By Gemma Dignam (University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong)
One of the highlights of going on exchange is getting to travel in your spare time, whether that be in your host country, or visiting neighbouring countries or cities. Due to Covid restrictions still being in place in Hong Kong, we are not able to travel abroad without hotel quarantining on our return- which is not an option on our student budget and schedule! Although this was disappointing to most of us exchanges who wished to travel to surrounding countries, we quickly realised the extent of travel options within Hong Kong itself- and most of them can be done in a much more sustainable way than if we had travelled elsewhere by plane. Hong Kong boasts excellent public transport facilities and here are the ways I have used them to visit the must-see sites of Hong Kong so far, there is no need for a car or even a taxi!
It’s been a while since I last thought about moving to the States. I was 17 when I decided to become an exchange student in a Canadian high school, and since then, I thought my experience abroad was over. But now, once again, I’ve been given the opportunity to travel, to discover a new culture, and to get to know myself a bit better. Isn’t this extraordinary?
In eight days I’ll be on the plane. Destination? Phoenix. No turning back. Me, my luggage, and all my expectations and fears. What if I won’t like my housemates? What if I won’t like the courses? But c’mon, think about all the opportunities you’ll have, all the friends you’ll make. You’ve always watched High School Musical, and you’ve always been dreaming of those lockers, the cheerleaders, the football team! There is more to gain than to lose!
Going abroad is one of those experiences that simply form your person. it teaches you to expect the unexpected! Every day is a different story, and you just have to trust the journey and try out all you can, with no judgment. Eventually, you’ll find out that it’s all you’ve always been waiting for! That for how tough it can get, you’ll always get up and get back in the game stronger, because it’s your game and no one can win it but you.
I have been back in Manchester for a semester since living in Australia for one year. I have learned so much from moving away and living on the other side of the world. Studying abroad is such an amazing and unique way to grow academically and personally in a short period of time.
Before I moved to Australia I really believed that I would be heartbroken when I left but I wasn’t. I was so grateful for the experiences, opportunities, and friends that I had made but I was excited to come back home. Studying abroad has made me realise how small the world really is. A flight across the world only takes one day! Since being back in Manchester I have had two Aussie friends come and visit me and have Facetimed with others almost daily. On reflection I wish I hadn’t been so worried about leaving as I am so happy to be back in Manchester!
Another reflection upon returning is how quickly a year passes. It only feels like last month that I was writing my application to study abroad and attending all of the pre-departure sessions. I can’t believe that I am already back. One tip I will give that is a bit cliche is say yes to everything! Your time flies by and you will regret the socials you didn’t go to and the trips that you missed to stay in and study.
The highlight of my year in Australia was definitely all of the travelling and trips that I did! I would recommend saving some money for road trips and spontaneous holidays as they really made the year. It is depressing to write this post in rainy dark Manchester knowing that this time last year I was in Bali.
Studying abroad is the best thing I have done during my time at university and I would recommend it to anyone. I would say go into your exchange with zero expectations. Don’t worry about the small details as you will look back after a year and wonder why you were so worried about them. Join societies, travel as much as you can and enjoy yourself as before you know it you will be back in Manchester.
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.
By George Davies – The University of Calgary, Canada
Studying in Calgary should definitely be at the top of your list if you enjoy being outdoors. Home to the fastest ice in the world, as well as the stupendously stunning snow-capped Rocky Mountains, Alberta ticks every box for any alfresco adventurer. After spending almost seven months in this corner of the world, I’ve had my fair share of experiences. From carving down heavenly white powder to scrambling up unrelenting rock faces, I have accumulated a string of thoughts on the best places to visit and investments to avoid as a travelling student. Which I hope may be of some sort of guidance for those new to the Albertan scene. Allowing you to make the most of your time in the province and beyond. Continue reading “Skiing, Hiking and Whatnot in Alberta”→
By George Davies – The University of Calgary, Canada
Before the start of my study abroad experience, I had not planned on returning to the UK until the following summer. I had assumed that my schedule in Calgary would not be able to accommodate for any time to take a trip home. Moreover, it seemed to me that it would have only be a backwards step. Coming all this way across the Atlantic and half of the North American continent, it seemed foolish and a waste of time to venture back to where this story began. Continue reading “Should I Stay or Should I Go? Reflecting on my trip back to the UK”→
By George Davies – The University of Calgary, Canada
There is no doubt that going away for a year to a foreign land can be remarkable. The endless stream of Instagram posts and vlogs are clear evidence of this. From the shots of students lost in the urban paradise of Hong Kong, to my fellow Mancunian travellers taking snaps in the idyllic rural landscapes of South America. For those that want study abroad, there is certainly enough substance out there to tickle your taste-buds and inspire you to go on an adventure.
By Georgi Fogarty (University of Queensland, Australia)
After 12 months on the other side of the world, a lot of people I had met on exchange were openly excited to get back to their own country, home and family. However, I was not ready to accept the fact that my year away might finally be over and decided to further postpone my trip back to the UK (much to my parent’s despair). I found myself splitting up the journey with a 7-week long stopover beginning in Athens, where I would catch an overnight ferry to a small Greek Island, Leros. Spending over a month here was to be a very interesting experience, partly due to the island’s incredibly speckled and prominent history.
Leros is not exactly renowned for being a tourist hotspot, despite being close to party islands Kos and Rhodes. The island is only around 30 square miles, which meant that the strangeness of the living history was condensed and intensified. Looking in any direction had the tendency to blow your mind. Going back around 100 years, Leros was occupied by Italians and was used primarily as an army base during the early 20th century, with many buildings constructed to house Italian soldiers. These are now mostly used as shelter for sheep, however the paintings done over 100 years ago by Italian artists remain in crumbling buildings up in the hills. These are easily accessible by a short hike and are completely riddled by bullet holes – mostly from the British. Additionally to the troops’ stations, an extremely grandiose mansion was built in preparation for a visit from Italian dictator Mussolini. Mussolini never visited the island, but the house is still intact (if not slightly worse for wear after 80 or so years’ neglect). Everywhere you look on the island there is unmoved debris from the second World War; my friends and I took a boat trip out to an even smaller nearby island and I dived from the boat into the clear blue water only to find myself face-to-face with a 4 foot wide rusted bomb shell sitting in the shallows. This was a fairly common occurrence.
The strangely prominent relics of Leros’ past don’t stop at bomb shells though; after the second World War, Athens’ mental asylums became incredibly overcrowded and patients were shipped over in their boatloads to Leros. Buildings that were formally used to house prisoners of war and were allegedly used as concentration camps were transformed into an asylum, which operated until the late 1990’s when a reporter shot an exposé of the conditions inside. The conditions were horrific, with over 3000 patients having died in the asylum. Mentally and physically disabled patients were often chained up and deprived of clothes; the staff were residents of the island with no medical training. The asylum and buildings surrounding it still stand (neighbouring Mussolini’s house) and are completely accessible.
I went to explore out of morbid curiosity and was met with what looked like a set from a horror film from the 60s. Empty bed frames, medical journals and medicine bottles lay amongst dead pigeons and peeled wallpaper – unsurprisingly, I didn’t stick around for long.
What may be more haunting than the asylum itself though is what now lies in the old courtyard. As Leros is only a few kilometres away from Turkey, it’s a common first step towards gaining sanctuary in Europe for refugees. On such a small island, over 10% of the population is now refugees. Crowded boats arrive weekly having made the perilous journey from the shores of Turkey. The main camp for the refugees is now in the grounds of the abandoned asylum; a sprawling cluster of storage containers, each housing up to 10 people.
In the time I was on Leros, I had the pleasure of getting to know many of the refugees that were living on the island. For many of them, their stay there was just a waiting game; the average length of time that they wait on the island while the Greek government is processing their claim for asylum has increased from a matter of days, when the borders were open, to a year. During this period they legally cannot leave the island. I can’t say too much on the topic of Greek immigration laws, only what I have learnt from the people I have met, but it seems like an incredibly long process that can go one of a few different ways: acceptance (meaning that they are able to leave the island for Athens) or rejection. After one rejection, they are able to apply for asylum again, however after the second rejection they are usually put into jail and risk being deported. On top of this, there doesn’t seem to be much of a pattern for who gets rejected or accepted, which makes waiting for the answer even more painstaking. Witnessing professors, doctors, architects, students and people from many other walks of life waiting in limbo from a decision that could make or break their immediate future was a harsh reality check to say the least. This, altogether with the intense and brutal history of the island made my stay there an extremely strange and extremely eye-opening time. Having said that, I definitely plan to return – just one more year of university to get through before any more jetsetting, though!
With the focus on you, the traveller/student/wanderer, transitioning abroad can be tough. There is no doubt that it could be the personal journey of a lifetime. But how much do you want this adventure to be about you?
By George Davies – The University of Calgary, Canada
Being thrusted into a world of independence and personal adventure can be daunting. One noticeable theme that developed whilst preparing for, and moving into, my year in Canada was that of feeling self-absorbed. In no way was I ungrateful for the opportunity that lay ahead on the other side of the pond. I was also prepared for my family and friends to be excited and intrigued by my upcoming adventure. Yet, it felt like the spotlight was unavoidable, and largely consumed the weeks leading up to my departure. Continue reading “A Year of Self-Indulgence?”→
I thought that going abroad was going to be the biggest change in my life this year. But since returning, things are still continuing to change. I have started an internship with the University of Manchester over summer, and in turn, my first full time, professional job. I have lived completely alone for the first time – including setting up all the heating, internet and meters in the house!! And finally, (here comes the biggie) my parents made the decision to move to New Zealand.
I feel as if this year hasn’t just been a monumental shift within myself, but my family too. And without studying abroad, I wouldn’t have been able to handle all the things that I have listed anywhere near as well as I have. I’m not going to pretend it’s all been easy, but I have coped and thrived and grown up rapidly in the space of a few months.
I used to be so afraid of change – making the decision to go abroad was not one I took lightly, and I’m not sure I ever truly believed I was going until I stepped off the plane in Toronto. But now, I can feel myself embracing it; my parents are moving to the other side of the world and I could not be more excited for them (and for myself too!)
By studying abroad I proved my ability for independence to myself and to my parents, and I don’t know if they would be moving if I hadn’t gone. The decision to live abroad affects not just you but everyone you know, and if it affects you positively, chances are it will affect them positively too.
I am working with the international office on my internship, and I cannot express how rewarding it has been to be involved with the process of encouraging students to study abroad, and being able to pass on my experience and passion to them. I wouldn’t have had this opportunity in this internship, and met the amazing people I have, and gained the life experience that I have, if it wasn’t for studying abroad.
If you haven’t already got the message – go! Study abroad! You will gain a lifetime of memories, experiences and knowledge and grow so much as a person – and this doesn’t stop on your return. And hey, who knows – your family might move to the other side of the world and give you a new place to explore.
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(Cape Reinga, New Zealand. The top of the north island, where the Tasman Sea meets the Pacific Ocean)
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.
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.