The Good, the Bad and the Ugly of Studying Abroad

There is no doubt that going away for a year to a foreign land can be remarkable. The endless stream of Instagram posts and vlogs are clear evidence of this. From the shots of students lost in the urban paradise of Hong Kong, to my fellow Mancunian travellers taking snaps in the idyllic rural landscapes of South America. For those that want study abroad, there is certainly enough substance out there to tickle your taste-buds and inspire you to go on an adventure.

Continue reading “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly of Studying Abroad”

The UoC’s Solution to ‘Weather Sensitive’ Students

Dropping to around -15.1 degrees Celsius during its harsh winter months, the weather in Calgary is a little different to that in Manchester. Although I don’t miss the soggy Mancunian weather a great deal, the gruesome stories I have been told about frost bite, as well as the violent arctic winds that sweep across campus, has me slightly worried.

Continue reading “The UoC’s Solution to ‘Weather Sensitive’ Students”

Adjusting your attitude and approach to studying

It has now been exactly two months since I arrived at NC State on the 14th of August. We have had eight weeks of teaching, though very few of these weeks have consisted of a full week of teaching what with national holidays, Hurricane Florence and Fall Break! The midterms for all my classes have now been completed and so I wanted to reflect on the changes I have had to make to my daily schedule, study style and expectations of the classes.

Firstly, something that I had to adapt to was how my daily schedule here was going to be different to my daily schedule in Manchester. I wasn’t going to be able to cling onto the routine I had become accustomed to in my first two years back home, instead I was going to have to readjust my schedule to fit with the norms of college life in the US. Mainly what this meant was that I was going to have to get used to working much later! Students here tend to work late most nights of the week, which is something I prefer to avoid in Manchester. At home I tend to travel into uni for my first lecture and then stay until around 7pm, or later if I have work due, and then go home, eat and relax. I do all my work before I head home and so when I get home I know that I can relax, I rarely work at home or late at night.

However, in the US most people take a break from around 5pm until 8pm, during which they go to the gym, socialise and eat. Then they resume studying in the evening and work from 8pm until 12pm most evenings. This is something I had to really adapt to because I had tried so hard to get all my work done during the day in Manchester and leave eating dinner as the last activity of the day so that I could spend my evenings unwinding. However, I quickly had to move my average time for dinner earlier by about 2 hours from around 8 or 9pm at home to 6 or 7pm here. I then had to mentally readjust to the idea that the late evening was for work and the early evening was for socialising. This complete flip is something I feel that I have only just about got used to.

Secondly, I had to rethink my study style, in particular my attitude towards the weekly homework assignments I am set here. At NCSU, like in Manchester, I am set weekly problem sheets for my physics classes, however the big difference is that at NCSU the weekly problem sheets are graded. Since the assignments are so similar, it took me a while to shift my attitude and start taking the homework problems more seriously. My attitude had to shift from just trying my best and then revising anything I didn’t understand in the tutorial, to aiming to get everything right. Part of this shift in attitude was realising that I needed much more time to complete the homework properly and then giving myself this time. I feel like this is something that is very common across all disciplines; the need to adapt to the fact that everything that is set as homework is linked to a grade. Even reading, which you may feel you can get away with not doing for seminars at home, you have be vigilant with here since there is often a small quiz based on the reading, which counts as part of your grade. Everything is important because everything counts and because of that people tend to work consistently throughout the week.

However, it is not all bad! Whilst I do feel that you have to stay on top of your work and work most evenings, I think that if you work into the late evening during the weekdays you don’t have to work that much on the weekends. I haven’t felt as though I have had to work too much during the weekend. I sometimes spend Sundays working but I have also already had four weekends away and it hasn’t hindered me too much! Second positive is that studying is a much more social activity here than it is in Manchester, at least in my experience. Therefore, whilst you might be studying later rather than hanging out with friends at the pub during the week, you are probably going to the library with friends, so you aren’t spending the evening alone. This also helps with the fact that all the homework is graded – people love to study together so you can work with them to complete your homework as long as the final write-up is yours.

Finally, the third thing I had to change was my expectations of the classes. They are much more informal, and it is true that the Professor has much more control over the course logistics and content. In one of my classes, we were set to have an exam and some of the students in my class asked if it could be changed because they had another exam the day after and he just agreed to move it to the week after! The classes are much more interactive which creates a more informal atmosphere, similar to that of an A-level class rather than a uni lecture theatre. My exam expectations were also something that had to be changed – they are very very different to Manchester exams, mostly due the informality of them. This is partly because there are so many exams, which makes them a lot more familiar, and partly because they are taken in the classroom without any invigilators or long announcements. However, they are still important because they typically count as 20-25% of your grade, but the frequency of them means that people typically only revise in the few days leading up to the exam.

Coming Home

Hello all!

I am officially back in Manchester, and back into my studies back at uni here. I thought I’d write a little blog about how it feels to be back studying in Manchester, when i’ve not been back here for quite some time!

In many ways, it feels like I never left Manchester. Memories of my time spent in Arizona almost feel like some kind of distant dream, like something that never actually happened. It’s hard to believe that a few months ago my average week looked like sunbathing by my dorms pool, preparing for a weekend away in a cool city, and of course a few classes in between all of that stuff. Now, I’m back in the North of England, where rainy days are commonplace, and there isn’t an outdoor pool in sight. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not all bad. I adore the city of Manchester, and I always have. My friends are here, my family are only a short drive away and England is simply just home, where everything makes sense and is familiar again.

However, it is hard to adjust back to life in Manchester, and life in a British university, after spending time in an American institution. The academic work in Manchester is a whole different ball game to the American way of doing things, and it is a little daunting to have to adjust to the level of reading I have here once again! Gone are my days of small intimate classes where we discuss and learn together, and everyone waits for my input just to hear my accent. I’m back into my lecture theatres of 200 people, where I frantically type on my laptop to take in all of the information that my highly-esteemed lectures throw at me. Then there’s the dissertation, the giant research project that i’m expected to embark upon soon. It’s certainly a process, to adjust back to life here again.

Irrespective of all of that however, I wouldn’t change the experiences I had abroad for anything. I learnt so much about myself, and about a new culture whilst I was away that I feel like my whole life is different now. I am now that slightly annoying friend that brings up America every chance I get, or somehow finds a way to weave it back into the conversation. Every little part of life reminds me of being in the US, and all of the experiences that I had there. I think those 6 months in Arizona will be formative for the rest of my life.

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catching up with friends during freshers week!

Being back in Manchester isn’t all doom and gloom in reality. I’m catching up with friends, getting back into my societies and church, and exploring this vibrant city again with a whole new appreciation for it. I had my third and final (yikes) freshers week, and made the most of that with amazing friends. Plus, I am loving my new modules this term, and am being taught by some of my favourite professors at Manchester. Ultimately, life is different, but life is good. If you’re considering studying abroad, I’d encourage you to just do it. It will be an incredible experience, it will change your life, and you won’t regret it.

This is me signing off here for the final time, thanks for joining me on this journey, I have loved documenting my experience through this blog.

Gabi xoxo

A Year of Self-Indulgence?

With the focus on you, the traveller/student/wanderer, transitioning abroad can be tough. There is no doubt that it could be the personal journey of a lifetime. But how much do you want this adventure to be about you?

By George Davies (The University of Calgary, Canada)


Being thrusted into a world of independence and personal adventure can be daunting. One noticeable theme that developed whilst preparing for, and moving into, my year in Canada was that of feeling self-absorbed. In no way was I ungrateful for the opportunity that lay ahead on the other side of the pond. I was also prepared for my family and friends to be excited and intrigued by my upcoming adventure. Yet, it felt like the spotlight was unavoidable, and largely consumed the weeks leading up to my departure. Continue reading “A Year of Self-Indulgence?”

Reflections on Studying Abroad

By Amy Williams, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

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Manly Hall Residence building – feels weird not to be living here, but I’m not going to miss the stairs!

It has been just over a year since I left to study at UNC, and I can honestly say I wish I was there now – well maybe not right now due to the hurricane! It’s a bit difficult to compare student life in America to student life here at Manchester as there are ups and downs to both campuses. At Manchester I felt it was a lot easier for me to get involved in things – the freshers fair was easy to navigate, and I joined a campus hockey team and orchestra. UNC did offer these things, but I felt they were harder to find, even at fall fest (their version of freshers fair). I also didn’t take my saxophone and hockey stick abroad, I did only have one suitcase! Still, UNC was a lovely open campus, not in a city, with plenty of places to sit outside and eat, and whilst Manchester does have these things, UNC doesn’t have the rain.

Continue reading “Reflections on Studying Abroad”

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)

Styles of learning and assessment at UDLAP

It has now been a month of being in Mexico, and 4 full weeks are behind me, but I definitely have found it harder than I realised to balance everything I want to do together with all the things I need to do. From various people who have studied at UDLAP before, the workload was supposed to be lighter and accommodating to lots of time not spent at uni or thinking about uni-related commitments. However, the first week at UDLAP was filled with bureaucracy and form-filling, which made me more grateful than ever for Manchester’s efficient administration. Into the first week of classes, it became more clear that, for my modules at least, it was more like A-levels again, and quantity over quality.

While at Manchester we are generally used to a 2-hour lecture, followed by a 1-hour tutorial during the week, 1-2 essays across the semester, and a final exam – this is certainly not the style at UDLAP. I have classes that are just an hour long, but twice a week, and following every class, tareas (homework) are set for the following lesson (which is either 48 hours away – or 5 days). This, coupled together with exams every month, and often an essay later in the semester and/or an exam at the end of the semester, makes it all the more important to stay on top of my work week on week.

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The sunny campus, with immaculately kept gardens – a far cry from rainy, grey Manchester

However, in all honesty, I did not come to Mexico to sit in the library – for one, its not raining all the time in Cholula – so it has been a bit of a learning curve to balance everything. Together with going to salsa and bachata classes, and pushing myself to get to the gym, my three days of classes are pretty hectic. It has also been a learning curve for me to let go a little bit on academic work, and to remember that this is a pass/fail year.

That said, I have also travelled quite a lot in my first month here: the highlights including the perennially hectic Mexico City, the majestic pyramids of Teotihuacán, the Sierra Norte town of Cuetzalan, with beautiful waterfalls nestled among dense verdant vegetation, the colonial architecture and brightly coloured streets of Puebla, and of course Cholula itself, which in the mes de patria is adorned with decorations, ferias and more amazing food and drink than you could ever imagine!

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Looking towards la Pirámide del Sol, Teotihuacan

A month in, Mexico is just as wonderful as I could hope, and continues to surprise me more and more each day. More to come next month on some interesting festivals and rituals here!

 

Cross Road Blues

I knew it would be deflating to say the least when I came home from my semester in the States, but I honestly felt a bit lost. During the semester, I always had the reassurance that I’d be coming back to something – family, friends and life in Manchester. But the excitement of being back in the UK started to be replaced by the sadness of missing my new friends and an exciting life across the pond.

So, I tried to change my outlook over the Summer. Here’s my three main pieces of advice for adjusting to life back at home when it seems really tough:

1. Plan for the future

One of the best reasons for making friends across the world is that you always have a reason to visit somewhere new or exciting. Similarly, you could introduce the glory of Greggs’ sausage rolls to a foreign friend, or become their personal tour guide. The possibilities are endless, and it gives you a reason to spice up your calendar.

I also used my summer to mentally prepare myself for the final year of my degree. Now that I’ve tried a completely different learning style, I can appreciate what works for me in terms of studying. For example, I found studying more often, in smaller work sessions, really improves my memory of difficult materials. Think about getting the most out of your degree in Manchester.

2. Read everything!

Spending three weeks road tripping left absolutely no free time for reading. When I got home, however, I got back into the habit of reading everything around me. Book series are a great way to get lost in another world, whilst newspapers help you connect better to the real world around you. Instead of spending hours mindlessly scrolling through exotic Instagram accounts, try picking up a book and seeing what you can learn from it.

3. Be the support you seek from others

Finally, reaching out to people who care about you is the most important advice I could give. I can still relive memories with friends I made at NC State online, but I also now have time to catch up with home friends and family in person. Make sure that you spend time learning about any life changes your friends and relatives may have gone through while you’ve been away. Everyone needs support at some point or another, so being there for each other makes it easier to talk about any issues or struggles.

 

With the start of uni rapidly approaching, I’m excited (and admittedly terrified) to see what my final year brings. But I also feel re-energised and inspired to bring elements of my American experience to my degree. No one will ever have the same study abroad experience as someone else, it is entirely individual and unique and it doesn’t suit everyone. But I’d encourage anyone interested to just throw yourself into it and see what opportunities jump back.

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Breaking out of the comfort zone: A reflection

Salma Rana, Queen’s University

I want to start off by thanking God for all the opportunities I have had. I am incredibly grateful for everything that has come my way, through His will.

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When I was leaving Manchester last year, although I was excited about my upcoming journey, I was equally hesitant. I wondered if I was making the right choice, if it was worth finishing university a year later than everyone else, and missing out on so much time with my friends and family at home. I had so many “what if’s?” in my head, to the point where I was thinking of backing out in the last few weeks before I left. But now looking back, those worries are nothing compared to all the beautiful memories, lessons and friendships I gained. If I could go back, I would tell myself to stop worrying because the most important year of my life so far was to begin.

Continue reading “Breaking out of the comfort zone: A reflection”

Fitting In

Salma Rana, Queen’s University

During my year at Queen’s, there was a huge variety of ways to get involved with both the University community and the larger Kingston community.

THE MSA

I am very much involved with the Muslim community at University of Manchester (shout to Manchester ISOC!). However, I quickly realized that Muslims are a true minority in Kingston, Ontario. Even more than any place I have been to in England. There is only one mosque. Nevertheless, I quickly realized something else: the love in this community is one of a kind. The transport links to the mosque aren’t too good, so it can be difficult to get there, but QUMSA (Queen’s Muslim Student Association) do a lot to make sure students are truly catered for. From hosting congregation prayers, regular lectures, socials and charity events. Continue reading “Fitting In”

On campus living: what its like sharing a room.

By Sally Lord, North Carolina State University.

I have now been at NC State for just over a week and so I thought I’d share with you some of the things I have learnt about living on campus!

I am living in Alexander Residence Hall which is part of the Global Village. It is a fantastic place to live as it is so central, on the one side is the gym and the other the student union and the welcoming atmosphere of all the residents has made the beginning of my semester a great one! I am loving living on campus in a shared room, my roommate is lovely and the environment of living on a corridor with about 50 other people is exciting and great for meeting new people!

However, before I arrived there was one thing that seemed daunting and a bit strange to me, the rooms were shared! I know that sharing a room is the norm here in the US but I had never had to share a room before, let alone with a stranger. The thought of having a roommate seemed very personal, unmanageable and there was always the question, ‘what if we don’t get on?’ So naturally I was nervous at the thought of sharing a room, but as it turns out there is little to be worried about! My two biggest worries about sharing a room actually turned out to be nothing at all.

Worry 1: I will have no personal space.

Having a roommate is far less invasive than you would imagine! Firstly, you don’t actually spend that much time in your room, or at least I haven’t so far, you are busy going to classes, having food and socialising. Secondly, even when you are in your room it is quite likely your roommate won’t be because you’ll probably have different schedules, do different extracurricular activities and have some different friends. Therefore, there is plenty of time in between to spend chilling in your own space if you want to.

Worry 2: We won’t get on.

This is natural worry for most people but I think a lot of work actually goes into pairing roommates. For Alexander Hall we had to fill out a preferences questionnaire and people were paired based on their responses to the questionnaire. Obviously not everyone is going to end up living with someone who matched all their answers but you at least know that your roommate will share some similarities with you, which is definitely reassuring. They will be more like you than you think! And even if you aren’t alike, there are lots of other people on your corridor whose rooms you can hang out in and in each residence hall there is usually a big social space which you can relax in.

So as it turns out having a roommate is not as scary as it seems and it is likely that you will end up loving your shared room, Another cool thing that I learned was that you have a lot of freedom over how your room is customised. You can move the furniture around, move your bed up and down and personalise your space much more than you can at home!

Finally, I just thought I would as mention some of the other really cool benefits of living at NC State:

  1. FREE LAUNDRY!!! In Alexander Hall you can do your washing for free which seems like such a blessing after having to pay a lot to do washing in our hall at home
  2. FREE gym, pool, sauna and exercise classes . This is such a great perk, everything within the Carmichael gym complex is free for students to use and the facilities are extensive. Another bonus is that it is just across the road from Alexander Hall.
  3. For $5 you can use all the buses in the Raleigh and Triangle area for free, which means you wont need to spend any money on transportation whilst you are here.
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The front of Alexander Hall, complete with a Lime Bike. Lime Bikes are dotted all over campus and are like the Mobikes of Manchester.
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The inside of Alexander hall, complete with furnishings which can be easily purchased from Target.