University of Leeds – Finally here!

Well, it’s officially been two weeks since I have arrived in the beautiful city that is Leeds. Saying two weeks now is crazy to me. It feels like a day!

Unfortunately, I had to arrive in Leeds later than expected due to some medical troubles – which sucked, big time. But hey! I’m finally here! And it still hasn’t sunk in. The city itself is so vibrant, yet filled with history. The architecture is absolutely breathtaking and every time I step outside, I feel like I’ve stepped back in time. Cheesy, I know, but oh so cool!

I’m currently staying on campus at a little place called Charles Morris Hall. It’s one of the newer accommodations the university had to offer and it’s perfect for what I need. The size of the room is just right and the En Suite bathroom is a definite bonus. However, I would recommend bringing something to put on top of the mattress, it’s absolutely terrible! In regards to flatmates, I am fortunate enough to have the most amazing people. Since arriving, I have made so many friendships and connections that I would never have even imagined having in Australia. For example, my flat mates come from a variety of countries; Nigeria, America, the United Kingdom… The list just goes on! It’s really interesting comparing our cultures and sharing them together. I managed to get my American flat mate to try Vegemite (which they sell over here!) and she hated it! But the experience was something I’ll remember forever.

In terms of classes, the system is quite similar to that of Australia’s – except for a British accent and some old lecture theatres! The classes are very dependant on readings, which is where you learn most of your content, and you then discuss it in seminars (tutorials). It definitely is hard to keep up with classes with the temptation of adventure all around you… I’ve been on two trips already!

I can’t wait to see what the next few weeks hold and I don’t want it to end.

Talk soon,

Georgia

When in Reykjavik – Tips for travellers

So after living in the heart of Reykjavik, Iceland for the past few months I have accumulated a bunch of tips for those newbies here:

Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur – the most famous hot dog stand in Iceland! So it took me a few weeks to convince myself that I wanted to stand in line for half an hour for a hot dog, but it had to be done. The hot dog I must admit was pretty great; complete with fried onions, regular onions, ketchup, mustard and remoulade. One hotdog is 420ISK (~$5) and a small cup of soda is 220ISK (~$2.50), so it’s one of the cheaper places to buy lunch around town.

Hallgrímskirkja is a Lutheran parish church in Reykjavík, Iceland. At 73 metres, it is the largest church in Iceland. It was 9000 ISK (~$10) to get an elevator to the top. It was such an amazing view, even on a cloudy day. I think it’s worth it, There are no other buildings in the area that high so you can see the ocean and the mountains and the entire city, even the airport.

 

Perlan (the pearl) – a short walk from the city. Free entry to the observation deck and I would recommend going at night. There’s also a revolving restaurant on the top level.

Blue Lagoon – locals often say this is a tourist trap, but honestly I loved it. The cheapest entry price is 40 Euros (if you can find your way there). It was very clean and well organised and unlike anything else I’ve seen before. I’ve been there twice now and loved it more each time.

Puffin watch – I went on a puffin boat tour. It was about $50 with Special Tours. We saw a couple of the birds but it wasn’t mesmerising or anything. I will admit I went on the last day before the stop the tours due to the birds migrating, so maybe it wasn’t so great because they had all gone off to sea. It was interesting and nice to see the city from a different perspective, not something worth doing if you only have a few days here, but it was a nice tour all the same if you’re looking for cheap things to do.

Sea Angling – I went sea angling in the last weekend it was available before the close for winter. I had a lot of fun, even though it was freezing. So I would recommend taking gloves, scarves and beanies definitely. They give you raincoats so your clothes don’t get wet or smell of fish and the crew handle all the fish so you don’t actually have to get your hands dirty. I’ve never been fishing in the ocean and it was heaps of fun. The the crew cooked up all the fish everyone caught and some potatoes on the BBQ on board and we got to eat a small feast as we made our way back to shore. A tour was I think about $50, but I’m sure if you want to get more hands on there are other options.

The Golden Circle – I was lucky enough that my parents came to visit me about half way through my stay! We went on a tour of the Golden Circle on probably the worst day of the year. It hadn’t rained so much in Iceland in a long time so we were soaking wet all day, bit I still had a great time and it’s a beautiful drive if you don’t have enough time in Iceland to drive the ring road.

 

My first impressions of Leeds

The train stopped. My world halted. But the people around kept moving.  The moment I had anticipated, dreaded, feared, dreamed of and planned for was finally here. I was in Leeds. I had made it. I was on exchange.

I’ll be honest, my first day in Leeds was a strange one. It was full of mixed emotions, cold weather and slight confusion. After dragging my suitcases through the city centre, whilst strategically glancing at my phone that was carefully balancing in my pocket every so often so I didn’t get lost, I managed to reach my residence, Central Village. The weather was cold. Very cold. I was sick of travelling, and I was simply ready to sleep BUT my birthday was in two days and no one wants to spend their birthday alone, so off I went to be ‘social’. 

That first night was great! I met people from all over the globe, all studying different things and all hoping to get something different out of this unique experience of exchange. The people I met that night are people I would now class as my friends, and I suppose THAT would have to be one of the greatest ‘first impressions’ anyone could hope for… acceptance.

The following days only got better (with the exception of the weather) and my good impressions of Leeds only continued to grow. The juxtaposing architecture, the rich history, vibrant culture and once again, acceptance of Leeds as a town and the university, all came to the forefront.

Never before had I ever seen public pianos in a shopping mall prior coming to Leeds, but I must say seeing a fellow student pull up a chair and play with complete freedom for nothing but his own self-satisfaction is one moment of those first few days I will never forget.

Exchange is supposed to change you. To enrich your life, broaden your perspective, open up opportunities and challenge you to push yourself. I feel like it is premature to say this has happened to me already… but perhaps first impressions are the most meaningful.

Travel: Before or After?

Whilst semester one at QUT is yet to start, here at The University of Exeter my fifth week has begun. I’ve been abroad for almost 3 months now, so how has this side of the world treated me so far?

Before I arrived in Exeter I spent a month doing the typical Aussie thing and took a Topdeck Tour around Europe, and what do you know?  Around 3/4 of the group were Australian. Doing a tour before or after my exchange was something I mulled over for quite a long time, but from the moment I got on a bus with a group of strangers I knew I’d made the right call doing it beforehand. My tour group became a second family. You can’t spend 18 days in close quarters with the same group of people and not become close. Together we travelled to 8 different countries and saw parts of the world older than Australia itself.

On my travels I saw the Colosseum in Rome, cruised the canals in Venice and reached Jungfrau, the top of Europe, in Switzerland. This tour enabled me to see parts of the world I wouldn’t necessarily have seen by myself. I climbed the never-ending stairs of the Arc De Triumph, ate snails and avoided Haggis like the plague and explored the nightlife in Edinburgh.

Canal Cruise, Venice

 

Hogmanay Torch Procession, Edinburgh

But it wasn’t simply the sights that had me amazed on the trip. My Trip Leader (don’t ever call them a tour guide), somehow had all of Europe’s history stored in his head. So on the long drives between countries he shared his knowledge and I learnt more on those bus trips than 2 years of high school history could ever teach me.

Because of this trip and with a great deal of help from our Trip Leader I learnt how to integrate myself into other cultures. In most countries I was taught the basics, hello, goodbye and thank-you, other than that however I was on my own. It forced me, along with the help of my new-found friends, to figure out our own way home on public transport in Rome or a walking route in Florence. I learnt the awkwardness of a checkout exchange when the only English the server knew was chocolate and I learnt to become more street-wise in Paris. Being forced into these situations made me so much more aware and appreciative of other cultures, which in turn made me more confident in my abilities to travel alone and study abroad.

Navigating the trains in Paris

The streets of Florence, and its beautiful Cathedral

My trip across Europe will definitely be a highlight of my exchange. It enabled me to see the places I wanted to go back to (almost everywhere) and was the perfect way to become accustomed to different cultures before settling down in England. I felt more excited than ever to start my exchange and even made some friends along the way. So if you’re stuck on the before or after question when it comes to travelling, the answer is before. But, who knows, you could end up doing both!

My incredible tour group in Amsterdam

Making the most of summer in Germany

Brian: Kassel, Germany – International Summer School Program

After I finished my last exam in Semester 1, I headed off to Kassel, Germany for International Summer School program at Universität Kassel.pic On route to Germany, I stopped over in Singapore for a week to catch up with friends from a previous yearlong exchange program before stopping over in Dubai for 24 hours. I made the most of my stop-over in Dubai by leaving the airport and going out to the desert safari, where I went driving through the sand-dunes, watched fire dancing while eating traditional food in the middle of the desert before catching the sunset.
Upon arriving at Frankfurt Airport, I took a 2-hour train into Kassel where I met my host family for the next month. My host family lived in a village just outside of Kassel called Kaufungen – a nice small community which was beautiful during summer. pic-2Having a host-family was definitely one of the highlights of this program, as it really gave you the opportunity to experience German culture first hand. They provided me with authentic German meals, while also helping me improve my German. At times it was awkward, given that I knew next to no German, while they knew little English – however this was all part of the experience.

Within Kassel, there were a number of museums and castles to visit as well as a UNESCO World Heritage site which was the Hercules Monument.pic-3 This was a must see, especially when they have the water feature and light show running. The great thing about Germany is all the major cities are either a high speed train or a cheap bus ride away. Even going to neighbouring countries like Czech Republic of France, is just a cheap overnight bus ride away – perfect for cheeky weekend trips.

Find out more about QUT’s Short Term Options!

Why you should study in Singapore!

Aakanksha B, Bachelor of IT/Bachelor of Mathematics

Nanyang Technological University, Singapore (Semester 1, 2016)

New Colombo Plan mobility grant recipient

In the heart of South-East Asia, Singapore has more to offer than its incredible airport. Spending five months at the Nanyang Technological University as an overseas exchange student, I have learnt an immense amount about Singapore and myself. Singapore has most definitely established itself as being one of the most advanced cities in Asia, if not the world. So much so, it is the preferred location for many leading companies to have their regional APAC headquarters.

If regional culture is what you want to experience, Singapore is where you should end your search. Singapore is home to four main ethnic groups: Chinese, Malay, Indian and Others (which everyone else falls into and is roughly 3.3%). As a result, of these four very different groups, it seems like there is holiday or festival every few weeks. While on exchange, I experienced: Singapore National Day, Diwali and the Hungry Ghost Festival, with each festivity bringing its own traditions. Being originally from India, it was awesome seeing how big a celebration Diwali is outside India. Going to “Little India” on this day, I felt like I was back in any Indian city.

If you are a foodie, or if you just want food that is cheap and tastes good, you can’t go wrong in Singapore. From hawker centres to high end restaurants you will never go hungry. NTU campus had over 19 Food Courts each having various cuisines. In most cases you may only need to spend $10-$20 a day, even if you are on campus. Cost of living in Singapore can vary. In terms of food and transport, it is significantly cheaper than Australia. The maximum you could pay for a trip would roughly be $4; this would only happen if you go from one end of Singapore to the other (which I had to do when going from NTU all the way to the airport). Transport within Singapore isn’t the only thing that is cheap, even going overseas is. For example, I was able to make a trip to Thailand to see Krabi and the beautiful Phi Phi Islands, which was most definitely a highlight.

Accommodation within Singapore can be very expensive. I was lucky enough to get accommodation on campus and had to pay a full semester rate that was equivalent to that of an apartment for only one month. If you don’t want to stay on campus I strongly recommend finding somewhere close to campus and share an apartment with other exchange students. An advantage of staying on campus is that you save a great deal of time on travel. The NTU campus is located in Jurong, which is located one end of the island. If you want to go the main city, it can take up to an hour by MRT.

There is one word to describe life on campus at NTU: awesome. As QUT does not offer the choice to live on campus, this was something that I was seriously looking forward to. It is not only the flexibility of being able to walk to class, but the ability to forge friendships with local and international students. With these friends you can go to hall and campus events and even overseas trips. After spending so much time together, you know you have formed friends for a life time.

Saving the serious for last, academics in Singapore is challenging, especially if you are taking core subjects (I was taking four). The thing that is drastically different to QUT is the fact that Singapore grades on a “bell curve”. This means that your grade is scaled according to everybody else’s in the class. I didn’t let this affect me too much and studied hard to ensure I did my best.

If you want to be challenged academically, the opportunity to experience different regional cultures, eat great food, travel within South East Asia at amazingly low fares, Singapore is your place!