6 things you should do in your first month in Toronto

By Christevie Ngoma, University of Toronto, Canada

After crying on the plane about leaving my friends and family, I felt a wave of excitement because I realised after weeks of planning a personal statement to apply for the IPO, months of waiting for an answer. I finally made it to Toronto.

The past 3 weeks have been so busy, who would’ve thought that moving to a new country would be so eventful? This blog has tips on what to do and where in your first month as an exchange student!

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Some things to bring back from your study abroad experience

By Hannah Wheeler, Vrije Universitiet, Netherlands

Going back home always holds challenges. Sometimes it is easy to fall back into old roles and forget about the experiences and developments that you have gone through. Even just going back from university to your home city with your family, it’s easy to slip back into old habits. This was something I was worried about when I thought about going back to Manchester after my year in Amsterdam. I was scared of returning to my default student ways. Not that all the defaults are a bad thing, but also some I had grown out of in my year away. Your environment is a massive impacting factor in how you behave and what you focus on. So naturally, moving countries will affect you. It’s not easy. 

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Hidden gems: Amsterdam edition

By Hannah Wheeler, Vrije Universitiet, Netherlands

Throughout my year in Amsterdam, I was always keen to try and find spots that were beyond the tourist’s gaze. When I met an Amsterdamer, I would often ask what places they recommended and what were their favourite parts of the city. Here are a few places I discovered and fell in love with… 

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Arizona State – A look back on ASU

I feel some things are just rightly assumed about the long-run advantages of doing a year abroad – yes you become more cultured, yes you’ll gain confidence, yes you’ll view life differently, yes there’s new opportunities… but what actually are some examples of these?

A (by no means exhaustive) post on how my year abroad impacted my life.

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Reflecting on my year in Hong Kong

By Gemma Dignam, University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong

Having been back in the UK for about a month now, I think I’m able to really look back and reflect on my time abroad. What I loved the most, what I’ll miss, what I learnt, what I would do if I had to do it all over again- and I really wish I could! For me, the cliché came true, my year abroad really did become the best year of my life. Going back to how I felt a year ago, I was so excited. I had been looking forward to my year abroad throughout my whole degree and had so many expectations for the year so it’s sad that it’s all come to an end. But I can definitely say I made the most of it and that I can look back on this year with a lot of positivity, new skills and new friends.

One of the biggest things for me was that it’s made me a lot more comfortable with dealing with uncertainty and new environments. Being thrust into a new city, making new friends, navigating a new University- it’s something that would have made me a lot more nervous before. However, after arriving in Hong Kong with no permanent accommodation, navigating busy public transport on my first day out of quarantine, attending events knowing absolutely no one and somehow making it out- I’ve come out a lot more confident and independent which I’m really proud of.

My cultural awareness and communication with others has also improved. Not only with students, but also in the city itself. Often there may be times that someone doesn’t speak English or understand you and communication becomes challenging- but it’s all part of the experience. And just learning a few words of the native language can go a long way! I was also able to make friends with people from so many other countries such as Japan, France, Germany and China. You learn so much about their culture and now have friends all over the world to go and visit!

However, I don’t want to sugar coat my experience as it didn’t come without its challenges. Moving to a new city for a year will inevitably bring this but don’t let this put you off. It pushes you to adapt to new situations out of your comfort zone which I think really encompasses the year abroad experience. I encountered a lot of uncertainty about whether I would be able to carry out my placement due to Covid and flight bans from the UK to Hong Kong which was really stressful. However, it made me even more grateful when I managed to arrive- I don’t think I ever fully relaxed until I stepped foot in my quarantine hotel! Covid even brought my time in Hong Kong to a close earlier than expected, due to stricter restrictions coming into force in January. It led me to decide to leave which was so disappointing as I was really enjoying my time there. However, it wasn’t all bad as I continued the rest of the semester remotely, and went travelling with friends I had made throughout the year, across Southeast Asia. Although it wasn’t in my plan, I have even more great memories and continued my time abroad which was the main thing!

This leads onto my next reflection- how invaluable these travel opportunities were and how much I learnt from them. I wasn’t the most ambitious traveller before coming to Hong Kong- I would never have imagined being able to spend two months in Thailand for a start. Next thing I know I’m in Phuket living with all of my friends from exchange- and I have no regrets! Now, I can’t wait to plan my next trip and explore new places I didn’t get to go to this time around. I have a lot more confidence travelling now and a new appreciation for all of the new places I’ve visited. Getting to do it with a lot of other exchange students I made friends with made it an even better experience and a unique opportunity!

Overall, my year abroad has made me a lot more open and confident going forward, finding myself saying yes to things I wouldn’t have done a year ago, going into final year a lot clearer with what I want to do and how I am as a person. Although, even after such a good year, I’ve also been missing Manchester and now I’m ready to go into my final year and cherish the time I have left at University! And if anyone is still unsure about doing a year abroad- then I would definitely say go for it, it’s such a unique experience!

Everything you should do on your exchange in Hong Kong

By Gemma Dignam (University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong)

Now I have finished my exchange in Hong Kong, I’ve put together a list of everything I recommend an exchange student to do whilst you’re there- from climbing the tallest peak in Hong Kong, to the best rooftop bars to watch the incredible skyline.

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50 things to do while studying in Amsterdam

By Hannah Wheeler, Vrije Universiteit, Netherlands

Here is a list of some of the best things, both touristy and Dutchie, to do in Amsterdam and the Netherlands. I hope it has something that will appeal to everyone: from club recommendations to must try cookies…

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Sustainable Eating in Hong Kong

By Gemma Dignam (University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong)

One of my favourite parts of living in Hong Kong was the food, but I quickly realised that the food and eating culture here was not very sustainable. It was quite different to my experience in the UK, where I would cook at home and eat out very little. However, in Hong Kong it’s the opposite! Grocery shopping is quite expensive and the kitchen space is quite small in any accommodation, and this along with a busy schedule would mean that most meals you tend to eat out, as this is quite cheap. However, I did notice it came with some environmental costs.

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Diary Extract: Trolltunga

by Zoe Watson, University of Bergen

One of the best weekends in Norway!

Saturday 4th September 2021

My alarm goes off at 8:30am. Today is the day we go to Trolltunga! My flatmate, Charlotte, and I have some porridge together and finish making our food for the weekend. At 9am, armed with big rucksacks and excitement, we take a local bus to Bergen Bus Station. Here, we meet the rest of our group. It’s a very random assortment of people, including Myfi, a fellow Geographer at UOM, and her friends from Fantoft student housing. Together, we have people from the UK, Ireland, Belgium, the Netherlands and France.

We are also joined by Sarah (from Germany), who asked on a big Bergen WhatsApp group chat whether anyone would be going to Trolltunga this weekend and if she could join a group. Of course, we invited her on our trip. This is something I really love about Erasmus – everyone is open and inviting, there’s no cliques or exclusions happening here. After all, everyone is in the same boat – most people arriving only knowing a couple of people, and everyone is keen to make friends and explore Norway.

At the bus station, we board a coach which will take us to Odda, a town around 3 hours from Bergen. There are 3 coaches at the station and they are all FULL of Erasmus students. Usually, there is only 1 coach but extra are put on in the summer months due to the popularity of Trolltunga! And yet, 3 still isn’t enough and the bus drivers make frantic calls to arrange another coach. This is one of the last weekends possible to hike to Trolltunga without paying a guide, and the weather forecast is great, so everyone is making the most of it. Luckily, we get seats at the front of a coach.

The bus journey is STUNNING. We go through the mountains and along the fjords, and the coach even boards two ferries, which we were very excited about. You can disembark the coach during the ferry rides to enjoy the views of the fjords. It feels very Norwegian for the coaches to casually board ferries. They really are integrated into the transport system here. It doesn’t cost you any extra, you simply pay for the bus ticket and the ferries are included.

We arrive in the centre of Odda at midday, and there is a frantic rush for shuttle buses to the start of the hike. Companies put on these shuttles/taxis as they know there is high demand and there is a lot of money to be made for them! We bump into Spanish girls that Myfi and I recognise from one of our modules, and they tell us that there is a local bus service which goes to ‘Trolltunga Parking 1’ for a fraction of the price, so we wait for that bus and take it together.

Odda

15 minutes later we arrive at ‘Parking 1’. We need to reach ‘Parking 2’ where we then have the option to start the hike, or take a shuttle up a private road to ‘Parking 3’ and begin the hike there. We decide to conserve our energy and start the hike at P3, as most people seem to do. Between P2 and P3 it is an exhausting walk along a steep, bending road, shaped like a hair grip, which everyone has advised us not to do.

We are about 20 students in Parking 1 and a steward with a walkie talkie arranges for us to be picked up and driven to P3. There is nobody else here, as it is an overflow car park for the busiest weekends. He informs us that the shuttle will arrive in 10 minutes and that there will be space for all of us. 10 minutes go by, and then another 10 minutes. The steward assures us that the shuttle is on its way. Then, a quad bike type vehicle arrives! It looks very cool but we immediately notice that it will only fit 4 people! 4 lucky Spanish girls get onboard. Again, the steward assures us that the shuttle is on its way. Hmmm. It’s been around 30 minutes now. It’s sunny and we aren’t in a rush so the mood is good, but people start to get more and more frustrated. We begin to joke that maybe a Norwegian 10 minutes is more like 45 minutes in real time. It’s hard to be annoyed with the steward though – he’s a student from Odda and this is his summer job. He tells us that P1 is the most boring shift – barely anyone stops here. Private cars can drive straight up to P2, and most of the private shuttles go from Odda to P2/P3. He’s working at P2 tomorrow though and he’s excited. A group of exchange students from Bergen arriving at P1 is the most exciting thing to have happened to him here! We start to eat our lunches, frustrated and keen to get walking.

Hanging around at P1, waiting (multiple) ’10 minutes’ for the minibus to arrive. Some unhappy faces here!

Eventually a minibus roars down the hill, and we excitedly grab our bags ready to board. But, it drives straight past P1 and in the direction of Odda! We immediately turn to the steward, outraged, and he explains it is going to refuel in Odda and then it will collect us. Hmmm, how do we know that he won’t collect passengers in Odda and go straight past us again?! 10 minutes, our steward tells us. That’s a lie, as we know for a fact that the journey is at least 15 minutes each way! Exasperated, some of our group prepare to start walking, but the steward persuades them to wait, 10 minutes he says, and then we will be collected. As we know it is daylight until late and the hike will only take 4-6 hours (we are camping at the top), we aren’t pressed for time so the situation is annoying, but it won’t impact our weekend or hiking plan.

Finally, the minibus arrives and we all board! We wave goodbye to the unreliable but friendly steward. Everyone is excited and the drive is adrenaline inducing. We roar up to P2 and then it’s a steep, mountainside road up to P3. We are immensely grateful to not be walking, as we whizz past those who have decided to hike from P2. The driver seems mad, revving up the steep road, with a huge cliff drop on one side. We are all looking at each other in complete shock, holding onto our seats for dear life! Luckily, we arrive in one piece.

Finally, around 2 hours after arriving in Odda, and after numerous, numerous ’10 minutes’, we have arrived at P3 and can begin the hike! We take a quick starting photo, and off we go. The first 30 minutes is fine. It’s mostly flat wooden walkways through a rather barren landscape. Light work! But then the ascent begins. We have about 1 hour of steep, steep ascent up what feels like a sheer cliff face. There’s no steps or explicit path, just a very smooth and steep rockface to climb up. With our heavy backpacks and the sun beating down, we walk slowly and take regular breaks. There’s differing levels of speed and fitness in the group, but luckily everyone is encouraging and waits for each other. We overtake some groups while other groups overtake us, but the atmosphere is friendly and everyone is excited. We see many familiar faces – students from Fantoft or who we recognise from our lectures and seminars. There’s hardly any older adults or families compared to the masses of students.

Group photo at the start!

Once we have completed this ascent, which we are told is the worst part of the hike, we take a long break for some well earned lunch. It’s still sunny and t-shirt weather, hopefully we will tan this weekend! We take the opportunity to fill our water bottles up from a nearby stream. We then hike for another 3-4 hours, stopping frequently to take photos and enjoy the views. The scenery is amazing, with a huge fjord to our lefthand side. We can just about make out the rock itself, the Troll’s Tongue, when we are around 2 hours away, which fills us with excitement. Once we have finished all the ascent, there is around an hour of walking on flat ground.

Eventually, we reach the rock!! We enjoy some food while watching people pose on the rock. I had to close my eyes when some idiots decide to do handstands and yoga poses on the rock. An Erasmus student fell of the rock and died a few years ago, safety is no joke. The crowds soon disappear so we take it in turns to carefully take our photos on the rock. I stay well in the middle, no dangling my legs off the side for me!

Evening descending on the rock.

Then, we find a place to set up camp. Despite the masses of crowds we saw while hiking up, there aren’t that many tents on the plateau and everyone seems nicely spread out. We find a spot with dry ground and beautiful views of the fjord, and install our tents. It’s getting cold at this point to we begin to wrap up warm. Dinner for me is a rice salad which I prepared in Bergen, while some of the boys in our group warm up baked beans on a gas stove to eat with hot dog sausages (grim, in my opinion!). We go for a walk around the plateau in the evening and then we sit around a candle (fires are not allowed) to tell stories and get to know each other better. After all, we have only been in Bergen for a matter of weeks!

Setting up camp on the Plateau.

As it gets darker and colder, we crawl into our tents for what I can only describe as the coldest night of my life. I am wearing every single item of clothing that I brought on the trip, including my hat, gloves, fleece, thermal base layers, down jacket and two pairs of leggings, and I am still FREEZING.

Telling stories around the campfire, I mean candle.

Sunday 5th September 2021

Breakfast is porridge, as we all complain about how badly we slept and compete with who was the coldest. But, we soon shut up when the sun makes an appearance and we see the magnificent views. We pack up our camp, making sure to leave nothing behind, and head back to the rock for some more photos.

The best photo we took – around 10am, barely anyone around.

Next, we split into two groups for the journey down – one with those who want to run (yes, run!), and a chill paced group. I take the latter. The walk back down is relatively easy and straightforward. We have more energy for chatting and getting to know each other too. We take a shuttle from P2 to Odda, where we all reconvene. There’s a couple of hours before the coach back to Bergen so we play cards, lay on the grass, and even have a quick swim in the fjord. There’s also time to send some jaw dropping photos to the family WhatsApp group! The coach journey back is almost silent, with most people asleep. We arrive in Bergen, exhausted but buzzing.

Overall, it was a fantastic weekend with wonderful company, incredible views and a great atmosphere. I would highly recommend this to anyone visiting Bergen or this part of Norway. And bring maximum warm layers for the night!

Preparing for Mitacs

by Oriana, University of Saskatchewan, Canada

I have always wanted to travel and live abroad, and I was aware that it is very important to gain research experience during my degree to be in good standing for job offers/ post-graduate study. Mitacs ticked both those boxes, and as it is fully funded it removed a lot of the concerns I had around the cost of travelling abroad/other summer study opportunities.

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My Parisian Adventure Chapter 3: The Beauty of France

Now I’d settled in properly and fully immersed myself in the University life, I vowed to myself that I would explore France and its culture. France is a gargantuan nation, and far larger than most believe it to be. A mind-blowing example is the fact that it takes less time to drive from Paris to Manchester (English channel crossing included) than it would to drive from Paris to Nice on the glittering South coast. From the bustling metropolis of the French capital, often grey and cold, you can travel to other parts of the nation and witness rows and rows of palm trees.

Such diversity is unheard of pretty much everywhere in the remainder of Western Europe, with a grand wealth of popular hotspots to discover and a wide range of history to see. Although University life can get extremely busy, I always take my time to sightsee and partake in activities whenever I can. For example, I enjoy long walks in the city centre, covering most of the major attractions along the way.

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CHI-TOWN

By Benjamin Spencer, Arizona State University, USA

Chicago – making the most of being stateside!

I hadn’t even considered the fact that I was in a whole new country with 50 states to explore before arriving in Arizona, but now I see why so many students pick to move stateside.

Chicago, or as my friends exclusively refer, CHICAGO BABY! is a truly magnificent city, especially for those looking for some rest bite from the culture of the West Coast.

THINGS I LOVED:

The price.

We picked up flights for only £56 direct return from Phoenix and sharing Airbnbs with a large group saw 3 nights’ accommodation over the weekend only come to about £50 each.

The skyscrapers.

Chicago boasts quite the architectural prowess. Everywhere you look is a huge skyscraper and each is just as impressive as the other. We visited Trump tower (it was free!) upto the 20th floor and used a lesser-known ‘hack’ to avoid paying the $30 charge at the Willis Tower. If one is looking for a view up in the clouds of Chicago then go no further than the The Hancock Tower, once inside there is a bar on the 95th floor which is free to access and provides a stunning 360º of Chi-town.

The food.

Oh me, oh my. If you’re a foodie then Chicago is the place to be. Whilst living off the diet I consumed during my weekend would leave you with some type of clogged arteries or heart disease, it doesn’t mean one shouldn’t ‘pig out’ when there. I recommend two places specifically for the two key ‘traditional’ foods of Illinois: Lou Malnati’s Pizzeria for deep-pan pizza ‘pie’ and Luke’s Italian Beef for a classic steak sandwich. Both of these will leave you in a much-appreciated food coma.

Also, they have Nandos which is really cool.

THINGS I LIKED:

The Bean.

I liked the bean, it was cool and attracted a large crowd, which is kinda funny considering it is a bean.

The Parks.

The north of the city has numerous parks, particularly in Lincoln Park, which also has a free zoo. Views of the skyline are superb from here and it’s nice to be able to be at one with nature in a city that has a concrete jungle vibe at times.

The Shops.

Some of the shops we visited reminded me of those we find on Oxford or Bond Street in London. Equally, as Christmas was around the corner (I visited in mid-November) there was a lot of decorations already up, which always puts you in a good mood 😎.

THINGS I DIDN’T LIKE:

The Metro.

There are many tales about the Chicago metro, and whilst you might think that they’re overblown, they’re not really. To put it lightly, there are a lot of ‘dodgy blokes’ lurking about and I wouldn’t want to travel alone at night on it (I’m a rugby prop for reference!). We had to get an Uber for our flight back thanks to a stabbing at a station up the line. During daylight it’s fine and a cost-effective method over taxis – so use this service at your own discretion.

The Contemporary Art Museum.

I love art and history a lot and often visit the Whitworth Gallery, Manchester Gallery, Manchester Museum, IWM North Museum and the like, but this museum just annoyed me. If it was free then fair enough, but the CMA costs $12 as a student and $15 full fare (I think) but it’s not really worth it. We completed the museum in about 45mins and that was on a go-slow… wouldn’t recommend it. Avoid.

This concludes this little summary of my trip to Chi-town, up next? Accommodation advice for ASU.