Love for learning, reignited

Salma Rana, Queen’s University, Canada

My first semester as an exchange student, in Canada, is coming to an end, and those of you at university know that sometimes this can feel like a lifetime. I’m going to do some pitstops of my experience here so far, showing you my highs and lows, some of the lessons I’ve learnt and things I have been inspired by. This will be split into a few blogposts that I will be posting over the next couple of weeks.

Ontario Hall, Queen’s University
University Avenue, Kingston

The past few months have been a true learning experience.  The academic structure is very different here at Queen’s. Firstly, “electives” are encouraged here. When I arrived at Queen’s, I was only given two psychology modules for this semester. Although this was stressful at first, it turned out to be one of the best things. I took some gender studies courses instead, where I got the chance to understand history, politics and sociology in ways I hadn’t considered before. I was also given a chance to learn about the indigenous history of Canada, something that isn’t talked about enough.  These ideas combined has allowed to me think about my major, psychology, in a more inclusive context, opening my mind to knowledge that I may not have been exposed to if I had stuck to only psychology courses.

First tip: Take some courses outside of your degree! I promise it will be worth it.

Every student, since the 1920s, has been given a tam (the funny hat) during initiation

The workload here is A LOT more intense than what I am used to at the University of Manchester. Over there for each module, I am given one piece of main coursework and one exam at the end, with both being weighted around the same. Here, however, there is coursework due in almost weekly per course, with midterms, participation marks… and a final exam. This was stressful at the beginning of the semester, but now I am actually very grateful for it. It has meant that I have been learning a lot as the semester goes on (not just around exam time), as I am assessed regularly. And, as incredibly cliché as it sounds, I have to say that I have been improving my time management skills.

Second tip: When considering which country and university to do your exchange in, it is important to research the assessment methods and weighting. This can affect your satisfaction with your exchange as a whole. I have met many students who are unhappy because the emphasis on coursework does not suit their needs.

Lake Ontario surrounds Queen’s University, and its residences

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I also have been very inspired by the lecturers. Something I love about the experiences I have had with my lecturers here is that they make an effort to connect with us. I have managed to collect so many anecdotes and wisdom passed on from the experiences by my lecturers. My psychology professor often turns segments of his lectures into motivations talks, where he talks about how important it is to be optimistic. He contextualised his own experiences, where he went from wanting to be an accountant, to becoming a cleaner, to becoming a Clinical Psychologist and a hockey coach. This reminded me that there isn’t just one linear road in life, you can take many twists and turns and end up being more content than you ever imagined.

One professor talked about how life circumstances left her financially independent during university, having to pay for tuition and living expenses by herself, but is now an insightful writer, a passionate activist, an inspiring teacher.  She makes me want to stop feeling sorry for myself when things don’t go to plan. Just being in her presence makes me want to do more. Another professor has taught me things I have yet to truly understand (no seriously, I have a word document full of long words I have not had a chance to I will always remember her coming up to me up at an MSA (Muslim Student Association) stall, and while not being Muslim herself, she told me that she is rooting for us. This led me to redefine my personal understanding of unity. My lab instructors taught me that patience is a bigger virtue than I had realised. Honestly, I don’t understand how they dealt with me being confused about statistics for a whole semester.

Third tip: Introduce yourself to your lecturers.


The path is rarely linear – Dean Tripp
Douglas Library, Queen’s University

A huge part of my learning experience has been spending time with other exchange students, from all over the world. I have been living in “Jean Royce Hall”, located a 10-minute bus ride away from the main campus. This is the only residence offered to exchange students and at first, I was a bit hesitant, because of the location and the fact that I would have to live in shared accommodation with many people.  However, it turned out to be a good choice. Firstly, there is a shuttle bus that goes to and from main campus every 15 minutes, as well as other city buses that are even more frequent. All students at Queen’s also get a free bus pass, which is definitely a plus. Also: there is a very pretty library just next door, which has meant that on my days off, and especially when the weather is bad, I can study productively… in my pyjamas.

Disclaimer: If you are considering living in Jean Royce, a fallback is that it is on the more expensive side – it turns out that if I lived off-campus in a house it would have been half the price….

Fourth tip: Pros of living in residence at Queen’s are meeting lots of different people, it is regularly cleaned, it is very safe and there is a library. Pros of living off-campus are getting to know Canadian students better, it’s cheaper and possibly closer to the main campus.  

MacDonald Park, Kingston



Living with other exchange students has meant that I have been able to get to know and learn from students from Japan, China, Nepal, Australia… and more! This has been so eye-opening and inspiring. I have been inspired by students such as Satsuki, who keeps an “English” journal – whenever she learns a new word during a conversation, she writes it down in her journal, researches it later, and tries to apply it in another conversation. There’s also Juno, who works hard day and night, reading everything she can about Renaissance art and Romanticism, dreaming of opening a history museum when she is back in China. Then there’s Franziska, who is one of the rare people in her town to have left it, breaking the norm and stereotype there, that women are to stay at home.

While experiences like this are motivating, they also have made me aware of some of my privileges that I have unknowingly taken for granted, especially in England.  It can be very easy to stay in a safe bubble in life, spending time with people like you, but it is definitely worthwhile to talk to people who are different to you (whether it is because they come from a culture that is different to yours… or just study a different course). We can’t live a hundred different lives, but we can learn from a hundred people who live a different life to ours.

Fifth tip: Spend time with people who are different to you. 


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Homecoming 2017
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The final group meal at Ali Baba, before some exchange students go back to their home countries, as they are only here for one semester.

Questions and comments are welcome!

Instagram: ichbinsalma

Video Blog – The Positives and Negatives of Studying Abroad

Simon Hird  / /  Geography  / /  University of Auckland  / /  NZ

So as part of year abroad we were asked to produce a series of blogs for Geography. Each had to be a on a different topic and in a variety of formats (i.e.referenced essay, diary entry, video). This particular video blog entry was reflecting on the positives and negatives that I have experienced on my year abroad – it is slightly more personal and geography related than my other posts, due to it’s initial purpose, but hopefully you guys can take something from it:



🤘 🖖

P.S. If you guys want to see a few more photos feel free to check out my Instagram: @simonhird 


the Instagram run by study abroad students at The University of Auckland if you want more of an insight into day-to-day life of an exchange student @studyabroad_auckland 

10 things you should know about studying abroad in New Zealand

Simon Hird  / /  Geography  / /  University of Auckland  / /  NZ

Hope you guys have all had an awesome year at Uni and are enjoying your summer holidays. I’ve just got a couple of weeks left of my year abroad at Auckland so I thought I would put together a collection of advice and some important things I think you should know about, if you are going to or are considering studying abroad in New Zealand. Some of these are specific to the University of Auckland, but I am sure there are parallels to other Universities in NZ and studying abroad in general.

Alpenglow on Mt Cook

Continue reading “10 things you should know about studying abroad in New Zealand”

My life at McGill until now in a nice blog post

I thought I would update you all on my life at McGill University since the last blog update until now, because I have done a lot and seen a lot and you might like to read about it.


Continue reading “My life at McGill until now in a nice blog post”

What an amazing year it’s been!

By Chloe Coradetti, Mechanical Engineering, The National University of Singapore, Singapore.

Helloo Manchester,

Aaaand it’s the end of the year already?! What? Have I time travelled forward? How did it go so fast??!! …

Well, the answer probably lies in all the fun I had this year abroad and the fact that South East Asia is so diverse that it is impossible to feel like you’ve managed to “do it all”.


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Longest Buddha Statue in Malawine, Myanmar (CNN Travel)

Continue reading “What an amazing year it’s been!”

Semester two commences

Harry at McGill in Montréal


Christmas came and went and it has been a week shy of a month since term restarted. No one was without a little anxiety for the impending workload however as with the end of any holiday there is also an ounce of excitement lurking within since, after all, we do all enjoy studying a little bit. Otherwise we would not be here. Continue reading “Semester two commences”

Chinese New Year – Gong Hey Fat Choy!

By Alexandra Ure (Hong Kong Polytechnic University, Hong Kong)

I cannot believe that February is drawing to a close, now the Chinese New Year festivities are over and mid-terms are around the corner, I need to get my head down (I’m writing this post first though, as it’s much more fun!).

Spending Chinese New Year in Hong Kong has been amazing; many exchange students took the week off as an opportunity to travel. I was intending to travel to Borneo, but had so many issues with booking flights that I couldn’t go. This has been somewhat a blessing in disguise as I’ve been able to experience the CNY festivities in Hong Kong, meet a bunch of new people and had some spare time to catch up on school work and apply for internships (I’m desperate to prolong my time here!).

The festivities for Chinese New Year last well over a week. In the lead up to New Year, locals head to flower markets which are teeming with beautiful flowers; namely orchids, blossom trees, lilies and this tree with odd looking oranges on it. Other merchandise is also sold here; in amongst the busy crowd, toy sheep are shoved in your face by sellers, “Missy Missy, sheep also comes in pink!”, and there are other beautiful traditional gifts. I bought a lovely hand-made wind chime from the loveliest elderly ladies.

Orchids on Orchids
Orchids on orchids
Orange, Lemon, Peach, Apricot?
Orange, lemon, peach, apricot
You want a pink one, Missy?

The main Chinese New Year celebrations take place during the first three days of the lunar New Year. On the first day there was a fabulous parade in the evening with Chinese dragons, big floats, the biggest sheep you’ve ever seen and dancers from around the world. The second day consisted of a huge spectacular fireworks show, and on the third day there was a full day of horse racing at the famous Sha Tin racecourse.

All of which were so great – the atmosphere at each of these events was just unbeatable. Chinese New Year is the biggest and most celebrated festival in Hong Kong, and there are still other New Year traditions I wish to partake in before they’re over. I particularly want to visit a ‘Wishing Tree’ in the New Territories, which is an age-old tradition here in Hong Kong. Locals write their wishes down and tie them to traditional fruits then throw them onto the lucky tree in hope that they come true. The faith and religious nature of Asia is so lovely; if wishes come true I believe they return to where they made the wish to give thanks to the gods for granting it.

New Year Parade
New Year parade
Just a little sheep
Just a little sheep
Gong Hey Fat Choy!
Gong Hey Fat Choy!

It is year of the Sheep/Goat/Ram this year – the Chinese don’t seem to be quite sure which animal it is. “Gong Hey Fat Choy!” is how you wish people a Happy Lunar New Year in Cantonese, but it translates as wishing you happiness and good fortune.

Trips (Seattle, L.A. and Whistler)

By Giulietta Grassi (University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada)

The trips and travelling have been one of the best things about studying abroad! I’ve loved going away with everyone, from researching where we’re going and where we’re staying right down to getting on a plane all together and finding our way in a new place. Here is a breakdown of some of the places I’ve been to so far during my first semester:

Seattle was the first place on our list of places to visit. It’s so easy to access from Vancouver, a 4 hour coach journey and you’re across the border and in the US of AAAA. I loved Seattle! It’s got a big city vibe, similar to Vancouver, minus the mountains and sea. We were lucky because we knew some people studying in Seattle, so we got the full American college experience. We visited the public market, wondered the thrift shops and went to a college Halloween party. It’s amazing how a border can make so much difference, Vancouver and Seattle are right next to each other, yet there is such a difference in feel between the two. I loved every moment of this feeling and this trip, and I am definitely going back to Seattle before I leave.

Los Angeles!!! What I loved most about this trip was the spontaneity of it. We had never planned to go to L.A., but one day it was suggested and a few hours later we had booked tickets to go in 2 weeks time… IT WAS THE DREAM. We spent the whole plane journey singing Miley Cyrus Party in the USA. We managed to find a cheap apartment to stay in, right off of Hollywood Boulevard, and spent the 4 days wondering Hollywood. I definitely recommend going there for a short break, it was perfect just to get some sunshine, chill at Venice beach and feel like Hollywood stars for the weekend.

I’ve visited Whistler 3 times since being here, all 3 of which have been amazing. The first time was (when there was still some warmth in Canada) for Thanksgiving. We rented camper vans which had tents attached to them. We spent the weekend camping just outside of Whistler village, it was so cool! There were 17 of us cramped into all these different camper vans, sleeping on tents attached to the tops of the vans. It was one of the best and funniest experiences of my life. The other 2 times I went were during winter; skiing in the day and going out at night. Being the clumsy human I am, I managed to hurt my knee badly so am unable to ski now, but even without skiing Whistler is amazing; just exploring the village, staying with loads of friends in an amazing apartment, surrounded by snow and cosy winter vibes. I definitely recommend taking advantage of Whistler as much as possible in Vancouver! BUT being really careful skiing and do not be dumb like me. Whether a skier or not, Whistler is perfect for the weekend and chilling with friends.

Thanksgiving camping in Whislter
Beverly Hills, L.A.
Thanksgiving camping in Whistler
Skiing in Whistler
skiing in Whistler
Skiing in Whistler

A gentle reminder

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.

Managed to find time to watch David Beckham turn on the Christmas lights
Managed to find time to watch David Beckham turn on the Christmas lights

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.

Just a few more days...
Just a few more days…

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.


An illustration as to how the bell curve system works
An illustration as to how the bell curve system works

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.


Fun and Travel

By Maddy Taylor (University of Maryland, USA).

While I did work very hard at Maryland, and it was occasionally difficult to balance work and play, I had a great opportunity to explore the US while on exchange, and explore I did! I think an exchange really teaches you to seize the day, it feels like such a waste to sit around watching Netflix all day and so I’ve become much more proactive with my time. As a result I have had some awesome experiences while I’ve been here.

Sports at American College are a must, and so we attended a few basketball games at Maryland’s incredible Comcast Centre.

Comcast center at UMD
Comcast centre at UMD
Go Terps!
Go Terps!

We explored DC, and obviously saw The White House. It was great being in College Park because of its proximity to DC and the ease of getting in on the metro! I’m sure I’ll appreciate my short trip into London much more when I get home.

The White House!
The White House!

I did an 8k and a 5k run down in Virginia Beach with my family while I was here, one was for St Patricks’ day and the other was a colour run – so fun!

Shamrock 8k in Virginia Beach with my family
Shamrock 8k in Virginia Beach with my family
Colour Me Rad 5k with Annabel and family down in Virginia Beach
Colour Me Rad 5k with Annabel and family down in Virginia Beach

I visited Baltimore twice, such an interesting city with so much history and so many beautiful sights. It also didn’t hurt that we had a local tour-guide to escort us around (thanks Annie!). That is another great thing about studying abroad, and in American in particular, your friends will be scattered everywhere!

Baltimore rooftop with Annabel and Annie
Baltimore rooftop with Annabel and Annie

My first big trip of the semester was to Philadelphia, and although it was still pretty freezing while we were there, it was great to see the city and explore.

Philadelphia! Freedom, Liberty and of course Rocky!
Philadelphia! Freedom, Liberty and of course Rocky!

And then Spring Break rolled around and of course I had to jet off to the Bahamas! This was such an incredible experience, if a little strange to be in 30degree heat while it was snowing back in Maryland. And there wasn’t much of an opportunity to show off our tan when we got back, but the satisfaction of being an English Rose (nice way of saying very pale) and brown in March made up for it!

Breezes, Bahamas
Breezes, Bahamas
Weather Difference - College Park to Bahamas
Weather Difference – College Park to Bahamas. And it never even rained!
Snorkelling with Sharks and Atlantis!
Snorkelling with Sharks and Atlantis!

And then I had my 20th Birthday in College Park and my wonderful friends came for dinner with me at our campus restaurant.

Birthday meal at Adele's
Birthday meal at Adele’s

Of course what would an exchange in America be without a trip to New York City?! We saw three plays in three days (Newsies, Once and Of Mice and Men), got into the MoMa for free, ran into President Obama and chilled out in Central park in the sun, could it get much better?

New York - Central Park, Top of the Rock and The Empire State Building
New York – Central Park, Top of the Rock, Of Mice and Men and The Empire State Building
Times Square!
Times Square!

And then Annabel and I took a trip to the theme park Busch Gardens, which was simply incredible.

Locked up in 'England'
Locked up in ‘England’

I also joined my extended family in Kiawah Island in South Carolina for (American) mother’s day and a wonderful few days of relaxing and amazing food.

Lunch with the family
Lunch with the family

And now I’m finished my exams and set to spend almost my entire summer by the beach and working by the oceanfront. I’m so so sad that my semester studying in Maryland is over, but at least my time in America is not! Now I’m going to run outside and get a tan!

(P.S. I just wanted to say a massive thank you to everyone who made my travels and semester possible – all of my exchange coordinators, my parents, my extended family in America, and of course all of the wonderful friends I’ve made in Maryland (yes, and you Annabel). You all know who you are – so thank you!)