Study Abroad Reflections on Return

I have been back in Manchester for a semester since living in Australia for one year. I have learned so much from moving away and living on the other side of the world. Studying abroad is such an amazing and unique way to grow academically and personally in a short period of time.

Before I moved to Australia I really believed that I would be heartbroken when I left but I wasn’t. I was so grateful for the experiences, opportunities, and friends that I had made but I was excited to come back home. Studying abroad has made me realise how small the world really is. A flight across the world only takes one day! Since being back in Manchester I have had two Aussie friends come and visit me and have Facetimed with others almost daily. On reflection I wish I hadn’t been so worried about leaving as I am so happy to be back in Manchester!

Another reflection upon returning is how quickly a year passes. It only feels like last month that I was writing my application to study abroad and attending all of the pre-departure sessions. I can’t believe that I am already back. One tip I will give that is a bit cliche is say yes to everything! Your time flies by and you will regret the socials you didn’t go to and the trips that you missed to stay in and study.

The highlight of my year in Australia was definitely all of the travelling and trips that I did! I would recommend saving some money for road trips and spontaneous holidays as they really made the year. It is depressing to write this post in rainy dark Manchester knowing that this time last year I was in Bali.

Studying abroad is the best thing I have done during my time at university and I would recommend it to anyone. I would say go into your exchange with zero expectations. Don’t worry about the small details as you will look back after a year and wonder why you were so worried about them. Join societies, travel as much as you can and enjoy yourself as before you know it you will be back in Manchester.



Mountains, lakes and more mountains!

After living in Calgary for two months now, I have had the opportunity to experience not just what the city has to offer but the surrounding areas as well. One of the key attractions of Alberta is the Rocky Mountains, which contain some of the world’s most amazing landscapes. Within a short driving distance, you can be immersed into beautiful national parks with truly breath-taking views.

Canoeing on Lake Louise

The first park I visited was Banff, and more specifically Lake Louise. This is a famous lake that is surrounded by a vast mountain range allowing stunning views. We took the opportunity, while it was still warm, to canoe on the lake before it freezes over. This gave a whole different perspective of the lake as instead of looking at it from the edge, you were within touching distance with the emerald green water. The contrast of the warm sunny weather with the snow capped mountains in the distance was a truly increadible sight. There was also a short hike up to a viewpoint allowing you to see the lake from above. On the way was a small teahouse, which was a great lunch spot after a tiring walk!

After seeing Lake Louise, we went to see Lake Moraine which was easily accessible by bus. We were very keen to see this particular lake as it closes for the winter months. The lake was a more azure blue shade which I personally prefered, which looked great with the sun shining. There were more great views although we didn’t have the opportunity to see it from above as the trail was closed. After seeing these lakes we headed back to Banff town, which had a small ski resort type feel. It was full of buzzing restaurants and shops, with plenty of places to buy clothes or souvenirs. It also ran a regular shuttle bus back to Calgary, which came in very useful after an action packed weekend!

Lake Moraine

A few weeks later we decided to do our first challenging hike in a place called Kananaskis, which was one of the closest ranges from our campus. We drove to a fairly desolate location and ventured through a small gap in the trees to start our hike. We were further excited by the chance of seeing the famous Canadian wildlife such as a moose or if we were lucky a bear. Sadly we didn’t see either but this was compensated by seeing the spectacular view at the summit of the mountain. It gave great views of the surrounding ranges and vegetation that could survive the harsh conditions at the top. It was not a popular route with lots of tourists so it was very peaceful at the summit and gave a real sense of harmony.

The third place we visited was Jasper national park which is one of the better known parks in the Rockies. Like Banff, there was a small town full of shops and restaurants which gave us a chance to have some great food in the evenings. It wasn’t just the views in Jasper that were amazing but the 5 hour drive from Calgary provided some stunning scenery. Whilst driving we stopped at  a few locations along the way including Bow lake and .. Icefield. It was incredible to see some of the most beautiful mountains that Canada has to offer from the window of a car. This also gave us the perfect excuse to stop the car regularly and absorb the view from the side of the road. Once in Jasper, we attempted the most difficult hike to date. It was relatively short at 8.6km but had an elevation of 1300m over this distance. As this was in late October, the weather was getting colder and as we approached the summit, we encountered some very steep and slippery terrain. At some points the snow was also knee high and made for a challenging but enjoyable day. Sadly the day was slightly overcast, so the further we ascended the more the visibility diminished. After a very tiring day it was nice to relax and enjoy some downtime in the hostel and have a nice meal out with friends.  

UBC: tips and tidbits!

I can’t quite believe I’m already a quarter of the way through my UBC experience, but I am absolutely loving life in Vancouver! Now that I have fully settled in to the busy UBC lifestyle, I will attempt to put some of the many things I have learnt and experienced whilst being here down on paper.

UBC has a massive campus, full of things to do and see – it’s so big that I still get lost sometimes! One of the must-do UBC experiences is the weird and wonderful Wreck Beach, where suns out bums out is taken very literally. Yes, UBC has its very own nudist beach, and during the start of term it is full of people socialising and relaxing. It is known for having a ridiculous number of steps to walk down to the beach (and unfortunately back up again!!) but wow the sunsets are definitely worth it. Another site on UBC I’d recommend visiting whilst the sun’s still out (sadly it’s not called Raincouver for nothing) is the Botanic Gardens which has a tree canopy walkway and some lovely trails. It also has the Museum of Anthropology located on campus where students get in for free! UBC is located on the territory of the Musqueam Peoples, and the museum has an incredible collection of Indigenous artefacts and totem poles. The main mall, where the majority of buildings are located,  is surrounded by huge trees which all turn bright orange and red in ‘fall’ and it is so beautiful. This will normally be swarming with people because UBC is home to 60,000 students! UBC is also home to one of the campus’ biggest celebrities: the fountain seagull, who is always there to photobomb your pics.

A stunning Wreck Beach sunset!

A selfie with the fountain seagull!

UBC’s Botanical Gardens


Within the first couple of weeks I felt like a true Canadian watching the UBC ‘Homecoming’ football game in the pouring rain with a giant thunderbird poncho on. I still have absolutely no clue what the rules are and struggled to find the ball half the time, but it was a lot of fun and a chance to get some free merch.

A very rainy ‘Homecoming’ Football game!

Since being here I have also taken part in UBC’s Day of the Longboat, where you race in dragon boats across a section of Jericho Bay in teams of 10. It is so hilarious trying to canoe and stay afloat when none of you have any experience whatsoever – a definite highlight of my time at UBC so far! I’d also recommend checking out some of the UBC ice hockey matches because they’re really cheap for students and a great alternative to the Vancouver Canuck matches.

My Day of the Longboat team – we amazingly managed to placed 3rd in our race!!

Unfortunately you do have to do a bit of work too and as an exchange student it can be hard getting the balance between studying and having fun. For me UBC’s academic system has been one of the hardest things to adjust to because the work load is a lot more continuous than back at Manchester. I would highly recommend to any future UBC students to take full advantage of the first month and travel and see as much as you can in Vancouver and the surrounding areas, because from October onwards the library and Tim Horton’s will become your best friends! Assignments and mid-terms all seem to come at once, and unlike other universities you don’t get a study break in term 1, making it quite hard to juggle deadlines. However, each assignment/exam is worth a lot less so it does reduce the pressure on a single piece of work, and once you start figuring out what each professor or class is looking for it becomes a lot easier to manage. Don’t worry you will still manage to have a lot of fun, but my friends and I have come up with some useful (hopefully!) tips to help find the balance and ease any worries!!

  1. If you’re struggling with an assignment or you have a lot of deadlines at once go and talk to your professor! They understand you’re exchange students and don’t want to be holding you back from experiencing as much of Canada as possible, so tend to be flexible and generous with deadlines. I had a midterm that clashed with the exchange trip to the Rockies and my professor arranged a make-up assignment for me to do after the trip.
  2. Don’t get too hung up on or stressed about the work load! It can seem overwhelming at first but remember you are only on exchange once and I have found that the standard of work at UBC is easier to that at Manchester. Breka Bakery is nearby and open 24 hours so buy yourself a cheeky donut to help you get through the late study sesh!
  3. Try and chat to people in the first couple weeks of classes because it really helps knowing people for when you can’t attend a lecture or if you’re unsure of what the professor expects of you. For example, I am so used to having to so wider independent reading at UoM but here referencing is almost non-existent in the work I’ve done so far. Also it’s a great way to meet locals!
  4. Don’t expect the best grades ever – remember you’re there to have fun and explore Canada too!!

    Indulging on grilled cheeses and donuts at Breka Bakery to help us through the late study sesh!

Montreal: Market’s, Metro and More

Winona Newman at Concordia University, Montreal

After spending the last few days in sweatpants revising and writing essays I was craving a change of scenery. So I finally submitted my essay late last night so I’d have today free to explore. This morning I consulted my list of places I really should visit and headed to Petite Italie – Montreal’s Little Italy, home to a number of independent cafes, second hand shops, art work spaces and one of the largest open-air markets in North America; Marche Jean Talon. The trip also allowed me to test my metro knowledge as it was the longest journey I’d done so far.

The short video hopefully gives a feel for the area, which I’d definitely recommend visiting for anyone studying in or visiting Montreal. As with many places here the aesthetics of the of ‘Little Italy’ sit on that slightly strange line between European and American archiceture and urban landscape, making it an interesting place to visit in itself. However, the real selling point is the market – packed with fresh fruit, veg and flowers. Apart from PA (the best and cheapest supermarket I’ve found) this is definitely the best place to grab your greens, especially if you live slightly outside of downtown or have a metro pass (which are really good value, especially if you’re riding everyday for uni). It’s also a really fun experience and there’s a great atmosphere. I’m excited to go back and see what it’s like when the snow comes!

A week in the life of an Exchange in Singapore

These blog posts are all well and good, but if you’re interested in studying abroad I think one of the best things is to see what a week in the life is like. I know before I signed up I was on YouTube searching for exchange student vlogs – to much avail! Anyway, here goes a week in the life of an SMU Law Exchange student in mid-October (peak workload season, yipee).

Continue reading “A week in the life of an Exchange in Singapore”

My First Few months in Vancouver…

This blog post comes at a good time for me, since it feels as though I haven’t paused for a minute since I arrived here over 2 months ago! I’m gonna try and write about my first impressions of Vancouver and SFU in retrospect, and reflect on what’s changed.

I decided to fly out in mid August so that I could take time to familiarize myself with the city before uni kicked in. Studying abroad was something I’d talked about with friends and family for over a year, and to finally have arrived gave rise to such a conflict of emotions. I was nervous and didn’t know what to expect, but at the same time I was so excited to be embarking on a journey like this on my own.

I was suddenly alone is this seemingly huge city (I’ve since realized that the city itself is pretty small and walkable) with no concrete plans as to what I would do with these first few weeks at the hostel. In my mind, the first few days felt like they ran in slow-mo… I hadn’t met anyone yet and I felt unusually shy (and I am not a shy person). I knew that these were normal feelings though, so I just allowed myself to explore freely and took myself out for lunch and drank weird coloured fruity beers. I’d caught the very end of summer and was amazed that I could be sat on the beach, with the mountains ahead of me and city behind me.

English Bay beach

Lone travelling was a new experience for me, but I got over myself pretty quick and tried to initiate conversation with everyone I could – turns out hostels are great for this anyway (Plus, Vancouverites are very friendly, sometimes suspiciously so haha). The hostel hosted daily outdoor activities which allowed me to meet people in a similar situation to me and to get out into the spectacular great outdoors on my doorstep. With the hostel, I hiked the Dog Mountain trail from Mount Seymour, which I found to be really meditative… literally didn’t look up from my feet til we reached the top. Hiking wasn’t something I’d considered a passion of mine back in Manchester, but I quickly realized the therapeutic effect of simply being around nature- I could honestly get hooked on that euphoric feeling you get from the mountain top.

Top of the Dog Mountain trail from Mt. Seymour
Trip to Granville Island Market with the hostel

A week into my stay at the Hostel, some fellow Manchester Geographers (who were going to UBC) joined me, and we cycled round Stanley park, ate poutine and attended an outdoor movie screening near the beach (Textbook Vancouver tourist things ya know).

The time to move up to the SFU Burnaby mountain campus came around very quickly, and once again I bundled myself into a taxi with my embarrassing amounts of luggage to move into residence. The location of SFU’s main campus was one factor I was apprehensive about, since it’s a little isolated from the city (I’ve since found ways around this, though). My first impressions of SFU Burnaby can be summed up in three words: quiet, concrete and construction. The brutalist architecture of SFU is apparently world-renowned, but I found it to be incredibly dull- very far from the vibrancy and mixed-design of UoM. The architecture has grown on me though, and I’ve come to appreciate the functional building design, which allows you to travel across campus [almost] without getting caught in the rain. The construction was also a little dis-orientating on move in day, and residence lacked the buzz I had encountered when moving into Oak House back in Manchester.

To an extent I was expecting this though, and had read lots about the unsociable reputation of SFU- owing to its commuter campus nature. However, I promised myself I wouldn’t carry any expectations with me- after all, UK student culture is pretty unique and socialising might just take a new form… I quickly met other exchange students, and we kinda bonded over our shared bafflement of the lack of freshers events. After a few trashier nights out on Granville street, we discovered the underground scene, which partly resembled what I was used to back home. Regardless of the nightlife, I understood that Vancouver was so unique, and boasted outdoor experiences that simply don’t exist in the UK.

Though SFU residence is a 40 minute bus ride from downtown, It hasn’t restricted me from getting out as much as possible. I now use the bus ride to listen to podcasts and have come to value this time. Though I initially had plenty to moan about regarding the mountain-based campus, perks include a free gym membership, access to the pool and sauna, a selection of shops and restaurants and spectacular views over Vancouver. Below are some photos taken on campus.

A few of my highlights from my exchange so far are:

  1. Going to Squamish with exchange friends. We hiked the Stawamus Chief first peak (best view i’ve EVER seen) and stayed at the cutest hostel for a night. Very wholesome times- this is where all the cool outdoorsy Vancouverites retreat to.
  2. Hiking the Grouse Grind. I’d heard from many people that this hike was a real mission, and required prime fitness to get you to the top. I felt such a sense of achievement reaching the top, which was topped off with stunning views over Vancouver. I’m so excited to come back to Grouse during the ski season

All in all, I’ve had some ups and downs here and have faced challenges along the way. But the compilation of great people, incredible outdoors and the general buzz of living in a new place has made these first few months some of the most enriching in my life. I can’t wait for the ski season to arrive, which will hopefully allow me to meet some more Canadians!

Here are some of the things I will most definitely miss about UMASS (ZOOMASS)

unnamed-10.jpgWhen in doubt, GREEK it out !


Our all time favourite university liquor store because Tesco and Aldi does not existunnamed-8.jpg Be sure to try out insomnia cookies, they are the best thing that ever happened to mankind, oh and Antonio’s pizza of course! unnamed-9.jpg Southwest? The best! I mean, you gotta give the RA’s in Prince hall some credit for their creativity unnamed-6.jpg

Southwest? Still the best place to be on campus unnamed-5.jpg Casual Friday night in…

I will miss all the funny, unforgettable and fond memories that I had made at Umass!  Study abroad is a once in a lifetime opportunity and I would recommend it to everyone if you have the chance to do it, do it! You won’t regret it.

Adapting to life back at Manchester 

Greetings viewers, today is the 17th of October, I have been quite busy catching up with work and deadlines, and applying for masters. I honestly cannot believe how fast time flies by me just when I was busy adapting and enjoying the American way of life and forming my close circle of friends over at Umass. I am currently sitting in Starbucks down on Oxford Road, reflecting on my time at Umass and looking around at the familiar Starbucks I usually study at since first year, the very place I had received my acceptance letter to UMass one year ago today. I feel as though a lot has changed in Manchester, but at the very same time, I feel as though nothing has. I want to reflect on adapting to life back in Manchester after being abroad for a semester because I know some students are probably excited to be back in Manchester to see their friends, their family, the familiar university place, and the good ol’ quids in Monday night at Factory club and of course I can’t forget the good old sausage rolls at Greggs (I miss sausage rolls from Greggs while I was away can you believe it? ). However, on the other hand, there are probably students, like myself, who are getting the post-exchange blues. So in this blog, I will tell you some of the things I was not expecting to experience being back in Manchester.1.jpg

  1. Sometimes, you will feel as though you have never left Manchester and your time abroad was all just a dream
  2. As unbelievable as it sounds, if you believe in soulmate connections, you might just find your soulmate and meet some of the coolest and most compatible friends while you are abroad. For instance, I spent the night Skyping my best friend whom I met during my time abroad at Umass in the learning commons just the other day, while she was sitting in WEB DU BOIS library over at Umass. I had also met my significant other while I was abroad in the States, so if you don’t take the chance, you never know what you are missing out on!
  3. You will miss American food and the Friday after lecture drive thru’s at Dunkin donuts ! Especially UMASS food! Whoever is doing a semester abroad at Umass, please do yourself a favor and enjoy Berk dining hall and don’t get too crazy on sushi and wok!  I would also recommend Anotonio’s pizza, momo and bubble tea at VIVI
  4. American college workload is more like breadth, not depth, and Manchester workload is the complete opposite, so being back in Manchester, suddenly, I feel like the readings feel a lot harder, but my willingness to ask questions and engage in class discussions have actually improve ever since being back in Manchester
  5. You have to start getting used to the English accent and slangs
  6. At least back in Manchester, the magic bus can take you everywhere whereas at Umass, you have to drive to places, or you can take the free buses that take you from North Amherst to the city center
  7. Peter Pan bus is a MUST if you are planning on travelling to Boston or New York
  8. At least the weather in Manchester isn’t as cold and we don’t use fahrenheit
  9. You will probably, like myself, have post-study abroad blues, but think of the reasons why you chose to study in Manchester in the first place and remember, there are two sides to everything so enjoy Manchester while you can, and remember, you can always go back to your exchange university to visit your friends and the place !

Some photos from a year in New Zealand

Emily Barnes // University of Auckland

New Zealand is such an amazing country and the landscapes and views are always beautiful, no matter what the weather or time of year. Over the course of my year I took thousands of photos, so for my last post, I thought I’d share a video of some of my favourites so you can really get an idea for how diverse and awesome New Zealand actually is!

My Top 5 Beaches in Sydney

By Issy Jackson (University of Sydney, Australia)

On my very first day at the University of Sydney, I walked out of my last lecture for the day at lunchtime to beautiful blue skies and sunshine when I was met with a problem that I would get very used to over my time on exchange: Which beach to go to?! There are over 100 beaches in Sydney so I’m going to share with you my top 5.

Camp Cove

Getting the ferry to any of the beaches along Watson’s Bay from Circular Quay is a ‘pinch-me’ moment every single time as you watch the Harbour Bridge, the Opera House, the North Shore and the Royal Botanical Gardens pass you by. What’s more, you can set up your towel on the never-too-busy harbour beach, look out to the ocean and see both the CBD sky line as well as the infamous Harbour Bridge too. Watson’s Bay is more of a domestic suburb than your touristy Bondi and Cooggee, so rather than having a load of shops, Camp Cove just has one little kiosk for your mid-afternoon ice cream. If that’s not enough, the Hornby Lighthouse National Park is right next-door for a thirty-minute walk overlooking Middle Head and North Head. It’s one of my favourite places to watch the sun set.

Tamarama Beach

Located along the infamous Bondi to Cooggee Coastal walk, Tamarama is the perfect spot for an afternoon surf that feels slightly more local than the sprawling white sands of Bondi Beach. Nestled at the bottom of a Tamarama Park with beautiful cliff edges, greenery, water and sand, this petite bay is one of the most picturesque beaches in the Eastern Suburbs. Not only does it make for a great surf in the Pacific, it has just one little café next to the park where you can enjoy your food on the patio overlooking the sand.

Cronulla Beach

Slightly further afield is Cronulla, where the hour-long train journey is perfect to get cracking with some uni work while watching tall sky scrapers of Central turn into boutique shops and beach houses. As a busier beach and one of the main surfing destinations away from the touristy Eastern suburbs, Cronulla is the perfect place to try and learn from the locals. Aside from the sand itself, Cronulla has a thriving town centre so whether you’re looking for the best acai bowl in Sydney or souvenirs for the family, a walk around these wide, bright streets is a great place to start.

Clontarf Beach

The Spit to Manly Walk is one of the nicest coastal treks in Sydney which includes lizards, crabs, forest and Indigenous artwork. Getting a bus to Spit and the ferry back from Manly means you get to see heaps of the city itself too. Halfway through this track sits Clontarf Beach. The Harbour Beaches are usually slightly off the beaten track and provide a nice contrast from the hectic waves and chaos of the Pacific shore. Such serene stillness paired with some of the clearest waters I have ever seen makes Clontarf a great place for snorkelling or paddle boarding too.

Balmoral Beach

My favourite thing about Balmoral Beach is how it really seems the heart of the community in Mosman. It is always thriving with dog-walkers, locals swimming lengths along the shore line, families setting up picnics and friends meeting for coffees. Balmoral is also a great place to go for a typical Aussie brunch, whether you fancy sitting along the boardwalk or even at the end of the jetty, there are plenty of cafes serving every style of Eggs Benedict you could possibly imagine.

Hong Kong: Settling in and Moving Out

Orientation day

For my first full day in Hong Kong, it was the orientation and registration day at the University of Hong Kong (HKU), so I was thrown straight into travelling on the MTR! Luckily, the Metro to the University could not be easier- lasting about 20 minutes to the HKU stop, which is right on campus. Travel on all public transport uses the Octopus card, (Hong Kong’s answer to London’s Oyster card), so is a necessity before using the MTR. This is easy enough to purchase from the customer service desk, and top-up at all MTR stops. Not only is the Octopus card used for transport, but can be used for purchases in the supermarket, buying food in the canteen and even in shops.

The day itself consisted of registering for the student card; general introductions and advice for life in Hong Kong; the societies fair; a talk from the British Consulate; and a Social Sciences orientation. Disappointingly, the societies fair had a lack of sports societies, which I hope to join in the following weeks. However, they said there will be a lot more societies dotted around for the first few weeks of Uni. Considering all the students at HKU, it was to my surprise that I managed to bump into some of the other exchange students from Manchester during the day!

Weekend explorations

The first exploration of Kowloon around the Airbnb, was a 30-minute expedition to find an impressively reviewed (2,663 in total) dim-sum restaurant. A 30-minute walk in the humidity of Hong Kong could be described as a little uncomfortable, turned more so by torrential rain a few minutes before the destination. The many, many, many restaurants passed on the walk made it even more essential the dim-sum was worth it: it definitely was! This fact was confirmed by the queue outside of the restaurant, despite the downpour continuing outside… Another highlight was getting the tram to the harbour, just a couple of stops from the Airbnb. The views of Hong Kong island were incredible, with an extremely panoramic view of the impressive skyscrapers. Yet another highlight was exploring the surprisingly massive Kowloon Park, which was about 15 minutes’ walk from the Airbnb. Facilities included: 2 outdoor gyms, an aviary, 2 swimming pools, a statue walk, open areas with people practicing Kung Fu and of course a McDonalds… The amount of space provided for this urban park was good to see, but surprising considering the massive issues with a lack of housing space in Hong Kong.

The incredible view of Hong Kong Island

Classes begin

For the first week of classes at HKU, it has been an amazing experience mixing with other exchange international students and local students. The classes themselves are a lot smaller, with my busiest class having just 30 students; a nice contrast to some of the classes at UoM. This has meant classes have been a very different experience to Manchester so far. The highest number of international and exchange students is in my Mandarin class, as you might expect. This was clearly apparent to my new Finnish friend: leading with the introduction of “Hello, fellow Westerner.”

Sorry to keep emailing, but…

Continue reading “Hong Kong: Settling in and Moving Out”