MITACS Chapter 4: Saying goodbye + some reflections

By: Eva Kristinova (University of Regina, Canada, Mitacs Research Internship Scheme 21-22)

So there it goes. Just like that it’s time to say goodbye to another wonderful experience, in a wonderful place, having met some wonderful people. Although three months might not seem like such a long time, the sheer immersion of both the every-day and the extraordinary events is enough to produce a tear or two. This is especially the case when, one after the other, all your Mitacs acquaintances, turned good friends, who’s project started before yours, start saying their goodbyes. As I waved to the parting cars and taxis, it all started feeling a bit surreal. In a few days, that will be me in that car.

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An Ode to New Jersey Weather

By Eleanor, at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey

When people have asked me “How is America?” one thing I always mention is the weather, in typical Brit fashion. However, I feel justified in this as during my time studying abroad, I have braced all temperatures, and at a more leafy university, found a new appreciation for the outdoors.

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50 things to do while studying in Amsterdam

By Hannah Wheeler, Vrije Universiteit, Netherlands

Here is a list of some of the best things, both touristy and Dutchie, to do in Amsterdam and the Netherlands. I hope it has something that will appeal to everyone: from club recommendations to must try cookies…

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.