Food, Glorious Food: Shirley

Anybody who knows me will be able to say without hesitation that this is the post for me. How is it possible to complete an experience without trying out all the flavours of the region, spending endless hours reading mouth water articles and sniffing out the hidden gems within the city? Even in the two months I have been here now, I have already gone to crazy limits like lining up for half an hour at midnight to have that authentic poutine, or posing as a different person on two different days to get another taste of the new brownies they’ve created at the chocolate shop. And sure there were some very shameless moments of whipping that camera out to get the best angle, wishing that somehow technology could help retain the scents and flavours in reality, but I would of course brave that for these delectable bright photos and wonderful experiences.

In fact, I’m not even that embarrassed because food appreciation is everywhere in Montreal. It is literally bursting through the city no matter how distinct the neighbourhood is and where you might happen to stroll past. The tasting culture here is so high that one of the most recommended activities that someone may ever find themselves being advised to try is to go on a walking food tour, where the city and all its charms can be discovered step by step while the fuel of classic foods and satisfying flavours makes the incentive for the next destination ever the better. The university even gave us as exchange students various opportunities to experience all of this with their own hosted tours – and what better way to make new friends on a sunny weekend but to stroll down the streets of Montreal with a famous bagel in hand and a nice iced drink to go with it?

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There is definitely no lack of good food, and while the city prides itself with its stunning and cafes each with a unique flair as well as the vibrant atmosphere which comes with causal bars and restaurants, there is no lack of variety either. Running all the way back to the classics here which I was most excited to try as somebody who has never set foot in Canada, all the way to modern hybrids of different flavours and combinations. It would be an endless mission to taste even a portion of what is there to offer, although I have, without question of course, gladly accepted this strenuous challenge. Smoked meat sandwiches, out of the oven bagels, hearty poutines, fresh salads and colourful juices, warm coffees, sweet beavertails and decadent desserts… Those only make up the tip of the massive iceberg that has me yearning for more. And with the transition into the colder months now, the options are endless and there is no doubt I will continue enjoying taking pictures of all of these even if I get a fair few more worried glances cast my way.

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But as much as eating out can be amazing and without a doubt some of the best conversations, the best laughs, the best memories were created with outings like that for me so far, there are always other options. In the shoes of a student trying to travel as much as I can, you can imagine that when the dreamy haze parts and reality hits in the form of a very depleted looking bank account, it doesn’t take major maths skills to know that those are only ‘treat yourself’ moments. Don’t get me wrong, there isn’t a single week that passes by without several of those, but living independently means you can get creative. I understand that cooking isn’t something a lot of us have time for nor have a heap of experience with, but it’s all a fantastic learning experience when you have so many others around to share tips and tricks from their parts of the world. I actually love developing this skill because it helps me to become healthier, more budget friendly. And of course it proves to myself that I, as well as any student capable enough to set their mind on exchange, can make some delicious food and innovate at home too.

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See if you can spot the homemade good sprinkled in there, but I’ll let the photos speak for themselves, not to mention I absolutely die for how vibrant these pictures look! After all, there’s not much more I can say without feeling hungry again!

Keep up to date with my adventures through Instagram (shirleyxjiang) and my personal travel blog (http://pageparisienne.blogspot.ca/)

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Food, Glorious Food: Tim

Food, Glorious Food:

When you think about European cuisine I wouldn’t blame you for thinking of Italian pasta and pizza, French coq au vin and croissants, a German bratwurst or Spanish Paella. When you think about Irish food I would bet $100 the first word that comes to your mind is potatoes. And that the second word is also potatoes.

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The Irish cuisine section of the supermarket

Yes, it is true that Ireland has a huge history associated with the potato (a quarter of the population died or emigrated during the Potato Famine of the mid 1800s) – but I’m here to convince you there is more to food here than just this humble vegetable.

Coming from New Zealand I found the food to be incredibly… the same. Years of British colonialism does that to you, with classic meat and three veg reigning supreme, your favourite fast food chains on every corner and the normal mix of international restaurants and cafes found at home. However, there is one difference. In Ireland, the pub dominates everything. There is a pub everywhere you turn in the city, suburbs, small village and sometimes in the middle of the countryside. An entire area in the central city is even named after a pub, of course the famous Temple Bar. While you think these pubs might be places just for a quick pint of Guinness after a long day, they do some incredible pub food, too. Which let me tell you – it is just what you need on a cold night. So here’s my rundown of the top 3 Irish pub foods that you are guaranteed to get everywhere…

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Temple Bar

  1. Fish n chips. You can’t go wrong here with fresh fish, the ubiquitous potatoes and a side of mushy peas (which are actually a lot nicer than they sound).
  2. Beef and Guinness Stew. There is only one word to describe this traditional Irish dish, and its hearty. Simply beef, potatoes, celery and carrots all swimming in a delicious gravy almost always served with fresh bread.
  3. Shephard’s Pie. Inevitably also served with potatoes and vegetables, just what you need to warm the heart and soul.

You can find these foods anywhere, but some of my favourite pubs have been in the smallest of villages in the Irish countryside filled with locals where it almost seems like you can taste the tradition in the lively atmosphere, or even just enjoying a simple Fish n’ Chips from the takeaways at the seaside.

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Fish n chips in a pub in a seaside town just out of Cork

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Hearty beef and Guinness stew, and pie

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You can’t go wrong with Fish n’ Chips by the sea!

Talking about Irish food wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t also mention the desserts, and the importance of the humble bottle of Bailey’s.

From a Bailey’s cheesecake to a Bailey’s hot chocolate or an Irish coffee (actually made with whiskey) there are some really delicious ways to finish a great meal. Even if you don’t like coffee, it should be at the top of your list of foods to try in Ireland. And this is coming from a non-coffee drinker myself!

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Bailey’s cheesecake with an Irish Coffee

There is of course a rise in gastro-pubs which offer a more modern and fancier twist on these pub classics, and there’s a huge range of fantastic European and Asian restaurants across the city giving a real multicultural feel – where you can find something that everyone will like!

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To be honest… the best Pad Thai I’ve ever had!

Perhaps most peculiarly, Dublin has recently got a taste for, of all things, burritos and doughnuts. With Tolteca, Boojum and Zambrero to name a few there is a bunch of places you can go for all your taco bowl needs, and you can stop off at Empire Donuts, The Rolling Donut or my absolute favourite Off Beat Donuts for a sweet treat after. These fast and delicious places are taking the city by storm with the most incredible doughnut creations and a Boojum food truck practically living permanently on campus. Speaking of campus, there are a bunch of food options for lunch or dinner any day with cafes, Subway, the Centra convenience store (you have to try the chicken fillet roll for only €2.95) and a food court style restaurant, so there’s never a shortage of new food to try everywhere. So when you get sick of potatoes, I hope I’ve given you a few ideas of food to try if you ever find yourself in Ireland!

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Heaven on Earth at Off Beat Donuts

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Who knew Oscar Wilde was such a fan of doughnuts?

 

Food, Glorious Food: John

Food, Glorious Food:
At NTU’s orientation, I was told that “Singaporeans are food lovers” and that is indeed true. The Singaporean cuisine is a beautiful mixture of the best recipes from its multicultural ethnicities. Most of the food has been adopted from the Malay, Chinese, Indian and Indonesian dishes. It is quite different from the dishes back in New Zealand. For instance, spicy food and rice are much more common here. Portions are also generally smaller.

Top 5 FOOD you MUST EAT in Singapore

5) Satay (BBQ meat)

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The satay is a charcoal barbequed meat served on skewer together with a special peanut sauce and fresh pineapple, onion and cucumber. You can either order chicken, beef or mutton satay.

The first bite of the charcoaled barbequed satay is a burst of pleasure from its flavourful juicy meat. The meat itself tastes a little sweet and salty. But, eat it will the peanut sauce, you will experience mix textures in your mouth that is nutty and meaty. It ends with a neutral flavour that somehow manages to make you desirably crave for more.

A satay costs around SGD0.80 (~NZD0.60) per stick including the side dishes with a minimum order of usually 10 sticks.

4) Economy rice

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The economy rice is not a specific dish itself, but it is a mixture of multiple home-cooked style dishes.

The economy rice stall will serve about 20 to 30 different dishes from meat, egg to vegetables which are priced differently. You are free to pick the dishes you like and thus it allows you to be ‘economical’ in your decision. Economy rice can cost as low as SGD1.50 (~NZD1.50).

The variety of dishes to choose from may sometimes offer some interesting options. For instance, I have tried the unique coffee chicken which has a distinct sweet coffee fried chicken flavour.

3) Curry Fish Head

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This dish is a little spicy as you can observe from the red curry sauce pictured above. It is not for the faint-hearted.

Put this in your mouth and you will experience a perfect combination of its strong sour and spicy flavours. As you chew it, you will enjoy the soft and smooth fish head meat. To cool off the heat from the curry, eat one of the eggplant, tomato or ladies finger served with it.

Usually, the curry fish head is served with rice to dilute its strong flavours.

The curry fish head I tried above is from a Michelin Bib Gourmand awarded store – Zai Shun Curry Fish Head. The place is quite crowded but it is worth the wait because it is simply delicious.

2) BBQ Chicken Wing

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Although you can find BBQ chicken wings in New Zealand, the one in Singapore tastes special.

Your first bite will be greeted with the sweetness of its honey glazed skin. The honey melts away, leaving you with the gentle saltiness of its charcoal roasted skin. Chew in, and you will be lost in the tender meat that is infused with delicious spices.

If you add a squirt of green lime to it, it will wake you up, increasing your awareness of the joyful moment.

If you choose to enjoy it with its special sour chilli sauce, just imagine everything aforementioned but with a hot pop song that is playing in the background while you eat it.

This experience can be enjoyed for around SGD1.30 (~NZD1.30) per chicken wing.

 1) Hainanese Chicken Rice

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Singapore is also the first country to have one of its hawker centre stores accredited with the Michelin award. Guess what? It is the store that serves chicken rice shown above. I can assure you that it is delicious. Be prepared to line up if you want to try this store – Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice. It was not pricey too as it was only SGD6 (~NZD6). Although you can get chicken rice from around SGD2.50 (~NZD2.50), this particular one it is worth the price.

The chicken rice is served with either roasted or steamed chicken – as shown above. The roasted chicken has a rewarding salty taste while the steamed chicken’s best feature is its soft tenderness.

The rice is cooked in soup made from garlic, ginger and chicken which gives it the most appetizing light-yellow colour.

It is also accompanied with a spicy and mildly sour chilli sauce that excites but does not punish you.

Sometimes, a gently sour ginger paste is also served with it. Adding the ginger paste to your bite is like eating another dish itself as the ginger taste is strong but rewarding at the same time.

Gallery

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How Satay is barbequed at Lau Pa Sat hawker centre
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Economy Rice store – a wide the variety of dishes to choose from

 

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Charcoal Roasted BBQ Chicken Wings

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Roasted vs Steamed chicken
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Maxwell Hawker Centre – to the left, is the line to the Michelin awarded Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice

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 jlee575@aucklanduni.ac.nz

If you want to check out more of my pictures, please follow my Instagram account: johnleekw.

https://www.instagram.com/johnleekw/

Cheers!

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Accommodation Awards: Shirley

Different people have different things that they find important in their immediate environment: Some have to have good company, others like warmer or cooler weather. But for the most part especially being on exchange, it is the creation of a makeshift home fit to remember good pastimes but induce new memories as well which cannot be overlooked.

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It is definitely a good time to note that sorting out accommodation is no easy task, and even as someone who does not live at home and is flexible enough to find it easy to adapt to new places, it was an extremely difficult process to sort out. For me personally, the top three priorities that I really looked to fulfil with my accommodation would not be too dissimilar to those of most people: The opportunity to meet new people easily, proximity to the university campus and easy accessibility to frequent places such as shops and cafes, grocery stores and banks. In fact, I had come to the realisation that cost wasn’t the most important factor because during my one term here, I wanted to make the most of it and rent would not be too much of a controlling factor. The important thing was to have a place to live where my lifestyle could be well integrated even in the midst of vast differences between Montreal and Auckland.

Three very obvious options were presented to me: Living on campus with McGill Rez, off campus with hotel style student accommodation or simply flatting with other fellow students in the nearby neighbourhood named the McGill Ghetto, which can be rather charming despite the name. More than several hours to say the least had been spent simply researching what might be the best option considering my three requirements, but the best fit seemed to be staying with McGill. The network and community would be unparalleled to make new friends and an infinite number of students in my exact same shoes would have gone through with it without a hitch. But I sure can tell you there were many bumps in the road. The application itself gave no information so until the point I had paid my deposit and assigned a house, I had no idea what I was signing myself up for. Deadlines sprung up without warning, emails back and forth were frustrating with time zones and questions were endless even if you could get them through. It was a tough lesson to learn that making the decision to take risks is something that I will definitely have to come across again during my exchange.

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But at the end of day, it really does work out no matter what option. I now live with 14 other girls where we spend every waking minute filling this massively old house with young laughter. Steps away from campus through the back door, a few more through the front on to one of Montreal’s most well known streets, it couldn’t have ticked the boxes in a better way. Our shared kitchen is always bustling and the common room is almost big enough to throw a salsa dance-off. The manor style staircase and corridors carry sounds of giggles and banter from room to room. With five singles and five doubles, I was lucky enough to have talked to my roommate Michela before we met in person so sharing our space was something we slipped into with ease. It definitely helps that our room is unbelievably grand as well, being the only one with tall windows, high ceilings and even a rustic fireplace to add to that cozy Canadian feel.

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While it was the luck of the draw and we may have the biggest room, it’s easy to see that we all are winners here. Everyone puts their all into their rooms, with photos and decorations, and walking through them is like diving into a part of their lives and listening to their stories. Some sneaky little rubber ducks seemed to appear and they don’t stop either, which adds to the fun of it all. We all deserve awards as people coming from different places to adjust and trying our hardest to make this place as much of home as possible. And if I may say so myself, we certainly did a kick ass job of it.

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Keep up to date with my adventures through Instagram (shirleyxjiang) and my personal travel blog (http://pageparisienne.blogspot.ca/) J

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Accommodation Awards: Bianca

When looking for accommodation I wasn’t sure what I wanted, I’ve never moved out of home before so I knew this experience was going to be one of many firsts. When choosing accommodation for my exchange here the University of Oviedo offered 3 options: finding my own flat with other students or professionals, living in a university residence or living with a home stay family. I ended applying for a spot in one of the University of Oviedo’s three student residences; El Colegio Mayor san Gregorio, El Colegio Mayor America and the Residencia Universitaria de Mieres. The odds were in my favour and I was lucky enough to get a room in El Colegio Mayor san Gregorio (my first pick!), and it is now the place I call home. While I had been hoping to get an individual room, I have ended up in a double which is slightly cheaper and I now prefer. I got really lucky with both my room and my roommate!

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Accommodation Award for best size and location:
The university residences here are a lot smaller than the ones in Auckland, having between 94 and 112 beds, this means that all the staff get to know you and learn your breakfast orders! While the location is not quite perfect for me, because of how long it takes me to walk to my campus; the location of the Colegios Mayores is excellent! They are located on one of the University’s 6 Campuses in Oviedo and I feel as though I live in a huge sports complex. If you are studying computer sciences or sports medicine these residence would be ideal for you because you would be living 100m away from the faculties! While my walk to uni every morning is a bit long the walk to and from the centre of town is around 10 minutes which is perfect for going out, which everyone here does! If you decided to live here you should be prepared to hear people coming home from a night out between 5 and 8am particularly on weekends.

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Accommodation Award for making life as easy as possible for students:
The residences have a cleaning service that cleans all the rooms’ everyday of the week except Sunday. They come in while we are at uni, make the beds, clean the floor and the bathroom. Towels and bed sheets are also provided by the residence and those get changed every Wednesday by the same lovely ladies that clean our rooms. They also feed us! Unfortunately the food is not included in the price of our rent, however I just pay for everything at the beginning of the month. When it comes to food they have a few options for how you can pay. There are a few people here who have bought their own fridges with them and use the communal microwaves to cook their own meals every day. You can also pay for individual meals, the complete menu everyday or as they call it here the media pension, which is what I do. The media pension means that I pay for breakfast everyday and get either lunch or dinner included in the price, which is perfect for me because I am always still at uni for lunch.

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Accommodation Award for most intense beginning to life in a residence:
One thing they don’t tell you about living here is that for the first three weeks of semester they have novatadas (initiations) for all the new residents who want to take part. It was pretty strange for me at first because I had no idea what everyone was talking about, what are these novatadas? But as my Spanish has improved over the few weeks I’ve been here I’ve begun to understand what is going on. I was told that this year’s initiations started off a lot easier than last years to prevent everyone quitting in the first week like in the previous year. Unfortunately the novatadas a pretty exclusive thing, so if you aren’t part of it you can’t watch any of the activities they plan. For example this week they had a talent show for the initiations, while eating dinner we saw they all head into the common room and thought we would join them, however before the show started they said that anyone who was not taking part wasn’t allowed to even watch. So while it is a great way to get to know some of the other students living here it is a pretty exclusive ‘club’. Some of the activities that were part of this year’s novatadas were waking everyone up to run laps around the track at 4am, staying out till at least 3am every night despite having classes the next morning and blindfolding people and tricking them into believing they were jumping out of a second story window.
Compared to the other accommodation options I had, I really do think that this was the best option for me. I am really enjoying always having people around and always having someone to go out with on the weekends. However, if you prefer your own space there are plenty of well located reasonably priced apartments around to rent. The University of Oviedo also has a housing office with regularly updated lists of available rooms and flats close to the different campuses. All of the Erasmus students I have met since coming here found their own flats and they are finding it really good to. Many flats are a combination of Erasmus students from different countries but there are also flats that are made up of predominantly Spanish students.

Until my next update!
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Accommodation Awards: Tim

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;

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Ashfield Student Residence
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The inner courtyard

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.

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The bedrooms are super spacious
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I’ve never had my own ensuite before!
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He watches while you sleep
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Even when you eat, you can’t escape the deer-people

 

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.

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Lament of the lost oven

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.

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It barely even counts as leaving the house, so pyjamas are totally acceptable in the store right?

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.

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Accommodation Awards: Harriet

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.

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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.

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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
Saône River.

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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!

See ya!

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