Almost a year on from finishing my year abroad at Queen’s, I think it is a suitable time to reflect on going on a year abroad and how settling back into Manchester has been since. Every time I’m stuck in the library writing coursework, doing a dissertation with a to-do list longer than you can imagine, I also think back to last year where I had a fantastic opportunity to study but also explore in another country and constantly wishing I could do it again. Study abroad expanded my horizons in the least cheesy way possible and gives a new perspective on the world as well as the amazing travelling you can do. I still keep in touch with some Canadian friends and am in the process of thinking when I can make a visit back in the near future.
Settling back into Manchester is nothing to worry about, it does feel like you are coming home to see all your friends and hear all their stories and live together again and enjoy everything we all love about Manchester. The pressure of final year and your future does hit hard straight away but that’s reality and after study abroad, it will seem awful but you get used to it. I am very glad I got the opportunity to go away, would not change anything about it and look back on it with fond memories and get nostalgia crying in the library when Facebook announces my memories from 1 year ago. It has set me up however to want to explore more of the world in the future so I will have to wait until that time comes round again, until then back to the dissertation.
By Ros Harwood (Queen’s University, Kingston, Canada)
To finish up my blog posts about my year abroad, I have some photos to share giving a snapshot of the five weeks I spent travelling to mark the end of my year abroad. It was a fantastic trip and I ticked off a lot of places I have always wanted to visit! I attempted to mark each place with a Manchester beanie picture. Travel is such a key part of study abroad, make the most of the opportunities!
Toronto > Rocky Mountains (Banff and Jasper) > Vancouver
Seattle > Portland > Yosemite & Sierra National Parks > Death Valley > Las Vegas > Phoenix & Grand Canyon, Arizona > San Diego > Los Angeles > Pacific Coast Highway > San Francisco
Yosemite & Sierra National Parks
Driving the Pacific Coast Highway: Santa Barbara > Big Sur > Carmel > Monterey, California
And that’s a wrap on my year abroad! Coming home has been a small novelty, but quickly got boring. Make the most of it!
By Ros Harwood (Queen’s University, Kingston, Canada)
After sad goodbyes with Kingston and Queen’s, my friend and I made a short one day stop in Toronto before taking a Greyhound bus across four provinces for two and half days to Banff, Alberta.
A couple of beanie snaps: one on Moraine Lake at Lake Louise (still frozen at end of April) and the other at Johnson Canyon, where walking and wearing the Manchester beanie caused two girls to tell us they had graduated from Manchester the previous year and also studied Geography! A small world.
By Ros Harwood (Queen’s University, Kingston, Canada)
I literally can’t believe I am writing this post, where has the time gone?! The year abroad has flown by and I am unbelievably sad to have to leave this place. I am really looking forward to travelling and going home; it’s been a while since I’ve been there, but I have made some amazing memories at this fantastic university. Despite the long, hard Canadian winter, the hardest thing right now is that we are finally rewarded with beautiful sunshine, blue skies and a lot of positive temperatures which makes Kingston an absolutely stunning place to be. Being on one of the Great Lakes, many trips to the lakeside and the pier just to bask in the sunshine, drink smoothies and just be outside have happened.
I luckily finished my exams and assignments within four days of the exam period starting and have had one week to pack up, enjoy the weather, see all my friends, say goodbyes and just enjoy being in Kingston. The one thing I have come to realise is that I am so glad I went to a city that is not usually part of the big touristy list of Canada. If I had been studying in Toronto or Montreal, I probably would not have visited a place like Kingston. However, it is a little gem that should be discovered, as well as being incredibly student friendly and a great place to ‘experience’ Canada. It was the first capital of Canada so it’s a cool place to have visited.
For anyone considering a year abroad or even coming to Queen’s, you are incredibly lucky. The community at Queen’s is so welcoming, Canadians are lovely people and it is a fantastic and diverse country. The opportunities and experiences I have had at Queen’s have been great, the friends I have made (international and Canadian) have been great and it is a great university. The campus is beautiful, it’s a fantastic location for visiting Canada and there’s nothing I can fault really. Queen’s was originally my third choice of university to study abroad at, but if I applied again it would definitely be my first!! I am so sad to leave, but am so motivated to return and visit and relive the memories I have made this year. I would continue showering compliments on Queen’s and Kingston, but I think you get the idea. You will have the best time of your life in snow and sunshine, just go for it. Outside of Canada, Queen’s does not get the praise it deserves, and I promise anyone they will have a great time!
I’ll leave you with my Queen’s and Kingston photoshoot. I would not have changed this at all and am so glad I got this experience. As a Queen’s student would say, (from the Scottish roots)… “Cha Gheill!” (literal translation = No surrender!).
By Ros Harwood (Queen’s University, Kingston, Canada)
Having just finished classes at Queen’s forever, I cannot believe that second semester and the year has finished. I have one week of exams and then I am completely finished and will be off on my travels to the west coast of Canada and the States. This semester has been as busy and fun as the last one.
This semester I have made two weekend visits to Mont Tremblant, Quebec – best described as a skiing ‘hill’, but the best skiing in Eastern Canada. It is a kind of place where families have chalets and come up for the weekend from the cities. It was kind of a novelty going skiing for the weekend. Mont-Tremblant itself is a beautiful village with a lake (which in winter freezes over) and right next to the ski slopes. The resort itself is pretty small and competent skiers could cover the whole area in a weekend but it is a nice break from university life and the city.
Queen’s Model United Nations 2015
I took part in the Model UN conference representing the UK for the Economic and Social Council for the weekend. I had never done something like this before, but it was a great weekend with an opening and closing ceremony, interesting speakers of different democratic backgrounds, social events, breakfasts and lunches like a real conference and a lot of serious and slightly less serious debates on passing resolutions on world issues. I am so glad I took part, it was a great weekend.
Montreal & Ottawa
I took a weekend to visit Montreal as there was an dance music festival on as well as taking a tour of the city and climbing Mont Royal. We tried great restaurants and a cat café, as well as exploring Old Montreal and McGill University. On the Sunday, we travelled to Ottawa for the day to skate the Rideau Canal, completely frozen and attracting people from all over to skate on the canal or simply use it as a walk to the shops. It was also Winterlude Festival where there were ice sculptures and a visit to the Parliament buildings.
Chicago & Detroit – Spring Break
Due to financial constraints, we did not follow the typical North American Spring Break to somewhere hot with beaches in the Caribbean, but we did manage a week’s break visiting Chicago and Detroit (possibly the opposite end of the spectrum). It was absolutely freezing and known as the Windy City, that did not help the freezing temperatures. We visited the ‘Bean’ in Millenium Park, went up the Willis Tower, experienced some jazz, some retail therapy on the Magnificient Mile and visited the frozen Lake Michigan. A one night stop over in Detroit was enough to fit in exploring the city’s older buildings and an NBA game Chicago Bulls vs Detroit Pistons.
St Patrick’s Day
One of my classes in human geography has actually taught me that there is a big population of Irish people or people with Irish roots living in Canada and particularly in Kingston, as the first capital of Canada. Therefore it was no surprise to me when Paddy’s Day came around that there was a big day of celebrations ahead. In the morning, there were pancake parties where questionable green-coloured pancakes were made and everyone was dressed in green outfits. The rest of the day involved street parties and house parties with the main street in the University District filled with green and many students partying on roofs and the front lawns. A siesta was taken in the afternoon before a night out in the evening. It was a pretty busy day, but there was a definite buzz around and a lot of green.
The story of maple syrup
One afternoon this semester, the International Centre offered a visit to a local conservation area where there was an exhibition set up involving a wagon ride and a demonstration of how maple syrup has been made through history to the modern day. Of course, at the end there was an opportunity for pancakes and maple syrup.
Queen’s Dance Club Recital – Just Dance 2015 & Dance Battle
At Queen’s I joined the Dance Club as it has always been one of my hobbies, and I am so glad I did. It is a huge club, completely student run, and they offer lots of classes of different levels and styles. I took ballet, lyrical and contemporary classes, which made for a nice Sunday of dancing each week.
At the end of this semester, we had our final recital, four performances and a week of rehearsing and performing made for a hectic week of dancing, but I enjoyed it a lot, and the sense of community that I have discovered at Queen’s was even stronger in the Dance Club. I was very sad for it all to end as I have met some great people and had some great teachers. It all ended with great performances of our recital dances.
A week later, the dance community also put on a dance battle, and this was one of the most fun evenings I have had. It was literally like Step Up‘s dance off with many different dance clubs on campus battling it out with professional judges flown in from LA and the like. The atmosphere was insane and there was a lot of talent out there.
I am slowly coming to terms with the end of semester and the end of my time here at Queen’s, it is a very bitter sweet feeling – I am excited for travelling and eventually going home since I haven’t been there since August last year, but my year abroad could not have been better. Queen’s will always have a special place in my heart (cliched but true).
By Ros Harwood (Queen’s University, Kingston, Canada)
Having done a semester and a bit at Queen’s now, academic differences have become clear to me between the Canadian and UK university systems. However, by all means, it is nothing to worry about, especially once you are used to it and the basics are still in place that you would find at any university; readings, tests, assignments, tutorials etc.
1. The first difference that became pretty apparent early on was the differences in the assessments here. The assessment is cumalative throughout the semester and the final mark for a course will be based on the various components, such as online quizzes, small reading reflections and attendance and participation marks as well as presentations. Nothing that you won’t have done at Manchester, but it is nice in a way because it spreads out the assessment and it reduces the pressure of the final exam, if there is one (some courses are just all coursework based). Exams tend to count for about 30 to 40% of the mark instead of 60 to 70% that I have experienced in Manchester. A common component is a term paper as part of assessment that is normally around fifteen to twenty pages long and will be kind of a mini research project where you choose a topic within a course and it gives you more freedom in what you want to write about and discuss.
2. Mid-terms are common in Canada, not every course has them but you can expect for most classes that you will take it around week 5 to 7 of the term. From my experience, they are not daunting at all, just like a more formal class test with normally multiple choice or short answer questions. I had one business one that was open book and online so I could just do it at home with my textbook and notes right there to help me. Again, a mid-term takes off the pressure of the final exam for the course.
3. One nice difference is that the exam period is attached to the end of term as Canadian semesters start a couple of weeks earlier than Manchester at the beginning of September and therefore, even though there is a 2 to 3 week exam period at the end of the term so there are only a few days between the end of classes and exams beginning, you can have a Christmas break where you don’t have to be revising, which is more enjoyable I would say, and then come back in January for the next semester.
4. The multi-component nature of the courses and the assessment at Queen’s means that there is often independent study to be done, such as reading (which was really important for some mid-terms and exams in first semester as they asked specific questions on readings), but the campus has a variety of places to work, whether you want the really quiet library or more casual atmosphere in cafes. This is important because to keep up with the continuous assessment style you need to keep on top of your readings and homework set in the classes.
5. The teaching style in Canada is not so different that you will find yourself in a completely different environment, but I found that they are a lot stricter on caps for numbers of students in classes and often limit to smaller classes, such as one of my classes on GIS this semester which has around 20 students in it. This means that the professors will expect more class interaction and will set small group activities and discussion within the lectures that they will expect people to contribute to and give answers in class. Some courses will also have tutorials or lab sessions (for my science based courses) and these are mainly run by TAs (teaching assistants) who are generally PhD or postgrad students, sometimes final year undergrads, who will be responsible for marking most of the assessments as well, and this is where attendance and participation marks can be gained. All the professors and TAs are very keen for people to use their office hours for questions and are often interested to chat with international students as well.
6. Course choices can be a little daunting idea as I have found that pre-requisites for some second and third year courses (which exchange students are recommended to take for their third year abroad as Canada’s undergrad degrees are 4 years long) are pretty strict, which obviously you are not going to have because you are from another university. However, do not let it worry you! In the registration for your exchange university they will give you detailed instructions to find them; Queen’s for example sent me a form on which I could write the courses I wanted to take and they are listed on the website. Once you are at your exchange university, if you are struggling to find courses, do two things: visit the International Programmes Office; they are very helpful and friendly (at Queen’s for definite) and they will either help you find them or recommend you visit your subject department office. If you show your face and show your interest, you are much more likely to get onto a course that may be full or you are finding harder to take due to the wrong pre-requisite courses or requirements.
Best piece of advice:
If your course at Manchester allows you to, try some new modules out. I study Geography but have taken a Psychology course and a Business course this year and it has broadened the learning experience. Although it is a pass/fail year, it is a ‘study abroad’ and so you should take advantage of the academic experiences you could get at the exchange university as well as the travelling and meeting new people which you will do lots of.
The latest appearance of the Manchester beanie, in Parc Mont-Royal in Montreal, Quebec, a hill that gives you a 180 degree view of the city and was very snowy! Second semester is flying by and after the reading week coming up next week (a trip to Chicago!), I will have six weeks left of classes at Queen’s, a very sad thought. The university alone has had made a big impact on the year abroad, and only a year ago I had just been accepted and knew very little about it! So for those of you who have just found out if you will study abroad: get excited, it will be a memorable semester/year.
By Ros Harwood, (Queen’s University, Kingston, Canada)
Semester 1 and exams are all finished! Such a relief, but also a scary thought that I am halfway through my exchange year. It is going so fast!
Seems a good time to reflect on my academic experiences here at Queen’s. On my first impression, I did not think that the academic side was that different to Manchester’s, but as time went on, I realised that actually the academic life was very different, but not necessarily for the worst.
Lectures in general are the same, slightly dependent on the actual course I was taking. I get the impression that lectures are just used to cover the very basics of the content that is assigned to that week and extra reading is used to consolidate the content. This meant that full attention from other students was sometimes lacking, as they were instead online shopping or something. Also, this shocked me the first time; at the end of the ‘class’, as they call it, the lecturer or ‘prof’, as they call it, will reach the final slide and immediately everyone starts packing up and leaving while the prof is still talking. Personally, I thought that was a bit rude and would not have been acceptable in my lectures in the U.K. In seminars and tutorials, people put in a lot more effort as every class I am taking has attendance and participation marks as a percentage of the final mark. I also found seminars sparked some very interesting and intense discussions, which made them very inspiring.
Assessment and workload are quite different to the U.K. The courses here are all split up in terms of assessment. Weekly quizzes, readings and extra online lessons had to be completed each week and all formed a percentage of assessment. The assessment styles are varied from coursework to group presentations and projects. For my business course, I completed an online business simulation in a group. The assessment is completed gradually throughout the term, and therefore this puts less pressure on the percentage that the final exam counts for. This might make you think that workload is a lot higher than it is in Manchester, and this is true, but there is a general consensus that the content we are learning is much easier than would have been studied at a second or third year level in Manchester. As long as you keep on top of the work and make sure the weekly assignments and prep is part of your weekly routine, it works out fine.
One big difference is that every degree course and module is that a midterm examination is often a significant part of the assessment. The midterms were not always done sitting in the classroom like a test; I had one that was an online, open-book midterm. Some midterms did not actually happen in the midterm, sometimes in Week 10 or 11. The finals exam period falls straight after term ends, instead of after the Christmas break, and they also were a variety of styles, some written, some ‘take home exams’ where the question is released and you are given a due date. The variety in assessments can make it much more interesting to complete. I have found my modules very interesting, and if your course allows you to, I would definitely recommend to any student going on exchange to take a variety of courses that are not necessarily within your discipline. Geography gave me a lot of flexibility, so as well as taking some Geography/Environmental Science courses, I took Psychology and Business introductory courses which have inspired to explore different career options.
I have had such a good time already in my first semester and would definitely recommend an exchange to anyone who is considering it. It is not all about the studying, it gives you the opportunity to meet so many people from around the world, travel to places you never have, and I have particularly enjoyed it here in Canada as it is a beautiful country, but also being on the East Coast of Canada gives you access to East Coast of the USA. As all the clichés say, it is definitely a life-changing experience and a valuable opportunity, I have already made so many memories. A definite recommendation is to make sure you are going somewhere that you are interested in visiting as well as the academic study, and that you have the finances to be able to visit!
Having New York round the corner is very exciting (well twelve hours is close in North America terms). I went on the first weekend of the semester, travelling overnight on the Megabus, when luckily my housemate from Manchester was visiting at the same time.
Over the Thanksgiving weekend in October we had four days, so we went to explore Boston, Harvard University and made a trip to Niagara Falls on the way home. I have always wanted to visit it so I am glad I finally have! We had a Thanksgiving meal watching the lights on the Falls at dusk (the photo doesn’t really do it justice).
Homecoming weekend was also a highlight, it is a massive tradition at Queen’s and was full of parades, a American football game and street parties. Lots of alumni came back from last year’s alumni to people who graduated in 1950s! The whole place was bleeding that tricolour (red, blue and yellow colours of the University)!
In November, we headed up north to Quebec City, where it was a lot colder and at night it was -7 degrees!! It is very French in comparison to Ontario, and was very cute and Christmassy with lights and ice skating and our first snow in Canada! Definitely worth a visit.
The last couple of weeks have brought a lot more snow, and it has been very exciting but also only a taster of what is to come in the winter months. At the moment I am enjoying the snow, but maybe won’t be when it is -20 degrees! Snow means skiing though I guess, and I will be spending the Christmas/New Year break with a few days in Toronto before flying out to Banff, Alberta for ten days skiing with my family coming over from England.
By Ros Harwood (Queen’s University, Kingston, Canada).
It is 2 weeks since I arrived in Kingston for my exchange and it has been very hectic with a lot going on, a lot to do and sort out but I am already loving it. The first week I spent sorting out a lot of basic needs such as a phone, bank account, supplies for my room and the house, my student card, meeting other international students, buying a bed! Unfortunately Canadian students do not have the luxury of having furnished rooms in student houses without paying ridiculously high rent, so they all provide it for themselves. For an exchange student like me, it is therefore often the case that you arrive at your new house after a lot of travelling and some jetlag to an empty room with a hard wooden floor… not the most welcoming when all you want to do is sleep. However I was lucky to have made some family friend connections before I left the UK and as a result had a local friend lend me an air mattress and bedding to get me through the first few nights. Even luckier was that I found a bed for sale very soon after.
The other downfall with that first week was losing my luggage en route to Kingston from Toronto. The plane I took only had capacity for 18 people and since it was a full flight and considering the small boxroom size of the hold luggage compartment, as well as missing my originally planned flight due to immigration hold ups, it was not a surprise that my two bags did not make it on the same flight. Fortunately, through a helpful housemate, her boyfriend’s car and the discovery of H&M existing in Canada, the issue was quickly resolved. However, I do not want to let my problems put anyone off Queen’s or a year abroad, I can already tell you it is a special experience!
The second week was ‘Frosh Week’ or, in Manchester’s language, Freshers’ Week. Possibly one of the craziest, most hectic weeks of my life. Whilst also adjusting to the different atmosphere and traditions of Queen’s as well as a new campus, having activities from 9am to midnight planned every day was incredibly tiring. It was also a completely different experience to what I have experienced in Manchester. Every faculty has a different Frosh Week and so did the international and exchange students! Wednesday 3rd September, NEWTs week (New, Exchange and Worldly Transfer students) starts. 400 new but upper year students pile into a hall in orange t-shirts, not knowing what to expect. We were welcomed by our Frosh leaders, called geckos (we were the baby newts), in a NEWTs week dance and then we were taken to learn that dance ourselves along with traditional Frosh Week and general Queen’s chants. The university and community spirit that exists is already easy to see without having attended any university sports games or events. Campus is heaving with big groups of people all in different colour t-shirts for the different Frosh Weeks. It is worth pointing out the upper year engineers who take it upon themselves to paint their entire body purple and style their hair using bottles and cardboard as well as different colours.
Over the week, other activites included freshers’ fairs, BBQs, the NEWTs Olympics, a carnival including sticking yourself to a velcro wall, a mystery road trip to Toronto Zoo, a live concert, academic orientation talks, sorting out courses for the year and meeting lots of other international and exchange students! The paint party had to be the highlight where all the ‘NEWTs’ dress up in orange jumpsuits (massive ‘Orange is the New Black’ theme) and thrown blue, red and yellow paint at each other – known as tricolour – which are the university colours here at Queen’s. Despite wearing a jumpsuit, paint still managed to cover your skin and a minimum of 45 minutes in the shower of scrubbing and hair washing was required in order to get ready for the traditional ‘tamming’ ceremony, a tradition where each new student receives a Scottish beret type hat with an orange pom pom on top and a town crier helps swear the oath of Queen’s and the Queens’ bands and dancers perform. It is almost like an initiation into the Queen’s community. Following this we had a formal dinner and dance at Fort Henry, an old castle location linked to the Military College with beautiful views over Lake Ontario and Kingston.
a few discoveries/observations I have come across in these first two weeks:
– Queen’s University has a lot of links with Scotland and therefore, such as the Scottish dancing and the Queen’s bands, it is possible to find a little bit of UK culture here, as well as discovering there is a branch of the University in Eastbourne, East Sussex.
– Lectures, or ‘classes’ as Canadians call it, can continue till 9.30pm in the evening and can be 3 hours long.
– Due to the differing sizes between Manchester and Kingston, the concept of distance differs massively. Here a 20 minute bus journey to the nearest shopping mall is considered a long way – when I informed my Canadian housemates that this is the same length as the journey I took into uni each day in Manchester, they were very shocked.
– Canadian poutine…..in description it is basically chips, cheese and gravy. But it is so much more than that. You can get toppings of pulled pork, bacon, fajita (guacemole/sour cream/salsa) and much more; it just tastes fabulous! Great for late night munchies.
– You wouldn’t have thought it but Canada has amazing summer sunsets!
Classes start this week and I have luckily bagged myself a 4-day weekend. Geography at Manchester has given me a lot of flexibility and therefore I am excited to try out some new modules in Psychology and Business as well as Geography. I am already loving Queen’s as much as its domestic students do and the kindness of the Canadian people has helped me settle in and feel like I have been here for months. It is also a fantastic location for travelling in Canada and America, so I am kicking that off this weekend by going to New York to see my housemate from Manchester. It is going to be a great year!
by Ros Harwood (Queen’s University, Kingston, Canada)
Having got over the emotions of leaving Manchester and my friends there and another great summer of travelling in Europe behind me, I have seen people going out to Australia, New Zealand, Arizona, Singapore and LA in the past few weeks and the excitement is mounting ahead of my departure to Canada on Monday.
Accomodation is all sorted, flights are all booked, the next challenge will be determining how to fit in a year’s worth of stuff (mainly clothes) in a 23kg bag, in particular taking into account the extreme weather conditions that mean the sun will be out when I arrive in Canada but a couple of months in will be turning into snow and sub-zero temperatures so I’ve heard! so that will be what I am juggling this next week in addition to more goodbyes with my family and friends.
The other issue that has cropped up is I have found out that in Kingston, many of the student houses come unfurnished, so on 25th August, after 10 hours travelling and a change in time zones, I will arrive at a house with an empty room and no bed! Didn’t expect this to be the case after having rented in Manchester and have desperately been searching for someone selling a bed that I can have, there are a few options but it may involve a couple of nights on the sofa or floor. Fortunately IKEA exists in Canada!
For now its back to the packing and the possibility of taking two bags on the plane……