowing views, a nice bit of coastal history as well as a unique experience on the sand which makes it a must-do when staying in Sydney!

PalmBeachPic1
Palm Beach at Sunset

Back to Canada and an exercise in tech independence

Being on a completely new continent, it would be a shame not to take advantage of the opportunity to travel. It can be hard however to find the time to visit all the places you want between assignments.

On my way back after Christmas, I decided to stop off in Toronto to spend a day exploring. There are several ways to discover a city; one of those ways is to wander around, alone, without a plan. I’ve already been to Toronto with a group of friends, but I feel like it’s nice sometimes to just wander around a place on your own terms, without having to please everybody.

Having got off the plane and made my way through customs and out into arrivals, I sat down to google where I had to go.

That’s when my phone decides to die (at 75% battery)

I was supposed to check into my hotel in an hour and I had no idea where to go. I asked about four different people along the way for directions and luckily, Canadians live up to their reputation of being super friendly. (Although, one group gave me directions which; when I looked on the map, would have sent me to the opposite side of town, but fortunately I couldn’t find the subway station they were directing me to.)

So once safely at the hostel, the stress and jet lag caught up to me all at once, and I want directly to bed, at six PM, with an awful headache.

I woke up at five in the morning and decided I wasn’t going to let a broken phone ruin my plans. I don’t know my way around Toronto very well, but people used to travel before smartphones were a thing, right?

I spent a few hours looking up interesting spots in Toronto; the unique foods and specialties especially and created my own personalized guide to the city on a paper map. I highly recommend this process; this becomes a souvenir, and really gives you a sense of making the city your own and realizing what you love about it.

I set out at 9, and I’m really happy at the unique perspective I got of the city that early in the Morning; I was surprised to find that at 9 Toronto was just waking up; the people in the streets were locals or employees, setting up shop fronts or popping down the road.

I had two goals for my day; get bubble tea and get lunch. Bubble tea is one of my great loves, and Toronto is one of the best cities in the world for bubble tea. My map was a list of the best and most unique food and bubble tea in Toronto. Otherwise, I was free to walk around Toronto.

The rest of my day I ended up visiting the Ontario government buildings, (they’re big, and made of brick… different architectural style to Europe, but not that interesting) and the Allen gardens. The Allen gardens were beautiful, not to mention a nice warm retreat from the snow falling outside. I also sat in a small park a little way outside the centre, and watched families skating around a circular skating track while I waited for a bubble tea shop to open.

It as a long and tiring day, and I was happy to get on my greyhound bus at 5 to go home, and even happier when, an hour late, I arrived home in Guelph.

Reflections on my time at UMass

I’ve been back in the UK for over a month now and it feels like only yesterday I was packing up my room ready to leave Massachusetts. When they say your time abroad will go so quickly, they weren’t lying – it flew by! I had the most amazing time, and here I’ve compiled some of the main differences and hardest things I had to adapt to when moving abroad.

Studying in a brand-new country and adjusting to a new educational system can be tricky at first, especially when there are so many differences between these two systems. I found the style of teaching to be similar but the way they examine and generate your grades is completely different. Due to the constant testing with weekly quizzes, homeworks and midterms, it meant you were regularly caught up on the workload (ideally!!) making the finals less stressful. Having no exams to revise for over Christmas for the first time in what felt like ages was such a relief! I definitely didn’t envy my course mates back in Manchester who had 6 exams within the space of 12 days! 

Being on a university campus was such a change having lived in busy, bustling cities all my life. The campus is huge so I definitely did a lot more walking than I would do in Manchester, as classes could be on opposite sides of the campus. It felt easier to get into a sense of routine, as the classrooms, libraries, dining halls and dorm rooms were all in one place. Although I got used to this sense of familiarity pretty quickly, no two days felt the same as there was always so much going on and new places to explore around campus. It also made a nice excuse to go travelling or visit local towns in order to escape the bubble of campus life for a little while. 

The weather did take some getting used to. The temperature reached as low as -18oC, and snow covered the campus for most of December. Classes had to be cancelled one day due to the heavy snowfall, which meant people brought out their sledges, snowboards or even improvised with bin lids to make the most of the day off.  One regret I have is leaving it till the last few weeks of term to buy myself winter boots and a beanie!

My whole experience was something I’ll never forget – I met amazing people from all over the world, was lucky enough to travel to some incredible places and learnt so much about this country and its culture. For people contemplating studying abroad – as terrifying, overwhelming and daunting as it may seem, step out of your comfort zone and challenge yourself! When I read all these blog posts before I embarked on my exchange and heard about other people’s experiences, I thought they all sounded so cliché. But sat here now, after experiencing some of the best few months of my life it turns out they were right. 

Swedish Dental & Health Care

It seems during my time in Manchester I had been too lucky as I have not needed to go to the GP nor dentist over my 2 years there. However, within 2 months of living in Sweden I needed to do both within a week of each other. So, I thought I should give an overview of my experience with both.

Overall, my experience of both Swedish dental care and health care were positive. I needed to go to the dentist because I fell off my bike and chipped my tooth. This was my own doing and although I was fine in myself and did not experience as much pain as perhaps would be expected, I did need to do something about my lacking tooth. I had to wait until the next day as I did it in the evening. I rang various dentists within Lund, however these were all booked up for the day. I was going away the next few days so wanted it done that day if I could. So, I started ringing dentists in Malmo where one said I could come in within the hour and have it fixed. This dentist was called T and City dentist Malmo. There was no issue me speaking in English to the dentist and receptionist and they were all very helpful with the situation.

I then went on my way to Malmo where I was seen immediately and had my tooth fixed. It was a very good job too and you now cannot tell where the fake bit is. The cost was about £155. This was decent considering it was the same day and I had insurance to cover it. Therefore, make sure you keep receipts of such things if it happens to you to ensure you can too.

The health care experience I had was not quite so swift. As background, if you are unsure what you need to do if you become ill in Sweden there is a helpline at 1177 and a website. I believe the phoneline is available 24/7 also. Additionally, you can ring the Lund University nurse who can give you advice on how to go about your situation.

To get an appointment with a doctor, the procedure is similar to home where you need to ring up. I rang Vårdcentralen Måsen as it was closest to me. Initially, there is an automated message in Swedish but if you wait until the end, it will tell you what to do in English. The line opened at 8am, I rang by 8:02 and was 22nd in the queue. It then took a bit over an hour to talk to someone, you can leave your number and they will ring you back or wait on the line. By my time to speak to the receptionist, all spaces had been taken up to see the doctor at this practice. The receptionist recommended I go to the out-of-hours service or wait until the next day and go through the process again. I went to the out-of-hours. This is within the hospital grounds, near the University, at Entrégatan 3. It opened at 6pm and I arrived at 5:45 and was 11th in the queue this time. However, there are people having general appointments in addition to out-of-hours, so I was later than 11th to be seen. When I arrived, I had to take a number and speak to the receptionist where you give an overview of what is wrong, and they ask for your ‘person number’. Every Swede has a person number and it can occasionally be a pain not having one as they are used so frequently in many situations, but it is not worth getting one if you are just staying in the country for a year as generally you can get around it. As a result, I would say just make sure you bring ID and proof of being a student at Lund University. As a note, a person number is your date birth as (YYYY-MM-DD), followed by a set of four numbers.

After speaking to the receptionist, I had to wait about an hour and a half. When I got called through, I spoke to a nurse initially who asked for me to explain what was wrong and then asked me some more questions. She then said I was going to need to speak to a doctor to prescribe me some medication and gave me an appointment for about an hour later within the same facility. So, I went back into the waiting room and sat. It took less than an hour for me to be seen by the doctor, probably about 20 minutes. The doctor then checked everything I had said to the nurse was correct and said I needed antibiotics. As it was late by this point, she was able to give me some for that night and the following morning but told me to go to a pharmacist to pick up the full prescription the next day. Again, through all of this there was no issue with me speaking English to the doctor, nurses and receptionists.

To have an appointment with an EHIC card, the cost is 250 SEK (~£21), the price that all Swedish people pay. My experience at the doctor was made more difficult as I had lost my card at the time. This meant I had to pay the full price of the appointment which was about 1400 SEK (~£130). You are also able to claim this back afterwards but have to fill out a form online. I believe you can ring an EHIC helpline if you cannot find/have lost your card before you go to the appointment too and they can send you a certificate or something as a replacement to the EHIC. Although I am not sure how accurate this will be following Brexit.