Hi everyone and happy new year! I’m back with another post, this time a little past its relevant time frame, but one that I hope you will find interesting nevertheless. I am, of course, talking about the wonderful end-of-year holiday (also my personal favourite) that has become celebrated pretty much everywhere – Christmas! Or, for those who prefer to go with the French spirit of laïcité, simply the holidays (so, belatedly, Joyeuses fêtes!).
Now, even though I was lucky enough to go home for Christmas itself, I have still been able to experience and ask about the French twist to this popular time. What is Noël like?
I decided to stay in America over the Christmas break instead of flying back home and I would encourage other students to do the same.
I was lucky enough to travel to Montreal, New York, Boston and Miami and each destination was completely different from the last. After overcoming the initial loneliness of spending Christmas away from my family, I really valued the opportunity to travel and spend time with other exchange students who were in the same position.
Before coming to America my friends and I decided to spend Christmas together in Montreal. This was an easy choice to make for me as the flights home from Cleveland are extremely expensive. Instead, I decided to use the money and travel around as much as possible. I flew out to Montreal on Christmas eve, got a freezing cold greyhound to New York, spent less than 24 hours in Boston and took a spontaneous trip to Miami to finish off the holiday. The four cities could not have been more different and Miami has since become my favourite place I have visited.
I spent my Christmas day and New Year’s Eve in Montreal alongside other students from Manchester studying abroad. We stayed in Le Plateau-Mont-Royal neighbourhood and I would recommend taking the walk-up Mount Royal to get great views of the city and to go ice skating.
On Christmas Eve, we were invited to have dinner with other exchange students from all over the world. Spending Christmas away from family can be tough, but it felt special to meet so many other students making the most of their time abroad. All of us were given Christmas cards despite being complete strangers and it was a sweet gesture.
On Christmas Day, we managed to successfully cook a full Christmas Dinner for 10 people in an Air BnB, which was as chaotic as it sounds. We went on a Christmas day walk, watched Love Actually and exchanged presents; it felt like a home away from home.
Being in Montreal in the middle of winter was tough and you should not underestimate how cold it will be. But the city had a lot of culture and history and was a great location to spend time with friends.
We took an 8 hour Greyhound to travel from Montreal to New York and stayed there for 5 days. New York was packed with things to do and great food but was as hectic and busy as you would expect. The city was full of character, the street scene was interesting and all the tourist attractions were definitely worth visiting.
We visited The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Brooklyn Bridge, Grand Central Terminal, Rockefeller Centre, High Line, Times Square, Central Park, the list could really go on. I would not miss visiting the World Trade Centre Memorial as it was breathtaking.
Even though we were hit by a massive snowstorm across the East Coast, we managed to pack in a lot in the 5 days but it was not nearly enough time to cover such a great city.
We stayed in Boston for a night but this was not nearly enough time. Compared to New York, Boston is a laid-back city with a lot of open space. Having visited Boston since it has really grown on me. It is a nice city to walk around with my favourite area being North End where there is familiar European architecture. If you have limited time like us, I would not miss Faneuil Hall Marketplace. There are great food stalls selling Boston treats like Clam Chowder in a bread bowl.
In a rash decision, I decided to extend my holiday for a few more days and join some friends in South Beach, Miami. After battling – 20 degree weather and snow storms the warm beaches and palm tree-lined streets were much needed. Miami has now become one of my favourite destinations. I loved the bustling strip of hotels on South Beach, the colourful art deco houses and the idyllic sandy beaches.
Little Havana was a great neighbourhood to walk around and try delicious Cuban food. The downtown area was flashy and extravagant, like most of Miami. Be prepared to spend quite a lot of money in Miami, but I would go again in a heartbeat.
A year ago, I would not have pictured myself jet-setting around North America instead of spending Christmas at home in England. Yet my holiday was one that will be remembered for a long time. I loved the way students in a similar position came together and supported each other during the time and I would urge other people to do the same.
To recall correctly the last blog was pretty bleak as it covered the academic side of exchange. So as a bit of an indulgence this installment will be dedicated to fun things that happened over the fabled ‘holiday period’ after finals. It was a long time coming.
I knew I wasn’t going to be going back home to the UK for Christmas, which was sad but it meant I got to experience Christmas in Australia! Since I wasn’t able to spend they day with my family, I was kindly adopted into the home of one of my housemates, Rachel, who lives in Kyneton which is near Melbourne but very much not urban at all. I had a great time out in the country for a week! Continue reading “Christmas in Australia”→
By Callum Campbell (National University of Singapore, Singapore)
With all the travelling and the constant tropical climate it has been really easy to forget the real reason why I am in Singapore – to study. The upcoming exams, however, have acted as a gentle reminder of this aspect.
With only a couple of days now until I finish and travel back to England, it would be easy to lose track of revision, but it is important that I maintain my determination and motivation over this last stretch. What does not make this easier is the fact the majority of other exchange students have finished and left to travel around the region to relaxing beaches and beautiful countries while I am stuck revising.
With four exams I am doing the same workload as I would have been doing in Manchester, however, each of my modules range from different subject backgrounds to academic years. This means that the studying has been very diverse and at times more complex.
The largest and most notable difference with exams in Singapore compared to those in England is that the marking is done on a bell curve, meaning that a small proportion of the class can achieve the top grade and the largest amount will achieve middle marks, while a small number will obtain the lowest. This system comes with its positives and negatives as although some members of the class will fail, the bell curve makes it hard to do so. However, this also means that it is actually harder to achieve the highest grade and therefore has the potential to make fellow classmates slightly more competitive with one another, but thankfully this is not something I have experienced.
As an exchange student though, my grades from NUS will be taken and converted into Manchester results based on a number of factors, meaning when I am told my results in the first instance, I am likely to have little idea of what they mean in terms of English grades.
Just as unpredictable as my results for the first semester is the current dramatic and drastic change of weather, ranging between beaming sunlight and monsoon storms within a matter of hours. One of the strangest things to comprehend out here is the fact that the weather is still above 20oC, yet it’s December… Christmas is less than a month away and I’m still wearing shorts and flip-flops?
Speaking of Christmas, I recently found out the news that I will be notified by NUS regarding my grades a couple of days before Christmas, meaning there is the potential to either make or break the festive period. Thankfully, I am feeling confident of what I have achieved during my time in Singapore and feel assured it will be a time to celebrate on all fronts.
By Lisa Scott (Queen’s University, Ontario, Canada).
As my first semester at Queens University had ended and my second semester would be starting in two weeks, I decided to make the most of my Christmas Vacation and visit the states. My first stop was Chicago where I eagerly awaited at the airport for my brother to arrive from London, England. It was lovely to see a member of my family after four months away from home and we certainly had lots to catch up on whilst we traveled to our hotel.
Chicago was a little warmer than Canada so it was nice to put the snow boots aside and wear some nicer clothes. We spent our first few days touring around the city and we visited the museum district, wandered along navy pier, ate a lot of chocolate in the Hershey’s shop, shopped until we dropped on magnificent mile, sang our hearts out at the candle lit carol service and took lots of photos next to the big bean that acts as a huge mirror. When Christmas day arrived and we were over 3000 miles away from home we decided to make it a Christmas to remember. We started our day ice skating in the snow, then we went out for a lovely Christmas dinner with cocktails followed by a trip up the tallest building in Chicago which had a very scary glass box to stand in and then we finished the day by relaxing in our hotels rooftop heated swimming pool and sauna.
On Boxing Day we left Chicago and flew to New York City. It has always been my dream to visit NYC and I loved every minute of being in the city. We celebrated the New Year at central park, where we watched the sky light up with amazing fireworks and danced in the open park until our legs were tired. We spent a lot of time being tourists and visited; the empire state building, Rockefeller center, Times Square, Brooklyn bridge, Statue of Liberty, New York public library, Central park, 9/11 memorial and watched Spider man the musical in Broadway. After seven days it was time for me to say goodbye to one of my favorite cities and head to Boston.
Luckily we managed to catch a flight just before a snow storm hit New York which lasted several days and cancelled most of the departing flights. We spent the last few days of our vacation in Boston, visiting Harvard, playing in the snow and tasting more of America’s amazing food.
Christmas Vacation away from home was a totally new experience for me and it was very strange not being surrounded by family and friends opening presents on Christmas day. However, I can definitely say I loved every minute of it and can’t wait to visit the states again on my next vacation.