Erin’s Exchange Survival Guide!

I cannot BELIEVE that this time next week I’ll be back in Australia. I have no idea what it’s going to be like. People that went home before me said it feels like waking up from a dream. I wonder if it’ll be the same for me.

I’ve just finished Summer School in Croatia and I’m now in Greece, my final destination before heading home. So, as a side note, here are some quick final photos from Croatia 🙂

As I (rapidly) near the end of my six months abroad, I’ve learnt a lot and have firsthand experience in what’s important when planning an exchange. Unlike most of my other blogs, this is less of a “where in the world is Erin” and more of a “how to” guide.

A year or more before exchange:
• Start looking at partner universities. Check out countries, cities and even courses that you would be interested in. Deciding where to spend one or two semesters is a big decision so do your research.
• SAVE SAVE SAVE! Before I went away, I saved earned and saved a lot of money. You can also take out an extra loan on your normal HECS debt so that can help to supplement your savings.
• Start looking at flights. A lot of things are much cheaper if you book really far in advance. Obviously a year before might be a bit excessive, but it’s good to keep an eye out. Particularly if you’re going somewhere really far and expensive (eg. Europe, America, Canada…)

Closer to your departure:
• Decide on your accommodation. You will generally have a choice between student dorms or private accommodation. I loved living in student dorms because you get to meet so many other students. It was also really convenient for me (as in right in the centre of campus)
• Finalise your subjects early! Getting into subjects was the most stressful part of my entire lead up. Some of the subjects I needed were full and sometimes you can’t get approval for subject matches. So work it out early, find as many options as you can and submit your application as soon as you can.
• Deal with any visas/power of attorney/banking/travel cards. It’s important, particularly with visas, to sort it out as soon as you receive your confirmation. I also signed a power of attorney form in case I needed my parents to do anything like get a copy of my transcript from QUT. Finally, I got a travel card instead of a credit card and it worked really well so look into your options.

Days before:
• PACK! I know you’ll think that you can sort it out the day before. But you really can’t. My biggest hint with packing is, if in doubt, don’t take it. You’re bound to buy stuff while your overseas so don’t overload yourself if you don’t need to. You can survive without that fourth pair of jeans, trust me.
• Online check-in. Some airlines allow online check-in a few days before, others within 24 hours. Online check-in is a gift from the travel Gods so use it. It will make saying your goodbyes at the airport less stressful.
• Quadriple check that you have all the essentials (passport, travel documents, money, cards…) You would be surprised what people forget in the chaotic hours before they fly out.

En-route:
• For those who don’t fly very often, there are a lot of restrictions on what you can carry. Both in checked luggage and carry-on. Check the airline and airport security restrictions for details.
• Take books/magazines/iPod/laptop/anything you need to keep you amused. I was in transit for 28 hours… 28 HOURS!!! So take something to pass the time.
• Carry a jumper. Depending on where you’re going, the climate might be very different in your departure and arrival destinations. I went from 30-40 degree weather to frost covered England.

You’re made it! Now what:
• Attend any and all welcome events. They’re designed to help you meet new people and settle in so take the tours, attend the speeches and go to the international parties where they make you wear an Australian flag or dress as a kangaroo.
• Attend classes! Remember, you’re actually here to study. Many people tend to fixate more on the “abroad” part of study abroad. But you’re here to do classes that you want to get credit for in Australia so make an effort to learn.
• Sightsee and travel often. I probably took this piece of advice to the extreme. But if there is something that you know you want to visit, make plans and just do it (thanks Nike). Otherwise your exchange will fly by. You’ll get to the end and wonder where all the time went.

Throughout the semester:
• Skype is your best friend. Family and friends want to know where you are and what you’re up to so try to skype them as often as you can.
• Keep attending classes. No additional comments required.
• Do all your assessment and exams! It’s just like QUT. You had to do work to get the marks that allowed you to go on exchange. You have to do work on exchange to get the subject credit you want back at QUT.

It’s all over:
• PACK! You’ll be astounded at how much… stuff (for want of a better word) you’ll accumulate so pack early. That way you’ll have time to throw out/recycle/send home all your… stuff.
• Give out a few Australian gifts. As a guide, clip on koalas and boomerangs have universal appeal.
• Saying goodbye can be really hard. These people become your family for six months or more so it’s likely to be really difficult to leave them behind.

Post exchange:
• Keep in touch with your exchange friends via skype, facebook and email.
• Catch up with all your friends and family. While you’ve been living the exchange dream, they’ve been at home missing you so make sure you catch up with them asap.
• Think about the good parts of being home. You’re with your family and friends and, if you want to, you will travel again in the future!!

Six months seemed like such a long time before I came here. Yet, these six months have completely flown by and have given me the best experiences of my life. I can say I went to the Dawn Service at Gallipoli and I was in London for Kate and William’s Royal Wedding. I had so many amazing travel experiences and can’t wait to return. But, by far the most important part, the people! I’ve met the most incredible friends. People I will travel across the globe to visit in the coming years.

To go on exchange is to push yourself, to embrace new experiences and to grow as a person.  So the only thing I can say now is, “Don’t be sad it’s over, be glad it happened.”

Dobar dan iz Hrvatska

I cannot believe I have finished my Summer School in Zagreb!! It feels like I arrived two or three days ago… not three weeks ago! I’ve done all my assessment, finished my classes and tomorrow we receive our certificates. Then we all jet back to our opposite ends of the globe!

Over the past three weeks I completed two subjects – New Media Marketing and Croatian Studies. Due to my super busyness and lack of time to post blogs, I’ll jam pack this one with all the essential info and photos on my last two weeks.

On the first day we all met at Zagreb School of Economics and Management (ZSEM). Amongst a group of around 60, I would say it was 50% Mexican, 30% French, 5% Russian, 5% American and 10% rest of the world.

We then embarked on a tour of Zagreb to see the sites and get our bearings.

The is a shot of the main group I hung out with: Francisco from Portugal, Jake from Chicago, Yuka from Japan, Fanny from France and Laura from Mexico.

On June 30th we celebrated “half new year” at Strossmatre. I loved partying with the Mexicans, they’re so much fun!

This is a photo with my housemate Lidija from Bosnia and Herzegovina/Croatia. We had a really fun night out on the town with all the exchange students for a club tour.

On the first weekend here, we went on an excursion to Trakostan Castle on Saturday which was very pretty!

On Sunday, we took a train to Slovenia and visited the capital Ljubljana. It reminded me a lot of the towns in the south of the Netherlands and Germany. So lovely!

The following weekend was our big excursion. We first went to Plitvice Lakes which was AMAZING! My photos don’t really capture how great it was so I recommend you all google “Plitvice Lakes” to get a better understanding.

We went on to Zagreb on the coast. The weather was amazing and it was really incredible to see some of the sites there.

We also went to a smaller town to swim at the beach!!

And, before we knew it we were in our final classes for Croatian Studies…

And New Media Marketing…

I’ve had such an incredible three weeks, I’ve met really awesome new friends and I’ve learnt to say dobar dan, bok, hvala and molim. The courses here at ZSEM have been great and I’m really going to miss my New Media Marketing class in particular, after spending every day together for three weeks.

If you’re thinking about exchange but feel like a whole semester is too long for you, I’d really recommend a summer school. It gives you a taste of exchange, allows you to meet lots of new people and lets you travel to new places!

So, one last day in Croatia and then it’s back to Greece for my final few days in Europe!!! This time next week, I’ll be somewhere over Asia bound for Brisbane!!

Last of London and on to Greece

About a week and a half ago now, I left Leeds. It’s all a blur of suitcases, goodbyes and tears. I was really thankful that I had my sister there to help me out with final packing and giving me a hug.

We then headed to London! My grandmother had never been to London and my sister hadn’t been since she was five, so it was really nice for me to see their excitement whenever we caught a glimse of the major sites like Buckingham Palace, Tower Bridge and Big Ben.

We couldn’t walk too far with my grandma so we got on the “big bus” tour which was great. I learnt lots of new fun facts about London’s history.

As part of our bus ticket, we also got a river cruise out to Greenwich. For those who aren’t quite as nerdy as me, this is the location from where time is calculated giving us Greenwich Mean Time (GMT). Greenwich was actually really nice and has some lovely historical buildings on the banks of the river.

I got one final chance to see Kim in London! We had lunch at Tower Bridge and it was really lovely. I’m going to miss Kim! She’s been such a huge part of my UK life. Any time either of us were doing it tough, we were just a skype call away! She’s such a great friend and I’ve been so lucky to have her!!

One last typical telephone box photo and our days in London were over.

On our final night in London, I booked tickets to see Mamma Mia! It was perfect because it’s set in Greece (my Grandma is Greek) and it’s ABBA!! The show was fantastic and I’m so glad we went.

So, after a whirlwind few days in London, it was time to leave the UK for the final time so we boarded our flight bound for Crete in Greece!! Crete is the biggest island in Greece and we stayed in Iraklio because one of my cousins study’s at the university here. It was so lovely to see some of my cousins and my great aunt from Samos again. Iraklio reminds me a lot of a mini-Athens. We did lots of shopping and took some really cool photos at the port.

On Thursday we went to Santorini which is so gorgeous!! Santorini is the island with all the white and blue buildings so it’s really beautiful. We had a great day and visited Oia, Thira and Camari. I had such an amazing day and wish I could have stayed longer.

On Friday, back in Crete, we took a bus to the town of Rethymno where another cousin is studying. Rethymno is smaller than Iraklio and has nicer beaches for swimming. Two of my cousins, Katerina and Maria, prepared a beautiful meal for us and we had a great time.

Before I knew it, my Greece adventure was over as I boarded my (very delayed) flight to Croatia. I had the best time and I’d have to say the most important part was getting to hang out with my sister for the first time since January!!

I’m now in Croatia so I’ll post a new blog about Zagreb as soon as I have some spare time.

Last blog from Leeds!!

150 days, 100 hours of class, countless trips, memories and friends… and it’s all over! I honestly can’t believe that it’s five months ago I was boarding my plane in Brisbane, bound for a 28 hour marathon trip to England. I was the first of the new exchange students to arrive in my hallway in Leeds and I’ll be the last to leave tomorrow morning after Mal and Christina head to the Airport – wahhhhhhh!!

The last few weeks in Leeds have been really great. We had Summer Ball – basically a festival with tents and live acts as usual but everyone gets really dressed up. Apart from the stage tents, they also had carnival rides and different food stalls.

Then we did the Otley Run the day after! For the uninitiated, see the following educational literature: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Otley_Run. We started around 4pm and finished at midnight and our theme was “Childhood Aspirations”. I was a spy and I was joined by a fairy princess, hippie, air hostess, nurse, doctor, builder and even Avril Lavigne put in an appearance.

This week, we did a day trip to Blackpool where we went to an awesome theme park, Pleasure Beach. My neck is still hurting from some of the crazy rollercoasters but it was so much fun. We caught up with Jack who is a local of Blackpool so it was good to see him one last time before heading off.

We also went to Manchester where we took a walk around town, got way too excited about the high-tech tourist maps in the information centre and visited the museum where we saw unwrapped mummies (awesome but icky!)

The main point of us going to Manchester was to pick up my sister and grandma who arrived in England to visit me! I haven’t seen my sister since January so I’m so excited to have her and my yiayia here in England!!

And today was my last day! We went for a walk around town, took a ridiculous amount of photos and had a bit of a cry.

I’ve met the most incredible people – classmates, the dance girls, my cheerleader friends, the United Nations guys, conference and competition buddies (particularly the Milan and Athens girls), Kim (my London BFF), the Whetton crew (aka Georgia’s flatmates from Whetton) and my floor 3 flatmates Hannah, Candy, Aika, Woroud, Bhadra, Liz, Liss, Luciana, Christina and Malorie! These people have been my family for five months and saying goodbye to them is one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. If I could do it all over again, I wouldn’t change a single thing and I couldn’t have imagined my exchange experience without every single one of these amazing friends!

I honestly think every single person should go on exchange! It’s the best decision I ever made. I was a bit nervous before coming and I wasn’t sure what to expect but it’s been everything I thought it would be and sooooo much more!

But don’t think you’re getting rid of me that easily!! I’m off to do a little bit of traveling before starting a short study abroad in Croatia at the end of July! So, internet permitting, I’ll keep you posted on all my happenings for the next month until I get back to Australia.

So, for the last time, that’s all from Leeds! *cries and hugs the girls*

Pizza Pasta Gelato, I went to Milano!

Going back about a month, I was fortunate to meet four really awesome friends from Milan when they were competing in the same case competition in Maastricht. We had so much fun and bascally meshed into one QUT-Bocconi team. So how could I leave Europe without paying them a visit?

So last week, I went to Italy! I’ll tell you one thing, between Ryanair, Jet2 and Easyjet I have become very good friends with Europe’s budget airlines. And Milan was SO worth it!!

Milan is amazing! It’s renowned as a fashion hot spot but there is also amazing culture, historical monuments and FOOD!! If I had that diet for a few weeks longer, I’d be returning to Australia as a competitor on the Biggest Loser. Between pizza, pasta, Italian hot chocolate, gelato, gelato and more gelato I LOVED all the food!

All the girls were such great hosts and showed me around the beautiful place where they study. During the week, we walked around the whole city, visited the Duomo (the second largest cathedral in Italy behind the one in the Vatican), the museum of 21st century art where I saw some incredible works and the castle with really pretty gardens.

I also went to the girls university, Boconni. We went to a guest lecture by Olivier Blanchard – Chief Economist at the International Monetary Fund and professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Call me a nerd but it was AMAZING!!

Unfortunately the weather wasn’t great but we were lucky to get a really great weather day on Thursday! So we headed to Lake Como which was really beautiful. FYI, George Clooney has a holiday house there. I didn’t bump into him but still pretty cool. We went sightseeing, paddle boating and ate more incredible food!

I had such an incredible week staying with all the girls and can’t thank them enough for their incredible hospitality! They are the most amazing people and I’m so glad I got to visit them!!

That was my last trip before coming back to move out of Leeds. I’m moving out on Saturday and hopefully I’ll be able to do another blog between packing and saying goodbye to everyone.

Ciao!

Je ne parle pas français

Last Friday morning (after successfully completing the last of my Leeds assessment) I boarded a plane bound for Paris!! I was really fortunate that my amazing friend Louisa lives in Paris and offered to have me. She was the best host, tour guide and translator ever!

On my first day in Paris we did a walking tour around the Notre Dame. We learned about the original and refurbished parts of the church.

In the evening we went to Montemartre for dinner at the restaurant that was used in the film “Inglorious Basterds” – a truly local establishment. Then we went up to the Sacre Coure and saw an amazing view of Paris at night!

Saturday started with another walking tour. This time the Opera house, Place Vendôme where we saw the Ritz (where Princess Di was staying before her death) and Jardins (Gardens) de Touleries.

From there, we went for a little adventure to the Louvre and then walked all the way up the Champs Elysee to the Arch de Triumph. It was very much a “pinch yourself” moment when you’re sitting in a café, sipping on your drink and looking at the Arch de Triumph!!

After some epic site seeing, we went to the movies to watch “Midnight in Paris” with Owen Wilson and Rachel McAdams. It was awesome – mostly because the places I was seeing in the movie were places I had walked passed that day! The movie itself was also really funny and I would definitely recommend it.

On Sunday, it was Versailles day! The Palace of Versailles is one of the most grand and impressive estates in the world. There is so much gold and the size of the Palace is overwhelming.

Once you get outside, the gardens are incredible! We walked down to Marie Antoinette’s Estate which was also beautiful. We saw the “Queen’s Hamlet” which is basically a tiny villiage in a very British style that Marie Antoinette had built for herself, like her own little Disneyland.

After our epic day at Versailles, Louisa’s uni friends came over for dinner. They were so lovely and they spoke English so that I could understand but, at that point, I really wished I understood French. We had a really nice night and it was great to meet so many great French people!

Monday marked the commencement of the Paris International Model United Nations (PIMUN). It was hosted at Sciences Po University, a private and very highly regarded university in Paris. The campus itself is located at Saint Germain De Pres – a really expensive area in the Latin Quarter. At PIMUN, my position was chairperson of the Security Council. Our topics were “the situation in Sudan” and “security protocols on the North and South Poles”. The Security Council at PIMUN had a great mix of delegates and I had such a great time chairing them. I also met some really awesome girls from Greece and chairs from the other PIMUN committees.

In the end no resolutions were passed but this is pretty common in the Security Council because of the veto powers. However, our draft resolutions were really good. For example, our Sudan resolution recommended a 50km demilitarised zone on the border between Sudan and South Sudan. The next day, the Government of Sudan announced a 50km demilitarised zone – translation: the Security Council at PIMUN were geniuses! When discussing the North Pole security, there were some pretty priceless moments: recommendations that the French use their world class sewer system to trade with China, considerations for the rights of Santa Clause and one quote from the delegate for India that any MUN people reading will appreciate: “If this resolution is going to fail, I want it to fail BIG!”

Over the three days there were some 14 hours of negotiations culminating in two vetoed (but still great) resolutions. At the end of the conference on Wednesday, I selected my three awards – outstanding, distinguished and honourable – which was really tough to decide. After these were announced it was all over! We had a buffet in the Science Po courtyard before heading to the river for a cruise down La Seinne. I got to see all the main sites along the riverbank but the most incredible was the Eiffel Tower! And on the hour, we got to see the flashing lights, it was just gorgeous.

Having not yet seen the Eiffel Tower up close, I ventured to the tower on Thursday morning. It was packed with people but I go some great photos from the base. It really is the icon of Paris, even if the locals feel it looks like a phone reception tower.

Then we went into the Louvre where we saw the Mona Lisa, Venus de Milo and centuries of other art and artefacts.

Paris was such an incredible week and I had the best time! Thank you to all the people who made it so much fun. Au revoir!

Exams are over!

I’ve finished my last exam in Leeds! And my emotions are somewhere between absolute elation and devastation. On the one hand, I am so happy that all the pressure is off. I actually studied really hard, particularly for statistics because it’s not something that comes naturally to me, and now I don’t have to worry about anything. But on the other hand, it means my Leeds experience has unofficially come to an end. I’ll still be hanging around for a few weeks but, realistically, all my classes are finished and the university semester is over.

Since returning from Germany, I’ve spent the better part of two weeks inside my study cave (aka my room). Last week, Ash came to visit en route back to Australia so it was fun to have a friend from Australia around. We then went to London to visit Kim (again). It’s just crazy that that was the last time I’m going to stay with Kim in London… sad face. We went and saw Legally Blonde which was incredible! The performers were just out of this world and I really love all the songs.

We then went to a few locations near Leicester Square. London nightlife is fun but expensive! I only stayed in London for one night because I needed to come back to Leeds to study so I bid farewell to Ash and Kim and came back on Sunday.

So I had my exam schedule: Tuesday, 9am, Advertising and Promotion Management and Thursday, 9am, Introductory Statistics for Management. The whole 100% exam thing still freaks me out! I hate that if you happen to have a bad day or just luck out on that one exam it’s all over. Thankfully I studied really well for both exams and I’m pretty sure that I’ve done okay on both. I was particularly scared about statistics because it was multiple choice so you couldn’t pick up extra marks for correct working and if you got one value wrong and carried it through you were likely to get the next five questions wrong as well. My two exams were sat in the concert hall in the student union and the gym. It’s pretty overwhelming walking into the gym to sit your exam with about 500 other student. Everyone has individually allocated seats and it’s a lot like the QCS with really structured rules and procedures.

In other news, it was my sister’s eighteenth birthday on Monday! I sent a giant package of presents from all over Europe a few weeks back and it made it in time – YAY! It was really hard not to be there to celebrate with her but I skyped home at midnight, over breakfast and after they got home from dinner so I didn’t feel totally left out. Most importantly, my sister had a great day and is looking forward to her party this weekend. Happy Birthday Demi!!

Wednesday was State of Origin day. State of Origin is quite a big deal in my house and always a fun event that poor mum spends supporting the Blues (to no avail). The rest of the family generally has a better time as avid Maroons! And once again, we were victorious! I listened to the online ABC Grandstand commentary and whenever someone scored I skyped home to watch the replay. (I told you State of Origin was a big deal in my family) I stopped short of going to the Australian bar at 10.30am because I did have study to do… so that’s good, right?

So it’s been quite a few days and that’s the academic part of my exchange done and dusted! Tomorrow I’m heading to Paris for the Paris International Model United Nations. I’m going to be the chairperson of the Security Council which I’m really excited about because it’s the first time I’ll be a chair! Our topics are security protocols on the North and South Poles and the situation in Sudan.  Apart from the MUN itself, I’m planning some serious sightseeing adventures. I mean, it is Paris!!

So, till next time, au revoir!

Mostly Maastricht plus a bit of Belgium and a day in Dusseldorf

So, there are these things called business case competitions. In a nutshell, all these different universities from around the world send four or so business students to analyse, solve and present business solutions, it’s a bit like management consulting. Last year I was lucky enough to compete in a few of these. You get to travel to the most amazing places and meet really incredible people from all over the world.

This week, I was in Maastricht, near the bottom of the Netherlands. Ash and Larry (our advisor extraordinaire) had already been in Europe for a few days but when I met Rob and Luke at Dusseldorf airport, they had just finished 30 HOURS of travelling! After my 2 hours, I really appreciated the convenience of England.

The competition, ICC@M, had 16 teams from all over the world. Everywhere from America to Singapore, Germany to Hong Kong. We did a t-shirt exchange and ended up with shirts from Italy, Portugal and New Zealand!

Before the actual competition started, we had a scavenger hunt around the city and a trivia night (which we won!!)

We did three cases in total – the first two were three hours of preparation and the last was 24 hours. Three hours absolutely flies by when you have to read a case, pull together the data, create a solution/strategy and create a twenty minute presentation. The first case was about Hugo Boss fragrances and we came third in our division. The second one was about Amrath Grand Hotel and we won our division for that case! YAY! The final case was about APG, one of the biggest superannuation fund in the Netherlands and we had to advise them on an investment opportunity in timberland internationally. I never thought I’d know so much about the investment implications of the forestry industry.

In the middle of the week we also went for a bike ride to Belgium because you can do that here! Just crazy!!

We ended up being really great friends with the team from Italy. They didn’t have an advisor so Larry took them under his wing so we did our preparation and socialising mostly with them. I really appreciated having some girls to hang out with and not being out numbered four to one in the QUT team anymore!

So after all our fun competing, sightseeing and partying in Maastricht, the week was over! Bidding farewell to everyone is always sad but we have great memories of our time together and new friends to visit all over the world.

I then decide to spend a day in Dusseldorf because my friend Ramona lives there. We first visited her family and then went for a walk around the city. We went up the tower which had an amazing view of the city. There are lots of really old buildings and the whole city is around the Rhine. Ramona showed me all the cool sites and we had so much fun.

Dusseldorf was extra exciting because it was hosting the final of the Eurovision Song Contest. For anyone who doesn’t know what that is – youtube it and laugh! Basically, it comprises of one competitor from each country and then all the countries vote on who should win. There are sometimes a select number of decent songs but these are by far outweighed by eurotrash, uber-cheesy pop and just generally appalling music – excellent for comedic value. Some of the weirdest had to be Ireland and this one with a girl on a unicycle (can’t remember the country). The UK’s entry was Blue so at least I had heard of one group amongst a sea of faces I’ve never seen. In the end, Azerbaijan were the winners so next year, that’s where the finals are going.

So now I’m back in Leeds – study time again! I have two 100% exams coming up so time to do some revision.

Essay writing and other fun times

Okay, so it was recently brought to my attention that I have been failing to talk about Leeds in my blog. So it is high time that changed.

Two weeks ago, I had three essays due in three weeks. One of the problems with exchange is that you’re having so much fun and then it will suddenly dawn on you… “hang on, I have three essays due this week!”

Thankfully I had a good start, as I mentioned on my last blog, but I still basically locked myself in my room until they were written. I looked like a super-nerd borrowing twelve books out of the library and I’m pretty sure the straps on my bag were only a couple of grams away from snapping.

At least my essays were all very different – a journalism ethics paper, a business and climate change brief and a reflective essay. The journalism one was worth 100% of my mark which really puts a lot of pressure on. 100% assessments have good and bad points. From one side, it means that you can travel and enjoy yourself during the semester and work really hard at the end but on the other hand you cannot afford to do badly as it’s basically the WHOLE unit.

The submission methods here are slightly different too. You have to go to the office of each individual school (for me, business and communications) and fill in a form. Unlike assignment minder they close around lunch time so you have to submit a lot earlier. There is also an online submission that they run through “turn it in” to check for plagiarism.

I haven’t got any marks back but the exchange results translate to QUT as a pass or fail and don’t affect my GPA. As long as I pass everything, I will be a very happy camper.

So after spending days writing my essays, it was time to celebrate! On Thursday we went to one of the international student parties. This time it was “James Bond” themed.

Friday was our residence’s ball… AT A CASTLE!! They just have all these castles all over the country so why not? Although I had quite a funny conversation with a local because they had never realised that we don’t have castles in Australia, hahaha.

So there is my dedicated Leeds update. The next one is back to my usual form: the Netherlands (with quick side adventures to Belgium and Germany).

Greece, Turkey and Royal Wedding – WOW!

So when Leeds University gifts you with one month of holidays there is only one thing you can do – make the most of it!! After returning from Spain and spending a few days in Leeds studying, it was time to head overseas again! We were flying out of Liverpool so Georgia and I took the chance to visit the Beatles Museum.

After our quick foray to Liverpool we left for Rhodes, Greece. Rhodes is a large island in the southeast of Greece with lots of historical ruins. Old Rhodes town is so cool with heaps of little restaurants and shops amongst the ruins.

We also got to go to the beach but the water was really cold. It’s still Spring here so there weren’t a tonne of tourists. It was good to see Rhodes while it was a bit quiet.

After two days of sightseeing, we boarded our ferry (read cruise liner!!!) to Athens. It was a really long ferry ride and, because it was overnight, we didn’t get a great sleep on the couches. But it was so cool cruising the Mediterranean!

The next morning, we spent a few hours waiting in Athens and boarded our second ferry to Samos. Samos is the island that my family are from and it was so incredible to see them after 12 years. We spent the week visiting all the sites around Samos and it was just so lovely. It was also my yiayia’s (grandma in Greek) 75th birthday so I’m glad I was there to celebrate with her.

We went to Karlovassi, Vathi, Pythogoria (the home of Pythagoras), Hora (where my cousins live) and Mitilini (where my great aunt and more cousins live). The whole island is so beautiful and even though the weather wasn’t great, we had a really amazing time! I swear Georgia and I ate our body weight in Greek food!

Then it was time to move on to Turkey. We joined our tour at Kusadasi and went out to get to know our tour group. There was a great mix of 20-something expats working in the UK, some couples, a family and a retired couple from Brisbane.

Over the next two days we visited the ancient city of Pergamon – the site of the second largest library of the ancient world – and Troy. There were actually nine Troys, all built on top of each other as different empires conquered the site.

And finally, it was time for the event we had gone to Turkey to experience… ANZAC Day. We got to Gallipoli Peninsular in the afternoon and visited the museum. There were artefacts from all around the battlefields, including some remains (which were really eerie). There were bullets that had collided mid-air and an outfit worn by Ataturk, the founder of the Republic of Turkey.

We headed up to Lone Pine, the Nek and Chunuk Bair – all sites of major battles during the Gallipoli campaign. Once we made it to ANZAC Cove, we went through security, received our souvenir bags and found an area to sit in. Most of the other tours had been there for hours so we didn’t get a spot on the grass. We had made a pact not to complain and every time we were feeling tired, uncomfortable or cold we would say, “think of the ANZACs”.

There was a schedule of air force band performances, documentary clips, live interviews and addresses from the Prime Ministers. We learnt so much about Gallipoli but the most important part I learnt about was the Turkish losses. The Australian lost around 8000 men, the allied forces (including Australia, NZ, Britain) lost just under 45,000. But the Turkish lost over 85,000!!!! We never learn about that in the Australian history curriculum…

Georgia got 20 minutes of sleep on the wooden floor of the grandstands but I got none. I was sitting there in thermals, my ski jacket and sleeping bag and was still cold. Apparently, with wind chill, it got down to around negative 3… brrrrrr.

At 5am the Dawn Service commenced. It was so emotional being in the same place where the ANZACs came ashore in 1915. After the service, we walked up to Lone Pine for the Australian Service. We had a really great view and even though we were all overtired, we sang along to “we are one”, “home among the gumtrees” and other Aussie classics. The services were really well done and I now have an entirely new level of respect for ANZAC Day and what it stands for. If anyone is planning on heading to Europe for a semester one exchange, I’d absolutely recommend ANZAC Day. I can’t even find the words, but it was just… you’ll understand if you ever go. When the Turkish and New Zealand services finished at 1pm, we left the peninsular to make our way to Istanbul.

Istanbul is a busy and sometimes crazy place! Girls, be warned, you will be stared at, whistled at and shop keepers will make highly inappropriate comments – consider yourselves warned. Most of it is light hearted and we tried to explain away their offensive comments by telling ourselves they didn’t really have a good grasp of English. First up, we visited Hagia Sophia, which was absolutely incredible!

Then we went to the Blue Mosque which was also really impressive. There are a lot of mosques and we heard the sounds of the “call to prayer” echoing though the city five times a day. The shopping at the grand bazaar was really great and we certainly did our bit to “support the local economy”.

And so, after our amazing trip to Greece and Turkey, we boarded our flight bound for London. Georgia and I decided that we would catch a matinee session of something on West End and we were really lucky because Billy Elliot was playing! It was such a good show and the little boy was so talented!

After the show, we went to look at all the Royal Wedding Eve campers outside Buckingham and Westminster. Some people are NUTS! There was literally a whole lot of tents camped at the best vantage points, some had been there for days. After our recent ANZAC sleep out, we weren’t quite ready to brave the elements and opted to go back to Kim’s house to get a good night sleep before the big day.

We got up the next morning and made our way to Hyde Park. We got a great spot near the screens, laid out our picnic rug, cheese, crackers and drinks. It was just perfect! Experiencing the wedding with over 200,000 people waving union jacks in the air and cheering every time Kate came on the screen really was a once in a lifetime experience.

We had the most amazing day and the only way to end it was by going to see Tim Minchin perform in the Royal Albert Hall. He was absolutely hilarious and we really enjoyed the show.

So, now I’m back in Leeds. It’s good to be back with clean clothes, all my stuff and my hall mates! Now it’s time to knuckle down on my essays and do all my uni work. I have three essays, one due Thursday and two due Friday! I’m pretty sure that after the highs of Greece, ANZAC Day and the Royal Wedding I am about to experience some sort of sever psychological crash from not having all these exciting things happen in quick succession any more. Thankfully, assignment wise, I’ve got a good start on all of them so I’m sure I’ll be handing them all in on time. Wish me luck!