The University of Exeter is just outside the historic city of Exeter, set in beautiful parklands and is also one of the top universities of the U.K. It was my first choice and I was lucky enough to get a place for the Autumn semester, where I am taking two English papers (equivalent full-time).
Last week was Freshers Week where every society you could wish to meet is there, including the Disney Society and the Hide and Seek Society ( I still can’t find them!). It is a bit overwhelming but worth going to the Freshers Fair on Saturday at the end of the week as all the Societies are there and you can sign up for the ones you want. I chose the West Country Society (they take you places, like Dartmoor ) and the Creative Writing Society, among others.
One word of advice. The Freshers Week begins on Monday so if you are thinking of going next year in September, try and arrive on the Friday or Saturday rather than the Monday so you can beat the crowds and get your Student card processed. There is no Freshers week in the Spring Term.
Everyone has been so welcoming and apart from being confused as one of the lecturers a few times ( I’m a Mature Student although I don’t feel very mature!!) it has been uncomplicated. There is a lot of support at the university if you feel lonely or stressed, mainly through the Student Guild which is the name of the Student Union. It also happens to have a good bar, the Ram Bar and is a meeting place for many of the Societies in Freshers week.
Last week we also had a Welcome Talk from International Exchange and then another talk with our Sudy Abroad Team. Mine was the Humanities Study Abroad consisting of the dynamic duo of Steve Bassett and James Leigh. They are very helpful and will make sure you are happy with the modules you have chosen . They will also sort out any timetable clashes.
I also went on an afternoon trip last week with the West Country Society, to Dartmoor. What a beautiful area, complete with Dartmoor ponies who hang around the picnic and carparking places (they are all fat).
This week lectures have begun. You have a couple of weeks to change modules if you are not enjoying the ones you have chosen but for me it Is a case of ‘so far so good’. I am very aware that there is a high standard here at Exeter and you really have to work hard but there is academic support with lecturer’s office hours etc.
One final thing. I went on a tour of the library last week which was the usual scenario. Most of the books are on-line, there are computers everywhere and its all high-tech. Then students were asked if they would like a tour of the ‘Old Library’. “Yes please” I said and I am so glad I did. What an amazing place, quiet and with a great collection of books, the best film museum AND Daphne Du Maurier’s desk. “Who” you may ask? She was an author who wrote Rebecca and My Cousin Rachel ( both made into films)
I touched Daphne Du Maurier’s desk!! I really did.
Having now been back in NZ for just over a week (and thoroughly enjoying the sunshine), it’s time for a reflections post. It’s very strange to think everyone I met is currently well into their second semester while I’m now on holiday. To end the series of blog posts, I wanted to reflect over my favourite aspects of the exchange.
My highlights include –
Making friends with such a diverse range of people. Being in smaller classes meant that I was immediately placed with people who had similar interests to me, but the societies and events held by the universities meant that I was introduced to people who I would otherwise never have encountered. The smaller campus meant I was able to connect better and more quickly with people, something I really appreciated. I am still in touch with all my friends from overseas, whom I look forward to seeing again in the future when I return to visit family as well.
Becoming familiar with a new country. I had visited England before and have family over there, but now both Cornwall and London are very familiar to me, which I love because it will make settling over there easier next time, because I would love some day to return and work over there. It’s such a great opportunity to explore other countries in doing this exchange, and not only gives great experiences for the present, but gives a great opportunity to build foundations for future experiences, in either the same place or even different places.
Experiencing a different culture. Cornwall is a staunchly independent county and you can tell from the unique history of the place, including the mines and how being coastal affects the lifestyle of the citizens, and most importantly the signature cream teas and pasties. Living in a town with multiple beaches felt very similar to home and drew people of a similar calibre, all who like to be by the sea and surrounded by beautiful countryside. The more rural and distinctively traditional environment made for a very different culture to the big cities, which I loved because it felt more open, and the environment was just as much part of the experience as the people were.
Having the chance to be part of societies – both horse riding and choir. Again these activities allowed me to meet more people. In choir, I chose to sing in the alto section, something I’ve never tried before, to sing in a church which I’ve also never done and also to perform outside in the town centre on stage for a Christmas lights festival – to be a part of the university and the local community. Horse riding was also a chance to mix with university students and locals in a different way, a break from campus learning more about something that I’m interested in as equally as I am to what I’m studying. It made the exchange more well-rounded for me.
Having spend most of my time lately catching up with friends and describing all of the adventures from the past few months, I’ve attempted to come up with a way of explaining when asked ‘So how was it?’, a simple enough question but one that never fails to make my mind instantly go blank. I usually start with ‘The best and craziest experience of my life’, which sounds cheesy to essentially rehearse what is also a cheesy line, but it makes for a good starting point and encompasses the trip without intense detail. Because it was definitely one of the best experiences – getting for once to experience a country on my own terms, and crazy because it in no way compared to anything I’ve ever done before. But as I’ve also discussed in earlier posts, it was also the hardest thing I’ve ever done. No one can underestimate leaving your family and friends and everything you know behind, to face the unknown places and people. But there is a certain charm revealed to you pretty early on when you notice that people this far away also drive cars, drink coffee, are keen for a good laugh and want to make friends too. So overall, I would recommend travel to absolutely everyone, and that my experience overseas was made all the better because I had the secure knowledge that I was going over to study in another university, which had a routine very similar to that of being home. I know even now, preparing to go into my final year of my degree that this exchange will remain the highlight of my experience at Auckland University, for it has allowed me to live a life on the other side of the world that I would never have had access to otherwise, and proven to me that I am capable of living independently and setting up a life for myself both for and outside of academia, and that the world isn’t such a huge and daunting place after all.
Even now, anytime I am apprehensive towards my ability of doing something ‘serious’ or scary, instantly I remind myself that I went on an exchange, went overseas knowing no one, and returned on the other side of the experience so happy that I had pushed myself to achieve that and learned to love a place previously unknown to me.
I hope that this post, as well as the others, has provided you with an insight into the exchange experience, and encouraged you to investigate it further and hopefully inspires you to go on your own trip! I would like to thank the 360 team for providing such a fantastic opportunity for the UoA students – I am very grateful to have had the experience and to have been given the opportunity to write about it.
I have returned to Falmouth for a few days to submit my final assignments and pack up my flat before heading back to New Zealand! It is very surreal that this exchange is almost over.
Seeing as it’s almost over, I thought I’d write a little bit more in detail about classes. The semester was 12 weeks long, divided up in two parts, the first 5 weeks long, then a week long break called ‘Reading Week’ before another 6 weeks of term. My timetable was very different to Auckland, because I was taking four English Lit papers, whereas at home I would do other liberal arts papers. It was a good experience because it really absorbs you within the English programme but I am definitely looking forward to studying a more varied selection of classes this year! My first two papers were called From Modernism to the Contemporary and Romantics to the Victorians (all very pretentious I know). For each class there was one 1 hour lecture and a 2 hour seminar, so I only had four classes a week but the so called ‘free time’ in between was rapidly taken up by all the readings we had to do and assignments started pretty early on. For both papers I had to do two formative assignments (meaning the grades wouldn’t count for my final grade but you had to complete the assignment to pass the course) and they consisted of a 500-word essay and group presentations – the topic was your choice out of all the texts we studied for the course. For someone who is usually intimidated by presentations, I really enjoyed them because it was a great way to get everyone engaged with the text each week and meant that because students began the discussion at the start of the class, everyone was less intimidated to contribute. Also they were in seminar groups so they were smaller than the already small lecture classes.
Initially I was daunted by the thought of getting to know classmates because everyone knew each other, having gone through all the compulsory English classes in first year (it’s a much more condensed programme here) but everyone, as I’ve mentioned earlier, was so friendly and welcoming, and it was easy for me to mirror the confidence with which everyone shared their opinion of the text because even the most basic opinions were welcome to develop more insightful conversation. I did have a good laugh though, because during the 10-minute breaks in the seminars, more often than not the conversation wouldn’t drift to what everyone had done during the weekend, but rather whether or not Rochester was a good guy or not in Jane Eyre (I observed these [genuine] debates because silly me I haven’t read Jane Eyre). So it’s a very different environment but so enjoyable being surrounded by people who are confident and passionate about their interests but no matter how ridiculous debates like that would get, were always ready to laugh at themselves in the end.
For those same papers, I had to write two 2,000 word essays over my reading week because the exams are held this May, when I’m back home so that was the only problem with the courses, because I hadn’t anticipated a higher workload so early in the exchange but all the teachers were very helpful. Those two papers finished in the week after reading week, and my other papers were Literature and Conflict and Transatlantic Avant-Gardes and again the readings consisted of a variety of novels, short stories and poems so there was something for everyone.
It took a while to get used to the grading system as well, especially because my final grade was dependent on only one essay and everything is marked under a different system, where a First is the highest grade boundary, a Second is middle ground and a Third is the lowest grade boundary before failing. I’m pretty sure this is the case for all UK universities. But once you understand that, as well as the fact that everyone says ‘You alright?’ instead of ‘how are you?’ (as a genuine greeting, not because they think you look unwell!) then you’ll be sorted.
A slightly different post this time, but hopefully it helps for any queries about the courses and papers themselves and the finer details to studying in a different country!
During my time away, I wanted to make the most of Cornwall and seeing the sights within the fiercely independent county. Falmouth and Penryn were the places I visited most frequently (Penryn is lovely to walk through and it looked amazing all lit up with Christmas lights late last year, but aside from one great café – Earth and Water – there isn’t much to do there). Falmouth is popular for students because of the bars and pubs, and my favourites include The Games Room and The Chain Locker but there are plenty more as well as fantastic places to eat like Harbour Lights fish and chips or The Meat Counter for the best burgers and fries ever. There’s also a lot of small independent shops, which are perfect for buying nice gifts, a lot of nautical themed clothes shops and plenty of vintage stores. There are hardly any high street shops which was great for getting a feel for the town, especially because the owners of the independent stores were always keen for a chat and it made the overall experience so much more unique. Cornish cream tea is also everywhere (not complaining at all) but my favourites include Dolly’s Tea House (for the best cream teas as well as two dogs that hang around the café) and De Wynn’s.
Myself and a friend took a day trip to St. Ives in early October, and it took about an hour by train with a couple of changes but it was very easy to figure out. It’s a beautiful coastal town, with incredible tidal beaches, where you can walk right out across the sand and into the harbour amongst the beached boats when the tide’s out to get into the town. Although it was ridiculously windy, we walked a lot along the rugged coast, getting sprayed by the massive waves and walked up a hill to an old stone church perched right at the top, overlooking the whole town on one side and a wide expanse of ocean on the other. We felt very much like Elizabeth Bennett, if she’d lived in Cornwall. We visited the Tate St Ives, which is right on the coast, so the most beautiful if niche location for a gallery. Walking into town, there is an incredible and ancient history, some buildings having been around for 500 years! Fudge as well as cream teas seemed to be a key feature in the town’s cuisine, so I would recommend investing in that if you ever find yourself there! Cornwall has been made famous because of Daphne du Maurier, and for any other book-lovers out there, Virginia Woolf had a summer home in St Ives as a child, and her novel To The Lighthouse was inspired by that location.
I also took the bus into Truro a couple of times, which is around 25 minutes away from Penryn campus. The buses to Truro and Redruth, as well as some other places come right into campus and you get cheaper fares with your student ID, otherwise the Penryn train station is only a ten-minute walk from campus and you can get pretty much anywhere from there, with a couple of changes. Truro is another lovely small town, with a main square/high street and traditional cobbled roads, with a beautiful and enormous cathedral as one of the main attractions. There are more high street shops there, so there was a little less character than Falmouth but still well worth the visit. Charlotte’s Tea House is a converted Victorian building, refurbished to look like it’s still the 1800s and the view overlooks the beautiful main square. I went a second time with a friend at the end of November to check out the Christmas markets and that was when all the town showed off their independent stalls as well as selling mulled cider and street food, so along with performers out on the street and the whole town glowing with Christmas lights, it felt very very festive!
I hope you’ve enjoyed this (virtual) tour of Cornwall, and that it inspires you to someday visit this beautiful corner of the world.
This post is in fact going to be published very close to when my Christmas holidays start – which sounds crazy to me! I am very excited to experience my first winter Christmas.
I briefly mentioned Fresher’s Week in my first post, so I’ll start there. I fortunately arrived several days before everyone else, so I had time to get my bearings before having to decide how I wanted to spend the week. I was the first to arrive in my flat, which now holds eight people, but as soon as I heard someone else moving in, I made myself knock on their door and introduce myself because I knew that despite how nervous I was, anything was better than ignoring them and then meeting later on – having to have an even more awkward introduction. And I’m so glad I started with that, because it made it easier to get to know the other flatmates as they slowly filtered in. There are five girls and three boys, and the nationalities range from French, Scottish, British, Egyptian and Romanian! We all get along really well (which is amazing) and although we all do different courses we often eat together and have had several movie nights – making the flat a nice place to come back to each day.
I am living on campus in Glasney Parc, on the Penryn campus, the name of one part of a ‘student housing village’, the other area being Glasney View. They have a Lodge and a café called Koofi where they also sell pizza (ideal) and also a Store where you can buy pretty much anything (but mostly for emergency food runs). Living on campus has been an entirely new experience and I do really like having everything so close by but I do make an effort to go into town frequently for a change of scenery or for walks on campus, because they essentially have their own estate-like grounds, which is so beautiful!
Although it was initially easy to stay with other international/exchange students I did want to get to know the UK students too, which was made very easy with the considerably smaller classes they have here. It was initially intimidating because everyone had been in the same classes since first year so they all know each other, but as soon as it got out I was from New Zealand, everyone was fascinated about Lord of the Rings/Narnia country, and so that broke the ice easily!
Making friends wasn’t actually one of the things weighing on my mind before coming over – probably because I was so preoccupied with getting here. From a few happy coincidences, and bumping into people I met on the bus down, I spent the time exploring campus, finding the supermarket, figuring out how to get the bus into Falmouth, and from there finding my favourite cafes. I won’t sugar coat it, because it was a challenge, waking up every day not knowing how it was going to unfold. But if you have managed to get yourself overseas on an exchange, I can assure you you’re capable of making the most of your time here and giving yourself a chance, because the people I spent time with and the places we found (a beautiful beach bordered by a castle on a hill, beautiful walks, amazing independent shops etc.) wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t put myself out there, remembering everyone was in the same position.
After about a month of being here, my parents sent me and article from the New Yorker about a girl who had made a video around a year ago about being lonely at the beginning of her university experience. I don’t like the connotations around the word ‘lonely’ but I’m learning to redefine it. I’ve attached a link to her interview and video and would highly recommend watching and reading it. The way she phrased how she felt at the beginning of the semester was exactly how I felt. Because no matter how much you get involved with, there’s always going to be the weird ‘in between times’ that no one really prepares you for.
One of the big differences I noticed was the society culture here. There was an enormous variety of activities, all listed on the FXU website (Falmouth Exeter Student Union, who run sports and societies). I had already looked ahead at some things to try out, but otherwise was prepared to be (relatively) spontaneous. There were a couple of compulsory events I had to attend, like introductory talks, including a Cream Tea Welcome Talk (that was the legitimate name, find me a more Cornish event, I dare you). After trying out a few things and going to some meet ups for different societies, I decided to sign up for a membership to the horse riding society and the choir, Viva Voce. I have choir every Wednesday night at the Chapel Lecture theatre, which I absolutely love, and I also got the opportunity to practice and perform at the Church in Falmouth, once for a WW1 Remembrance Day service earlier this month and I have a Falmouth Lights event in a few days’ time. I have loved having the opportunity to sing alongside my friends and in the community choir, because it’s made my time at university so much more diverse and I feel like it gave me an opportunity to see a side of the town I wouldn’t otherwise have had access to. I’ve had three horse riding lessons since arriving and joining that society has definitely become a highlight, getting to drive out to Redruth with the other people in the group for a couple of hours, getting a change of scenery and obviously spending time with the horses! It was hard to choose a smaller number of societies to join that I knew I would actually commit to, but it helped that I don’t have the opportunity to do either of these things at home so it made my decision easier.
Hello! Or ‘Dydh da!’ (hello in Cornish but I won’t even pretend to know how to say that)
I have now officially been a Cornish resident for almost two months now and I am really glad to have the opportunity to write this post now because it means I can think back on it all!
To start from the very beginning – I made the decision to travel over to the UK six weeks before arrivals weekend at Exeter, to spend some time travelling. I know of several other exchange students who had a similar idea, booking top deck tours or visiting family or friends– any of the above I would highly recommend, particularly if you have made it as far as the acceptance stage of the exchange application process (if so congratulations!) because you will want (and need) some time before starting the exchange adventure itself. I stayed at my sister’s homestay in a small borough of London and we travelled to Edinburgh and Brighton, as well as spending time in lots of beautiful areas of London, such as Richmond (I highly recommend for any London exchange students – it has a multitude of fantastic coffee places that I made it my business to discover, try Tide Tables or Kiss the Hippo).
Anyway – jumping ahead to the 13th of September, I got myself organized, lined up my suitcases by the door, said a very emotional goodbye to my sister and set off to Heathrow via my favourite public transport – the tube – which was so much more fun lugging two suitcases with you, but I made it! The smugness I felt from that achievement masked any strange emotions I was feeling about heading down south, which I was glad for at the time!
I have a very distinct memory of walking up the ramp to get to the arrivals gate in Heathrow Terminal 3 and pausing briefly, knowing that at the top I would see the group of Exeter/Falmouth reps and other students. It’s a very strange feeling when you are able to register the moment that all your previous hard work has added up to – it doesn’t happen often. But, of course, I continued on up to be met, as expected, by the bright yellow t-shirts of the reps. I walked up pretending to know exactly what I was supposed to be doing and got my name ticket off a list from a very smiley-faced girl and instructed to wait with the group. Several days before, my dad strongly encouraged me to talk to at least three people on the bus, it didn’t matter if I liked them or not, just to do it regardless. So I made myself have conversations wherever possible, even though it made me uncomfortable but the reward you get out of it makes up for any sense of apprehension you might have felt.
Getting on the bus and finding a seat however, I knew was going to be another make or break moment. I decided to sit next to a girl I had noticed earlier (actually because I had really liked the jacket she was wearing) and it was a fantastic decision (not that outward appearances are anything to go by, I know, I know). We got on so well, and it made the 7-hour bus trip down to Cornwall so much fun, sharing music and food and conversation. We arrived at about 8:30 at night, in the pitch black and on a silent bus, everyone having gone quiet in anticipation!
Shortly after (having experienced minor navigational difficulties) I was standing in my room! Yet once the door clicked shut behind me and I was left staring at the furniture, cardboard boxes and my bags, the emotional floodgates opened. Lesson number one – never be afraid of the emotions you will feel over the course of your exchange because you will be feeling an extremely diverse range of them. And even now I’m tempted to delete these comments but I would be lying if I gave a rosy tint to my first few days there.
Although it might seem strange, this first week will be the hardest part. ‘Freshers week’, or whatever your university calls it, promises to be relaxed, easy going, with fun events to fill your week and equally eager people to make friends with. And that’s entirely true. But as with most big changes, no one can really prepare you with how to deal with emotion. It struck me on my first night, but also during registration and arrivals week, watching families pull up in cars loaded with luggage and parents accompanying their kids on supermarket shopping trips, when I was walking around having to organise this new life on my own. Which as hard as it was, was exactly what I needed, and is an experience I know I will be grateful for in the future.
I’ll finish my borderline essay here, reminding myself that I do in fact have several other posts to write about other experiences so it would be best not to cram it all into one…
But before I sign off, these are some things that helped me settle in –
MUSIC – before you leave, make a playlist (or twenty) full of songs for different moods, particularly ones that remind you of home or any other place that makes you feel happy. I have a playlist of songs my parents would always play on Sunday mornings when we would have pancakes and coffee for breakfast. Having special songs associated with memories is the perfect antidote to homesickness (which, despite some negative connotations, is NOT a sign of weakness on your part – it means you come from a happy home, be proud of that).
FOOD – I am such a hypocrite for talking about the importance of food given my long history of ‘not caring’ (I can see my mum and sister rolling their eyes at this. Fair enough). Getting your head around a budget and a routine for supermarket shopping will take time. Some key things – I make a trip to ASDA twice a week (Sunday and Thursday) to pick up staple foods BUT also I now love my twice weekly routine of cooking actual meals, one tends to be Spaghetti Bolognese and also I highly recommend the Old El Paso fajita mix boxes. As someone who made a point of not cooking for most of her life and now loves it as a means of relaxing I can assure you that you’ll feel the same. I read somewhere a comparison between the body and a car – you wouldn’t expect a car to run without fuel so how can you expect your body (or mind for that matter) to work without fuelling it.
DECORATIONS – student accommodation typically won’t allow candles or fairy lights (yay fire hazards) but things like room diffusers (even though they look like some bizarre creature), posters, printed photos, polaroids, bunting and even flags make such a difference. I wish I’d brought a map of NZ with me (prepare to be met with a multitude of amazed looks when you say where you’re from) but I’ve made do with photos, a print of my favourite painting and posters so my room feels well and truly like my own space now.