There is a lack of representation of BIPOC individuals studying abroad, as well as a lack of specific advice. I really noticed this whilst browsing the study abroad fairs and brochures both in Amsterdam and back in Manchester, which only seemed to portray the generic white, middle-class study experience. Having spent the last year in Amsterdam, I wanted to share my experience to hopefully serve as a helpful tool for anyone worried about feeling uncomfortable in a different environment.
To help amplify the experiences of other’s which are often not included in the brochures, I have also listed some articles I found helpful at the bottom of this post for specific factors to look out for when doing your research as well as first-hand experiences in different cities and countries.
Today marks my final day in Amsterdam participating in the Erasmus+ Programme at Universiteit Van Amsterdam. I am extremely sad to be leaving such an amazing city and I am so grateful for the amount opportunities I have had whilst on my study abroad.
Having grown up in a multicultural household (Spanish mum and a South African-Indian dad), taking part on the exchange programme wasn’t a massive cultural adjustment for me personally, but I can still say that the Erasmus+ programme has made me more open and tolerant towards other cultures.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!!
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.
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.
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.
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