Travelling the West Coast

By Joseph Barker (The University of Western Australia, Perth, Australia)

The midterm break during my semester abroad provided the ideal opportunity to explore Australia’s west coast, which has proved to be the highlight of my study abroad exchange so far. Having excitedly planned the trip in the preceding weeks, I took to the road with nine of my fellow exchange students, cramming a week’s worth of food, sun cream and ‘Goon’ (The Aussie equivalent of Tesco’s own brand red wine), into two hire cars. With a rather unfortunate amount of American pop music being blasted from our stereo, we set off on our first real adventure down under!

My incredibly gangster car-mates

The one downside of our excursion was our accommodation, or lack of it. Due to the financial restrictions of student life, we decided to buy $40 tents and sleep in campsites throughout the trip. Despite the ever-present plague of flies, roughing it in Australia’s countryside whilst visiting a variety of national parks provided an authentic experience of the stunning Aussie desert. Even more incredible were the beaches of the west coast: my description of the sensational views, pure water and soft white sand they have to offer truly does not do them justice. Our visit to Shark Bay, where we wondered at one of only three surviving stromatolite formations on the globe (which provide a glimpse into the biological history of the earth), exemplifies the astonishing natural features that confirm Australia’s coast provides much more than beaches on which to tan (or burn, if like me you have an incredibly pale complexion).

The Pinnacles, Numbing National Park

The wildlife we were fortunate enough to witness, however, managed to eclipse the outstanding natural sights. Throughout the trip we were able to snorkel above coastal coral reefs, coming within inches of an extensive variety of beautiful, multicoloured tropical fish. Furthermore, we were able to see both wild dolphins and sea turtles during our visit to Monkey Mia. The highlight of the trip, however, was an experience totally unique to Exmouth, our most northern destination: swimming with whale sharks. Whale sharks are the largest species of fish in the ocean, reaching up to lengths of over twelve meters, with the capability to dive over three km down into the ocean and reach one hundred years of age. Despite the day costing $380, swimming with these astounding creatures was worth every penny…

Dedication to the Global Ambassador Beanie Photo

Our day began as we were picked up from our campsite and provided with a bus tour of Exmouth en-route to the harbour. From there, our whale shark swimming company Charter 1, which I would thoroughly recommend, provided snorkeling equipment and food throughout the day as we sailed on their boat. Whilst the company’s spotter plane flew in search of whale sharks, we were once again able to snorkel around coral reefs, this time in deeper parts of the ocean, allowing us to see both jellyfish and a baby shark. After the spotter planes found our first whale shark, however, we set off in hot pursuit. Once the boat was ahead of its target, we rapidly formed lines within the water to avoid scaring the shark as it swam. The thrill of being able to swim with such gigantic sea creatures five times over the course of the afternoon made for a truly unforgettable day. During our third swim, one shark unexpectedly changed direction, meaning we had to quickly dive to its side in order to avoid colliding with one of the largest animals on the planet! The image of an enormous shark being a mere two meters away from hitting you is one of the most terrifying, yet memorable, moments I have had thus far during my time in Australia. Overall, our trip was a truly unforgettable experience, which in my opinion demonstrates the incredible opportunities studying abroad offers to students outside of academic terms.

Final NZ round-up

By Vanessa Maloney (University of Auckland, New Zealand)

I have to admit that over the summer this blog got pushed to the back of my mind, but (finally) here are my last reports on my year abroad. I am now back in good old rainy Manchester so writing this last entry is an excellent excuse to look back at some sunny pictures and imagine myself on a South Pacific beach!

First things first… before I talk about the more recent events, I just wanted to upload some of my Canoe Club pictures as promised. These are pictures from weekend trips throughout my second semester. Some of the most fun that I had in NZ.

Rafting a seven metre waterfall at Kaituna
Rafting a seven metre waterfall at Kaituna
Kaituna - Taking the leap
Kaituna – taking the leap


the milky way visible from our campsite!
The Milky Way visible from our campsite!
Peaceful scenery on the Mohaka
Peaceful scenery on the Mohaka
Thankfully we were only looking at this waterfall!


Part 1 : Leaving New Zealand

Exams finished at the end of June and I had two weeks before my flight to properly say goodbye to this country that I have come to love so much. Although the weather at this time of year is a bit dull, I set out on a little road trip to Taupo/ Turangi, on to a kayak trip organised by the Uni Canoe Club and then went on to another friend’s family bach on the Coramandel peninsula.

It was such a nice way to say goodbye and I couldn’t believe how hard it was to leave some of my friends behind. I must admit that the last few days in New Zealand were very difficult for me and there were some teary goodbyes. However, I found comfort in reminding myself that if I had never signed up for study abroad I would never even have met any of these people or had any of these experiences int the first place.

One last bach trip on the Coramandel peninsula
One last bach trip on the Coramandel peninsula


Part 2 : Island Paradise

Instead of going straight back home, I booked my flight to go via Rarotonga (Cook Islands) and then to LA. I was in the Cook Islands for five weeks doing a placement as a teaching assistant in a primary school. I flew an hour from the main island to a small island surrounded by a beautiful blue lagoon (population under 2000) called Aitutaki.

Aitutaki has got to have been one of the most incredible/fulfilling/surreal experiences of my life. It is impossible to explain this island to anyone who hasn’t been there. Just to try to paint a picture, here are a few bullet points…

  • There are roosters wandering around the airport (roosters also served as my alarm clock every day at 6.30)
  • Goats and pigs roam around the streets. Kids sometimes have fun by chasing a pig around the school field.
  • I saw whales from the golf course.
  • Literally everybody drives a motorbike (even 80 year old grannies!).
  • Everybody says hello to you in the street, and when you meet people it feels like you are old friends.
  • You will regularly be invited to a ‘feed’ – a massive feast where I have literally never seen so much food. I often saw people put cake and dessert on their plate first and then pile main course on top , so you literally eat through to your dessert.
  • I got used to drilling a hole in a drinking coconut to refresh myself on a hot day.
  • People gossip and news travels faster than what seems humanly possible. Talking is the main hobby in a place where there’s not a lot else by way of entertainment.
  • Nobody will let you walk! You cannot go for a walk without somebody insisting that they give you a lift on their bike, even if its only 50 yards.
  • Families are big! When getting a lift into town from my neighbour, it would be normal for him to wave to at least 5 of his cousins or nephews.

Some of the people that I met on Aitutaki are the friendliest, warmest, most open-hearted people that I have ever met, and I will never forget the kindness they showed me.

Island paradise
Island paradise
Me with Mama Tutai at the new school's opening - wearing the dress that was made for me
Me with Mama Tutai at the new schools opening – wearing the dress that was made for me
Mama Noa and one of her grandchildren
Mama Noa and one of her grandchildren
The mural I helped paint in the newly built pre-school
The mural I helped paint in the newly built pre-school
School Assembly
School assembly
If you've ever wondered how many kids you can fit on the back of a truck...
If you’ve ever wondered how many kids you can fit on the back of a truck…


Part 3 : Homecoming

After a stopover in LA, I finally flew into Heathrow to greet my family. I loved seeing them again and had a permanent smile on my face whilst I was catching up with family and friends. It was quite surreal seeing everybody in 3D again as I was so used to seeing them inside a computer screen!

A nice airport welcome from my sister
A nice airport welcome from my sister

I must admit that it has sometimes been difficult settling back into English culture. I found it hard to get used to a less laid-back lifestyle, the lack of sun and the sheer amount of people. Going into central London was a stressful experience, especially after coming straight from Aitutaki where the population was so small.

However, I am starting to settle back in again and I’m doing my best to continue some of my hobbies (e.g. kayaking) and attitudes from NZ back here in the UK. Sometimes I think back to New Zealand and almost can’t believe how incredible it was. Sometimes it feels like a dream, until I talk to a Kiwi friend online or see an All-Blacks game on TV and remember that it was actually all real!

My year abroad was beyond all of my expectations. I expected to meet some cool people, but didn’t expect to make friends for life. I expected to travel to some beautiful places and experience a different culture, but didn’t expect this to become such a huge part of who I am. It’s so hard to reflect on my year abroad without sounding cheesy, because all of the cliches are just so true. If anybody is thinking of doing a year abroad, I just want to say that in my experience (although it was by no means always easy,) studying abroad was probably the best decision I have ever made. I cannot imagine my university experience and my life in general without having done it and am so grateful that I was given this amazing opportunity.