Coming to the end of part one

Ok, so I said I’d let you guys know how mid-semster break went. That was a while ago now but work has been getting hard and I have exams in 2 weeks. It also doesn’t help that Australia have this stupid system of putting a quota on internet usage and apparently my house have used ours up for the month so I’m currently bashing away in the library before my lecture. I mean seriously it’s not oil its not going to run out.

Midsemester break was good – nice and relaxing. I went to Sydney with one of my housemates. It was good seeing all the touristy things so I’d advise anyone to go and see it but apart from that I felt the city was very similar to any other big city. There is a lot of business and, judging by the cars, a lot of money. We went for two days which gave us ample time to see everything that we needed to see. It was, however, very expensive – they wanted $190 (100 quid to climb the harbour bridge). So my advice if going to Sydney is to plan ahead what you want to see and dont wear flip flops since my housemate managed to break his foot from walking for 2 days (personally, I think he is being a wimp but you know).

Following that, I went to Byron Bay to camp for a few days. Luckily enough one of my mates had a car so the trip was much easier. In Australia, they don’t do inter-state public transport and since Byron is just over the border in NSW it would be quite difficult to get there from Brisbane. I do think there is a bus but don’t quote me on that one. If you get the chance to go I would recommend it. It was very relaxing and there are plenty of student places around so it creates a good atmosphere.

Since I got back it has kind of been boring, having to get the head down and work. However, last week I did attend the pre-departure briefing for the UQ students heading to Glasgow which was fun seeing how I was in their shoes last semester. (For some reason the first question I was asked was are there a lot of fights in Glasgow).

Anyway, I am leaving Brisbane in around about 3 weeks and heading back to Glasgow for 3 months for my summer holiday. To be honest, I’m really looking forward to seeing family and friends again and I really need to find a job because I have spent a ridiculous amount of money out here and it doesn’t help when the Aussie$ decides to hit highs against the pound. I like the fact that the Australian university year has this long summer break as there would be little point in returning to the UK for only two weeks or so and it does enable me to try and sort out internships for next summer that other students who are studying in the northern hemisphere may not be able to get.

Anyway, the next post will probably be from Scotland. Bye

Harvard- America’s McGill

McGill is rated in the Top 20 Universities in the World, which undoubtedly means that the work is going to be tough. This definitely was a shock to the system and it’s really only now that I’ve started to get my head screwed on and knuckle down to do some work. I’m taking 15 credits per semester, which is a full load and is equivalent to 60 credits back in Glasgow. Generally, classes are 3 credits, so 5 classes in total per semester. Being a 2nd year Biology student doesn’t give me much leeway with what subjects I can choose, unlike Arts students. However, McGill does offer a broad spectrum of courses, so finding classes that I needed as pre-requisites for 3rd entry weren’t too hard to come by.

Harvard- America's McGill

I think, but am not entirely sure yet that I want to do a Physiology degree, but I don’t want to put all my eggs in one basket. Glasgow has allowed me to do 3 credits per semester as electives, so I can choose anything I like, therefore I only have 4 classes of Science. And seeing as though I’m in Montréal, the largest bilingual city in the World, I might as well learn the lingo- Français!

My other courses are: Molecular Biology, Physiology, Psychology and Anatomy. On average, I have about 3 hours of lectures per week for each, plus I have a 1.5 hour lab for Anatomy where we basically study cadavers. In Quebec, the education system is different from the rest of the country. They have something available to locals called CEGEP College, which if completed means that they can skip 1st year, U0, and go straight to 2nd year, U1. Basically the equivalent of Glasgow’s 2nd year is U1, so I’m mainly doing 200-level courses, except for Psychology. The level of work is a big leap from last year, which is to be expected, but as I was saying, I’ve only just realised how much work I need to do to keep up to date.

Here, they have mid-terms, which I’m not used at all. I’m generally quite badly organised, so I’ll cram really hard the month before Finals, but here it’s not possible. You have to constantly recap lectures and remember everything as you go or else you will fall behind. The mid-terms are generally worth 20-30% and some subjects have quizzes throughout the semester worth a few percent here and there, so mainly the bulk of your mark is from the final. A slight shock to the system, as at Glasgow my subjects were mainly 50% coursework/labs/assignments – 50% exam, which seemed so much easier.

Arts on the other hand is different, many of my Arts friends have essays every week etc. And in my French the 100% is split between many different things, such as attendance, quizzes, dictations, orals, presentations and various exams throughout the year. It’s a great class, with about 20 people of a similar level, but language lessons here are soooo difficult. No English is spoken whatsoever, so if you don’t understand you’re screwed. Even though I’m not selling it very well, I would still recommend you to do one, as it’s one of the most rewarding. I’m able to have basic conversations with friends, maybe not locals because they have a Québécoise accent (very different to French French). Hopefully by the end of the year I’ll have a good grasp of the language.

The course catalogue: http://www.mcgill.ca/files/courses/UGCourses.pdf is vital to helping you pick classes. Once you have a few that you like you then add them by going to Minerva, McGill’s equivalent to WebSurf, and hey presto. It’s not as easy as back home because there’s so many courses to pick from that there are clashes sometimes and you have to add/drop courses to sort it out, but finally I got it done. Make sure to email your head of department and advisor of studies to get approval, or else, no getting back into uni!

My mid-terms are coming up over the next few weeks and I am not looking forward to them at all. It’s really stuffed up my travel plans because I wanted to go explore at the weekends, but now I have to stay home and study. Luckily, last weekend I managed to get out of town for Thanksgiving. I went to the oldest village in Canada, Tadoussac, an awesome spot for whale watching, black bear encounters, mesmorising autumnal scenery (i didn’t realise how many shades of brown and orange and coppers there were). I went to Quebec City as well, which is only 3 hours away, so I’ll definitely be heading back next year in the winter.

The weather over the past month has dramatically changed, it used to be shorts weather (for me at least), but now, it’s around 4 oC during the day, so I’m thinking a wee bit of winter shopping is required to keep me toasty. Down jackets are a must! But it’s cheaper and better quality here than back home.

I’ve been trying to stay/get (probably the latter) fit by playing some intramural sports. Back in Glasgow I was on the Ultimate Frisbee team and I knew it was big here. Unfortunately, with the stress of flat hunting, I missed out on the “free agents meeting”, where teams look for players and players look for teams. However, I managed to get on a team and because they’re a beginner’s team I’ve taken the role as coach, which isn’t bad going. I’m also now in an A team, so I’ve got the best of both worlds. Plus, I’m in a Volleyball team with some of my exchange friends. It’s quite easy to keep 3 teams on the go, as it’s very relaxed and there’s no need to train.

It costs around $10-20 to join a team and then you play 5 games to try and make it through to the play-offs to see who will come out on top. www.mcgill.ca/athletics

I was also tempted to join the Varsity Rugby team, but Varsity is taken very seriously; training several nights a week, matches every weekend. The level of play is not the greatest, even though the 1st XV are considered one of the best in Canada, but I suppose that’s Canada for you. Ice Hockey is the no.1 sport. Kids are born with a puck and a stick in their hand, and it’s like a family tradition to go see your local team. Tickets to go see the Montreal Canadiens start at $60, but i’ve heard the atmosphere is incredible, so I’m tempted.

My next big trip is to Boston to go see my friends from the hostel, hopefully they’ll show me around and I might even meet up with some fellow Glasgow exchangees.

The Frolics of Frosh and Flat Hunting

-just do it

-just do it

Finding a flat in Montreal is easy; there are loads of student apartments around, so you shouldn’t have too much trouble. Just don’t do what I did!

Having made lots of friends at the hostel in Jean Talon, but still without a permanent place to live was starting to worry me. Fresher’s week (Frosh) was starting on 25th August so I had very little time left.

Before arriving in Canada, me and Jacqueline, another Glasgow Uni student discussed getting a flat together, so I was searching for 2-bed apartments. However, it wasn’t as easy as you would think because we had completely different criteria.

During my first 2 weeks I had literally fallen in love with Le Plateau (zone F on McGill map below), so i was keen to live there, but Jacs had her eye on the Ghetto (zone A/B). Both areas are fantastic; The Ghetto is the closest to campus and is very student orientated, Le Plateau is very similar, but with a more European charm- great food and nightlife, and less of a claustrophobic feel to it. Anyways, we decided to find apartments for ourselves, which is my advice to everyone else. You’ve just got to do what’s best for you.

Having only been to 2-bed apartments I would have to start from scratch with 1-beds and flat shares. Luckily, websites like craigslist.com, the American version of Gumtree, is a great way to see the latest openings. Straight away I went round to view a room sharing with 2 other Brits and a Quebecoise. It was a decent flat and in my desperate state I said stupidly said yes! However, the room was dark and unfurnished, so not ideal, but hey, I had somewhere to stay.

That night though I went to a friends’ flat for some pre-drinks, literally a 2min walk away. Their place was awesome! Fully furnished, all bills included, wi-fi, cable TV, flexible lease, even an Xbox 360! If I could move here I would be paying the same price per month for double the quality. So, after a few phone calls with the landlord I found out there was a room spare.

I knew this could get messy (legally) so I went to the Off-Campus Housing Department at McGill. They were really helpful and explained it all to me. I hadn’t signed any papers therefore the chances of me being taken to court were slim because verbal agreements are hard to prove. This was just as a precaution though, and in actual fact, it wasn’t that bad. I explained to the original people that I had found somewhere better and even though they were upset and a wee bit angry, nothing serious came of it. They found a new flatmate within the week, so it all ended happily.

I moved into my new place the same day. Instantly I knew I had made the right decision! I had some great friends in the building already, also doing exchange, and I didn’t have the hassle of furnishing it. In addition, getting a lease for 9 months rather than the full year would save me a lot of $$$.

Yeh, so my new place is 15 mins walk away from campus. No it’s not in Le Plateau, but it is a great location with the high street, supermarkets and clubs less than 2 minutes walk away. Plus, I bought myself a bike for $50 (£30), so getting to uni is easy and safe, especially with the bike lanes. I’m paying less than $600 a month which isn’t too bad considering the bills are included. Did i mention it drops to -30oC in winter? So heating is a major consideration when looking for somewhere.

Whilst all this was going down, I was still managing to have an awesome time at Frosh. There are two types of Frosh: Faculty, which is first, and SSMU, the Student Union. Faculty Frosh is by far the best! You get put in teams with other unsuspecting Froshies and then given crazy leaders whose sole aim is to PARTY! Because I’ve already done Fresher’s week back in Glasgow I thought that I might be a bit too mature for it all, but not at all. I put in as much effort as possible and the returns were great. For $125 we got 3 days of Unlimited Beer, Pub Crawls, Free Entry to Clubs, T-Shirt, Frosh Pack, Beach Trip, Food. Everything except your night drinks, which didn’t matter if you spent the whole day at the Beer Tent.
I’m still friends with my leaders and a few of my fellow froshies.
I’m even joining a team for the Winter Carnival at the start of next semester with them.
Again, it’s going to be messy few days, but I can’t wait!

http://www.mcgill.ca/offcampus/

http://www.mcgill.ca/files/offcampus/OCM-lowrez.pdf

HAPPY THANKSGIVING!!

Well, I think I’m still bursting from my Thanksgiving dinner for International students tonight, wow it was good!

Well, I’m four weeks into classes now which are getting more and more interesting as we go.  I had major hassles during the first two weeks they call ‘Add-and-Drop’ period, because here you’ve got to choose each individual course you want and make sure it fits into your timetable – nightmare for me but easy-peasy for a lot of my friends.  Luckily it all got sorted out in the end so if this happens to you I’d say DON’T PANICK!!  The exchange coordinator here is wonderfully helpful, as were my tutors back in Glasgow.

So, to cover a bit so far, I’ll start with the amazing-ness of FROSH WEEK!!!!  Now, imagine the fun rollercoaster of Fresher’s Week…got it?  Remember how full/exhausting/epic/amazing it was?  (or another week in your life that matches these descriptions) Ok, now, Frosh Week is like the ULTIMATE FRESHERS’ WEEK!!!  It lasted 4 days and we had to pay $125 which was well worth it.  We were divided into groups and each had some leaders who taught us different fun dances/moves to songs or chants (sounds incredibly silly, but was surprisingly fun).  Some of the activities included a barbeque, scavenger hunt, NEWTS Olympics (NEWTS is the name for exchange students), a paint fight where you keep your newly ‘decorated’ coverall, a mystery road trip to two cities (ours were Upper Canada Village and Ottawa), a concert with a famous band here ‘Our Lady Peace’, and a 3-course-dinner and club after.  It was such good fun and I met so many people I still keep in touch with, it’s kind of like another family in a way.  It was epic.

The workload is fairly different to Glasgow, it’s kind of constant with min-assessments every week or so, which count for a small percentage of your end-of-year grade.  I actually prefer this to Glasgow where the few assessments are weighted much heavier.  Anyway, I’ve been working a lot during the weekdays so I can enjoy the weekends or go out in the evenings, which has actually, miraculously, been working!  My classes are very interesting and in the weekends I’ve been to Wolfe Island, Seeder Island (Kayaking!), Toronto, Niagra Falls, and Montreal.  Wolfe Island is a 25minute free ferry ride away and Seeder Island is even closer.  Toronto is a 3-hour bus journey away and has quite a lot to see, my friends and I caught it on the night of Nuit Blanche – an annual arts festival – which was exceedingly lucky!  And Niagra Falls was a further 2-hour bus ride away (but we went a funny route) and was absolutely stunning, well worth the effort.  Montreal was just this thanksgiving weekend which was a different kind of incredible.  It’s weird taking a small bus journey to a French-speaking area, I’m used to crossing a Channel for that!  Anyway, there’s so much to see here we’re definitely going back at some point when it’s winter.

Ah ha, weather.  Well this took me by surprise a little.  It was like the sun had a really bad day, and all of a sudden the temperature dropped about 15 degrees.  Literally.  I was so unequipped!!  Remember, I’d only brought summer clothes and left it a week too late to buy warmer ones.  Well, my trip to Montreal over the weekend remedied that little problem.  Shopping is to be done in Montreal, the shops are great, it’s like Glasgow city centre, only, with horse and carriages taking people through to the Old Town.

Well, I’d better get back to my work now, I have another reading response to do for my film class.  Au Revoir, a bientot!

In the middle of the cornfield

It has been over a month now since I arrived in Champaing. And I must say I already feel quite settled here although I was having some hard times at the beginning. Starting from the beginning – my flight went smoothly and I didn’t have any problems with getting from Chicago to Champaign. There are plenty of buses that operate from both airports in Chicago. I get of the bus just two block away from the place I live in now, which was lucky since it was the middle of the night and I had 2 big suitcases and a backpack with me.

I live in Sherman Hall, which is the most popular choice among postgrads and international students. I really like my dorm – it’s close to the main quad and my department, room are small but quite comfy (it is important to mention that is one of only few places when you can get a single room instead of shared one), we also have a well equipped common room and a computer lab. So I don’t have any reservations (but I’m not too demanding).

Orientation week. Before the classes started every international student was required to attend at least one orientation session within his/her department. Apart from that there was number of info sessions about housing, banking, health care etc. Not compulsory of course but some of them were useful. The last day before the classes was the so-called quad day, which was really amazing! Over 700 student societies and organizations presented themselves on the main quad. Lots of giveaways and lots of fun. There was every organization you could possibly imagine so for sure everyone could find something interesting.

Classes: 12 credits per semester are required but the equivalent of 60 credits in Glasgow is 15 credits. Maximum number of credits you can take is 18, but God forbid, never do that! The work load for each course is much heavier than in Scotland. There are plenty of homeworks, quizzes and other thing, all which contribute to the final result. Basically, you are busy all the time.

Well, I haven’t explained the title of my post yet. But there is not much to say here- although the campus is really great, Champaign itself is not too interesting. It’s seriously surrounded with the cornfields and nothing else. Luckily, Chicago is only 3 hours drive form here, and it’s a perfect place for a weekend!

OK, this week is a midterm week, which mean – EXAMS. So I better go back to studying!

Settling In.

So I’ve been here roughly five weeks and I don’t think I’ve stopped once!

I left the United Kingdom on the 23rd of August, travelling via London to arrive at JFK at about 6.30pm. There’s a five hour difference between the UK and the USA. I had twelve hours to kill before my connecting flight and there was no chance I was going to waste my time in the airport. On the first floor of terminal 7, there is a 24hr luggage hold. Its $11 for a big case and $5 for a bag. Then I got the underground, or as they call it, the subway. You need to buy a metrocard, which is available in vending machines around the airport. I took the E train to Midtown Manhattan.

New York City is everything you think it’s going to be. It’s noisy, dirty and busy. Don’t bother with your i-pod because the bustle of the city makes for great background music. There is steam coming out of grids on the road, venders line the streets with hot dogs and nuts, the sound of the subway beneath your feet, flashing lights everywhere. As I walked around, I heard the Scouse accent begging for change and then the bagpipes, being played by a man in a kilt! Yellow taxis fill the roads and think they have more priority than pedestrians and the emergency services. Rather than moving to the side for the ambulance, they nip in front to get ahead! The city is built on a grid system, with criss-crossing avenues and streets. Its pretty easy to get the hang of it.I did some shopping and then headed to Chelsea, where I went to a bar and met some people and then we moved onto a club. You have to be 21 to get into clubs over here and they i-d everyone. Also, clubs shut at 4am, rather than 3am, which I didn’t realise and almost resulted in me missing my flight. I got out of the club at 4am, grabbed a taxi to JFK and ran for my flight. Taxis charge a flat fare of $50 from the city to JFK, and vice versa, plus tip. Then it was a 3 hour flight to Albany International.

I arrived at 9am and took a taxi to my student accommodation, which cost roughly $25. I had been assigned a room at Waterbury Hall on the Alumni Quad; they alert you via your Albany student mail address. I got my first look at Albany, which is surprisingly quaint. As far as cities go, don’t imagine anything like a British city. It’s fairly quiet, with cute houses that have porches. There isn’t a city centre but there are a few malls which have eveything you need. There’s uptown and downtown. The campus is uptown, alumni quad (the typical home for international students) is downtown.

I checked in at the main office and got my assigned room. You have to share a room with another person; a bed, desk and wardrobe is provided. You have to share the bathroom and toilet with the entire corridor. You also get a key for you own mailbox, located in the lobby. The best thing to do from there, after unpacking and showering etc, is to head to the campus and get your SUNY card.

Your SUNY card allows you onto the 10, 11 and 12 buses for free, and these buses take you everywhere you need to go in Albany. It costs $1.50 single to get to the campus and from there you go to the SUNY card office in the campus centre to get your card. Make sure you’ve brushed your hair as they take your photo then and there! From there, I joined in with the orientation.

Having particpated in the orinetation in the USA, I think the Uk Fresher’s Week really comes into its own. Though it is a week of drinking and clubbing and late nights etc, you also get to meet so many people on your adventures and many meet long term friends during that week of fun. Orientation over here, however, is a week of lectures about safetey and getting involved and health insurance and blah blah blah. Yes its useful but it also makes it hard to meet people. Thankfully I met a group of British people and we all bonded so I spent the week hanging out with them.

SUNY at Albany is a large and beautiful campus with loads of fountains and light and greenery. Its a lovely place to spend time. There are about 20 000 students and millions of student clubs and associations. There is a website http://www.myinvolvement.org which lists all the clubs available at SUNY.

You sign up for classes via the internet (before you leave, they will send you an e-mail telling you how to do so) and must take 5 classes, as that the equivalent of the credits needed at Glasgow. Books are really expensive over here but all are available at the campus bookstore. Alternatively, there is a bookstore called Mary Janes which is on Western and Quail, and it sells the books slightly cheaper or you can buy used copies. Plan when you are going to go as at the beginning of the semester, the queue goes all the way down the street. Classes start at the end of August and yes, you might have a class at 8.45am which is just ridiculous. Again, allow plenty of time for the bus in the morning as it is packed within three stops.

So far, I’m having an amazing time. Albany was once voted number one party town in America, which is quite the claim to fame. There aren’t that many clubs really but there are house/frat/sorority parties every weekend and yes you drink out of red plastic cups like you see in the films and people do keg stands and all the underagers run when the cops appear outside. Yes there are fraternities and sororities. I’ve met so many people and joined a few associations so I feel involved. Everyone I have met has been so nice and they all love the British accent! If my year continues as it has started, I’ll have the best year of my life!