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.
(Cape Reinga, New Zealand. The top of the north island, where the Tasman Sea meets the Pacific Ocean)
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.
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.
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.
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”
I have now been home for over 3 months and I thought I would write about my thoughts on leaving Case Western and my road trip around California.
The last few weeks of term were extremely stressful with trying to pack up my belongings, say my goodbyes, plan a road trip and submit all my final work. Luckily, I did not have any finals to take and I decided to leave the campus early and meet up with friends from Manchester to travel around the East Coast. But this did mean that saying goodbye to all the great people I had met felt very rushed.
As I am writing this post it is orientation week at Case Western. It feels so surreal to see everyone enjoying themselves on campus and me no longer being there. I think it has finally hit me that year abroad is over – all be it 3 months later.
One of the highlights of my year abroad was all the travelling I did and for the final trip I packed in as much as possible. Starting in Santa Barbara I travelled to LA, San Francisco, Monterey Bay, Yosemite National Park, Sequoia National Park, Death Valley, the Grand Canyon and Las Vegas.
It is nearly impossible to capture all these incredible places and moments but I did manage to record some of the best ones on my phone. Although I have practically no skills in video editing, here is a video of my travels:
By Georgi Fogarty, University of Queensland
No matter where you are in the world, there will always be that short-lived sigh of relief between the last assignment and the start of exams. Fortunately for me, coming towards the end of my time in Australia motivated me to seize this fleeting moment devoid of academic stress and do something useful with it. So once my last few assignments were submitted and I had returned from Stradbroke island (which you can read about in another of my recent blog posts), I had decided that I am no longer a mainland person and started researching my next getaway. Having recently explored the second largest sand island in the world, I set my sights on the only thing better: the largest. Fraser island!
I quickly discovered that this wasn’t going to be the cheap and easy ride that Stradbroke was. The route to Fraser was much longer and far more expensive, involving 4 hours on trains up to the Sunshine coast, another hour and a half coach to a privately-owned ferry port and a ferry over to the island, which as it is privately owned costs $160 for one vehicle(!). The trip also includes other sky-high costs such as a national park fee, camping fee or accommodation costs and all the other necessary amenities like food, as supplies on the island are few and far between. Due to not having time to plan our trip too thoroughly, we decided to go with a tour group. These are extremely popular and there are several companies that promote similar routes; after a fairly short cost-benefit analysis we decided to stick to a 2 day 1 night whistle-stop tour.
The beach adapted 4×4 hybrid coach picked us up from Noosa Heads on the Sunshine Coast at ridiculous o’clock in the morning on day 1 and took us further up the coast to the ferry port (a humble shack on the beach) where we crossed the surprisingly short distance to the island. Fraser island is what you’d expect from an island formed entirely from sand – almost nothing but beaches, trees and cliffs. Extremely natural and unspoilt, or so it felt in the dead of winter, anyway. Our tour guide later explained to us that during the summer periods when the island is at peak tourist season, each attraction you can stop at has between 500-600 people swarming around. We very luckily avoided this and had most attractions to ourselves within our tour group, which consisted of 11 people. Our tour guide was incredibly knowledgeable on the island’s history, geography and Aboriginal culture and told us extensively about each point we visited. When we first arrived, we were driven down 75 Mile Beach (yes, it’s huge!) to our first stop: Lake Birrabeen.
The water was freezing but so blue, and we had a little splash about before being whisked off through the jungle to our second stop, an area in the woods called Central Station. It was named this during the height of the logging industry that operated on the island before it became a protected national park. Central Station now houses the remnants of this industry; all that’s left are some derelict houses and machinery amongst the redwoods. A little eerie, but still beautiful. Logging stopped on Fraser around 50 years ago and the recovery is slow but sure. As well as the hundreds of tree and plant species, it’s also home to native wildlife such as Dingoes and koalas. We unfortunately didn’t see any of these, however we did manage to catch a glimpse of sting rays, sharks, dolphins and whales from a lookout point called Indian Heads the next morning, which more than made up for it!
We spent the night at a relatively luscious resort somewhere along 75 Mile Beach, which was extensively fenced off to prevent any Dingoes wandering in and wreaking havoc. The stars were incredibly clear due to the complete lack of light pollution, which always makes a refreshing change after spending lots of time in a city. Our stops the next day included Indian Heads, a beautiful freshwater stream called Eli creek, and my personal favourite: a huge rusted shipwreck, which washed up on Fraser island in the 1960s. It was used as a hospital ship in WWI, and later for bombing practice by the Australian army after it was found beached on the island (uninhabited of course). By the afternoon of the second day we were absolutely not ready to say goodbye, but our time was up and we very unwillingly parted from Fraser and all its beauty and charm. I’m not prepared to accept that I’ll never visit Fraser Island again, and it’s given me even more motivation to revisit this area of the world again as soon as I can.
With the end of April came the end of exams and the end of a fantastic year at McGill. Although it was sad to leave behind all I had known for the previous 8 months, I was eager to begin my travels that I had been planning and dreaming of since this Canadian experience began. At the heart of these dreams has always been road tripping through the Rocky Mountains and we took no time to hang around before embarking.
After a night stopover in the cowboy city of Calgary, we picked up the car and set off on a hefty 6 hour journey to Jasper. This took us along Icefields Parkway, the absolutely stunning road that runs between Banff and Jasper National Parks. Jasper, a small town nestled up in the dramatic mountainous landscape, was beautiful. Easily the most picturesque place I’ve ever been. Whilst in Jasper we hiked, hiked, and hiked again. The highlight was the Valley of the Five Lakes as despite being told all lakes would still be frozen at this time of the year, we discovered one of the lakes to have completely thawed to the picture perfect turquoise colour so famously associated with the Rocky Mountain. A trip back down the Icefield Parkway, with a midway stop at the dramatic Athabasca Glacier, took us to Banff where more hiking ensued, along with well needed relaxation in the thermal springs as well as some more unsuccessful bear spotting.
For my third study abroad blog I thought it would be appropriate to consider the highs and lows of my experiences. What better place to reflect on them, than where I am right now. As I write this, I’m cruising at a steady 650mph, 11,000 ft in the air over Canada. I’m half way into my 12 hour journey home from Phoenix, and headed back to my favourite Northern city of Manchester. As I sit here in my cramped economy seat, I have plenty of time to reflect on the past 5 months in Arizona, and come to terms with the fact that it has come to an end. What an experience it has been! There’s certainly been highs, and there’s certainly been lows, not forgetting the countless in-betweens. Some of these experiences have been unique to me and my situation, and others are likely applicable for many others who have embarked on a study abroad period. Whether you’ve been on a study abroad period or not, or whether you’re about to embark on one, this should be helpful to you! So here it is: the highs and lows of studying abroad (or rather, MY highs and lows of studying abroad).
Let’s start with the highs, as there are plenty more of those than there are lows!
- Experiencing a New Culture: As cliché as this sounds it really is true. I never expected that the US would have such a different culture to the UK, and in many ways it is similar. But, in others it really is not! (If you’re interested in the differences specifically, have a read of my other blog https://manchesterontheroad.com/2018/04/02/20-cultural-differences-uk-vs-us/). Experiencing a new culture first hand forces you to challenge your presuppositions head-on, and really engage with the motives and reasons for people’s beliefs and practices that may seem foreign to you. One of my absolute favourite parts of studying abroad was having really meaningful conversations with people, and asking why some things are the way that they are.
- Travel: When studying abroad, it’s likely that half of the time you won’t be ‘studying’ at all. Having several months of access to a part of the world which you may not normally be so close to is such a unique experience. Especially for me being so far away from home, I wanted to pack in as much travel as my uni timetable and budget would allow. I loved that when I was beginning to feel a little fed up with the monotony of class, I could think about my upcoming weekend trip and have a cheeky browse of TripAdvisor for things to do in the city that I was travelling to.
- A Banging Instagram: Off the back of the travelling perks comes the banging Instagram feed. My photos over the last 5 months have been significantly better, and more interesting than ever before! Whether it’s a national park, museum or beach, you’re guaranteed some enviable pics for the gram (‘@gabiprice_’ if you’re interested).
- Increasing Travel Experience: Again linking to the travel associated with studying abroad, the more frequent level of travel helps to increase your travel savviness and skills. I feel far more equipped to find a bargain flight or Airbnb now, than I did before studying abroad, and am also far more confident at planning travel to an undiscovered place without the help of my parents!
- Learning From a New Perspective: I know I previously said that half your time won’t be studying, but that was perhaps slightly exaggerated. You will of course STUDY, when you are studying abroad. College classes in the US were far different from home for me, and this provided the unique chance to learn from a different perspective. For example, I learned the art of the multiple-choice test (surprisingly, it’s not pure guesswork). Although I may not have loved that method of testing, it definitely increased my skills and broadened my academic horizons!
- Learning About Yourself: Again I know this may sound a little cringe or cliché, but for me it really was the truth. I learnt so much by being away from a comfortable environment for 5 months, and essentially being ‘on my own’ without family or long-established friends. Being far from home forces you to challenge what you’re comfortable with, and genuinely challenges the ways that you think and act. For example, an ‘epiphany’ I had about myself whilst abroad was that I don’t think I’m cut out for 9-5 life. Call me lazy, or a classical millennial, but it’s the truth. I realised that I don’t want to live my life waiting for the weekend. I want adventure and challenge, and something that enables me to explore the world and make a difference in it.
- Finding ‘Your People’ Across the Globe: This encompasses all of the other ‘highs’ that I have mentioned, and my experiences abroad would not have been the same without the people that I met. I was repeatedly told before I came abroad that I would find ‘family’ in Arizona, and I didn’t really know if that would be the case. I thought that I would definitely make some good friends, some people to spend time with whilst I was there, but I could have never imagined the deep friendships that I would make. I’m tearing up thinking about the people I have had to leave behind as I write this! I met some incredible people in Arizona, people from both the US and other places around the world. You will find ‘your people’ when abroad, and when you do you’ll leave a little bit of your heart behind with them. To all of the people reading this who I met in Arizona, you know who you are and I miss you already. (please come and visit me soon!).
Despite the abundance of ‘highs’ the ‘lows’ still exist, and that is just a part of life and a part of studying abroad.
- Missing ‘Your People’ at Home: In order to go ‘abroad’, you of course have to leave where you live. In leaving where you live, this often means leaving behind the people that live there too. I never imagined a period of my life where I wouldn’t see my mum for over 5 months, but it happened! Leaving behind friends and family will always be hard, and whether they can visit or not doesn’t change the fact that you don’t see them as often as you normally would. It’s hard, but it’s doable, and it makes you all the more grateful and excited to see them again when you return. (I cannot wait to see so many of you who will be reading this!).
- FOMO: Alongside leaving your friends and family behind, you’re leaving behind your normal life, and the things that you would usually be around for. Whether it’s genuinely exciting occasions such as weddings or birthdays, or whether it’s something as simple as being a little jealous that your flatmates are going to your favourite club without you, it’ll happen. You’ll learn to deal with it by posting fun Instagrams of what they’re missing out on.
- Running Low on Money: It doesn’t have to be a crazy expensive experience to study abroad, but if you’re travelling a fair bit, and generally just investing in fun experiences, it’ll probably set you back a bit more than a normal semester at uni would. Although this may be a worry for some people, my attitude is very much ‘enjoy it while you can’, this is a unique experience in your life which you probably won’t have again. Make the most of it!
- Not Being at Home for ‘that’ News: Last week I received some pretty sad news from home, my wonderful Grandad has passed away, and I wasn’t there to say goodbye. This hurts, and there is no easy way to deal with it. For me, I was blessed to have supportive people around me in Arizona, and to know that I was coming home very soon to be with my family. That won’t be the case for everyone who experiences ‘that’ news, and it’s hard. However, I know for me and for many others who have experienced loss whilst away from home, it shouldn’t stop you from going. My grandparents were very clear that I should enjoy my time abroad, and make the most of it regardless of if anything happened. I hope I was able to do that, and honour my Grandad the way that he would have wanted.
- Leaving ‘Your ‘Abroad’ People’: As I already mentioned, the hardest part of this whole experience was having to say goodbye to the friends that I have made. I’ve cried about it, and I’ve wished it wasn’t the reality of this situation. But it is. It is definitely a low, but it’s okay! The world is vast, but nowhere is too far away to go back to. I know that I will see those people again, and I know that this 12 hour flight won’t stop us from meeting again someday.
So to sum it up, do I regret studying abroad because of the lows? Absolutely not. The highs far outweigh the lows, and the reality of life is that you will have lows wherever you are. Studying abroad is an insanely unique experience which is like no other. You will laugh, you will cry, and will miss home. But you’ll love it, and you’ll meet incredible people around the world that you wouldn’t have met otherwise. You will broaden your horizons, and you will leave a little piece of you behind wherever you go. I could not be more thankful to have had this opportunity. To all of the people that made this experience, I just want to say thank you. Those from YoungLife ASU, my fellow foreign exchange students, my classmates, my roommates and everyone else that I met along the way, thank you from the bottom of my heart. YOU made this experience for me.
Until next time, this is me signing off! I’ll be back for another blog once I’m settled back in at home. Until then, find me on Instagram for pretty photos @gabiprice_ or message me on social media if you know me personally and want to chat about any of this.
Love, Gabi xoxo
A highlight of my year abroad that I’m yet to blog about in detail was Spring Break. When it came to planning for this week, I was at a bit of a loose end. I hadn’t committed to any plans as most of my friends at McGill had long planned to go to Cuba. Having already been in December, I was keen to travel elsewhere in my precious week off. After a quick chat to a close friend on exchange at the University of Tennessee, I had a flight to Knoxville booked and my plan had been made. Knoxville, Asheville and Nashville… this trip couldn’t have sounded more American if I tried. Tennessee was certainly not somewhere I expected to travel on my study abroad but I was excited, although somewhat wary, about what it had to offer.
By Georgi Fogarty, University of Queensland
Arguably the most attractive part of moving from Manchester to Australia for a year is the great weather and beautiful beaches. So after being away for a grand total of ten months, in May I finally took a weekend off work and visited the largest beachy attraction closest to Brisbane that I knew of – Stradbroke Island. To be honest, it completely amazed me that it had taken me ten months to get here in the first place seeing as it’s around 3 hours door to door and it was one of the first things that inspired me to do a year abroad in the first place; an extremely fond memory of mine is first talking to an exchange student from the University of Queensland at the Manchester Go Abroad fair all those many moons ago in October 2016, and she told me that at the weekend she’d take a break from assignments and go to her closest island to sunbathe and watch dolphins swim. Who doesn’t want that? Me, apparently – after having my sights set on this magical mystical place for so long as a large part of my motivation to get to Brisbane, it had taken me a grand total of nearly a year to get there. Regardless, it finally happened!
Getting to Stradbroke Island involved a free weekend, a bus to the centre of the city, a train to the coast and then a ferry over to the island. This is probably the same effort, distance and price as getting from Fallowfield to the Peak District, but with sun instead of sleet and koalas (cliché but true) instead of rabbits. When I initially formed an image in my mind of the second largest sand island in the world, I was drawn to images of beautiful but desolate open and untouched spaces surrounded by nothing but sea. This was all true, with the edition of a few sparsely dotted hostels, bottle shops, restaurants and a boules club. So after checking into a cosy youth hostel on the north coast, we settled in for a long, hard day of soaking up the toasty autumn sun on the beach, still going strong at 25 degrees. The hostel was a classic surfer’s hostel, with sand in every crevice and a few battered acoustic guitars that had probably seen a lifetime of being played ‘Wonderwall’ on around a campfire on the beach, which was a very handy 20 metres away.
The beach is an endless stretch of white sand bordered with palm trees and shrub on one side and an extremely blue ocean on the other, straight out of a travel brochure. The colour of the sea honestly looked artificial, but the temperature was perfect and we spent a long sunny afternoon splashing around in the surf and playing cricket on the beach. It was hell. At dusk, we headed a little further round the coast to Stradbroke’s main attraction, the north gorge walk. This is a long, wooden board walk that spans a stretch of the cliffs around the north coast, and is definitely the place to be for sun set. From our high vantage point on the cliffs, we were also given a front row seat to huge leatherback turtles, manta rays and dolphins below us which was spectacular.
The Australian nature cliché didn’t end there though as heading slightly back inland we passed a dozen kangaroos (including bonus point of a mother with a Joey in her pouch!), wild koalas and as it got slightly darker, hundreds of bats.
The sunset was easily one of the best I’ve ever seen, and we headed back to the hostel with rose tinted goggles feeling drunk on the wholesomeness of the day we’d just experienced. It’s easy to forget that it is actually autumn now on this side of the hemisphere when the days are still so warm, so the 10 degree lows of the night came as a bit of a shock. We managed to overcome this fairly quickly though by hoarding blankets from our hostel and huddling together on the beach for a pretty remarkable astronomical display.
The next day consisted of similarly wholesome activities; sunbathing, surfing (which I discovered I am terrible at) and very sadly saying goodbye to the island. However, not for long; I plan to return at least once before I leave to make up for 10 months of lost time! But for now it’s back to daydreaming about dolphins in between assignments.