Back in Manchester!

By Katie Lewin (Simon Fraser University, Canada)

I am finally back in Manchester after a long adventurous year away. I missed Manchester so much while abroad so it feels so good to be back, catching up with friends and being in one of my favourite places again.

I worked as a Student Ambassador during Orientation and Welcome Week so I was involved a lot with incoming international students. It was weird to be in the reverse position, knowing exactly how they were feeling and how that was me a year ago going to SFU! I tried my best to reassure and welcome them to Manchester, and tell them how much fun they will have here.

It took me a little while to remember where all the university buildings are, but otherwise I have readjusted quickly and it feels as if I have never been away. Lectures and the academic side so far are how I remembered and it is just like going back into an old routine. Although I know this year will be more work and pressure so obviously it won’t be as easy as my previous university years.

I think study abroad has made me more of a tourist as even now I am back in England I am always looking for new and fun things to visit and try. So I am already searching out new restaurants in Manchester, and weekend or day trips that I could do when I am in need of an adventure. However I also think I may visit home more this year as from study abroad I definitely treasure my family and friends more, and I don’t take being so close to them for granted anymore.

I am really excited for the upcoming year, but also slightly terrified since I have my dissertation to complete, as well as all the final year stress before I have to become a proper adult. However I survived a year abroad so I am sure I’ll be fine. Bring on final year!

My Vancouver Top 10

By Katie Lewin (Simon Fraser University, Canada)

Now I’m finished at SFU I’ve been thinking about all the things I’ve got up to this year – time has gone so quickly! I thought I’d make a list of my top 10 favourite things to see/do/eat in Vancouver for those coming to SFU or UBC in the future, or anyone just visiting. So here they are, in no particular order:

  1. Stanley Park

    Seawall
    Seawall

This is an obvious one, but walking or cycling the seawall is lovely when the weather’s nice with views over the ocean and mountains. The park also contains aquarium, which is good value, and trails through the forests and beaches. At Christmas they also put on ‘Bright Nights’, which is just loads of Christmas lights and displays – it’s cheesy but amazing.

  1. Grouse Grind

    Grouse Grind
    Grouse Grind

Grouse Grind is a very steep 2.9km trial up Grouse Mountain with over 2000 steps and takes about an hour and a half. Although it is very tough, it is worth it – at the top there are amazing views, a bear enclosure, a free lumberjack show and a BeaverTails pastry shop.

  1. Earnest Ice Cream

    Earnest Ice Cream
    Earnest Ice Cream

This ice cream shop is really nice and the ice cream is so good. They do interesting flavours and it is perfect for a sunny day.

  1. Commercial Drive

This street has a lot of character and contains a nice mix and range of independent shops and restaurants. Cannibal Café is really good value and has great burgers. On the surrounding streets are lots of heritage houses which are nice to walk down as most of Vancouver is quite modern.

  1. Sophie’s Cosmic Café

    Sophie's Cosmic Cafe
    Sophie’s Cosmic Café

This is a retro and eccentric style diner, full of random and fun decorations. I’ve heard the breakfast is great, but I went for burgers which were really yummy and a good price too. It’s in Kitsilano, which is a nice neighbourhood to visit too, sunset at Kitsilano beach is so beautiful!

  1. Gastown

This is the old neighbourhood in Vancouver. Although it’s very small, it’s good to visit as it has a lot of character and charm and shows Vancouver’s history. It has tourist shops but also has become a bit hipster with its restaurants and bars. It’s nice to visit at night when the fairy lights and street lamps are lit up and the Steam Clock is on.

  1. Giants Hockey Game

    Giant's Game
    Giant’s Game

Ice hockey is a big thing in Canada, so you have to go to one while you’re here. Canucks are the big team, however the tickets are expensive. Instead, I’d recommend going to a Giants game, they’re cheaper and there’s a lot more atmosphere than at a Canucks game. The fans really support the team so you really get into it, whereas the Canucks game was a lot quieter and therefore not as exciting.

8.   Yolk’s

Yolk's
Yolk’s

Perfect place for brunch, the chicken and waffles are amazing!

  1. Granville Island

Granville Island used to be an industrial area but now is a big public market and marina. There’s lots of nice food and shops. I’d recommend Lee’s Donuts! I also visited a Comedy Club improv night which was different and a fun experience. Taking the aquabus there is fun too.

  1. Purebread

This is a nice café near the Downtown Eastside. They do lots of cakes and baked goods. There’s so much choice and everything is really good.

The End of SFU

By Katie Lewin (Simon Fraser University, Canada)

I leave to go travelling to the east of Canada in two days so I have been busy packing up my stuff, finishing exams and saying bye to my friends. I can’t believe how quickly time has gone, especially the second semester. I am glad I chose to study abroad as it has enabled me to learn and explore so much. I definitely feel so much more confident in myself and I can’t believe how far I have come. I struggled a bit in first semester and it took me a long time to settle in, but once I felt more comfortable with how things work over here and became closer to my friends things got a lot better. You just have to persevere, keep positive and be proactive.

Chinese New Year
Chinese New Year
Canada Place
Canada Place

I found the academic side of things at SFU and Canada easy to transition into. Trying different subjects and topics both within and outside of Geography was really enjoyable. I will probably miss having midterms as they are easier than one big final, as well as just less pressure to do well as it is only a pass/fail year for me. My dissertation research was a big stress, but I managed to do it in time and I hope I got enough and to a good standard.

View from Burnaby Mountain Park
View from Burnaby Mountain Park
View from Burnaby Mountain Park
View from Burnaby Mountain Park

I have had so much fun being a tourist and going on adventures. My highlights are Hawaii, Seattle and Victoria, but also smaller daytrips nearby such as Deep Cove and Grouse Grind. I have loved meeting people from all over the world, and experiencing different cultures. I have made some lovely friends and look forward to seeing them again in the future. If anything, study abroad has only given me greater wanderlust and I can’t wait to go travelling around the world again soon.

Science World
Science World
Deep Cove
Deep Cove
Deep Cove Hike - SFU on the mountain on the left!
Deep Cove Hike – SFU on the mountain on the left!

I am now finishing my year abroad by going travelling in eastern Canada to Toronto, Montreal, Quebec, Ottawa, Niagara Falls and Chicago among a few other places. However, I am looking forward to returning home and seeing all my friends and family as I have missed them a lot. I have an exciting summer planned and then back to Manchester in September!

Bye SFU!
Bye SFU!

Semester 2 so far…

By Katie Lewin (Simon Fraser University, British Columbia, Canada)

After a lovely Christmas break at home, I returned to SFU feeling refreshed and excited for the second semester. So far I have enjoyed this semester more than the first as I just feel so much more settled and in the swing of things. I took the opportunity to do two courses from Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies, as well as two from Geography. I have found these really interesting and definitely recommend other exchange students to do courses outside of their normal subject as it’s a nice change and a chance to learn about other things that interest you. I have also been trying to sort my dissertation out as I was undecided for a long time, but now have an idea so will hopefully be starting my research as soon as possible as I only have just over two months left at SFU! Time really does go quickly, so if you can have things like your dissertation sorted before you arrive for your exchange and start the work early then you won’t need to stress as much as I have, and have more time to enjoy yourself.

Apart from doing small stuff in Vancouver, my main travel and exciting experience of this semester so far has been going to Hawaii for reading break. I have always wanted to go to Hawaii and when I heard previous Vancouver exchange students had gone I knew this was my chance to go. Luckily, one of my closest friends here also wanted to go so I didn’t need to worry about going alone. A direct flight from Vancouver to Honolulu is about six hours, which is quite far, but this is the closest I am going to get and for the cheapest. The trip was worth it just for the sunny and warm weather alone, which was a nice break from rainy and foggy cold Vancouver. Our trip included exploring Honolulu and Waikiki, visiting Pearl Harbour, hiking, visiting different beaches such as Lanikai and Kailua, snorkelling at Hanauma Bay and going into the mountains to Manoa Falls where they filmed some of Lost! I had such a great time, Hawaiians are so friendly and helpful and the island has such a nice feel. I would definitely recommend it, although now I have definitely seen enough retired Americans in Hawaiian shirts to last a lifetime!

IMG_2922
View from Lanikai Pillbox Hike
IMG_2500
Sunset on Waikiki Beach

I am so glad I took the opportunity to go to Hawaii, an example of the amazing opportunities and experiences available to you when you choose to study abroad! I have managed to do a lot of the things I planned to, which I am proud of as it shows I am making the most of my time abroad and that I will have little to regret. However still left on my study abroad bucket list are visiting Victoria in Vancouver Island, and exploring east Canada after I am finished at SFU. So fingers crossed, I will have seen and done everything I wanted to by the end of my time in Canada!

Manoa Falls Hike
Manoa Falls Hike
Snorkelling at Hanauma Bay
Snorkelling at Hanauma Bay
Manchester Beanie from the top of Diamond Head
Manchester Beanie from the top of Diamond Head

Academic Life at SFU

By Katie Lewin (Simon Fraser University, Canada)

Finals have just finished, ending semester 1, and I head home for the holidays in a couple of days, which I’m so excited for. My first semester at SFU hasn’t been the easiest, however, once I finally settled in and found my feet, things have only gotten better. The academic side of life at SFU is what I’ve had the least issues with; it was what I expected and hasn’t yet caused me any major difficulties.

Lectures are fairly similar to Manchester in layout and teaching, although not all professors use slides or put them online. The size of lectures depends on the course, mine range from around 40 to 100. Other differences are that people participate in lectures more by asking questions or actually answering the professor’s questions, which wasn’t really done in Manchester. Lectures are usually based on the week’s reading, plus some extra detail. Therefore it is vital to do the week’s reading, especially as they are then discussed in that week’s tutorial. Tutorial participation and attendance is a percentage of the course’s overall grade, so people get involved a lot more and show interest in the topics, which makes the content easier to understand and remember.

In terms of workload, there are fewer essays: I only had to do two this semester. Instead, there are smaller exercises such as group presentations, weekly readings, midterms and final exams. The grade boundaries here are also a lot higher than Manchester with a B- equalling 73-77 and an A- 86-89! Exams for geography typically involve some short answer questions and definitions, and an essay. SFU has exams morning, afternoon and evening during the exam period and even on the weekends! I am definitely not a fan of 7-10pm exams!

Seattle
Seattle
Seattle
Seattle

However my first semester hasn’t been all work. I’ve been up to lots, including visiting Seattle, watching the Canucks play, visiting the Vancouver Aquarium and much more. Vancouver also gets very festive over the holiday season, with snow, the Vancouver Christmas Market (definitely not as good as Manchester’s), Roger’s Santa Claus Parade and Bright Nights at Stanley Park. I can’t believe how quickly this semester has gone and that I’m halfway through my exchange. Time is running out so I really need to get started on my dissertation, as well as doing all the other things I want to do and see. I’m looking forward to second semester and the adventures it brings!

Yaletown
Yaletown
Capilano Suspension Bridge
Capilano Suspension Bridge
Downtown
Downtown
Bright Nights at Stanley Park
Bright Nights at Stanley Park

First Weeks

By Katie Lewin (Simon Fraser University, Canada)

My first two weeks in Canada and SFU have been so busy I have barely had a minute to let it sink in! After two lonely days in Vancouver sorting out a phone and exploring, I took a taxi to SFU. I hadn’t been nervous about starting until I saw the mountain looming in the distance and it hit me how much of a big adventure I was undertaking.

Downtown Vancouver
Downtown Vancouver

IMG_3358Moving into my accommodation was fine with everyone being very helpful, however, it was early to move in (which mainly first years do), so my accommodation was very empty which was a slightly strange experience. However, I was able to make plenty of friends through orientation week, which I hadn’t realised would be so hard-core (7am to 9pm every day). Highlights of orientation included a great inspirational speech by a comedian/musician, the cheerleaders teaching us the SFU chant and a day trip to Lynn Valley. This was very different to Manchester’s Fresher’s week, which I surprisingly hadn’t expected, with more activities and guidance such as campus tours, which are great when everything is new.

Lynn Valley Suspension Bridge
Lynn Valley Suspension Bridge

IMG_1568

Being on a campus university on top of a mountain is extremely different to Manchester and something I am still not sure on. The campus is small which can be great for getting to classes, but also means there is a limited amount of things to do. The bus to downtown Vancouver takes an hour, which isn’t too bad but isn’t as convenient. However, the facilities on campus are great and there are some great views of Vancouver and the surrounding mountains, especially from Burnaby Mountain Park. I am not looking forward to when the rainy weather kicks in, as it can get very grey and foggy up here, especially as it blends it into the concrete architecture. Although it has cleverly been designed so you can walk from residence to class without having to walk in the rain. In the coming week are the club days, so I am looking forward to see what’s on offer and getting more involved in university life. Classes so far have been more similar to Manchester lectures than I anticipated, the main difference being the expensive textbooks that some the classes require.

SFU Campus
SFU Campus

IMG_1460

View from SFU
View from SFU
View of Vancouver at sunset from Burnaby Mountain Park
View of Vancouver at sunset from Burnaby Mountain Park

Weekends are busy with exploring and activities, especially as my to-do list only seems to grow. Attending the SFU homecoming football game was a weird experience, they are as stereotypical as you imagine and exactly like the movies! Having access to both mountains, beaches and the city is amazing, sunset at Kitsilano Beach can’t be missed! I already have my tickets ready for a Vancouver Giants hockey game and a trip to Whistler. There is just so much to do and I can’t wait!IMG_3416

Sunset at Kitsilano Beach
Sunset at Kitsilano Beach

IMG_3443

The Final Countdown

By Katie Lewin (Simon Fraser University, British Columbia, Canada)

After all the applications, research and planning for what seems like the past year, I’m leaving for Canada on Monday! I feel slightly mentally unprepared but otherwise I have pretty much everything sorted from accommodation to my timetable. The only thing I’m dreading is saying goodbye to my friends and family, although it’s not too bad as I’m back at Christmas.

As this is the first year Simon Fraser University has been available to the University of Manchester for exchange, there hasn’t been any previous Manchester students I could get advice from. However SFU have a Buddy Program where they partner you with a current SFU student who is looking to study at your home institution. Therefore you share advice and help about studying at each other’s universities, which has been really helpful. As I am one of the first University of Manchester students studying at SFU, I hope to portray through this blog what SFU is really like to help provide more information on the university to prospective study abroad students.

So the only things left for me to do are to pack and squeeze in as many goodbyes as I can before I leave! I don’t think it’s quite hit me yet how much of a big adventure I’m about to embark on but I can’t wait for it to begin!