First Impressions: Tim

Well, after almost a year of planning and prepping and 7 weeks of travel through the UK and Europe I’ve finally made it to the other side of the world to University College Dublin in Ireland! I’ve been here a grand total of two weeks now and it’s been full on getting everything set up and launching back into classes. From having to last-minute change papers (or modules as they’re called here), visit the Immigration Office to approve my visa and the endless bureaucracy of setting up a bank account, to the excitement of being in a new city and country and exploring all of the things Dublin has to offer there has been a lot to take in!

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To start the story off, UCD is located about a 20 minute bus ride south of the centre of Dublin on a self-contained American-style campus, but it’s still super handy to get into town with a Student Leap card giving you discounted fares on public transport across the city. In the centre of the campus is a pond complete with fountains and swans, with the main axis of faculty buildings stretching away down either side. The campus is surrounded by sports fields, student accommodation and plenty of green space and trees to relax and read on a sunny day, and if you sit still for long enough an inquisitive squirrel might even come over to say hi! It’s a truly different experience to Auckland, the campus feels like a real community and it’s enjoyable to walk around the modern buildings between classes or grab lunch in the restaurant and you’re never far from something going on.

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Checking in to accommodation was easy, and kicked off orientation week which was packed with campus tours, welcome events, faculty orientations, a Céilí (traditional Irish dance), walking tour of the city, exploring the pubs and clubs in the evening, but most of all meeting so many people from around the world and Ireland too. There were too many events to be able to go to them all but the highlight for me was definitely trying my first pint of true Irish Guinness at the storehouse brewery in town, with grand views across the whole city.

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Weather in Ireland is a bit fickle though, and it was a shock to the system being back in the wind and rain most days (I even had to break out the hat and scarf on the first day of class), but there have been some stunning days thrown in and some adventures already. To cap off the first week I took a road trip to go camping with some new Irish friends to the Cliffs of Moher which tower 120m above the Atlantic Ocean on the west coast of Ireland. It was pouring with rain when we first got there but we got to wake up in our tent to stunning views along the coast and a brilliantly sunny day which all the more made up for it. Oh and castles. On the drive home we even stopped in a country pub to watch the All Ireland Gaelic Football final, which was louder and crazier than any rugby match I’ve ever seen. I could barely understand the rules or the other people in the pub shouting at the TV but it was a sure-fire way to launch into the full Irish cultural experience! I have a sneaking suspicion the next four months are going to be a lot of fun!

Adobe Spark (6)

First Impressions: Matt

Hey y’all! So, I have finally arrived and settled into life at UNC and I think know is the time to share my first impressions of the place and the process of getting here.

Pre-departure

Before coming to UNC and the United States, there is a lot you must do. For me, the biggest headache was the Visa. Obtaining the Visa was a long process. It involved plenty of paperwork and applications to fill out as well as fees. UNC does help you along the way and is able to provide you with an I-20 form which is also needed to get the Visa. Once the application is complete, you are required to attend an interview at the US consulate in Auckland but don’t worry about it, the interviewer was friendly and literally only asked me a couple of questions. My biggest advice would be to get on board with the Visa application ASAP! I had to cancel my flights as my Visa would not have come through on time and it was quite costly. Booking flights early does save plenty of money but only do this if you are certain you will get your Visa before that date.

The Journey

Since I received my Visa late, I pretty much booked flights a week before I was required to arrive (not ideal). Last minute flights are expensive so to get a decent deal, I ended up taking four different planes to get to Raleigh. I took two planes from Auckland to LA with a brief stopover in Tahiti. After landing in LA, I had to take a shuttle to another Airport in neighbouring Orange County where I would catch an overnight flight to New Jersey. Once in New Jersey, I would catch my final flight to Raleigh, North Carolina.

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See ya later NZ!

After a solid 30 hours of flying, I arrived at a hot and humid North Carolina day. I was picked up by a very helpful UNC student who used her time to help me get to the campus and essentially settle in. UNC has an organisation called EASE which helps ease us exchange students into life at UNC. One of the things they do is organise airport pickups which save us the hassle of organising transport to the campus from the airport. I found this extremely helpful. EASE also hosts many social events and is a great way to meet both American and other exchange students.

UNC

From the moment I arrived, I fell in love with the place. The University is supposedly the very first public University to open in the USA. It was founded in 1789 and has many old buildings with lots of character. The iconic feature is the old well where it is tradition to drink out of it on the first day of class to receive a 4.0 GPA.

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The Old Well

UNC also has plenty of green spaces. There are so many areas on campus where you could take a nap outside and enjoy the sunshine (unless you’re prone to burning like myself).

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The Main Quad

The campus also has plenty of sports facilities. The University is mad when it comes to sports (especially basketball). They are known as the UNC Tar Heels, named after North Carolina troops who would put tar on the soles of their shoes. UNC is very successful when it comes to sports and has national championships in Lacrosse, Soccer, and Basketball. It wasn’t until I had visited the football stadium that I realised just how mad Americans are when it comes to sports. The stadium holds just over 60,000 people, which I have learned is quite an average size by American standards.

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Kenan Stadium

Chapel Hill

The town of Chapel Hill is a great place to be a student. Franklin Street is the main hub of activity with its abundance of good food and places to drink. There is also a Target Supermarket which has everything you need. It is a chill place and is literally right next door to the UNC campus!

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Franklin Street

The other thing I noticed was that Chapel Hill has a lot of trees. Coming from someone from New Zealand, this was probably the very first thing I noticed upon arriving here.

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Trees, trees and more trees

The campus is beautiful, the weather is great and the people are very friendly. There is a reason Chapel Hill is known as “The Southern Part of Heaven.”

Frat Parties

I was invited to my first frat party literally on my first day, and it did not disappoint. Being the weekend before class, the parties were packed and the nightlife was buzzing. There were red cups, beer pong and even a mechanical bull in the garden. I don’t want to say it’s like the movies but it was certainly close. Even if you’re not particularly big on parties, I highly encourage you to at least check it out. Frats play a huge role in the social life of American universities since most undergraduates are too young to go into bars and clubs. Also, it’s a really good way to meet people. Americans will show a huge interest in you if you have a foreign accent and if you’re open, you will have no problem making new friends.

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One of the many Frat houses at UNC

FallFest

Prior to the first week of class, UNC hosts an event called FallFest. Pretty much, it’s like the club’s expo on steroids. It was held on one of the sports fields and had a countless number of tents, stall, and clubs encouraging us to join. More importantly, there was free stuff to gain. I snagged a free bag, t-shirt and completely stuffed myself with good food. FallFest was a great showcase of what life at UNC is like.

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FallFest!

Orientation

Following the weekend, all exchange students had to attend a mandatory orientation. The orientation ran through most of the day and comprised of informative speeches on UNC life and instructions on what we had to do regarding accommodation, meal plans, banking, visa, and health insurance. The day was broken up by a lunch break and even a solar eclipse. There was also an ice cream social following the orientation giving me a great opportunity to meet fellow exchange students and future travel buddies. This is an extremely important event to attend because as great as it is to be friends with Americans, exchange students will want to travel and do more things. The orientation will be the only time where all exchange students are packed in the same building so make sure you meet as many as possible!

Wrapping Up

UNC has been great so far and I am very glad that I’ve picked it. Getting to where I am now was a long and tricky process, but trust me, it will all be worth it! I am incredibly excited to see what will be in store for me in the future. I hope you guys enjoyed this post and took my advice on board. If you ever need more information or if you just want to ask me questions, feel free to comment on this post or email me at mrow430@aucklanduni.ac.nz.

If you want to see what I’m getting up to, then chuck us a follow on Instagram @matthew.rowe

Cheers,
Adobe Spark (12)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

First Impressions: Lin

“Wow, I love New Zealand!”
“That’s where the accent is from!”
“I heard there are more sheep and cows than people.”
“Have you visited the LOTR/Hobbit set?”

It seemed like every person I met during my first week would proceed to say at least two of these sentences. It was pretty cool, being the “exotic” one for once. One thing I’ve learned since arriving in Canada is that people here are very curious and open-minded.

Quick Stats

  • 90% of Queen’s university students are not from Kingston (where Queen’s is). It’s a university town, meaning people go there just for university.
  • Historically important as it is a former capital and is where the oldest prisons, military sites are located.

Getting to Kingston

One thing I realised as soon as I arrived in Kingston was how great the location was. Kingston is smack in between Montreal, Ottawa and Toronto. Bear this in mind, there are no direct flights to Kingston. You can either fly to Montreal or Toronto then take another flight, or bus or train to Kingston. I chose to fly to Toronto and chill with some high school friends for the weekend before heading towards Kingston via rail (train). Buses are the cheapest way, but takes the longest time and are dreadful when you have to lug so much luggage around. Trains are the middle ground because there’s a place to put your luggage and a free bus service directly from the train station to campus.

What to Do in Kingston Before University Starts

I arrived a month earlier as I wanted to do some travelling beforehand. Did you know? There is a 17-hour time difference between NZ and Kingston, meaning, I spent my first 3 days in a daze of jetlag, waking up and sleeping at ungodly hours. Anyway, before university started I took advantage of Kingston’s central location and travelled back and forth Toronto and Montreal.

Here are some quick tips:

  • Montreal is known for their poutine and bagels. As they say “you haven’t tasted good poutine, until the cheese curds squeak!”. I kid you not.
  • If you’re heading to Toronto, check out The Mansion. It is THE pub that everyone goes to. It’s made of 3 houses joined together.
  • Take advantage of what’s left of the summer – I went canoeing and “got lost” while in all three places.
  • The bus service is free for Queen’s University students. You can use it to travel to Cataraquai Centre (Ca-a-rock-a-way) – basically, the closest actual shopping centre.

Here are some pics of me being a foreigner, canoeing in Lake Ontario and attempting to visit as many of the 1000 islands as possible. By the way, there are actually 1800 islands, we managed to get to 3 of them in the span of 6 hours!

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Orientation Week

Here’s what you guys are probably waiting for aye? Orientation week is a BIG thing at Queen’s University. They have one of the oldest student council’s in Canada and are known for their student life *ahem* parties*ahem*. There’s a special orientation for exchange students, known as NEWTS. It costs quite a bit, but I would say it’s worth it. It’s 3 days filed with fun, jam-packed with activities where you get to meet all sorts of people.

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Highlights for this orientation were:

  • Tamming ceremony, where you get a “tam” and as a whole group, you are inaugurated into being a Queen’s student. We also had to learn the Queen’s university chant. The picture below is a group picture of my NEWTS group and my geckos (leaders). Our team comprised of people from Sweden, England, Netherlands, Germany, Denmark, Japan, New Zealand (me!), Toronto, Ottawa.
  • Paint Party – Pretty much everyone gets into this space and starts throwing paint at each other
  • Semi-formal – The only phrase to sum up this night is: “Wow, you clean up nice!”

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Overheard @ Frosh week:

  • The Purple People – Upper year engineers “leaders” who have purple bodies for the WHOLE WEEK. THIS IS HOW THEY LOOK THE WHOLE WEEK.

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  • Chants – every single faculty has one main chant and a few others. We also had our own. Whenever we saw ArtSci students, we would ask “hey ArtSci, how do you feel?”, to which they had to say “I feel so good, OH! I feel so good!” For Newts it was “I don’t hate it”

PS: Want to know more? Travel with me through IG: linsayshi   Snapchat: lin78

As always, feel free to message me if you want to know more 😊

Adobe Spark (7)

 

John: First Impressions

My first experience with Singapore – a super liveable place filled with cultural gems!

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Welcome to Singapore!

Despite being smaller than Auckland in size, Singapore has a population larger than the entire New Zealand population! That is 5.6 million people living in Singapore versus 4.7 million in New Zealand.

Choosing Singapore to be my exchange destination has been one of my best decisions so far. It offers exposure to the busy city life that we do not get in Auckland. Also, Singapore has a diverse range of cultures as it is home to multiple ethnic groups. Because of its multicultural diversity, there is an endless option of food to choose from, and they are quite affordable too. If you like shopping, Singapore is the place for you because it is home to massive malls. Getting around the country is convenient because of its reliable public transportation. Other than that, the weather in Singapore is consistent with warm days or rainy days. Lastly, communicating with the locals is not an issue as almost all Singaporeans speak English.

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Window views are always worth it

Journey to Singapore

Singapore is about 11 hours by flight away from Auckland. That 11 hours is needed to travel the 8,400km between these two cities. Multiple airlines offer regular direct flights to Singapore including Air New Zealand, Singapore Airlines, and Jetstar. These return flights could cost you from NZ$500 (if you book it early) to NZ$1,500 for the humble economy class. If you have some extra cash, you can opt for the first class which will set you back around NZ$3,000.

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Singapore’s airport has been ranked top in the world multiple times

Best airport in the world

If you are flying to Singapore, you will arrive at the world’s best airport (according to Skytrax). At Singapore’s Changi International airport, you will find yourself admiring its design made with the best of both modern architecture and nature.  The airport offers a variety of shopping, dining, and entertainment outlets – including spas, cinemas and even Singapore’s tallest slide! Prices at the airport are reasonable, unlike typical ‘airport prices.’ It is strategically located near to the city and is accessible by train, bus, and other public transportation. Because of its many facilities and convenient location, locals even go to the airport to hang out and shop.

Unfortunately, I was too tired to enjoy the facilities and wanted to check in to my university accommodation as soon as possible. I was glad that the immigration lines were quick to move and the baggage retrieval is only a few minutes away from the taxi stands.

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The taxi ride from the airport

You do not need to own a car in Singapore

My taxi ride from the airport to my accommodation at Tanjong Hall, Nanyang Technological University was about $35. However, do note that prices will be around 25% higher if you take it during peak hours (Peak hour table: https://goo.gl/aVodr). You can opt to pay either by cash or credit card. Taxis in Singapore are metered. You could also opt for Uber or Grab. Grab is something like Uber but is more popular in Asia. These might be cheaper options, but pricing also varies according to the demand. At the airport, you can utilise the complimentary Wi-Fi to book a ride with these apps.

 

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Tanjong Pagar aka Singapore’s business district’s subway station

Alternatively, you can take the bus or train, but I do not recommend it if you have a lot of luggage. It might be crowded if you arrive during rush hour.

However, if you do not have luggage, travelling by Singapore’s subway and bus system is both affordable and convenient. Singapore’s train system is one of the top ten best subway systems in the world according to ‘The Vacation Times’. The subway stations at Singapore have restaurants and shops inside them, so you can even dine and shop at the subway. Some stations even have grocery stores.

In terms of payment, both subway and bus system encourage EZLink payments which basically is Singapore’s ATHop card. Paying by EZLink is also cheaper than paying by cash for some reason. You can buy an EZLink card from 7-Elevens (a mini mart chain usually open for 24 hours) or use your university identification card as an EZLink card.

I found the best map to navigate around Singapore is ‘Citymapper’ which tells you which stop to get off, trip time and trip cost. At the time of writing this post, it is available for iPhones and Android phones.

 

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The Hive – designed to look like Dim Sum baskets/boxes

Nanyang Technological University (NTU)

Upon arrival at NTU, I was astonished by the unique architecture. For instance, there is a building called ‘The Hive’ designed to look like Dim Sum baskets/boxes.

In comparison to Auckland University, NTU feels much larger. Getting around by foot is possible, but sometimes it might take around 30 minutes just to get from one building to another. However, NTU offers free shuttle bus service which operates all week around the campus.

For the first few days, I find myself always lost around the massive campus. But as I familiarised myself with the campus, getting around NTU is pretty easy.

NTU has around 24 halls for student accommodation. There are options for shared double bed rooms or single rooms which I am staying in right now.  The toilets are mostly communal, and so are the pantries.

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1,200 exchange students occupy one of NTU’s larger lecture halls during our orientation

 Orientation

There are 1,200 exchange students from 40 different countries enrolled in NTU itself!  NTU encourages exchange programs as it sends about 6,000 of its students on exchange abroad every year.

There are two orientations organised for exchange students. One is for all exchange students, and the other is specific to my business faculty. Both orientation programmes are mostly about an introduction to the university’s facilities and administrative matters.

Making friends during orientation is entirely up to you. There aren’t any ice breaking activities organised, but I feel almost everyone is open to being engaged in a conversation.

NTU offers exchange students membership in the NTU Gem Club (Global Education and Mobility) which is a club exclusive to exchange students. They organise trips and have a ‘buddy pairing’ system similar to the one from AUSA at Auckland University which pairs you with a local so they can help you around town.

‘Starwars’ is what they call their course registration period after their ‘STARS course planner system’ because enrolling in courses is quite competitive. However, exchange students are given somewhat of a priority because some courses are pre-allocated before our arrival.

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NTU Fest 2017 – it’s carnival style fun

Welcome week

The first week of classes in NTU is also the ‘welcome week’. During the first two days of this week, there will be club expo. There are a wide variety of clubs to join in NTU and many interesting ones such as the beer brewing club, Chinese Medicine club, and the Taxation club.

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Edgar – NTU’s interactive robot

On the Saturday of the welcome week, NTU celebrates its new semester with the ‘NTU Fest’ which is a carnival open to the public. At NTU Fest, there are many games to play from such as laser tag to bottle tossing. You can even get your face painted. There is also an expo held which shows off NTU’s talents from different faculties. I had the opportunity to fly a drone using only my hand gestures. There was other cool stuff like an interactive robot and 3D printed masterpieces. The NTU Fest ended with live performances from famous artists.

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Warm and humid – that’s Singapore!

 Warm and humid at the equator

Unlike New Zealand, Singapore does not have four seasons due to its location close to the equator. There is only rain or dry seasons. The temperature in Singapore is warm and ranges from 25°C to 37°C. It is also very humid compared to Auckland. One thing I noticed is that you sweat a lot when you walk outside.

Remembering from my own soaked experience, the rain in Singapore is much denser than Auckland’s. Do not be shocked if you hear lots of thunders because it is a frequent occurrence.

 

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The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands – you can even get a canoe ride in this mall

Literally, shop ‘till you drop.

Or at least, shop until your wallet is empty. The malls in Singapore are huge in comparison to the ones in Auckland. You can even do walking exercises at these malls!

Malls in Singapore are also designed to be a one-stop destination for shopping and dining. Their plan is to keep you there for as long as possible, and it always works. Most malls have a have a great variety of food ranging from affordable local food to Gordon Ramsay’s signature restaurants.

 

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Busy day at Bugis Street

You should visit one of Singapore’s famous ‘street malls’ like Bugis Street. These ‘street malls’ are similar to the night markets at Auckland but are open all week and even in the mornings. There are a wide variety of affordable goods from Singapore branded souvenirs, power banks, to sunglasses. You can also enjoy delicious Singaporean street food here such as the beautiful ice-cream bread. As competition is fierce in street malls, certain shops invite haggling but some only offer fixed prices.

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‘Yong Tau Fu’ offered at one of Singapore’s hawker centre

Cheap and Yummy Food

Singapore has a wide variety of delicious food reflective of its diverse multicultural heritage. For the same money in Auckland, food in Singapore is much better in value. For around 3 Singaporean Dollars, you can enjoy a full meal. A cup of joe would only cost around 1 Singaporean Dollar.

Expect the food here to be different because most foods are Asian style but western food is also popular.

I will be writing a detailed post about Singapore’s delicious delicacies with my recommendations soon!

The language

Almost all Singaporeans speak English. English is also a common first language here.  English is an official language together with Mandarin (Chinese), Malay, and Tamil. These official languages reflect on the three main ethnic groups: the Chinese, Malay and Indian. Most Singaporeans are mostly bilingual because learning a second language is compulsory at school.

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!

Adobe Spark (2)