Melissa:UNIVERSITY EXCHANGE EXPERIENCE

This blog was originally posted on https://unitedkiwis.com/education-1/

Bonjour! Bienvenue!

Saturday 6 June is Higher Education Day, and to celebrate this, we are writing a three-part series on our university experiences. This Higher Education series will also feature a guest writer recounting their own individual university experience. I am kicking this off by sharing the best part of my time at university – my student exchange. This blog is in dedication to all my amazing friends whom I met at university, and the lifelong friends I made while on exchange in Montréal.

Education: Bachelor of Commerce and Bachelor of Arts conjoint degree majoring in Marketing, International Business, and Politics and International Relations. (Also, I completed ¾ of a Geography major, however I had to drop this subject in order to go on exchange and still graduate on time).

From day one of university, I knew that I wanted to experience studying abroad. Although I was not mentally prepared to move away from home for the entirety of my studies, an exchange was something I knew I could work towards.

THOUGHTS ON THE PROCESS

There are so many things to think about when going on an exchange. You need to think about how you’re going to look after yourself, costs involved (not just monetary), grades to be eligible for the exchange, how to cope with newfound independence, and the change of pace in life. All of these aspects are why I didn’t go on exchange until my fourth year at university. To sum it all up, my university exchange was simply amazing. I always say that when I went on this program, it felt like everything in my life aligned. The moment was the perfect time of my life to go and get the most value out of the experience. I saved enough money, all my jobs were understanding and held my positions until I came back, I had done all the hard yards at university with the finish line in sight, and I was confident I was able to thrive during this next chapter.

Going on exchange was one of the scariest yet most exciting and rewarding times of my life. There were so many things I had never done before, and the unknown was frightening. It was the first time I’d been without my family for more than a month, it was also the first time I had to pay rent, fully buy my own groceries, and make friends from scratch. It was a daunting experience but it was an opportunity to really be myself.

DECIDING WHERE I WANTED TO GO

I chose the university which I wanted to attend based on three criteria:

  1. Somewhere I had never been to before.
  2. Not the USA or the UK due to the political climate at the time.
  3. A university with good departments for subjects I wanted to take.

This landed me at McGill University in Montréal, Canada. Prior to applying, I had honestly never heard of Montréal. I had to pull out a map and find out where it was. I had no idea it was a French-speaking city, and I didn’t realise it was so competitive at my home university to get into. McGill was my top choice and I’m so glad that something inside me chose this place. Montréal is a city which I enjoyed immensely. It gave me more of a university experience than I felt New Zealand ever could, and I made lifelong friends whilst there.

ACCOMMODATION

Finding accommodation was quite stressful. I knew I wanted to live in an apartment rather than at the university accommodation because I wanted more privacy and my own space. Although this was extremely difficult to find before arriving on the other side of the world, and for my specific dates. However, after a lot of perseverance, I managed to get in contact with a flexible short term rental agency through Airbnb. Let’s say, they weren’t the best landlords but everything worked out in the end (especially since it was just short term anyway). I actually ended up living outside of the McGill “ghetto”/bubble, specifically in a Francophone suburb where no one speaks English. I’m so grateful for this because it allowed me to learn a lot more French (unintentionally) than some of the other exchange students I met even though it was difficult at the start.

Where I lived also inspired me to explore greater Montréal rather than just the inner city where the university is. Montréal has excellent public transport in comparison to New Zealand and is definitely much more affordable. I was also lucky enough to have found a flatmate prior to going who was also from my university in New Zealand. He turned out to be a good friend and ally while in Montréal. In spite of the fact we didn’t hang out that much, I always knew that I had someone to talk to if I really needed to.

FRIENDSHIPS

I experienced strong homesickness within the first month in Montréal. I desperately wanted to go home for the weekend but that wasn’t feasible when it took about 24 hours one-way on a plane just to get back to New Zealand (not to mention expensive, non-direct flights). I’ll be the first to admit that I found it hard to make friends in the beginning. This is partly due to missing most of the orientation week events because my mother was also visiting Montréal for the first time at this point, and I didn’t want to leave her alone for too long.

As I became more confident with who I was and spending time with myself, everything just fell into place. I was fortunate enough to meet several Montréal natives on orientation day. A few of the people I met ended up being in some of my classes, and they happily included me in their social and study groups. Meeting a local friend is great because they shared their extensive knowledge with me and were a friendly face around campus!

Furthermore, I met lifelong friends from all around the world throughout my time at McGill. Many of whom I still talk to very regularly and whom I’ve visited on my extensive travels, or who have even visited me way down, down under. I met up with these friends almost every day while I was in Montréal and we explored from Anjou to Old Port, Verdun to Mirabel, and beyond. Whether it was daily trips to Tim Hortons (chain cafe), or staying until McLennan (the main library) closed, they are memories I will never forget.

These invaluable memories are the reason why I would one thousand percent encourage anyone who has the chance to step out of their comfort zone, to just take their leap of faith and start ticking things off their bucket list! Whether it be an exchange, a masters program, or an around the world trip. Life is to make memories, not regret the ones you never made.

As most people do while on exchange, I travelled to several cities nearby including New York City (I’m obsessed), New Jersey, Boston, Burlington (home of Ben and Jerry’s), Ottawa (Canada’s capital), Toronto and Québec City (home of the world’s most photographed hotel lobby). I also took a few day trips for walks on Mont Tremblant and Mont Sutton. North America is great because there are so many nearby cities very different from each other, all ready to explore!

MY TAKEAWAY

I found it so important when going on exchange to learn to balance university and life. I spent more time than I ever have at the library studying for classes which were pass-fail (only available to exchange students). But I also arguably went out and explored a lot more than I do while in New Zealand. I learnt so much academically and in life during this chapter, and yet it seemed so scary to begin with. Like they say, sometimes the scariest things in life are the best. Going on exchange was undoubtedly the highlight of my university experience and probably the highlight of my life thus far.

I will admit, my thoughts in this post are a bit messy as I could go on and on about this chapter of my life. But at the end of the day, I just wanted to share to those who know me, how appreciative I am about this experience that I partook in and to encourage others to challenge themselves every day because somehow life always works out eventually. I will never forget the memories I made and the people I met.

-Melissa (Guest Blogger)

Nakita Daniel – Undergraduate Leaders Programme (July 2019)

The 2019 APRU programme I had the privilege of attending over July was not only the highlight of the year so far, but also an exceptional life experience. With two exams the day before flying out, I hadn’t had much time to think about expectations. I was open to everything that was going to be thrown my way, ready to meet new people, hear their stories, and share my own.

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What first seemed like a long time, when it came to saying goodbyes twelve days later, definitely did not seem like remotely enough. I left the programme feeling educated, empowered, challenged, connected and ready to apply my new skills at home. Our twelve days in Oregon consisted of workshops on communication, the design process, scientific and systemic thinking. We were split into groups and tasked with a challenge from one of the three community partners. I was in the environmental degradation group and was tasked with the challenge to reduce food waste in Lane County by our community partner BRING Recycling. We tackled this issue by developing an annual education programme for elementary school kids to educate the youth of tomorrow about the importance of reducing waste and composting today.

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“One of the key takeaways from this programme was learning how to make global issues more accessible in order to tackle the problems we are most passionate about.”

Overwhelming at times, the experience from this programme helped me realise the different components that make up leadership and community development. I was also able to refine skills in research, communication, presentation and organisation through the various activities we did each day. I can safely say that I was constantly challenged: whether that be through learning patience when trying to communicate with people from different countries, developing, researching and refining our solution on a tight time crunch, or actually presenting our idea to all the community partners and attendees, I learnt how to adapt to different situations.

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One of the key takeaways from this programme was learning how to make global issues more accessible in order to tackle the problems we are most passionate about. Before attending this programme, I often found myself with this energy and drive to make change happen but never fully understanding how to make a tangible difference. However, through working with real-life community partners, I was able to zoom into particular aspects of the issue and tackle things in smaller segments than get overwhelmed by the big picture. I learned how to set and achieve smaller goals, successfully work with a team of like-minded individuals, all while consistently applying an interdisciplinary lens to the issue; I was then able to apply that skill through my degree here at the University of Auckland. This programme both reinforced my current skillset in a real-world setting and also exposed me to global perspectives from all the other group members. Everyone had something to bring to the table. Being able to learn from each other and combine different elements from ideas around the world was something truly unique.

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In addition to the programme itself, one of the most rewarding aspects of the whole experience was developing new connections. Once strangers, the fifty-five other individuals I met were nothing but phenomenal. I was blown away by not only their amplitude and passion for making a difference, but also their constant kindness, generosity, and support. We all enjoyed the planned cultural excursions, as well as our own little discovery trips around Eugene, having shared both the stress and joy and everything in between. It’s surreal to think I now have a base all around the Pacific Rim, just as anyone coming to Aotearoa would have a place to call home here. I would highly encourage and urge every single student to make the most of this opportunity. University is all about learning and putting that knowledge into practice. This experience has not only allowed me to do this in an international setting but also exposed me to various other opportunities in my field of interest and connected me with lifelong friends who share similar passions and are no doubt the change makers we need right now.

Nakita Daniel

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Anshula: Birmingham

As I arrived on Aston Webb Boulevard after 48 hours of relentless travel, Birmingham was pitch black at 11 pm but Old Joe (the clock tower) towered proudly over the sprawling campus. With the campus on a daunting hillock, it felt like entering Hogwarts for the first time, and I knew I was ready for the magical ride that was going to be this exchange.

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I never thought my first play performance at university, would be while on my exchange! We performed a pantomime of Treasure Island. Interestingly, the opening number – Shiver Me Timbers – was based on the New Zealand Haka; so it was nostalgic to sing and dance to it! Being the only international students in the play team of about 50 Brits was definitely an exciting and welcoming experience.

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I was doing courses under the Business and Psychology departments, so I went to their course scheduling workshops to get my timetable sorted: highly recommend arriving earlier than the class start date to attend these! It was often easier to get a response in person as over 200 exchange students can have vastly differing requirements, which can be difficult to understand via email.

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Courses rarely had assignments and were mostly assessed at the end, but this is changing in the 2019-2020 session as Birmingham attempts to make assessments more distributed throughout the semester. Lecturers are very understanding and helpful, so make sure to introduce yourself at the beginning of the semester!

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Accommodation wise, it is best to apply for Bournbrook or Jarratt Hall as they are close to Bristol Road, which has cheap supermarkets like Aldi and Tesco and is the hub of social life at university. For those preferring to be catered, Shackleton Hall at the Vale has the main dining areas (although the meal plan can be purchased even if you are not at Shackleton).

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This was the first time that I had moved from a halls to a flatting situation, so it was a huge learning experience! It was also the first time that I was going to fully cater for myself, so have definitely learned some quick, healthy meals. I would recommend being open, engaging and patient with cultural differences as there are quite a few even between NZ and the UK!

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Handy tips:

  • Take the 61 or 63 bus from outside campus for 1 pound only to the city centre!
  • Plan weekend travel beforehand: book buses/trains earlier as prices rise like flights!
  • Recommend joining clubs, especially those that we don’t have at UoA! 😉
    • Harry Potter Club
    • Dance Club Latino
    • Pole Fitness
  • GYM MEMBERSHIP IS LIMITED AND GETS SOLD OUT MONTHS AGO SO PURCHASE ONE AS SOON AS YOU GET YOUR VISA!!!
  • Put yourself in new situations (socially and otherwise); you might find new hobbies! Eg: If you are an outdoorsy person, try origami or board games with friends and try to have different social circles both in and out of class so that you don’t restrict your social activities or travel to the interests of one group
  • Must-visit places: Cardiff (Wales), Oxford, Cambridge, Bath, Liverpool, Scotland, Stratford-upon-Avon (Shakespeare’s birthplace), London (of course

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  • Get in touch with the Careers Network at UoB if you want to plan a future in the UK
  • Network with UoA alumni in Birmingham or even just professionals in your industry of interest
  • Keep a list of people you meet (professionals and friends) so that you can keep track later on: Facebook and Linkedin are not enough!
  • Budget! You can only work part time if you get a visa for the whole year, there is much less contact hours here than UOA so it is possible to work
  • KEEP A TRAVEL DIARY and/or vlog
  • Invest time in a good ol’ Spotify playlist
  • Write down your priorities for your exchange before you leave, and take note of how they evolve during and after your exchange
  • In decreasing order of priority, write down your reasons for choosing your countries/universities in the Prospective Host Universities form. Sleep on this list and note how these reasons (or their order or priority) evolve with time and as you interact with other exchange students. Potential reasons: Travel, University/department rankings, Professional networks, Stepping stone to future study/career
  • Learn proper cooking for at least a month before you go on exchange
    • Must-haves: portable rice cooker and mixer/chopper/blender
  • Birmingham was my FOURTH choice and I was hesitant to accept it but in hindsight, I would not change it for the world! Do not let the lack of your first/top 3 choices put you off the best experience of your university life 😀
  • Try to vary your experiences as much as possible but do not let your FOMO (fear of missing out) exhaust you. This is YOUR exchange and there is no such thing as too much or too little of travelling/clubbing/socialising: do what feels natural!
  • Having said that, be bold because it is, after all, a once – in – lifetime experience! 🙂

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WHAT I HAVE LEARNED

  • Exchange is more than worth the stress and sleepless nights. That is all 😉

MESSAGE TO OUTGOING EXCHANGE STUDENTS (TO BIRMINGHAM OR ELSEWHERE):

  • If you have any inhibitions or fears regarding your exchange (or are just losing sleep at 3 pm), call me on Messenger and I am happy to chat about absolutely anything!

Roald Dahl once said: “Those who don’t believe in magic, will never find it”. I’m glad I did (and still do), because I found Birmingham!

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