The End

Ok so I can’t believe it is all over. This term has gone so fast. I must be one of the last to leave for home since I checked the website the other day and the new bloggers are already getting carried away but I thought I’d some up my experiences anyway.

If I’m honest when I came home at Christmas I was wondering whether I wanted to come back as first semester didn’t really go as I had wanted. I think I just didn’t get settled or used to being away from home but I can safely say now that it was the best decision I have ever made. I have had an absolute brilliant time this semester and made some really good friends who I can say I will definately stay in touch with. I think the difference this semester was that I got more involved in Australian life and enjoyed it a lot more. Last semester I didn;t take advantage of all the opportunities but this semester it was different. I made a lot of Australian mates through the rugby club and so I got invloved in the culture a lot more. The culture was primarily one of the main reasons I decided to come to Australia and in my first semester I didn’t really experience it as I was friends with a lot of internationals (which isn’t bad) but you can feel like an outsider and a bit of a tourist. But making friends with the locals has been great fun.

I do regret not having travelled more but the terms are long (13 weeks of classes) and places are quite far away so you need a few days but it isnt a major deal to me because I know I’ll be back whether it be visiting friends or coming here to work so I know I’ll get to see everything I have missed this time around.

Any final words… yes, please if you have the chance to do exchange do it and if you do I would highly recommend Australia because its absolutely sick. I kind of don’t want to come home but it will be great seeing friends and family again and it is getting slightly colder here now so I want a tan from whatever sunshine Scotland has to offer.

Mikey x

The Beginning of the End

Time flies when you’re having fun. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, many times I’m sure. The study abroad experience is a lot of fun, so the year passes before you’ve even stepped off the plane! It’s so funny to think of the person who turned up in this country in August and the person who will be leaving at the end of June. This experience is about growth and change, and I’ve certainly done both – first of all, I arrived a blonde and I’ll be leaving a brunette!

So, I had all my exams and finished my courses. As an international student, every professor you have must fill in an evaluation form – of course content and how the grade is awarded, the student’s participation in the class and academic position. These must be filled out. Get them done before the very end of the exam month, before the professors go on holiday or get caught up in summer classes.

The student visa expires on the 13th of May, however one is entitled to remain in the country for a further 60 days of grace period. You can travel around the country but if you leave America during the grace period, you cannot re-enter. One of my friends thought that the visa expiry date was the date that you had to be out of the country so he was the first to leave, and slowly but surely, all the Brit Clique trickled out of Albany and back into the UK. Thankfully, skype and facebook keep the world in touch.

I didn’t want to leave so early. That’s one of the great things about living off campus – you dont get kicked out of accommodation as soon as the semester is over. So I stuck around.

Firstly, I travelled to Long Island for a week with a friend. There are cute tourist-appropriate areas in Long Island, such as Port Jefferson. It was nice to visit the place as a large percentage of the SUNY Albany population comes from Long Island. During the week, I also travelled to New Jersey to go to the Six Flags Amusement Park. It was a three hour drive to get to the one in New Jersey but its actually closer than the one in New York State. Its $50 to get into the park but if you buy your tickets online, they are only $35. Its a great place but go early as the queues are long and there’s so much to do.

When I returned to Albany, I then travelled to Lake George, which is another tourist hotspot. Its a small town, not far from Albany – just a few hours in the car. The place is beautiful – the lake is surrounded by forests and mountains and the town is very quaint. Luckily, I went on a day that was absolutely glorious so managed to make the most of it.

The next day, I was picked up by another friend and taken to Connecticut, which has a lot of greenery and mountain landscape. She took me to Old Lime Beach, which was absolutely heaving. All the students were there, with beers and footballs and blaring speakers; rather Jersey Shore-esque.

After that, I took a weekend trip to Buffalo to see Niagra Falls. Its a 5 hour drive, but totally worth it. The falls are amazing and loud and teaming with tourists. For $13, you can do the Maid of the Mist boat tour, which takes you to the foot of the falls and you get totally soaked. After the falls, I went to Anchor Bar, which claims to be home of the Chicken Wing. Chicken wings are a bit deal in the US and they’re really good – if they’re made well, and Anchor Bar does them well! If you get the opportunity, you should make the trip.

The rest of my time was filled with Albany activities. The gym, library and campus stays open because of summer classes. The mall will forever be a source of enjoyment, along with the cinema and bars there. Throughout the summer months, downtown Albany plays host to Alive at Five, a series of free concerts held every Thursday at 5pm on the river front. Apparently, it keeps Albany alive during the summer. Well, you certainly couldn’t fit any more American stereotypes into one place – the jocks, the preps, the wanna be punk rockers, the old housewife with bleached hair, the older woman who wishes she had been cast in Sex and the City, the hicks, the cowboys…take a camera and enjoy the scene!

And now, I’ve been lucky enough to score an internship in the city. So I’m on the Goodbye Tour of the city, and the state, that I have come to love…

Go HABS Go!

Every baby in Canada is born with a hockey stick in hand. That’s how intense the passion for Hockey is here. None more so than the city of Montreal! If you’re unaware of what hockey is and who the “Habs” are, you will soon learn. Les Habitants, the nickname for the Montreal Canadiens Hockey team, are the city’s pride and glory.

The NHL comprises of 30 teams from the States and Canada, all competing for the highly coveted Stanley Cup. Teams play over 80 games a season, so it’s a pretty big deal…

Anyways, this year, Montreal got through to the Playoffs, finishing in the top 8 in the Eastern Championship. They beat one of the top teams, Washington Capitals. I was lucky enough to be at a friend’s place who has a balcony overlooking the main shopping street, St. Catherines. 5 minutes after the final whistle, the streets were packed. Chants of “Go Habs Go!” echoed around downtown. The next challenge would be the reigning champions, the Pittsburgh Penguins, with the Canadian Olympic Hero, Sidney Crosby, fronting the opposition. Again, Montreal shocked everybody to seal victory. This time, Montreal went even crazier; Pittsburgh jerseys set alight, shoulder to should crowds, even riot police!!!

I wasn’t expecting to be converted, but I can truly say that I’m a hockey fan now.

A dissection and a trip to Oz!

As ever, the last few weeks in New Zealand have been as exciting and varied as the rest. I recently experienced the best lab of my undergraduate degree. A whale and a dolphin had sadly stranded on 2 nearby beaches, and were already dead by the time members of the public discovered them. The co-ordinator of my Biology and Behaviour of Marine Vertebrates paper amazingly organised for the class to not only witness, but also to assist, in the dissection and post-mortem of these 2 magnificent but unfortunate creatures! It was a real honour to be in the presence of these marine mammals and learn first-hand about how they have adapted to an underwater lifestyle.

I’ve also been horse-trekking and ice-skating, yet there are still so many things I haven’t done like visit the Cadbury Factory, climb Mount Cook, eaten at Fleur’s restaurant, skydived in Queenstown, visited the volcano, caves and glow worms at Rotorua… still, they’re all excuses for me to come back one day (as if the stunning scenery and relaxed lifestyle wasn’t enough!).

Oh also… I passed my driving test here in New Zealand where there are less people, the roads are quieter and it’s cheaper to do! And my NZ license can simply be exchanged for a UK license on my return!

I visited my distant relatives, Neatta and Jim, in Perth, Western Australia. They’re in their 70’s and have lived in Perth for 33 years, but it’s like they’ve never really left Scotland. Their accents are so strong that I found myself reverting back to my old slang Scottish tongue with a vengeance after almost 12 months or trying to speak clearly to other international students! We had a flutter at the Burswood Entertainment Complex which houses a 24 hour casino (Perth is not somewhere to go if you’re on a student budget, it’s a very affluent city (and a beautiful one) – luckily I didn’t realise this until it was too late and I was already there!).

From Perth, I took a coach tour up North and fulfilled my dream of making a pilgrimage to the stromatolites in Shark Bay (living structures created by one of the earliest forms of life on the planet, and in the universe!). They are said to be around 3500 million years old and are the simplest life forms to use photosynthesis to provide food and oxygen. They provided the early Earth with most of its oxygen atmosphere billions of years before plants appeared. I must admit, I took a quiet moment to thank the stromatolites, for it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t be here today! Yes, I know what you are thinking…!

The trip also included a visit to the famous friendly dolphins at Monkey Mia. They have been coming right up to the shore for many years, they are fed a minimal amount of fish (which is closely regulated by the Department of Environment and Conservation) so that they must also go and forage in the wild to find enough fuel to survive. The seasonal volunteers that prepare the buckets of fish hand pick a limited number of individuals to offer a fish to one of the dolphins by hand. How thrilled was I to be one of them!?

But all good things must come to an end. I have just sat the worst 2 exams of my life and am officially broke. I’m seriously considering  being paid $1000 to be a hairdresser’s model for a complete head shave!!! I think I could cope with wearing a wig or a bandana for a while….

the end of an era

OK,  so it is all over.  Goodbye America, I’m back in Europe! It’s good to be home, but I miss Champaign.. still can’t believe the year passed so quickly… as it always is when you’re having fun.  It already seems like a dream to me.

Luckily I’ll quite busy soon, as I’m going to start a pilot training in a few weeks so I won’t have too much time being sad.

But Poland’s great so far, I’m spending all days with my family and friends, there is a lot to catch up after nearly 10 months of not seeing them. On the other hand I’m so used to traveling right now I can’t sit still in one place;p

I wish all of you going on exchange next semester great time and that afterwards you will have as good memories as I do!

My final swan song

I decided a few months back that after exams were over I was going to stay a couple extra weeks in the states before returning home. A couple of friends from Glasgow booked flights to come visit and with my lease ending 5 days before my flight home it was a perfect time to do a spot of travelling. After a week-long of partying and goodbyes to BC students and internationals alike it was time to hit the west coast, San Francisco to be precise.

With my friends form home and another, Pippa, an English exchange friend for company we arrived in San Francisco on a Thursday afternoon and immediately began exploring the city. As a child I had lived about 45 minutes outside San Fran for a few years so had a general idea where I was going but my skills as the designated tour guide for the group were a touch limited. We were there for 5 days and it felt like 10 with the amount of walking we did. Alcatraz, Lombard Street (crazy winding road), Golden Gate bridge, Sausilito, Pier 39, Golden Gate Park, Coit tower, Italian district and China town, Union square, Monterey, Pebble beach and Carmel (17 mile drive to tour those was cool, a couple of hours south San Fran), shopping and eating out, a few nights on the town and endless walking up and down the crazy hills that San Francisco is built on made for a full on 5 days. I would highly recommend a visit here if you have the time. There’s loads to see and do in a short time period, although we were there for 5 full days we could have probably even condensed it to 4 if we wanted, so if you are going to the US on exchange next year consider San Fran as a destination for a wee break.

Afterwards my Glasgow friends and I flew to New York, leaving Pippa to explore the rest of the US. We met up in New York with another of my friends who had just graduated from BC. We managed to get a good deal on a hotel right in Midtown (the middle of Manhattan near Times Square) and were able to do a lot in the two days we were there. After an overnight flight from San Fran (trying to save on accommodation) we were welcomed with near record high temperatures. 91 F or about 33 C, a little too hot for my Scottish skin. Still it meant prime conditions for bathing in Central Park and having a wee walk along 5th avenue. The second day we visited the statue of liberty, Wall Street, ground zero, Soho and grand central station. There was a crazy thunderstorm right when we were checking out of our hotel to get the bus which made for an interesting walk down to say the least.

The bus back to Boston was the first time I really felt like I was leaving for good. That would be my last night in the US with my flight home a little later the following evening. My final night and day were fairly tame. I spent nearly all of it with Steph, the girl who joined us in New York having just graduated. It was hard to say goodbye to her. Someone I had grown very close with this year, especially this semester. Hopefully I’ll see her if I go back at the end of summer for a visit. After some tearful goodbyes we parted ways, with her nearly missing her flight home to Cincinnati. It was a sad way to leave it but I’d hugely enjoyed my last week or so at BC and have fantastic memories of time spent here.

Currently I’m on a train from London to Glasgow with all my luggage from the past year. Why? Because I decided to book the flight for yesterday. There goes £150 and here comes a 5 hour train ride on a packed coach. Oh well lesson learned. I’m completely drained and sleep deprived so I don’t think the whole returning home and leaving America thing has hit me yet. I still feel as though I will be returning to BC next semester, maybe that’s because I plan on visiting at the end of summer. I can’t imagine what my year would have been like without this experience, or even what my life would have been like. It’s really opened my eyes to a whole new world of opportunity. Sometimes it’s hard for students to look beyond Scotland or the UK for study or work opportunities but having done this exchange year I am now so motivated to travel and experience all the things the world has to offer. There are no boundaries, no limits to what you can do or where you can do it. This year has changed my perspective on life and how it should be lived. That maybe sounds a bit strong but it really has. Doing an exchange year was something I always wanted to do. Whether it’s something you have wanted to do or not, you should seriously consider it. And please seriously consider BC. It’s a great school with awesome people, many of whom I met will remain friends for life. I lived the experience, now it’s time for you to do the same. GO ON INTERNATIONAL EXCHANGE!

The last month…exams, partying and goodbyes

I have now reached the end of my stay at Boston College and already I feel sentimental. The last month followed like the rest of the semester and flew in before my eyes. At times you struggle to see where the time goes but when you sit down and look at all the things you’ve done, all the friends made and memories shared you begin to realise that the year didn’t just passed before you. I just enjoyed it so much I didn’t want it to end so soon.

Since my last post I feel like I haven’t stopped moving. After returning from Montreal in Easter the last few weeks of class came in quickly, with my final lot of midterms passing without too many problems. My parents came to visit which was nice to see them and show them around, especially since the weather had started to get really nice. I learned fast though that a week of 25 degree weather can be swiftly followed by a week of 5 degree weather. Winter likes to hang around obviously.

One of the best days of the year was the day of the Boston Marathon – ‘Marathon Monday’. It’s a school holiday and the festivities begin early. BC campus is on the marathon route at mile 21 so the students go out to cheer them on around midday after having been drinking since breakfast. Everyone gets really into the spirit of things and its one last big blow out before people start to get serious for their final midterms and exams. Definitely one of my best days at BC, even if I was in bed by 4pm. The Fray came to BC for spring concert which was cool. I was pretty impressed that throughout the year BC managed to get Akon, Mario, Girltalk and the Fray to perform on campus. Kind of puts UK Unis to shame. With the weather getting better people began to fill the green areas around campus with games of ultimate Frisbee and American football. I even joined an ultimate Frisbee team. My abilities were mixed at best, but still good fun and I would encourage future Glasgow students going abroad anywhere to get involved in some intramural or club teams if you’re into sport. It’s definitely a good way to meet people.

Exam week this time around was a little less stressful. Having now known what to expect from first semester I felt more prepared to take on all my exams in just one short intense week. Again, we hardly got any study days. I think it was a measly 3 this time, marginally better than the 2 we got in December, and that was only because it was a weekend! Because you do midterms etc through the year the exams are only worth 20-35% on average so its not as big a cram and panic session as Glasgow exams are. We have already been given our grades and I managed to do fairly well over the course of the year. The quantity of work was certainly more, but the standard you had to achieve for good grades was manageable as long as you apply yourself. And trust me, there is still time for loads of fun!

The end of exams meant the end of the semester was just around the corner. I had friends coming over from Scotland to travel with me for a couple of weeks before I returned home. I had mixed feelings, both looking forward to summer and sorry to be leaving BC where I have had so much fun this year. Parties were plentiful and it was a great way to blow off steam after exams and end the year on a high. All BC students staying on campus have to be out of their accommodation the day after the last exam. A little harsh I felt. Seniors get to stay another week – ‘Senior Week’ – and they have loads of activities throughout the day and night before they graduate. Its sad to see the seniors leave BC and say their goodbyes to each other. A lot of my close friends were American seniors, especially this semester. The exchange students can relate to them as we are both ending our time at BC and so there were a lot of goodbyes exchanged between us. It was certainly strange saying goodbye to people this semester. I did it at Christmas but then I knew I was returning to see a lot of them again in January. This time, while I know I will see people again, whether sooner or later, others you may never see again. People you spent every day with for the last 9 months. People who made me feel welcome and a part of the BC community. These people made my time at BC what it was.

Whilst goodbyes are sometimes hard, it usually only means you have a lot of great memories of time spent with those people. I’m already planning to go back for a visit before next term starts at Glasgow. That in itself should be reason to persuade anyone thinking about an exchange, especially one to BC that it’s the right decision. I remain hugely passionate about the international programme, both at Glasgow and especially BC. Please go so you can experience all the things I was fortunate enough to do, and so that you can form your own memories of a one of what I guarantee will be one of the best years of your life.