Week Fourteen Wrap-Up – Return Flights and Reflections and Recommendations

And just like that, my exchange term in Exeter has come to an end. I’ve made a little loop around London and will be catching a flight to be home for the holidays. My time in Exeter was amazing and I need to also extend a huge thank you to all the incredible people I met that made my time in Exeter so. There’s so much I’m going to miss here. Looking back, I’m really thankful that I had this blog and the opportunity to even be a blogger. I’m usually pretty terrible at keeping a travel log about all my trips, but this blog really pushed me to do that and I’m grateful I had this opportunity.

I’ve learned a lot throughout my experience and I’ve grown in a variety of ways. It sounds so cliché but I think that once you go on exchange, you encounter different people and circumstances that will compel you to undergo change. Especially in terms of culture, I didn’t think there would be such differences at first, what with me coming from the predominantly English-speaking country of Canada to England, a thoroughly English-speaking country, but all the subtle details and nuances add up.

For me, I think the biggest thing I’ve realized is that you have to be open to everything – you have to take everything for what it is and make the most of it. There will be a variety of experiences – good, bad, and everything in between – but you need to take it all in stride. There will always be something to take away from it, whether it is learning that you don’t like marmite on toast, loving clotted cream too much for your own good, or coming to the consensus that hills will never be something you can get used to but they may be something you can condition yourself to.

If you are contemplating going on exchange term, I would absolutely recommend it. It’s definitely an experience that is worth it in so many ways. I also have a couple tips of my own that you might want to consider as well:

1. Exchange will not always be rainbows and sunshine every single day. There will be some days that are harder, such as in the beginning when you’re a tad homesick, but there will be other days that are absolutely amazing, such as going out for celebrations with other friends you’ve met. Keep an open mind and remember that there will be ups and downs; however, at the end of it all, I can pretty much guarantee you that you’ll come away from it all thinking the experience in its entirety was incredible.

2. Pack things you don’t intend on keeping. If you have things you’re planning on donating to clothing drives or the like, pack those to go on exchange. It’ll make it so much easier for when you have to pack to go back home.

3. Join things! Get involved! I know this is what everyone says and this is probably what your international office/exchange coordinators are going to say as well, but there really is a reason why this gets drilled into your heads again and again! It really makes a world of difference if you put yourself out there and really try and become a part of the university and the local area.

4. Go to class. Now this one might have you scratching your head a little but personally, I think that this is something that a number of students going on exchange might neglect. It is all very well and good to go travelling whilst you’re on an exchange term abroad; however, at the end of the day, you are there for the purpose of studying and getting a different learning experience. It really is worth it and if you want some more practical backing for my point, you’re still paying for your classes even if it is to your home university rather than your host institution. So yeah, going to class is good.

If you’ve been following me on my journey all the way through, thank you! I had an amazing experience and hopefully, you enjoyed sharing in them with me from week to week. I thought that committing myself to being a student blogger with the university would help me in keeping a somewhat decent record of my experience here, but hopefully it’s helped other people, whether it was purely for the sake of amusement or for getting a bit of insight as to what an exchange could possibly be like.

If anyone ever finds themselves in Ottawa, whether it is for study abroad or just travel, feel free to drop me an email: mpoon051@uottawa.ca. I’d be more than happy to show you around!

Happy holidays!

Week Thirteen Wrap-Up: Parties and Partings and Packing

And that was it. My last week of classes and my last full week in Exeter. I still remember quite clearly the very first time I walked to campus (it was dark and rained like cats and dogs), my first impressions of Exeter walking along the high street, my first couple of lectures. It seems like just yesterday I had all these firsts and now it’s come to me counting up all the lasts.

My professor for Modern Irish Literature, Dr. Ellen McWilliams, was so sweet and lovely and threw a little party for our seminar group with munchies and goodies. I think the last time I had a party in school was probably way back in elementary school. In my Dream Palace seminar, Dr. Lisa Stead also gave us all little treats at the end of class. This semester was the first time ever that Dream Palace has run so it felt kind of cool being a part of pioneer class for the module and sort of making a bit of history. If you’re in year 2 and wavering as to whether or not to take Modern Irish Literature or Dream Palace next year, I say go for it. It’s 110% worth it and you’ll get so much out of either or both of those classes!

This week was also filled with lots of food – Christmas dinners with music societies, farewell dinners with friends, and also trying to finish all the rest of the food I have left in the fridge. It was lovely to catch up with people and actually sit down to share food and conversation but at the same time, it was all bittersweet. This week was probably the last time I would see a lot of people again in a long, long time (I refuse to say that this week was the last time that I’ll ever see them).

There are a number of people I’ve gotten to know fairly well and gotten to be good friends with in flute choir, concert band, and a couple of my classes. It’s a little hard knowing that I won’t be around in the New Year and for the next term. Perhaps that’s one of the downsides of only being on exchange for one semester because it’s almost as if you are only a part of the experience and you can’t immerse yourself in everything as fully, but I would imagine that if I were here for the full year, it’d be even harder for me at the end of everything to leave.

I have, indeed, started packing; I gave myself a little pat on the back for that when I hauled out my suitcase and started putting stuff inside. I don’t leave until the middle of the week but I thought I’d thank myself for it later if I didn’t start packing the night before. There are a good number of charity stores here in the area so luckily I’ll be able to give away a decent number of things instead of throwing them out. I can’t exactly say I’ll miss my room here terribly but it’s given me a roof over my head and a space to retreat to for the last three months, so there will be a bit of fond sadness when it comes time to leave.

This weekend, one of my friends and I also took the chance to make one more weekend getaway to Plymouth. The weather wasn’t as cooperative as we would have liked but the skies didn’t open up and pour – they only threatened rain the whole day – so we took what we could get. Plymouth is a lovely seaside city that’s only an hour or so away, and we enjoyed the waterfront views and Christmas festivities and also did some shopping (Yes, Plymouth has an actual shopping mall! It’d never occurred to me until that point that Exeter doesn’t have one…) The friend I went with is one of the closest friends I’ve made here; we literally live on opposite sides of the world so it’s going to be really hard saying goodbye to her later on this week. It was great to explore Plymouth but it was particularly nice to have gone with her and made a couple more special memories before we have to part ways.

A couple of girls on my floor have already left the flat to go back home, and I think a fair number of people in my block have gone home as well. There are still people around but it still feels pretty empty and hollow in halls now. Exeter overall feels emptier and quieter and I think that’s really saying something because Exeter errs towards the quiet side to begin with. Maybe it’s just the sense that school is over for the year and it’s time to go home. As much as I’ve loved being in Exeter, I think seeing everyone go home is getting to me a little and making me miss home a touch more. However, I know that I’ll be returning home soon enough and I’ll have with me so many amazing memories, lots of fabulous experiences, and many friends with whom I will continue to keep in touch.

Week Twelve Wrap-Up: Concerts and Conducting and Checklists

IMG_3855 - churchHappy December! Time is really flying for me. I can’t help but find it a little odd that it’s December and there’s no snow, but the gales of wind and sporadic showers of rain are doing their very best to make up for it. I found out the other day that they have wind warnings here and I thought it was just the strangest thing. But then I thought about how we have cold warnings at home and how out of place that concept is in a place like Exeter, and then the wind warnings made a touch more sense.

For those of you concerned with my academic wellbeing, I have indeed started one of the essays I promised I’d start writing in my last blog post. I’m quite excited for this actually (I know that sounds super lame). But I’ve really loved Modern Irish Literature and I’m quite happy with the topic I’ve decided to marry (I borrowed that brilliant expression from my lecturer). I also get to tie a bit of Canadian literature in it as well, and Canadian literature was one of my favourite English courses I took back home, so it’s quite honestly the best of both worlds.

In other news, the concerts have started! As a music kid, the end of term is typically that crazy time when you have so many rehearsals, so many sectionals, and then the actual concerts themselves, but you’re also juggling culminating assignments at the same time. It gets a little insane but in my opinion, it’s 100% worth it and makes for an experience like no other.

I played in my first Christmas concert here with the Exeter University Concert Band in Topsham. St. Margaret’s Church was a lovely venue and the concert went quite splendidly if I do say so myself. I’ll also be playing in the joint flute choir/clarinet choir concert next week, making my debut as an alto flautist AND a conductor. The flute choir’s conductor has very graciously let me take a turn at standing up in front of all the wonderful flautists and waving my arms around and trying to look like I know what I’m doing. Hopefully, I’ll be able to pull it off – wish me luck!

I’ve finally started making some headway on getting Christmas presents for people. I’ve made my lists and checked them twice so it’s about time I start taking some action. The thing is, they have so many lovely crafty Christmas-y things here and it really is a struggle for me every time to be judicious and not purchase every cool little trinket I lay my eyes on. I’ve managed to get some wonderful, unique little gifts from the Christmas market as well as the craft markets that seem to pop up every weekend, so I think I’ve been making decent progress on the present-acquiring front. The present-wrapping part will take a bit more work – it’s not exactly my strong suit but I shall do my best.

I’ve also had to start sending some of my friends off in the latter half of the week as a couple of them are leaving Exeter already. I love get-togethers and gatherings but I’m less fond of the fact that they’re for the purpose of saying goodbye. I’m not someone who is very good with goodbyes; I’m more of a see-you-later kind of person.

Next week is going to be hard when pretty much everyone is going to be leaving because classes will be over. I think this is one of the best and worst things about exchanges – you meet so many incredible people with whom you become such good friends, but it feels as if your time together is finite. However, I think it’s something really special to be able to make friends with people from other countries with whom you wouldn’t have had the chance to get to know otherwise, and hey, whenever you go globe-trotting, you’ll have a few extra couches you know you can crash on.

Week Eleven Wrap-Up: A Woman’s Film and American Thanksgivings and AHVC Excursions

The most noteworthy this week was how unproductive I think I was. This is the strange time in the term when all that’s left to do for classes is the summative papers, but those are due in January of 2016, which seems a very long way away. At the same time, those summative assignments are worth a scarily significant portion of our final grades, so it’s probably in my best interest to move it closer to the forefront of my mind, rather than pushing it to the back. I will make plans for them this week. This is now in black and white; I can’t shirk from it now!

I watched a grand total of four movies this past week. Impressive, no? It doesn’t sound as incredible when I say that two of them were for class though. We’re studying the woman’s film so this week’s screenings were Gone with the Wind and The Wicked Lady. I’d never seen either, but then again, this is a statement coming from the girl who’d never seen The Matrix or a single horror movie before this month. I also saw Mockingjay Part 2, in the Odeon but this time I got to experience the larger screen, and Carol at the Picturehouse. Just like there is a smattering of unique cafes each with their own individual atmospheres and vibes, the same holds true for the cinema venues here and I quite like that.

Last Thursday was American Thanksgiving and one of the girls in my flat was so lovely and generous as to make us all Thanksgiving dinner. I’ve never had a proper “Thanksgiving dinner” before so it was a treat. She made the turkey (she says it was her first but it was so delicious I have a hard time believing it still!), the stuffing, the casseroles, everything! My hat absolutely goes off to her and I want to extend a ginormous thanks for the wonderful meal and evening!

Over the weekend, I went with the Art History and Visual Culture Society (AHVC) to Bath for the Christmas market and to see the Fashion Museum and Victoria Art Gallery. It was really nice because it meant I got the chance to go around the city some more as it was my second time in Bath. It was a bit of a drizzly and wet day, but when you’re in the company of good people, you can always make a good time. Bath is a bigger city than Exeter so the market was much more spread out and I felt like the Christmas mood pervaded more of the city overall. There were also many more people; at the peak points of around noon or so, we were packed like sardines and even just walking through the market street was something of an ordeal. To be fair though, this may have been because we went on a Saturday that also fell on Black Friday weekend and the opening weekend of the Christmas markets. Nonetheless, it was a wonderful time.

I also tried my very first mulled wine there; I think mulled wine is something of an acquired taste. I can’t say definitively whether I like it or not. To me, it tastes like something of a combination of warm apple cider and red wine blended together with some spices. While I wasn’t sure about the taste, I quite enjoyed having something nice and warm to wrap my hands around. It’s also only offered around the winter/Christmas time (kind of like eggnog back home?), so it was still well worth the try.

I was talking to one of my flatmates the other day and we were just saying it felt like last week that we had come back from our Reading Week adventures and were exchanging stories; now we’re talking about making plans to see each other off and to see each other again in the future sometime. Things are coming up so fast and it feels like everything will be over so soon, but I guess it speaks to the fact that you really have to make the most of everything when you have it. I have about 19 more days in Exeter so while I’m starting to have to count down the days, I’ll also have to make all the days count!