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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Several months back into normality

Georgi Fogarty (University of Queensland)

It’s been seven months since I waved goodbye to Brisbane and five months since I returned to sunny, sunny England (to clear up confusion the two-month gap was not all spent in transit, although the flight can feel that long – I spent this time working in Greece). The time has absolutely flown and the tan has definitely disappeared, but now I’ve just about had the chance to take a breathe since being home, it’s time to reflect on the ups and downs of returning from such an incredible experience of a year abroad.

The down sides.

Despite returning in late August when the days were long and the air was warm, writing this now in bitter January makes warm weather seem like a very, very distant memory. One of the questions I’ve been asked most since being back is ‘don’t you really miss the weather?’. Yes. Yes, I do miss the weather. Please stop reminding me about how warm I was this time last year while I’m in my draughty student house without heating.

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Almost as beautiful as Oxford Road

Another aspect I’ve not been enjoying adjusting to is regaining the academic mindset I’d built up during first and second year at Manchester. Not only did I find my course content easier last year, I also didn’t feel such extreme pressure to achieve the top possible grades due to only having to pass the year, so found myself a little more relaxed  than usual. Now coming back to my fourth and final year of university I’m finding myself having to having to mentally re-train myself to pile the pressure on, as there’s no way I can be coasting at the most important stage of my academic career so far. Don’t get me wrong, having a more relaxed year is never something you’ll hear me complain about; however having to hit the ground running again when I’d gotten used to strolling was a bit of a shock to the system.

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Back to living in the library

Finally, I never thought I’d hear myself say this but I miss my job. I spent many, many hours last year working in an extremely high-quality, high-pressure restaurant which I didn’t particularly enjoy. However, the fact that the minimum wage in Australia is twice what it is in England meant that despite the higher living cost I was living like a queen to some extent. I definitely took this for granted at the time; although I’ve been lucky enough to get my job back at the same lovely family-run restaurant I worked at during first and second year, pay-day doesn’t quite have the same thrills and it feels extremely frustrating being paid half the amount for the exact same hours.

 

The positives

Coming back from Australia definitely has not been all doom and gloom. Seeing my friends for the first time in over 14 months had to be one of the best feelings in the world. One of the things I did dislike about Brisbane was being in a completely different time zone to most of my friends – if we wanted to call, it would have to be planned in advance so we could do the maths in terms of time difference, and the internet was so poor in my house that calls were usually distorted and cut off prematurely. One thing that I’d missed so much about Manchester is having all of my friends a stone’s throw away, and this is so great to be able to experience again. Many of my friends also went on a year abroad meaning they’re now back in Manchester which is extremely lucky, and being able to properly hear about all of their experiences face to face has been incredible. Saying goodbye to all the friends I made last year was hard, don’t get me wrong, but this was made easier due to the fact that most of the people I met in Australia actually go to University in Leeds. This means if I do need someone to moan to about the cold to or take a stroll down memory lane with, they’re only an hour or so away.

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An Australia-themed reunion with friends from Brisbane in Leeds

Despite what I previously mentioned about having to pile the pressure on myself for fourth year, I quickly realised upon beginning classes again that having an extra year of knowledge has been more beneficial than I could have ever imagined. Classes I took last year have given me an entirely different perspective and background knowledge on topics involved in the modules I’m studying this year, meaning I’m far better able to form opinions and arguments. I am very aware that I’m stating the absolute obvious here and that of course an extra year of studying at university will give people an academic advantage, but I’m finding it incredibly beneficial and it’s always good to address.

Lastly, as strange as it sounds being framed as a positive point, one thing I’ve found extremely positive about being back is knowing that I only have one more year of commitment tying me to living in the UK. Having experienced living abroad has only increased my urge to live in different places and try new experiences. Although I am enjoying being back home and finishing my degree, I’m finding it so exciting knowing that this time next year I could be anywhere in the world, and having a home base and being surrounded by supportive friends and family while I explore all my options is such a good feeling. Having an open road with no set plan after summer is a little scary, but I’m definitely looking at it as although one door is closing, countless more are opening and I’m excited to get back out there.

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Student housing – the more the merrier?

Georgi Fogarty (University of Queensland, Australia)

 

Housing can be one of the biggest worries when moving abroad, especially when you don’t particularly know anyone that’s going out with you. As a bit of a social butterfly, I had my sights set on a living situation that would allow me to meet a lot of people -ideally university halls, or a share house if not. Unfortunately, university halls were extremely far out of my budget which initially worried me as that’s where I’d envisioned myself; halls seem perfect as everybody is in the same boat of not knowing anyone. So in a slightly less than ideal but fairly common situation, I found myself arriving in Australia in July and being welcomed with open arms by a hostel ( admittedly not the homeliest) while I searched for somewhere more permanent. I’ll admit it’s not the best situation to be in when you’re brand new to a country but the time flew by and after a week of manic house viewings, estate agent visits and sending messages on all sorts of housing advertisement sites, I found myself signing a contract into a student share house. It was pretty much exactly what I’d wanted – a house in one of the most sought-after suburbs in Brisbane filled with other brand new international students, all small fish in a big shiny new pond. The catch? The house had the capacity to accommodate 30 people. That’s 30 raucous students under one roof. It definitely set me up for an interesting year.

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All of these beautiful people under one roof?

 

 

THE LOGISTICS

  • The old part of the house is an ‘Old Queenslander’ style, the same as most residential houses around the East coast of Australia. This basically means it’s big, airy, wooden and set on stilts for ventilation. It’s then been extended backwards, forwards, sideways, below – most possible directions – to make room for the 29 bedrooms (one is designed for 2 people to share).
  • We have two kitchens (one upstairs, one downstairs), 5 bathrooms, 2 living areas and a very comfortably sized garden with a barbecue: great for if the kitchens get overcrowded at mealtimes.

THE DRAWBACKS

  • Without a doubt, the mess. Imagine this: everybody has a glass of water and completely unintentionally forgets to wash up the glass. That’s immediately 30 dirty glasses covering every surface, table, wall, floor, ceiling – you get the picture.
  • You’re never alone. This can be bittersweet when the time comes that you come home from a long day at uni and just want to make a cup of tea without having to make conversation with 16 different people in the kitchen.
  • There is a definite and prominent lack of resources. At 7pm when 17 people are battling for the dinner rush front line on the ONE oven in the upstairs kitchen, things can get a little hectic. The same happens when 6 people simultaneously run for a shower before uni. Chaos.
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Mid attempt to round up the troops in the garden

 

THE POSITIVES

  • First and foremost, the social aspect was amazing. With so many people, there will always be somebody that you get along with, and maybe one or two that you don’t – but honestly that was never an issue. Chances are, in a house full of 19-25 year olds that have all chosen to do a year or semester abroad in Brisbane, you’re going to have a lot in common with most of the people. Although despite the commonalities in mindset, it was such a great way to meet people from different social, educational and cultural backgrounds.
  • You’re never alone. I’m aware that this was also a negative, but for me the benefits of this point drastically outweighed the costs. With 30 restless students it’s extremely rare that nobody will be down for a weekend away, or even just a trip to the supermarket. One quick message in the group chat and within minutes you have a fully-fledged convoy, no matter where you’re off to.
  • Being around international students, everybody is in the same boat of coping with homesickness, university stress and all the drawbacks of a year away from all that you’re used to. This means that there was the most incredible unspoken support network. Everybody just gets it.
  • With 30 people, although house events are a mess to organize (I’d compare it to herding cats) when everybody pulls together it means you can get some seriously great games of rounders underway.
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The residents at Byron Bay, NSW.

 

30 people was an incredibly fun yet a little overwhelming experience when you’ve only ever lived in 6 or 8 people flats, but I’d do it again 10 times over. I was so full of apprehension arriving in that hostel alone last July knowing that the easy choice of university halls simply wasn’t an option, but looking back I’m incredibly glad I took the matter of housing into my own hands. Maybe it’s not for everyone, but from now on I’ll always vote for the more the merrier.

 

5 (surprising) things I’ve learned on exchange

By Catrin Stewart, (University of Guelph, CA)
As we approach the end of the semester, I’ve decided to reflect upon what have been some of the best months of my life.
However, there were a few unexpected bumps along the way, so I’ve decided to list them, and my (suggested) solutions to make the journey smoother for others!
1. Canada is EXPENSIVE 
And not just in the ways you’d expect. I knew my residence and flights would cost a lot, but food shopping, even with exchange rates taken into account, is about double what I pay back in Manchester. There are ways to get around it, like trying different supermarkets, and figuring out what is more/less expensive, that is not necessarily the same things as back home. For example, some meats are ridiculously cheap, but there are a lot less vegetarian options and they are usually more expensive if you’re not cooking from scratch.
Also, Canada is a big country – if you didn’t already know – which means travel is much more expensive. £2 mega buses don’t exist like in the UK, but if you use student discount, do your research and look elsewhere other than the greyhound buses, you can lower the prices.
2. Internet shopping: it’s not a thing.
If you’re like me and have a mild addiction to amazon prime / ASOS then prepare yourself to go cold turkey. Because Canada is so big, and a lot of online produce comes from the US, next day delivery doesn’t really exist. Standard delivery is much more expensive and usually takes 2-3 weeks rather than 2-3 working days. Yep, weeks.
3. A lot of exchange students will be pass/fail. 
The majority of students from Manchester have their grades count when they go on exchange. However, 95% of the people I’ve been surrounded by only have to pass during their time abroad. This means that you will be spending a few extra hours in the library than everyone else. But it truly is worth cutting out a few hours of Netflix and replacing it with studying if it means you can take that weekend trip away with friends instead of staying home to finish an essay. I’ve found it’s much easier to use your time wisely if it’s a matter of going to New York or not!
4. Alcohol and nightlife 
It’s very similar, but there is slightly less of a drinking culture in Canada compared to England, especially coming from such a vibrant city as Manchester.
Alcohol isn’t usually sold in supermarkets, so you have to buy branded which means it’s quite a lot more expensive, and laws in Canada mean that all clubs and bars shut around 2:30am
Although it might seem a bit tame at first, it does make it easier to get to lectures the next day!
5. Academics 
Before coming abroad I was warned that the workload would be much more intensive, and this is definitely true. Whilst this was a shock and has been incredibly hard work, I also struggled with the standard of work I was producing. If you are truly passionate about your degree, it can be difficult not to be disheartened as the rate of work you are expected to turn in is much faster, and this means your standards inevitably lower. Whilst this won’t affect your grades as the marking is more lenient because of the volume of work, it can be a little demoralising. However, I have found that satisfaction can be found elsewhere, such as in seminars, as they are longer and therefore can facilitate more in depth discussion. Also, later in the semester you will be handing in longer essays more alike to the ones in Manchester, and will get the chance to work more in depth again.
Even despite these changes, my time on exchange has been incredibly positive and has taught me important lessons about adapting to new places. I understand that moving to Canada from the UK is a small culture change compared to lots of other places people go on exchange, but being prepared for some of the small differences can’t hurt!

 

Study Abroad Preparation Timeline

I am the kind of person that ALWAYS have the feeling that I have forgotten something. Before leaving the house, I re-check that I have indeed switched off the stove for the seventh time. Before leaving for the holiday, I re-check that my passport is indeed in my luggage for the seventeenth time. I’m not kidding. Hence, it’s not surprising that before I head off to Maryland to start my study abroad, I kept thinking… did I forgot to do something? What do I have to do now? Did I miss a step? Am I going to be stranded because I forgot to do something?

If you are like me, have no fear, because I went to Maryland happily, spent a beautiful semester and came back as a normal exchange student. I was not stranded, I was not going hungry and I was not deported. The feeling is normal.

So in this post, I want to outline the steps that I took and the things that I sort out before I went to Maryland. Of course, your situation will be different. Not everyone is a chemical engineering student going to the University of Maryland, College Park. So I am not telling you directly that these are the steps you definitely have to do. I’m going to outline the general steps and tell you the approximate timeline, but you have to personalise this timeline for your own situation. If at this point you are screaming “but I don’t know what needs to be changed!!” Fear not, friends, the lovely Study Abroad staff in the Atrium have not disappeared and always ready to help. After all, I am posting this in mid-December, so for students who are going in the first semester or for a full year, you have PLENTY of time to prepare. For students who are going in the second semester, you should have these prepared by now. Anyhow, let’s just continue and worry about the minutiae details later.

Checklist of Basic Things to Sort Out Before Going Abroad

  1. Application
  2. Accommodation (Temporary/Permanent)
  3. Class Registration
  4. Visa (and other documents you might need)

Yes, just four. Does that calm you down? Some lucky people can even cut the list down – some people don’t need a visa (but PLEASE CHECK properly!) Basically, once you got these 4, you can enter the country legally, you have a place to sleep and you can study at your host university. There are other important items too, like immunization, health insurance, but those would be specific to your situation/country/university – and let’s classify those as documents for now. Okay, let’s make a proper timeline.

Timeline

(Please note that this is based on my experience and you would need to modify this to your own specific situation. Nevertheless, it contains useful information.)

Step 1: Application (June – March)

This includes both applications to the University of Manchester and University of Maryland. So I applied and finish all my Manchester paperwork in December. I was told that I am chosen to attend the University of Maryland, College Park in mid-March through MyPlacement system, and immediately had to pull myself together and finish another application to be sent to Maryland by April 1st. Yes. Thankfully the application to Maryland was almost identical to Manchester one, so it was not as time-consuming as the first one.

Step 2: Class Registration and Visa Application (and other Documents) (April – June)

Maryland officially admitted me on April 12th. Starting from April 14th, I started enrolling for classes. Note that when and how you enrol will be different for different courses/university or maybe even different students. My friends only needed to send an email to enrol in their classes and they got automatically enrolled. Did not happen to me. I could not finish enrolling for classes until I finally got to Maryland and met straight up with the Head of Undergraduate Admission for reasons that are still a mystery to me.

Visa application. Oh, the headache of visa applications. It’s just another thing to do. Thankfully both Manchester and Maryland are very helpful in giving advice on what to do and what not to do. I attended my US visa application mid-June, which you can read more on my blog here (yes, visit my blog! http://www.agondosari.com).

At this point, I also suggest that you start having immunizations if your university/country require one. Yes, the jab takes like 1 minute, but the waiting line can be quite long and to organise one last minute will just give you an unnecessary headache.

Step 3: Accommodation! (April – August?)

Congratulations! Well at this point my friends have completed their class registrations, unlike me, but I’d say that I had a special case and most students don’t have any complication regarding their class registration. So the last thing you need to do is to sort out where you are going to stay! Yippie! (Seriously, at this point you will feel the burden is finally lifted)

Depending on your university, you could probably start sorting out the accommodation straight after you got admitted. Honestly, I was being very late and completely forgotten that I have to apply for housing haha. Thankfully Maryland guarantees accommodation for exchange students, so I still got one haha.

You should also begin buying your flights, sorting health insurance and other things.

Congratulations! You made it! 😀

10 things you should know about studying abroad in New Zealand

Simon Hird  / /  Geography  / /  University of Auckland  / /  NZ

Hope you guys have all had an awesome year at Uni and are enjoying your summer holidays. I’ve just got a couple of weeks left of my year abroad at Auckland so I thought I would put together a collection of advice and some important things I think you should know about, if you are going to or are considering studying abroad in New Zealand. Some of these are specific to the University of Auckland, but I am sure there are parallels to other Universities in NZ and studying abroad in general.

Alpenglow on Mt Cook

Continue reading “10 things you should know about studying abroad in New Zealand”

Work-Life Balance Abroad

Apart from getting to see the world and meeting amazing people, studying abroad throws you in at the deep end in terms of developing life skills. I thought I’d share my experience of trying to ground a good work-life balance while being in New Zealand. It definitely hasn’t been easy, but I’ve learnt a lot from my experience so far… Continue reading “Work-Life Balance Abroad”

My 3 Greatest Lesson(s) from Studying Abroad (Final Reflection)

Finally, my last day in Maryland has passed. It was pretty sad to see Maryland and not knowing when will be the next time I’m going to see it again – McKeldin library where I spent days revising for exam and doing my assignments, the stadium where we cheered for Maryland and getting super excited when we smashed Purdue on a football game, seeing Stamp building for the last time where so many memories were made…. Time flies too fast.

It wasn’t an easy semester at all. There were so many times I wished I didn’t even bother to go study abroad, but now I’m happy I persevered through (that’s for another blog post that’s coming soon!). And for sure, there were so many lessons that I learned through studying abroad. Here I’ll talk about my 3 greatest lessons that I learned in Maryland.

Continue reading “My 3 Greatest Lesson(s) from Studying Abroad (Final Reflection)”