Ziqi: Day trip to London

Hey guys!

Here’s what I have been up to in the month of November.

My life in Birmingham

There are three words to describe my life in Birmingham: colourful, busy and fun. I have joined some student societies such as, the baking society, the Chinese society and community challenge. During my free time, I attend the baking society twice a month to bake some cookies or cakes with my friends. I also work in the Chinese Society where I have made lots of new friends and learned how to find sponsorships and organize activities.

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Christmas market in Birmingham

 

Academic Life

The workload at Birmingham University is different from the University of Auckland. At UOA, we have many assignments and quizzes throughout the semester which each count as a small percentage towards our final mark. In contrast, at Birmingham I don’t have to take quizzes each day; however, I need to prepare for final essays which may count as 100% of my final grade. Therefore, I don’t have many deadlines recently but I still need to undertake my five essays which are due at the end of this semester.

 

London day trip

It is very convenient to visit London during the weekend because it just takes me one hour and a half on the train from Birmingham to London. Below are pictures of some impressive scenic spots in London that I have visited.

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Oxford street in London at night

 

Firstly, I went to the British Museum which is a public institution dedicated to human history, art and culture. Also, it shows the story of human culture from its beginnings to the present. I highly recommend that if you have enough time to visit London, you spend a day exploring this amazing museum.

 

Secondly, I went to the national gallery which exhibits many incredible artistic works. There are many rooms that display different themes of painting such as flowers, people, scenery and religious themes. Certain painting captivated my attention and couldn’t help but stare at them for a long time. It was a little bit busy at the weekend, but everyone inside the gallery was trying to keep quiet.

 

Then, it was my lunch time! I walked across to millennium bridge and found a fancy restaurant called Swan which has a view of the river Thames. Later, I ordered a steak salad and a cup of Earl grey (my favourite!). If I could rate this restaurant, I would give them full stars because the atmosphere and kind staff made for a very relaxing lunch.

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London tower bridge on a rainy day

 

In the afternoon, I visited two famous landmarks: London Tower Bridge and the London eye. Although, it was a cold and rainy day, there were still many tourists. Later, I went to Oxford Street to go shopping. Here I found almost all brands I wanted to find. The street was decorated with beautiful neon lights which remind me that Christmas is coming next month!

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angel light in London oxford street

Finally, I would say that London is a big city which shows prosperity and is rich in history.

When I walk on the street, I was constantly amazed by the British architecture. Also, I can get start to know Europe history and culture by visiting Museums and art galleries to broaden my horizons. So I like London with no doubt, I would always travel back to London when I have time.

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Dinah: Student life at Exeter

It is now Week 10 of a 12 week module so I have nearly finished and what a semester it has been! The best thing is I am recognising people now and giving people a wave and they (usually) wave back.

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Exeter Quay

The Campus is not big and I know my way round now. The same goes for Exeter. It is not a big city and it doesn’t take long to get to know it. I would recommend the Phoenix Theatre for live shows and it also shows films as does the Film Club at Exeter University.
I met some fellow-students at the popular Ram Bar at the beginning of the semester where the unanimous verdict is it is a friendly , open university with some wonderful lecturers and with a great choice of modules. I discovered it is difficult to talk, though, with a mouthful of Nachos, most of which end up on the front of the person you are talking to. I made a mental note to eat something solid next time , like a Cornish Pasty (part of the local cuisine and very solid indeed).

 

Modules

My modules have proved ‘interesting’. Neither were my first choice because they were either full or there were timetable clashes. Poor Dave Bassett, on the Exeter International Exchange Team, was haunted by the Art History module I wanted to take called The Face. He tried his best to get me onto the module but there were already 8 people on the waiting list. I have ended up taking two English modules and missing out on Art History .

If I had been here a year, it wouldn’t matter so much and that would be my advice. If you are able to afford it financially and you don’t think you will get homesick, opt for a year because one semester is only enough time to get used to everything and start to make friends. Having a whole year will also give you a chance to take some modules that you might miss out on with only one semester.

One of my modules, Virginia Woolf ( Stage 3) is challenging but then what did I expect? That is the nature of the beast (Woolf ha ha). I got back my first essay the other week and the standard is high with a lot of required reading and research. The other module, Creative Writing, Writing A Poem, (Stage 2) is excellent. I really encourage anyone who enjoys creative writing to apply for either Writing A Story or Writing A Poem. The lecturers are very good and both my lecturers are published poets.

Societies

I went on another trip with the West Country Society to Boscastle in Cornwall. The brilliant thing about this Society is that you get to travel to places impossible to reach with public transport. It is great to get out of the City sometimes and explore the very beautiful countryside and villages. These trips will involve some walking, usually uphill but then you get to go down again and go to the pub.

Transport

Public transport here is very good. There are frequent buses and two train stations. I bought a Stagecoach Smart card which cost 140 pounds but was cheaper than paying 4 pounds eachday which is what I was doing initially. I’m staying in an area called Heavitree , so called because they used to hang people from a tree and it was a heavy tree. If you are staying in the Halls here on campus then of course you won’t need a bus card.

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Henry Moore Sculpture

That’s it for now. I’ve got to go and eat another Cornish pasty. I love them!

Dinah

Hannah: Festivities Abroad

Festivities Abroad

Christmas may be over a month away, but Christmas decorations were already taking up Sainburys’ precious aisle space days before November 1st. After making the unfortunate decision of getting a Halloween costume just days before the big night, I walked through the grocery store with Christmas music playing and nothing scary in sight. I think back to early October, where a shop for a pint of milk required squeezing passed piles of pumpkins and Halloween themed custard. Welcome to my second blog post, where I struggle to come to terms with the revolving door of festivities that take British culture by storm.

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Costumes in Leeds are normal, but apparently Halloween is special here too:

I remember my first day in Leeds, walking around Headingley on a Saturday afternoon. Soon you are greeted by groups of Lifeguards, Spice Girls, even Bananas. Don’t you worry because every single Saturday shopping trip will also force you to interact with these strange dressed-up creatures. These brave souls are completing the famous ‘Otley run’ where they visit 16 pubs while dressed-up, as if disguising themselves from potential run-ins with classmates. You would think this regular weekly dress-up would discourage people from Halloween.

No, no, no. Prepare for Pumpkin carving, costumes, and attempts not to slip on the autumn leaves.

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All dressed-up for Halloween.. Due to lack of costume options, I was a Spider’s Web

‘Remember, remember the 5th of November’:

And just like that, it was Guy Fawkes. How very British! Though New Zealand haven’t let go of this tradition just yet, nothing beats standing in a field wearing three different jackets and two pairs of socks. It had been raining all day, so expectations for the soaked pile of wood to light were low. After three different countdowns and plenty of smoke the Bonfire finally lit. The display of fireworks were followed by a Fair filled with Toffee Apples and Bacon Butties. As I left Hyde Park a thick Yorkshire accent mutters, ‘Well, that was terrible’ behind me. I laughed at this very British response.

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All dressed-up for Halloween.. Due to lack of costume options, I was a Spider’s Web

Christmas trees? Check. John Lewis ad? Check.

Christmas is well and truly here. I knew Christmas was a different beast in the UK as soon as I visited three different student flats on the first week of November. All three had Christmas trees up and decorated before any of the inhabitants had started their assignments. Every single ad-break on TV has a different Christmas advertisement; Sainbury’s invented Christmas? You bet. John Lewis makes us feel sorry for a Dragon? Let me grab some tissues. Walkers have Brussel Sprout flavoured crisps? Yes, unfortunately yes. But what is Christmas without Christmas Markets! The Leeds Market did not disappoint with all the mulled wine a girl could ask for. The following weekend, I visited the Edinburgh Christmas Market where Christmas carols are played on bagpipes and the market is three-times bigger than Leeds’ already impressive market. On the ride home the busdriver played ‘Mr Bean’s Christmas’, because of course I’m ticking off every stereotype in the book.

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On that note, a very Merry Christmas from Leeds. Before I get whiplash from all the festivities, let’s forget that the New Year is almost upon us. Although, I’m sure Sainbury’s is dusting off their ‘Happy New Year’ signs as I speak.

Hannah

Gabrielle: Weekends Not-Away

In less than a month I’ll be off to Edinburgh Airport again, and honestly, I’m not prepared to go. I know the way well by now. I’ve taken the 100 airlink bus five times, and 300 airlink bus once. That’s three trips all up. Wouldn’t recommend the 300 – took twice as long.

You don’t need travel tips from me: Pack light. Download Google maps of the city. Find a good crew to travel with. Travel alone. Use Ryan Air, or don’t. I’ve only got my experience to go off and I doubt a few weekends away make me a travel expert.

But what I will say is if you book your flights right they’ll be one of the cheaper things. It’s airport shuttle buses, accommodation, food, and sight-seeing entry tickets that will drain your bank account.

When I arrived in this country, I planned to stay – get to know Scotland’s corners and edges, make a friend with a car and travel the highlands. But turns out the people I meet that were down to travel weren’t locals, but all international students like me.

So I found myself in Venice (a week before it flooded), Iceland (during a yellow warning storm and with a crappy rental car), and Dublin (on the weekend when it seemed half of Edinburgh flew over).

I’m glad I went. Iceland – I will never forget, even if we did get up at 1am every morning never to see the northern lights. I never planned to go, but I am so glad that I was able to.

It was raining as I walked home after the Dublin trip, the rain wasn’t a surprise. Scotland is cold, it rains, and the sunsets at 4pm (don’t say I didn’t warn you). But what did surprise me was that as damp and cold as I was, I felt a little like I was coming home. Not just home base, a chance to rest, to get into work again. Like actually home home.

Six months is enough to start to know a place; it’s enough time to catch feelings, before any long-term relationships drains kick in. If you check ‘photos’ on my phone you’ll find pictures of street corners: the church spire beside Uni, the street outside my house with Arthur’s seat in the backdrop. I’ll still stop on my way back from the grocery store and shuffle my bags awkwardly into one hand so I can take a picture. I’ve got a crush on this city.

I guess what I want to say is, as romantic (and worth it) European weekend away are – there is still the experience of your city, your place. Here are some pictures from my Weekends Not-Away. Right now, I’m quite happy to stay away from those airport walls for a just little while longer. I don’t have a whole lot of time in this place left.

 

Gabrielle

Thomas: Cultural Canada

Climate

Game of Thrones may have finished but WINTER IS STILL COMING here in Montreal. It’s only early/mid-November, temperatures are already negative, and we’ve had over 20cm of snowfall in just the last couple of days!!! Recently, I splurged on some new winter boots as my feet were getting cold and it can be dangerous walking on the very slippery city streets. I am so thankful in retrospect that I’m only doing the Fall Semester here; good luck for anyone coming from New Zealand’s summer to this horrendous climate in January for the Winter Semester! Brrrrr.

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McGill University – Montreal

Tax & Tips

Asides from climate, there are a few differences between home and here, with one of the main differences being monetary: tax and tips. Everything can appear reasonably priced in Quebec until you add 15% in tax and then tip on top of it. Not tipping can earn you dirty glares as it is culturally expected here. You should tip anywhere that offers some sort of service: cafes, diners, restaurants, hairdressers, tour guides, and even bus drivers (though not on the general public transport system fortunately).

Language

Montreal, as a city in the province of Quebec, has French as its only official language. My ambitions to brush up on my French whilst living here were short lived though: everyone speaks English. Outside of Montreal, however, in smaller towns of Quebec, French is prevalent, and English could be a barrier (so I’ve heard). There isn’t much in terms of language that is significantly different to New Zealand, except for the one word “eh” – a request for affirmation or attention, that they stereo typically end every sentence with.

Everywhere is Different!

Culture in other areas of Canada changes dramatically between provinces and cities. A trip to Toronto and down to Niagara introduced me to a little bit of America. Toronto as a city I found was much less interesting than Montreal, however, it did contain a couple of hidden gems such as Graffiti Alley and its much larger Chinatown.

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Graffiti Alley – Toronto

Niagara on the other hand was a vibrant and touristy city which additionally boasts incredible waterfalls, daily fireworks during peak season, and borders America – completely different to what we experienced in Toronto.

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Niagara Falls – Niagara

Drinking

Drinking culture (as I have experienced it so far) is much less excessive and more responsible than how I have experienced it back in New Zealand – I have enjoyed it much more since coming to Canada and do not feel the equivalent social pressure to binge drink that I often do amongst peers back home.

Exchange Advice

If considering an exchange to Canada, you should try to know what you want to get out of your exchange before choosing the appropriate university. Know the location, climate, culture, etc. of the province and city before you go so you can choose what will suit you best!! Montreal is fantastic to experience some real cold, a white Christmas (hopefully!! for me), a little French culture, and locality making areas such as New York, Ottawa, Toronto, Quebec City, and Mt. Tremblant accessible for weekend getaways.

 

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Mt. Tremblant with Fall Foliage

Thomas

Meg: Accommodation at McMaster

My house is currently covered in the first snow of the year which I’m absolutely in love with! It’s also what I want to talk to you about today. One of my biggest worries before I left for my exchange was my accommodation so I want to help you figure out what would work best for you.

 

First Arrival

Lots of exchange students have different plans when they first arrive, but a buffer of time before classes start is useful to give you a chance to adjust. Most flats or residences only let you move in late August or early September so Airbnb is a great option before then (it does pay to ask if you can move in early though). 

If you’re in on-campus accommodation you’ll want to be there at least a week before classes start for Welcome Week. For off-campus, I’d recommend the same as MIX club runs an amazing week of events that are great to get to know other exchange students keen for adventure.

 

On-Campus Accommodation 

At McMaster accommodation works a little differently than at UoA. The first thing to know is that while you can apply for an on-campus residence, very few exchange students live on campus – it’s usually only for first years. While exchange students can apply in upper years, you should consider if it would suit you to stay with younger students.

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Hedden Hall

A meal plan is compulsory in residence, it works like a prepaid card for restaurants on campus. This can be hard to go back to if you’ve spent time cooking for yourself or it might be one less thing to worry about. 

If you decide to try applying make sure to keep on top of application dates and look at other options too. It’s all based on a lottery system so even as an exchange student you won’t be given preference.

Off-Campus Accommodation

After first year, most students choose to live in student houses nearby. My house is a ten minute walk from the edge of campus but the buses are free to students so you can look further away if you’d like. The most popular student areas are Westdale and Ainslie but lots of students commute.

 

For off-campus accommodation, it pays to start looking early. I found my house in May for a September move-in date and as I wanted to sublet for both semesters I got very lucky with proximity and price. If you’re only on a one semester exchange it can be even more of a challenge so you’ll need to get looking early and keep your options open. 

 

 

It is possible to find a place once you’ve arrived, you wouldn’t be alone, but competition is steep at that time of the year. It’s best to get onto it early and let yourself enjoy getting settled in. 

Overall, no matter where you end up staying you’re going to have an amazing time. Don’t let worries about where to stay overwhelm you. As long as you make the most of it, it will be the right choice for you.

Meg

 

PS: Here are some bonus pictures of the fall because even though winter’s on its way, I’m still not over the beautiful leaves!