Nobody said it was easy, nobody said it would be so hard.

By Isobel Cecil (University of California, San Diego, USA).

(I wrote this a month ago, and thought I’d posted it a month ago to. I’ve only just realised that my technical capabilities have failed me again and that it didn’t post. Hey, just another setback!)

Here I am just a few days away from my long flight to California, and I’m finding it very hard to describe how I feel. Everybody keeps asking me: “Are you excited??!?!?” , to acquaintances I enthusiastically reply “Yeah! 100%! Woohoo!” and make some lighthearted joke about tanning/Mexican food/ surfer boys. However to those closer to me I tell the truth; I don’t have any overwhelming feelings of excitement, happiness nor even of fear and nerves.

The journey to this point in time has been the most incredibly stressful process I have ever been through. I’ve felt like every aspect has had multiple setbacks: from course selection confusion to seemingly never-ending Visa problems and stresses.

And then, when I thought everything was sorted, I received an email informing me that I had not got into “International House” (the only UCSD accommodation we were allowed to apply for). I remember joking with my Manchester friends whilst writing my 5 mini-essays for the application (no joke) that if I didn’t get it I would just have to camp out on the beach for year. When I received the email I had no reaction, it was like I’d just read another email from ASOS/Student Beans.

The truth is, I was so shocked and scared that I just couldn’t process it. It wasn’t until my parents came home and I had to put it into words that I started to freak out. I had nowhere to live; there was no space left on campus,;I wasn’t going to get the campus experience I had signed up for — the experience that I had sacrificed my second year in Manchester for.

The worst thing was that there was no straightforward next step. The rejection email had one link on it to “Commuter Student Services”, a website designed for 3rd/4th year UCSD students, who have grown out of campus life. There was a list of extremely helpful tips such as “Drive around different neighborhoods to see if you like atmosphere” and “Keep an eye-out for FOR RENT signs when you’re out and about”, to say this exacerbated my anger would be an understatement. Three out of four of us going to UCSD this year from Manchester did not get into I-house, and we are all struggling. I almost sorted out housing with 2 different American girls but one of them just stopped messaging me, and the other panicked about getting an international deposit and rented a studio apartment instead.

So here I am just a few days away from my flight to California, and I’m finding it hard to describe my feelings. Just as I was too shocked to react to my accommodation rejection email, I feel to overwhelmed by house-hunting stress to even process excitement or nerves, it just feels like there’s too much to be done. The knowledge that I’m moving to California, and I have no-where to actually move to, is perhaps occupying those parts of my brain.

I realise that was not exactly positive, but I feel it’s important to be honest. This process is difficult, but hopefully it will be worth it. On a more positive note, apart from trying to sort out California stuff, I’ve been busy this summer ticking off my “England To-Do List” including: Going to Y-Not Festival in my beautiful home county of Derbyshire, having a last roast dinner, a last decent British Curry, spending time with my friends who will soon be so far away and most importantly– having my last pint in the pub! A few little photos of that to cheer up this post, including me looking suitably delighted to finally get my visa and the top photo of my friends and I doing a little ironic sorority girl pose; that should be something suitably hilarious to observe when I finally get to CA! English To Do List

Academic Experiences in Melbourne

By Dinah Whitear (University of Melbourne, Australia).

So I’m about half way through my semester here at Melbourne University and I’d say it’s about time to talk about the academic side to my exchange here…

Tomorrow will mark the start of my 9th week here at Melbourne Uni, and with only about 3-4 weeks of teaching period left, I’d say this semester has flown by! It actually scared me when someone said to me the other day ‘so you’re almost done here then’, when I said I was only here for a semester, and I guess it’s true! Well, almost done my actual study period – I’ve made sure I’ve left myself a good month and a bit of travelling time here in Australia afterwards so I won’t be jetting back home anytime soon that’s for sure! So for those of you looking to study at Melbourne Uni, you may be interested to know what it’s like and how the academic aspect differs with Manchester. Well, obviously I can only speak for my subject – I study neuroscience back home at Manchester but am part of the ‘bachelor of science’ degree here at Melbourne (I will explain why later) – but there may be some general aspects that apply to your degree too.

So firstly, as I’ve already mentioned, I’m part of the ‘bachelor of science’ degree here at Melbourne. This is an important point to consider because Melbourne uni, like most other Australian and American unis I think, structure their degrees rather differently – instead of having to choose such a specialised degree from the start of your course, you usually only have to apply for a broad degree like ‘science’ and then you will only have to specialise at the later stage of your degree. So, if I were you I’d get in touch with Melbourne to find out what area exactly you should be looking to apply for because otherwise it can get rather confusing!

Another thing I’ve had to get my head around is the fact that their degrees are four years here, and that’s not including an honours. That means their first year here is much like our last year at college before we go to university, their second year much like our first year at university, and so on. This may mean you may find some overlap in the subject matter in the courses you study here in comparison to Manchester but, as I said, this may only apply to my course and I’m not sure what it would be like in other ones. For this reason, I chose to mix and match the level of my course – I’m a second year student and decided to do three second-year level courses here and then one third-year level course. I have so far found this quite challenging, but in a good way. I do feel that when I go back to Manchester I will be better prepared for the demand of work since the third-year courses here are assessed in a similar way to the third-year courses back home; as a science student I am not used to doing many essays, but my third-year course is in fact 80% essay-based. I guess I do feel pretty intimidated by this but am hoping it’ll all be okay with some hard work!

I have found the lectures here a little different to those at Manchester – I think the class size is slightly smaller, but the main difference being the intimacy of the lectures. I was used to having lecturers standing further away in our lecture halls at Manchester (in my classes anyway) – here, however, I find that they are practically on the first row! As a consequence of this closeness, I have to admit that I have found napping in lectures a lot harder! I don’t think I’ve seen a single person fall asleep here at Melbourne! I guess it’s a good thing and has taught me to switch on that’s for sure!

I’d say the assessment, and therefore the workload, is quite different here for my course as well- for starters, I’ve had mid-semester tests, and quite a lot of them to say the least! This has meant that I’ve had to work a bit more consistently throughout the semester, something I have to admit I wasn’t at first used to. I think it works out quite well though as it means there is less cramming at the end of the semester and means you’re probably better prepared. I’ve had a lot of weekly online tests too -something I am used to back in Manchester – but the style of some has taken some adapting to! Here they do things called ‘blogs’, where it’s almost an online forum with several other classmates where you are assessed for your discussion over a certain topic.

Something I have found dramatically different here, though, is practicals. In Manchester, the life sciences subjects are very lab-based. Here, I’ve had a total of 6 practicals in the whole semester, and that really is nothing in comparison to back home! They don’t seem to have a compulsory practical element like Manchester do, unless you specifically choose a practical-based module. It depends what you’re looking for, but for me, I’ve quite enjoyed the fact that I don’t have to do labs so frequently and the ones that I do do are pretty cool! I’m doing an anatomy module and so we’ve been designated four time slots throughout the semester where we spend some time in a dissection room – for me this was a real draw to Melbourne as I wouldn’t have had the chance to do this back in Manchester. I have found it really interesting and am so glad I’ve had the opportunity to do something I wouldn’t have done otherwise.

So yeah, overall, I would say there are some differences, but in general I wouldn’t say it’s too much of a shock in comparison to the academic lifestyle we’re used to back in Manchester – apparently it’s a lot harder for the American students to get used to because they’re used to a different way of learning. The campus here is great though, such a nice environment to be in – more of a campus feel than a city, little bit more green and so much going on all the time! Although the libraries don’t have as accessible opening hours as those back in Manchester, you learn to work around it and the facilities really are good – I’ve had to get used to working with macs, as that’s pretty much all they use here!!

As a last tip, I’d say make sure you have a good look into all the different course options on offer to you – it is pretty important to make sure you find something you think you will really enjoy! Good luck!

¡Hola España!

By Hannah Langan (Autonomous University of Barcelona, Spain).

2 days to go! 

So, I’m going on my year abroad. I speak un pocito Español and I certainly don’t speak Catalan. I don’t know anyone there and I’ve never been to Barcelona before, actually I haven’t spent much time in Spain at all as it goes. This is all completely unchartered waters for me and I couldn’t be more excited.

My flight is in two days. I have been waiting to go for so long but, strangely, it doesn’t feel any closer now than it did a couple of months ago, I don’t think it’s really going to sink in until I’m there! Having said that, this week has been emotionally draining at times because I’ve had lots of goodbyes. Last night I met up with all of my friends for farewell drinks, they are all very sad to see me go but so happy for me. I’m absolutely dreading saying goodbye to my family. It’s really difficult knowing that the next time I will see them all together again is Christmas. Leaving everyone behind is genuinely the toughest thing about going, but I’m leaving for Barcelona so it’s not too hard to look on the bright side (extremely clever pun: intended).

Now, I took a very helpful Manchester student’s advice to come out a week or so early to find accommodation before uni begins. Except I extended that ‘week or so’ to I think around 3 weeks, accidentally of course. This has resulted in a mindset of packing for a holiday. My suitcase is composed almost entirely of summer clothes and hawaiian tropic. I’m not really considering winter just yet as an inevitability. I’m saving space by not packing towels or bed sheets because I can buy those when I arrive! I have scoured the internet for packing advice and the message repeated everywhere is ‘pack light!’ so I am! I’m stocking up on toiletries though and I figure that I can buy whatever else I need over there. As well as sending my friends extensive lists of things to bring me from home, in return for free accommodation when they come and visit me of course.

Ok so my biggest stress is where I’m going to live. I’m pretty terrified in all honesty. Apparently the norm for Erasmus students is to just come out a week or so before uni starts, look around at some flats, explore the neighbourhoods and decide where you want to settle. It sounds pretty easy and I’m possibly the most last-minute, least-stressed, chaotic person you will ever have the pleasure to meet but booking a one way flight with only 4 nights booked in a hostel is freaking. me. out. I’ll let you know how that goes.

Arriving…

A beautiful 3am start, my parents drive me to Heathrow and we have a departing coffee before I have to go through security. I was expecting uncontrollable tears but all I could feel was pure excitement that I was at long last jetting off on my year abroad! After a well-wished goodbye I headed to my plane, making a little stop to pick up some much needed Barcelona ray-bans. Also (on an unrelated note) I find putting ‘Barcelona’ in front of any item justifies the purchase, for example: Barcelona ray-bans. The journey was extremely quick and I’ve finally landed in the city I’ve been dreaming over for the last year. It’s 31 degrees and lets just say my sunglasses are getting put to good use.

The reality of being alone in a city I don’t know with no one I know has finally hit me. Ay dios mio. I won’t take you through my journey from the airport to my hostel but if I told you I have a history of getting on the wrong train and ending up really quite far away from where I’m supposed to be (including a different city), then you can imagine the ordeal I’ve been through today. In the end though, I made it to my hostel. I did it.

Upon arriving, I spent a considerable amount of time standing on the street outside my hostel trying to get inside, speaking through the intercom with my exceptionally limited Spanish and the receptionists’ non-existent English. When I was eventually buzzed in, with no thanks owed to anyones language skills, I made it to my room, completely exhausted. I indulged in a lengthy siesta (this part bears no cultural shock for me) and I shall be spending the rest of my evening sorting out apartments to visit over the next few days! Possible homelessness pending so I’ve got to get going.

To be continued amigos.