Breaking out of the comfort zone: A reflection

Salma Rana, Queen’s University

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.

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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.

Continue reading “Breaking out of the comfort zone: A reflection”

Fitting In

Salma Rana, Queen’s University

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.

THE MSA

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”

Expect the Unexpected

Ailsa Jones ♦ Queen’s University, Canada

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.

Continue reading “Expect the Unexpected”

One Semester Down! Any differences between Queen’s and Manchester?

[By Emily Privett, Queen’s University, Canada]

Before I get started about all the of the academic differences between Queen’s University and Manchester, I would just like to express my incredulity that I am already half way through my year abroad…I am struggling to understand how time has gone that quickly, but I guess as the well known saying goes; ‘time flies when you’re having fun!’ Continue reading “One Semester Down! Any differences between Queen’s and Manchester?”

Arrival Reflections: 43 days later…

By Emily Privett, Queen’s University, Canada

Today marks the 43rd day of my being in Canada(!) and although I’ve only had two weeks of classes, so much has been going on. First, I would like to apologise for my blog being so late. I thought that the first week of classes would be a perfect time to catch up on my blogging as there wouldn’t be too much work. Safe to say, I was wrong about the ‘not much work’, but that’s a topic for another blog!

So what has been going? So much! To stop this blog from being an un-structured mind-dump of everything that’s been happening since I arrived, I’m going to split it into sections of ‘firsts’; First Impressions, First Friends and First Week of Class.

First Impressions:

Having flown for 8 hours to Toronto, waited 4 hours for our bus to take us to Kingston and travelling for another 4 hours to get into Kingston, the only activity on my mind was sleep. As we walked from the university campus to our motel at 11:30pm, I can’t say that first impressions were great and I was very sceptical about my study abroad decision. Thankfully, my first impressions couldn’t have been more wrong, and let’s be honest, nothing looks too exciting in the dark after 16 hours of travelling. We explored Kingston the day after we arrived and to my relief, I loved it and am loving it more and more every day. It is very different to Manchester in the way that it is much smaller, most of the shops are small independent ones but it is a refreshing change. My favourite part is that there is a lake just 10 minutes from campus, of which the grass and pier overlooking it became a favourite spot for me and my friends during the very warm days before classes started. Although being a geographer should really mean that I have some concept of the climate in different areas of the world, I was shocked about how warm it was and how many days we could spend by the river. I have been told by many Canadians, though, to make the most of it because winter will be coming!

First Friends:

Before I came to Canada, I didn’t have a house sorted, but thankfully, this wasn’t much of an issue and by five days into my stay, I had signed a lease. Moving in with four complete strangers was slightly daunting, but I did it in first year so why couldn’t I do it again? So far it has worked out incredibly well and hopefully will continue to work well. On top of meeting my housemates and becoming friends with them, Queen’s University put on a NEWTS week. This stands for New, Exchange, Worldwide and Transfer Students and is basically a ‘fresher’s week’ for anyone new to Queen’s University but not in first year. As part of NEWTS week, we were split into groups of around 10 and had two upper year leaders called ‘geckos’ (because we’re ‘newts’…witty, huh?). These were the groups we did all the activities throughout the week with and thankfully, there were three other geographers in my group! Highlights of that week included the tamming ceremony and the paint fight (for obvious reasons). The tamming ceremony is a Queen’s tradition. A tam is a Scottish looking hat with a coloured pom-pom on the top and every incoming student gets one when they start their course. However, you are not just given one and that’s it, oh no! We had the Queen’s Bands (basically a massive marching band complete with highland dancers, drum corps and pipe band) play to us and even a town crier came to lead us in our tam oath! It is definitely an experience I will never forget, and the tam is definitely coming back to Manchester with me.

First Week of Class:

In my next blog, I will talk about the academic experience in a much more detailed way but I’ll sum it up with one word; busy. It is exciting however because the courses I am doing this semester are all really interesting and hopefully that will continue throughout! Sadly, I have a group presentation and an essay proposal due in on Monday, along with two in-class tests next week and so I should probably stop procrastinating and get on with some studying. If you need me, I’ll have made my home in the library!

Some of my NEWTS group after the tamming ceremony.
Some of my NEWTS group after the tamming ceremony.
Looking very clean just before the paint fight
Looking very clean just before the paint fight
After the paint fight!
After the paint fight!

The Final Countdown (Pre-departure reflections)

By Emily Privett (Queen’s University, Canada)

It’s weird how I’ve been planning for tomorrow for months and the flight has been booked since June yet I still don’t feel like it’s actually real. I mean, tomorrow I’m going to be getting onto a plane and fly thousands of miles away from my house, friends and family, to set up camp in Canada for the year..?!

Although it is crazy to think that I will be living nearly 3,500 miles away from home, I cannot wait to starting building a life out there for a year; finding a house, meeting other students and even getting stuck into my academics (although on my provisional timetable, I seem to have a lecture from 6:30pm-9:30pm?! So that may be interesting…).

Clearly the first step to making this life, is to get there. I count myself incredibly lucky that one of my friends has agreed to come with me for the first two weeks so that I am not completely by myself. Although I’m pretty sure he’s just coming along for a holiday, having another brain and common sense to use while setting up my bank account and other vital but mundane things has greatly calmed me down about everything. This has meant I can get properly excited about the adventure ahead.

Since I finally finished the major task of packing all my earthly belongings into a 20kg weight-restricted suitcase today, I have been able to look ahead to our actual arrival in Canada. According to friends and family who have shared their Canadian wisdom with me, going to Tim Horton’s as soon as we land is a must (I will find out what the big deal is and report back), they have no Cadbury’s chocolate (I know, I was as shocked as you are), therefore I must prepare to go without or stash accordingly and that Canadians are incredibly friendly!

Not only am I very excited to experience this stereotypical friendliness of Canadians, I am hoping that it will help me when trying to find somewhere for me to live! Facebook has really played a key part in me looking for places to live and people to live with (it’s probably the only time where being on Facebook has actually led to something productive). The hope is to get in touch with some of the people I have been chatting to, set up some viewings and hopefully live with one of them. Obviously, we’ll have to see how that plays out but that is the goal.

After finding a house, I’ll just be seeing where the Canadian university life leads me and will keep you updated on all things Canada!

Manchester beanie takes on North America

By Ros Harwood (Queen’s University, Kingston, Canada)

To finish up my blog posts about my year abroad, I have some photos to share giving a snapshot of the five weeks I spent travelling to mark the end of my year abroad. It was a fantastic trip and I ticked off a lot of places I have always wanted to visit! I attempted to mark each place with a Manchester beanie picture. Travel is such a key part of study abroad, make the most of the opportunities!

Canada

Toronto > Rocky Mountains (Banff and Jasper) > Vancouver

Moraine Lake - Lake Louise, Rocky Mountains
Moraine Lake – Lake Louise, Rocky Mountains
Jasper, Rocky Mountains
Jasper, Rocky Mountains
Stanley Park, Vancouver
Stanley Park, Vancouver
Second Beach, Vancouver
Second Beach, Vancouver

USA:

Seattle > Portland > Yosemite & Sierra National Parks > Death Valley > Las Vegas > Phoenix & Grand Canyon, Arizona > San Diego > Los Angeles > Pacific Coast Highway > San Francisco

Pike Place Market, Seattle
Pike Place Market, Seattle
Washington State Rose Garden, Portland
Washington State Rose Garden, Portland

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Yosemite & Sierra National Parks

Las Vegas
Las Vegas
Visiting another Manchester student abroad, Phoenix
Visiting another Manchester student abroad, Phoenix
Grand Canyon, Arizona
Grand Canyon, Arizona
Ocean Beach, San Diego
Ocean Beach, San Diego
At the Hollywood sign, Los Angeles
At the Hollywood sign, Los Angeles

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Driving the Pacific Coast Highway: Santa Barbara > Big Sur > Carmel > Monterey, California

Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco
Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco

And that’s a wrap on my year abroad! Coming home has been a small novelty, but quickly got boring. Make the most of it!

The Rocky Mountains

By Ros Harwood (Queen’s University, Kingston, Canada)

After sad goodbyes with Kingston and Queen’s, my friend and I made a short one day stop in Toronto before taking a Greyhound bus across four provinces for two and half days to Banff, Alberta.

A couple of beanie snaps: one on Moraine Lake at Lake Louise (still frozen at end of April) and the other at Johnson Canyon, where walking and wearing the Manchester beanie caused two girls to tell us they had graduated from Manchester the previous year and also studied Geography! A small world.


Cha Gheill!

By Ros Harwood (Queen’s University, Kingston, Canada)

I literally can’t believe I am writing this post, where has the time gone?! The year abroad has flown by and I am unbelievably sad to have to leave this place. I am really looking forward to travelling and going home; it’s been a while since I’ve been there, but I have made some amazing memories at this fantastic university. Despite the long, hard Canadian winter, the hardest thing right now is that we are finally rewarded with beautiful sunshine, blue skies and a lot of positive temperatures which makes Kingston an absolutely stunning place to be. Being on one of the Great Lakes, many trips to the lakeside and the pier just to bask in the sunshine, drink smoothies and just be outside have happened.

I luckily finished my exams and assignments within four days of the exam period starting and have had one week to pack up, enjoy the weather, see all my friends, say goodbyes and just enjoy being in Kingston. The one thing I have come to realise is that I am so glad I went to a city that is not usually part of the big touristy list of Canada. If I had been studying in Toronto or Montreal, I probably would not have visited a place like Kingston. However, it is a little gem that should be discovered, as well as being incredibly student friendly and a great place to ‘experience’ Canada. It was the first capital of Canada so it’s a cool place to have visited.

For anyone considering a year abroad or even coming to Queen’s, you are incredibly lucky. The community at Queen’s is so welcoming, Canadians are lovely people and it is a fantastic and diverse country. The opportunities and experiences I have had at Queen’s have been great, the friends I have made (international and Canadian) have been great and it is a great university. The campus is beautiful, it’s a fantastic location for visiting Canada and there’s nothing I can fault really. Queen’s was originally my third choice of university to study abroad at, but if I applied again it would definitely be my first!! I am so sad to leave, but am so motivated to return and visit and relive the memories I have made this year. I would continue showering compliments on Queen’s and Kingston, but I think you get the idea. You will have the best time of your life in snow and sunshine, just go for it. Outside of Canada, Queen’s does not get the praise it deserves, and I promise anyone they will have a great time!

I’ll leave you with my Queen’s and Kingston photoshoot. I would not have changed this at all and am so glad I got this experience. As a Queen’s student would say, (from the Scottish roots)… “Cha Gheill!” (literal translation = No surrender!).

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Second Semester Experiences at Queen’s

By Ros Harwood (Queen’s University, Kingston, Canada)

Having just finished classes at Queen’s forever, I cannot believe that second semester and the year has finished. I have one week of exams and then I am completely finished and will be off on my travels to the west coast of Canada and the States. This semester has been as busy and fun as the last one.

Mont-Tremblant

This semester I have made two weekend visits to Mont Tremblant, Quebec – best described as a skiing ‘hill’, but the best skiing in Eastern Canada. It is a kind of place where families have chalets and come up for the weekend from the cities. It was kind of a novelty going skiing for the weekend. Mont-Tremblant itself is a beautiful village with a lake (which in winter freezes over) and right next to the ski slopes. The resort itself is pretty small and competent skiers could cover the whole area in a weekend but it is a nice break from university life and the city.

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Queen’s Model United Nations 2015

I took part in the Model UN conference representing the UK for the Economic and Social Council for the weekend. I had never done something like this before, but it was a great weekend with an opening and closing ceremony, interesting speakers of different democratic backgrounds, social events, breakfasts and lunches like a real conference and a lot of serious and slightly less serious debates on passing resolutions on world issues. I am so glad I took part, it was a great weekend.

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Montreal & Ottawa

I took a weekend to visit Montreal as there was an dance music festival on as well as taking a tour of the city and climbing Mont Royal. We tried great restaurants and a cat café, as well as exploring Old Montreal and McGill University. On the Sunday, we travelled to Ottawa for the day to skate the Rideau Canal, completely frozen and attracting people from all over to skate on the canal or simply use it as a walk to the shops. It was also Winterlude Festival where there were ice sculptures and a visit to the Parliament buildings.

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Chicago & Detroit – Spring Break

Due to financial constraints, we did not follow the typical North American Spring Break to somewhere hot with beaches in the Caribbean, but we did manage a week’s break visiting Chicago and Detroit (possibly the opposite end of the spectrum). It was absolutely freezing and known as the Windy City, that did not help the freezing temperatures. We visited the ‘Bean’ in Millenium Park, went up the Willis Tower, experienced some jazz, some retail therapy on the Magnificient Mile and visited the frozen Lake Michigan. A one night stop over in Detroit was enough to fit in exploring the city’s older buildings and an NBA game Chicago Bulls vs Detroit Pistons.

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St Patrick’s Day

One of my classes in human geography has actually taught me that there is a big population of Irish people or people with Irish roots living in Canada and particularly in Kingston, as the first capital of Canada. Therefore it was no surprise to me when Paddy’s Day came around that there was a big day of celebrations ahead. In the morning, there were pancake parties where questionable green-coloured pancakes were made and everyone was dressed in green outfits. The rest of the day involved street parties and house parties with the main street in the University District filled with green and many students partying on roofs and the front lawns. A siesta was taken in the afternoon before a night out in the evening. It was a pretty busy day, but there was a definite buzz around and a lot of green.

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The story of maple syrup

One afternoon this semester, the International Centre offered a visit to a local conservation area where there was an exhibition set up involving a wagon ride and a demonstration of how maple syrup has been made through history to the modern day. Of course, at the end there was an opportunity for pancakes and maple syrup.image

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Queen’s Dance Club Recital – Just Dance 2015 & Dance Battle

At Queen’s I joined the Dance Club as it has always been one of my hobbies, and I am so glad I did. It is a huge club, completely student run, and they offer lots of classes of different levels and styles. I took ballet, lyrical and contemporary classes, which made for a nice Sunday of dancing each week.

At the end of this semester, we had our final recital, four performances and a week of rehearsing and performing made for a hectic week of dancing, but I enjoyed it a lot, and the sense of community that I have discovered at Queen’s was even stronger in the Dance Club. I was very sad for it all to end as I have met some great people and had some great teachers. It all ended with great performances of our recital dances.

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A week later, the dance community also put on a dance battle, and this was one of the most fun evenings I have had. It was literally like Step Up‘s dance off with many different dance clubs on campus battling it out with professional judges flown in from LA and the like. The atmosphere was insane and there was a lot of talent out there.

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I am slowly coming to terms with the end of semester and the end of my time here at Queen’s, it is  a very bitter sweet feeling – I am excited for travelling and eventually going home since I haven’t been there since August last year, but my year abroad could not have been better. Queen’s will always have a special place in my heart (cliched but true).

Academic Differences between Canada and Manchester

By Ros Harwood (Queen’s University, Kingston, Canada)

Having done a semester and a bit at Queen’s now, academic differences have become clear to me between the Canadian and UK university systems. However, by all means, it is nothing to worry about, especially once you are used to it and the basics are still in place that you would find at any university; readings, tests, assignments, tutorials etc.

1. The first difference that became pretty apparent early on was the differences in the assessments here. The assessment is cumalative throughout the semester and the final mark for a course will be based on the various components, such as online quizzes, small reading reflections and attendance and participation marks as well as presentations. Nothing that you won’t have done at Manchester, but it is nice in a way because it spreads out the assessment and it reduces the pressure of the final exam, if there is one (some courses are just all coursework based). Exams tend to count for about 30 to 40% of the mark instead of 60 to 70% that I have experienced in Manchester. A common component is a term paper as part of assessment that is normally around fifteen to twenty pages long and will be kind of a mini research project where you choose a topic within a course and it gives you more freedom in what you want to write about and discuss.

2. Mid-terms are common in Canada, not every course has them but you can expect for most classes that you will take it around week 5 to 7 of the term. From my experience, they are not daunting at all, just like a more formal class test with normally multiple choice or short answer questions. I had one business one that was open book and online so I could just do it at home with my textbook and notes right there to help me. Again, a mid-term takes off the pressure of the final exam for the course.

3. One nice difference is that the exam period is attached to the end of term as Canadian semesters start a couple of weeks earlier than Manchester at the beginning of September and therefore, even though there is a 2 to 3 week exam period at the end of the term so there are only a few days between the end of classes and exams beginning, you can have a Christmas break where you don’t have to be revising, which is more enjoyable I would say, and then come back in January for the next semester.

4. The multi-component nature of the courses and the assessment at Queen’s means that there is often independent study to be done, such as reading (which was really important for some mid-terms and exams in first semester as they asked specific questions on readings), but the campus has a variety of places to work, whether you want the really quiet library or more casual atmosphere in cafes. This is important because to keep up with the continuous assessment style you need to keep on top of your readings and homework set in the classes.

5. The teaching style in Canada is not so different that you will find yourself in a completely different environment, but I found that they are a lot stricter on caps for numbers of students in classes and often limit to smaller classes, such as one of my classes on GIS this semester which has around 20 students in it. This means that the professors will expect more class interaction and will set small group activities and discussion within the lectures that they will expect people to contribute to and give answers in class. Some courses will also have tutorials or lab sessions (for my science based courses) and these are mainly run by TAs (teaching assistants) who are generally PhD or postgrad students, sometimes final year undergrads, who will be responsible for marking most of the assessments as well, and this is where attendance and participation marks can be gained. All the professors and TAs are very keen for people to use their office hours for questions and are often interested to chat with international students as well.

6. Course choices can be a little daunting idea as I have found that pre-requisites for some second and third year courses (which exchange students are recommended to take for their third year abroad as Canada’s undergrad degrees are 4 years long) are pretty strict, which obviously you are not going to have because you are from another university. However, do not let it worry you! In the registration for your exchange university they will give you detailed instructions to find them; Queen’s for example sent me a form on which I could write the courses I wanted to take and they are listed on the website. Once you are at your exchange university, if you are struggling to find courses, do two things: visit the International Programmes Office; they are very helpful and friendly (at Queen’s for definite) and they will either help you find them or recommend you visit your subject department office. If you show your face and show your interest, you are much more likely to get onto a course that may be full or you are finding harder to take due to the wrong pre-requisite courses or requirements.

Best piece of advice:

If your course at Manchester allows you to, try some new modules out. I study Geography but have taken a Psychology course and a Business course this year and it has broadened the learning experience. Although it is a pass/fail year, it is a ‘study abroad’ and so you should take advantage of the academic experiences you could get at the exchange university as well as the travelling and meeting new people which you will do lots of.

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The latest appearance of the Manchester beanie, in Parc Mont-Royal in Montreal, Quebec, a hill that gives you a 180 degree view of the city and was very snowy! Second semester is flying by and after the reading week coming up next week (a trip to Chicago!), I will have six weeks left of classes at Queen’s, a very sad thought. The university alone has had made a big impact on the year abroad, and only a year ago I had just been accepted and knew very little about it! So for those of you who have just found out if you will study abroad: get excited, it will be a memorable semester/year.