It’s been a while since I last thought about moving to the States. I was 17 when I decided to become an exchange student in a Canadian high school, and since then, I thought my experience abroad was over. But now, once again, I’ve been given the opportunity to travel, to discover a new culture, and to get to know myself a bit better. Isn’t this extraordinary?
In eight days I’ll be on the plane. Destination? Phoenix. No turning back. Me, my luggage, and all my expectations and fears. What if I won’t like my housemates? What if I won’t like the courses? But c’mon, think about all the opportunities you’ll have, all the friends you’ll make. You’ve always watched High School Musical, and you’ve always been dreaming of those lockers, the cheerleaders, the football team! There is more to gain than to lose!
Going abroad is one of those experiences that simply form your person. it teaches you to expect the unexpected! Every day is a different story, and you just have to trust the journey and try out all you can, with no judgment. Eventually, you’ll find out that it’s all you’ve always been waiting for! That for how tough it can get, you’ll always get up and get back in the game stronger, because it’s your game and no one can win it but you.
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.
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(Cape Reinga, New Zealand. The top of the north island, where the Tasman Sea meets the Pacific Ocean)
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.
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.
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.
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”→
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.
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”→
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
My semester at USyd has ended, but I chose to stay here over Christmas and New Year’s. Why? Just look.
I was lucky enough to view the New Year’s Eve celebrations in Sydney from the Opera House itself. Spending 16 hours in the 30 degree heat – yes 16 hours – getting sunburnt, constant naps, few fights, camping outside of the Opera House (literally), it was all worth the struggle at midnight.
The first set of fireworks start around 9pm that last around 10-15 minutes. A “pre” celebration I guess. The second set of fireworks commence at midnight, exactly at 12am as we enter January 1st. Counting down with millions of people from all over the world was an incredible feeling itself. NYE in Sydney is probably the first most watched celebration that occurs around the world (sorry Auckland) and to witness it in person is a once in a lifetime opportunity for sure.
I knew from the start that I wanted to watch the Sydney fireworks. Word of advice: you must start planning at least a month ahead of the date. Figure out your vantage point for viewing that works best for you. You can get all the information you need at this website: https://www.sydneynewyearseve.com/ . If you aren’t very good at planning and have a bit of cash to spend, lots of points around the Harbour Bridge offer a guranteed viewing spot that you can buy, such as restaurants around the harbour will have a “New year’s dining experience” offer. Although, they can be very pricey! Of course, like most people, I wanted to get the ultimate NYE experience. After a bit of research, I decided my ultimate spot to view the fireworks, was at the Opera house itself. The Opera outside house has a straight view of the Harbour Bridge (and it’s free!). I also highly recommend Mrs. Macquire’s Point – it has the view of the Harbour Bridge AND the Opera House. Both spots are very instagram worthy! To get any of the popular spots on NYE, you have to wake up early. Camping is forbidden at the points and points of entry open to the public at around 8am – however, the queue for entry is waaaayyyyyyy too long by then already.
Happy camping bunny.
The crowd with a music stage to keep up entertained
Straight view of the bridge, hell yessss!
My day started at 7am on 31st December. I had packed all my lunch and dinner preparations for NYE in advanced the day before. I left my room at around 7:30am and got to the Opera House by 7:50am (as entry was at 8am). When I reached, the queue to get in was already so huge! I was so scared we wouldn’t find a spot. About an hour after waiting, we made our way through to security (no alcohol allowed guys, sorry) and tried spot hunting 30 minutes after. All the good spots were unfortunately taken, but we kept walking around and not giving up hope. Luckily, my friend and I spotted this one teeny tiny space right IN FRONT of where the harbour bridge was, enough to fit us both. We literally ran for it and wouldn’t move. We literally camped outside of the Opera House, in front of the Harbour Bridge – surreal.
Spending 16 hours in the sun is no play in the park, especially if the weather is not what you expect. The weather was scheduled to rain, so of course I brought an umbrella, with high temperatures of 25 degrees. But that’s not what it was. Around midday, the sun appeared out of nowhere and the temperature was probably around 30+ degrees. This probably lasted all day until the evening. And of course, I forgot to pack sunscreen! Luckily, my friend had some, so I guess I didn’t get THAT burnt.
Top tip: Bring lots of water and fluids to stay hydrated, an umbrella and sunscreen. Don’t trust the Sydney weather.
The whole experience was definitely worth it. My advice is to plan early, pack early and embrace the entire experience because it’s definitely worth the eight tonnes of fireworks.