I have always wanted to travel and live abroad, and I was aware that it is very important to gain research experience during my degree to be in good standing for job offers/ post-graduate study. Mitacs ticked both those boxes, and as it is fully funded it removed a lot of the concerns I had around the cost of travelling abroad/other summer study opportunities.
By Georgia Kennington, Global Guidance Ambassador (2020-2021)
When I found out that my application to be a GGA was successful, I was so excited. I had enjoyed my year abroad so much that I wanted to encourage and help other people to do the same. And that is pretty much what the job is in a nutshell!
I get to talk to a lot of students, which is my favourite part of the job. I spend a lot of time answering people’s questions via emails and social media, and making sure that everyone has as much information as possible to make the best choices about their study abroad!
It’s also important that all our information, website, and resources are kept up to date. This year has been a particular challenge in this regard, everything is always changing. From Brexit to the pandemic, keeping on top of things has been a little difficult, but we’ve spent a lot of time updating things as much as we can to keep everyone on the same page. Unfortunately, we do have to deliver some disappointing news from time to time, but we work hard to make sure that there are backup plans in place.
So far, my favourite thing that we’ve done has been the social events. Adapting them to a virtual audience for the pandemic was challenging (we know everyone’s a bit over Zoom at this point), but in a good way. We had to come up with some inventive ways to get people to know each other, get people chatting, and more importantly have some fun! My fellow GGAs and I did all the preparation, making the presentations and quizzes, and reaching out to previous study abroaders to ask whether they’d be up for giving some of their time to answer the newbies’ questions. Having these volunteers made everything so much more easy and enjoyable, and I think that the attendees really appreciated having their expertise! The actual social events were so much fun – we called them Greet n’ Games with Go Abroad – and that’s exactly what we did! It was great getting to introduce everyone, having people make group chats and meeting the others they’d be sharing their time with when they go out there… and the games weren’t half bad either! The winners got a Lonely Island guide book for their partner destination, which we thought would be a nice touch (and actually encourage people to try their best!). All in all, the events went smoothly, and I had a great time meeting everyone who would be going out in the following year.
I also maintain our social media, making posts for Instagram and collecting as many student photos as we can to share with everyone. I never thought I’d get the chance to try my hand at a bit of graphic design too… But turns out being a GGA involves a little bit of everything! I’ve also been able to write blogs (like this one) and do some data handling (when I say everything, I mean everything).
Being a GGA is made so much better by the support of the incredible IPO team. I love having my fellow GGAs to work with, and the senior IPO staff are really supportive and encouraging; they listen to any ideas we may have and help us put them into practice. We are also given a good amount of independence and are able to take the lead with projects like the social events. It feels really good having the trust and support of such an amazing team of people, to be able to manage my own time and work how I think is best, it makes working as a GGA a pleasure!
Georgia Kennington, Politics and International Relations, Studied at the University of Amsterdam
I have been so lucky to enjoy my year abroad in Paris, but I remember how nervous I was when I first arrived. I got on the Eurostar in September and realised I was moving into a flat I’d never seen; I couldn’t speak a word of French and I had no idea how lockdown and Brexit regulations were going to change over the coming months. Despite these worries I have muddled my way through and had such an incredible year! But here are the things I wish I’d had more information on before I left.
Accommodation in Paris can be expensive and hard to find, and when you are new to the city it is difficult to know the best areas to live in.
In terms of location, different arrondissements of Paris can offer different things. I have met people living all over Paris, and it is a well-connected city. Perhaps I am biased, but if I were to recommend an area it would be the 5th arrondissement. It is a great place to live as a student and has great metro links, cheap bars and restaurants, a beautiful library and loads of shops.
If you are a student, you can get cheap accommodation from Crous. They provide student residence, costing anywhere between 150-600 euros per month depending on size and location – this is probably the cheapest option for student accommodation in Paris. They have residencies all over the city.
If you are looking for a flat to share with a friend or group there are various agencies you can use, such as Central Paris Rentals or Lodgis. It’s also worth looking at Erasmus Facebook groups if you are looking for roommates or for a spare room!
I made the bold (or stupid) decision to move to Paris without speaking French, I don’t even have a GCSE in it. I am not a language student and I have been taking English courses at a French university. The lack of French is certainly what scared me the most in my first few weeks and sometimes it still does 9 months later. My French is definitely not perfect but I am improving every day. I took classes in my first semester and try to practice grammar when I have the time. However, I picked up what I needed to really quickly! I can confidently ask for my bread at the bakery, a pint at a bar, a receipt in a shop and directions if I need them. Also, the trope that Parisians will never speak to you in English is false. As long as you try to say something in French, if you’re struggling, they usually give in and Franglais with you!
The Covid situation is ever changing and lockdowns are unpredictable. However, when lockdown was introduced in Paris at the end of October, I was shocked at how different it was to the first lockdown I had spent in England. When lockdown was strict in Paris, we were allowed to leave our flats for one hour per day, within a 5km radius and we had to fill in an attestation form to show we were out for a legitimate reason. Lockdown rules have been fluctuating over the past few months, but mostly my social life has been revolving around coffee breaks at the library and pints in the park. It is strange adjusting to new regulations like attestation forms and curfews, especially given how unpoliced lockdown in England is in comparison.
I think street harassment has to be the most significant cultural difference I have experienced in Paris. Sexual harassment on the streets is a universal experience for women, people of marginalised genders and lgbtq+ people everywhere, but I can only comment on how it has felt different as a woman in Paris compared to in Manchester. Catcalling is significantly more frequent in Paris than in the UK. I have also experienced and heard of experiences of sexual harassment that feel much more extreme, this included being followed home, being flashed, and explicit misogynistic and homophobic abuse from strangers. These experiences unfortunately happen to women, people of marginalised genders and lgbtq+ people everywhere, every day, but I wish I had been aware of how frequent and intense it can be in Paris.
Paris is a super expensive city, especially compared to Manchester. There are small supermarkets like Franprix and Carrefour everywhere but they can be quite pricey. I quickly worked out that it is worth finding markets to buy fresh fruit and veg, Belleville Market is particularly good! Also, it is worth finding specialist shops for specific cuisines, there are loads of great Japanese and Korean supermarkets, Greek delis and much more that have great offers. In terms of eating and drinking out, central Paris is certainly more expensive, I once paid 16 euros for a rum and coke. Student areas like the 5th arrondissement are much cheaper for drinking centrally, or some of the outer arrondissements like the 19th! There are cheaper options if you keep your eye out for them.
Anyone thinking of studying abroad in Paris, I hope you find some of my experiences and tips helpful!
It’s the day the results come through. You’re sat, refreshing your email to see if MyPlacement has been updated and you can finally find out where you’re going to study abroad. Which university will I be allocated to? Which city will I next call home? Sydney, Melbourne, Hong Kong?? The anticipation is palpable.
For me, I had my heart set on Paris. I know you’re supposed to be prepared to go to any of 8 top choices, but naïvely, I’d already fallen in love with the idea of strolling down the Seine during lunch breaks, taking in the cityscape with my morning baguette and visiting galleries on the weekend. In my head, my top choice of partner university, was the only choice I was going to be happy with.
Then look, it’s an email from the IPO, new activity on MyPlacement. Here we go, Seine, galleries, baguettes…. Oh. Jean Jaures in Toulouse… Well, it’s still France, I told myself. I can still take a train up to the capital, I tried to reassure myself.
I won’t deny the initial disappointment. I was so set on my first choice that I hadn’t properly considered my other chosen destinations. After a couple of hours of moping around because of the allocation and a few encouraging words from my family, I decided to let go of my initial envision of my study abroad and start focusing on my new reality. Once I detached myself from being solely invested in one destination, it all changed.
My eyes were opened to this new city, this new university, this new adventure. I started exploring Toulouse on Google Street View, investigating the best bars and clubs, looking into the different societies at my partner university and started falling for the little quirks of my new city. I was excited in a whole new way. Unlike when I was considering going abroad or filling out my application, now, I had a confirmed place. These Google Street tours and university Facebook pages would soon be a reality. I was reassured with the knowledge that every partner university was Manchester approved. Even if it was not where I thought I would end up, I was guaranteed a high standard of teaching and a location, full of opportunities for international students. Realising that adventure lay in all potential destinations, taught me a whole new approach to study abroad. There will always be unpredictability when going away, but this doesn’t need to sour your experience. What actually affects your enjoyment of your time abroad, is how you respond to that change in circumstance. I learnt to make the most of whatever situation I landed in whilst I was away and most of the time, situations that may have seemed initially disappointing, normally worked out for the better.
To anyone else who may be disappointed or worried about not being allocated their first choice, I would like you to know, what truly makes study abroad great, is universal across all of Manchester’s partner universities. For me, at the heart of study abroad is meeting students from across the world, living in a foreign culture and environment, learning your degree from an international perspective and challenging yourself. Whether you’re going to be studying in one of the campuses across the USA, or you’ll be moving into a high-rise flat in Singapore or your weekends will be spent in the mountains of Norway, you will all experience the fundamental qualities that make study abroad great. So, just know, regardless of if you are allocated your 1st, 3rd or even your 8th choice, there is an incredible adventure waiting for you.
I ended up having the most amazing time in Toulouse and I’m planning on returning after I’ve graduated. I strolled down the Garonne on my lunch breaks, took in the medieval architecture and always had my morning baguette. I even got in my weekend trip up to Paris, the city I was initially so disappointed to miss out on. However, now, when I look back on my allocation, I wouldn’t have had it any other way.
Coming back to Budapest in February 2021 was a little tricky, as it was right in the middle of the third COVID wave. Hungary was only allowing people with certain exemptions to enter the country, and one of those justifications was if you were returning to study. To prove this, I had to get a certificate of student status from my ERASMUS coordinator in Budapest and then apply for permission to cross the border from the Hungarian police. Thankfully, the process was pretty straightforward, and I received my permission the day after applying for it.
At the airport, I just had to show my permission slip and sign a couple of forms, and there were no issues in getting through customs.
I was required to quarantine in my flat for 10 days upon arrival, which obviously wasn’t ideal as I was looking forward to seeing my friends (you were allowed gatherings of ten people at the time). However, my courses were well underway (wholly online) and I also had a part-time job that I was doing remotely, so I had plenty to do. It was a bit frustrating not being able to go outside when the weather was nice, but it was worth it when I was able to enjoy the sunshine when my quarantine was over.
For anyone in a similar position, I’d recommend having an understanding of the administrative requirements for getting into the country (your coordinator in your host country should be able to help with this). I’d also suggest that you have something that will keep you busy during your quarantine, whether that’s academic study, remote work or something else that you can focus your attention on!
When I first arrived in Budapest, I was expecting to only meet people through classes or societies. However, multiple Facebook and WhatsApp groups were created to accommodate the incoming Erasmus students and to ensure that everyone had a chance of making new friends. Even better were the welcome events, particularly those run by Erasmus Life Budapest, a company set up specifically to run social events for Erasmus students in Budapest. They run around five events per week, and this was especially helpful in the early days when I was keen to meet as many people as possible.
Once I met my group of friends (mostly Belgian, with a few English and Irish people), there was no shortage of parties to attend. Pre-lockdown, the clubs were never quiet, with the “Morri Mondays” at the Morrisons 2 Club being a particular weekly highlight throughout the first semester. In terms of one-off events, I hold particularly fond memories of a party at the Citadella (drinking with views of the whole city in the evening light), and a Halloween party at the Instant club. I’m not one for photos, so you’ll just have to take my word for it when I say a good time was had by all! As for the more boring stuff, the Google Translate app, with its photo-scanning capabilities, is a lifesaver for trying to read food packaging in supermarkets. I’d also recommend downloading the BKK Futar app, as it will tell you which bus/metro to get on if you want to get to a particular destination.
All in all, I had a great time during my first semester in Budapest. I’m not sure what the second semester will be like, as the Covid restrictions are getting tighter over there, but if my experience is limited to the first semester, I’ll have no regrets about my decision to take part in the Erasmus programme!
When preparing for Bergen I knew that nature and the incredible views were in abundance, however what I did not know was just how quickly you will be thrown into it. Luckily, due to me studying geology and geography, I was somewhat prepared by bringing with me boots, fleeces, hiking trousers and other hiking wear.
Hiking was the best way to meet new people here, as in our accommodation group chat people constantly said they were meeting up to go on hikes and whoever wanted to join was more than welcome. So hiking is definitely the best way to meet people and to explore the stunning scenery that is directly behind your accommodation. I live in Hatleberg which is situated behind multiple hiking paths ready for you to tackle and to start your way through the 7 mountains of Bergen. Within the first few weeks of being there I was already on my way to hike 16km to Trolltunga, one of the most famous view points in Norway. Though the hikes can be tough you are all soon to realise that you can take these hikes as leisurely as you want during summer and have no real rush to the end especially if you are camping. However hiking in winter is a different story as you are racing against the sun.
If you don’t want to spend a lot of money on equipment, like most students in Norway as it is pretty expensive, you can use BUA. BUA is a hiking rental service and for students under 20 they rent to you for free, from tents, boots to sleeping bags. But even if you are over 20yr it is only around £10 for a sleep bag to rent for a week. You can also pay for a membership with the university hiking group BSI Friluft. The membership means that you can sign up for there weekly hiking trips, whether it be camping, climbing, kayaking, they do it all. If you are a member you can also rent equipment it from them.
If you don’t like hiking don’t let this put you off as you soon adapt and find that everyone is on the same level but obviously you get those people who are use to hiking but remember to take it at your own pace. I have had many enjoyable non hiking trips to city’s and towns and that is what matters as well.
By Holly Tran, Summer School in South Korea, Seoul National University
Having spent more than 18 years of my life in a tiny village up North West of England, I have always resided cozily within my little comfort zone. Last year, I decided to make a change. In order to further challenge myself, I took the opportunity to study abroad at the Seoul National University (SNU) in South Korea.
For as long as I can remember, Spain has been the number one destination on my wish list. Maybe it has something to do with my obsession with Spanish music, culture and lifestyle, but when the opportunity came to apply for the summer school in Seville, it was an opportunity that I wasn’t going to let pass me by. What more could I ask for? It was the perfect chance to further develop my Spanish skills while being in a city that I could see myself being culturally immersed in.
As a former exchange student and a student with a disability, I thought I knew all there was to know about the funding and support available to disabled students, but alas I was wrong. Indeed, there are more options than I first thought.
When I decided I wanted to go on exchange, I was adamant I did not want to study in Europe and instead wanted to go as far away as possible, as I felt this would make the most of my time away. Since I have been back, I have found out more about the options available in Europe, which are particularly helpful to those who feel they would be unable to study abroad due to their health condition, without the help of additional funding. Whilst I am fortunate that my disability proved fairly unproblematic, as I didn’t have to transport equipment or copious different medications, had I realised the benefits to staying in Europe, I might have given it a chance.
Firstly, is the additional funding available through Erasmus+. Not only are you entitled to the Erasmus grant, but you are also able to apply for a higher amount to help cover additional costs arising as a result of your health. Whilst there is no absolute guarantee that you will be awarded this additional sum, it is worth considering, especially as there is no set limit of funding through this avenue.
Secondly, is ‘other funding’. This is quite difficult to access information on but worth exploring. For some courses, it is possible to obtain funding from private bodies, notably Google have scholarships for technology-based degrees, but there will be different options available to you, depending on your course. It is also worth contacting different societies (e.g. the Epilepsy Society) and charities to see if they are able to help. It isn’t always possible, but you may find they are able to help, especially if you are willing to promote their cause.
Thirdly, is proximity to home. As I have already mentioned, I wanted to get as far away as possible and it is absolutely possible to do this with a disability or health condition. This said it is worth thinking about the likelihood of problems with your health- if you are really unwell its much easier to fly home for the weekend, or for a hospital appointment if you are in Poland compared with New Zealand!
Finally, is the law (sorry, I am a law student, so it had to be said!). Although the laws in European countries do differ, there is a greater consistency when compared to other parts of the world. There are some clear benefits of European laws, including the prohibition of discrimination on the grounds of disability (EU Charter of Fundamental Rights) and the protection of rights of persons with disabilities (UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities). Interestingly, the EU is currently contemplating a European Accessibility Act, which aims to increase accessibility for all, but with a particular focus on education, which could make a huge difference to those with disabilities and health conditions studying in Europe. Of course, there are many countries with disability legislation of their own and so this maybe be unproblematic, but I would really recommend having a look at the protections legislation can offer you in your desired country. Remember, what is considered a disability in the UK may not be considered a disability in another country!
There is definitely more to consider when applying to study abroad when you have a disability or long-term health condition, but it doesn’t make it impossible. The greatest advice I can offer to students thinking of embarking on an exchange is to first disclose your condition to the university and more specifically the exchange office and secondly, to really consider all options. I have friends who studied in Europe and absolutely loved their time there- it doesn’t really matter where you go, it is what you do with your time that will shape your exchange.
Astrid Kitchen – Social Anthropology – University of Melbourne – Australia
My first ending was my last haircut which was followed by ‘have a safe flight back and do come visit!’ a bit absurdly premature at that point since I still had another 2 monthes to go till D-day but it felt poignant nonetheless. From them on I tried to experience everything with the consciousness that time was running out and everything was a special moment worth savouring; an exhausting ambition. Also very hard to do, when you spend the large part of a year investing a lot of time, emotion and energy into carefully crafting a little belonging in a new place and you get to the comfortable place of starting to take this for granted, it feels completely counter-intuitive to throw all that effort into peril by telling yourself it will all soon just come to a halt. Much like wiling away ours melting chocolate, mixing ingredients, baking the bases of a cake with three different icings and toppings which you bring together to make a tremendous three-tier layer cake. Then the point at which you have laid out the plates to eat it and the knife is poised to serve it, you abruptly stand up and throw it in the bin. And the weirdest thing is: you are vegan (true story) and were never going to eat it in the first place! You new this peculiar fact from the first bag of sugar but got carried away with the exhilarating baking process so that it was still mega painful to watch that masterpiece topple out of sight. I may have veered a little off-piste with that metaphor but it is to stress the weirdness that is having an end date on a life which you are ending on one level wilfully and on another with a lot of sadness (I realise this sounds a bit like I am talking about suicide, which is also more dramatic than I intend)