Weekend Getaways, Norwegian Style!

The best part of my Year Abroad experience in Bergen has undoubtedly been the opportunity to take weekend trips. They are the perfect chance to explore Norway, try something new, and make memories to last a lifetime (cringe, I know, but true). Here are 5 trips I have taken, of varying budgets, and different styles.

Continue reading “Weekend Getaways, Norwegian Style!”

My top 5 Dutch things

By Hannah Wheeler, Vrije Universitiet, Netherlands

This blog compiles a synthesised list of the things I like the most about Amsterdam and also the Netherlands more generally. The unedited list is very extensive, including how they say ‘hoi’ instead of ‘hi’ and always give you a coaster for your beer, but for the sake of my reader’s attention span I am cutting it down. 

  1. Cookies with your coffee

One custom that has really stolen my heart, is getting a cookie or biscuit of some kind with your coffee or hot drink. Isn’t that just great? Pairing a strong dutch coffee with a sweet Speculas biscuit makes so much sense. And you know you’re in a good spot when you get a mini Stroopwaffle with your drink. I can honestly say I think I will have withdrawals from this custom when I go back to the UK. 

Mini stroopwafels with our drinks
  1. The Flea markets 

I’ve definitely explored the many flea markets of Amsterdam. As well as the Kringloops (charity shops for anything). The Ij Hallen flea market is the largest in Amsterdam and is crazy. I’ve been a couple of times and it’s perfect for cool finds, cheap pieces and a great day out. I’ve probably doubled my wardrobe since being here considering I only brought a suitcase of stuff when moving. But it’s all guilt-free as all of it is second-hand finds. One place, called Mavius had price tags on clothes saying €30 and then when I asked someone who worked there said it was actually €1… it was a lovely moment for me. 

A fuzzy video of the Mavius thrift warehouse
  1. Bicycle carparks 

The weather in both the UK and the Netherlands is equally terrible at points. My bike goes through hell in the winter months in Manchester. However, here there are actual bicycle carparks that protect your bike from the weather as well as theft! When I first discovered that Vrije university had its own bike car park for students I got so excited. No more squeaky breaks and rusty gears. 

  1. Tram, metro, bus… you name it

I’ve got to give it to them, the Netherlands transport system is lovely. With the OV-chipkaarts (basically an oyster card), you never have to buy a ticket for any transportation. It works on everything and is so much cheaper compared to the UK – it’s nuts. Getting around the country is so simple and flexible! 

Having a nap on the train to Dan Haag (The Hague)
  1. The food… 

I was sceptical and fairly oblivious of dutch food when first moving here. And I can’t say I am overly experienced with it now but the few dutch dishes I have tried I am definitely a fan of the Pannenkoechen – dutch pancakes – definitely beat a crepe in my eyes; the Olliebollen – winter doughnut – are yummy, warming snack for wondering the cold winter Amsterdam streets; the dutch fries with Pindasaus – peanut sauce – was surprisingly enjoyable. I even had a homecooked authentic dutch dinner the other day at a friends house and it was hearty and delicious with a surprising amount of flavours. It wasn’t the usual flavourings I would go for – apple mousse, sausage and gravy – but it worked. 

Our excited reactions to our first savoury Pannenkoeken

I’d never been to the Netherlands before this exchange and so wasn’t sure what to expect other than the stereotypical bikes, clogs and canals. I hope this blog can give people more of a baseline idea than I had.

Canadian Transportation Tips

First thing to say is that Canada is massive. Any distance between things you would actually want to see is likely to be the equivalent of going from London to Newcastle – and that’s just within Ontario. Therefore, I would advise against getting the bus between big cities as it just takes too long, and you end up spending half your time away sitting next to fat men on stuffy coaches.

In Ontario, Go Trains would be the ‘go to’ solution (although they are stupidly slow in North America) but travelling inter-province would require VIA Rail. However, whilst the rail-route between Vancouver and Halifax (the whole breadth of Canada) has a global reputation for beautiful scenery and a full Canadian experience, it does take 14 days and costs more than an entire student loan instalment. Whilst it may not be the most environmentally friendly, the only realistic option for longer trips is plane travel.

Planes can be expensive in North America (you won’t find the equivalent of a £20 flight from Manchester to Lisbon), so I’d recommend downloading the ‘Hopper’ app. It lets you track your specific flight and predicts prices so you can get the best deal possible.

(The Hopper App Logo)

You have probably also heard about North American road trips gaining something of cult status in the US, and it’s no different in Canada. Some of the best times I’ve had is whacking on some tunes and driving for hours in the Canadian wilderness. It may be more expensive than other transport, but it gives much more freedom to explore exactly how you want. It also makes COVID-related entry requirements into the US much easier.

Key Take Aways:

  • Don’t bother with buses
  • Download the Hopper app for cheap flights
  • Road trips are unbeatable

Home Comforts When You’re Far From Home

By Eleanor Gaskill-Jones, Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, USA

It’s no secret that one of the hardest things about studying abroad is the homesickness; it’s one of the first things the Go Abroad team warned us about as we prepared our applications.

No-one thinks it will happen to them, and I certainly didn’t. I’m a big girl, I thought, as I packed my life into 2 suitcases and waved goodbye to a grey Manchester Airport Terminal 2. The sight of the Manhattan skyline as we landed into Newark Airport smugly reassured my confidence, and I was certain I could handle being 3357 miles from home. How hard could it be? It’s only America, they speak English and have the same TV shows as us!

How wrong I was.

Continue reading “Home Comforts When You’re Far From Home”

Travelling sustainably in Hong Kong

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!

Continue reading “Travelling sustainably in Hong Kong”

Before Leaving…

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’m ready for this, I can do it. What about you?

Study Abroad Reflections on Return

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.

 

 

‘How was America?’

A brief reflection on my time abroad:

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.

golden gate

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.

ski 2

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.

RUTGERS

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?’

cowgirls

Travelling

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.

nyc fwends

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.

austin tx

 

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.

cowgirls.jpg

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.

nola

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.

nyny

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.

golden gate.jpg

Skiing, Hiking and Whatnot in Alberta

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”