Arrival in Ottawa

Prior to applying to study abroad, I already had full intention on studying abroad when possible. In addition to that, I also had family members that had travelled to Canada, either for work, placement or even to study abroad there! So not only did I already have the decision to take this unique opportunity, I even had decided where I wanted to go! It was of great relief when I saw a letter of acceptance to travel to the country of my choice! The hardest part before leaving was realising that I would not see my friends until the next year. I packed my bags, excited to see what was to come entering a country on my own.

As I first entered Canada, I was shocked almost instantly at what I saw when I left the airport, the air was warm and the sun was blazing. I took my jacket off just to compensate for the heat. It seemed I packed too heavy for such a warm weather. So with my first assumption already out the window, I enter my campus and placed my stuff down quickly to then set off and explore the grounds.

The second thing I noticed was how the place showed similarities to the UK, city wise that is. The structure of buildings reminded me of a busy city area in London. Which may sound minuscule. However, it made me feel comfortable to know what to expect when it came to exploring the place. Everybody I met there was incredibly welcoming, and since I was essentially a freshmen, I took pamphlets upon pamphlets so that I could navigate myself around the campus. Unlike most universities in the UK, uOttawa, at the very least, was incredibly open, some of the buildings would stretch into the city, and every now and then you would find a building somewhere in the main city with a uOttawa sign on it. So at least I knew that on my way to my lectures, I could grab a Tim Hortons and pretend I was a Canadian like everyone else. As I walked around the campus, I was greeted by many friendly guides from Ottawa who were more than happy to lend a helping hand.

I went to my first class of season, technical theatre, I was anxious to see how the classes would be structured and how the students would interact with me. Fortunately, the second I walked into the room I was greeted almost instantly by these two people who then became one of my closest friends. Overall, the first few weeks showed promise, and I was excited to proceed with the further months to come.

Meet the Hoosiers

One thing that really surprised me about the whole experience of studying abroad was how welcoming and eager to talk to me people seemed to be in my first few weeks (and for my entire time there for that matter). Even after being there a few days, it became clear to me that most Hoosiers (the name for people from Indiana) have never even met someone from the U.K before. The way I spoke was something out of a movie for most of the people I met, I suppose in the same way most American culture is to me. Upon meeting people, I would receive a quick second-glance at the sound of my voice which would almost certainly be followed by the words “Oh my god, do you have an accent?”, so I mean it literally when I say that I must have heard that sentence at least once a day.

I have been using the time in between my studies to see as much of the U.S as I can. I went with friends down to Anderson County in Kentucky where we went bungee jumping, and then the next day went hiking and cliff jumping in Red River Gorge national park. The bungee jump was one the best experiences of my entire life. The 240 foot drop from the platform of a disused train bridge to the Kentucky River beneath induced a feeling of fear, adrenaline and excitement of which it would be hard to come by again. And Red River gorge was an adventure in itself. We spent the day walking along trails in the dense forest underneath the red hot sun, clambering along beautiful rock formations such as what’s known as the Sky Bridge. A natural rock formation of a bridge which the trail leads you over and then takes you back around underneath. Later that day we also came to a part of the river that runs through the national park known as Jump Rock. Here people were swimming in river, which was surprisingly pleasant, and deep enough so that you could jump off a rock around 12 foot above the surface of the water that protruded from the banking.

In terms of my studies, the relaxed nature of my lessons has certainly become a little bit more stressful as the pressure starts to build up. Luckily for me my classes are more coursework based as opposed to having exams to take. I really thrive off of the individual and creative nature of my assignments. I have learnt so much practical knowledge about the things that interest me in terms of my professional goals. For example I now know how to fully devise and professionally format a screenplay. And I can utilise the settings of a camera in a creatively enhancing way, whilst also being able to develop my own rolls of film and print the photographs myself in a dark room. Furthermore I know how to think in terms of lighting and plan accordingly when filming for my Video Production class, and my Telecommunications Management class has taught me how to think in terms of running my own freelance business, which may very well be my entry point into the film and television industry.

 

Endless Corn Fields

I can say with confidence that I absolutely loved everything about my first few weeks on my

study abroad placement at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana, in the heart of the United

States’ mid-west.

 

I remember the one-hour car ride from the airport to the small town of Muncie very well.

Even after over twelve hours of travelling, the site of the Indianapolis skyline with the Indiana

Colts’ famed Lucas Oil American football stadium in the foreground didn’t fall short in filling

me with excitement for my forthcoming adventure. As we got further away from Indianapolis

I began to see the real Indiana. I was struck by the natural beauty of its rural setting. The two

words “Corn” and “Fields” would suffice in perfectly describing what the general terrain looks

like throughout the state. The earth is flat for miles in every direction and all you can see is

clumps of trees growing sparsely amongst the vast agricultural landscape. To put it into

perspective, if you ever happen to be driving through Indiana you could you fall asleep in the

car and wake up an hour later to find that the view from your passenger window hasn’t

changed at all. That just about sums up the endless, and no less beautiful, setting that

comprises the state of Indiana.

 

It didn’t take me long to settle in to ‘college life’ once the semester commenced. I was placed

in Studebaker East, which is Ball State’s dormitory for international students, however there

were American students there as well. The mix of Americans and fellow international

students was great as it meant that I had a group of friends to experience this new culture

with, and then friends who were keen to show us their culture and vice versa. This meant we

had a great group with which to go to the college American football games, and basketball

games which really became a big part of our weekend most weeks. The tailgate parties that

preceded every college football game were a lot of fun. It felt like a very American experience;

with people dancing next to big trucks that had huge speakers on them whilst others were

grilling burgers on their portable Barbeques. And then we would all venture off to the game

itself.

 

Academically, I found that Ball State’s system took a little bit of getting used to, simply

because it was different to what I am used to in England. I really like how Ball State students

could pick classes from different departments within reason. For example, I took two classes

from the Telecommunications department, a class from the English department and a class

from the Art department. I benefitted from this variety as it allowed me to steer my education

in the direction I wanted it to go. My classes in the end were Photography, Screenwriting,

Advanced Video Production and Telecommunications Management. As my degree is Film, you

can see why these courses were beneficial to me. The class-room based, more relaxed

teaching styles made classes feel more personal and enjoyable. Particularly in the

Telecommunications classes (Advanced Video Production and Management), both of my

instructors filled their classes with clear information and helpful anecdotes of their

experiences in the industry I wish to work in.

Arrival in Australia

When I arrived in Australia, it wasn’t exactly the weather I expected, grey, cloudy and windy. Luckily, thanks to the study abroad co-ordinators at my host university setting up a Facebook group, I had managed to find people on my flight from Abu-Dhabi to Perth in which I was able to travel to the university with. I was the only one at my flat when I first arrived, reality then hit that this was going to be a challenging experience, many emotions ran through my head but already having friends who were in the same boat made it a lot easier (it’s hard not to develop a close friendship 26 hours flying). Being in student accommodation made it a lot easier to meet people from all across the world, something I had not experienced at Reading.Curtin’s O-week is pretty much like the fresher’s events we have on campus. It allows you to get to know the campus, what societies and sports they have to offer, and also to get familiar with the happy hour they have at The Tav (their equivalent to Park Bar). The study abroad department, and accommodation office organise a lot of trips, which allows you to experience the city and also spend time with those also studying abroad. So far this has involved going to Caversham Wildlife Park, where I got to see koalas and kangaroos, Freemantle Prison, Kings Park and many more. My friend in other accommodation has hired a car which meant we could easily get to and embrace the beaches now that the sun has come out.

With trips to Bali and Sydney being planned, I am looking forward to my next few months in Australia and seeing what Curtin has to offer!

Oktoberfest

It’s crazy to think I have already been here in Australia for two months now! Time definitely flies when you’re having fun! In this time I have experienced Fremantle, Bali, Oktoberfest, a soccer game and plenty of beach trips, all among endless assignments and dissertation work!

In my first tuition free week my friends and I took a trip to Bali, somewhere I never thought I would have the chance to go to! This was such an amazing experience which we managed to fill with numerous activities in one week. Whilst we were here we managed to go to the monkey forest, beach clubs, Bali swing, Tegenungan Waterfall and in general just relax on the beach. These are memories that I will never forget and ones in which I am so thankful I am to have.

Getting to attend an Oktoberfest event here in which they hold every year was so much fun! I had never been to anything like it before, but it is now something I definitely want to do again! Seeing crowds of people in Lederhosen and Dirndl dresses, all dancing to music and sitting on a swing ride was definitely and experience I will never forget.       

In regards to work, because that’s the sole purpose of me being here, I have experienced more group work than I did at home! This has worked well for me, enabling me to speak to students who actually go this university and aren’t just on exchange. My classes are all split into weekly 2 hour lectures and 1 hour workshops which enables you to apply the information you have learnt in the lectures and discuss any topics you struggled to understand. The units in which I am taking are fairly similar to those at Reading, with Child Development being something we have already done at home it has been interesting in the similarities and differences in the way they teach the material and which aspects they tend to focus on. Here at Curtin they offer a Sports and Exercise Psychology module which I am thoroughly enjoying. This has been a topic I have previously been interested, from being taught in sixth form, but I had not been able to experience this at Reading. Keeping up with my units here and working on my dissertation has been a struggle, but my supervisor, project partner and staff here at Curtin have been really helpful and understanding which made it a lot easier!          

Finally, getting to go to a soccer game here was a highlight of the past month! The weather was amazing which made it even better. The crowd atmosphere was amazing, since I had never attended a sports game at home I thought why not start here? It is definitely something I will be attending again!

With my 21st soon approaching, exam fortnight and numerous trips around Australia, I am sure the remainder of my trip here will provide me with even more amazing memories!

Washington DC

Studying aboard is something I have always wanted to do as it allowed me to mix both studying and travelling together. When this opportunity became available to study aboard for 1 year, I was beyond excited and was determined to make the most of it!  So, I headed to the University of Mary Washington, and I am loving every minute of it.

At first, I was expectedly apprehensive as I was heading into the unknown – I didn’t know anyone, was in a completely different country, and 3,000+ miles away from my family and friends. I arrived at Dulles Airport on 21st August and began my journey. All my anxious feelings were quickly overcome as soon as I landed, met my new housemates and saw where I’d be living for the next academic year.

I decided to live in the International Living Community, also known as Framar House. This is a house of 20 students, and a mixture of both Americans and internationals. From living here, I was able to meet lots of new people and throw myself into all the activities going on. However, with a mixture of both jet lag and excitement, the first week was mostly a blur. There were lots of orientation events to attend, register for classes, meetings with the Center for International Education department (CIE) and fun events in the evenings.

After the first week of initially settling in, getting used to ev          erything, visiting the local historic and picturesque town of Fredericksburg, classes began. I was enrolled in their business college and had one or two classes per day. Getting used to a new education system, the accents and new classes and the new way of learning all proved more difficult than I had expected. But through already making close friends already with both housemates and classmates, and having understanding professors, I was able to adapt to this new way of studying.

                                                   

The first few weeks here at the University of Mary Washington, I was able to visit Washington DC and see all the wonderful memorials, monuments and museums (many of which are free which is all the better). My favourite part of DC was the Lincoln Memorial and the incredible view you get. Myself and other internationals (Alice, Silvia and Luisa) all spontaneously decided to do a sunrise hike up a mountain in Shenandoah National Park, although it was incredibly early and freezing, the ultimate view was definitely worth it! One of the American guys in the house, John, also offered to take us to all the local historic sites within Fredericksburg, to educate us on the Civil War, and how Fredericksburg played a key part.

Quite probably one of the most American things I could do but I have started a bucket list of all the American fast food places I go to that aren’t in the UK, and rating each one (how very American). So far, nothing can beat Chick-fil-a!

These first few weeks being here has allowed me to grow independently, adapt to new situations, and travel. I have also become very close to 3 new friends who I know I will have for the rest of my life, so I am excited to see where the next year here will take me!

New York City

Since my past post, I can confirm that studying aboard at UMW was a superb choice! I have finally fully adjusted to all my classes and the American culture. The work structure was definitely different to the one back at Reading, which took time adapting. For instance, there are more lectures, assignments are due on a weekly basis and exams are taken every few weeks. Although the amount of work is clearly more intense, I have found that it isn’t as tough content wise. So, as long as you stay on top of it, you’ll be fine!

Throughout these few months, I have managed to experience tons of lifelong memories and visit lots of new places, in Virginia and other states within this relatively short period of time. Some of these trips included going to NYC for Fall break with 5 others for 6 days. It was a fantastic experience because we got to see Brooklyn, Times Square, go up the Empire State Building to see the concrete jungle in its full glory, visit the MONA, go shopping on Saks 5th Avenue, walk around Central Park and Grand Central Station where I had flashbacks to my ‘Gossip Girl’ days!

I also got the chance to visit West Virginia and see Blackwater Falls at the height of the fall season which truly was a picturesque experience. It was incredible to see a National Park with all the vibrant colour trees and see all the amazing views! It was a fairly long car journey (3 hours each way) but the scenery was absolutely worth it!

Other activities included going to a soccer game in DC, going to King Dominion (a theme park) which had a fright night which was very spooky and fun! The University also arranged further trips for our house to visit DC, where I was able to visit several of the museums including the National history museum, the National Art Gallery and the American History museum. I also visited Richmond, went apple picking and went to a shooting range and shot a gun (which did terrify me).

Myself and 3 of the internationals living in Framar House got invited to spend Thanksgiving break in November with one of our friends Christian. We spent a lot of time consuming wine with his family, visiting the Blue Ridge Mountains, meeting all the immensely friendly family members and consuming lots of scrumptious food. Quite frankly I’ve never been so excited to see home cooked food!

The rest of the fall semester was spent focusing on my studies, as finals were looming and lots of assignments were due. Finals were obviously stressful as they are back home, but I felt the added pressure here since we didn’t get any time off to study for them. However, I got through this period with knowing that I was heading back to NYC to see it at Christmas. I adore Christmas, so getting this opportunity during this season was a dream come true! So, myself, Alice, Luisa and Silvia, headed to NYC on the 16th December and used these few days away to spend quality time together, relax and explore more of Manhattan. We endlessly strolled around Central Park in the snow, went to see Wicked, visited far too many coffee shops and saw all the sensational decorations at Rockefeller. It was here I additionally had to say my farewells to these girls since they were only studying at UMW for 1 semester which was very emotional since I have spent every day of the last 4 months with them and shared some tremendous memories. However, we have already planned to visit one another next summer, so I cannot wait to see them all and visit Italy and Germany.

Currently I am sat back home in the UK as I flew back for the Christmas festivities and the chance to see all my family. Being back here has allowed me to reflect on these amazing past 4 months, through all the great opportunities I got to partake in and knowing that I have grown in regard to confidence, independence and adaptability.  Although I am so grateful to be with my family, I am consumed with a sense of excitement to fly back out for the spring semester and see what new adventures I get up to!

Diving Down Great Barrier Reef

 

The five months I spent studying in Australia at Monash University at the beginning of my 3rd year of a 4-year course was by far the best educational experience I have ever had. While I love studying at Reading University, much like I enjoyed school, there is nothing quite like pairing studying a subject you love with travelling and exploring a country that is as stunning and incredible as Australia.

Studying at a different University was great, I was able to make some amazing, life-long friends both from English university but also from Australia. Monash University was very accommodating to all the study abroad and exchange students. They provided taxi services from the airport to our halls accommodations, they organised many trips throughout the semester to ensure we got to see as much of the local as possible, for example they took us to Phillip Island and to Healsville Sanctuary. They also organised weekly nights out to help us meet other people from different countries. One of the best things, however, was that every Tuesday we got a free coffee/ hot drink if we showed our membership sticker at the café on campus!!

My classes were different to the types of classes I have here at Reading, possibly because I was only studying art at Monash where as I do Art and Psychology at Reading. As apposed to lectures they were more like open spaces to work and ask questions of our teachers. They normally started the classes off with an introduction and some artist inspiration, but we were then allowed to just get on with our work. I do wish I had been allowed to study psychology there as it would have been interesting too see if that is taught/ assessed differently. Thanks to the Imagine funding I was able to purchase all the art supplied I needed to produce the work I wanted to. These included paints, brushes, different types of paper, glass, and a professional print.

In terms of travelling, I feel like I managed to fit a lot onto a short period of time. Rachel, a fellow Reading Student who was also studying abroad at Monash, and I did a lot of travelling together. We managed to visit most of Melbourne, Sydney, Tasmania, Cairns, Darwin and I also went to Adelaide and did a tour up through Central Australia to Alice Springs. I have been asked a lot what was my favourite place to visit and I couldn’t possibly answer, however, what I did find incredible was how vast the country was and how every place was so very different, for example going from a city as big and as populated as Melbourne, to Uluru in the desert, to the rainforests near Darwin to diving down to the Great Barrier reef!

I will forever be grateful for this opportunity, it rekindled my desire to explore the world. It also motivated me to come back to Reading and put 110% into my degree as I would love to be able to return there one day. I am so thankful to Reading, my subject departments, the study abroad coordinators and the Imagine funding organisation that made this possible.

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!