‘It won’t happen to me’

Before leaving to go to America, the prospective exchange students were made to go to a meeting titled ‘it won’t happen to me’, where we had to sit through a PowerPoint of horrific incidences which previous exchange students had been involved in, e.g. being caught up in natural disasters or deported for underage drinking.  The aim of the PowerPoint was to encourage us students to be vigilant whilst on exchange and consequently, I completely ignored any advice that was given.  ‘Nothing like that is going to happen to me’, came my irritatingly annoying thoughts, ‘nothing like that ever happens to me’. When I saw the price of health insurance for one semester ($1200) I very nearly refused to get it, purely as a matter of principal. Thankfully though, I was eventually persuaded, and  I cannot begin to articulate how thankful I am for that.

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A few weeks into my stay in New Jersey I went on a university organised day skiing trip. Not many of the others in our group had skied much before, if ever, so my arrogance took over and I decided to attempt to show off my mediocre skills. Terrible decision. I have been skiing since I was five and never in all that time have, I ever injured myself. ‘You wear my waterproof gloves’, I told my roommate, who, with it being her first time on the slopes, didn’t have any proper kit and had spent a considerable portion of the morning on the floor. ‘I’m not going to fall over so you need them more than I do’. Ten minutes later I was face first in the snow, screaming in pain with my elbow twisted at a very disturbing looking angle.

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A few of us had decided to challenge ourselves by going down a black slope and had taken the incredibly embarrassing liberty to photograph ourselves with the ‘experts only’ sign that was situated at the top of the slope before careering off down the piste. By this point, it was nearing the end of the day so the snow had begun to melt and become extremely slushy. As I made my way towards the bottom of the mountain, my ski got caught in a lump of snow, propelling me into the air. I crashed down onto the ice and felt a sharp pain in my right elbow. ‘I need to go to the hospital’, I thought instinctively.

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Being lowered down a mountain, strapped to a sledge pulled by a man on skis is terrifying. Primarily, this is because, it is pretty much impossible to ski at a speed slower than about a million miles per hour. Once we’d reached the bottom, I was transferred on to another stretcher, this one on wheels, and taken into the emergency room. A woman named Tammy felt around my arm for a bit, much to my protestations, an ever more concerning look on her face.

‘Girl we need to get you to the ER’

In the ambulance on the way to the hospital the paramedic ran some tests.

‘Your blood pressure is pretty high, are you feeling stressed?’

I was in fact, very stressed, my chief concern being that outdoor activities wouldn’t be included under my health insurance. The thought of thousands of dollars of crippling debt is the last thing you want to be thinking about when you’ve just suffered a severe injury and I suddenly felt a surge of pride towards the NHS.

After spending a traumatising six hours in the hospital, consisting  of X rays, opioids and a lot of screaming, my arm was finally put back in to place and slotted in to a sling. The doctors wheeled me out into the waiting room where my friends had  laborously waited for me (thanks guys) and helped to load my dysfunctional body into the mini van which was taking us home.

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That night, two of my flatmates had to use scissors to cut me out of my t shirt since moving my arm was so excruciating. The process took about half an hour and when the top was finally removed, we discovered that my entire arm was covered in a deep purple bruise.

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The next few weeks constituted of Doctors appointments, ibuprofen and me realising how insanely useful having two functioning hands is (have you ever tried grating cheese with one hand? Absolute nightmare.)

My bill for the hospital was over 10 thousand dollars, not counting the ambulance bill which was an extra $1500, for a 20 minute journey. I’m not entirely sure how much of this bill will be covered by my insurance but It will cost me a lot less than if I hadn’t bothered to take out insurance at all. Essentially, the moral of this story is, take the meeting seriously, don’t be arrogant and definitely take out health insurance because it could in fact, happen to you!

Road Trip – Western Australia

-We went in semester two, British semester one, during Australian winter/spring (but tbh there is only one season here in WA and that is summer!!).

-I live in college so we went in a group of ten (both Aussies and exchangers) from my college.

-It took us a week in total to drive up to Exmouth and back down again.

-I broke my finger the day before we left so I could only snorkel for one day as my cast was not meant to get wet.

-My top three favourite places we visited were:

  1. The pink lake! It looks even pinker in real life, and the ground is covered in a thick layer of salt.
  2. Turquoise bay, which has officially ruined beaches for me, as it is so lovely.
  3. Monkey Mia because when we were hanging out during the night, a dolphin came and swam alongside us for about 10 minutes (sadly I didn’t manage to film this).

 

 

How is academic life different at Auckland?

Emily Barnes // University of Auckland

After possibly the longest summer break ever (a whole 4 months!), I am finally back for my second semester at the University of Auckland. I spent most of the summer travelling around, with the highlights including a trip to the South Island where I visited Milford Sound in Fiordland and hiked the Abel Tasman Great Walk, which had some of the most beautiful beaches I’ve ever seen.

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Section of the Abel Tasman National Park walk 
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Moody Milford Sound

 

However, whilst I could write post after post on all the amazing landscapes and attractions New Zealand has to offer, I thought I’d focus this one more on how the academic side of university varies here compared to Manchester.

1) Different case study examples

Studying Geography and Geology, I often get taught case studies that help consolidate understandings of how geographic and geological process work in the real-word. I’m now taught from a southern hemisphere perspective, and all my modules tend to refer to concepts and case studies relevant to New Zealand, Australia and the surrounding Pacific countries. New Zealand is a much more interesting place geologically than the UK, which was part of the reason I chose to come here, and so far, I’m really enjoying learning more about specific geographic and geological topics I wouldn’t have exposure to back at Manchester. For example, in my Engineering Geology module there was a significant focus on Australian mining as these is a common field for NZ geologists to go into. It’s also cool to see features I’ve only ever seen theoretically in books, such as a back-arc volcanic chain, as a real-life example of New Zealand’s Taupo Volcanic Zone, as it really helps to visualise and identify processes and end products.

2) Continuous assessments

As is the case for many universities abroad, it is more common for modules (called papers here) to be continuously assessed throughout the semester, in contrast to maybe one large coursework essay and a final exam worth 60-100%, which was common for me at Manchester. This means each week, on top of attending lectures and the readings and note writing associated with these, I have to complete assessed labs, each worth 5-10%. Mid semester tests are also common and can mean that by the actual exam, as much as 80% of the module has already been completed. For example, in one of my modules, I’d already done 30% of the work by week 3.

Whilst this takes pressure of during exam season, as exams have a much lower weighting than at Manchester, more work is required throughout the semester. In order to complete the assessments, you need to be up-to-date with lecture material, which can be a good thing as it forces you to keep motivated and engaged, however means the work can seem very full on and stressful at times.

3) Lots of computer-based laboratories

Initially I assumed my assessed labs would be similar to the geology practicals I had at Manchester, which are very hands on in a classroom. However, I was surprised as here, for both my Geography and Earth Science modules, labs are much more computer-based. There seems to be a focus on using programs such as Excel, Arc GIS and specialist modelling software to process and analyse data sets, aiming to relate this back to concepts learnt in lectures. Having limited prior experience with such, it took me a while to fully understand what was going on and how some of the programs work. Whilst these have been beneficial, expanding my knowledge and letting me use some really cool programs, such as one that processes seismic reflection data, I think I prefer the practical style back at Manchester, where it’s a lot more hands on and easier to understand the relevancy of what I am doing.

This one might be a bit specific to studying Geography and Geology, however, my friend who does Psychology also has lots more computer labs than back home, so maybe this might be an observation for science subjects in general?

4) Exams

As mentioned above, exams are often weighted a lot less here than they would be back at Manchester, which does ease the pressure and stress during the exam season. Mid-semester tests also mean that the material has been revised before, which make final revision a lot easier, especially as in some cases, where material covered in the mid-semester test is excluded from the final exam. So, whilst I’ve found exams here a lot less stressful than at Manchester, the format in which they’re held can be a little weird. For starters, it’s common for exams to be held on Saturdays or late in the evening (my friend once had one that started at 8pm!). Each exam, regardless of subject, also has 15 minutes reading time before you actually start writing which can be confusing when you’re not expecting it and try to start writing immediately which isn’t allowed!

 

Hopefully this post has been helpful for those considering studying at Auckland or New Zealand in the future!

 

Swedish Culture: Ball Weekend

Spring has sprung and as I finished my mid-semester exams I took the opportunity to take in some more of the Swedish environment and culture.

One of the biggest traditions and an important part of student life in Lund is the Ball weekend. Effectively a much bigger, much fancier version of a sittning (see earlier post) the Sydskanska Nations annual spring ball took place this year in the Grand Hotel. There are a few things that separate this event from your average shindig, firstly that its probably the fanciest thing I’ve ever been a part of, with a strict white tie dress code. The guests also attach a series of small medals to their tuxedo/ ball gown, each earnt for engagement in a specific aspect of student or civil society for a certain period of time. I managed to get my hands on one for being involved with a nation, but I was definitely a small fish in a big pond of heavily medalled sharks.

student-ball-lund-university-705.gifMuch of the speeches and songs were of course in Swedish, which made everything quite confusing as an international student, but still a lot of fun. A three course meal was followed by a live band and barbershop quartet, and then the large hall was cleared to make room for ballroom dancing. As the ball drew to a close, the guests gathered at the hotel entrance for a torchlit procession through the streets of Lund up to the Sydskanska Nation building, where the entertainment continued late into the night. If this wasn’t enough, the morning after brought with it a brunch sittning and more live music well into the afternoon. It was interesting to see how much events like this are part of Swedish culture, and it was definitely a unique and different experience compared to student life in the UK.

Adapting back to Manchester: life after studying abroad

While you are studying abroad, one of the last things you are thinking about is returning to Manchester to finish your degree. Whether it is a single semester, your final year or returning to do a masters, returning to academic life in Manchester offers a unique set of challenges which is not often associated with the process of studying abroad.

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Having spent an academic year at Arizona State University (ASU), one of the main differences I found was the weather. This may not sound like a big deal, but having gone almost an entire year not having to wear anything more than shorts, it can be surprising how much of a difference walking to a few lectures in the rain can do. This can significantly affect your mood and potentially your academic progress. I found the best way to overcome this was remind myself why I had chosen the University of Manchester in the first place, which involved getting stuck back into my course and playing football again after a summer off. After the first week or so once I had adapted to Manchester to being the norm again and stopped drawing constant comparisons with my year abroad, I soon found that this initial shock could be easily overcome.

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While studying abroad there can often be a big difference between the academic side whilst abroad compared with back in Manchester. This means that getting back to Manchester and doing assignments again can be daunting. This is especially the case for returnees like me whose year abroad did not count towards their final grade but instead was pass/fail.  In addition to this, courses in Manchester may also include information from the previous year, which you may not be aware of if the classes during your study abroad did not cover the same topics. Getting by this may include spending a little extra time on assignments and study than you would normally need to initially, however this is far outweighed by the benefits of studying abroad and all the amazing experiences you have had. This is also not that of a big deal in the long run, in my own experiences I only had to deal with acclimatizing to doing assignments in Manchester for the first couple.

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The biggest challenge I found, which is probably different for different people, was going from studying abroad where I was travelling and constantly experiencing new things to being back in Manchester, where the initial shock of moving back is replaced by a sense of familiarity and the every day. Going from one to the other is often coupled with not enjoying Manchester as much as you used to and the feeling that your study abroad never actually happened. While I was walking to the Ali G it was hard to believe that just a few months earlier I was travelling around America on the back of studying there for a year. Despite this however it was good to see people again that I hadn’t seen since the last summer and overall getting back to Manchester after a summer of seeing friends and family isn’t so bad. While studying abroad is a great experience and one I wish I could re-live over and over again, returning to Manchester is often not discussed or viewed as part of the process. Overall I found that because of this when I returned back it took me a while to get back into my stride. Once I had done this however, I could get on with finishing my degree while being able to look back at all the fantastic memories I had of the time I was away.

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”

Top tips for thriving not just surviving Amsterdam

All things considered Amsterdam is a very easy place to live for a foreigner, with 90% of people speaking English. However, there are a few things I wish I had known to buy or to do which would have made my first few weeks easier. So here are some things to consider when moving here:

Set up a dutch bank account: up until Christmas time I managed to get by using my international bank card. However, it was causing me a bit of hassle, as lots of shops here only take dutch cards. Also, online shopping using dutch companies is impossible without a dutch card. However, since I got a job and had to set up an account I realised how worthwhile it is to have one. I recommend ING for a free student account.

Get a bike ASAP: I actually brought my bike with me from home, as I was lucky enough to have my dad drive me here. But if you can’t do that, then I suggest either renting one from Swapfiets for €15 per month, or you can buy a v cheap one at Waterlooplein.

Order a student OV chip card: for the super windy and rainy days when you can think of nothing worse than cycling, you’ll need to have a student OV chip card to allow you to take public transport (unless you want to fork out a fortune for the standard ticket).  You can order them online and they give a discount on all transport.

Museumkaarts: are a must if you like museums. Going to exhibitions in the Netherlands can become expensive, so if you want to go to more than 4 times I would recommend you get a card. It costs about €60 to get one, but if you buy it at the museum the cost of the visit is deducted.

Free food: there are quite a few spots in the city for free or cheap meals. Taste before you waste is a charity which hosts dinner’s twice a week. You can also go to their food market and get free ingredients.

Booze: annoyingly, I wandered around the supermarket for about 15 minutes looking for vodka before I mustered up the courage to ask where the spirits were. Turns out, in the Netherlands if you want spirits you have to go to a liquor shop.

Flixbus: by far the cheapest and easiest way to get around; both to different dutch cities but also further afield.

Although this blog isn’t super exciting, I do wish I knew these things and I hope it is useful for whoever comes to Amsterdam on exchange.

 

 

Vancouver and Beyond – travel recommendations for your time at UBC

As reading week finally arrives at UBC, I can sigh in relief after surviving four exams in the space of three days. However, it’s times like those when you’re sat at your desk at 8am doing some hardcore last-minute cramming that you really cherish the high notes in the year so far. So, with that, I decided to make a quick guide to Vancouver’s best day trips and long weekends for students wanting to make the most out of their time abroad.

One of the first adventures I embarked on was a weekend road trip through the Canadian Rockies which was organised by the Exchange Student Club (ESC). The trip cost £250 in total, including food, accommodation and travel – with everything organised by the ESC so your only job is to pay! The trip took us through the most incredible sites in Alberta including the breathtakingly beautiful Lake Louise as well as several waterfalls and novice to advanced hiking trails. Although a large amount of time is spent on the coach, the ESC volunteers provide top entertainment to make the time fly by. Once the coach reaches Banff, the real fun begins. The accommodation comes with a thermal bath looking over the snowy mountains, and there are plenty of opportunities to get to know the other exchange students and finish the weekend with a fat night out before heading back to Vancouver. Would highly recommend this as a start to the year to meet loads of great people and visit some of North America’s most beautiful sites.

Lake Louise, Alberta
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Alberta

If the trip to the Rockies hasn’t quite quenched your thirst for Mountain adventuring, then British Columbia has plenty to offer in the way of hiking, biking, skiing and climbing. Whatever your experience with mountain sports, there are endless opportunities to take a quick trip Northern British Columbia to escape busy city life – an incredibly effective stress-reliever I’ve found. One thing Vancouver is good for is its proximity to the Whistler-Blackcomb mountain, a world renowned ski resort. The mountain caters for all with a range of activities including snow sports, snow shoeing and biking.  Day trips to Whistler are cheap and quick with Facebook groups such as ‘UBC Whistler Ride and Share’ and the app ‘Poparide’ allowing you to catch a lift almost every day of the week for around £14 return. Essentially, you can get a full day in Whistler and be back in downtown before 6pm. For those of you planning multiple trips to Whistler, I’d also highly recommend buying the Student Winter Season Pass available at the start of the season which costs £380 – considering a day pass is £85 you make back your money pretty quickly! Other local mountains nearer to Vancouver also offer similar experiences, including Grouse (1hr bus ride from UBC), Seymour and Cypress mountain.

One of the benefits of Vancouver’s location is it’s proximity to the US. A 4-hour coach ride to the lively city of Seattle will cost you between £50-£100 round trip and is highly recommended for a long weekend away. Another quick trip that you can’t miss is Vancouver Island. This huge island offers a variety of scenic hikes and water sports in areas such as Tofino (mainly accessible by car), as well as some great bars, restaurants and thrift shopping in the small European-style city of Victoria (5hr round trip by public transport from UBC campus). If you need a car, there are multiple car hire companies that let you pay by the minute, using an app to pick-up and drop off cars around the city – check out Evo and Car2Go.

Seattle, USA

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.

You can’t pump your own gas in the State of New Jersey.

 

‘Just do it! Even if you don’t want to come to the UK, just do it, anywhere you go, you’ll have an incredible time I promise!’

That was me, promoting studying abroad at the Rutgers University Study Abroad fair, two weeks in to my six months stay in New Jersey. In the weeks and months leading up to my semester abroad, I was beyond petrified. I didn’t want to leave my friends behind, I was scared I wouldn’t make any new friends, the fact that I wouldn’t be old enough to drink made me feel like I was reverting back to being sixteen again and the thought of having a roommate was such an alien concept to me that it freaked me out beyond belief. These fears however, evaporated almost as soon as I stepped off the plane at JFK.

True, I did find it a little hard at first to adjust to some of the cultural differences in the US. The food is weird (Americans bleach their eggs and their attempt at cheesy chips tastes like something that Ant and Dec would force down your throat in a bush tucker trial) carrier bags in supermarkets are free ( my first trip to Walmart turned in to an anxiety inducing fiasco, with me staring in horror at the hundreds of plastic bags the cashier was throwing at me) and it is someones entire job to put petrol into people’s cars because apparently the people of New Jersey can’t be trusted to do it themselves.  But aside from that, adapting to life across the Atlantic, was far easier than I expected.

In the short time that I have spent here, I have tried to fully immerse myself in American culture. I attended a basketball game that was more like High School Musical than High School Musical itself, I watched the Superbowl (possibly the most unnecessarily theatrical performance I have ever witnessed) and I actually quite enjoy having a roommate.

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Not only has studying abroad been an amazing opportunity to embrace American culture, it has also allowed me to meet and befriend exchange students from all over the world. I celebrated Australia day, have been cooked French crepes and Spanish Omelette and I now know that Weetabix is basically valued as an Australian delicacy.

One of the main reasons that I chose to study at Rutgers was because of its close proximity to New York City, somewhere I have dreamed of visiting for my entire life. Last weekend I visited the city for the first time and it absolutely did not disappoint. Everywhere you look you feel like you’re in an iconic movie or TV show, and although you feel like you’ve seen all of the city before, there is nothing like experiencing it in real life. At sunset, we got a lift to the top of the Rockefeller centre and were met by an incredible view of the New York Skyline. No photographs could ever do the scene before us justice, although the pictures still look amazing. I’m eager to visit the city again and with the train from my university to the centre of Manhattan taking less than an hour, I could pretty much stroll through Central Park every day if I wanted to.

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With a Ski trip to Mountain Creek booked for next weekend and plans to travel the states after my final exams, I am becoming increasingly more grateful that I took the leap to apply to Study abroad and know for sure that this will be a semester that I will never forget!

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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!

Academic Life at Lund University

I’ve been really impressed by the Swedish university system in my time at Lund, and it has some quite big differences with what I’m used to in the UK. One of these main differences is the way the term/ semester is organised. Instead of doing modules that last for the whole term, with exams or coursework at the end, the semester is broken up into two blocks. This means that courses run for a shorter, more intense period. I found this beneficial because it means that rather than having 4 modules all running at the same time, you focus on two for each half of the semester. I think this is better for learning, as it allows you to read deeper into each topic and the information is fresh in the mind when it comes to assignments or exams.  

I’ve been taking a number of modules focusing on climate change and sustainability, which has been very interesting to learn from a Scandinavian perspective. Sweden consistently tops all the charts for lowering its emissions and investing in greening its economy. Lund University is also a leader in this field, with a whole department (with its own building!) dedicated to sustainability research. My lecturers have been professionals with decades of years both working in these sectors as well as being involved in research, which has meant the quality of education has been really good!

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Lunds beautiful main library.

I’ve also been able to take courses outside of my usual Geography programme, for example I have just started a Political Science module on the Israel Palestine conflict. This is one of the main benefits of a year abroad, you can broaden your knowledge in a way that is difficult with the busy schedule at home university.