Home (but the journey continues)

I thought that going abroad was going to be the biggest change in my life this year. But since returning, things are still continuing to change. I have started an internship with the University of Manchester over summer, and in turn, my first full time, professional job. I have lived completely alone for the first time – including setting up all the heating, internet and meters in the house!! And finally, (here comes the biggie) my parents made the decision to move to New Zealand.

I feel as if this year hasn’t just been a monumental shift within myself, but my family too. And without studying abroad, I wouldn’t have been able to handle all the things that I have listed anywhere near as well as I have. I’m not going to pretend it’s all been easy, but I have coped and thrived and grown up rapidly in the space of a few months.

I used to be so afraid of change – making the decision to go abroad was not one I took lightly, and I’m not sure I ever truly believed I was going until I stepped off the plane in Toronto. But now, I can feel myself embracing it; my parents are moving to the other side of the world and I could not be more excited for them (and for myself too!)

By studying abroad I  proved my ability for independence to myself and to my parents, and I don’t know if they would be moving if I hadn’t gone. The decision to live abroad affects not just you but everyone you know, and if it affects you positively, chances are it will affect them positively too.

I am working with the international office on my internship, and I cannot express how rewarding it has been to be involved with the process of encouraging students to study abroad, and being able to pass on my experience and passion to them. I wouldn’t have had this opportunity in this internship, and met the amazing people I have, and gained the life experience that I have, if it wasn’t for studying abroad.

If you haven’t already got the message – go! Study abroad! You will gain a lifetime of memories, experiences and knowledge and grow so much as a person – and this doesn’t stop on your return. And hey, who knows – your family might move to the other side of the world and give you a new place to explore.

(Cape Reinga, New Zealand. The top of the north island, where the Tasman Sea meets the Pacific Ocean)

5 (surprising) things I’ve learned on exchange

By Catrin Stewart, (University of Guelph, CA)
As we approach the end of the semester, I’ve decided to reflect upon what have been some of the best months of my life.
However, there were a few unexpected bumps along the way, so I’ve decided to list them, and my (suggested) solutions to make the journey smoother for others!
1. Canada is EXPENSIVE 
And not just in the ways you’d expect. I knew my residence and flights would cost a lot, but food shopping, even with exchange rates taken into account, is about double what I pay back in Manchester. There are ways to get around it, like trying different supermarkets, and figuring out what is more/less expensive, that is not necessarily the same things as back home. For example, some meats are ridiculously cheap, but there are a lot less vegetarian options and they are usually more expensive if you’re not cooking from scratch.
Also, Canada is a big country – if you didn’t already know – which means travel is much more expensive. £2 mega buses don’t exist like in the UK, but if you use student discount, do your research and look elsewhere other than the greyhound buses, you can lower the prices.
2. Internet shopping: it’s not a thing.
If you’re like me and have a mild addiction to amazon prime / ASOS then prepare yourself to go cold turkey. Because Canada is so big, and a lot of online produce comes from the US, next day delivery doesn’t really exist. Standard delivery is much more expensive and usually takes 2-3 weeks rather than 2-3 working days. Yep, weeks.
3. A lot of exchange students will be pass/fail. 
The majority of students from Manchester have their grades count when they go on exchange. However, 95% of the people I’ve been surrounded by only have to pass during their time abroad. This means that you will be spending a few extra hours in the library than everyone else. But it truly is worth cutting out a few hours of Netflix and replacing it with studying if it means you can take that weekend trip away with friends instead of staying home to finish an essay. I’ve found it’s much easier to use your time wisely if it’s a matter of going to New York or not!
4. Alcohol and nightlife 
It’s very similar, but there is slightly less of a drinking culture in Canada compared to England, especially coming from such a vibrant city as Manchester.
Alcohol isn’t usually sold in supermarkets, so you have to buy branded which means it’s quite a lot more expensive, and laws in Canada mean that all clubs and bars shut around 2:30am
Although it might seem a bit tame at first, it does make it easier to get to lectures the next day!
5. Academics 
Before coming abroad I was warned that the workload would be much more intensive, and this is definitely true. Whilst this was a shock and has been incredibly hard work, I also struggled with the standard of work I was producing. If you are truly passionate about your degree, it can be difficult not to be disheartened as the rate of work you are expected to turn in is much faster, and this means your standards inevitably lower. Whilst this won’t affect your grades as the marking is more lenient because of the volume of work, it can be a little demoralising. However, I have found that satisfaction can be found elsewhere, such as in seminars, as they are longer and therefore can facilitate more in depth discussion. Also, later in the semester you will be handing in longer essays more alike to the ones in Manchester, and will get the chance to work more in depth again.
Even despite these changes, my time on exchange has been incredibly positive and has taught me important lessons about adapting to new places. I understand that moving to Canada from the UK is a small culture change compared to lots of other places people go on exchange, but being prepared for some of the small differences can’t hurt!

 

Hitting Halfway (Winter Break)

By Catrin Stewart (University of Guelph, Canada)

 

Reading week was my halfway point. I was lucky enough to have my parents fly out to meet me in LA and we drove to San Francisco together. We saw everything: Venice Beach, Universal Studios, Haight Ashbury – we even biked the Golden Gate Bridge. California has always been top of my list of places to go and it definitely lived up to expectations. Seeing my parents and getting away for a week was also a welcome break after midterms. Whilst being at university in Guelph is so much fun, being in a small city can definitely get a bit claustrophobic, and by week 7 I was itching to get away.

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Muir Woods
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The Golden Gate Bridge

 

It was amazing to have a piece of home over in the US and see my parents, but it definitely made returning to Guelph at the end of the week a lot more difficult. I felt properly homesick for the first time the moment I got back into residence. I think I had the mind set of working towards the winter break in my head for so long that I felt lost now that it was over. But after getting a proper sleep and seeing my friends and hearing all about their trips and the memories they had made, I felt much better. I don’t know when I’m going to return home because I want to travel after I finish term, which makes things a little harder than having a solid goal or end to work towards, but I’m trying to make the most out of living this way. Enjoying each day as it comes and as I experience it, instead of always looking forwards.

 

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The Getty Museum

 

I guess I am very lucky to have hardly struggled with homesickness or culture shock during this semester so far. I think this is partially because Canada is culturally very similar to England, so adjusting was pretty easy aside from a few small differences. However, I have been surrounded by many people who have had different experiences to me, whether more positive or negative. The thing I have seen most is the importance of friendships and keeping busy. If anyone has struggled with feeling low or homesick, the best remedy has always been company and activity. I think being around people, and travelling or exploring (even if it seems like you’re just putting yourself in yet another new situation) is a great way to remind yourself of how lucky you are to be having this experience. Despite it being hard away from home, it is always useful to remind yourself how hard you worked to get to where you are, and how incredible it is that you are actually, finally here.

 

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San Francisco Skyline

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!