hello again Scotland

Although sometimes I still miss US it’s soooo good to be back in Glasgow ! It’s been almost a month since I came here so I already got used to it again. I’m too busy right now to ponder over my past year much… I just found the flat (I was staying at my friends place for a while). A good advice for everyone returning to Scotland – start looking for an apartment as soon as possible, don’t leave it till September. I have the impression that there are much more students here than before and finding a place very close to the uni seems almost impossible.

Regarding the classes… I find studying in US more stressful. Here, we don’t have that much pressure upon us, such as midterm exams, homeworks, ect. It’s bit difficult not to procrastinate as there are not as many deadlines. But, on the other hand, I’m a very lazy person, so you maybe won’t have problems with adjusting back to educational system in Glasgow.

If you have any doubts about UIUC, just send me an email or drop by to study abroad fair –  i’ll be there to answer all your questions!

 

Home: Dark mornings and Broken Brollies

If I absolutely had to sum up why I value my exchange experience into 3 over-generalised and over-simplified, insubstantial main reasons for studying abroad which can never express the fun had while away and the variety and depth of what one gains from going, I’d have to say……

1) Getting to know a new place – culture, politics, food, people, literature, food, music, language, food – EVERYTHING.
2) Getting to make new friends from new places – amongst them, amazing people who are as curious and enthusiastic as yourself.
3) Gaining an understanding of the global perspective of your academic subject – AND YOUR LIFE.

And if there were 3 things I was forced to perhaps suggest you be aware of while away but which by no means should cause you to even consider not going on exchange, I’d have to say…..

1) You might think you don’t fancy any of the things mentioned in the three points above. (By the way, if so, you’re wrong! Just do it, you’ll see.)
2) Your normal academic career path (carefully and systematically constructed by your department at Glasgow) will be interrupted. This might cause a slight disadvantage due to the lack of a coherent framework of learning that your peers have experienced; but equally, or more so, you’ll have a different perspective on your subject than the rest of your year and you’ll have taken courses that none of them even know exist! You’ll also be experienced in dealing with being on a slightly different plane of thought from your classmates because you did it while abroad anyway!
3) No, sorry there are only two.

To be frank, the hardest part of the experience is coming home! Answering that question they always ask ‘How was it?’ (how on earth are you supposed to sum up and entire year of living and learning into the appropriately sized sound bite that people seem to expect?); reading the miserable, fear-mongering newspapers idiosyncratic of our dear Great Britain; noticing, through a new lens and with a touch of sadness, the segregation of ethnic communities (self imposed or otherwise); reluctantly handing over that hard-earned tenner, which would feed you for a week elsewhere, for a mere forty minute train journey; stepping out into the nipping scottish wind and rain in the dark at only 4pm with the same thought shivering through you from your core – ‘I could be sprawled on a beach drinking a beer that cost me 40p.’.

In conclusion:

Overall, I would say that my year in Hong Kong met my expectations. That is, as expected, I learned and experienced things beyond what I could have imagined! Studying abroad is everything it promises to be. No matter what you experience, it is new and exciting. It broadens your horizons, it improves your confidence, your understanding of yourself in your position on this globe, your awareness of the extent of variation in modes of life that exist on this globe, your understanding of others, and your lust for exploring all those things further. Out of necessity you will unknowingly jump hurdles that in retrospect seem too high for the little, lesser you that embarked upon such a brave endeavour. And the you which has emerged will look back in awe and with pride, now secure in the knowledge that any hurdle ‘too high’ can be vaulted with ease…… too verbose?
Ok, you’re gona huv a bloody gid time wi aw yer new pals oan the beach an in pubs n that n maybe see some histry or art or sumthin n aw. Culture, ken. Whit ye sayin yid rathur stay in Glesgeh in this god-awfu’ weathur wi’ freezin toes n ears n yer brolly gettin knocked aboot tae the point o’ breakin ivry secont day? Eh?

EH?????

Coming home, reverse culture shock & moving on…

Well I’ve been back home for 3 months now. I’ve  had quite a lot to do since being back such as moving back into my old flat, looking for a flatmate, going through a year’s worth of mail, looking for part-time employment, catching up with friends and family and lastly starting my final year at Glasgow. I’m glad I’ve had all this to do as it means I’ve had less time to dwell on my amazing year in New Zealand which I miss so much!

At first I struggled in coming to terms with being back home and being away from all of my friends in Dunedin. Nothing really seemed to have changed in my absence which made me feel like I’d never been away at all and that my study abroad memories were some distant dream that I had once. However, now I have a focus (final year) and I’m excited about finishing my degree as I have a great project to work on under a supportive supervisor, and I also have great final year options to look forward to including a field trip to Egypt as part of the Tropical Marine Biology option to study coral reefs in the Red Sea.

I do think I’ve changed in subtle ways. I feel I’ve matured as a person yet and that I know myself a lot better than I did before (that sounds really weird when I’m typing it… it’s hard to explain…). I’ve been told I’m “glowing” (!) and feel a sense of inner calmness which is also difficult to decribe. I’ve also been exposed to so many new ideas and have been influenced a great deal by the many pioneering minds I’ve met. I now know for sure that my future lies in research. This is an amazing revelation to me – only 1 year ago I felt I had completely no idea what to do after my undergraduate degree and no direction in my life. Now I’m planning to go to Aberdeen to do an MSc in Applied Marine & Fisheries Ecology in 2011, and if that goes well, hopefully a PhD somewhere in the future (who knows where, perhaps Otago?!). Although my Study Abroad year is at an end – and this is going to sound REALLY cheesy, but oh well – it feels like this is only the beginning…

🙂

Buy Milk in Bags

So if there’s one piece of advice I would pass on to any soul coming to Canada, it would be the title of this little blog.

BUY MILK IN BAGS!!

Trust me.  For 8 months I bought cartons of milk and thought ‘wow, what a funny idea, milk in bags?  Never, milk has no place in a bag, it belongs in a carton.  A POURABLE carton.’

Wrong.

This would be the voice of a very unwise Scot.  As it turns out, everyone else had caught on to this rather brilliant scheme long before myself.  You see, the benefits of milk in bags are quite immeasurable.  Here’s a wee taster of the milk-purchasing experience in Canada:

First, you get 3 WHOLE BAGS in one big bag.  > Quantifiably Efficient.

Second, you’ll find that (you’ll never believe this) it is the EXACT same price as one cardboard carton, which holds 1 bag worth of milk…(pathetic, I know) …(although they’re still bigger than the milk cartons back home – but that’s understandable, EVERYTHING’s bigger in North America – cars, cookies, milk bags, movie theatres, maple syrup cans, CAKES…) Anyway.  > Financially Practical.

Third, how do you use a milk bag you say?  Imagining pouring it into your cereal bowl to find your already scruffy student clothes only made worse by the addition of unwanted splashed milk decoration?  WRONG AGAIN.  Canada has solved that problem.  You must buy a wee plastic milk-pouring jug (alright, not ‘wee’, everything here’s big, as established) which you just pop the milk bag in to find it fits like a glove.  > Sensible Packaging.

Fourth, ah yes.  The predicament of opening said milk-bag.  This part’s tricky.  I’m still working on the whole ‘opening’ thing – usually ending up requesting my Canadian housemate who must’ve been born opining milk-bags to use his skill for me to prevent the usual disaster which ensues.  However, a solution for this is the purchasing of a specific little baby knife which cleverly slots into a hole on the milk-jug for safe-keeping.  However, if you’re like me and still struggle with this nifty wee trick, simply get a knife and make a wee slit in BOTH top corners – (my Canadian housemate watched me for a whole 5 minutes while I attempted to pour some milk with only one slit before he felt the need to intervene).

> Potential Hazard.  BUT, when done right, Highly Effective.

Fifth, when you’re done, simply remove the bag, rinse it out, pop it in the recycling box, retrieve another of your 2 left over bags, and start the cycle all over again; comforted in the knowledge that if anything happened to make you housebound like sickness, or a nuclear disaster, you have made a wise, cost-effective choice and your fridge shall be well stocked with Canadian milk for…well… a very long time.

from orientation to midterms with pop quizzes in between

hey!

i just realised i saved this as a draft but didn’t actually post it….doh!! (and i am completely computer illiterate so i hope the pics work)

So,

in terms of uni work i’m not going to lie, it’s pretty hard core. Five courses (required by Glasgow) per term is more than what your average Canadian student takes so the workload is intense, thinking caps are required at all times. Also the assessment is continuous in most classes which is totally different from my classes back home, here it’s pop quizzes and midterms galore. I have a solution though – caffeine. Suddenly i understood why there is a Starbucks on every corner (even on campus). That being said, the courses are interesting and i’m finding the different styles of learning a real eye opener, moreover i’ll be going back to glasgow with a work ethic i never knew i was capable of having – can’t be bad.

As for the non work side of Campus life. . . . There is loads to do in Vancouver and even on campus itself. It’s very preppy participation esk over here. Lots of chanting and pep rallies which i have to admitt i find strangely amusing. If you join the ‘blue crew’ (basically a fan club for ubc sports clubs – the big blue bird in the pic is their mascot, the thunderbird) then you get free entry to all the intervarsity sports events which is pretty interesting, lots of facepainting and shouting. Also, there are loads of sports we don’t really get (or don’t actively promote as much) in Glasgow like American Football, Ice hockey and basketball.

I also got involved in the annual longboat race, which is made up of multiple 10 man/woman teams all rowing their hearts out to win nothing but pride. Each team gets dolled up in imaginative fancy dress and undergoes a weekend of training before race day. i would thoroughly encourage you to get involved but i would strongly advise not going to a 8 am race start having not been to bed…..cheering and hangover is not a good combination. that being said we did come 3rd – whoop – perhaps alcohol is benificial to sport.

There is also a beach on campus, perfect for a cheeky wee sunbathe between class (it was warm enough to do this till about mid oct). It is however a nudist beach so bring a sturdy stomach as unfortunately elderly rotund ladies and gents are not a rare sight.

There is also a cinema on campus and a few pubs (expensive though, no curlers pound a pint here). The pool is also really good to get some exercise in.

There are also loads of clubs in UBC, from arts and crafts, to free food club to sports. So far i’m in the Surf and the Mountaineering club and both are great fun. The surf club host beer gardens, themed nights and trips around canada – all of which are really good fun, there is even talk of Hawaii trip next year….STOKED!!!  – as they would say.

There also loads to do off campus in Vancouver. Stanley Park is beautiful, perfect for a picnic, a bike ride or even a concert (they hold open air gigs with international artists – soo good). There is also the grouse grind, a mammoth walk up grouse mountain with a killer view at the top. I’ve also been Kayaking in a place called deep cove – stunning views.

The clubs in town are also good. A good mix of your usual with a few gay bars, seedy dens and the amazing Blarney Stone (a club that plays scottish/irish tunes – reminds me of home). But….one complaint, there are no chippies, they just don’t have chips on the way home! (and no french fries soooo do not count as chips) it’s all pizza over here – very odd. Another odd thing is the bus system, due to your U-pass (annual bus card) not only do you catch a bus in, you also catch it home at 3 in the morning – makes nights out way cheaper.

As for off campus and away from Vancouver, the options are limitless. I’ve already taken trips to Vancouver island Whistler and others have gone to places like Seattle and the Rockies. Vancouver island is stunning, i got really excited about the pumpkin fields – a very foreign sight. I’m excited about snow from my wee expedition to Whistler too, through UBC you can get a season pass (the season being november to april over here) for 400 dollars when they cost the average mr Joe Blogs a whopping $1700 – definitely a must – especially if you can wing it so you’ve got a mate doing a season over here so you can get free digs.

Also along the way i’ve experienced my first Thanksgiving and i have to admit i’m sold – christmas dinner twice a year, who can argue with that?!

argh!! i’ve just seen my word count. I think that gives you a rough idea of the limitless things to do and the unfortunate limits on time.

i’ll keep you posted

The first 6 months – Part 1.

Wow, well it’s been a long time but it’s passed really quickly!

So, what can I tell you about my first 6 months in Dunedin as an International Student at the University of Otago?

Firstly – if you don’t have a driving license, it is SO cheap to get it here unlike in the UK so I’ve undertaken that task here and expect to have a full driver’s license by the time I get back home at a fraction of the cost!

Keep an ear to the ground for annual festivals. The food festival, the Cadbury chocolate festival and the Victorian heritage festival in Oamaru are worth checking out (the latter especially – but it’s only truly fun if you get into the spirit of the day by hiring a Victorian costume from the Victorian Wardrobe). Oamaru is a lovely little town about 1 hour’s drive North of Dunedin, and very proud of it’s Victorian heritage. It’s not unusual to see people riding Penny Farthing’s or wearing Victorian clothes, even when it’s not the Victorian festival, but the festival just allows the town and it’s visitors to go overboard and have a jolly old good time celebrating this bygone era. Just a few highlights: Punch & Judy. Penny Farthing races. Pipe-smoking competitions. Steam trains. Puppets on strings. Horses & carts. Little girls with ringlets in their hair. Street circus and entertainment. Public heckling.  Gurning contests. World stone sawing championships. Cane-carrying, hat-tipping gentlemen. Curtysing, corseted ladies with parasols, reticules & bustles! So many fabulous tastes, sights & sounds! the dress I hired happened to be the only crinoline dress available and it felt amazing to be wearing such a costume. Ladies – don’t be seen outside without your hand gloves on! The day really brings out good fashioned manners in everyone. This is a really memorable day that will give you a warm fuzzy feeling!

Me in Victorian costume!

The semester was crazy busy and it’s clear why Dunedin depends on students so much. Thursday is student night in the bars but the rest of the weekend is also fairly busy.

This was the last year of Undie-500. The object of the event is for students in Christchurch to buy and decorate a car for under $500, attempt to drive it (if it goes – always a chance it doesn’t at under $500) down to Dunedin, and then party with all the Dunedin students. It started very small with only a few students, but it grew and grew. Now, lots of students + lots of alcohol = destruction and fire in Dunedin. There is a strange tradition of burning things in Dunedin, especially couches. Apparently it’s fun. I think it comes from when you used to be allowed to take your own couch along to watch a game of rugby, and rather than take it home, spectators would set them alight so there was no couch required to be taken back. Officials stepped and and said no more Undie-500 events because they didn’t like the trouble that came with it.

Burning couch on street corner outside my house

Mid semester break is a good opportunity to make a road trip. I hitch-hiked my way around most of the South Island. I’d never done it before but never had any problems, I was with a friend so I wasn’t alone. I think the fact that we were girls worked in our favour too (sad but true). The South Island has so much to offer and is an island of extreme contrasting landscapes. Kaikoura was on of my favourite places to visit – just so picturesque. You didn’t even have to turn your head to see beach/ocean next to pine forest, in front of rolling green hills in the distance with a backdrop of dramatically rugged blue snow-capped mountains. Just breathtaking. So much so that my friend left her bag with $400, her ID and my camera inside. We carried on with the trip regardless, me paying, her taking photos. When we got back to Dunedin, we recieved word that some nice anonymous person had handed it into the police! Kaikoura, by the way, is THE place to eat freshly caught crayfish (more commonly known as lobster in the UK – but don’t worry, it’s very affordable here and not just for the rich and famous!).

If you make it up to Blenheim, do a cycle tour in Renwick – one of New Zealand’s best and most important wine-producing areas (heart of Marlborough wine production), there are so many wineries and vineyards to choose from but I highly recommend Framingham’s, it was the unanimous hands-down winner for my friend and I (their Noble Reesling is to die for – it’s like drinking liquid gold), and what’s more – it’s FREE! There are several other’s that offer free wine tastings so it doesn’t have to cost very much at all. And if you happen to couchsurf with a family that allow you to borrow their bicycles to do it, it doesn’t have to cost you anything! Just be careful cycling! Don’t forget a helmet (it’s illegal to cycle in New Zealand without one, and it’s a law that is strictly enforced – I often see non helmet-wearing cyclists get stopped by unmarked police cars and issued with a ticket outside my house).

In Picton you can go diving or kayaking in the Marlborough  Sounds, watch out for the weather though. It’s very changeable and just because it’s sunny in the morning doesn’t mean there won’t be a storm in the afternoon. I find the weather in Dunedin is more extreme and changeable than the weather in Scotland.

Going westward along the top of the South Island is Nelson, a bit of a hub in the North of the South Island (if it can be called that). It’s striking how few people actually live in New Zealand. You’ll discover that New Zealand’s version of a city is possibly your version of a small town.

The Able Tasman National Park is worth hiking. There are huts that you can stay in overnight for a small fee, and you can also pay to pitch a tent up. We met a cool British dude who is a doctor in the army and he joined us for the journey. My friend and I didn’t realise that you had to pay to put a tent up before we’d set out for the trip, and with her money gone and me paying for the 2 of us, we thought we’d try and find a remote spot away from the designated overnight huts and camping grounds. Two rangers we met along the way asked to see our papers and reciepts to confirm that we had paid to stay in the park. By this time we were deep inside the park, but it was almost 4pm, and of course, we didn’t have papers because we didn’t pay. Our British friend luckily bailed us and said we were with him. Phew! And if you can’t be bothered doing the whole track with enough tins of food on your back for 5 days in the bush – no worries, you can catch a water taxi back to Motueka.