By Hannah Wheeler, Vrije Universiteit, Netherlands
Here is a list of some of the best things, both touristy and Dutchie, to do in Amsterdam and the Netherlands. I hope it has something that will appeal to everyone: from club recommendations to must try cookies…
Studying abroad in America has taught me many things. It has taught me that no matter how many American TV shows you watch on Netflix; you will still get an insane shock at the difference between our two cultures. It has taught me that having an English accent can get you very many privileges in the US (even if you’re from Birmingham). And it has taught me that Britain is a very, very tiny country.
The thing that I will most take away from my time abroad is the friendships that I have made from people all across the globe; friendships which will hopefully last a lifetime. I now have plans to visit friends from Australia, somewhere I have always wanted to visit and am excited to embark on a new travelling adventure.
I am not sure that studying abroad has changed me in the dramatic and cliché way that I thought it would. Upon my return to England it felt as if I had never left, I slipped back into British life with extreme ease, picked up my friendships where they had left off and started drinking tea again. America began to feel like a strange dream or a past life. However, I would say that my six months across the Atlantic has definitely noticeably improved my confidence. Being thrown into the deep end, completely alone has forced me to speak up more and to try not to hide behind other people– especially in classes were my participation counted towards 30% of my grade. I think it has also helped me to become better at dealing with stress – dislocating your elbow on the other side of the world with no mother to provide you with comfort and thousands of pounds worth of medical bills being thrown at you is very, very stressful. And, after 20 years of evading exercise, the fear of American food making me obese, finally forced me to join the gym. Aside from that though, I would say that I am still the same old Liv.
I have been asked so many times over the months since my return, ‘How was America?’ and I always struggle to answer. The question is so weighted. How can I reduce six months of my life down to a single sentence answer. How was America? I usually pause for a long moment and then just say ‘Weird’. I then normally follow this by stating that it was ‘an interesting life experience’ and then waffle on for about five minutes about how cool Texas was or how insane it is that the drinking age is 21, whilst the person who asked – and probably expected me to say something like ‘ it was good’ becomes increasingly bewildered by my random response. I don’t think that I have fully been able to process my time studying abroad yet. It would take me a month to properly answer that question. Maybe in a few years’ time when I have had the time to reflect properly on my experience, I will be able to categorise my feelings in a way that allows me to give a response to that question that doesn’t end up in a ten minute rant about the fact that their cheese tastes like plastic. However, until then, in order to evade me going into meltdown, I would advise people to ask me a more specific question than, ‘ How was America?’
One of the best things about America is its diversity. Every state is like a different country, from the mountains of Vermont to the deserts of Nevada, the swamps of Louisiana to the beaches of California, which meant that although I didn’t leave the states for 5 months, it felt like I’d travelled to a multitude of different countries. I visited 11 states in total, but it definitely felt like I’d seen more than just over a fifth of the country. If I had to pick a top 3 places I would probably say Austin, Texas and New Orleans, Louisiana and of course New York, New York.
I surprised myself with how much I loved the South. My preconceptions of the southern states were racism, sexism, homophobia and cowboys, so I was a little apprehensive to leave the comfort of the north. Thankfully though I didn’t witness anything that I deemed hateful. Austin was full of Pride flags and every southerner that I met was nothing but extremely pleasant. What I loved about the South was its extreme Americanness, it felt like there was a lot more culture there and that the people were really laid back and eager to befriend us.
Texas particularly was everything I’d dreamed it’d be. There were people dressed in cowboy boots and hats everywhere. And they weren’t in fancy dress. People genuinely dress like that because, in Texas, it is fashionable. Whilst in Texas I also visited a real-life saloon. This was amazing. There was a band belting out the countryiest of country tunes whilst everyone gleefully danced the two-step. Even better than this, out the back of the saloon there was an extremely Texan version of bingo being played. The premise: a large grid of numbers was placed in the middle of the yard and littered with chicken feed. Players then paid two dollars to be given a piece of paper with a number written on it, correlating to a number written on the grid. A chicken was then placed on the grid and the chicken defecated on the number of its choice. The player whose number matched up with the number chosen by the chicken won $200. I felt like I was in an extremely odd dream that I wasn’t sure I ever wanted to wake up from.
New Orleans, took Americanness down a completely different route. As I sat eating beignets at café du monde, gazing at the European style architecture of the French quarter I felt as though I could have been in old Orléans. However, the constant cacophony of saxophones and trumpets coming from buskers on every street corner and the kids tap dancing for people’s spare change really emphasised that New Orleans is the birthplace of the very American culture of jazz. Everywhere you looked there were stalls advertising psychic readings and shops selling voodoo dolls, the latter unfortunately serving as a reminder that a lot of the culture here was born out of slavery. NOLA was by far the most unique place that I visited in the US and I wish that I had been able to spend more than two days there.
The final of my top 3 destinations felt more like home than merely somewhere I was visiting by the time I reached the end of my stay on the East coast. New York lived up to all of my extremely high expectations and even though I visited the city almost every weekend whilst I was studying at Rutgers, I felt as if I could wonder its streets for the rest of my life and never get bored. Time square really is that mesmerising. Brooklyn bridge really is that huge. Dollar pizza really is the best thing you will ever taste.
The opportunity to travel the states for so long is something that I am extremely grateful for, and something which I never would have had the opportunity to do without study abroad. Whichever university you end up at whilst you are abroad, be sure to make the most out of travelling to its surrounding states/countries. It will make your experience unforgettable.
Arguably the most attractive part of moving from Manchester to Australia for a year is the great weather and beautiful beaches. So after being away for a grand total of ten months, in May I finally took a weekend off work and visited the largest beachy attraction closest to Brisbane that I knew of – Stradbroke Island. To be honest, it completely amazed me that it had taken me ten months to get here in the first place seeing as it’s around 3 hours door to door and it was one of the first things that inspired me to do a year abroad in the first place; an extremely fond memory of mine is first talking to an exchange student from the University of Queensland at the Manchester Go Abroad fair all those many moons ago in October 2016, and she told me that at the weekend she’d take a break from assignments and go to her closest island to sunbathe and watch dolphins swim. Who doesn’t want that? Me, apparently – after having my sights set on this magical mystical place for so long as a large part of my motivation to get to Brisbane, it had taken me a grand total of nearly a year to get there. Regardless, it finally happened!
Getting to Stradbroke Island involved a free weekend, a bus to the centre of the city, a train to the coast and then a ferry over to the island. This is probably the same effort, distance and price as getting from Fallowfield to the Peak District, but with sun instead of sleet and koalas (cliché but true) instead of rabbits. When I initially formed an image in my mind of the second largest sand island in the world, I was drawn to images of beautiful but desolate open and untouched spaces surrounded by nothing but sea. This was all true, with the edition of a few sparsely dotted hostels, bottle shops, restaurants and a boules club. So after checking into a cosy youth hostel on the north coast, we settled in for a long, hard day of soaking up the toasty autumn sun on the beach, still going strong at 25 degrees. The hostel was a classic surfer’s hostel, with sand in every crevice and a few battered acoustic guitars that had probably seen a lifetime of being played ‘Wonderwall’ on around a campfire on the beach, which was a very handy 20 metres away.
The beach is an endless stretch of white sand bordered with palm trees and shrub on one side and an extremely blue ocean on the other, straight out of a travel brochure. The colour of the sea honestly looked artificial, but the temperature was perfect and we spent a long sunny afternoon splashing around in the surf and playing cricket on the beach. It was hell. At dusk, we headed a little further round the coast to Stradbroke’s main attraction, the north gorge walk. This is a long, wooden board walk that spans a stretch of the cliffs around the north coast, and is definitely the place to be for sun set. From our high vantage point on the cliffs, we were also given a front row seat to huge leatherback turtles, manta rays and dolphins below us which was spectacular.
The Australian nature cliché didn’t end there though as heading slightly back inland we passed a dozen kangaroos (including bonus point of a mother with a Joey in her pouch!), wild koalas and as it got slightly darker, hundreds of bats.
The sunset was easily one of the best I’ve ever seen, and we headed back to the hostel with rose tinted goggles feeling drunk on the wholesomeness of the day we’d just experienced. It’s easy to forget that it is actually autumn now on this side of the hemisphere when the days are still so warm, so the 10 degree lows of the night came as a bit of a shock. We managed to overcome this fairly quickly though by hoarding blankets from our hostel and huddling together on the beach for a pretty remarkable astronomical display.
The next day consisted of similarly wholesome activities; sunbathing, surfing (which I discovered I am terrible at) and very sadly saying goodbye to the island. However, not for long; I plan to return at least once before I leave to make up for 10 months of lost time! But for now it’s back to daydreaming about dolphins in between assignments.
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!
In just over a week I will be catching a flight from Pierre-Trudeau airport exactly three hundred and eleven days after arriving there to begin my year of exchange. To say a lot of has happened since then, true as it is, would be a little underwhelming and doesn’t seem to do justice to quite how busy Montréal and McGill are.
I previously mentioned I was set to start a summer research position in the McGill chemistry department, which was how I could afford to stay in Montréal another two months, and it has transpired to be a very rewarding experience. The department made it simple for international students with regards to obtaining placements and so if you are one to consider experience and career opportunities getting a cheeky summer internship at McGill would look pretty sweet.
Despite the work being engaging and the lab environment being social or the first week or so /I was a little confused about the situation I found myself in. Most other exchanges had left Montréal and those that were left were dropping like flies. Not even just exchanges. Full time McGill students were all on their annual homeward migration. Consequently I was in a sort of limbo where I was neither going home nor travelling. A lingering smell. It was like Montréal had a party and the house got a tiny bit damaged yet I insisted staying to help tidy up even though Montréal is tired and doesn’t really need the help.
Though this is inaccurate because that suggests Montréal is sluggish when term is out. People had said to me that Montréal was a student town though having spent half of summer here I wouldn’t agree that that was the case. However I do concede it is not a suit-sporting hyper-competitive business town. For sure.
In fact I found that with so few people staying in Montréal everyone was quite keen to step out of their comfort zone and hang out with people they hadn’t all year. I guess people taking summer courses whose friends have left don’t want to be bored either. Consequently the stifling purgatory feel soon dissipated.
Walking from my new flat I pass through Jeanne-Mance park (should you be reading this in anticipation of coming to Montréal you will soon become familiar with this park as it serves as a buffer between the Plateau and Mont Royal) and with all sincerity one afternoon coming home if by some freak accident I was slain… I could have died happy.
The sun was low enough in the sky that there was no risk of frying however it had not gotten any colder than it was at noon. Camera in hand I strolled past all the sports facilities the park adorns in turn: beach volleyball, soccer, Frisbee, tennis and baseball. With each sport a healthy crowd of athletes participated, and although some were more athletic than others, they were all soaking up the summer ambience. These games were punctuated with groups of picnicking friends, flirting couples, dog walkers, joggers, cyclists, slackliners, musicians and other photographers.
It is my conclusion that Montréal too has a juxtaposed culture similar to that of McGill, but instead of it being work hard and play hard, it is winter blues and summer loving. Everyone throws themselves so hard into summer.
One example of this is the plethora of festivals Montréal hosts for essentially the whole of summer. There are actually so many that some are so poorly advertised you only find out about them when you stumble into a main stage on the walk back from the metro. This was the case where I found half the length of Boulevard St Laurent shut off with a terrasse outside every shop, bar and restaurant. The highlight of which was a local’s bar in little Portugal that had moved a flat screen into the shop window so that people could sit and watch the Euro from the street.
I am so glad I was able to spend some time in Montréal over summer and would highly recommend that however you find your year at McGill you should seriously consider staying for summer because they city transcends into something greater than you will see it at any other time of year.
This is actually my last compulsory blog with the GGA scheme and as such my next one will likely be a photo compilation comprised from a number of friend’s photography archives. Writing this actually served as a break from planning my summer travel plans which are woefully lacking. Now this is finished I can focus on getting tourist cards and visas and reflect on the fact that my time in Montréal has finally come to an end.
Good luck to anyone reading this who is set to come out here.
By Chloe Coradetti, Mechanical Engineering, The National University of Singapore (NUS), Singapore
After having the time of my life travelling during 6 weeks over Christmas Break, it is time to go back to Uni!
The majority of exchangers stay only for one semester. Therefore, the National University of Singapore was expecting a whole new batch of fresh new exchange students. I was excited to meet some new people and be one of the “ancient” … basically a local Lah (singlish exclamation mark).
Additionally, the deeper bonds created during Christmas while travelling with my UK exchanger friends is going to be greatly valuable as they were almost all staying in NUS for a year as well.
Singapore never felt more like home than when you start off fresh a new semester in a familiar environment with your friend-family! What an awesome feeling to be back!!
Hello from the second-to-last compulsory blog entry I have to write for Manchester on the road. On the other side of the last hurdle of the year that is finals I write this with a breezy light-spirited attitude and as so all my reflections will be horrifically bias and rose-tinted since the stress of exams an work will have been purged from my mind.
By Chloe Coradetti, Mechanical Engineering, The National University of Singapore (NUS), Singapore
First, a little retrospective on my adventure so far which I wrote on my Facebook wall in December 2015:
The first semester is coming to an end,
I’ve been through a great range of difference experiences, beginning by meeting awesome, intellectual, hilarious, enriching people which I went on some adventures with, at boxing classes, skateboarding, partying, laughing, dragon boating, chatting philosophically or politically until 3AM…Continue reading “Exams and Goodbyes”→
By Chloe Coradetti, Mechanical Engineering, The National University of Singapore (NUS), Singapore
In this post I’m going to talk about the mid terms examination, my recess week holiday and life on campus in general.
Midterms – Mid September
Where to begin…
Stressful for sure, especially that we do not have them in Manchester and therefore I didn’t know what to expect.
Challenging, because as they count for only 10% to 20% of our final grade, the teachers take them as an opportunity to really test our problem solving skills by giving us impossible exercises… literally.
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”→