Well, after almost a year of planning and prepping and 7 weeks of travel through the UK and Europe I’ve finally made it to the other side of the world to University College Dublin in Ireland! I’ve been here a grand total of two weeks now and it’s been full on getting everything set up and launching back into classes. From having to last-minute change papers (or modules as they’re called here), visit the Immigration Office to approve my visa and the endless bureaucracy of setting up a bank account, to the excitement of being in a new city and country and exploring all of the things Dublin has to offer there has been a lot to take in!
To start the story off, UCD is located about a 20 minute bus ride south of the centre of Dublin on a self-contained American-style campus, but it’s still super handy to get into town with a Student Leap card giving you discounted fares on public transport across the city. In the centre of the campus is a pond complete with fountains and swans, with the main axis of faculty buildings stretching away down either side. The campus is surrounded by sports fields, student accommodation and plenty of green space and trees to relax and read on a sunny day, and if you sit still for long enough an inquisitive squirrel might even come over to say hi! It’s a truly different experience to Auckland, the campus feels like a real community and it’s enjoyable to walk around the modern buildings between classes or grab lunch in the restaurant and you’re never far from something going on.
Checking in to accommodation was easy, and kicked off orientation week which was packed with campus tours, welcome events, faculty orientations, a Céilí (traditional Irish dance), walking tour of the city, exploring the pubs and clubs in the evening, but most of all meeting so many people from around the world and Ireland too. There were too many events to be able to go to them all but the highlight for me was definitely trying my first pint of true Irish Guinness at the storehouse brewery in town, with grand views across the whole city.
Weather in Ireland is a bit fickle though, and it was a shock to the system being back in the wind and rain most days (I even had to break out the hat and scarf on the first day of class), but there have been some stunning days thrown in and some adventures already. To cap off the first week I took a road trip to go camping with some new Irish friends to the Cliffs of Moher which tower 120m above the Atlantic Ocean on the west coast of Ireland. It was pouring with rain when we first got there but we got to wake up in our tent to stunning views along the coast and a brilliantly sunny day which all the more made up for it. Oh and castles. On the drive home we even stopped in a country pub to watch the All Ireland Gaelic Football final, which was louder and crazier than any rugby match I’ve ever seen. I could barely understand the rules or the other people in the pub shouting at the TV but it was a sure-fire way to launch into the full Irish cultural experience! I have a sneaking suspicion the next four months are going to be a lot of fun!
Hey y’all! So, I have finally arrived and settled into life at UNC and I think know is the time to share my first impressions of the place and the process of getting here.
Before coming to UNC and the United States, there is a lot you must do. For me, the biggest headache was the Visa. Obtaining the Visa was a long process. It involved plenty of paperwork and applications to fill out as well as fees. UNC does help you along the way and is able to provide you with an I-20 form which is also needed to get the Visa. Once the application is complete, you are required to attend an interview at the US consulate in Auckland but don’t worry about it, the interviewer was friendly and literally only asked me a couple of questions. My biggest advice would be to get on board with the Visa application ASAP! I had to cancel my flights as my Visa would not have come through on time and it was quite costly. Booking flights early does save plenty of money but only do this if you are certain you will get your Visa before that date.
Since I received my Visa late, I pretty much booked flights a week before I was required to arrive (not ideal). Last minute flights are expensive so to get a decent deal, I ended up taking four different planes to get to Raleigh. I took two planes from Auckland to LA with a brief stopover in Tahiti. After landing in LA, I had to take a shuttle to another Airport in neighbouring Orange County where I would catch an overnight flight to New Jersey. Once in New Jersey, I would catch my final flight to Raleigh, North Carolina.
After a solid 30 hours of flying, I arrived at a hot and humid North Carolina day. I was picked up by a very helpful UNC student who used her time to help me get to the campus and essentially settle in. UNC has an organisation called EASE which helps ease us exchange students into life at UNC. One of the things they do is organise airport pickups which save us the hassle of organising transport to the campus from the airport. I found this extremely helpful. EASE also hosts many social events and is a great way to meet both American and other exchange students.
From the moment I arrived, I fell in love with the place. The University is supposedly the very first public University to open in the USA. It was founded in 1789 and has many old buildings with lots of character. The iconic feature is the old well where it is tradition to drink out of it on the first day of class to receive a 4.0 GPA.
UNC also has plenty of green spaces. There are so many areas on campus where you could take a nap outside and enjoy the sunshine (unless you’re prone to burning like myself).
The campus also has plenty of sports facilities. The University is mad when it comes to sports (especially basketball). They are known as the UNC Tar Heels, named after North Carolina troops who would put tar on the soles of their shoes. UNC is very successful when it comes to sports and has national championships in Lacrosse, Soccer, and Basketball. It wasn’t until I had visited the football stadium that I realised just how mad Americans are when it comes to sports. The stadium holds just over 60,000 people, which I have learned is quite an average size by American standards.
The town of Chapel Hill is a great place to be a student. Franklin Street is the main hub of activity with its abundance of good food and places to drink. There is also a Target Supermarket which has everything you need. It is a chill place and is literally right next door to the UNC campus!
The other thing I noticed was that Chapel Hill has a lot of trees. Coming from someone from New Zealand, this was probably the very first thing I noticed upon arriving here.
The campus is beautiful, the weather is great and the people are very friendly. There is a reason Chapel Hill is known as “The Southern Part of Heaven.”
I was invited to my first frat party literally on my first day, and it did not disappoint. Being the weekend before class, the parties were packed and the nightlife was buzzing. There were red cups, beer pong and even a mechanical bull in the garden. I don’t want to say it’s like the movies but it was certainly close. Even if you’re not particularly big on parties, I highly encourage you to at least check it out. Frats play a huge role in the social life of American universities since most undergraduates are too young to go into bars and clubs. Also, it’s a really good way to meet people. Americans will show a huge interest in you if you have a foreign accent and if you’re open, you will have no problem making new friends.
Prior to the first week of class, UNC hosts an event called FallFest. Pretty much, it’s like the club’s expo on steroids. It was held on one of the sports fields and had a countless number of tents, stall, and clubs encouraging us to join. More importantly, there was free stuff to gain. I snagged a free bag, t-shirt and completely stuffed myself with good food. FallFest was a great showcase of what life at UNC is like.
Following the weekend, all exchange students had to attend a mandatory orientation. The orientation ran through most of the day and comprised of informative speeches on UNC life and instructions on what we had to do regarding accommodation, meal plans, banking, visa, and health insurance. The day was broken up by a lunch break and even a solar eclipse. There was also an ice cream social following the orientation giving me a great opportunity to meet fellow exchange students and future travel buddies. This is an extremely important event to attend because as great as it is to be friends with Americans, exchange students will want to travel and do more things. The orientation will be the only time where all exchange students are packed in the same building so make sure you meet as many as possible!
UNC has been great so far and I am very glad that I’ve picked it. Getting to where I am now was a long and tricky process, but trust me, it will all be worth it! I am incredibly excited to see what will be in store for me in the future. I hope you guys enjoyed this post and took my advice on board. If you ever need more information or if you just want to ask me questions, feel free to comment on this post or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you want to see what I’m getting up to, then chuck us a follow on Instagram @matthew.rowe
“Wow, I love New Zealand!”
“That’s where the accent is from!”
“I heard there are more sheep and cows than people.”
“Have you visited the LOTR/Hobbit set?”
It seemed like every person I met during my first week would proceed to say at least two of these sentences. It was pretty cool, being the “exotic” one for once. One thing I’ve learned since arriving in Canada is that people here are very curious and open-minded.
90% of Queen’s university students are not from Kingston (where Queen’s is). It’s a university town, meaning people go there just for university.
Historically important as it is a former capital and is where the oldest prisons, military sites are located.
Getting to Kingston
One thing I realised as soon as I arrived in Kingston was how great the location was. Kingston is smack in between Montreal, Ottawa and Toronto. Bear this in mind, there are no direct flights to Kingston. You can either fly to Montreal or Toronto then take another flight, or bus or train to Kingston. I chose to fly to Toronto and chill with some high school friends for the weekend before heading towards Kingston via rail (train). Buses are the cheapest way, but takes the longest time and are dreadful when you have to lug so much luggage around. Trains are the middle ground because there’s a place to put your luggage and a free bus service directly from the train station to campus.
What to Do in Kingston Before University Starts
I arrived a month earlier as I wanted to do some travelling beforehand. Did you know? There is a 17-hour time difference between NZ and Kingston, meaning, I spent my first 3 days in a daze of jetlag, waking up and sleeping at ungodly hours. Anyway, before university started I took advantage of Kingston’s central location and travelled back and forth Toronto and Montreal.
Here are some quick tips:
Montreal is known for their poutine and bagels. As they say “you haven’t tasted good poutine, until the cheese curds squeak!”. I kid you not.
If you’re heading to Toronto, check out The Mansion. It is THE pub that everyone goes to. It’s made of 3 houses joined together.
Take advantage of what’s left of the summer – I went canoeing and “got lost” while in all three places.
The bus service is free for Queen’s University students. You can use it to travel to Cataraquai Centre (Ca-a-rock-a-way) – basically, the closest actual shopping centre.
Here are some pics of me being a foreigner, canoeing in Lake Ontario and attempting to visit as many of the 1000 islands as possible. By the way, there are actually 1800 islands, we managed to get to 3 of them in the span of 6 hours!
Here’s what you guys are probably waiting for aye? Orientation week is a BIG thing at Queen’s University. They have one of the oldest student council’s in Canada and are known for their student life *ahem* parties*ahem*. There’s a special orientation for exchange students, known as NEWTS. It costs quite a bit, but I would say it’s worth it. It’s 3 days filed with fun, jam-packed with activities where you get to meet all sorts of people.
Highlights for this orientation were:
Tamming ceremony, where you get a “tam” and as a whole group, you are inaugurated into being a Queen’s student. We also had to learn the Queen’s university chant. The picture below is a group picture of my NEWTS group and my geckos (leaders). Our team comprised of people from Sweden, England, Netherlands, Germany, Denmark, Japan, New Zealand (me!), Toronto, Ottawa.
Paint Party – Pretty much everyone gets into this space and starts throwing paint at each other
Semi-formal – The only phrase to sum up this night is: “Wow, you clean up nice!”
Overheard @ Frosh week:
The Purple People – Upper year engineers “leaders” who have purple bodies for the WHOLE WEEK. THIS IS HOW THEY LOOK THE WHOLE WEEK.
Chants – every single faculty has one main chant and a few others. We also had our own. Whenever we saw ArtSci students, we would ask “hey ArtSci, how do you feel?”, to which they had to say “I feel so good, OH! I feel so good!” For Newts it was “I don’t hate it”
PS: Want to know more? Travel with me through IG: linsayshi Snapchat: lin78
As always, feel free to message me if you want to know more 😊
Hey everyone! Emily here checking in! What a crazy last 7 months it has been…
I’m not even really sure where to start, but I thought I would try outline some of the wild travel adventures I’ve had for you all.
Simply being in Europe opens you up to a world of travel. You can catch a flight to Barcelona for 19 euros! On exchange I was lucky enough to meet people from all over the world. For the past 2 months I have had time off uni to go and visit these new friends in their hometowns, as well as a bunch of other places.
In the past 8 weeks I’ve travelled to Ibiza, where I bumped into Ellie Goulding at an Amnesia opening party, Barcelona to marvel at Gaudí’s architectural masterpieces, Manchester to visit a friend and party at Parklife Festival, Nice for some French Riviera exploring and croissant consuming, Frankfurt to stay with my pal to discover castles older than New Zealand, Denmark for 8 days of freedom at Roskilde Festival, Edinburgh, Glasgow and London to catch up with some mates and attend Wireless Festival, Naples, Pompeii and Sorrento to indulge in Italian culture and a multitude of pizza, Croatia for Ultra Europe Festival, Hvar island and finally Sutivan, a town on the coast of the island of Brač where I am currently writing this blog post.
It has been an extremely full on 2 months with A LOT of stories to tell when I return to NZ. I have had the time of my life these past 7 months and could not recommend an exchange program enough to anyone who is interested! Lund, Sweden was a great university where I met so many exchange students from all over as well as Swedish people, as it is a popular destination for other exchange students. Lund is so close to Copenhagen that it enabled me to fly to a new city every few weekends thanks to cheap flights! It’s a European hub for travel with lots of budget airlines flying through there. Sweden was the best choice for me and I loved every second of it. I got a taste of everything in Sweden, from extreme snow storms in January winter time to sunny celebrations in the park for Valborg (a spring event). Valborg is a tradition where all the students of Lund university head to the main park for the day and enjoy music and drinks in the sunshine to welcome in the spring. It is a huge event consisting of about 30,000 students! It was one of the best weekends in Lund as we were able to hang out with all of our friends in one place as well as meeting a wave of new people!
I will miss all the special people I met on my exchange so, so much. Luckily, the internet makes them feel a little less far away. I will be sure to go back for another visit once I have saved a few more pennies in my bank account! Coming from New Zealand is a huge honour when you are overseas, as most people have such positive connotations with our country and how beautiful it is and always express their desires to go there. I have already offered to host anyone who is interested in visiting and I have some friends coming over from Germany and Scotland during the summer to visit. I have definitely caught the travel bug after these 7 months away and I am sad it is all coming to an end, but I know I will be back in the near future!
As one of my Scottish friends told me, “you may be poor in money, but you will be rich in experiences.” – Kirsten McIntosh.
So now, to take a proper look at one of the major reasons I (and many people) wanted to come on exchange: travelling.
I had a lot of opportunity to travel around the UK and Europe both during and after my exchange. Because I did the January to May semester at Edinburgh, I ended the exchange at the beginning of the Northern Hemisphere summer, and then had until Auckland restarted in July to explore. That being said, we also had some short mid-term and “study” breaks that us exchange students used to our advantage.
The first bit of travelling I did was down to London for Waitangi Day. I went with two other Kiwis, and there’s a huge pub crawl organised by Kiwis in London, so we got to meet a tonne of nice people with very familiar accents.
The second mini break I took was with some exchange students during a week we had off lectures in February. We went to Brussels and Amsterdam for two nights each. We loved just wandering (and biking) around the cities, enjoying classic food like the Belgian waffles.
During the Easter break, five of us decided to go on a roadtrip around Scotland. We travelled all the way up north into the highlands, visiting some friends who lived in one of the tiny highland towns. We also saw the Isle of Skye, and about ninety-four castles. Scotland is truly beautiful.
And then, quicker than I actually would have liked, my semester was over. I started off my summer with a Topdeck tour. This is a bus tour aimed at young people, where they drive you around continental Europe and you spend one or two nights in each place. It was super full on, but an incredible time. Topdeck isn’t quite as infamous as Contiki for its partying, which to be honest probably worked in its favour. I joined a two-week tour, and went from Rome, to Venice, Pag Island (Croatia), Ljubljana (Slovenia), the Austrian Alps, Prague and ended in Berlin. I had the most fantastic time, and couldn’t recommend it enough – it’s like a tasting board of Europe, so you can decide where to come back to. Fair warning, you will be absolutely exhausted by the end of it, and possibly never want to see a hostel shower again.
After Topdeck I met up with a friend from exchange and we did two weeks travelling around Spain and Portugal. I’d never been to Portugal before and it honestly blew me away. We had a few beach destinations (Palma de Mallorca, Malaga and Lagos) as well as some bigger cities (Seville, Lisbon and Porto). When we arrived in Porto we realised that we happened to be there for the weekend of the Festa de São João do Porto – a street festival for the patron saint of Porto. Everyone is out on the streets the whole day, cooking sardines and banging people on the head with plastic hammers (it’s meant to be a sign of affection). It was an amazing coincidence that we were there for it but if you get the chance, definitely go! It was one of the most fun days of my trip.
After Spain and Portugal, my parents and sister flew over from NZ and I met them in London. We did a two-week roadtrip around the UK, driving from Cambridge all the way up to Edinburgh and back down the other side. It was atrocious weather, but England and Scotland are often overlooked when people choose to travel to Europe. I was glad to get the opportunity to have a look around because the UK actually has some awesome history and buildings that reflect that. That being said, I could have traded the 9-degree temperature and sheets of rain for the sun I’d been getting in Spain.
So at this point my time in Europe was nearly over, but I managed to squeeze in one more weekend in London (for the Wireless festival) and a couple of days in Paris, which was beautiful.
Even though I’ve gone into great self-congratulatory detail on my travels, it’s also true that no matter where you go in Europe you’re going to find something amazing. Different people enjoy different things and different styles of traveling, so find someone who matches you and head off!
My first experience with Singapore – a super liveable place filled with cultural gems!
Despite being smaller than Auckland in size, Singapore has a population larger than the entire New Zealand population! That is 5.6 million people living in Singapore versus 4.7 million in New Zealand.
Choosing Singapore to be my exchange destination has been one of my best decisions so far. It offers exposure to the busy city life that we do not get in Auckland. Also, Singapore has a diverse range of cultures as it is home to multiple ethnic groups. Because of its multicultural diversity, there is an endless option of food to choose from, and they are quite affordable too. If you like shopping, Singapore is the place for you because it is home to massive malls. Getting around the country is convenient because of its reliable public transportation. Other than that, the weather in Singapore is consistent with warm days or rainy days. Lastly, communicating with the locals is not an issue as almost all Singaporeans speak English.
Journey to Singapore
Singapore is about 11 hours by flight away from Auckland. That 11 hours is needed to travel the 8,400km between these two cities. Multiple airlines offer regular direct flights to Singapore including Air New Zealand, Singapore Airlines, and Jetstar. These return flights could cost you from NZ$500 (if you book it early) to NZ$1,500 for the humble economy class. If you have some extra cash, you can opt for the first class which will set you back around NZ$3,000.
Best airport in the world
If you are flying to Singapore, you will arrive at the world’s best airport (according to Skytrax). At Singapore’s Changi International airport, you will find yourself admiring its design made with the best of both modern architecture and nature. The airport offers a variety of shopping, dining, and entertainment outlets – including spas, cinemas and even Singapore’s tallest slide! Prices at the airport are reasonable, unlike typical ‘airport prices.’ It is strategically located near to the city and is accessible by train, bus, and other public transportation. Because of its many facilities and convenient location, locals even go to the airport to hang out and shop.
Unfortunately, I was too tired to enjoy the facilities and wanted to check in to my university accommodation as soon as possible. I was glad that the immigration lines were quick to move and the baggage retrieval is only a few minutes away from the taxi stands.
You do not need to own a car in Singapore
My taxi ride from the airport to my accommodation at Tanjong Hall, Nanyang Technological University was about $35. However, do note that prices will be around 25% higher if you take it during peak hours (Peak hour table: https://goo.gl/aVodr). You can opt to pay either by cash or credit card. Taxis in Singapore are metered. You could also opt for Uber or Grab. Grab is something like Uber but is more popular in Asia. These might be cheaper options, but pricing also varies according to the demand. At the airport, you can utilise the complimentary Wi-Fi to book a ride with these apps.
Alternatively, you can take the bus or train, but I do not recommend it if you have a lot of luggage. It might be crowded if you arrive during rush hour.
However, if you do not have luggage, travelling by Singapore’s subway and bus system is both affordable and convenient. Singapore’s train system is one of the top ten best subway systems in the world according to ‘The Vacation Times’. The subway stations at Singapore have restaurants and shops inside them, so you can even dine and shop at the subway. Some stations even have grocery stores.
In terms of payment, both subway and bus system encourage EZLink payments which basically is Singapore’s ATHop card. Paying by EZLink is also cheaper than paying by cash for some reason. You can buy an EZLink card from 7-Elevens (a mini mart chain usually open for 24 hours) or use your university identification card as an EZLink card.
I found the best map to navigate around Singapore is ‘Citymapper’ which tells you which stop to get off, trip time and trip cost. At the time of writing this post, it is available for iPhones and Android phones.
Nanyang Technological University (NTU)
Upon arrival at NTU, I was astonished by the unique architecture. For instance, there is a building called ‘The Hive’ designed to look like Dim Sum baskets/boxes.
In comparison to Auckland University, NTU feels much larger. Getting around by foot is possible, but sometimes it might take around 30 minutes just to get from one building to another. However, NTU offers free shuttle bus service which operates all week around the campus.
For the first few days, I find myself always lost around the massive campus. But as I familiarised myself with the campus, getting around NTU is pretty easy.
NTU has around 24 halls for student accommodation. There are options for shared double bed rooms or single rooms which I am staying in right now. The toilets are mostly communal, and so are the pantries.
There are 1,200 exchange students from 40 different countries enrolled in NTU itself! NTU encourages exchange programs as it sends about 6,000 of its students on exchange abroad every year.
There are two orientations organised for exchange students. One is for all exchange students, and the other is specific to my business faculty. Both orientation programmes are mostly about an introduction to the university’s facilities and administrative matters.
Making friends during orientation is entirely up to you. There aren’t any ice breaking activities organised, but I feel almost everyone is open to being engaged in a conversation.
NTU offers exchange students membership in the NTU Gem Club (Global Education and Mobility) which is a club exclusive to exchange students. They organise trips and have a ‘buddy pairing’ system similar to the one from AUSA at Auckland University which pairs you with a local so they can help you around town.
‘Starwars’ is what they call their course registration period after their ‘STARS course planner system’ because enrolling in courses is quite competitive. However, exchange students are given somewhat of a priority because some courses are pre-allocated before our arrival.
The first week of classes in NTU is also the ‘welcome week’. During the first two days of this week, there will be club expo. There are a wide variety of clubs to join in NTU and many interesting ones such as the beer brewing club, Chinese Medicine club, and the Taxation club.
On the Saturday of the welcome week, NTU celebrates its new semester with the ‘NTU Fest’ which is a carnival open to the public. At NTU Fest, there are many games to play from such as laser tag to bottle tossing. You can even get your face painted. There is also an expo held which shows off NTU’s talents from different faculties. I had the opportunity to fly a drone using only my hand gestures. There was other cool stuff like an interactive robot and 3D printed masterpieces. The NTU Fest ended with live performances from famous artists.
Warm and humid at the equator
Unlike New Zealand, Singapore does not have four seasons due to its location close to the equator. There is only rain or dry seasons. The temperature in Singapore is warm and ranges from 25°C to 37°C. It is also very humid compared to Auckland. One thing I noticed is that you sweat a lot when you walk outside.
Remembering from my own soaked experience, the rain in Singapore is much denser than Auckland’s. Do not be shocked if you hear lots of thunders because it is a frequent occurrence.
Literally, shop ‘till you drop.
Or at least, shop until your wallet is empty. The malls in Singapore are huge in comparison to the ones in Auckland. You can even do walking exercises at these malls!
Malls in Singapore are also designed to be a one-stop destination for shopping and dining. Their plan is to keep you there for as long as possible, and it always works. Most malls have a have a great variety of food ranging from affordable local food to Gordon Ramsay’s signature restaurants.
Busy day at Bugis Street
You should visit one of Singapore’s famous ‘street malls’ like Bugis Street. These ‘street malls’ are similar to the night markets at Auckland but are open all week and even in the mornings. There are a wide variety of affordable goods from Singapore branded souvenirs, power banks, to sunglasses. You can also enjoy delicious Singaporean street food here such as the beautiful ice-cream bread. As competition is fierce in street malls, certain shops invite haggling but some only offer fixed prices.
Cheap and Yummy Food
Singapore has a wide variety of delicious food reflective of its diverse multicultural heritage. For the same money in Auckland, food in Singapore is much better in value. For around 3 Singaporean Dollars, you can enjoy a full meal. A cup of joe would only cost around 1 Singaporean Dollar.
Expect the food here to be different because most foods are Asian style but western food is also popular.
I will be writing a detailed post about Singapore’s delicious delicacies with my recommendations soon!
Almost all Singaporeans speak English. English is also a common first language here. English is an official language together with Mandarin (Chinese), Malay, and Tamil. These official languages reflect on the three main ethnic groups: the Chinese, Malay and Indian. Most Singaporeans are mostly bilingual because learning a second language is compulsory at school.
I am always happy to help anyone interested in going exchange to Singapore. Make sure to comment on this blog post, and I will reply whenever possible. Alternatively, you can email me at email@example.com
If you want to check out more of my pictures, please follow my Instagram account: johnleekw.
For the past few weeks I’ve been trying to figure out the best words to describe the exchange experience and how much it meant to me. I’ve decided there are no words that do it justice. My best advice if you want to know what it’s like is to just do it yourself – it’s the only way I can express how incredible it was to you. A bit rubbish for someone who is supposed to be telling you about how she felt about her exchange – I promise I tried really hard!
Explaining how incredible all the travel was is easy – I went to 18 countries in just over seven months and utterly adored it all. Experiencing new cultures, trying incredible new foods (French pastries and crepes are just as good clichés would have you believe – you honestly haven’t lived until you’ve gorged yourself on them for a week straight), and living it up in the sun/snow/depressingly grey overcast (or whatever weather Europe wanted to throw at me) created some of the best moments of my life. There’s just nothing like it. Watching a jaw-dropping sunset in Santorini (which I was doing almost exactly a month ago) definitely beats sitting in the law library doing an assignment on torture (which is what I’m supposed to be doing right now). It’s not really hard to convince anyone of that!
Being on exchange is more than the travel though. It’s a great excuse to go and see awe-inspiring places that you’ve been lusting over on instagram for years, but most of the memories I truly cherish are the ones with the friends I made in Nottingham; the late night conversations in our cramped flat corridor, the walks around the uni lake on a beautiful day or if I was feeling stressed, laughing at the strange things English people do, taking the piss out of each other’s accents and home-country habits (my friends mocking how I said ‘Tesco’ will forever be burned into my mind). A semester abroad gives you the opportunity to set up a whole new life for yourself in a foreign country with no one else from home around it. It sounds (and is!) terrifying but it’s also extremely freeing. It’s setting up a little life for yourself in addition to your one in New Zealand.
The exchange experience in general just heightens every emotion you have in the best way possible. I expected to have fun travelling, I expected to make friends, I expected to enjoy Nottingham and all it had to offer. What I didn’t expect was how intense all these feelings and experiences were. Within a few weeks I had made friends that I felt as close to as some of my friends back home – something I never really expected but am so grateful for now. I didn’t expect Nottingham to feel like home after such a short time there. But that’s what it feels like to me now – in the same Wellington (where I’m from) and Auckland (where I’ve lived for over four years) will always feel like home to me, I think Nottingham will too. I put a lot of this down to the feeling like time was running out – knowing that you were leaving in a few months meant you found your friends and felt at home quickly because you had to so that you fully immersed yourself. I said yes to more things and put myself out there more than I ever would at home and am so thankful I did. While there were obviously low points in the seven months (like crying in an airport bathroom after an immigration officer yelled at me, getting lost for over an hour when it was -6 degrees outside twice, and getting called on in a class where I knew nothing), none of it took away from the fact I had a better time than I could have imagined. The whole exchange was a ‘best case scenario’ outcome.
The only real advice I have for going on exchange is just telling you to do it! If you have the opportunity to do so I can’t imagine why would ever not take it up. If you’re nervous because you’ve never lived out of home before, you can always choose places close to NZ or to other family, or choose countries that are relatively similar to NZ to help with culture shock (Australia, UK, Canada, US, Ireland). If you’re worried about making friends, don’t! I don’t know a single person on exchange who didn’t make friends – and even if you didn’t, it’s still an incredible opportunity to study and travel overseas. If you don’t want to push your university out a semester, don’t worry about it! You can likely still graduate on time and even if you can’t, it’s 100% worth it.
You have to go on exchange! Even it’s only so finally you can be the subject of snarky memes about people who studied abroad and/or summer holidayed in Europe.
Hope you’ve enjoyed reading about my exchange experience. I hope you all get to experience it on your own someday, because I honestly can’t recommend it enough.