There’s plenty of student accommodation around UCD, but I was still lucky enough to be able to get a room in the University residences on campus considering the sheer volume of people who applied. Of all of the residences though, my one is obviously the best with Ashfield Student Residence standing out in the category of student accommodation and being worthy of several awards this year in the Biannual 360 International Accommodation awards. So without further ado;
The “Weirdest wall artwork” award Each apartment in Ashfield is spacious with six bedrooms with ensuites and an open plan kitchen/dining/lounge area. They’re arranged in four buildings around a central courtyard with about 20 apartments each and being brand new last year are modern, clean and kitted out with fancy appliances. However some interior designer must have gone mad at the cheap IKEA wall art as every room has mysterious artwork nailed to the wall. Every night I have to sleep under the watchful gaze of a Macaque monkey, while dinner is presided over by strange deer/people hybrids standing around a car. But I suppose you get used to it.
The “You never know how much you miss an oven until you don’t have one” award Yup this is a pretty big one. Toaster, kettle, microwave, stovetop all check but alas there is no oven. For a nice big modern kitchen that was a bit of a shock upon arrival, but aside from mum’s dearly missed lasagne recipe I found that you can still make a lot with just a stovetop. Rice, pasta, couscous, stir-fries, eggs, steak and more are all still on the menu, and anyway if I get really desperate I can always buy a microwave meal for one to get me through the cold winter nights to come.
The “Most convenient convenience store” award This is actually a shout out to one of the other residences on campus here; Merville Student Residence has a convenience store in it, like literally in the same building. Midnight snacks and emergency milk have never been so easy, and plus they do a mean chicken roll for lunch.
The “However the nearest actual supermarket is a half an hour walk away with no direct bus” award I mean Centra is great, but sometimes doesn’t quite cut it.
Although fantastic, it has to be said that even moving to the other side of the world has not allowed me to escape the housing crisis as Dublin has it even worse than Auckland, with rent for a semester (particularly on campus) costing up to €4000. Overall though I think it’s worth it. Being on campus means that you’re in the thick of everything that’s going on, and it’s an easy walk to any classes, the health centre or gym. My flatmates are awesome, we’re all exchange students so have become good friends and with 24 hour reception there’s no worry about if anything goes wrong and no concerns about security. If I’m going to be stuck here for the next 10 weeks, I think I’ve got a pretty good deal.
As I said in my previous post, I had a traumatic time trying to find accommodation in Lyon, so it is a bit too soon for me to be writing this as I haven’t fully recovered. In the pre-departure stages of my exchange, I was blindly set on living in a flat with French people, and had a few Facebook groups and websites lined up that I was going to look through to find one. I messaged lots of people before I left New Zealand, but found it pretty hard to get anything settled as it seemed everyone preferred people who were able to come and have a look at the flat or have an interview. So I decided to book into a hostel for the first few days that I was going to be in Lyon and work hard to find one once I had arrived.
However, come my arrival in Lyon, most of the flatting options had been exhausted, and all those who were still looking wanted someone who was staying for at least a year. So I swallowed my pride and began looking at university residences, which seemed to have a few places still available, were reasonably priced and in good locations. But when I began emailing and ringing the residences, one by one I was turned down because they were all full up. I hit rock bottom, regretted ever leaving my cold, damp and overpriced Auckland flat, and slowly accepted my fate of having to live in a hostel for four months.
Fortunately however, my luck turned around after the first week of desperation, and, to cut a long story short, I ended up private boarding with a lovely family of a woman and her two sons, aged 17 and 19, in their gorgeous home, which is located in the most beautiful part of Lyon.
In hindsight, I don’t really know what I would advise to students thinking of coming to Lyon in the future in terms of accommodation. You can either play it safe and reserve a place in a university residence, which would put you in a one-bedroom apartment or studio. These are quite well-priced and give you great peace of mind knowing you have a place to move into straight away, but are quite isolating as you live alone and in a very cramped space. If you want to try your luck at waiting until you get there to find a flat or private boarding spot, I would say go for it as you can really end up with a fantastic result and fully immerse yourself in French culture with your flatmates.
However, just know that IT WILL BE STRESSFUL. Like bloody stressful. You will be stressed. But it will be worth it in the end.
So all’s well that ends well! And my lovely accommodation can now be awarded several accolades in the bi-annual 360 International Accommodation Awards including…
The IKEA Award for home comfort and hassle-free living
Moving into a family home gives you a lot of perks that wouldn’t have been there if I’d gone with (or even found) another option. I haven’t had to pay a bond or sign any unnecessary paperwork, and just give my semi-host-mum 500€ once a month, which works out to be about $190 a week. I didn’t need to buy any furniture, linen or cutlery, am welcome to eat dinners with the family, and I only pay from the day I move in until the day I move out. A dream situation really! What’s more, I have moved into a house which has been lived in and loved for years, meaning it feels much more like home than a small and white-walled studio apartment would have, and is much tidier and cosier than a flat being lived in by a bunch of poor students.
The Block NZ Award for location, location, location
The best part of Lyon is undoubtedly the arrondissements on the western side of the Rhône River, and undoubtedly NOT the arrondissements around the university, where most of the university residences and cheaper flats are. By some stroke of luck, I ended up in the most beautiful part of all, Vieux Lyon, which is the old part of town, and hugely Italian influenced from the city’s history in the Roman silk trade. I am so lucky to be able to walk over both the stunning rivers, through the narrow alleyways and colourful buildings, and past all the restaurants and churches and to get home everyday. I know I wouldn’t love Lyon half as much as I do if I was living closer to university, and private boarding is the easiest way to be in an affordable and nice apartment on this side of the
The Friends Award for always having someone there for you:
Living in a private boarding situation, or, as I usually refer to it, a semi-host family, means there is always going to be someone on hand to give you help, advice, or a well-cooked meal. I never imagined myself living in this kind of arrangement on my exchange, and even actively avoided looking into the idea, but it really has turned out to be the best option for me. The woman that I live with has been so warm and welcoming, and feels like a motherly figure away from home, while also giving me the space to live as an independent university student with my own schedule and privacy. My host brothers have adopted me into their family so lovingly, and are great at introducing me to more French people and helping me improve my French. It is such a nice feeling
leaving a stressful day at uni or a night out with friends and coming home to a cosy family home. I’m sure this kind of accommodation wouldn’t work for anyone, but it is so perfect for anyone who thinks they might need a bit of comfort and care every now and then!
Ladies and gentlemen, I have been appointed as your Accommodation Awards host for Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. I am proud to announce this year’s overall winner is the North Hill Halls, proving its excellence over other halls (…. and because I stay in this hall).
Launched in 2016, the North Hill Halls consists six blocks of condominium styled residential halls built to accommodate 1,600 students with single and shared rooms! The six blocks are organised into three pairs named Banyan Hall, Binjai Hall and Tanjong Hall. They share communal facilities.
The selection process is not an easy task but North Hill triumphs overall:
North Hill is a magnificent piece of modern architecture. Each block has a beautiful sky deck and multiple communal rooms equipped with air-conditioning and television.
North Hill has a study area, a gym, and a huge function hall where you can play badminton and table tennis for free. North Hill also has a mini mart and several 24-7 vending machines. North Hill is also located next to the NTU’s Sports and Recreational Centre which has a swimming pool, running track, football field, basketball court and a lot more facilities. NTU’s Sports and Recreational Centre is open for access to all NTU students at no cost.
North Hill is designed with environmentally friendly and energy saving features, utilising solar power and wind cooling to minimise power consumption (Source: The Newspaper). Every single unit is equipped with louvered ventilation panels allowing fresh air to cool the room. Lights in communal areas are sensor activated, automatically turning on only whenever you need it.
North Hill halls hold events several times each month which are all subsidised and sometimes even free attendance. These events are great places to get to know your neighbours. Also, there are events hosted in collaboration with other halls as well such as Jash party which is a huge party organised by NTU’s accommodation team at Sentosa Island. The named pairs -Banyan Hall, Binjai Hall and Tanjong Hall also has its own events such as cream puff cooking class! There are also hall sports events open to all residences.
Nominated Best location
There is a bus stop conveniently located outside of North Hill which is operatings on the route of both the NTU’s university shuttle and public bus. Since North Hill is located in campus, the distance to most of the faculties is relatively near if you take NTU’s complimentary shuttle bus. However, there are other halls located much closer to the faculties.
Nominated Best Comfort
The ceiling fan coupled with the huge ventilation panel and windows in every room does its job well to cool the room efficiently. Still, if you are like me and cannot stand Singapore’s warm weather sometimes, it is recommended to opt for the air-conditioned room.
In terms of room size, the rooms at North Hill are a little on the smaller than other halls, but it is still more than sufficient.
Although Wi-Fi is available in common areas, it is not a feature in the rooms. It is also not a feature in other halls at NTU. However, it’s not an issue because you are allowed to use cable internet and your router.
The toilets are communal, and there is a kind cleaner who always keeps it clean.
As this is not a self-catered hall, cooking facilities are limited to one electric stove and microwave on every other floor. There is also a hot and cold water dispenser for each floor. There is no fridge but you are allowed to buy one to put in your room and operate it at additional cost.
Nominated Best Food
None of the undergraduate halls at NTU is self-catered but all of them have a food court.
North Hill Food Court has a variety of food stalls ranging from mixed rice (where you pick your meats and vegetables) to Indonesian food. There is also a fruit store at the Food Court. The prices are reasonable and the food tastes okay. You can have a meal for SGD3 which is super cheap by New Zealand standards (1 SGD = ~1 NZD).
Unlike other halls, North Hill has three stand-alone restaurants: hot pot & BBQ, Western and Indian restaurant. Although, these are priced higher than the food court but is still reasonable for stand-alone restaurants.
Despite the amount of variety, on average, North Hill’s food is not as delicious as some other halls.
Nominated Best Cost
As North Hill is relatively new, it is among the most expensive in rent. I am currently staying in the most expensive undergraduate room available at campus – single room with air-conditioning at SGD435 per month (1 SGD = ~1 NZD). That is about SGD218 every fort night which is almost half as cheap compared to a similar room in Auckland!
In terms of rooms at NTU’s residences, a single room without air-conditioning is about SGD200 for every fortnight and the air-conditioned equivalent is about 7% more expensive at SGD213. A double room without air-conditioning is cheaper at SGD135 per fortnight and the air-conditioned equivalent is 15% more expensive at SGD155.
Questions? I am always happy to help anyone interested in going exchange to Singapore. Make sure to comment on this blog post, and I will reply whenever possible. Alternatively, you can email me at email@example.com
If you want to check out more of my pictures, please follow my Instagram account: johnleekw.
One of the biggest concerns that students have with looking into exchange programmes is finding a place to stay when they’re overseas. Luckily for me, Fukuoka Women’s University has a dormitory for first year, international and exchange students (It’s compulsory for first years to live in the dorm). When you’re accepted into the university as an exchange student, you’re accepted into the dorm as well. At the International Student Friendship House (Nadeshiko), each student lives in an apartment unit which is described as ‘4DK’ (4 private rooms, shared dining area and kitchen, bathroom and toilet). Each international or exchange student will live with 3 local students. While this may seem to be an inconvenience to both parties because of the language barrier, it’s actually a very good way to utilise your language skills into everyday life. For example, not only are the electronic appliances in the unit incredibly high tech to use, but all the buttons are in Japanese. Thus, I have to pluck up the courage and ask my roommates whenever I’m stuck in the kitchen- which happens quite a lot, to be honest!
Toilet: Let’s face it, a Japanese bidet toilet will probably be one of the most interesting and memorable experiences for a foreigner during their stay in Japan. Unfortunately, I haven’t tried out the functions yet, because there’s always toilet paper to use. However, one thing that stuck out to me was the ‘music’ button. Basically, to maintain maximum privacy of what happens in the toilet, pressing the ‘sound’ button usually plays a recording of a running water sound or music. I just thought it was such an interesting concept to share.
When you flush, water comes out from the tap above the toilet bowl, making it convenient to wash your hands in the toilet.
Japanese people are very conscious of their ecosystem, and the harmonious relationship they have with nature, which explains why they have such a unique recycling system. While each city has its own rules with the rubbish, they’re all pretty similar in theory. In my dorm, there are 3 main types: Burnable, non-burnable and PET bottles. Burnable rubbish would usually be food scraps and wrappers, non-burnable would be glass, ceramic ware and cans. Finally, PET bottles would be plastic drink bottles (with the number ‘1’ inside a triangle symbol) that you compress before throwing it in its respective bag.
My room: Each person has their own room at the International Student Friendship House and it comes with a bed, a wardrobe, a desk and chair, a little drawer with wheels on it and a balcony. As you can see from the picture below, we rent a futon and place it on the mattress. So it’s like getting the best of both worlds!
There’s a clothes line in the form of a pole in the balcony in which you can change the height and position of the pole by sliding it through the brackets and moving the brackets. This is great especially on rainy days when you want to hang your laundry outside without getting them wet.
Hey everyone, it’s been nearly a year in the making but I’ve finally made it to Charlottesville and the University of Virginia, or UVA!
There are a lot of things that you need to do before exchange, but it is worth it! The 360 International application, your Exchange University application, Visas, Health and Travel Insurance, Accommodation, and everything else can take a while to get sorted. My advice would be to keep on top of things, especially your Visa and immigration forms, and if you’re looking to live off-campus, start your search as early as you can.
Getting to Charlottesville
I chose to fly with Air New Zealand direct to Houston with a two-night stopover. I was lucky to visit Houston a few days before Hurricane Harvey, so hope that the city recovers quickly. After this I flew via Charlotte, North Carolina and arrived at Charlottesville Albemarle Airport, around a 15-minute drive to downtown. Charlottesville takes its role as a University city seriously, and it’s not uncommon to see UVA branding on almost anything including the airport, cars, and even on the road!
I arrived in Charlottesville in the aftermath of the violence and rallies of August 11 and 12. Although it was a bit unsettling to see the events in the news before arriving, everyone I talked to was adamant that the protests did not represent the true Charlottesville.
Charlottesville is a university town with most things centred around campus and ‘The Corner,’ a row of cafes, restaurants, and shops adjacent to the Rotunda.
I chose to live off-campus so could move in as soon as I arrived. I’m fortunate to live in a house with a bunch of great guys (who are obsessed with Africa by Toto), but more on housing in my next post.
UVA has a lot of its own unique terms, one of them being ‘grounds,’ which means the University campus. The grounds are the only American University designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and it’s easy to see why. From the flagship Rotunda and Lawn, to the Amphitheatre and numerous statues, UVA is a beautiful place to visit every day. There’s all you would expect from a University: numerous libraries, dining halls, the bookstore, gymnasiums, and sports stadiums. No matter the time of day, nothing beats walking up the lawn and glimpsing the Rotunda, designed by Thomas Jefferson and inspired by Rome’s Parthenon.
UVA’s grounds are vast, so walks can be lengthy between some buildings. Fortunately, the free University Transit Service has you covered with frequent buses to, from, and around grounds. Charlottesville Area Transit also provides free rides on their bus network to UVA students, which is handy for trips further afield.
Orientation and Classes
The orientation for exchange students was on the Sunday before classes, covering class enrolment, general tips, and paperwork, followed by ice cream! The International Students Office is handy for any questions, from ID cards to travel, and the advisors there are always friendly.
There’s always a range of events going on for International Students such as Pizza on the Lawn, an International Students’ Picnic, and a trip to Washington, D.C.
I’m based in the College of Arts and Sciences (also known as ‘the College’), which is the largest of UVA’s ten schools. Students are encouraged to visit a range of classes to see what interests them. I spent the first few days visiting a range of classes before I finalised my timetable. My two core courses are in the Economics Department but I’ve taken the opportunity study classes that I wouldn’t normally take at Auckland in Entrepreneurship, Creative Writing, and Politics.
Classes at UVA vary widely – my economics classes are in ‘traditional’ lecture-style classes, while the other three have between nine and eighteen students. These courses are focussed on student and professor discussions, something which is a bit different for me. The professors get to know your name and it’s certainly obvious if you don’t attend!
Being summer the weather is quite hot and the air conditioning in classes is a welcome relief. I’m told that the Fall Semester allows you to experience the full range of weather as the trees shed leaves, and there’s even a chance of snow in December.
UVA boasts over 700 student-run clubs and organisations (about one for every 30 students), so there are many options to get involved. A Fall Activities Fair was held on the Lawn and in the amphitheatre the day before classes started. The most common strategy by students is to sign up to anything that interests them and to be more selective once the semester starts. I’m involved in a few clubs, including The Cavalier Daily as a Photographer and News Writer.
The Cavalier Daily is UVA’s student newspaper, Charlottesville’s oldest paper, and was named as one of the top 10 College Newspapers in the country. For those of you interested in fraternities and sororities, they do recruit in the Fall Semester, but the ones that I talked to are only looking for students who will be at UVA for at least a year.
If you look hard enough, there are always things happening on and around grounds. I’ve been to talks featuring NASA Astronaut and UVA alumnus Thomas Marshburn, Political Scientist Larry Sabato, a tour of Charlottesville start-ups run by Hack Cville, an International Student’s trip to Washington, D.C., volunteering for the Albemarle Housing Improvement Program, pre-games, football, eclipse watching, taking photographs of sports games, and more.
The Dave Matthews band hosted the Concert for Charlottesville, an evening for the community to unite in the face of recent events. This was an action-packed event, featuring performances from Pharrell Williams, Justin Timberlake, Ariana Grande, Coldplay, and Stevie Wonder, all held at UVA’s home of football, Scott Stadium.
Other things to keep on the lookout for in the coming months include the Virginia Film Festival, UVA’s Bicentennial celebrations, and the Thanksgiving break.
Charlottesville seems a world away from anything else, but it’s actually quite accessible to the rest of the country. Washington, D.C. is less than three hours by Greyhound (bus) and Amtrak (train), or less than an hour by plane. Unfortunately the UVA Semester Calendar isn’t that travel-friendly with a few small breaks, rather than a longer mid-semester break as in New Zealand, but I’ll see what I can fit in.
I’ve had a great time at UVA so far, although it promises to get busier with midterms and assignments due all at once!
If you have any questions feel free to email me at dgov422 (at symbol) aucklanduni.ac.nz (no spaces), or comment below.
You can also follow me @daryngovender_ on Instagram, or @daryngovenderCD on Twitter (they’re both works in progress!).
First impressions aren’t everything, but they are definitely something. The things you hear, you read, you see from afar: They are all building up to this one grand moment of finally getting there to experience it all for yourself. Going on exchange to a place I have never been to gave me plenty to be excited for, and without me even noticing, the expectations only grew as it got closer and closer to my departure date. And without spoiling the plot far too early, they all exceed those unnaturally high expectations and passed with flying colours.
Montreal can only be described as a vibrant, diverse and every moving place. There is so much to talk about already and without a doubt much more to come, which makes me glad that I can try to provide the best interpretation as I can throughout these upcoming posts instead of having an endless stream written down all in one go. It is constantly shifting and moving, ever jammed packed with activities to do, festivals and events to do attend and there is never a dull moment as long as you are willing to participate. And that kind of positive, fun-loving attitude completely transcends to the student life I have experienced so far at McGill University. To be honest, even more so. Because you can trust us young people to also take things a step further and make it an unforgettable moment, every day and every night.
So focusing on the orientation aspect of my journey so far, this is a part that I really noticed a difference from home. The whole purpose of the exchange for me was to gain a new perspective on what tertiary education could be like, to try and experience something perhaps more dynamic than at home simply because I would now be fully immersed in having everything that comes with being a student. And from the very first event, it was like a whirlwind had started and it has not stopped ever since. Being thrown in the midst of a huge stadium on the first day as a welcome didn’t feel like the typical orientation, but that we were being initiated into part of something exciting. It made perfect sense to get the more informative segment of the week done early so we had a good understanding of where everything was, and while it doesn’t seem particularly interesting, trust me that when there are a million things to sort out when you first get here, having people showing the way is a sweet blessing to get that ticked off the list.
I can’t lie: What I have been highly anticipating with coming to McGill during this orientation week was the infamous Frosh week. Different faculties with their themes and colours have a myriad of activities planned all over the city. Together with our hyped up, enthusiastic leaders who seemed to take their job of giving us the best first McGillian experience seriously, we were all buzzing with excitement to start our four days of bonding and trying our hardest to make it to everything that was available to us. But the explosion of what was to come were nothing like what us ‘froshies’ expected at all, and our engineering ‘The Frosh and the Furious’ theme could not have found a more fitting way to portray it.
There is never a half effort with events held as part of frosh. Thing are turned up to maximum level without fail. Even if I were to describe the highlights of a select few, it would probably take days to finish reading about what had happened and what it felt like to be part of something so big and foreign to anything I had, or in fact any normal person, would have experienced. Plus, it’s almost impossible to capture the atmosphere in words on a page, and the photos would probably do it more justice even though only a small portion of the electric vibe that lingered in the air and be felt through them. Obstacle courses, pre-event rallying, concert and club nights, park games, pub crawls, beach day, frat parties… If anybody had told me before that I would be doing all of that in the span of a couple of days in the most insane, unforgettable of ways, I doubt I would have believed it. The jokes and banter, the laughs and the thrill of meeting new friends every few moments thrust me into an electrifying state. With everything that happened though, even the smallest things like learning the university and faculty chants, singing and dancing to them like we didn’t have a care in the world was something that struck me and will stay with me for a very long time to come.
It wouldn’t be right to hide the fact that these four days were EXTREMELY intense. Collapsing in fatigue in the dead of night and waking up as early as 6am to get to the next event was no uncommon thing. It was hard on us, so hard that almost everybody got what we deem as ‘frosh flu’ as soon as it ended. But even with our sniffles and red noses, it was undeniably the most exhilarating experience that we had ever had. And I was part of all of that. With every vivid moment ingrained in me and a million more stories to tell, even just this very beginning part of the journey was worth it for me to be on exchange. And the prospect of having more to come? I think it’s easy to guess how I feel about that.
Welcome to the cleanest city in Spain and the only region never to be conquered by the moors. After a few weeks in Europe, exploring Spain I arrived in Oviedo late in the day to a completely overcast sky and much colder temperatures than I was used to. Less than ideal weather never makes for the best first impression of a place, but my opinion has gone up in the last two weeks. Although the process of getting to this point has been less than smooth, it is definitely worth it! Oveido does not have it’s own airport, however the region Asturias does, with bus transfers from the airport to Oviedo. due to my travels I took the train from Madrid to Oviedo which only took four hours and gave me the opportunity to make a new friend. Oveido is well connected to other cities through the bus station, train lines and the airport, although this is the most expensive option.
The first thing I had do upon my arrival here was to go to the International office so they could register me in the system. So on my first morning here I reached out to my buddy (assigned to me through the voluntary a-duo program here at the university) to see if he could help me out with finding everything. It wasn’t until we had been waiting in the international office for half an hour that we were told that I needed an appointment to be seen. Luckily they had a computer where we could quickly make an appointment for me that same morning.
The University of Oviedo has 7 campuses spread throughout Oviedo and the neighbouring city Gijon. Each campus is home to different faculties, I have become very familiar with the Cristo Campus as that is where my faculties are located. The university also has many successful alumni including past and present ministers in the Spanish Government.
Unfortunately I missed the international student orientation session last week as I had compulsory classes on a different campus 40 minutes away. This followed my experience with Spain and Spanish systems up to this point, I have often found myself asking for information that would otherwise be automatically supplied and the organisation of events is not always as smooth of logical as I am used to. However this university has a huge community of Erasmus students from all over Europe so I have been able to meet many people through taking part in some of those events.
The best experience from this first week would have to be the festivities that accompanied Dia de San Mateo, basically a week long, city wide party with free concerts every night! While I didn’t know any of the groups playing it was an awesome opportunity to see the night life and to get to know some more Spanish music. The highlight of this festival was the 30 minute firework show at midnight on the 20th of September to officially welcome the day of San Mateo.
Hopefully over the next four months I will be able to break down the language barrier but I’m sure it will be heaps of fun either way!