Home (but the journey continues)

I thought that going abroad was going to be the biggest change in my life this year. But since returning, things are still continuing to change. I have started an internship with the University of Manchester over summer, and in turn, my first full time, professional job. I have lived completely alone for the first time – including setting up all the heating, internet and meters in the house!! And finally, (here comes the biggie) my parents made the decision to move to New Zealand.

I feel as if this year hasn’t just been a monumental shift within myself, but my family too. And without studying abroad, I wouldn’t have been able to handle all the things that I have listed anywhere near as well as I have. I’m not going to pretend it’s all been easy, but I have coped and thrived and grown up rapidly in the space of a few months.

I used to be so afraid of change – making the decision to go abroad was not one I took lightly, and I’m not sure I ever truly believed I was going until I stepped off the plane in Toronto. But now, I can feel myself embracing it; my parents are moving to the other side of the world and I could not be more excited for them (and for myself too!)

By studying abroad I  proved my ability for independence to myself and to my parents, and I don’t know if they would be moving if I hadn’t gone. The decision to live abroad affects not just you but everyone you know, and if it affects you positively, chances are it will affect them positively too.

I am working with the international office on my internship, and I cannot express how rewarding it has been to be involved with the process of encouraging students to study abroad, and being able to pass on my experience and passion to them. I wouldn’t have had this opportunity in this internship, and met the amazing people I have, and gained the life experience that I have, if it wasn’t for studying abroad.

If you haven’t already got the message – go! Study abroad! You will gain a lifetime of memories, experiences and knowledge and grow so much as a person – and this doesn’t stop on your return. And hey, who knows – your family might move to the other side of the world and give you a new place to explore.

(Cape Reinga, New Zealand. The top of the north island, where the Tasman Sea meets the Pacific Ocean)

Breaking out of the comfort zone: A reflection

Salma Rana, Queen’s University

I want to start off by thanking God for all the opportunities I have had. I am incredibly grateful for everything that has come my way, through His will.

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When I was leaving Manchester last year, although I was excited about my upcoming journey, I was equally hesitant. I wondered if I was making the right choice, if it was worth finishing university a year later than everyone else, and missing out on so much time with my friends and family at home. I had so many “what if’s?” in my head, to the point where I was thinking of backing out in the last few weeks before I left. But now looking back, those worries are nothing compared to all the beautiful memories, lessons and friendships I gained. If I could go back, I would tell myself to stop worrying because the most important year of my life so far was to begin.

Continue reading “Breaking out of the comfort zone: A reflection”

Fitting In

Salma Rana, Queen’s University

During my year at Queen’s, there was a huge variety of ways to get involved with both the University community and the larger Kingston community.

THE MSA

I am very much involved with the Muslim community at University of Manchester (shout to Manchester ISOC!). However, I quickly realized that Muslims are a true minority in Kingston, Ontario. Even more than any place I have been to in England. There is only one mosque. Nevertheless, I quickly realized something else: the love in this community is one of a kind. The transport links to the mosque aren’t too good, so it can be difficult to get there, but QUMSA (Queen’s Muslim Student Association) do a lot to make sure students are truly catered for. From hosting congregation prayers, regular lectures, socials and charity events. Continue reading “Fitting In”

Expect the Unexpected

Ailsa Jones ♦ Queen’s University, Canada

Since my exchange has finished and I’ve come home, I’ve been attempting to answer my family and friends’ inevitable and well-intentioned questions about my semester abroad. Even though my generic response is something as brief as ‘amazing, thanks,’ I don’t think it does justice to both the best and difficult aspects of my exchange. As much of a cliché as it is, my semester abroad was easily one of the best things I’ve ever done, but I think it’s also important to be honest about the harder parts of studying abroad that are rarely discussed.

Continue reading “Expect the Unexpected”

The Final Travels

With the end of April came the end of exams and the end of a fantastic year at McGill. Although it was sad to leave behind all I had known for the previous 8 months, I was eager to begin my travels that I had been planning and dreaming of since this Canadian experience began. At the heart of these dreams has always been road tripping through the Rocky Mountains and we took no time to hang around before embarking.

After a night stopover in the cowboy city of Calgary, we picked up the car and set off on a hefty 6 hour journey to Jasper. This took us along Icefields Parkway, the absolutely stunning road that runs between Banff and Jasper National Parks. Jasper, a small town nestled up in the dramatic mountainous landscape, was beautiful. Easily the most picturesque place I’ve ever been. Whilst in Jasper we hiked, hiked, and hiked again. The highlight was the Valley of the Five Lakes as despite being told all lakes would still be frozen at this time of the year, we discovered one of the lakes to have completely thawed to the picture perfect turquoise colour so famously associated with the Rocky Mountain. A trip back down the Icefield Parkway, with a midway stop at the dramatic Athabasca Glacier, took us to Banff where more hiking ensued, along with well needed relaxation in the thermal springs as well as some more unsuccessful bear spotting.

5 Lakes
Jasper National Park

Continue reading “The Final Travels”

Go West

Ailsa Jones ♦  Queen’s University, Canada

If like me you were drawn to Canada through the stereotypical images of mountains, scenic lakes, and the exotic wildlife your best bet to see all three is going West. Having spent a substantial amount of my exchange in Eastern Canada, it made sense to make my way Westwards following the end of the semester to see whether Instagram had been doing it justice.  Continue reading “Go West”

Street Art: Montreal, Toronto and Mexico City

Salma Rana, Queen’s University, Canada

One of my favorite things to do when I visit a new city is to see the artwork home to that place. Other than museums, something that have I loved about my travels was the beautiful street art embedded within the cities. These told me unique stories about the culture and history of the cities they were created in. Below I give you some of my favorite pieces and recommendations of neighborhoods you should visit if you get the chance.

Montreal

A friend and I ended up in St-Laurent by accident. After climbing up Mount Royal, we thought we would take a different route back, to get more of a feel of the city, and ended up there, a boulevard home to some of the most incredible art, music, fashion and food festivals. There are murals painted on all corners of St-Laurent, and we were so captivated that we ended up walking through the whole boulevard until we arrived back to our hotel on the other side of the city.

As I observed the beauty painted on boards above parking lots, on the sideways of shops, and even on the road below my feet, I remembered the words of Rainbow Rowell, “Art wasn’t supposed to look nice, it was supposed to make you feel something.”

Eyes by D*Face
Location: Rue Clark / Rue Prince Arthur
Portrait of Mary Socktish, by Kevin Ledo, for Montreal’s 2014 MURAL festival
Located at a Rue Prince Arthur parking lot
A Jackie Robinson tribute by Fluke, for the 2017 MURAL festival

Toronto

Toronto is bustling with gorgeous murals throughout the city, with many neighborhoods and alleyways dedicated to creativity. I absolutely love Kensington Market in particular, because as well as amazing artwork, the choice of food is abundant – from halal burger places (Burgernator and Top Gun!) to ice cream shops, bakeries and cafes.

 

Kensington Market photos shot by Basmah Rahman

Mexico City 

When my friends and I arrived in Mexico City, in the early hours of the morning, the first thing I noticed on the drive to the hotel was how there was vibrancy everywhere. Even in the dark I could see that all the shop shutters were painted in a rainbow of colors. We stayed in Centro Histórico, and I definitely would recommend taking a stroll before stores open (9/10 am) because the store shutters are genuinely so beautiful.

The shutter of a store opposite our hotel in Centro Histórico
A stroll through the streets of Centro Histórico

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Outside station Xochimilco, shot by Christy Ng
Art featuring decorative sugar skulls are all over Mexico, used in festivities celebrating Day of the Dead

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5 (surprising) things I’ve learned on exchange

By Catrin Stewart, (University of Guelph, CA)
As we approach the end of the semester, I’ve decided to reflect upon what have been some of the best months of my life.
However, there were a few unexpected bumps along the way, so I’ve decided to list them, and my (suggested) solutions to make the journey smoother for others!
1. Canada is EXPENSIVE 
And not just in the ways you’d expect. I knew my residence and flights would cost a lot, but food shopping, even with exchange rates taken into account, is about double what I pay back in Manchester. There are ways to get around it, like trying different supermarkets, and figuring out what is more/less expensive, that is not necessarily the same things as back home. For example, some meats are ridiculously cheap, but there are a lot less vegetarian options and they are usually more expensive if you’re not cooking from scratch.
Also, Canada is a big country – if you didn’t already know – which means travel is much more expensive. £2 mega buses don’t exist like in the UK, but if you use student discount, do your research and look elsewhere other than the greyhound buses, you can lower the prices.
2. Internet shopping: it’s not a thing.
If you’re like me and have a mild addiction to amazon prime / ASOS then prepare yourself to go cold turkey. Because Canada is so big, and a lot of online produce comes from the US, next day delivery doesn’t really exist. Standard delivery is much more expensive and usually takes 2-3 weeks rather than 2-3 working days. Yep, weeks.
3. A lot of exchange students will be pass/fail. 
The majority of students from Manchester have their grades count when they go on exchange. However, 95% of the people I’ve been surrounded by only have to pass during their time abroad. This means that you will be spending a few extra hours in the library than everyone else. But it truly is worth cutting out a few hours of Netflix and replacing it with studying if it means you can take that weekend trip away with friends instead of staying home to finish an essay. I’ve found it’s much easier to use your time wisely if it’s a matter of going to New York or not!
4. Alcohol and nightlife 
It’s very similar, but there is slightly less of a drinking culture in Canada compared to England, especially coming from such a vibrant city as Manchester.
Alcohol isn’t usually sold in supermarkets, so you have to buy branded which means it’s quite a lot more expensive, and laws in Canada mean that all clubs and bars shut around 2:30am
Although it might seem a bit tame at first, it does make it easier to get to lectures the next day!
5. Academics 
Before coming abroad I was warned that the workload would be much more intensive, and this is definitely true. Whilst this was a shock and has been incredibly hard work, I also struggled with the standard of work I was producing. If you are truly passionate about your degree, it can be difficult not to be disheartened as the rate of work you are expected to turn in is much faster, and this means your standards inevitably lower. Whilst this won’t affect your grades as the marking is more lenient because of the volume of work, it can be a little demoralising. However, I have found that satisfaction can be found elsewhere, such as in seminars, as they are longer and therefore can facilitate more in depth discussion. Also, later in the semester you will be handing in longer essays more alike to the ones in Manchester, and will get the chance to work more in depth again.
Even despite these changes, my time on exchange has been incredibly positive and has taught me important lessons about adapting to new places. I understand that moving to Canada from the UK is a small culture change compared to lots of other places people go on exchange, but being prepared for some of the small differences can’t hurt!

 

Surviving (and enjoying) the Canadian winter

From the moment I found out I would be spending a year in Montreal, the horror stories about the crippling Canadian winters began. “Minus 30 degree temperatures every day” they said. “You won’t be able to go outdoors for months” they said. “You’ll need to spend $1000 on a Canada goose jacket and winter boots” they said. I expected and mentally prepared for the worst but soon came to realise that this worry was unnecessary. I mean, Montreal’s snow and regular sunshine versus Manchester’s grey and rainy Winters… I think I know which one I’d rather.

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A spot of ice hockey on Parc Lafontaine

Continue reading “Surviving (and enjoying) the Canadian winter”

Exploring Québec

•Ailsa Jones – Queen’s University, Canada•

As an exchange student at Queen’s, you quickly realise that you need to utilise your free time if you want to travel. Reading week is the ideal time to explore different parts of Canada, as the benefit of finishing in mid-April comes at the price of only having one short break.

Continue reading “Exploring Québec”

The People of Mexico

Salma Rana, Queen’s Unversity, Canada

Needing a break from the cold Canadian winter, a couple of friends and I flew out to Mexico for reading week. We spend most of the week in Mexico City and the last couple of days in Cancun. Everything was incredibly beautiful, from the colourful streets and detailed architecture to the delicious food. However, I want to dedicate this post to what made the trip truly special.

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Mercado 23, Cancun

The people I came across in Mexico were so happy and grateful. The photo above, of a man cheerfully selling us corn on the cob, is one of my favourites from the trip. I did not want to leave his presence, it was so full of warmth and wholesome energy. I think this captures some of the spirit of the people there. Like this man, the people I came across were so content with all they have, which may not seem like much to us, but the size of their hearts and smiles outweighs any sort of material comforts we might compare against.

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Christy in Centro Histórico, Mexico City

The people of Mexico were so incredibly accommodating, and I am still processing the kindness I was given throughout my visit. There were many incidences when I couldn’t express what I wanted to, due to my lack of Spanish skills. However, every single time someone would pull out their phone and launch google translate before I could even do so, or find some other way to make sure I didn’t leave without getting what I wanted. At one point, a mother who overheard my conversation, as I was struggling to communicate with the sales adviser, brought up her son and exclaimed excitedly and proudly, “my son speak.. English!”, while telling her son to help me out. At another point, my friend left without collecting her change after buying coffee from the cart. Even though the change was equal to less than 20p, the boy making the coffee chased her up in order to give her money back.

A lot of the shops we visited and the places we ate at were local, and the kind of hospitality we received was extraordinary. The waiters, waitresses, shop owners, tailors etc. genuinely wanted us to have the best experience from the moment we entered, and they were so proud of where they worked and so happy to be there.  I think these photos below sum up what I am trying to say. I asked the owner if I could take a photo of the shop and the way he stood along with his products, so proudly and yet slightly shyly, was just amazing.

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Centro Histórico, Mexico City

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These experiences were a reminder to me, about the kind of person I want to be. I want to be much more grateful for everything I have and count my blessings as much as the people of Mexico. Just like them, I want to be content with and proud of whatever I do. A friend pointed out that this kind of thankfulness doesn’t come as easy in the West, but it is something that we should aspire towards.

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Floating Gardens of Xochimilco

 

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