Five months have passed and so ends my semester here at NUS.
I felt that studying at NUS was particularly challenging as my class seemed to be full of bright and outspoken people. I felt that the courses here had a stronger classroom involvement than our courses back home as there were always volunteers to share their ideas and solutions. However, despite having a very strong education system, there were still many apparent flaws. The typical semester workload at UoA is 60 points, or around 4 courses. At NUS, the typical semester workload was an equivalent of 75 points; around 5 courses, however, due to the competitive nature of University it wasn’t uncommon for students to be taking 6 courses a semester. I once met a scholarship student taking 8 courses one semester, a notion I couldn’t even fathom happening back home in Auckland! I noticed that this overloading of courses didn’t always achieve the intended results; students always seemed stressed out, pushing against deadlines, sacrificing sleep and social life to grind for a better grade. Studying strategy became a matter of retaining enough knowledge to get a good grade, before clearing mind space for the next onslaught of courses.
One of the more important lessons I learnt this semester was that grades didn’t mean everything. As an exchange student your credits will be transferred back on a pass/fail basis, alleviating a lot of the pressure to study and time commitment towards your courses. I find that the people who are eligible for exchange, especially to a top university such as NUS tend to be quite studious, so it may be challenging at first to place studying as a lower priority but people gradually loosened up! I found that spending a lot of time with different people and placing myself out of my comfort zone was an invaluable experience. There’s so much I learnt outside of the classroom, from having better relationships to seeing different ways of life. I feel like these experiences have definitely gone a long way towards shaping my identity and made me an overall more wholesome person. I’ll never forget Singapore!
So I have officially been back in New Zealand for a week and thought this would be a good time to reflect on my entire exchange (while I try not to melt in the heat). This post is quite difficult to write because I can’t really believe that my exchange is actually over. It was one of the most incredible experiences of my life and I have made so many lifelong friends and memories, and Leeds will always be a second home to me.
I thought I would use this final post to give some advice to anyone who is looking at going on exchange. My first piece of advice is that if you are thinking about going on exchange you need to go. My five months that I spent on exchange to Leeds were some of the greatest that I have had in my entire life. It was an incredibly life changing experience that I wouldn’t change for anything, and so if you are undecided about whether or not you want to go on an exchange my advice would be to definitely go!
Another piece of advice that I have is to step outside of your comfort zone. Obviously moving to the other side of the world alone like I did is scary enough, but once you get settled in, try some things you wouldn’t usually do. For me this meant a couple of different things, one of these was travelling alone which I had never done before. And although it was terrifying at first, I did it. And it was an awesome experience where I made a lot of friends and memories and now I can eat alone at restaurants and ask strangers to take photos of me without too much fear! An exchange is an awesome time where we have an opportunity to try and experience so many new things so I would recommend trying these new experiences as much as possible.
Also, be prepared but know that things probably will go wrong. On an exchange and travel in general being prepared is important. You’ve got to know what’s going on otherwise it will probably be a very stressful trip. However prepared you are, things are going to go wrong and there’s nothing you can do to change that. For me this was when I got a stomach bug three days before I was meant to be leaving for a two week Europe trip. So my advice for this is that you’ve got to be able to adapt and don’t get too upset that things didn’t work out the way you planned!
Make the most of your time on exchange because it will go super quickly. Even though sitting here writing this I know I’ve been gone for five months it really doesn’t seem that long. In some ways it feels like it was only a few weeks ago I was arriving in Leeds and setting up my rooms, but unfortunately it’s all over now. So my advice is to make the most of your time on exchange, make lifelong friends, go on incredible adventures, because before you know it you’ll be back home with amazing memories, ridiculous amounts of photos and far too many half-baked plans to see all your incredible friends again.
I’ve been back in New Zealand for a little over three weeks now, and it honestly feels surreal. I now see what people mean when they say it feels like they never left. These past six months have been a whirlwind of amazing experience after amazing experience, and being home it almost feels like it was all a dream. I didn’t really know where to begin when I thought of trying to sum up how I felt about my trip so I thought I’d give a few of my favourite moments from my time abroad…
As I’ve said previously, I chose Europe as my exchange location so I could travel far and wide and I’ve certainly taken advantage of the proximity. I’ve totalled 20 countries in the six months I’ve been away from home, across three continents. In particular, a month long solo trip I did in November was one of the most rewarding adventures I’ve ever done. I travelled to Istanbul, all around Egypt and Jordan, then to Prague and Paris over a period of 25 days and, despite the isolation you feel while travelling by yourself, the freedom and independence I felt while away made it so rewarding. I am now the queen of packing my whole life into a carry-on suitcase – plus, I made some new friends along the way!
Another incredible opportunity I had was participating in the Student Nobel Nightcap, which is the annual after party hosted by university students for the attendees of the Nobel Prize awards which are held in Stockholm every year on December 10th. I signed up to work on the night as well as helping with the lead up to the event. This was a really cool way to meet people from all over Stockholm, and serving champagne to Nobel Prize winners was a bonus too!
Finally, my exchange would have been nothing if it wasn’t for the amazing people I met in Stockholm. I can truly say I have made some friends for life, who I have shared this crazy, once in a lifetime experience with. They were also the hardest thing to leave and we’re already planning various reunions, although New Zealand has never felt so far away than it does now.
If I could give any advice it would just be to go for it. Moving abroad is something you never feel like you’re ready for, but eventually it will feel like the easiest, most rewarding thing you’ve ever done. Not everything is as glamorous and effortless as pictures make it seem. There were definitely moments of crippling homesickness, nights sick in bed just wanting to be with my Mum, and the dreaded December where all the Kiwi summer pics started rolling in and I was facing -24 degrees. However, through these moments I just had to remember why I left in the first place.
This will be my final post for the 360 International blog. I hope anyone reading this has been inspired to take the plunge and go on an exchange of your own. If you have any questions, or want to chat, feel free to contact me on email@example.com or reach out to me on Instagram where I’ve posted heaps more pictures at @lucyredwood.
Tack så mycket Sverige, I’ve had a wonderful time!
When I first browsed through the prospective universities open to exchange, I couldn’t make my mind up on where I should go. I watched a lot of American television growing up, so I felt like I could transition well into a US school, or alternatively if I chose a school in China I could become more connected to my ethnic roots. After doing research on my shortlist of universities, I discovered that Singapore lay at the intersection of eastern and western culture. As an ethnic Chinese person growing up in New Zealand I always felt stuck between the dichotomy of my Chinese identity and my Kiwi way of life, so I truly felt that I could learn a lot if I were to go to Singapore. With Singapore appearing to be the best of both worlds, I set my first choice university to be the National University of Singapore, and my second choice to be Nanyang Technological University.
Singaporeans were known to have a diligent and disciplined work culture. The start-up scene in Singapore was always fairly notable which gave me the impression that Singapore was a technologically advanced, innovative and forward thinking nation. Taking into consideration the warm climate and low crime rates, Singapore was beginning to look like a firm contender for me to devote my career towards. With 95% of Singaporeans travelling abroad for leisure, alongside world leading ranks in math, reading, and science education, I really looked forward to surrounding myself with these well-educated and well travelled people.
Now that I’ve spent 5 months in Singapore, I realise that some of my initial expectations were a tad naive. Singaporeans are indeed very hard-working, so much that it wouldn’t be uncommon to see students still up and studying until 2 in the morning. In fact, at one point I even felt a bit self-conscious that I was the only one sleeping 8 hours a day. However, Singapore also has one of the highest digital consumption rates in the world, so all those hours staying up aren’t necessary spent productively. The infrastructure and public services are indeed very impressive, however it comes with a hefty price; rated world’s most expensive city for the 5th year straight, Singapore doesn’t pull its punches when it comes to making you spend money. A perfect example is the notorious $88 per litre alcohol excise tax!
Hi everyone! I’ve officially finished my exchange at the University of British Columbia. My earlier posts were mostly full of fairly practical tips, so I thought a good topic for this post would be to summarise my experience and outline some of the things I loved (and didn’t love) about Canada!
First of all, let’s start with what’s good.
Skiing – I spent two days skiing at Whistler Blackcomb and it was one of the best experiences of my life. People come from all over the world to ski here. If you’re on exchange at UBC, you’d be crazy not to give it a try, even if it is a bit expensive! There are also several other ski resorts closer to Vancouver (Grouse, Cypress, and Seymour) as well as many other world-class resorts around British Columbia (such as Big White, Revelstoke and Fernie). If snow sports are your thing, BC is a paradise.
Shopping – I’m not a huge shopper, but I was very impressed by the variety and price of many items. This is probably helped by Canada’s proximity to the United States as well as the presence of big retailers like Walmart and Amazon. For example, during a Black Friday sale I picked up a pair of hiking boots for almost half the price they would have cost in New Zealand! Definitely leave some space in your suitcase if you’re coming here for a semester!
Groceries – I found groceries to be noticeably cheaper than New Zealand and the United States, and roughly on par with Australia. Unfortunately, they are still nowhere near as cheap as the UK and Europe! (much to the complaints of my European friends!)
Halls of residence – As much as I complain about the housing situation in Vancouver, the residence units themselves are, on the whole, pretty high quality. All the rooms and units I visited were modern, clean and very liveable. They even had dishwashers!
UBC Campus – After almost four months, I still can’t get over how incredible the UBC campus is. I honestly don’t think there are many campuses in the world that can rival UBC in this regard. The University of Auckland and The University of Manchester (where I did my other exchange) don’t even come close. For example, UBC has a cinema, a Japanese tea garden, at least three museums (that I know of), a state-of-the-art Aquatic Centre, a rose garden, and more fountains than I can count. I could go on and on. And all of it is beautiful and well-kept.
Access to the outdoors – On campus you have Wreck Beach (North America’s largest nudist beach!) as well as Pacific Spirit Regional Park. Further afield, you have Garibaldi Regional Park, Whistler, the North Shore mountains (Grouse, Cypress, and Seymour), Vancouver Island and even Washington State! The opportunities are endless, and I felt like I barely scratched the surface in four months.
Public Transport – Vancouver’s public transport puts Auckland’s public transport to shame. In fact, it’s one of the best public transport systems I’ve ever used anywhere in the world, up there with London and Hong Kong. The Skytrain is amazing, and the buses from UBC are frequent and well-maintained. Aside from grocery shopping, I really didn’t miss having a car at all!
Opportunities for travel – Vancouver is a great base for exploring Vancouver Island, Washington State and even further afield, such as the Yukon (if you fancy going to see the northern lights) and the Rockies. Even California is less than a three-hour flight away!
Liberalism – Canada, and particularly UBC, is a great place to be a student. UBC is a very multicultural and tolerant society. Whether you’re black or white, straight or gay, you’ll feel at home here. And hey, cannabis is even legal, if you’re into that.
Visa free travel – As a NZ citizen, you can stay in Canada for up to six months without having to obtain a Visa. No interview at the consulate, no paperwork, just a quick ETA form you have to fill out online. Easy!
As you can see, that’s a pretty long list of things I loved! However, no experience is perfect. Here’s a few things that I didn’t like so much about Canada:
Housing – See my first blog post for more information about this one. But in short, finding housing at UBC can be a challenge if you’re not assigned on-campus housing!
Mobile phone plans – Mobile phone plans in Canada are horrendously overpriced (about twice what you’d pay in NZ for the same service). So, I went the entire semester without a local phone number. Doable, but still not ideal! Fortunately, UBC has Wi-Fi basically everywhere
The weather – Vancouver (affectionately known as “Raincouver”) is infamous for how much it rains. Honestly, I didn’t find it so bad – it was pretty similar to the UK but just a bit rainier. It was definitely more consistent than the notoriously unreliable Auckland weather! We were lucky to get plenty of beautiful Autumn days for hiking, and summers are always hot and dry. Also, rain in Vancouver means it’s snowing in the mountains, which is great news for us skiers! So it’s certainly not all bad. But if you could take the UBC campus and put it somewhere in Southern California, then you’d have my dream University.
The lecture theatres – This was one of my pet peeves. While the buildings at UBC are largely beautiful, the same can’t be said for the lecture theatres inside! Quite often, the desks are far too small to accommodate your papers or laptop. This is particularly problematic for me as a left-hander. Writing a midterm or exam on these desks is certainly not an enjoyable experience. I never had this problem in Auckland or Manchester. UBC definitely needs to spend some money getting their lecture theatres up to scratch. After all, isn’t that what we’re all at University for?
Teaching style – UBC courses place a fairly hefty percentage on coursework (and less so on exams) which is similar to Auckland Uni. This isn’t so great when you’re on exchange and want to go travelling every weekend! There’s also no mid-semester break in Term 1 (September – December), which means that all your midterms tend to fall within the space of one or two weeks.
Canada Post – Canada Post was pretty slack when I started my semester, with Amazon packages arriving consistently late. Mid-way through the semester, they managed to become even worse by engaging in strike action! Packages from Auckland that were sent in September and October took almost three entire months to arrive! In fact, they only arrived a week before I flew home!
As you can see, the list of things I didn’t like are mostly a few minor annoyances and are by no means deal-breakers. I had an amazing time in Canada and I can’t think of many places where it would be better to be an exchange student. I’ve wanted to live in Vancouver for a very long time and it really did meet all my hopes and expectations! It really does feel like a larger and more developed version of New Zealand, and I can’t wait to come back in the future!
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.
This final post is going to be a collection of final thoughts, tips, and anything. Actually, I’ve ended up extending my exchange to a year, so it won’t be my final thoughts per se, but it will be the last post of the semester.
Finals & “DEAD WEEK”
Similarly to how UoA has exam study leave after lectures finish, UCB has what they call Reading, Review, and Recitation (RRR) Week, a.k.a. DEAD WEEK. It is a week before exams for students to prepare for their exams, or cram a whole semester worth of work because you know what they say, diamonds are made under pressure.
Unlike UoA however, final exams are all scheduled in the following week.
Some of the libraries, like Moffitt, are open 24-hours, so you’re likely to find severely sleep deprived students camping out there. It’s also very competitive to find seats so, be warned. I stuck to studying in my room or the lounge in my residence hall. Instead of having final exams as such, I had a number of final projects, which were just as, if not more, time-consuming.
It was also ironic how I was reviewing ‘insomnia’ for my ‘Psychology of Sleep’ class at 2AM, depriving myself of sleep. Sorry Matt (my professor). I tried.
Despite the all-nighters, I did pretty well.
The residence halls have a strict policy about checking out times. Of course you are free to leave as soon as your exams are finished, but they have a specific time on the day after finals end: if you stay any longer than that time, it was $100 per hour overstayed. Over winter break, you are allowed to leave your belongings in your room, since you’ll be returning there. So people would just take their clothes, laptop etc and leave things such as bedding.
On the final night, we decided to celebrate the end of our first semester at Berkeley by going to an escape room (OMESCAPE), in which we figured out the laws of time-travelling with 8 minutes to spare.
We then went on to karaoke; to cry, to celebrate, I don’t know. But, we had a blast with our repertoire which consisted of Korean, Chinese, Japanese, and Hispanic songs.
Overall, my semester at Berkeley has been a wild one, and I wouldn’t change it for anything else. I’m super grateful for the friends, experiences and opportunities that I’ve had. Like I mentioned earlier, I will be returning to Berkeley for another semester (!!!) which I’m sure will be another adventure, and you know how to reach me for any advice (see first blog post).
Before I say bye for the last time, I shall leave you with some last-minute tips:
US prices don’t include taxes. Remember that, so you don’t get confused at the counter.
Might be worth noting San Francisco also has one of the highest tax rates, so.. if you’re wanting to buy a new laptop or something, try somewhere else.
TIPS. I must admit, I’m still not quite used to the tipping culture here but the general rule of thumb is this: if they have table service, you tip. If not, it’s not necessary.
When you receive the receipt, it already tells you how much you can tip at the bottom. For example, 15% = $XX, 20% = $XX. You indicate how much you want to tip your waiter and you write the total at the bottom. I generally gave them 15%.
It may feel strange feeling like you have to tip, but remember, the tips are usually how the employees earn their money, and hopefully, their service is that good that you don’t feel hesitant about tipping.
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading up on my Berkeley experiences, I’m glad to have been able to share a little bit of that with y’all.
If you’ve applied or confirmed to be going on an exchange, kudos to you. You’re going to have a blast. It may not be all that you expect, but then it could be more. Either way, enjoy the ride. If you’re thinking about going on an exchange, I strongly recommend it. As cliché as it sounds, I’ve learnt so much and feel that I’ve grown as a person in a way that would only be possible in Berkeley. Thank you to 360 International, and UC Berkeley for this opportunity and I cannot wait to be back in 2019.
But for now, some well-needed rest with my family back in New Zealand!