A Covid Farewell

By Lauren Howie, the University of Manchester

Like many people on exchange this year, I didn’t get the send off I had anticipated. In our pre-covid fantasies we imagined a month of BBQs on the beach, sunset hikes and cocktails at those bars we just hadn’t got round to visiting yet.

The reality couldn’t have been more different.

How we imagined our send off to look like

PHASE 1: MOVING OUT

To begin with Australia wasn’t too badly affected by the virus. While the UK infection rates were rocketing, Melbourne was yet to record a fatality. But we couldn’t predict what was round the corner and staying in Aus during a pandemic seemed risky, not to forget expensive.

With great hesitation, we ended the lease on our beautiful home and booked a flight back to the UK. Our decision to leave brought about a mad frenzy of selling furniture and rushed goodbyes. It wasn’t till we parted with our last pot plant, that we finally realised our time abroad had come to an end.

Well thats what we thought.

All packed up and ready to go

Only 45 minutes after we had gutted our ENTIRE house we received an email informing us that our flight had been cancelled and that unless we had a spare 10 grand lying around, we weren’t getting another one soon.

We were officially stuck in Melbourne with only Chinese leftovers, a legless table and a new family of mice for company.

Sitting in our empty home eating Chinese leftovers

PHASE 2: STRANDED

With no electricity and a rapidly deteriorating budget, things began to look pretty bleak. I made several attempts to contact the University of Melbourne in hope of securing temporary accommodation. Much to my dismay, our host university took no interest in our plea for help. Running out of options we were unbelievably grateful to receive a message from my Aussie course-mate. Having heard of our distress, she insisted we crashed at hers or at the very least used her wifi while we sought for solutions.

My wonderful coursemate & her dog missy

PHASE 3: LOCKDOWN IN AUS

After a much needed 2 days away from the family of mice, we were ready to launch our covid action plan! We had struck lucky with an incredibly cheap air bnb in the city centre as well as a new flight home in a fortnights time.

Making the most of a ‘bad’ situation we spent the next 2 weeks relaxing in our apartment, playing boardgames, ordering breakfast, holding makeshift spa nights and learning Spanish. Overtime the supermarkets restocked and we found ourselves with a plentiful supply of loo roll and watercolours. Shockingly, lockdown in a swanky inner city apartment wasn’t all that bad!

PHASE 4: TAKE OFF

In the days leading up to our flight we constantly refreshed our inboxes expecting to see a dreaded cancellation email. To our disbelief, no email appeared. In a groundhog day like manner, we repacked, put on our face masks and headed to the airport.

Our airport experience was anything but normal. Firstly, our flight was 25 hours long but we weren’t allowed to leave the plane during our stop over. Instead we waited for 2 hours in the dark while cleaners; dressed as futuristic spacemen, sterilised every surface. Making matters more bizarre, no hot food could be served. With nothing better to do, we spent the last tedious stretch of our journey reminiscing and scoffing our faces with endless supplies of kitkats.

On the 25 hour flight

PHASE 5: REFLECTIONS

So it mightn’t have been the perfect ending to the perfect time abroad.

But I can certainly say that for the amazing people I met, the incredible places I saw and the unforgettable memories I made, I would do it all again in a heartbeat.

Farewell all, safe travels.

Lauren x

Melbourne’s Dollar Worthy Brunches

By Lauren Howie, The University of Manchester

So you’ve found yourself in culinary heaven … but you don’t know where to start? Have no fear, a Melbourne brunch guide is here.

Continue reading “Melbourne’s Dollar Worthy Brunches”

Chapter Three: Places to visit in Canberra

Even though Covid-19 restricted me from flying to different places in Australia, I have been actively finding places in Canberra to make up for the travel losses. If you are a student coming to ANU in the future, you are lucky because you will have a plethora of stunning places in Australia to visit, and the following recommendations will help you catch some of the most beautiful natural scenery in Canberra.

  • Mount Painter Nature Reserve

Mount Painter Nature Reserve has a beautiful sweeping view of north Canberra with easy access paths. People love to walk dogs and enjoying nature there. I got my favourite pic here!

  • Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve

A big big nature reserve in Canberra with plenty of wildlife. Instead of paying for an expensive ticket to the zoo, you can visit the Koala attraction. Also, keep an eye for different types of kangaroos on your venture in this reserve. They have picnic spots and BBQ facilities. Remember to be extra time cautious as it will determine your ability to see most of the place before it turns dark. For your notice, private vehicle access only. 

  • Lake Burley Griffin

This is the lake that is popular among every ANU student for its convenience in terms of going for a walk, jogging, and picnic spots. It is just 15mins walk from campus. It takes about 8hrs to walk around the lake, where you will pass by the Australian national parliament, the national gallery, and the national library. The Canberra Balloon Speculator and Canberra Fireworks night (both in March) are some of the major events that are set beside the lake. Definitely recommend visiting the lake before sunset. It is AMAZING.

  • Red Hill Nature Reserve

Another beautiful and accessible reserve in Canberra. Lots of eye-catching rocks along the tracks and an overarching view at the top. What makes this reserve distinctive is not just its view, but also it has an aesthetic fine dining restaurant which has got one of the most spectacular views and a team that brings a unique mix of culinary and beverage experience to offer quality food and wines from independent makers worldwide. This restaurant is called the Onred restaurant and I definitely recommend this for a special occasion.          

  • Yarralumla suburb

Last but not the least, Yarralumla is a beautiful suburb with one of the best real estate in Canberra (Most of the rich people from Canberra own the estates there). It’s very pretty!! 

Things I wish I knew before moving to Singapore

Prior to moving to Singapore for the year, I had never even travelled beyond Europe. What lay ahead of me was a mystery, aside from the wild assumptions strangers told me and the random bits of information I got off google…

If I could go back to a year ago today, this is what I would tell 2019 Poppy.

Continue reading “Things I wish I knew before moving to Singapore”

Montreal, from a foodie’s perspective

One word on everyone’s mind when you think about Canadian food, is poutine. Well, that and maple syrup. Speaking of which, did you know that Quebec produces about 70% of global maple syrup production? I didn’t know that either! That also explains why almost all Quebecois desserts are doused in the sugary substance. Interesting, eh?

One of those would be la tire sur la neige, also known as Canadian maple taffy. As my very limited command of French has taught me, sur la neige literally means “on top of snow”. How it’s made is that boiled maple syrup is poured on top of snow, and wrapped around a wooden popsicle stick once it cools a little, making a golden gooey mass of maple-y goodness. Just be careful not to get it in your hair though! I learnt that the hard way.

La banquise is one of the most popular poutine places in Montreal, and once I had tried it, I completely understood why. Poutine piled high with other toppings like guacamole, drowning in heaps and heaps of gravy and cheese curds… It makes a foodie like me weep. Standing in the freezing cold to get a table was totally worth it for a treat like this.

When my friends and I headed down to Quebec City that one weekend in February, we stumbled across a cute little restaurant that served only Quebecois food. Of course we had to try Quebec dishes while in the old town! Pâté chinois, oddly translated to Chinese pie, is a Quebec style shepherd’s pie. The one that I had the luck to try looked like a deconstructed version of the traditional dish, with the stewed beef resting on a bed of buttery mashed potatoes and a glorious side of preserved cherry tomatoes. It was truly the stuff of gods.

Ah, so many dishes, so little time. It was a pleasure to have experienced all that I have.

Saying goodbye

This was not how it was supposed to end. I was supposed to have stayed with everyone till the end of April, before bidding goodbye to a time well spent in Canada. Unfortunately, life had other planes in store for me, and the pandemic saw me flying back to the opposite end of the world, bypassing Manchester altogether.

Now, I am back home, back in sunny Singapore. Things could not be more different here.

You know, I’ve always had an affinity for islands. Born and raised on my island country, I moved to the UK for my studies about two years back. Then for exchange, I went to Montreal, also situated on another island. Despite being islands, all three places have been vastly different for me. Going from Montreal, where I only saw the streets start to clear themselves of snow when it hit mid-March, to Singapore, where we don’t even have the four seasons. It may sound crazy, but I miss that constant snowy weather that we had in Montreal. Now, I turn on the air-conditioning in my room everyday in a bid to refrigerate myself, very unlike how I would crank up the radiator in Montreal to remind myself of Singapore. They say absence makes the heart grow fonder, and in this moment I cannot think of anything truer.

Saying goodbye to the city wasn’t the only difficult thing. Saying goodbye to my friends, and my housemates, was really hard. As a person who has moved to many places, I should be good at saying goodbye, but I never really am. I get used to it, but I’m not good at it, if that makes sense. Living together with 29 other people, I got used to the continuous presence of friends in my life. It is so quiet now.

They say that you make lifelong friends on exchange, and I think there’s truth in that. From the numerous dinners together, to the road trips and the birthdays, these are people that I will never forget.

What A Year (ish)!

*the music used in this video is no right of my own.

The six months I was able to spend at Lund University was a truly incredible time. Definitely coming with its highs and lows but nevertheless, I would relive it in a heartbeat if I had the chance. The video shows just a few snippets of the year.

Things I would do again:

  • Make the most of ESN- amazing opportunities and trips/activities both nationally and internationally. Organised for you. Decently priced. Great way to meet people.
  • Join all the mentor groups at the beginning of the year- great way to meet people and keeps you busy at the beginning (you also don’t have to go to every event there is).
  • Join a nation
  • Join Skåne netball team- this meant I was meeting new people who were not just students. Also did some tournaments which was fun as I had not really played netball that competitively before. Simultaneously, it was also a chilled and relaxed atmosphere where you could take it as seriously as you wanted to

Things I would do differently:

  • Travel more within Sweden
  • Choose different module choices for the first semester as I enjoyed my second semester modules far more and did better in them
  • Start looking for housing earlier than I did, I think in hindsight I would start looking for housing before even getting a place at Lund as you can always cancel it if something better comes up and then you have got some certainty and your own space for when you first arrive
  • Somewhat linking to the last one, I would do my best to try and live within Lund, when I moved into Lund from Åkarp, I could really see the ease of being in the city and being able to cycle pretty much anywhere in 10 minutes compared to having to catch a train or bus

WHERE TO EAT ON KING STREET

By Issy Jackson (University of Sydney, Australia)

Newtown is almost like the Fallowfield of Sydney! It’s a studenty suburb that is super close to a lot of USYD’s colleges and residences including the famous Queen Mary Building and its new rival, the Regiment. King Street is a buzzing hub of shops, restaurants and bars; it is the beating heart of USYD’s social life. After spending farrrr too much money in basically every single establishment that it has to offer, I’m well equipped (if slightly financially destabilised) to talk you through my favourites.

SOUL BURGER

Picture this. Little old Issy has made one of her first ventures out of her accommodation on day one to go and sort herself out with a SIM card. Vodafone may be at the top of the to-do list, but she is distracted by a poster. It’s a burger. And it’s a stunner. Surely you can’t pick a phone contract on an empty stomach?!

The best thing about Soul Burger is that it is completely vegan – and absolutely nothing about it reveals that fact. They pride themselves on re-creating timeless classics that you would never know are vegan. Rather than your classic Portobello mushroom or tofu burger, they’ve actually created plant-based alternatives to meat. Even many of my friends that are meat-lovers were shocked at the opportunity to order a Chilli Beef Burger with Dirty Cheesey and Bacon Fries! Getting the app was a great shout as well – sharing Sweet Potato Fries in Camperdown Park with friends was even sweeter when the fries were free.

My Favourite: The Satay Tofu Burger is one of the cheapest on the menu but not one to be missed. Peanut sauce everywhere, need I say more?

THAI POTHONG

Thai Pothong is one of the BNOKS (Big Name On King Street). I’d heard about it before from some family friends in England and when it was the topic of conversation at work in Sydney too, I realised that they must be doing something right in there! It’s a massive restaurant with two floors and is almost always full, which surely speaks for itself. Make sure you book a reservation! Full of East Asian statuary, wall art and plants, they’ve created a really cool sense of culture inside which makes your lunch or dinner feel like a bit of an event. With loads of really friendly and attentive staff, you will want for nothing as they are perfectly tuned in to an empty wine glass or rice bowl. The best part: it’s BYOB! Ten minutes before our booking, about fifteen of us met outside the bottle-o just next door to pick out the cheapest beer and wine we could find to keep the bill down. Although you’re getting a full-on dining experience at Thai Pothong, providing your own drinks prevents it from breaking the bank which is great for big groups of students. P.S. It’s voted the best Thai restaurant in Sydney!

My Favourite: Penang Curry, Penang Curry, Penang Curry.

THE ITALIAN BOWL

 The Italian Bowl works a little differently to how we might normally expect to eat at an Italian restaurant. They don’t take bookings so you get to queue outside on the bustling street and wait for a space on one of the communal tables. Again, it’s BYOB so people tend to enjoy some tinnies in the sun while waiting for a seat. In true Aussie style, everyone’s up for a yarn so I have to thank The Italian Bowl for the many random friends that I’ve made in that queue!

The idea here is that they absolutely nail classic pasta dishes. Firstly, you chose from all sorts of fresh pasta like fettuccine, linguine, ravioli or even potato gnocchi. Then, and this is the best bit, you get to choose from an abundant list of sauces. There’s eighteen different choices and I wouldn’t be surprised if I’ve managed to get through the whole lot in my time. From your basic Napolitana all the way to a fancy Mare E Monte, there’s definitely something for everyone. Priced at around £10 per pasta dish (and they’re quite hefty), it’s not extortionate but it’s definitely a treat.

My Favourite: I liked going a bit rogue and trying something a bit different; the Chicken Peppercorn did not disappoint.

LENTILS AS ANYTHING

Now this one is the dream ticket!! Before I went to Australia, I’d had lots of chats with older students who had already been on exchange to USYD. As soon as I said that I would be living near Newtown, every single one recommended Lentils as Anything. Run by volunteers (if you have a spare evening, definitely go and give them a hand), it’s a brilliant manifestation of wholesome Aussie community. They operate on a ‘pay-as-you-feel’ basis, so after eating you have the opportunity to make a monetary contribution as you wish. This means it can provide food to those in need. Of course, this is a great gesture of social cohesion which fosters the inclusion of many different social groups. Even the long benches, that you share with others as you dine, promote a sense of community.

Great ethics aside, the food isn’t half bad either! With a completely vegetarian menu, the choices are changed daily depending on what produce is available. The whole experience is all the more collective when people lean over and ask you which dish you’ve gone for because they’ve never seen it before. There’s usually about three different plates on the menu, with an option for dessert or chai tea too. As well as the more consistent options like Thai Green Curry and Chilli Con Carne, they also include some more niche, adventurous dishes that really embody veggie creativity like a garlic and lemon courgette linguine. Both economically and environmentally ethical, Lentils as Anything really is a win-win.

My Favourite: Spicy Chickpea Pasta. I’ve not looked at a chickpea in the same way since.

MESSINA GELATO

It’s only right to end on a sweet treat and it’d be rude not to include my very own second home. Where do I even start with Messina? As I have generously undertaken market research for you all and selflessly tried the whole menu, my conclusion is: the more, the merrier. The vast range from mango or dark chocolate sorbet all the way to dulce de leche or white chocolate hazelnut gelato, meant that even going about thirty times a week didn’t make the choice any easier. You can have as many testers as you like, though! What’s more, there is a Special’s Menu which includes unconventional gelato combinations, usually adorned by a very on-trend and witty name. For example, they made a Fairy Bread gelato (after the renowned Aussie delicacy) which was toast and butter flavoured gelato with hundreds and thousands all over it. If you’re really in it to win it, have one scoop and dine in to sit and watch the making process through the window to the back – then you can have a second scoop of whatever is fresh out of the kitchen!

My Favourite: It was a rarity that I’d leave Messina without at LEAST one scoop of Super dulce de leche, earning its name by having actual in-house dulce de leche woven through. Take a bow, Messina.

Tips on Trips

Harry Forster, National University of Singapore

A brief overview of the trips I took and if I think they’re worth the buck…

Indonesia

  • Bali 
  • Lombok (a more undeveloped Bali, yet it offers a lot of the same opportunities)

Overall highlights:

  • Amazing food – a vegans dream, cheap cheap… make sure you try the Nasi Goreng & Mei Goreng!
  • Activities, activities and more activities: white water rafting, scuba diving (manta rays, shipwrecks), sunrise hikes and of course surfing all year around – are just some of the things you could get up to!
  • If you like dancing into the night, Bali is home to Asia’s best beach parties … Oldmans & Sandbar is where to be (every night).

**Stay in Canggu, Lay Day Surf Hostel (avoid Seminyak & Kuta)!

Bitchin’ – Canggu, Bali
This view is summit – Mount Batur

Malaysia

  • Kuala Lumpur (the cliché exchangers first getaway)

Overall, it was one the most modern and clean cities I’ve been to in SE Asia outside of Singapore. The Batu Caves are worth going to, most likely for that Instagram post, be ready to be sweaty.

This will most likely be your first escape from Singapore and its prices… However, be aware that Kuala Lumpur isn’t as cheap as you’d anticipate!

  • Tioman island (a divers dream, not much attraction to the island besides its waters)
  • Langkawi (a great short trip)

Langkawi was one of my favourite islands during my time, a great weekend trip. Lots of water sports, cheap motorbikes and white beaches.

*would recommend staying at ‘bed altitude’ hostel!

Overall:

  • Easy to get to/ fast transport – can get the bus from Singapore. 
  • Can be done on the cheap – £20 return bus.
  • The worse food in SE Asia (for me).
Yes, we did crash! – Langkawi

The Philippines

  • Cebu

I only have positive things to say about this island… extremely cheap, filled with some great adventures, beaches and day trips to other nearby islands.

Cliff jumping at Kawasan falls was great – only if you’re prepared for a 15m jump off a waterfall!

Great for diving – Malapascua for the Thresher Sharks, Oslob for the Whale Sharks and Moalboal for the famous Sardine Run.

  • PalawanEl Nido & Coron 
Sunset on Coron – Palawan

Both of these islands are known for their day trips… do you think you’ve got what it takes to hack a full day of lagoon and beach hopping?

It’s a hard life!

Beachin’ – El Nido
A typical day in the Philippines – Siargao

*I’d highly recommend catching the 5 day boat trip from el Nido to Coron (if you’ve still got enough cash to keep you afloat)!

  • Siargao 

This is a little surf island located in the southeast region of the Philippines -making it super hard to get to!

But if you do, it’s home to some of the worlds’ best breaks (recently held the world surf championship).

Like the rest of the Philippines it’s plagued with palm trees and white sands, however it is one of the more expensive spots due to the wave-seekers

Also surfing brings a more bohemian crowd (one that does not only break a sweat over the waves, but also over how instagram-able their smoothie bowl is)!

A Boat Trip from El Nido – Palawan
Cconut Trees View Deck – Siargao

Thailand

  • Bangkok (the shorter stay the better)
  • Koh Tao (a personal fav but an extremely difficult place to get to)
  • Phuket (a means to an end – Phi Phi)
  • Phi Phi islands (beautiful beaches but there isn’t much to do beside party or dive)

Sorry to sound like your mother but… be careful. I’ve experienced a lot of bad things happen in this country:

  • NYE my phone as well as my friends wallet were pickpocketed.
  • Another trip, a friends phone was stolen in the airport and never found.
  • A close friend was assaulted on his way home after a night out.

**I would not recommend visiting the Phi Phi islands out of season, everything from the clubs to the restaurants were closed for renovations. 

  • Goes without saying the food is phenomenal here!

Overall, in my opinion there’s better ways to spend your time and money in this region.

Taking a tour around an exchange student’s home university – Bangkok
In Chinatown with my Korean flatmate – Bangkok

Top Tips

  • Don’t plan before arriving, circumstances change i.e. monsoons, typhoons…
  • Remember low season usually means no nightlife!
  • A trip always costs more than expected.
  • Book last minute as Southeast Asia’s the weather is extremely volatile.

Hope this helps!

An NUS Exchange Student: Checking Out

Harry Forster, National University of Singapore

Last week I received my final grades from the National University of Singapore, officially marking the end of my time as an international exchange student. For me, these grades do not only indicate the academic progress that I’ve made, but they also remind me of the personal development I’ve made over the past year. 

To demonstrate this, I’m going to reflect upon some of the objectives I set out before undertaking my exchange:

  • Experience new culture: I was fortunate enough to be linked with a local Singaporean family for the entirety of my exchange. This benefited me immensely, allowing me to gain an invaluable insight into local events such as Chinese New Year.
  • Learn new skills: previously a scuba diving novice, now I am looking to take this skill to a professional level… also, I’ve mastered the art of falling off a motorbike (that’s definitely one for the CV)!
  • Network: I forged connections and developed lifelong friendships in every continent across the globe. For example, some of my best friends are now situated in: Canada, Germany, Holland and South Korea… (they tell you in your pre-departure meetings that a year aboard is expensive, but they don’t tell you that your post-departure trips are even more expensive)!
  • Push yourself out of your comfort zone: living over six-thousand miles from home, inevitably, I have had to face a wide range of new and unfamiliar circumstances whether that be new flatmates or speaking in a foreign language.
  • Taste new cuisine: I experienced a plethora of different food; frog soup to Filipino Balut
  • Take up new interests: hours of non-stop surfing without a break, actually no, I broke my rib…

I am truly grateful for this unforgettable opportunity and it is something that will resonate with me for the rest of my life.

The Last Ones Standing – Singapore

Top Tips for New Exchange Students

  • “It won’t happen to me”… unfortunately, it most certainly will.

Not to mention the obvious global pandemic during my time… but its almost certain, you’ll to encounter some kind of emergency scenario, whether that be an earthquake, a typhoon or a trip to A&E. 

To paint a realistic picture, all of those events listed above happened to me… an Indonesian earthquake, a Filipino typhoon and multiple medical trips. For example, I tallied up a total of four countries in which I have been admitted to A&E during my time as an NUS exchange student (Thailand, the Philippines, Indonesia, and Singapore if you’re curious).

  • You will NEVER have enough money or time to do everything on your travel to do list 😦

For me, I didn’t get a chance to embark upon half of my travel plans… it’s pretty simply really, the more you travel, the more you want to see. You’ll meet people all across various hostels in Southeast Asia that’ll recommend you countless places, which is great, but one day your travel during exchange will come to an end.

A word of wisdom, its more often than not that you’ll go over any travel budget so make sure you’ve got supplementary funds – can you get an over-overdraft?

For my Next Chapter

I am now looking forward to commencing my summer internship at the Department for International Trade within the Civil Service. 

Once again, I believe this will be an invaluable opportunity, and I hope to build upon the skills I have developed over the course of the past year

Sweet dreams, Singapore xxx