Venice: Challenges at the Beginning of your Exchange

Hello again!

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.

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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!

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The view from my bedroom window

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.

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Fresher’s week outdoor screening of The Greatest Showman
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One of the many cream teas

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.

Link:

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/10/09/well/family/advice-from-a-formerly-lonely-college-student.html

New York Times

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.

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Walking to Castle Beach with friends

Until next time,

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Venice: Settling in at Exeter

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).

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Sunny Richmond – Riverbank
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Coffee at Kiss the Hippo
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Chips on Brighton Beach
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Me and my sister at Bamburgh Castle

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.

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Sunny day in Falmouth – the Moor and the Pier
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Admiring the colourful English houses

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.

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Tremough House – Penryn Campus

Until next time!

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