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.

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.

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.

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!

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.


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.

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).



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.


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.


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.

Henry Moore Sculpture

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


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.


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.

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.

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.


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.


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.



Ziqi: First Impressions at Birmingham

Hey, guys!

Welcome to my new life in Birmingham where the golden breeze blows in October (with drizzle sometimes) and there are ancient style buildings which are made of red bricks.

University of Birmingham

Well, let’s go through the past two weeks and tell you what I have experienced so far. During the orientation week, there was an exchange student welcome party, fresher’s fair, society fair and lots of other fun activities. After I arrived here, I never felt lonely because every day was busy and filled with fun activities!

I remember that “culture shock” was mentioned during our pre-departure session. Some aspects of the UK culture has certainly shocked me, especially when I found out that the official welcome party was held in a club and that all of the orientation week parties were at night. Also, in the exchange student icebreaker event, almost all of the conversations closed with “go for beer or go to club tonight?”. This is not something I am interested in, so my answer was absolutely not. I do want to make new friends, but not in this way. I do not think that not drinking or clubbing means you can’t be social.

This morning I made friends with a German girl who I have a lot in common with. But we just get started with a “Hello”. So as you can see, even if you don’t like beer and clubs, you can still make good friends here.

Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery


On the weekend, I went to the city centre by train and visited the Birmingham Museum & art gallery. There are lots of amazing art works here which were painted from 15 century to 21 century. If you are interested in Birmingham history, I highly recommend you to go there. There are also many shopping malls and restaurants just near the train station, I can buy whatever I need and have brunch there.

English Breakfast

The second week started with lectures. I have six modules this semester which means it may be more intense now than in Auckland. At the same time, I have joined some societies that I am really interested in, such as the baking society and Chinese society. I hope I can have fun and improve my social skills as a member of these clubs.

Finally, I want to quote a famous aphorism: ‘Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you are going to get.’ Before arriving here, I never imagine how life will be in here. But now I can surely say that I will enjoy this experience!


Gabrielle: The Fear of Getting Going

If there is one thing I want to hold onto it is the ‘Exchange Student Ethos’. There is something about being in a new place that makes you run toward opportunity. It makes you delete your Netflix and get up for sunrises. You become the person who says ‘hi!’ first in lecture theaters, and then invites the crew to go out to an actual theater afterwards. You book trips away. You say ‘let’s do this’ like you’re a 2017 NZ Labour billboard, and you follow through. This isn’t my default self, usually my ethos is more of a Panic! And Hope it Works Out.


The second day after I moved into my university of Edinburgh accommodation I had a “Why on Earth Did You Fly To The Other Side Of The World” moment. My flat mates hadn’t moved in yet. The building was empty, and I didn’t know where to buy bedsheets that didn’t feel like hospital blankets.

I’ve had a few of those moments on this journey like when I thought I left my Visa application to late (it arrived with more than a few weeks to spare), or when I tried to pack six months into a 21kg suit case (I had to Marie Kondo everything).


I was sitting by myself, the first of my flat to arrive, in a new city and a new country – wondering how long I had to wait before I could call home with the time zone difference and not wake anyone up.

I think moments like that are inevitable. I decide to text a friend I’d made here instead of calling home. We went out to my first Scottish Ceilidh, I tripped over myself (and others) more than once. I laughed, and danced (when you don’t know what you’re doing, a Ceilidh is more of a contact sport than a dance). That night I meet people who would become some of my closest friends here.



I’ve found that it’s worth it to join societies. It’s worth it to get up early. To get involved as quickly and as deeply as you as you can. Because if you’re in a new place you want to get to know it, and it’s hard to do that from the sidelines. I joined way too many societies in my first week: the Murder Mystery Society, the Literary society, Creative Writing, Politics Society, the Hill Walking Club and more than send me emails and clog my inbox. I definitely don’t attend them all (I may have been slightly to overambitious), but I’ve discovered new things I would never had done at home. I wonder if I can live in Auckland with the enthusiasm that I live in Edinburgh. I want to turn my ‘Exchange Student Ethos’ into a ‘Student Ethos’. I don’t know, maybe that’s just part of traveling, or maybe that’s something I could bring home with me. But I’m definitely not heading home yet – so I’ve still got time to figure it out.





Hannah: Misadventures and Accent-struggles ~ My life in Leeds

Welcome to Leeds, the forecast is for rain and friendly locals who can’t help but call you ‘love’.

Four-weeks in Leeds and I’m convinced that a angry-faced mugger in Hyde Park would shout, ‘Give me your wallet, love’ and I wouldn’t bat an eyelid. Prepare yourself for a cocktail of accents only Love Island has the bravery to showcase. From trouble with the misfortunate kiwi accent to plenty of Northern rain, here are the mind bending things I have noticed while living in Northern England:


The Kiwi-accent was a mistake

It was my third seminar in my first week of the semester. By this point I was a pro- I introduced myself as ‘Hannah’ with my best Queen’s English. Gone were the days where people would call me ‘Henna’ due to the misfortune of having a New Zealand accent. Still, my tutor parroted me back as I said ‘Yes’. The hideous way we pronounce vowels had come back to bite me once again.

But do not fret fellow-Kiwis who dream of escaping to the UK, this is a blessing in disguise. For you are now the most interesting person in the room. You’re from New Zealand; so far away, so removed. And somehow this Kiwi has found herself in Leeds of all places.

You can simply say, ‘My name is Hannah and I am from Auckland, New Zealand’, and their minds would explode. So prepare to strut like a rockstar, because your weird accent could be just the ticket to making friends.


Brits are on 2x speed. ALL. THE. TIME.

From my accommodation to the University of Leeds it is a short fifteen to twenty minute walk- for a human, that is. For a British-bred Fresher who didn’t look like they could crawl let alone walk after a week of fun; these tired faces become blurs as their determined footsteps speed passed you with some sort of motorised mechanism.

Kiwi fast-walkers cannot hold a candle to these extraordinary creatures. This is all while my feet are trying to get to grips with England’s slippery stone footpaths compared with New Zealand’s inferior concrete.


I hope that by the end of my Study Abroad semester I too can walk with such boldness. A girl can only dream.

Beautiful landscapes: Old buildings v. New Zealand mountain-ranges

Oh, New Zealand. How I miss your landscape! Everywhere you go in New Zealand, there is a mountain range just winking at you in the background. Who knew the view from your lecture theatre could be so satisfying? But do not fret future travellers, I have found a new love.


Old buildings! With York less than a half-hour train journey from Leeds, I had to bask in the presence of York Minster. This wonder of Medieval craftsmanship was built over the course of two-hundred-years. I have nothing amusing to say about it; it was just truly breathtaking. The midday sun pierced the stained-glass windows and all my worries over the past four-weeks dissipated. From my Kiwi eyes, the more old buildings the better.

As I reflect on the peace I felt in York Minster, I just feel so happy to be here in England experiencing all these new things. Forget power-walkers and rain-filled days; I have the pleasure to be studying in the UK at a fantastic university (seriously, the lecturers are actually fantastic and I am in no way being paid to say this!). I look forward to the future, rainy days and all.