Zofia: Last Post!

Since being back in New Zealand, I’ve been asked by everyone whether I enjoyed my exchange. The short answer is of course, yes, I loved it, I had such a great time, etc. In reality, this doesn’t even begin to cover it.

You’ve all heard the cliché, you know, “abroad changed me”. And at the beginning, my exchange student friends and I would mock others who’d said that on returning home, but it is genuinely true – you make these amazingly close friendships in a matter of months, you start considering a new country your home, and then suddenly you say goodbye to it all and are back to where you were six months ago. By far one of the weirdest and most difficult experiences of the whole exchange process is coming home.

Because to you, you feel like you’ve been away a lifetime. You’ve experienced all these new things and met new people that you’d now consider friends for life, and yet to everyone at home it doesn’t really feel like you’ve been gone that long. You have to try and get back into university (and proper studying, since these grades are actually reflected in your GPA), and living with new people (in my case, people I’ve never met before) and you feel stupid because you’re homesick for somewhere that was only your home for half a year. You’re juggling being ecstatic about seeing your old friends and family again, and desperately missing your ones from overseas.

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There’s a quote from Winnie the Pooh (or A. A. Milne, I suppose, if you’re being technical): ‘How lucky am I to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.’ This sums up exchange in a nutshell. You meet the most fantastic people and have the most fantastic time, but saying goodbye is probably the worst thing in the world. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go, because I wouldn’t trade my time in Edinburgh for anything, even though it means a few tears and sad phone calls to friends you’re missing, and looking back at holiday pictures and feeling hopelessly nostalgic (and also bitterly cold because it’s winter here and that doesn’t seem fair).

You meet such an abundance and array of people on exchange. We were lucky in that we met a huge number of other exchange students as well as people from the UK that studied there full time. I’ve come back from exchange with friends on every continent; I already have plans to visit Melbourne in September and see friends I met who did the exchange from Melbourne Uni, and we already have chats about where in the world to meet up next (I’m trying to push New Zealand but there’s some complaints about the 30 hour travelling time).

Not only that, but you develop this insanely strong connection to the country you lived in. I have so much pride for Scotland and I’d probably back them in a rugby match now (at least, against the English). I’d be the first to insist that Scottish pounds are, in fact, legal tender (the bloody English try not to accept them), and my love for tattie scones runs deep in my veins. It means every time I hear a Scottish accent I’ll probably get overexcited and tell the poor soul about that time I lived in Edinburgh, but I can’t help but feel like I’m just a little bit Scottish now. There’s a lot that’s similar between New Zealand and Scotland, like place names (Dunedin is actually taken from the Gaelic for Edinburgh) and senses of humour, so maybe that’s why I took to the country so well. We’ve also got that same little brother complex with Australia that the Scots have with England, so you can gleefully join in when they start ranting about the union.

Basically, my reflection of the exchange is this: you’ll meet people and find places that make saying goodbye the hardest thing in the world. But that’s something you should appreciate, because it means you had the best time while it lasted. If you have the opportunity, please go on an exchange with Auckland 360 – it scares me when I think about how close I came to not going because the admin stuff seemed like a lot of work! It’s been an amazing six months and I hope everyone who has the opportunity to go, takes it.

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Food, Glorious Food: Zofia

No one comes to Scotland for the cuisine, that’s a fact. It’s known for deep-frying everything (including pizza), haggis and whisky. That being said, there have been some exciting developments in my diet since I moved here.

Firstly, the meal deal. This institution needs to be brought back to New Zealand as soon as possible. It doesn’t sound that exciting; you get some form of carbed-up lunch option (wrap/sandwich etc), plus chips (sorry, ‘crisps’) and a drink for less than a fiver. But there is something truly magical about the meal deal that cannot be explained. It has been debated by students at length where to buy the best one; whether the fancy Marks and Spencers one is even worth it; who prefers Doritos over Monster Munch as their chip selection.

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Munchy Mart needs to adopt this idea immediately.

 

Another exciting difference to my diet here is that I’m now eating approximately 16 servings of potato a day. Basically, it’s not a meal in Scotland unless there is some form of potato in it. Potatoes come in many forms here, and I’ve detailed my two favourites below.

Potato scones. Po-ta-to scones. These are perhaps (definitely) what I’ll miss above all else. They are basically mashed potato and flour mixed together and then fried (I’ll be honest, I’ve never made them, I did a Google). They’re served up for catered brunch every Saturday and Sunday and I usually have 12 in one sitting. They’re crispy but fluffy, sort of like a potato based roti? Hard to explain, but delicious.

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It doesn’t look like much, but it is delightful

My second potato obsession is ‘cheeky chips’. Many a late night out has ended in a Scottish chippie (which also inexplicably serves kebabs and pizza). The chips here are not only consistently made to order, so they’re always hot and crispy, but they have the most glorious array of toppings. Curry sauce? Cheese? Gravy? Cheese and gravy? The world’s your oyster.

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Chips so good they apparently induce psychosis judging by these facial expressions.

I must also make mention of Moratti’s. Moratti’s is a pizza place that is open until 3am every night and serves up heaven. Club nights have been cut short to make sure we get to Moratti’s in time before it closes. I have formed a close bond with the owners, who are lovely and also pizza geniuses. For anyone coming to Edinburgh – it’s on the corner of Cowgate and Pleasance. You’re welcome.

Being a Scottish food blog, I feel like I’m obligated to mention haggis: tried it once. It was nice. Tasted like minced meat, unsurprisingly. Most exciting part was the neeps (mashed mixed root vegetables) and tatties (mashed potato, because it’s not a meal without it).

Being in the UK makes travel to Europe very easy, so I’ve managed to get around a bit while here. The standout cuisine from my travels is easily the Belgian waffles in Brussels; lovely, chewy, sweet.

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Bought approximately ten of these in the two days I was in Belgium

There are a few things that the Scots haven’t caught onto yet; avocado, for one. I was offered this odd guacamole sauce in a squeezy bottle once and I still haven’t forgiven them for it. And since I’m writing this on the 25th of April, I’d really kill for an ANZAC biscuit about now. But it’s nice to have things to look forward to at home! For now, I’ll eat my chips with cheese and gravy and be happy.

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Accommodation Awards: Zofia

Bi-annual Auckland Abroad Accommodation Awards
A disclaimer: I have only been around a short while and visited a limited number of the accommodation that University of Edinburgh has to offer. I’m sure opinions and experiences vary widely from my own.

 Catered:
Best Carb Selection
Of course, this goes to all the houses in Pollock Halls. The JMCC Restaurant puts on a stunning display, with at least one pasta option and sixteen different types of potatoes per meal. In all seriousness though, the catered food is quite lovely (particularly the potato scones that get served up at weekend brunch). We get a full cooked Scottish breakfast every morning (vegetarian sausages come highly recommended), and a broad selection for dinner. There are always two vegetarian options for those interested, but vegans can be left to the wayside occasionally so that’s something to consider.

Most Basic House(s)
Grant House in Pollock Halls, fondly nicknamed Grantanamo Bay many years ago, is one of the “Tower Blocks”. Accompanying it: Lee, Baird, Ewing and Turner. The Tower Blocks of Pollock are your ‘basics’ accommodation, with small-ish rooms that come equipped with a single bed, sink, wardrobe and desk, and communal bathrooms, pantries and common rooms. Since this is where I’m located I’ve got a few photos of the real thing; the others you’ll have to the University of Edinburgh’s accommodation site for pictures, but they’re all pretty true to life.

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 Most Posh House
Introducing Chancellors Court, Pollock Halls of Residence. Chancellors is well-known for being the nesting ground of posh Londoners, so if Made in Chelsea is your thing then this is for you. There are also double rooms available for cheaper than singles. As long as you’re happy being woken up when your roommate stumbles in at 4am from Why Not Wednesdays (or, alternately, don’t mind a passive aggressive roommate who is mad at you for stumbling in at 4am), this is a viable option.

 Most Conveniently Placed Bathroom
Enter Holland House, which has ensuites. Other than that it’s nothing special, and is also the furthest away from the dining hall (so depends whether you prioritise eating food or getting rid of it).

Self-catered:
Most Rodent Infested
Previously Kincaid’s Court, but the resident rat recently died. A raucous wake was held for the late Billie. RIP; she or he (even biology students wouldn’t get close enough to gender identify) will be missed.

 Most Fun
Kincaid’s Court, especially now the rat is dead. I tried incredibly hard to think up a better superlative than ‘most fun’, but honestly I couldn’t find a better way to describe it (photographic evidence of said fun provided). Flats in Kincaid’s can have up to 12 people living in them, which means its super social, and they host by far the best parties. For the first 2 weeks of living in Edinburgh I was at Kincaid’s literally every night because there were always people keen to go out and about. They’re also situated in Cowgate which means it’s approximately a 30 second walk to student favourite pubs, like Three Sisters and Stramash. If you’re planning a studious time in Edinburgh, maybe stay away from here; the amount of times we’ve had someone claiming they’re staying in at 7pm, but to have a bottle of Buckfast in hand by 9pm is legendary.

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Basically, no matter where you end up staying you’re going to have an amazing time. If you like cooking, then go for self-catered – this is definitely something I miss about flatting back home. However, being able to roll out of bed at 1.30pm on a Sunday and have hash browns and sausages at your disposal is nothing short of heavenly!

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My O-Week Experience: Zofia

Well team, I made it!

I’m writing this sitting in the Mary Brück Building at the King’s campus of the University of Edinburgh, Scotland. It still feels surreal that I’m actually here, despite being several weeks into university starting.

So, what have I been up to? Well, there has been a lot of beer and late nights, as well as lectures and practical labs (I swear, Mum, I’ve been going to every one).

Since I’ve come into Edinburgh’s second semester of the academic year, O Week wasn’t a huge “official” thing (although I hear if you come in September, Freshers Week is insane). That being said, the unofficial party hasn’t stopped since I got here.

I arrived at my accommodation in January. I’m staying at Pollock Halls, which is a complex of seven or eight “houses”, which are your typical university hostels – small rooms, single beds, questionably patterned carpet. We all share one big dining hall, which is all-you-can-eat and arguably wonderful.

On the first night we got taken to an event for international students called ‘A Taste of Scotland’. We got the whole haggis experience, with a piper and a proper Scottish address. If you don’t think about what’s in it too much, haggis isn’t half bad, and the Scots’ obsession with mashed root vegetables (“neeps and tatties”) is well founded.

During the week we also went to a ceilidh (pronounced kay-lee – that’s Gaelic for you). It’s a traditional Scottish folk dancing gathering, where you get taught the steps and dance in big circles. Really fun, but also a lot more of a workout than I’d anticipated when I dressed for the 0 degrees it was outside.

Those were the two properly organised events that I went to, but I’ve managed to meet a tonne of absolutely lovely people who go to Edinburgh Uni. Despite only being here for such a short time, the city itself and the people already feel like home.

Coming from New Zealand, you tend to forget how young we are as a country. Some of the buildings here outstrip our entire history by hundreds of years, which is insane to think about. The first day I arrived I just walked down all the streets taking photographs of everything and you could tell the locals wondered what I found so fascinating about literally just an old building.

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The other major difference here is the cold. I’ve never lived anywhere that is this cold. When it started properly snowing I absolutely lost it (embarrassing in front of exchange students from Canada, who didn’t find it so thrilling). But after purchasing some additional woollen socks I’ve managed to make it through.

The university work is really interesting, too (had to mention it at some point, I guess). Very similar set up to how science courses are run in Auckland, although I am slightly bitter about the difference in workload between science courses and everything else! My friends taking arts and commerce subjects literally have three lectures a week, whilst I’m suffering through about four times that.

So there we go – the first update from Edinburgh.

Love from Scotland!

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What I’m Packing: Zofia

I’m going to study at the University of Edinburgh for the second semester of their academic year, from January to May. This means I’m leaving the warmth of New Zealand’s summer and heading to the depths of Scotland’s winter; the average temperature in Edinburgh in January is 3 Celsius. Top of my packing list: several pairs of woollen socks, my puffer jacket and every scarf and beanie I own. Let’s get started.

9.45am

After a strong black coffee I’m ready to go. I’ve recruited my mother to help, since she had nothing better to do. Her talent for packing surpasses my own, even though I’ve done a lot of shifting myself over the past two years. Full disclosure: I also need her vital opinion on which clothes to take.

10.02am

We’ve managed to haul everything in my closet out into the lounge and are looking at it in dismay.

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10.05am

Mum is ignoring me while I ask her opinion on every single item of clothing I own. I’m considering buying an entire new wardrobe over there. Edinburgh is meant to have great shopping?

11.06am

Progress! We’ve sorted all my clothes into seasons. The ‘winter’ pile is lacking, but that’s okay. Mum has nice jumpers, and I’m sure she won’t notice if they go missing for 6 months.

12.24pm

We’ve stopped for lunch. Also to watch Gossip Girl on Netflix.

3.37pm

I have three separate piles of clothes adorning my lounge: 1) Winter clothing (beanies, scarves, jeans, boots, woollen jumpers) to be taken; 2) Summer stuff (shorts, dresses, t-shirts, sandals) I want to take for when I go visiting actually warm places in Europe because Scotland reaches about 18 degrees max; 3) Clothes being tossed/gifted to younger cousins, and make me seriously question why anyone has ever given me a debit card.

4.23pm

Getting somewhere. Mum’s yelling at me to “ROLL not FOLD” while I have a mental breakdown and Christmas carols play gently in the background. Bag is half full (not a metaphor, positivity levels are at an all time low).

5.09pm

Stopped for a drink.

6.34pm

Okay, so I can’t claim that the job is done. There’s a lot more of shuffling around and hopefully adding Christmas presents to do, but the lounge is looking less like a bombsite and I’m feeling more prepared.

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Here are a few tips for packing from yours truly:

You aren’t going to fit in everything

You’re going to a new place, you’re going to meet new people and totally reinvent yourself and your fashion choices. But be realistic; if you haven’t worn it in the last three years that you’ve owned it, chances are you’re not going to start. Save the space. You also don’t need to pack for every eventuality. If you get an invite to Buckingham Palace then you can always buy a new outfit; don’t bring the pearls just in case.

Roll, not fold.

Mother knows best. You save an incredible amount of space, and it’s also a fun pastime while sitting cross-legged in front of TV.

Get excited.

You’re preparing for one of the most exciting adventures you’ll likely ever go on, so just think about that instead of the amount of stuff you have to get done before you go. Pro tip: a cheeky G&T at 5pm helps with the stress levels.

But don’t forget the boring stuff.

Toothbrush, chargers, travel insurance; all less exciting than coordinating outfits, but possibly more important.

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Scotland

Forget what you know about Scotland! Our Auckland Abroad students have opened our eyes to this incredible study destination. Studying at a Scottish university gives you the possibility to take unforgettable day and weekend trips, witness a wealth of cultural history and meet people from all over the world!

University of Auckland students have the opportunity to study at one of four historic Scottish universities as part of the Auckland Abroad programme: Glasgow School of Art, University of Glasgow (U21 incl. Law), University of Edinburgh, University of St. Andrews.

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Lets hear from Auckland  Abroad students about their experiences!

On orientation:

“Stepping onto the campus for the first time is what I imagine Harry felt like when he first glimpsed Hogwarts. Literally. It’s a gorgeous, gothic castle with eerie cloisters and turrets. Flanked by leafy Kelvingrove park and where you’ll probably end up on most nights out, Tudor-turned-cocktail-heaven Ashton Lane, its situated in the heart of the West End. The University of Glasgow sets up two weeks of orientation before class starts: one just for international students, and another for all freshers. It begins with a Ceilidh (said Kaylee) in which everyone makes a fool of themselves dancing to traditional Scottish folk music, followed by day trips to places like St. Andrews and Loch Ness. Don’t be shy, nothing brings strangers together like desperately seeking Nessie or afternoon tea where Prince William first took Kate Middleton on a date.” – Elle Mignacca, University of Glasgow

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“Beyond just being outrageously beautiful, I loved my time at the University of Glasgow for the people. Everyone I met was incredibly welcoming and open to me – they are always happy to help with whatever you need. The exchange student orientation was great for meeting other study abroad students and also orients you really well to being in the UK in between the tours around the city and day trips to Edinburgh. There’s also a ton of cultural events and you get introduced to the two student unions on campus (that’s right – two). What’s also useful is the exchange student orientation is the week before ordinary orientation – so you get two orientations!” – Jessica Stubbing, University of Glasgow

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On classes:

“I wholeheartedly recommend the University of Edinburgh as a study destination. I found my classes to be dynamic and intellectually stimulating. For example, I was able to study the history of contemporary terrorism alongside live European political debates about these issues. Furthermore, the city of Edinburgh is uniquely friendly and easy to adapt to. Its relatively small size alongside a large student population gives the city a youthful, energetic buzz, and made me feel ‘at home’ on the other side of the world” –  Emelia French, University of Edinburgh

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“In terms of classes, I was fortunate to have a fairly straight forward experience enrolling for classes but be aware some people were not so lucky – just prepare to be flexible. All of the courses I took were incredibly interesting and it was no trouble to find something I wanted to take. Any drama students out there – the theatre programme here is incredible and they have so many fascinating courses to choose from. A lot of the courses outside of more hands on papers (like drama) are structured similarly to Auckland but generally there are fewer tutorials – having a similar structure definitely makes it easier to settle in to learning in a new setting.” – Jessica Stubbing, University of Glasgow

On accomodation:

“Edinburgh is just small enough to feel cosy and friendly, while still being filled with stuff to do and easily connected to other Scottish cities. The university itself is in amongst the city, unless you are doing Engineering (like I did), they have a second main campus which is a 25 minute walk (or a 10 minute free shuttle) from the central buildings. The cost of living and the workload is similar to Auckland. I stayed in Sciennes during my six month exchange. It is a flat style accommodation, but there is a large common room and they put on heaps of events so it’s easy to meet and get to know new people, while still having the independence of flat style living.” – Natasha Neeve, University of Edinburgh

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“All of the uni accomodations are scattered across the area, within a quick walking distance of your holy trifecta: uni, the local pub, and a Tesco. I was lucky enough to stay in Winton Drive, which meant my 20-minute morning commute to class went directly through the Botanical Gardens and a gourmet doughnut store”  – Elle Mignacca, University of Glasgow

 

On travel:

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“The trip that that was the highlight of my exchange was a weekend in Highlands of Scotland. It was a trip organised by the exchange office in Edinburgh that took us to the north of Scotland spending the night in Inverness. It was during this trip that I learnt about the tumultuous and often bloody history of Scotland and really began to appreciate Scottish heritage and culture, including Haggis surprisingly enough. But what really made my exchange were the friends I made; in particular two American exchange students I had the courage to walk up and introduce myself to on my second day, which is difficult for a relatively quiet person like me. This is the best advice I can give to anyone thinking of going overseas take the effort to make friends to share your experiences with and your exchange will the be best experience it could be.” – James Poh, University of Edinburgh

“I used my exchange as an opportunity to travel extensively through Europe, and I remained excited to return back to Edinburgh after every holiday. The picturesque, historical streets of Edinburgh are perfectly contrasted with the surrounding Scottish countryside. Being an avid hiker, I spent many weekends seeing other areas of Scotland. The environment somewhat remains an undiscovered wilderness.” – Emelia French, University of Edinburgh

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Top tips:

  • Ryanair is a game-changer: between my flatmates we did Dublin, London, Paris, Amsterdam, Oslo and Reykjavik for less than £20.
  • Supermarkets are insanely cheap and Primark will save your life
  • At the University of Glasgow if you’re staying in uni accomodation, a gym membership is included in your rent, the flats are super warm and the internet travels faster than light
  • Loch Lomond is breathtaking
  • Halloween and Guy Fawkes are massive and the Edinburgh Christmas Market is magical
  • Make a trip to the Isle of Skye
  • Going on exchange is hard. It’s an experience that will force you to grow, to go outside your comfort zone, to challenge yourself. But I guarantee that for every second of discomfort you will be rewarded with months and months of memories that you will take with you for the rest of your life.
  • Go to the Highlands, visits other cities and take advantage of the ludicrously cheap flights to the European mainland!
  • Ceilidh (key-leigh) is the traditional Scottish partner dance, and I would recommend you try go to at least one during your exchange!
  • It’s worth every cent (and all of the hours spent on paperwork), the memories you make will be unforgettable.
  • It’s cosy, and you’ll love it!