Goooooo Gators

I had the exciting opportunity to study at University of Florida for Fall Semester 2017. I arrived in Gainesville, Florida late on 14th August after meeting (little did I know at the time) my soon-to-be best friend, Julia a post-graduate exchange student from Germany, at Gainesville Airport. I remember looking out of the window of the hotel I would spend the night in and repeating to myself in awe that I was in America and about to start a four month adventure.

The next couple of days after I moved into Weaver Hall, the accommodation block specifically for exchange students from around the world and American students interested in meeting non-Americans, were a complete blur of meeting new people, attending introductory meetings, and exploring the beautiful campus. I had arrived at Weaver a couple of days before the official check-in day, so had the opportunity to get acquainted with my surroundings before the influx of other internationals, and my room-mate, Hallie, moved in. Looking back, it is unbelievable how quickly I clicked with everyone, and got involved in my Florida experience; within my first week of arriving, I had gone to clubs and bars in Downtown and Midtown, gone to a house party, and attended a pep rally which involved the Gator Band and cheerleaders.

Classes started on the second week and I quickly got into the routine of two classes a day every day: one class of American History before the Civil War and another after the Civil War, a class on the History of Human Rights, and a class about Nuclear History. All of my professors were passionate about their specialities, and later proved themselves to be extremely accommodating to the new pressures I faced under a new education system and, ultimately, different way of learning.

I did not realise how many new situations I would be in while moving to America – it was like when I first moved to Reading, but with a different culture that I had not experienced first-hand before. There was a new bus system, a different currency, taxes added onto purchases, and accents that were completely new to me; all in a country where I was on my own and with a negative five hour time difference to my family. This could have scared me, and I definitely felt this sensation creep over me now and again at the beginning of my time in America, but ultimately I was excited and amazed that I was living and studying on my own in a different country.

After the first week of school, I attended my first Gator volleyball event, spent the day at Lake Wauburg, and went to the mall with Julia. On Labor Day, Julia, Sam, and I went tubing (using big, rented, inflatable rings) in Ichetucknee Springs. The springs were the most beautiful place I have been in my life, and I had my first glimpse at baby alligators. I also had three dragonflies land on me as I drifted lazily down the springs. I was overwhelmed at the beauty I had only seen in nature programmes on television, and could not believe I was experiencing such wonders myself. The first few weeks at University of Florida taught me how important it is to balance school and fun, as I attended events and met friends who would remain close to me throughout my stay in Gainesville. Although I am writing this in retrospect, I hoped this experience would remain as joyful as it had been so far – and do you know what, although there were difficulties at times, it did.

 

Winter is Cold

Melbourne in winter is cold. But if you stand in the intense sunlight, it’s not too bad by my English standards. It hasn’t stopped me, and a group of other exchange students I met, from visiting the beach to enjoy bright vistas, or visiting the zoo to see the kangaroos and koalas first-hand. In fact, our first few weeks here have been very busy, with all of the orientation activities that Monash University planned for us. These included not only information sessions about the university, but also an array of social events.

The nights do feel like winter, with many establishments celebrating ‘Christmas in July’, and in fact the Queen Victoria markets, which we visited in orientation, were putting on an attempt at a Christmas market. It was very festive and cosy and even though it was winter and under a shelter, the Australians were not deterred from barbequing, so it did get a bit smoky! Monash is also in on this BBQ culture, and seems to have one every week on campus, if you are part of one of their many societies.

I have so far tried out the badminton society, which is extremely friendly and enjoyable, and will be joining the ultimate frisbee society next week. I have been told that the frisbee society is especially social, with regular BBQs, hikes and camping trips, so I am looking forward to it. There is also an outdoors society for this kind of thing, which I am hoping will help in my mission to see as much of Australia as I can before my exchange comes to an end. So far, it is going well, but I intend to make plans soon for wider travels. Australia is a big country!

So far I have been very lucky with my travels, as my family has been able to show me around and recommend some places. My cousin has even taken me to see some of Melbourne’s best street art, and Melbourne is a very artistic place. It is also very laid-back and friendly; everyone really is your ‘mate’. I think I will like it here.

MADA, or Monash Art, Design and Architecture, runs quite differently to the art department in Reading. You can choose elective units from anywhere in the department, if you’re an art student like I am, or from anywhere in the university, if you’re from a different Reading department, I believe. This allows us to be exposed to a range of different skills! I am learning about photography, illustration, coding, and film. So I will have no problem filling my time with assignments, as well as with all of the travelling I intend to do. Time is going by so quickly!

The Beautiful City of Uppsala

Uppsala is a beautiful city, and Sweden a beautiful country, and almost three weeks after I arrived I still think about how lucky I am to be here. After picking up the keys to my room and going to the Nordic Languages Department to register for my Basic Intensive Swedish class, I was struck by how international this place was. Students were here from all over the world, Australia, New Zealand, USA, Taiwan, South Korea and many other European students, and it wasn’t until a couple of days later that I met another English person! I was immediately made to feel welcome in this city as everybody spoke great English, although I was looking forward to immersing myself more into the Swedish culture by learning the language – more o  n this later.

After leaving the hotel with all my luggage and arriving at my new flat, I was shocked at how dirty the place was – it had certainly not been cleaned as I had expected. The place seemed a long way out of the city and was very quiet – I did not get the same warm welcome that I felt in the city. I decided to head to the Housing Office to request to be moved. The housing guide stated that moves are not possible, but I thought ‘if you don’t ask you don’t get’, right? They allowed me to move into the city centre accommodation two weeks later, which was originally my first choice – success!

The next day I bought a bike to cycle from my accommodation to class and around the city – this really made me feel Swedish. There are bike racks everywhere and many people cycle here, although the feeling to me was more nostalgic than typical, given that I hadn’t ridden a bike since my early teens. Later that week it was my birthday and the first time I have ever had to go to ‘school’ – one blessing of being an August baby! After the Swedish class, I went to an elk farm and saw a moose for the first time. Upon our return, it was time to head to the Systembolaget, the only place where you can by alcohol with an ABV of more than 3.5%. I was surprised by the cashier with what I thought was a small bottle of wine, until I got home and realised it was de-alcoholised.

Later I headed to Flogsta, where most of the exchange students who arrived early for the Swedish course were living, for a great corridor party. One thing I wish I’d done before my move was to photograph some of my important documents, including my passport and EHIC card. It wasn’t until the next day when I fell off my bike riding through the woods that I realised this. I had to go to the medical centre in the city centre to get a large stone removed from the palm of my hand, but without my EHIC card I had to return the next day with it to avoid a hefty medical fee!

I have thoroughly enjoyed my time in Sweden so far and am sure even greater times will come. I have found the Swedish language course much harder than expected. I aim to really practice what I’ve learnt in class and try to avoid speaking English in the supermarket, cafes and shops, and hope to make a good improvement by the end of the first semester. Every day I find new places, see new things and meet new people, and I think this all adds to the excitement of an exchange. I am looking forward to starting my Law modules and explore more of what Sweden and the rest of Scandinavia has to offer!

My First Week

Aarhus has recently been declared the cultural capital of Europe, and this is evident in the mass portrayal and acceptance of many different countries cuisine. This is apparent in the Aarhus “street food” market which contains all different types of food, ranging from ‘Jamaican Jerk Chicken’, ‘Mexican Burritos’, ‘Chinese Duck’, curries and French Crepes. This is a really wide variety of food that shows the wealth of culture present in Aarhus. But to top off this creativity the whole market is built inside an un-used bus station. The stalls themselves are built and set up inside old ship yard containers. This means the theme of the Aarhus “street food” market is to not only re-cycle but to re-use old things and provide back for the public. The food as well was really cheap about 30 krona which exchanges to roughly £3.00. This makes it an ideal place for a student to grab a quick and easy lunch and when you are done, you have to wipe your own table with the disinfectant and towels dotted around the seating area.

The houses here have a cottage feel as they are small and are packed with essentials from the university such as pans, plates, cutlery to chopping boards and cups. I did not need to buy anything apart from food as it was all provided by the University! It’s not as cold as you think it is here, all though many will disagree but if you come prepared like I did by bringing a thermal coat, hat and scarf you can easily survive the cold weather. There are many nationalities that come to Aarhus to study but in my house I have 2 Canadians one Australian and one American. So the university put me with fellow English speaker which made it easier to talk and joke with each other.

My lectures at the university were not what I was expecting. I thought I would be in a class of all international students, and this belief was further enforced by the fact my lecture was in English, so I assumed the class of 24 students in my literature course had different nationalities and they were learning in the common language of English. So when I got put in a group I asked them if they were German as I heard them speaking to each other. They looked at me shocked and one of them said “no, we are Danish”. I was, and still am, shocked to learn that I was in a Danish majority English Literature class, with only 4 other international students. The fact the students were all conversing with the lecturer in English for an English literature module shows the high level of language skills many of the Danish actually possess.

This is a short blog of my time so far in Denmark, I have only been here for one week but I have already learnt so much about the culture of Denmark and its history. I expect I will learn much more in my weeks to come.

Land of the Rising Sun

I have fallen in love with this country over and over again and currently the thought of leaving makes me incredibly sad. It’s crazy to think that a year ago I was filling in my application forms for accommodation and now I’m sitting in the middle of Tokyo after travelling around, seeing the most amazing sights and meeting some truly lovely people. One of my favourite places in Tokyo is the Harajuku area of Shinjuku. It’s the young person’s oasis, full of fashion, restaurants and giant rainbow candyfloss. You’re definitely encouraged to be yourself here, as you’ll see many people expressing themselves with bright pink hair and platform shoes – think Camden with extra rainbows.

From Kyoto to Hiroshima, I have made the most of my Spring Break and seen as much as I could before my second and final semester begins in a few weeks’ time. Japan is a students’ paradise with so many incredible places to visit and not necessarily that expensive! I urge anyone coming to Japan to study abroad, or even on a holiday, to see as much as you can – you will not regret it. I’ve seen monkeys in Nagano, a snow festival in Hokkaido, more shrines and temples than I can count in Kyoto and a beautiful water jinjya in Hiroshima – and that’s just a small part of what I’ve seen.

Before studying abroad, Japan wasn’t even on my radar as a place I had to see and now I realise what a mistake that was! My time here has opened my eyes to the world in which we live; there are so many incredible places for us to discover! Living and studying here has been a truly wonderful experience. My classes are really interesting and thankfully my Japanese language skills have come along so much since I’ve lived here. However, the best thing about studying abroad is the people you get to meet. I now have friends from all over the world, from Argentina to Germany, some of whom I’m hoping to go and visit in their home countries!

I’m very lucky to be the recipient of a JASSO scholarship which has helped me live in Tokyo. As you might expect, much like London, it is not the cheapest of places to live. However, with that said, you certainly get more than your money’s worth. I urge anyone thinking about studying abroad not to worry about the financial side of things, as there are many scholarships and grants available to you as well as your normal student finance if you’re from the UK! It’s just a matter of research and applying for as many as you can!

I wouldn’t change my experience for the world and I still have about four months left to enjoy. Considering I nearly didn’t apply for year abroad, I’ve had quite an adventure this year and long may it continue!

Time flies when you’re Down Under

When I received the news that I would be fortunate to have a term abroad in Melbourne, Australia, I was ecstatic! However, I immediately had the concern of funding as I was aware of how expensive Australia is. Luckily, Reading University’s study abroad term informed me of the various bursaries that were available to me. When researching the various bursaries, the AFSA bursary stood out and after my applying I was granted the bursary, which I am so grateful for as it extended the amount of opportunities available.

The six months which I spent in Australia were incredible a once in a lifetime experience. However, even though before leaving England I had my philosophy modules pre-approved- when I was finalising them at La Trobe, only one philosophy module was running! This meant that I had to find two new modules. Although this was a hassle at the time, one of the modules I chose was ‘Feminism’, which ended up being based around philosophy and also helped me decide on my topic for my ‘Independent Learning Essay’, which I will have to complete in my final year at Reading. Moreover, I studied a module which opened my eyes to the history and discrimination of Aboriginals in Australia, which I found extremely interesting. At Reading, I am used to taking three modules per term, whereas at La Trobe, I had to take four which at first was a struggle, however, it taught me how to balance my time better so I could still get good grades, but also make the most of my time exploring Australia.

 

Due to my time management becoming stronger, I had many opportunities to travel around Australia and see the most of this beautiful country. The date of my flight gave me exactly a month of free time before heading home. In this time I travelled up the East Coast, starting in Sydney and ending in Cairns. Due to it being winter, the further north, the warmer it got. Melbourne got extremely cold (it reached -1 degrees at night), proving the popular belief that Australia is always hot, false. Thus, I was following the sun North! This was the perfect trip as I had just completed four large final pieces of coursework for La Trobe, so it was a well deserved relaxing holiday.

My time in Australia was unforgettable. In just six months, I learnt how to surf, held a Koala, tried various new foods and explored the East, West and South of Australia. From this experience, I have become more confident and open to new opportunities. I have made so many new friends all around the world, providing me with connections in New York, Sweden, Norway and of course, Australia.

I would recommend studying abroad to anyone, but I would thoroughly research each individual university on offer to make sure they were the best for my degree. Although six months away may seem daunting, I am a very family orientated person but the time flew by and I was never homesick as I was constantly busy, surrounded my amazing people. Enjoy every minute of it, because once you’re home, it feels as if you never left.