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.

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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.

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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?”

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)

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.

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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”

Advice for future McGillians

Now that I am settled back at home in the UK and looking back at my study abroad as if it were a dream, I feel it’s time to write my final blog. I will dedicate this mostly to future McGill students and offer some specific advice for you, as I know this is harder to come by than generic advice about studying abroad.

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Expect the Unexpected

Ailsa Jones ♦ Queen’s University, Canada

Since my exchange has finished and I’ve come home, I’ve been attempting to answer my family and friends’ inevitable and well-intentioned questions about my semester abroad. Even though my generic response is something as brief as ‘amazing, thanks,’ I don’t think it does justice to both the best and difficult aspects of my exchange. As much of a cliché as it is, my semester abroad was easily one of the best things I’ve ever done, but I think it’s also important to be honest about the harder parts of studying abroad that are rarely discussed.

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The Final Travels

With the end of April came the end of exams and the end of a fantastic year at McGill. Although it was sad to leave behind all I had known for the previous 8 months, I was eager to begin my travels that I had been planning and dreaming of since this Canadian experience began. At the heart of these dreams has always been road tripping through the Rocky Mountains and we took no time to hang around before embarking.

After a night stopover in the cowboy city of Calgary, we picked up the car and set off on a hefty 6 hour journey to Jasper. This took us along Icefields Parkway, the absolutely stunning road that runs between Banff and Jasper National Parks. Jasper, a small town nestled up in the dramatic mountainous landscape, was beautiful. Easily the most picturesque place I’ve ever been. Whilst in Jasper we hiked, hiked, and hiked again. The highlight was the Valley of the Five Lakes as despite being told all lakes would still be frozen at this time of the year, we discovered one of the lakes to have completely thawed to the picture perfect turquoise colour so famously associated with the Rocky Mountain. A trip back down the Icefield Parkway, with a midway stop at the dramatic Athabasca Glacier, took us to Banff where more hiking ensued, along with well needed relaxation in the thermal springs as well as some more unsuccessful bear spotting.

5 Lakes
Jasper National Park

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Go West

Ailsa Jones ♦  Queen’s University, Canada

If like me you were drawn to Canada through the stereotypical images of mountains, scenic lakes, and the exotic wildlife your best bet to see all three is going West. Having spent a substantial amount of my exchange in Eastern Canada, it made sense to make my way Westwards following the end of the semester to see whether Instagram had been doing it justice.  Continue reading “Go West”

A Look Back at Spring Break

A highlight of my year abroad that I’m yet to blog about in detail was Spring Break. When it came to planning for this week, I was at a bit of a loose end. I hadn’t committed to any plans as most of my friends at McGill had long planned to go to Cuba. Having already been in December, I was keen to travel elsewhere in my precious week off. After a quick chat to a close friend on exchange at the University of Tennessee, I had a flight to Knoxville booked and my plan had been made. Knoxville, Asheville and Nashville… this trip couldn’t have sounded more American if I tried. Tennessee was certainly not somewhere I expected to travel on my study abroad but I was excited, although somewhat wary, about what it had to offer.

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Street Art: Montreal, Toronto and Mexico City

Salma Rana, Queen’s University, Canada

One of my favorite things to do when I visit a new city is to see the artwork home to that place. Other than museums, something that have I loved about my travels was the beautiful street art embedded within the cities. These told me unique stories about the culture and history of the cities they were created in. Below I give you some of my favorite pieces and recommendations of neighborhoods you should visit if you get the chance.

Montreal

A friend and I ended up in St-Laurent by accident. After climbing up Mount Royal, we thought we would take a different route back, to get more of a feel of the city, and ended up there, a boulevard home to some of the most incredible art, music, fashion and food festivals. There are murals painted on all corners of St-Laurent, and we were so captivated that we ended up walking through the whole boulevard until we arrived back to our hotel on the other side of the city.

As I observed the beauty painted on boards above parking lots, on the sideways of shops, and even on the road below my feet, I remembered the words of Rainbow Rowell, “Art wasn’t supposed to look nice, it was supposed to make you feel something.”

Eyes by D*Face
Location: Rue Clark / Rue Prince Arthur
Portrait of Mary Socktish, by Kevin Ledo, for Montreal’s 2014 MURAL festival
Located at a Rue Prince Arthur parking lot
A Jackie Robinson tribute by Fluke, for the 2017 MURAL festival

Toronto

Toronto is bustling with gorgeous murals throughout the city, with many neighborhoods and alleyways dedicated to creativity. I absolutely love Kensington Market in particular, because as well as amazing artwork, the choice of food is abundant – from halal burger places (Burgernator and Top Gun!) to ice cream shops, bakeries and cafes.

 

Kensington Market photos shot by Basmah Rahman

Mexico City 

When my friends and I arrived in Mexico City, in the early hours of the morning, the first thing I noticed on the drive to the hotel was how there was vibrancy everywhere. Even in the dark I could see that all the shop shutters were painted in a rainbow of colors. We stayed in Centro Histórico, and I definitely would recommend taking a stroll before stores open (9/10 am) because the store shutters are genuinely so beautiful.

The shutter of a store opposite our hotel in Centro Histórico
A stroll through the streets of Centro Histórico

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Outside station Xochimilco, shot by Christy Ng
Art featuring decorative sugar skulls are all over Mexico, used in festivities celebrating Day of the Dead

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