Skiing, Hiking and Whatnot in Alberta

By George Davies – The University of Calgary, Canada


Studying in Calgary should definitely be at the top of your list if you enjoy being outdoors. Home to the fastest ice in the world, as well as the stupendously stunning snow-capped Rocky Mountains, Alberta ticks every box for any alfresco adventurer. After spending almost seven months in this corner of the world, I’ve had my fair share of experiences. From carving down heavenly white powder to scrambling up unrelenting rock faces, I have accumulated a string of thoughts on the best places to visit and investments to avoid as a travelling student. Which I hope may be of some sort of guidance for those new to the Albertan scene. Allowing you to make the most of your time in the province and beyond.   Continue reading “Skiing, Hiking and Whatnot in Alberta”

A Mexican Manifesto

It is hard to encapsulate and create an image of the beauty of Mexico without visiting – but I’m going to try anyway…

Mexico’s diversity is something I have been absolutely blown away by; although not difficult when you consider that by area, it is the 13th largest country in the world, and fits a large number of European countries within its boundaries! This gives rise to an astonishingly diverse range of cultures, which vary dramatically between states and regions, with varying music and dance, clothing, language and customs in each community. Given that my workload is not nearly as heavy or demanding as in Manchester, I have been able to really take advantage to travel extensively and far and wide in this amazing country. From cities in which the colonial legacy is obvious such as Puebla and Oaxaca, to small indigenous towns of Chiapas, from vast archaeological sites of previous civilisations, to the vast metropolis of Mexico City, from beautiful beaches of the Pacific Coast in Oaxaca or the Gulf in Veracruz, to dense pine forests inundated by the migration of monarch butterflies in Michoacán, from the mountains and volcanoes surrounding my own home in Cholula, to the waterfalls and Chiapas, Mexico is a country rich in, climatic, environmental and cultural diversity. Naturally, this could not make it more interesting for a Geographer!

 

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Among Monarch butterflies in Michoacán

Continue reading “A Mexican Manifesto”

Should I Stay or Should I Go? Reflecting on my trip back to the UK

A post for students planning to study abroad for the ENTIRE year.

By George Davies – The University of Calgary, Canada


Before the start of my study abroad experience, I had not planned on returning to the UK until the following summer. I had assumed that my schedule in Calgary would not be able to accommodate for any time to take a trip home. Moreover, it seemed to me that it would have only be a backwards step. Coming all this way across the Atlantic and half of the North American continent, it seemed foolish and a waste of time to venture back to where this story began. Continue reading “Should I Stay or Should I Go? Reflecting on my trip back to the UK”

What I learnt from my first semester at NC State

By Sally Lord, North Carolina State University

Its Friday afternoon and I am sat in a coffee shop on Hillsborough street. Nothing particularly interesting is happening, I am just catching up with my friend, organising my life and doing a bit of homework. But it just hit me how comfortable I am here in Raleigh, how at home I feel with  the day to day life here. My life in England feels so far away and in some ways it is! Its been 5 months since I left the UK and whilst I definitely do miss it, and miss the people there, it really hasn’t been on my mind as much as I thought it would. I’ve really settled into my life here at NC State, to the point where I can’t quite believe that I am going to have to leave here in 4 months, leaving behind everything that has been my entire life for the past 5 months. It is such a bittersweet feeling, it makes me sad that I am going to have to leave but also makes me feel incredibly lucky to have had this experience in the first place. So in the light of this realisation, I decided it was time to reflect on my first semester here at NC State and share some of the things which helped make it such a great semester.

Firstly, I loved having the opportunity to work as part of a group in one of my classes. It was for the Physics Lab module I had to take and I worked with two Americans on a group project for the whole semester. The reason I loved it so much is that I formed such a close relationship with both of the guys because we were spending so much time together. I learnt so much about America from them and we would regularly discuss different issues, comparing the average British view on the topic to the average American view. It was such a fun environment to work in and I left every class feeling as though I had learnt something new about America. It really made me feel as though I was having a true exchange experience because I was sharing my culture with people who were very interested in it and they were sharing theirs with me. It felt like I was getting an authentic insight into America and what it is like for the average person. So I would recommend to everyone that they try and take a class that involves group work. It is the best way to meet different people you might not otherwise come into contact with and it is the best way to learn a lot about the country you are studying in.

Secondly, one thing that I learnt last semester is that it is very important to get a good work-life balance, even more so than in Manchester. Being on exchange is like being on a holiday that never stops, people are always up to travel, experience new things, hang-out, the list is endless, but one thing for certain is that it never stops! Therefore, it can be overwhelming to try and manage uni work when everyone seems to be constantly socialising and the fear of missing out is real. It is also made harder when your year abroad counts towards your final degree and most other exchange students are just on pass/fail. This is something I found particularly difficult because I actually had to try with my classes, whilst all my other friends were cruising through them doing as little work as possible because it didn’t matter too much. It took me a while to get to grips with this lifestyle but once I worked it out it didn’t feel too bad. One thing that definitely made it easier was that over here people love studying together, which meant that having to stay up late studying could be turned into something social. I often find myself going with a  group of people for a study session at the library, which makes it feel not as bad. You can work for a couple of hours, then take a break together before getting back to studying. You kill two birds with one stone; you are productive but surrounded by friends which is great!

Thirdly, one of my greatest realisations after being here for a year is just how small the world is. It sounds ridiculous but it is true and it haws already had such a positive impact on my life. Since being here and loving living abroad, I have applied for a research internship in Germany this summer. This is not something I had thought about before and if I hadn’t studied abroad I am not sure I would have decided to apply. But living in the US for the past semester gave me the confidence to apply because I now have the mindset that no matter where you are in the world you will never feel that far away from home. Facetime and social media mean that no matter where you are in the world you will always feel connected to home. I facetime my family once a week and this regular contact with them makes me feel as though I am not really missing anything and that I am still a part of a home life. Also having met international students from all over the world helps make the world feel smaller, because there is a comforting face in so many places. Australia no longer seems alien, I know people from Ecuador, India is now in my top three places to visit and South Africa seems like a viable travel destination. I am now so excited to explore and having contacts all over the world means that this desire to discover the world is a much more achievable dream. The world feels like my oyster and I just want to take every opportunity I can to discover it, because I know that I will never be too far away from home.

Hello Umass Amherst!

“Take a step out of your comfort zone they say, that’s where the magic happens…”
I remember a girl that went abroad before me once came up to me and said : “ The best memories you will have of Manchester are the times when you are not in Manchester”,  I will never forget those words because she could not be more right about it, but then again, my views are very subjective as the experiences and memories that I make at Umass does not mean that everyones is going to feel and experience the same things as I do. I wake up each morning in Umass feeling beyond lucky to have this opportunity from Manchester University, and I am also proud of myself to have chosen to take this path of studying abroad.  Although it has only been my second week at Umass Amherst, I genuinely feel as though I have been studying here for more than two years already.  For the past one week at Umass, I attended a few organisation meetings, made a few local American friends during class room discussions and during spring rush , but also met a few exchange students from my hometown Hong Kong during the international coffee hours at Blue Wall which is held once every two weeks for international students to gather and chat amongst one another. If you do not know where Amherst is, it is basically where the famous American poet Emily Dickinson is born. If you do not read literature, fear not, Amherst is a really safe and cosy time located on the east-coast in a small town 20 minutes away from Northampton MA and a 2 and a half hours bus journey to downtown Boston (south station). I would suggest you taking the Peter Pan bus from Haigis mall which only costs about 40 dollars and is located on campus so it is very convenient. I spent last weekend auditioning for one of Umass’s Acapella group and also attended spring rush for a sorority called Delta Xi Phi multicultural sorotity. I find that greek life is such a big part of American college life here in the States, where the main philanthropy and focus of this group is doing active community services and helping out in homeless shelters which is something I am extremely passionate about. A few days ago there was also the famous Superbowl game night which is one of the biggest American football game in the nation and the two teams that competed against each other was the patriots and Los Angeles Rams (Tom Brady yay). You also have the riots after the games which were pretty intense and insane. Some people climb trees, you see toilet rolls flying across mid-air, chanting, dancing, police officers, the whole experience was really something wild and never in my life have I encountered such an event in my life before. The residential area that I am staying in is called Southwest, and it is basically the equivalent of Fallowfield in Manchester.  If you don’t know how serious American’s take football (no I don’t mean football as the English would call it, but American football thank you very much) no but seriously, they take it very seriously! SO GO PATRIOTS! ! !

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Blog I written on the plane before I got to the US

14th of January (The day of departure from Hong Kong International Airport )
Hello, readers of my blog, today is the 14th of January, I just hoped on flight CX812 to Boston, 15 hours direct flight from HK to Boston Airport… Just woke up from an incredibly odd dream but hey at least I fell asleep for a bit on the plane to regain my energy when I land in Boston. It is currently 9:22pm in Boston, slightly jet-lagged but I am incredibly excited to finally arrive to the States. The flight attendant had just announced that we will be starting a descent into Boston Logan international airport in approximately 20 minutes, despite the delay we faced earlier. This will be the first time in a long time since I have been to the US, the last time I came here to the United States was when I was 12, joined a summer school program in San Diego. Having to spend the next 5 months in Amherst Massachusetts will be a whole new chapter and a brand new experience for me.

On arrival thoughts and first impression

1. Look to your left first not to your right before you cross, the direction is different over here
2. Spanish is common
3. The PTVA buses in Amherst are free, you can also take the bus to Northampton which is very close to Walmart and target via the public transportation if you show them your student ID
4. Tipping! (Say no more)
5. The bigger, the better, all the portions, especially with the food here, are huge! But you can’t go wrong with Umass dining food because it has been voted the best college dining experience in the nation
6. It can go from 3 degrees to -20 degrees in just one night, so be prepared and geared up for the chilly cold winters during January and February (Gloves and hats are essential! ) btw, keep in mind that the temperature is measured here using fahrenheit not celcius
7. Get yourself an unlimited meal-plan (especially for someone like me who isn’t really big into cooking or is no where near close to being good at cooking, I find that it is really convenient here that the university provides dinning hall food for us so I can finally say no to takeaways from Archies, and a massive YES to Hampshire Dining hall. I would say the top two dining halls are Hampshire and Franklin, but if you have dining dollars, why not go for a nice meal at the Campus center and splurge on some baby berk burgers and fresh smoothies?

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8. Go to the activities fair and join in as many clubs and organisations as you possibly can (I am going to the spring rush event for two sororities to see what this greek life is about! unnamed-4.jpg

9. Weekdays are reserved for school work and studying. Weekends on the other-hand are when the people go out to frat parties. Unlike in the UK where people go out on most nights, here, people work hard on the weekdays and play REALLY hard on the weekends. If you have instagram, go check out : zoomass to get the latest tea on what students here are up to on the weekends. The work load I would say is pretty manageable but you definitely get more work here from your professors than you normally would over in Manchester, as I have to submit a discussion post every week and actively participate in in class discussions.

10. Active participation and in class participation counts as 15% of the overall grade ! You really get a sense of closeness with the professors and tutors here. Plus Americans really do emphasise on individualism and personal achievement, so go ahead and put yourself out there during lessons, do your daily readings and stay focused!

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Basically, as unbelievable as it sounds, I think I really found myself in the US. Anyways, I will talk to you guys and keep you guys updated very soon so this is all I have to say for now, see you all in a few weeks time!

Why are you going to Mexico? Do you speak Spanish?

As we start Semester two (how are we here already!), I want to dispel some myths about studying abroad in another language, as it’s definitely a thought on many people’s minds when choosing where they would like to go for their year abroad.

Since before starting at Manchester, I knew that I wanted to study abroad in un país hispanohablante (a Spanish-speaking country). I had studied Spanish since the start of secondary school and was very keen to be able to practise and develop this skill – it is pretty cool to be able to express yourself and communicate with others in another language. I had taken a classic gap yah: worked for six months and travelled for 6 months in South America. Starting at Manchester, I took LEAP courses in Spanish and Portuguese (which I would highly recommend to students; a great way to diversify and broaden your degree and knowledge while also picking up those all-important credits). The stage was more or less set – and luckily enough I got my place to come to UDLAP here in México.

Continue reading “Why are you going to Mexico? Do you speak Spanish?”

My top 3 Weekend trips from Raleigh, NC

By Sally Lord, North Carolina State University.

When people find out that I am an exchange student, their first question is always: so why did you choose to come to North Carolina? My reply is that I wanted to be somewhere which was well placed within the United States, so that I would have ample opportunity to travel. I also wanted to be somewhere which had a diverse range of scenery and North Carolina is perfect for that! With a beautiful coastline to the east and then the Smokey Mountains to the west, you can really experience the best of both worlds! It even gets better in the fact that NC State, which is located in Raleigh, is equidistant from the mountains and the beach, so both are really accessible.

Therefore, when I arrived in Raleigh in August I was already jumping to go and explore North Carolina and the surrounding states. I was excited to see what North Carolina had to offer and also see how North Carolina compared to the states it bordered. Four months on from when I arrived and I have now visited both the Smokey Mountains and the Atlantic coast and even ticked off six new states! It is really easy to travel here and there are a lot of really cool places, which are driving distance from Raleigh, making them great for an easy weekend away. Since most people are interested in travelling during the time abroad, I thought I would share with you my top three destinations which are within driving distance from Raleigh and are great to visit for a short break.

1. Asheville, NC

First up on the list is Asheville, which is located in the south west of North Carolina close to the start of the Smokey Mountains. Asheville is a great place to visit in the sense that it is very different to most American towns. It has a very relaxed, quirky vibe and is a very liberal city with a large artistic flair. It has lots of very nice places to eat and is a haven for vegetarians, making it noticeably unlike everywhere else in Southern America, where the only thing on the menu is chicken! It is also known for its chocolate shops, which sell everything from ice-cream to giant slabs of chocolate, to truffles and hot chocolate.

Asides from the charming little centre of downtown, Asheville is a great base for going up into the mountains and exploring the countryside. There are multiple trails which start close to Asheville and I would definitely recommend going for a hike because the scenery is BREATHTAKING! I have been twice, once in August – when it was all luscious and green, and then again in the Autumn, when everything was turning a golden orange. Both times were gorgeous and I was really glad I got to experience it in two different seasons because it almost felt like two different places! Asheville is also close to the Blue Ridge Parkway, which is one of the most scenic drives in the United States, especially in the Autumn when all the leaves are colouring.

2. Charleston, SC

Second on the list of best places to visit is Charleston, South Carolina. It is a quaint, historic town situated about a four hour drive away from Raleigh and boasts both beautiful beaches and a boojie downtown, with lots of independent boutique that are great for window shopping! I spent three days in Charleston over the MLK day weekend, and I would say that this is the perfect amount of time for visiting the city. On the first day you can explore the historic downtown, weaving your way through the streets lined with palms and funky coloured houses. On the second day you can visit the beach and enjoy being by the sea, making sure you stay to watch the gorgeous sunsets that can be seen there. We visited Folly Beach, which is a 20 minute drive from the downtown and is a little beach town in itself, with lots of souvenir shops, cafes and an old wooden pier, which really adds to the aesthetic! The highlight of my trip was definitely watching the sunset over the pier because it was the most gorgeous blend of purple through to yellow, and was definitely up there with my top 10 sunsets!

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3. Washington DC

Finally, third on the list is DC, which is definitely more well-known than the other two, but an equally great place to visit. It is only 4 and a half hours away from Raleigh by car and is also easily accessible by both train and bus – so there is no excuse not to visit!  Exploring DC is very easy, since it has a metro which is easy to use and most of the main sites are concentrated around the National Mall so everything worth seeing is pretty much within walking distance. Another bonus is that most of the things worth seeing are free, with the majority of the museums having free entry and all the main monuments being outside and so easy to explore.

DC is definitely done best across a few days. Take one day to stroll down the National Mall, starting at the Capitol Building, passing the White House and the Washington Monument, before reaching the World War II memorial and finally the most impressive of them all – the Lincoln memorial. This ticks off all the main monuments and memorials to see as well as the two most important buildings in DC – the Capitol Building and the White House. Then on day two, choose a couple of museums to explore, which won’t be difficult as DC has museums for everything, from art to natural history, a holocaust museum and a museum of African American History. Another great thing to do is visit the Capitol building, which is completely free and comes with a guided tour and a chance to visit the Senate and the House of Representatives! This was without a doubt the best thing I did in DC, because it provided such an education into American politics and the building was beautiful, just be sure to book in advance!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly of Studying Abroad

By George Davies – The University of Calgary, Canada


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

By George Davies – The University of Calgary, Canada


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?”