Cecilia: Why I Withdrew and Other Stories…

What an absolute whirlwind of an exchange! A lot has changed since my last post. Following the devastation of Covid-19 on the world, I made the extremely difficult decision to head home and actually withdraw from my exchange. This blog post will be very personal reflection to give you a glimpse of what went down in the last few weeks for me. This post is intended to be brutally honest and hopefully provide support if you are ever in a similar situation or are needing to withdraw from exchange for whatever reason. I will also include a few “what I wish I knew before going on exchange” tips at the end!

THE DECISION TO WITHDRAW

I had finished almost all my coursework in Scotland when the University of Auckland notified me that there was the option to withdraw and enrol in papers back home. The semester was well into week 3, but due to the circumstances, returning exchange students would be offered the chance to enrol even though the deadlines had passed. This meant that all my time and credits spent overseas would not be transferred back. I would resume semester 1 2020 in Auckland, as if I had never left.

I had to make this decision without guidance on whether exams would be moved, or whether there would be flights home to New Zealand at the end of my exchange.

I decided to withdraw because I was quite worried that there was a possibility that once lockdown period ended, I might need to come back to Europe to sit final exams. I had also taken an honours paper for history and was quite worried that moving the exams online would be a severe disadvantage for me as many of the resources I need were physical books in the Glasgow library. I was also far more familiar with the coursework and examination styles of UoA compared to Glasgow.

From a personal perspective, I came home because I would no longer be able to travel Europe during my mid-semester break as I had planned. A major element of my decision making for going on exchange was being able to travel through Europe in their summertime with my friends. With flights being cancelled everywhere and borders closing all through the continent, this dream seemed further and further away. It didn’t really make sense for me to be paying rent up until summer time without a reason to be staying until the summer anyway.

Another major factor in my return to New Zealand was the international impact of the virus upon available flights. I actually booked a flight to leave from London on the 28th March 2020, but following New Zealand’s closure of borders to non-nationals, I paid for a new flight that left directly from Glasgow almost a week earlier than my planned departure date.

My biggest recommendation during such times of uncertainty is not to delay. I was extremely lucky to even get a flight home – I know of a few friends on my original flight that ended up being cancelled, and they were unable to find another one home in time. I did pay a lot more to book an earlier flight, but the amount of time and worry saved was priceless. I remember waking up every day fearing that my flight would be cancelled, and I would be stranded in the UK. I think when it comes to emergencies like this, having peace of mind was more important than a few hundred dollars.

Finally, loneliness was also important to consider as all my flatmates had to go home too. American borders had shut to non-nationals, and several of my fellow American exchange students were told that they had to come home immediately, or credit would not be transferred. I think this was partly because they had come on their university’s insurance policy so if they had caught Covid-19, their home university would be liable for costs. I knew I did not want to be stuck in an empty flat by myself for the next three to four months when there was such widespread panic and fear.

THE JOURNEY HOME

I booked almost the next fight home from the day that I withdrew from Glasgow and re-enrolled in Auckland. My flight was scheduled to leave from Glasgow and stopover in both Dubai as well as Bali. My biggest worry at this point was that one of those borders would close during the stopover, leaving me stranded halfway as I would no longer be allowed back into the UK.

It is important here to emphasise the need to stay flexible and aware. Although I was extremely sleep deprived and overly nervous upon my stop overs, the airports during Covid-19 was a complete mess. I literally made it through security for my transit with an extra 5 minutes to spare – the flights were leaving on such tight timing that there was no room for mistakes. Make sure you are speedy through transits and do not spend that much time shopping if you are not sure where your gate is. Dubai airport was pretty enormous, and I ended up having to run from one end to the other. I’d recommend maybe downloading a map ahead of time if your transit is less than an hour – with the added number of passengers and stricter security screenings, I ended up needing every extra minute.

Several people on my original flight from the UK to Dubai faced sudden visa issues half way, owing to a change in flight plans as countries closed their borders. I was very lucky to be travelling on a New Zealand passport as we have visa waivers with a large number of countries. Please do remember to triple check that your stop overs do not require a transit visa!

THINGS I WISH I HAD KNOWN:

  1. Withdrawing from exchange is NOT a waste of time or money!

Originally, I was quite upset to be withdrawing because I felt that the exchange was a waste of effort. I didn’t manage to get any Glasgow merchandise because the visitor shops had shut, and I didn’t get any acknowledgement of my time spent here on my academic transcript or anything. I really didn’t have anything to show apart from the experience and a lighter wallet.

But the amount of life skills that I learnt during this time was absolutely priceless. I had such a unique exchange and faced situations that I probably will never see again. I originally wanted to go to the UK during Brexit because I wanted to witness history in the making – I guess I got that wish!

I had to make decisions during a time of uncertainty based purely on my own judgement. I learnt to trust my gut feeling and that it was always better to be safe than sorry. I formed friendships that will continue long after the exchange is over and experienced life to the absolute fullest (we went to Ireland for St. Patricks day literally in the middle of their lockdown. All the pubs were shut, the parade was cancelled, AND our hostel dorm had one fellow in the back bunk coughing his brains out at 4am. It was a miracle we didn’t catch coronavirus to be honest!). I wouldn’t have learnt any of this from a lecture or textbook!

2. Double or triple check your insurance!

I never even knew such a clause would exist, but many travel insurance policies include an ‘epidemic or pandemic exclusion’ where disruptions caused by an epidemic or pandemic would not be covered under their policy. I had taken out the more comprehensive option and was pretty annoyed to find that I was still excluded under this clause. I know that situations like Covid-19 happen very rarely and that pandemics are not expected to happen for every exchange, but many of my friends were relying on their insurance to pay for flights if theirs was cancelled. Unfortunately, some of them had to learn about the exclusion clause the hard way.

One friend in particular was very disappointed as she had booked three individually connecting flights throughout Europe to return to the US. The first one was delayed which caused her to miss the next few, and due to the insurance clause, she was not covered at all. Later she told me that if she had known it was not covered, she would not have chosen those flights.

Therefore, be aware that even if it all turns to custard, insurance may not always work through the way that you want it to. Always make sure you have excess funds in case of emergencies like these, and do not assume that insurance covers all everything. Being flexible is SO important!

3. Pack light and always assume you will buy more things than you expect

I showed up with one 30kg bag and left with almost double the amount of clothing that I came with. I do recognise that Scotland was freezing and so half of my new wardrobe was warmer clothing, but shopping in Europe was so much fun! There is much more variety, especially towards the semi-formal and formal side of the spectrum. Plus, it is always raining so hiding in the department stores became a social event. I could go on and on about their specialty discount bargain stores (think Rebel Sports but for high end brands like Dior and Gucci), and because of we were in Europe the quality of goods was also much higher for things like Italian leather.

4. Bring wet weather boots

Waterproof shoes are so important. Enough said.

5. You are not alone!

It feels so isolated and scary being half way across the world away from home during such scary times, but I learnt a lot about people and their willingness to help.


A massive shout out to both the 360 International team here in Auckland, as well as the international exchange team in Glasgow. They gave me unbiased advice and their full support for every step of the journey.

If you are ever feeling lonely or confused or start freaking out like I did when I first realised that Coronavirus was actually really serious, know that there are people out there who are willing to help! I was running around like a headless chicken and emailed the exchange teams like 5 times each and was given such reassuring and professional responses that I never once felt like I was left on my own in high water.

I really appreciated the other exchange students checking in on me, and in return I know I went to check up on a few of them too. We are all in this together so look after one another.

6. HAVE FUN AND BE SAFE!

I look like a proud mother hen!

This is my last post, and I hope that you have enjoyed this wild ride with me! If you are considering going on exchange I wish you the very best experience. I had the time of my life in the 3 short months that I was in Glasgow and I cannot recommend it enough.

Take care all – sending love from my bubble to yours,

Kia Kaha New Zealand!

Cecilia: Glasknowing the Lifestyle

After being here for almost two months, it finally snowed! Storm Ciara brought freezing temperatures and stormy weather, but for someone that has never seen snow before it was so pretty. Unfortunately the snow has yet to reach a level where the streets are blanketed in white, so the photos I have don’t show the scale. The motivation behind this blog post is to share a little bit about the lifestyle here in Glasgow, from restaurant recommendations to supermarket content.

The best I could get was this photo to show the mushy ice that formed.

Student Life and Facilities

  • Glasgow University has two unions: the Glasgow University Union (GUU) which has traditionally been the more male dominated one, and the Queen Margaret Union (QMU) which was formed in response to the exclusion of women from the “old boys” club at GUU. You can choose to join both, and gain access to discounts at the Union cafes/restaurants. GUU also has a student club called “the Hive” which is extremely popular on a Thursday night, which is student night here.
  • I was very impressed by the student newspaper, the Glasgow Guardian which has a long history behind it. The raw, uncensored journalism is a refreshing read.
A vividly honest response to Brexit was a super interesting read.

Food and Drinks

Glasgow has a range of impressive foods and cultures. Here are some of my favourites for whatever mood that might strike:

  • Wetherspoons: also known fondly as ‘Spoons’, you can order the traditional Scottish pub fare of Haggis (a savoury pudding/oatmeal thing), neeps (turnips) and tatties (potatoes) here. Whetherspoons is a chain of pub restaurants, which serve decently priced meals and alcoholic drinks. I love the risotto and toasted sandwiches here, and would recommend trying some of their alcoholic cocktails which are served in big jugs. It does frequently become extremely busy during sporting events on the TV, and this was quick to become a cornerstone of my weekly pint habit with my friends.
  • Mother India : conveniently located close to campus, this is one of the best Indian restaurants in Glasgow. Indian cuisine is British staple, with reports stating that their favourite dish is Chicken Tikka Masala. I am sure the long colonial history between the two countries has led to the intense love affair with eastern curries. Pro tip: order smaller dishes to share here so you can sample all the flavours, as the curries are served in an almost tapas style.
  • La Vita Spuntini: if you want something a bit fancier or if you want to go for cute drinks near uni, this venue has a full artificial cherry blossom tree inside! As a winner of Glasgow’s best Italian food award, they serve many traditional Italian options as well as some dishes with a Scottish twist. The waiters/waitresses wear the most adorable plaid outfits, and the food is decently priced. You definitely want to come here with friends though – both to help split the bill as well as to take photos of you in this #superinstagrammable decor.
The cherry blossom tree inside Spuntini was absolutely gorgeous

For those of you who love to cook, the fresh produce (and their prices!) of Glasgow is definitely something I wish we had in New Zealand. For example, they sell a whole ball of mozzarella at most supermarkets for £0.45 which is equivalent to $0.90 NZD! I literally ate an entire ball of mozzarella as my breakfast, lunch, and dinner for the first two weeks that I was here. Add a little bit of balsamic vinegar, tomato, or a basil leaf and voila! Masterchef, eat your heart out!

There are plenty of supermarkets within a short distance of each other (the closest to campus are Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Morrisons, Iceland, Marks & Spencers), and they also sell cheap ‘Free From’ or specialty diet products. Almond and soy milks are almost the same price as normal cow’s milk, and gluten free and vegan products are so much more affordable than back home. In particular, meat substitutes such as Quorn or other plant based meats come in so many quick and simple cooking varieties such as ready made tacos or pad thai stir fry’s. I was also so surprised to discover plant based meatballs at Subway, Quorn chicken served at KFC and seasoned with their herbs and spices, and vegan sausage rolls at my local bakery chain Gregg’s. This means that it was really easy for me to try vegan options, especially as I was searching for more environmentally friendly and healthier options. I am really really going to miss my $2 NZD per litre almond milks!

One cannot think well, love well, or sleep well if one has not dined well

Virginia Woolf

Entertainment and Attractions

In terms of my favourite places to visit in and around Glasgow, I have highlighted both attractions as well as entertainment options:

  • The SEE Hydro: this massive stadium is a 15 minute walk behind my flat, and the top class artists all perform here. It’s great because I can just walk home after an act – Halsey was only $60 NZD!
  • The beautiful Kelvingrove Park is a section of my daily commute into uni, and is lovely for an early morning run before it gets too busy.
The skate park at Kelvingrove on a rare clear (but chilly) afternoon
  • The Clydeside Distillery gives a good glimpse into the process of making some of Scotland’s finest single malt whiskies in a stunning dockside venue.
  • The Glasgow Science Centre is like an interactive museum, filled with interesting experiments and hands on activities.
The Science Centre also does cool events later at night with cheap student tickets. No kids, no lines, and plenty of live music and drinks.

Transport

I have tried to navigate as much of Glasgow as possible by foot. Although the city is well linked with both buses, subways, and trains, I prefer to walk (when it is not pouring down) as I definitely need the exercise after all the food I have been eating. I would recommend ordering a subway card online for free though, as it provides cheaper transport compared to both one-use paper tickets and purchasing the card at the stations (£3). The subway runs in a continuous loop around the River Clyde, and circles to all the main areas around Glasgow. It is super handy for when you need to go into Glasgow’s CBD district (Merchant City) when it is pouring with rain and you are too tired to walk 30 minutes or don’t want to pay for the Uber.

Student Accomodation

Finally, one of my favourite places has to be home! I am staying at Kelvinhaugh Street student accommodation, which is actually about a 15-20 minute walk away from campus. The entire street is filled with students, so you often bump into friends on the walk to or from class. I personally would have preferred to be closer to campus, especially when it is raining cats and dogs, but the accomodation is located close to supermarkets, beauty salons, and several amazing cafes. It is about a 30 minute walk to Glasgow Central (the train station equivalent of Britomart here), or around a 10 minute (£5) Uber ride.

The student support services also often run events, such as streaming the Oscars, watching sport games, and Movie nights every week.

I love home because of my flat mates! I quickly became fast friends with the two other students that I share my flat with. They are both from America, with one from Boston (which has affluent suburbs, MIT and cold wet winters), and the other from Texas (hot, dry, yeehaw).

Friends are the sunshine of life.

John Hay
An event at the student accomodation was to hand make Valentine’s Cards – which I made for my flatmates!

That’s all for today folks – I will see you very soon for another update in the life of Cecilia and her mozzarella balls part 2!

Ta-ta (goodbye) until next time,

Cecilia: Welcome to Hogwarts! First Impressions of the University of Glasgow

My first week at the University of Glasgow (U of G) was such a blast and I cannot wait to see what is ahead. I got lost more than just a few times whilst walking around campus, but this was mostly because I was too busy taking photos of absolutely everything! Once I got used to the harsh weather and the even harsher accents, I quickly found my feet and settled in to my surroundings.

I have created a list of my top 3 favourite things about the university which I will call home for the next few months:

1. Historical Architecture

I swear everything looks like a castle here

The university celebrated its 569th birthday in my first week here, and was founded in 1451. Considering that the Treaty of Waitangi was only signed in 1840, the university is literally older than our entire country! Some famous alumni from its long history include economist Adam Smith, the creator of the steam powered engine James Watt, actor Gerald Butler, and the politician Nicola Sturgeon.

I got lucky to see the cloisters still decorated from Christmas! These lights are not permanent.


Walking into the university is like entering a different era, with gothic styled towers and turrets creating the feeling of walking into a fantasy castle. The university buildings look like the set for Hogwarts, especially early in the mornings when the fog is rolling over the hill. You can almost feel the magic in the air!

2. The Library

The top floor offers an amazing view of the campus

As someone who spends a lot of time at the library back home, I was very impressed with how big and well resourced the University of Glasgow library was. Despite the recent renovations making the library seem more modern, it is one of the oldest and largest university libraries in Europe. Even better, it is open from 7:15am until 2am in the morning – perfect for late night exam cramming sessions!

There are 12 floors in the library with separate study rooms scattered throughout. They also offer library tours in person as well as a virtual reality tour online. You do have to have a valid University of Glasgow student ID to be able to enter/exit the library, so it is not as freely open to the public as our library. I personally find this quite reassuring and a little bit safer, especially with such late opening hours.

3. Art and Culture at the Hunterian Museum

The oldest museum in Scotland is located right inside the university! The Hunterian Museum, which is dedicated to the anatomist and physician William Hunter, also includes the Hunterian Art Gallery, the Mackintosh House, the Zoology Museum and the Anatomy Museum.

The Hunterian Museum always has new and exciting exhibits, and also run events and tours such as “Night at the Museum”. The Hunterian Art Gallery is also worth checking out as it has one of the most distinguished public art collections in Scotland, with permanent artwork by famous artists such as Rembrandt and Rubens on display.

These are all located on directly on campus, and are free to enter for students. They are a great way to spend a rainy day (which happens quite often in Scotland).

It is also worth noting that the University is within a short walk to the Kelvingrove Museum and Art Gallery. I pass by these cultural landmarks every morning on my way to and from the student accomodation – they are definitely worth a visit.

Back entrance of Kelvingrove Museum

I cannot believe that it has only been one week since I started here! It already feels so familiar and I am certain that the weeks ahead will bring much more entertainment.

Catch you very soon,