Final Farewells & Back in Blighty

I can’t believe I’m back in England writing this final blog post, and that the whole year is over! Now I’m that I’m home and settled back into life in England, I keep feeling – did it really happen? The eight months I spent in Canada were undoubtedly some of the best times of my life, and I would encourage anyone reading this blog and hesitating whether or not to apply to DO IT, DO IT, DO It! You won’t look back! There will certainly be odd times on your year abroad when it feels very challenging or you feel homesick, but for me those moments were always fleeting, and whenever there was a particularly hard time, there was always an incredible new experience just around the corner. Having completed the year, I feel I have come out of it more confident in new environments, and self-assured of my ability to adapt to different situations. I now feel that I could happily move abroad for a job in the future, with the skills needed to fit into a new country and culture.

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A Trip to Texas

By Uschi, Simon Fraser University, Canada.

The start of semester two went so fast, and very quickly the reading week was upon us and my friends and I were wondering what fun (and affordable) travel opportunities we could make the most of during that week. Obviously there was some uni work that needed to get done during this time, but I did not want to miss out on opportunity to do some more travelling – how often do you find yourself in Canada? My flatmate, Millie, had friends studying in Austin in Texas who were also on their year abroad, so considering that visiting a place where you know people is always a good start, we packed our bags and headed off to Austin for a few days hoping to find some sun!

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Christmas in Whistler & End of Semester 1 Reflections

By Uschi, Simon Fraser University, Canada.

The end of December/ beginning of Jan has been crazy busy with exams, moving house, going skiing in Whistler, saying goodbye to various friends leaving Canada, and starting the new semester. But I’ve finally got a bit of a lull and thought I’d update everyone on my news, as well as offer some reflections on the end of the first semester and how the last four months in Vancouver have gone.

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Update: Mid-terms & Stanley Park 10k

By Uschi, Simon Fraser University, Canada

 

Stanley Park 10K

 

On Saturday 21st October Millie, Carrie, Lottie and I completed the 47th James Cunningham Sea Wall Race around Stanley Park. Being a spontaneous decision to sign up to the race 3 weeks before the event, none of us really did much training for it, and so when race morning came around we didn’t really know what to expect. Sheff was an absolute babe and drove us to the start line which saved us the dreaded journey downtown on the 95 bus (curse of living on a mountain). On the way down we listened to a mix of Beyonce power ballads and jump-up to get us pumped up for the run. Despite the weather being against us (it was pretty rainy and cold) and not being dressed in the right gear (all the Vancouverites had donned their fancy lululemon rain coats whilst we were shivering in t-shirts), we were all excited to start the race! The run was a loop of the sea wall all around the edge of the park, so we were really spoilt with beautiful views out to sea during the entire time – I even saw a seal bobbing along in the Harbour which was a real highlight. The trees were beautiful colours of red and orange as they began to shed their autumn leaves and at several points during the run I forgot about my aching legs and was just taken aback by the beauty of the park and felt such gratitude to be able to be where I was, doing what I was doing. Designated a national historic site of Canada, Stanley Park is a magnificent green oasis in the midst of the heavily built urban landscape of Vancouver – a must-do for any trip to the city. Twenty-seven kilometres of trails meander through evergreen forests filled with a rich diversity of lush plant life. You can walk, run, cycle, skate or rollerblade through it.

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Eating My Way Around Vancouver

By Uschi, Simon Fraser University, Canada

I am definitely a big foodie, so when travelling or visiting new places I am always excited about hunting down new eateries and trying out local specialities. The only quintessentially Canadian food I could find was ‘poutine’: French fries topped with gravy and cheese curds. It originated in Quebec, and it’s so internationally loved here the Canadians even have whole festivals dedicated to it, and they serve it everywhere from fancier restaurants to the likes of Burger King. I can’t say I’m a massive fan as it’s very rich and heavy, but every once in a while it hits the spot. Here are a few other memorable food experiences I’ve had out here so far… to make your mouth water!

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First Impressions & Settling in

By Uschi, Canada, Simon Fraser University

Wow, a whole month here has completely flown by! So much has happened during this time, but I feel like it has definitely taken me up until the one month mark to start feeling properly settled here. Let me try and synthesise the main points of the first few weeks:

Firstly, be prepared to be completely exhausted, disorientated and at times completely overwhelmed during the first week. The first few days were so intense and a whirlwind of new faces, places, and endless orientation activities. After the third day I think I lost track of the amount of different welcome talks, speeches, and orientation activities I had been to. At this point no one has any clue what’s going on, and everyone is trying to desperately cling on to the few friends they have made. If you’re reading this having just arrived and feeling a bit lost/ confused/ doubting why the hell you’ve decided to move halfway across the world then I can assure you those feelings are normal and will definitely pass! A month in, I’m having the best time and all those initial ‘rabbit in the headlight’ feelings are long gone. Now that classes have started and I’m in the habit of studying again, going to lectures, going to the gym, and having a routine everything feels a lot more normal.

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Pre-departure Thoughts

By Uschi, Simon Fraser University, Canada

So the end of August has come round sooooo quickly, and here I find myself on a sunny day in downtown Vancouver writing this blog post before I head to Simon Fraser University tomorrow for the start of the semester! Thinking about this moment has dominated my thoughts for over a year now, and so I can’t believe it’s finally here! I am feeling excited and nervous in equal measures, and while I have the odd brain worms giving me a bit of anxiety, I can’t wait to get moved in, meet my housemates, and start seeing what life at SFU has to offer.

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My Vancouver Top 10

By Katie Lewin (Simon Fraser University, Canada)

Now I’m finished at SFU I’ve been thinking about all the things I’ve got up to this year – time has gone so quickly! I thought I’d make a list of my top 10 favourite things to see/do/eat in Vancouver for those coming to SFU or UBC in the future, or anyone just visiting. So here they are, in no particular order:

  1. Stanley Park

    Seawall
    Seawall

This is an obvious one, but walking or cycling the seawall is lovely when the weather’s nice with views over the ocean and mountains. The park also contains aquarium, which is good value, and trails through the forests and beaches. At Christmas they also put on ‘Bright Nights’, which is just loads of Christmas lights and displays – it’s cheesy but amazing.

  1. Grouse Grind

    Grouse Grind
    Grouse Grind

Grouse Grind is a very steep 2.9km trial up Grouse Mountain with over 2000 steps and takes about an hour and a half. Although it is very tough, it is worth it – at the top there are amazing views, a bear enclosure, a free lumberjack show and a BeaverTails pastry shop.

  1. Earnest Ice Cream

    Earnest Ice Cream
    Earnest Ice Cream

This ice cream shop is really nice and the ice cream is so good. They do interesting flavours and it is perfect for a sunny day.

  1. Commercial Drive

This street has a lot of character and contains a nice mix and range of independent shops and restaurants. Cannibal Café is really good value and has great burgers. On the surrounding streets are lots of heritage houses which are nice to walk down as most of Vancouver is quite modern.

  1. Sophie’s Cosmic Café

    Sophie's Cosmic Cafe
    Sophie’s Cosmic Café

This is a retro and eccentric style diner, full of random and fun decorations. I’ve heard the breakfast is great, but I went for burgers which were really yummy and a good price too. It’s in Kitsilano, which is a nice neighbourhood to visit too, sunset at Kitsilano beach is so beautiful!

  1. Gastown

This is the old neighbourhood in Vancouver. Although it’s very small, it’s good to visit as it has a lot of character and charm and shows Vancouver’s history. It has tourist shops but also has become a bit hipster with its restaurants and bars. It’s nice to visit at night when the fairy lights and street lamps are lit up and the Steam Clock is on.

  1. Giants Hockey Game

    Giant's Game
    Giant’s Game

Ice hockey is a big thing in Canada, so you have to go to one while you’re here. Canucks are the big team, however the tickets are expensive. Instead, I’d recommend going to a Giants game, they’re cheaper and there’s a lot more atmosphere than at a Canucks game. The fans really support the team so you really get into it, whereas the Canucks game was a lot quieter and therefore not as exciting.

8.   Yolk’s

Yolk's
Yolk’s

Perfect place for brunch, the chicken and waffles are amazing!

  1. Granville Island

Granville Island used to be an industrial area but now is a big public market and marina. There’s lots of nice food and shops. I’d recommend Lee’s Donuts! I also visited a Comedy Club improv night which was different and a fun experience. Taking the aquabus there is fun too.

  1. Purebread

This is a nice café near the Downtown Eastside. They do lots of cakes and baked goods. There’s so much choice and everything is really good.

The End of SFU

By Katie Lewin (Simon Fraser University, Canada)

I leave to go travelling to the east of Canada in two days so I have been busy packing up my stuff, finishing exams and saying bye to my friends. I can’t believe how quickly time has gone, especially the second semester. I am glad I chose to study abroad as it has enabled me to learn and explore so much. I definitely feel so much more confident in myself and I can’t believe how far I have come. I struggled a bit in first semester and it took me a long time to settle in, but once I felt more comfortable with how things work over here and became closer to my friends things got a lot better. You just have to persevere, keep positive and be proactive.

Chinese New Year
Chinese New Year
Canada Place
Canada Place

I found the academic side of things at SFU and Canada easy to transition into. Trying different subjects and topics both within and outside of Geography was really enjoyable. I will probably miss having midterms as they are easier than one big final, as well as just less pressure to do well as it is only a pass/fail year for me. My dissertation research was a big stress, but I managed to do it in time and I hope I got enough and to a good standard.

View from Burnaby Mountain Park
View from Burnaby Mountain Park
View from Burnaby Mountain Park
View from Burnaby Mountain Park

I have had so much fun being a tourist and going on adventures. My highlights are Hawaii, Seattle and Victoria, but also smaller daytrips nearby such as Deep Cove and Grouse Grind. I have loved meeting people from all over the world, and experiencing different cultures. I have made some lovely friends and look forward to seeing them again in the future. If anything, study abroad has only given me greater wanderlust and I can’t wait to go travelling around the world again soon.

Science World
Science World
Deep Cove
Deep Cove
Deep Cove Hike - SFU on the mountain on the left!
Deep Cove Hike – SFU on the mountain on the left!

I am now finishing my year abroad by going travelling in eastern Canada to Toronto, Montreal, Quebec, Ottawa, Niagara Falls and Chicago among a few other places. However, I am looking forward to returning home and seeing all my friends and family as I have missed them a lot. I have an exciting summer planned and then back to Manchester in September!

Bye SFU!
Bye SFU!

Semester 2 so far…

By Katie Lewin (Simon Fraser University, British Columbia, Canada)

After a lovely Christmas break at home, I returned to SFU feeling refreshed and excited for the second semester. So far I have enjoyed this semester more than the first as I just feel so much more settled and in the swing of things. I took the opportunity to do two courses from Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies, as well as two from Geography. I have found these really interesting and definitely recommend other exchange students to do courses outside of their normal subject as it’s a nice change and a chance to learn about other things that interest you. I have also been trying to sort my dissertation out as I was undecided for a long time, but now have an idea so will hopefully be starting my research as soon as possible as I only have just over two months left at SFU! Time really does go quickly, so if you can have things like your dissertation sorted before you arrive for your exchange and start the work early then you won’t need to stress as much as I have, and have more time to enjoy yourself.

Apart from doing small stuff in Vancouver, my main travel and exciting experience of this semester so far has been going to Hawaii for reading break. I have always wanted to go to Hawaii and when I heard previous Vancouver exchange students had gone I knew this was my chance to go. Luckily, one of my closest friends here also wanted to go so I didn’t need to worry about going alone. A direct flight from Vancouver to Honolulu is about six hours, which is quite far, but this is the closest I am going to get and for the cheapest. The trip was worth it just for the sunny and warm weather alone, which was a nice break from rainy and foggy cold Vancouver. Our trip included exploring Honolulu and Waikiki, visiting Pearl Harbour, hiking, visiting different beaches such as Lanikai and Kailua, snorkelling at Hanauma Bay and going into the mountains to Manoa Falls where they filmed some of Lost! I had such a great time, Hawaiians are so friendly and helpful and the island has such a nice feel. I would definitely recommend it, although now I have definitely seen enough retired Americans in Hawaiian shirts to last a lifetime!

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View from Lanikai Pillbox Hike
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Sunset on Waikiki Beach

I am so glad I took the opportunity to go to Hawaii, an example of the amazing opportunities and experiences available to you when you choose to study abroad! I have managed to do a lot of the things I planned to, which I am proud of as it shows I am making the most of my time abroad and that I will have little to regret. However still left on my study abroad bucket list are visiting Victoria in Vancouver Island, and exploring east Canada after I am finished at SFU. So fingers crossed, I will have seen and done everything I wanted to by the end of my time in Canada!

Manoa Falls Hike
Manoa Falls Hike
Snorkelling at Hanauma Bay
Snorkelling at Hanauma Bay
Manchester Beanie from the top of Diamond Head
Manchester Beanie from the top of Diamond Head

Academic Life at SFU

By Katie Lewin (Simon Fraser University, Canada)

Finals have just finished, ending semester 1, and I head home for the holidays in a couple of days, which I’m so excited for. My first semester at SFU hasn’t been the easiest, however, once I finally settled in and found my feet, things have only gotten better. The academic side of life at SFU is what I’ve had the least issues with; it was what I expected and hasn’t yet caused me any major difficulties.

Lectures are fairly similar to Manchester in layout and teaching, although not all professors use slides or put them online. The size of lectures depends on the course, mine range from around 40 to 100. Other differences are that people participate in lectures more by asking questions or actually answering the professor’s questions, which wasn’t really done in Manchester. Lectures are usually based on the week’s reading, plus some extra detail. Therefore it is vital to do the week’s reading, especially as they are then discussed in that week’s tutorial. Tutorial participation and attendance is a percentage of the course’s overall grade, so people get involved a lot more and show interest in the topics, which makes the content easier to understand and remember.

In terms of workload, there are fewer essays: I only had to do two this semester. Instead, there are smaller exercises such as group presentations, weekly readings, midterms and final exams. The grade boundaries here are also a lot higher than Manchester with a B- equalling 73-77 and an A- 86-89! Exams for geography typically involve some short answer questions and definitions, and an essay. SFU has exams morning, afternoon and evening during the exam period and even on the weekends! I am definitely not a fan of 7-10pm exams!

Seattle
Seattle
Seattle
Seattle

However my first semester hasn’t been all work. I’ve been up to lots, including visiting Seattle, watching the Canucks play, visiting the Vancouver Aquarium and much more. Vancouver also gets very festive over the holiday season, with snow, the Vancouver Christmas Market (definitely not as good as Manchester’s), Roger’s Santa Claus Parade and Bright Nights at Stanley Park. I can’t believe how quickly this semester has gone and that I’m halfway through my exchange. Time is running out so I really need to get started on my dissertation, as well as doing all the other things I want to do and see. I’m looking forward to second semester and the adventures it brings!

Yaletown
Yaletown
Capilano Suspension Bridge
Capilano Suspension Bridge
Downtown
Downtown
Bright Nights at Stanley Park
Bright Nights at Stanley Park