Tom: Conclusion of Exchange

The 20th of December marked my date of freedom, succeeding the most enjoyable semester and a few weeks of stressing for exams. In this post, I will let you know what I did that made my experience abroad so spectacular for me.

Leaving home was scary. I had never taken an international flight alone and everything seemed so uncertain – anything seemed to have potential to go wrong. Fortunately, my arrival into Canada went as smoothly as I could have ever imagined, with a negligible line through customs and friendly security. Getting to Montreal and to my hall of residence went equally well.

Recommendation 1: Do all the admin WELL BEFORE departure.

The reason everything went to plan is because I had everything organized months before. All courses had been approved, I had my ESTA and ETA, McGill had accepted me, and I was already in email correspondence with professors and the faculty well before I needed to be.

I decided to do Outdoor Frosh (a themed O-Week & trip for new students) to meet new like-minded people at McGill and experience a National Park of Canada that I might otherwise not have gotten the chance to. It is one of the best choices I made, resulting in my introduction to some AWESOME locals and exchange students who I traveled and met up with throughout my exchange semester. 

Recommendation 2: If you can do it, DO IT!

I understand there are many barriers that may prevent you (e.g. financial, physical, mental), but if you get the chance to go on a trip/do something potentially amazing, PLEASE don’t turn it down. Go out and meet new people, experience new things, and enjoy yourselves. The McGill Outdoors Club provided the perfect platform to do this, with frequent trips to nearby cities and provinces as well as physical activities such as rock-climbing, canoeing, hiking, etc. Their email list allowed anyone to propose a trip to do with others.

As I was on a semester abroad, I wanted to make the most of being overseas which meant travelling and not overworking myself. The fact that courses are pass/fail whilst on exchange really helped put my mind at ease and enjoy myself more (this is not an excuse to completely slack off though!). Additionally, I tried to take courses and a workload that would be less stressful – I took four courses instead of five, with one being general education. As a result, my exchange was the best semester I’ve ever had.

And so here I am, at the end of my 4-month exchange semester, with $300 to my name and a flight booked for the 31st of January from Los Angeles – over a month away. Time to call mum…

Recommendation 3: Budget.

I am incredibly fortunate to have parents back home who are willing, and financially able, to support me. Although I had saved up what I thought to be a significant amount after working part-time for 3 years plus 10 weeks full-time over the summer, I greatly underestimated the cost of living abroad and travelling. Try to know how much visas, flights, accommodation, food, etc. are likely to cost and over budget for everything. All included, travelling the United States (on what I would consider quite a low budget) costs roughly $100 NZD EVERY DAY if you want to do some touristy activities and enjoy yourself… 

To conclude, travelling and experiencing cultures abroad is 100% worth it. If you get the opportunity, make the most of it.

Ziqi: A Holiday Well Spent

My first semester at the University of Birmingham has ended with many essays. But my exchange life is not only about studying. My objective for this year is to do as many meaningful things as I can. Therefore, over Christmas vacation, I went to Portugal to volunteer. I was working in a re-food organization which collects food from restaurants and supermarkets and re-packs it to feed homeless and poor families. Before I worked there, I heard the story of how the founder created this organization and I really admired his story. Luckily, I met him on the first day that I worked there when I was building the stage for Christmas dinner. I asked him a lot of different questions because I was curious about him and this non-profit organization.

I asked, “What’s your dream?”
He replied, “To be a good person and help more people.”
I asked: “What advice would you give to the youth?”
He replied, “Always be honest, integrated and help others.”

I asked a lot of questions and he always replied patiently and kindly. What I learned from him is to be merciful all the time and do charity without expecting anything in return.

Also, at this Christmas dinner, the president of Portugal came. Surprisingly, I was the one who served his table. Therefore, I had the opportunity to chat with him. Many residents said that their president is very kind and he is the president of the people. I could see that is true! He always served by himself instead of calling servers and he greeted everyone sincerely once he came in. Such an amazing experience. I met the founder of this project and the Portugal president at the same day!

Finally, my advice about exchange is to study hard and play hard. Studying is always the most important thing for us but it is not the only thing we need. Coming out of our comfort zones, taking part in societies that interest us and traveling is important for our growth as well. This experience gave me the chance to make lifelong friends and it broaden my horizons.

Overall, my exchange experience was very impressive and memorable. I would trade nothing for this experience. If you are considering applying for an exchange, I would say just do it. You will not regret this wonderful decision!

Hannah: Leaving Leeds, My final Month and Reflecting on My Exchange Experience

10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1….

It’s officially 2020, 1st of January, and your exams are in two weeks.

Nothing like the New Year to bring you back to reality, but that is what it’s like studying on this side of the world. I never realised that I took the six-week Christmas break for granted until I found myself cramming in a Laidlaw Library cubicle just as the new decade had begun. Gone are the Christmas Markets and celebratory trips across the country, instead Cafe Nero is your new home. If anything, exam season widened my palette. I finally stepped into the UK’s favourite establishment: Greggs. I will be careful here, because if you say more than two bad words about Greggs you will be forced out of the country. It is the land of sausage rolls and very plain whitebread sandwiches, and the only establishment to dominate the news cycle because of the not-so-terrible introduction of the Vegan Sausage Roll. Mind you, not the best place for a pre-exam snack if you don’t want to roll your bloated body to the exam room (I know, take my visa away). As I take a breather from exams, Christmas, and the sense that everything is coming to an end, I will reflect on the highs and lows of the past month (Greggs experience included):

6am journeys to Oxford are worth it. Not the 6am part, but Oxford, definitely. 

If I were to rank my favourite places in the UK, Oxford wins hands down. As soon as I pulled into the train station I couldn’t help but say, ‘This is cool’. Eloquent first words in the land of academia. To continue this academic theme, I visited a library with a special chamber designed for the Monarch, because even the monarch wasn’t trusted with taking books out of the library. We all know monarchs are notorious for overdue library fines like the best of us. In all seriousness, the Bodlein Library is incredible. Nevermind that Harry Potter was filmed there; it’s place in the School of Divinity was established in 1602, and it’s founding batch of books started in 1327 with the first purpose built library in Oxford. A trip to Oxford wouldn’t be complete without a trip to one of the colleges, so of course Christ Church College with an alumni list ranging from Lewis Carroll to Albert Einstein’s brief time in Christ Church. Other noteworthy sights was the beautiful St Mary the Virgin, Iffley, boasting its establishment in 1086. And of course, some minimal stalking around C.S. Lewis’s former home, his own back garden or real life Narnia, and his local church (the church cat followed me for ten minutes, so really the highlight of my visit). Did I take a 6am train and had to be at the station at 5:30? Yes. What is worth it? As long as the train passengers didn’t mind me snoring my way to Oxford, I had a fabulous time. I cannot stress enough that Oxford is a MUST if you end up in the UK.

Finally living my Downton Abbey fantasy

On my birthday, my friend decided to take me on a surprise adventure. Usually, I would be worried if I found myself on a half-hour road trip through the Peak District, with harsh rock faces, away from city comforts. Soon, we pulled into the grounds at Chatsworth House, home to the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire. All I cared about was that it was the filming location of Pride and Prejudice (2005), but I’m sure it’s 312-year history was also very important. Nothing like a good manor house in the middle of the Derbyshire countryside to make you feel truly enraptured by Britain. It’s the stereotypical Downton Abbey fantasy New Zealanders can’t help but get a glimpse of. It was truly beautiful, so very British.

Reflecting on my time in Leeds

Even though I loved and explored the wonders of Oxford and lived it up with the Duke and Duchess at Chatsworth, when I arrived back in Leeds I had a weird sense of returning home. I pulled out of the city centre and passed the University’s Parkinson building, then passed The Library pub with surprisingly good pancakes.I looked out at Hyde Park and their bare winter trees, passing streets where so many of my friends live. I smiled as I passed Hyde Park pub and the Hyde Park Bookclub, two very good pubs only a short work away from my accommodation. 10/10 would recommend seeing live music at the Bookclub. As we pulled up Cumberland Road into Devonshire Hall, I was reminded that at least I wouldn’t miss walking up this hill. This exchange has been an experience of very high-highs and very low-lows, but I have come away in love with Leeds, in love with the UK, and in love with the opportunities this experience has given. I will miss this place, but I’m also looking forward to bringing this new and improved Hannah back to New Zealand. 

…The fact that I can do a pretty convincing Yorkshire accent now doesn’t hurt too!

Gabrielle: Asking for A Bit More

Before I even spoke about an exchange, I sent a covert email to the University of Edinburgh disability services. It was from one of my many ‘spam’ addresses, which I use to log into dodgy WIFI or give as I sign up for membership shopping schemes so I can have those good discounts.

I inquired about their disability policies. And the email was sent from an unnamed prospective exchange student (me) who wanted to know what exams would be like for students with learning difficulties.

The night before, I had spent hours digging through their website only to find general information, nothing specific to dyslexic students enrolled in Arts programs. I needed details!

Because as much as I wanted to go on an exchange, I knew different countries and different universities can have very different attitudes and resources towards learning difficulties. I’ve spent my whole degree writing essays but give me a pen and paper instead of a laptop with spell-check and you might as well slice my grade in half. This held me back. I almost didn’t apply—because I honestly didn’t know if I would have the help I needed. I tried to enrol in all internally assessed papers and ended up with just one exam to organise for (a true triumph). For the record, Edinburgh Uni is as accommodating as Auckland Uni for learning difficulties.

Upon arrival I arranged a meeting, under a traceable email this time. They were incredibly helpful. Edinburgh does not provide amanuensis unless absolutely necessary, instead, I had my exam in a computer lab.

I can’t attest for other more extensive disability accommodations, and I’m lucky to require minimal adjustments. But I still feel the anxiety of encountering new people, of going through this process again, dredging up those old Educational Phycology reports. It’s always hard to be the one asking for a bit more than everyone else.

And yes, it will require more effort, more organisation, more stress. It may even influence which uni you apply too. But if you need adjustments of any kind: send those emails, ask those questions, do the leg work. I’m glad I got over myself and just did it. It worked out. I’m privileged in many respects. To even be able to go to on an exchange in the first place. To only require exam adjustments. But I guess I’m ending this blog on something of a small encouragement.

If you need financial assistance, academic assistance, or anything of that ilk – don’t rule yourself out of an exchange. Go apply, bring your case forward, see what can be done. Trust me when I say it’s worth the awkward conversations and extra paperwork.

Dinah: It’s Not Over Yet

My Autumn semester has finished and guess what?

I was supposed to be winging my way back to New Zealand but I am STAYING ANOTHER SEMESTER. My family have supported me staying and I am very happy. I have chosen two more modules that sound fascinating.

One is a British-based Art History module in art from 1850 to 1900. It includes architecture, photography design as well as pure art (whatever that is!) and the second module is an English one where I will be studying the American short story. I have deliberately chosen modules not available at University of Auckland .

The other great thing about staying longer is I will have more opportunities to explore the surrounding countryside and cities. There are so many more places I want to visit. I feel like I have only scratched the surface and there is so much more to see. Bath, Bristol, and Tintagel to name a few. Also, the National Trust has many amazing parks and buildings I want to visit. Rather than having exams, the modules here at Exeter are often marked on course work only which means predominantly projects and essays. These will spill over the end of the teaching semester. My semester finished on the 13th December but my 4,000 word essay for one of my English modules is due on the 9th January. However, essays can be completed and submitted from home if you return before the submission date. It is different for exams. You have to be at the university for the exams so that is worth checking before you choose your modules.

Other news. The shopping is so good. Far too good! I have spent money on clothes and shoes because there is such a huge choice and everything is reasonably priced, especially when there are sales which are happening now. However, there seem to be reductions all year round. It is a tough time for retailers so I feel it is my duty to help finance their continued existence! Food is also very reasonable. Cheaper than in New Zealand and a lot of choice.

I discovered the excellent Exeter Picture House the other day. It shows excellent films, both main-stream and more independent foreign films etc. It also has an excellent bar and café where you can have a drink and a delicious pizza before a film. Here in England, movies are called films and movie theatres are called cinemas.

Since catching buses and trains everywhere, I have had some fascinating conversations with people. Don’t take any notice of people who say that the English are reserved. They are rather shy but if you smile and comment about the weather then you are away! I have talked to old ladies, young guys, bus drivers and guards on trains. I traveled on a bus once where there was just the bus driver and me. We had a chat about what it was like to be a bus driver (he said he loved it) and the fact that I was getting a taxi service at a budget rate AND plenty of leg room. When you tell people you are from New Zealand they love it! Often they will tell me about a friend or relative that lives in New Zealand and many have traveled to New Zealand on holiday. It really is such a small world.

Well, that is it from me. I have enjoyed writing this blog and if it has inspired some of you to apply to Exeter for your exchange, then my job here is done!!

Julia: Leaving UGA – “Once a dawg, always a dawg”

Earlier this morning I packed up and said my final goodbyes to UGA. I’m going to be honest here, I’m really struggling to write this; to find the words to do justice to the last 6 months. I don’t want to over-state it, as I am fully aware that this might not be everyone’s exchange experience, but this has truly been the best 6 months of my life; it was everything I’d hoped for and so much more. Athens has become home. The friends I have made here have become family.

Having known people who had been on exchange before me I thought I knew what to expect, but I really didn’t anticipate how tough it would be to leave. However, I have begun to realize that how I’m feeling is an indication of the importance of what I am leaving behind, the significance of the time I have had here. To avoid this blog turning into a soppy mess I’ve decided to use this final entry to debunk some myths I once thought about exchange, now that I am at the end of this experience. Hopefully it’s helpful to you!

Some of my exchange family on game day!

1.“Going on Exchange Changes you”

I don’t think exchange changes you so much as brings out the best in you. It brought to light things that I’d taken for granted in NZ, habits I hadn’t realized existed, complacency that had developed in relationships and the monotony of my study life and encouraged me to alter these things. Taking yourself out of your usual context for a period of time is so healthy in the way it opens your mind and encourages you to reflect

2. “I’ll be lonely/I’ll struggle to make friends”

Again, everyone has a slightly different exchange experience, but I honestly think that making friends on exchange is about going in with the right attitude. From my experience, If you make the effort to invest in people, step outside of your comfort zone, involve yourself in student life and say yes to the opportunities that come your way (especially in the first few weeks of exchange!) then you shouldn’t have problems building a community around you.

My intermural volleyball team- we made it to semi-finals!

3. So you leave, and then it’s all over?

 I was struggling with the thought of returning to NZ for honestly the last 2 months of my exchange, not wanting my time at UGA to end. While it’s now over, what I am absolutely certain of is that this experience doesn’t end here. Yes, the actual exchange is just for a period of time, but as cliché as it may sound, I know that the experiences I’ve have, the friends I’ve make and the memories I’ve formed will last a lifetime. Once a dawg, always a dawg!

A friend of mine insisted that we take senior pictures, as I am graduating on return to UoA!

Thanks for following my journey, friends. I am deeply grateful to 360 International for the opportunity to go on exchange and genuinely could not recommend it more highly! As always, feel free to reach out if you have any questions at all!

Arohanui,