Today marks my final day in Amsterdam participating in the Erasmus+ Programme at Universiteit Van Amsterdam. I am extremely sad to be leaving such an amazing city and I am so grateful for the amount opportunities I have had whilst on my study abroad.
Having grown up in a multicultural household (Spanish mum and a South African-Indian dad), taking part on the exchange programme wasn’t a massive cultural adjustment for me personally, but I can still say that the Erasmus+ programme has made me more open and tolerant towards other cultures.
Like many people on exchange this year, I didn’t get the send off I had anticipated. In our pre-covid fantasies we imagined a month of BBQs on the beach, sunset hikes and cocktails at those bars we just hadn’t got round to visiting yet.
The reality couldn’t have been more different.
PHASE 1: MOVING OUT
To begin with Australia wasn’t too badly affected by the virus. While the UK infection rates were rocketing, Melbourne was yet to record a fatality. But we couldn’t predict what was round the corner and staying in Aus during a pandemic seemed risky, not to forget expensive.
With great hesitation, we ended the lease on our beautiful home and booked a flight back to the UK. Our decision to leave brought about a mad frenzy of selling furniture and rushed goodbyes. It wasn’t till we parted with our last pot plant, that we finally realised our time abroad had come to an end.
Well thats what we thought.
Only 45 minutes after we had gutted our ENTIRE house we received an email informing us that our flight had been cancelled and that unless we had a spare 10 grand lying around, we weren’t getting another one soon.
We were officially stuck in Melbourne with only Chinese leftovers, a legless table and a new family of mice for company.
PHASE 2: STRANDED
With no electricity and a rapidly deteriorating budget, things began to look pretty bleak. I made several attempts to contact the University of Melbourne in hope of securing temporary accommodation. Much to my dismay, our host university took no interest in our plea for help. Running out of options we were unbelievably grateful to receive a message from my Aussie course-mate. Having heard of our distress, she insisted we crashed at hers or at the very least used her wifi while we sought for solutions.
PHASE 3: LOCKDOWN IN AUS
After a much needed 2 days away from the family of mice, we were ready to launch our covid action plan! We had struck lucky with an incredibly cheap air bnb in the city centre as well as a new flight home in a fortnights time.
Making the most of a ‘bad’ situation we spent the next 2 weeks relaxing in our apartment, playing boardgames, ordering breakfast, holding makeshift spa nights and learning Spanish. Overtime the supermarkets restocked and we found ourselves with a plentiful supply of loo roll and watercolours. Shockingly, lockdown in a swanky inner city apartment wasn’t all that bad!
PHASE 4: TAKE OFF
In the days leading up to our flight we constantly refreshed our inboxes expecting to see a dreaded cancellation email. To our disbelief, no email appeared. In a groundhog day like manner, we repacked, put on our face masks and headed to the airport.
Our airport experience was anything but normal. Firstly, our flight was 25 hours long but we weren’t allowed to leave the plane during our stop over. Instead we waited for 2 hours in the dark while cleaners; dressed as futuristic spacemen, sterilised every surface. Making matters more bizarre, no hot food could be served. With nothing better to do, we spent the last tedious stretch of our journey reminiscing and scoffing our faces with endless supplies of kitkats.
PHASE 5: REFLECTIONS
So it mightn’t have been the perfect ending to the perfect time abroad.
But I can certainly say that for the amazing people I met, the incredible places I saw and the unforgettable memories I made, I would do it all again in a heartbeat.
Even though this semester was nothing similar to my earlier expectations, I am ultimate glad and grateful for this exchange experience. People’s lives suffer more or less under the global pandemic. However, I feel that coming to Australia and spending 6 months here was the best experience I could’ve gotten under COVID.
I was lucky to discover a course called “CBEA3001: Special Industry Project (SIP)”. This course provides students with the opportunity to work in a small cross-disciplinary team setting and solve a business problem presented by a local business client. Our client is an aboriginal corporation in Australia and we are matched with mentors from Pwc. By doing this course, I not only learned essential skills in consulting and gained the experience of working with diverse people and interacting with real client, but the project also gives me a chance to explore the aboriginal culture behind modern Australia. At the very beginning of the course when COVID hasn’t spread globally, the whole class went on an overnight trip to meet clients and get first-hand information of the project. We would have gone to meet clients again for the final presentation if the semester went normally. I would say that this course is definitely special and the hard skills and soft skills that I gained would be very helpful for career development.
Another course that I wished that I knew before is call “FINM3009 Student Managed Fund (SMF)”. This course provides students the opportunity to take responsibility for over $0.6 million worth of investments. They have 4 different roles under the course that you can apply based on the prerequisite courses you have taken.
Although SMF is very limited to student with finance background, SIP is open to every disciplines.
I am lucky to live at Wright hall, which is the newest and one of the best equipped flexible-catered accommodation on campus. Wright hall has a good proportion of domestic and international students. People at wright organised plenty of activities throughout the year. It has 7 floors and more than 500 residents living in the hall. I hardly feel lonely and don’t have to make much efforts to maintain the new established friendships because I can see those people every day!
For those of you who find it expensive living on campus while coming to exchange in Australia, I would say that living cost is generally higher here compared to Manchester. You would find food is a lot expensive as well. Therefore, the catered accommodation is not as expensive as it looks. If you want to be self-catered, B&G might be a good option as it is cheap and renowned for its good social experience.
Another highlight during the exchange is the sponsored Sydney finance trip that I went with ANU finance society. We visited 11 companies in 2 days and stay overnight in the CBD center. I found the event on Facebook, paid a small amount of community fee, and sent my CV to give a try. I wrote down this experience just to encourage the future exchange students to actively search for activities during exchange and be brave to take part in any opportunities. You exchange time is precious and limited, so make the most of it!
Finally, the softest part in this reflection belongs to the people that I met at ANU. Looking back one year ago, I got my exchange result and found that I didn’t get into Sydney and Melbourne. I was upset and hesitated to accept the offer. I talked to people and ultimately decided to go exchange even though the result was not ideal. Half year ago when I was stuck in China due to the Australia travel restriction, I didn’t give up and went to a third country to self-quarantine. Now all the coincidence and efforts make sense: Australian Capital Territory remains one of the safest places in Australia during the pandemic and I met lifelong friends at ANU. I have made memories with people and they will be the very few people to stay close in my life. I also know that I can take someone with me in this lifetime journey.
Even though Covid-19 restricted me from flying to different places in Australia, I have been actively finding places in Canberra to make up for the travel losses. If you are a student coming to ANU in the future, you are lucky because you will have a plethora of stunning places in Australia to visit, and the following recommendations will help you catch some of the most beautiful natural scenery in Canberra.
Mount Painter Nature Reserve
Mount Painter Nature Reserve has a beautiful sweeping view of north Canberra with easy access paths. People love to walk dogs and enjoying nature there. I got my favourite pic here!
Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve
A big big nature reserve in Canberra with plenty of wildlife. Instead of paying for an expensive ticket to the zoo, you can visit the Koala attraction. Also, keep an eye for different types of kangaroos on your venture in this reserve. They have picnic spots and BBQ facilities. Remember to be extra time cautious as it will determine your ability to see most of the place before it turns dark. For your notice, private vehicle access only.
Lake Burley Griffin
This is the lake that is popular among every ANU student for its convenience in terms of going for a walk, jogging, and picnic spots. It is just 15mins walk from campus. It takes about 8hrs to walk around the lake, where you will pass by the Australian national parliament, the national gallery, and the national library. The Canberra Balloon Speculator and Canberra Fireworks night (both in March) are some of the major events that are set beside the lake. Definitely recommend visiting the lake before sunset. It is AMAZING.
Red Hill Nature Reserve
Another beautiful and accessible reserve in Canberra. Lots of eye-catching rocks along the tracks and an overarching view at the top. What makes this reserve distinctive is not just its view, but also it has an aesthetic fine dining restaurant which has got one of the most spectacular views and a team that brings a unique mix of culinary and beverage experience to offer quality food and wines from independent makers worldwide. This restaurant is called the Onred restaurant and I definitely recommend this for a special occasion.
Last but not the least, Yarralumla is a beautiful suburb with one of the best real estate in Canberra (Most of the rich people from Canberra own the estates there). It’s very pretty!!
Travel with a dietary restriction can be hard, but luckily in Mexico, many places are coming around to the idea that not everyone eats meat, animal products, or gluten. In more cosmopolitan areas, such as Cholula, la zona rosa ‘the pink zone’ and La Condensa of Mexico City, and touristy areas like Isla Holbox just a stone’s throw from Cancun, you can often find restaurants specifically dedicated to the alternative-eaters among us – or at least recognition on the menu. In fact, there was an amazing vegetarian taqueria on my street in Cholula, meaning I was actually able to try soya-based alternatives for the classic dishes I’d been dying to try- like tacos al pastor and tacos árabes.
Nevertheless, vegetarianism and veganism seem to be fairly new concepts in Mexico, and are often quite alien to locals outside of big cities or tourist areas. It’s often a case of adapting a menu, or accepting (as a veggie), that when going to the taqueria, it’s going to be a quesadilla or a quesadilla – which was never an issue for me. As a vegan your choices could be further limited to just a plate of guac in some places, but that’s usually in the more niche destinations.
To sum up, vegetarianism Mexico is totally doable, it just takes a little bit more research sometimes, or accepting limited choices, but I never had to pack food on a trip as I knew I would always find something. A lot of street food was open to me, such as elotes and esquites (corn on the cob or in a cup: with cheese, lime, and mayonnaise), champurrado (mexican hot chocolate with corn), and homemade ice cream in massive flask style containers. If you’re vegan or gluten free however, you will often struggle to find a complete meal unless you are in a dedicated restaurant. The best eating experiences for you would be in fairly touristy and gentrified areas, however don’t let that discourage you from seeing the amazing pueblitos (small towns) and countryside spectacles – just bear in mind that here you will probably only find taquerias, almost exclusively serving meat, cheese and bread.
Prior to moving to Singapore for the year, I had never even travelled beyond Europe. What lay ahead of me was a mystery, aside from the wild assumptions strangers told me and the random bits of information I got off google…
If I could go back to a year ago today, this is what I would tell 2019 Poppy.
One word on everyone’s mind when you think about Canadian food, is poutine. Well, that and maple syrup. Speaking of which, did you know that Quebec produces about 70% of global maple syrup production? I didn’t know that either! That also explains why almost all Quebecois desserts are doused in the sugary substance. Interesting, eh?
One of those would be la tire sur la neige, also known as Canadian maple taffy. As my very limited command of French has taught me, sur la neige literally means “on top of snow”. How it’s made is that boiled maple syrup is poured on top of snow, and wrapped around a wooden popsicle stick once it cools a little, making a golden gooey mass of maple-y goodness. Just be careful not to get it in your hair though! I learnt that the hard way.
La banquise is one of the most popular poutine places in Montreal, and once I had tried it, I completely understood why. Poutine piled high with other toppings like guacamole, drowning in heaps and heaps of gravy and cheese curds… It makes a foodie like me weep. Standing in the freezing cold to get a table was totally worth it for a treat like this.
When my friends and I headed down to Quebec City that one weekend in February, we stumbled across a cute little restaurant that served only Quebecois food. Of course we had to try Quebec dishes while in the old town! Pâté chinois, oddly translated to Chinese pie, is a Quebec style shepherd’s pie. The one that I had the luck to try looked like a deconstructed version of the traditional dish, with the stewed beef resting on a bed of buttery mashed potatoes and a glorious side of preserved cherry tomatoes. It was truly the stuff of gods.
Ah, so many dishes, so little time. It was a pleasure to have experienced all that I have.
This was not how it was supposed to end. I was supposed to have stayed with everyone till the end of April, before bidding goodbye to a time well spent in Canada. Unfortunately, life had other planes in store for me, and the pandemic saw me flying back to the opposite end of the world, bypassing Manchester altogether.
Now, I am back home, back in sunny Singapore. Things could not be more different here.
You know, I’ve always had an affinity for islands. Born and raised on my island country, I moved to the UK for my studies about two years back. Then for exchange, I went to Montreal, also situated on another island. Despite being islands, all three places have been vastly different for me. Going from Montreal, where I only saw the streets start to clear themselves of snow when it hit mid-March, to Singapore, where we don’t even have the four seasons. It may sound crazy, but I miss that constant snowy weather that we had in Montreal. Now, I turn on the air-conditioning in my room everyday in a bid to refrigerate myself, very unlike how I would crank up the radiator in Montreal to remind myself of Singapore. They say absence makes the heart grow fonder, and in this moment I cannot think of anything truer.
Saying goodbye to the city wasn’t the only difficult thing. Saying goodbye to my friends, and my housemates, was really hard. As a person who has moved to many places, I should be good at saying goodbye, but I never really am. I get used to it, but I’m not good at it, if that makes sense. Living together with 29 other people, I got used to the continuous presence of friends in my life. It is so quiet now.
They say that you make lifelong friends on exchange, and I think there’s truth in that. From the numerous dinners together, to the road trips and the birthdays, these are people that I will never forget.
The six months I was able to spend at Lund University was a truly incredible time. Definitely coming with its highs and lows but nevertheless, I would relive it in a heartbeat if I had the chance. The video shows just a few snippets of the year.
Things I would do again:
Make the most of ESN- amazing opportunities and trips/activities both nationally and internationally. Organised for you. Decently priced. Great way to meet people.
Join all the mentor groups at the beginning of the year- great way to meet people and keeps you busy at the beginning (you also don’t have to go to every event there is).
Join a nation
Join Skåne netball team- this meant I was meeting new people who were not just students. Also did some tournaments which was fun as I had not really played netball that competitively before. Simultaneously, it was also a chilled and relaxed atmosphere where you could take it as seriously as you wanted to
Things I would do differently:
Travel more within Sweden
Choose different module choices for the first semester as I enjoyed my second semester modules far more and did better in them
Start looking for housing earlier than I did, I think in hindsight I would start looking for housing before even getting a place at Lund as you can always cancel it if something better comes up and then you have got some certainty and your own space for when you first arrive
Somewhat linking to the last one, I would do my best to try and live within Lund, when I moved into Lund from Åkarp, I could really see the ease of being in the city and being able to cycle pretty much anywhere in 10 minutes compared to having to catch a train or bus