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!

Week Ten Wrap-Up: Christmas Light-Ups and Christmas Markets and Christmas Carols

ChristmasThe number of weeks I’ve been here has hit the double digits! And the temperatures here have finally broken into the single digit range so at last I felt like it was acceptable to break out my “winter” coat. Back home, I’m used to saving my winter coat for when it’s absolutely a necessity because if you start wearing your winter jacket when it’s only kind of cold and not freezing cold, you’ll have nothing warm enough to wear when it’s freezing cold. I don’t think I really needed to apply this mentality here in Exeter but some habits die hard.

I believe it’s also acceptable to announce to the world that the Christmas season has official descended! We had a light-up ceremony on Thursday in Princesshay, which is like the central shopping district/square; it was all very exciting and lots of good fun. I’m not sure if we have these light-up ceremonies back home; I feel like we would and I’ve just never paid enough attention to know that they were going on. I’ll have to make a note to keep a lookout for it next year. I feel like I keep saying I’ll do all these things once I get back and it’s all just going to amass into this one big list; perhaps I’m better off saying that I’ll go back home and try and be a little bit more of a tourist instead of subtly avoiding it.

At the light-up ceremony, they gave out red antlers, these things called z-bands which would light up if the MC decided he wanted to light them up with his all-powerful remote control, and lots of really great live music. I discovered a new folk/rock duo (Sound of the Sirens, check them out!) that I really like so that was a plus. It was a great night and now every time I walk through city centre, everything is all lit up and it’s beautiful. I love the holiday season and seeing the lights and the decorations just makes everything festive and all the more real, and that always puts a little extra bounce in my step.

To keep the Christmas theme rolling, Exeter’s Christmas market started up this week too. Christmas markets seem to be a really big thing over here and they seem to be everywhere. It must be nice with each different place putting a different spin on their own markets. I’d never really known Christmas markets to be much of a thing back home but suddenly, now I keep seeing them pop up all over back home too. It’s a little odd but I’m also glad I will have Christmas markets to look forward to at home next year.

They have so many cool little knick-knacks for sale and so many of the items are really unique and fun – it definitely makes Christmas shopping easier. I mostly browsed around all the stalls to get a feel for what was around. Towards the end of the night, I did get myself a bag of hot chestnuts, which made me very pleased. Sitting there with my bag of chestnuts with the Christmas Market around me, listening to “Let It Snow”, it really dawned on me that the holiday season had begun.

The weekend rounded itself off most beautifully with weather that was pure perfection. I made the most of it by going out for something of a walk (it lasted about 4 hours though so I’m not sure if it really counted as a walk). I was quite grateful I didn’t have to coop myself inside to do research and fill up blank Word documents with words and quotes this weekend and miss out on such loveliness. Once again, Exeter reminded me of its magnificence and it is small moments like these that really make the thought of leaving hard. At the same time though, I guess I can think of it as incentive to come back to this place and all its splendor.

Week Eight Wrap-Up: Turning Points and Twinkle Lights and Tar Barrels

IMG_3604 - bonfireThe term is half over and my time is Exeter has reached its midway point – that’s crazy! I think right now, I’m at that weird stage where I’m thinking, I have all these things I still want to do and not enough time to do them, time needs to slow down. At the same time, I’m in the midst of essay season right now and all the work is piling up on me and then I think, it’s okay, it’ll all be over soon, I just have to push through for a little while longer. It’s a bit of a strange in-between to be in.

After my last week of travelling, I will admit it was a little strange to be back in class, especially the Monday. Having a pen in my hand again felt quite weird and I found myself having to reorient myself a lot in class to fit the mindset of being in a lecture. Tiredness also blanketed much of my week, but talk of upcoming deadlines very quickly made sure that I knew quite clearly that I was back in university and I needed to get my head back in the game.

Essay season also means that it’s concert season coming up again soon and I’m really excited for it. I play in two different music ensembles and the planned concert venues for both sound pretty great. And to round off the seasons, the holiday season has descended upon Exeter. I see all the lights starting to be hung up around the city and the storefronts have already transformed their window displays to exude holiday cheer. Also, Christmas markets seem to be a really big thing here and I’m seeing lots of advertisements for that. I definitely want to experience one for myself and see what all the hubbub is about. I feel like overall, Europe is quite lavish with the holidays and all the decorations and everything – there’s absolutely a different feel to it and I’m looking forward to being here to experience it.

I also experienced my first bonfire night ever this week and went to Ottery St. Mary’s tar barrels. Ottery St. Mary is this quaint little village that upholds the tradition of townspeople carrying flaming tar barrels through the street. Yup, people literally run up and down the streets with flaming tar barrels and it’s every bit as crazy as you imagine it to be but it’s also quite incredible at the same time. It’s hard to explain the extraordinariness of it – it really is something that needs to be experienced. I saw one of the men after they had finished and despite wearing protective gear and such, they did get burned some and I’d imagine it to be just a little exhausting. For them though, it’s a tradition and way of life, and it’s definitely an honour to be nominated to take part in this. Ottery is the only town in the country that gets to do this, so that in itself is pretty remarkable.

It was also really cool for me to see a real live bonfire; I mean, I’d seen campfires before but that really has nothing on a bonfire. Bonfire night originated in the 1600s; in the November of 1605, there was a Gunpowder Plot in which a group wanted to blow up parliament with explosives. Guy Fawkes, one of the conspirators who was charged with guarding the explosives, was caught, and the plot was ultimately unsuccessful. People lit up bonfires around the city to celebrate this and the tradition has carried through. I remarked to my British friends here that I’d never seen a bonfire before and they looked at me quite incredulously; I found their reactions pretty amusing but then again, I must have looked the same way when they told me they’d never heard of portable heaters.

My floor did a couple things together this week with a pasta night as well as a wine and cheese. Those were lots of fun and it really makes me feel like we should do more of these sort of get-togethers. I’m thinking perhaps pizza at the Old Firehouse should be our next little thing. It’s crazy to think that in a couple of few short weeks, we’re going to be off on our own separate ways and that’ll be it. There are just all these little things that remind me how exchange is going to be coming to an end soon, but I’m trying not to dwell on them too much – I just have to live in the moment and make the most of everything!

Week Seven Wrap-Up – Exhaustion and Elation and Experiences of a Lifetime

The past little bit has been an absolute whirlwind. I took off early the Friday before last to embark on my escapades to Scotland and I just got back this Monday. It is a little disorientating to say the least, going from something of a self-proclaimed world traveller back to full-time student. I’m not sure if I have all my wits about me so hopefully what I write from here on out will be coherent. I do have a large coffee sitting beside me so that should help.

It feels so good to have a keyboard under my fingers again. Throughout my trip, I’d been making notes on my phone so I wouldn’t forget things, but typing on my little phone keyboard frustrates me no end so I’m thankful to have the luxury of my computer keyboard. It’s also a little foreign because I’ve been estranged from it for so long (…I sound like I’m addicted to my computer…which I may be a little). However, I’m sure I’ll become familiar with it again quite quickly as I need to start making essays appear on my currently very blank word documents. The play hard bit just finished up so it’s probably the work hard bit’s turn.

I’m pretty sure I could write entire novels for each of the 10 days I was away, but that wouldn’t be very practical. I’ll put a little synopsis of the things we saw and/or did each day so you get a taste of what it encompassed and you can end up with an overall, brief (or as brief as I am capable) summary of my trip. Full, novella-esque entries along with pictures for each day are available, so if a certain day happens to catch your fancy, you can read about it if it so pleases you. I would like to say I was a very good tourist and ticked off many of the tourist must-do’s when I was away, but you can be the ultimate judge of that.

I was incredibly fortunate that the sun decided the join me on the entirety of my trip – the weather was absolutely beautiful pretty much every day. I only remember a 10 minute interval of showers once throughout the whole of my trip, so it was fantastic. I was away for a grand total of ten days but thinking back, it feels like I was gone for weeks. I saw so much, experienced so many different things, and met and caught up with such amazing people. Travelling really does broaden your horizons, changes your perspectives, and opens your eyes to so many things. Work-wise, I might be doing a little more catch-up than I had bargained for originally but I’m going to be so bold as to say that it’s absolutely worth it. My trip was bookended by a severe lack of sleep but I definitely have to say it’s well worth it. Thinking back, I can hardly believe I did so much and what’s more, I can hardly believe it actually happened.

10 days. 2 countries. 4 cities. 910 photographs. 3250km of travel. One incredible experience.

Friday October 23rd, 2015 – Exeter/Bristol to Edinburgh
I had met a fellow Canadian several weeks back on that weekend trip to Bath and we got along quite well so we made the decision to do some travelling together. She was an incredible travel companion and we shared a number of common interests so that made it easy when it came to planning to go around together to different places.

For me, this day seemed like it went on forever because the sleep thing was totally getting to me. You could say that the day technically started on Thursday because we caught the overnight bus to Bristol airport and from there, took one of those inhumanely early flights to Edinburgh and so when we got there, Friday had just started. It was great in that we really got to make the most out of our time, but I remember thinking that the day would never end. I was quite impressed with the number of things we managed to see; personally, I was a little sceptical about staying upright for the whole day. The summary of our sightseeing is as follows:
• National Monument of Scotland
• Nelson Monument
• Scott Monument
• St. Giles Church
• Bookstores
• Edinburgh Castle
• Riddle Grave
• The Elephant House (a.k.a. where J.K. Rowling started writing Harry Potter)

Saturday October 24th – Edinburgh
Feeling far more refreshed the next day with a good night’s rest, we continued making headway on our Scotland itinerary. I will have to say I was much chipper and I felt like I was able to appreciate Scotland a little more. Highlights for this day are as listed:
• The Writers’ Museum
• Museum of Scotland
• Haggis!
• National Library of Scotland
• Weekend Market
• Macbeth at the Cameo Theatre

Sunday October 25th – Edinburgh
We went around with a girl from France we had met at the hostel and with whom we got along fairly well. It was super great to be able to meet someone else with whom we could share our travel experience. Our endeavours that day include the following:
• Princes Street Gardens
• Charlotte Square
• Scottish National Gallery
• Mary’s Milk Bar
• Museum of Childhood
• Edinburgh Ghost Tour

Monday October 26th – Glasgow
We got up early to catch a train to Glasgow; it’s the largest city in Scotland but not the capital. It’s a thriving, bustling place that reminds me a little of Ottawa actually. The arts and music scene there was quite vibrant and it was a thoroughly enjoyable day trip. We tried to fit in as much as we could in the twelve hours we were there:
• Buchanan Street
• National Piping Centre
• Glasgow Royal Concert Hall
• The Lighthouse
o Scotland Graphic Design Festival
• Willow Tea Rooms
• Gallery of Modern Art
• Merchant City
• Glasgow City Chambers
• George Square
• National War Memorial
• Glasgow Quay

Tuesday October 27th – Edinburgh/Bristol
Our trip to Scotland came to a close on Tuesday; we had been roaming around for about five days but by this point, I felt like it had been five weeks! We’d seen and done so much, and I’d created so many memories just from this part of my trip alone. On this day, we checked off the rest of the things on our Scotland itinerary that we hadn’t managed to get around to the other days, and we also made a couple of spontaneous stops at places that caught our eye as we wandered around. We got the appreciate the beauty of having control over our plans for the day, marching to the beat of our own drums, and finding ourselves in these places:
• Museum of Edinburgh
• Arthur’s Seat
• Scottish Parliament
• Holyrood Park and Circle

Wednesday October 28th – Dublin
Here, I said goodbye to my Canadian travel buddy for this portion of the trip and got myself on a plane to Dublin, Ireland. I have a friend studying at the University of Galway whom I met while he was on exchange in Ottawa last year; with Ireland being fairly close to the UK, I thought it’d be nice if we could catch up and we managed to coordinate some time to get together. I had some time in Dublin to myself before meeting up with him and so I ambled around and made up my plans as I went along. I started off with absolutely no clue as to what there was to see in Dublin, but I quickly discovered that Dublin was something of a gem:
• Talbot and O’Connell St
• Custom House
• St. Mary’s Pro-Cathedral
• Trinity College Dublin
• Doug Harding Art Gallery
• St. Stephen’s Green
• The Spire
• Dublin Castle and Gardens
• Christchurch Cathedral
• Temple Bar
• Abbey Theatre

Thursday October 29th – Dublin
My first day in Dublin had given me a better sense of what things were like in the city, and I had more of a plan as to what I wanted to do with my second day in Dublin. I was a little more prepared and armed myself with a checklist of to-do’s for my day. I met up with my friend that evening as well, so I didn’t have to worry too much in regards to how I would fill my day.
• Parnell Monument
• Book of Kells and the Long Hall Library at Trinity College Dublin
• Art Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin
o Exhibition of Secrets
• Oscar Wilde Monument
• Merrion Square Park
• National Defence Memorial
• Fusiliers Arch
• Grafton St.
• Irish Guinness

Friday October 30th – Dublin/Galway
I had the morning and early part of the afternoon to make sure I had done most of what I had hoped to do, although if you remember or if you read that bit, I said I came to Dublin with nothing that really resembled a plan so making sure I had met my goals wasn’t very hard. However, I knew I had wanted to go to the James Joyce Centre after having seen a brochure for it at the hostel I stayed at. Just the week before, we had finished reading Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man in my Irish Lit class, and the book had, to put it bluntly, gone completely over my head, and I wanted to see if going to an exhibit wholly dedicated to Joyce could open my mind at all to better appreciate his brilliance. That was my mission for the day, and it almost turned into something of an impossible mission. Luckily, I get to say that I managed to turn it into mission possible, and I got to spend the 3 hour bus ride to meet my friend in Galway feeling quite pleased with myself.
• Dublin Writers Museum
• The James Joyce Centre
• Bus to Galway
• Shop St. in Galway

Saturday October 31st – Galway
My friend very graciously gave up his Saturday for working on his paper to show me around Galway and give me the grand tour. It was not disappointing in the least and I also got to experience Halloween in Ireland, which was very cool. Being in Galway with a local let me experience the city in a different way, and that was something I found to be appealing. It’s definitely nice when you can walk around knowing you won’t get lost.
• Weekend Market
• St. Nicholas Cathedral
• Charley Byrnes Bookshop
• Eyre Square
• Docks
• Museum of Galway

Sunday November 1st – Galway to Bristol/Exeter
This day concluded one of the most incredible experiences I had ever had and one of which I will have amazing memories to look back on for a long time to come. I kind of feel like the weather mirrored my trip all the way through because a thick fog began to set over Galway as I was leaving (or maybe I’m just making connections out of thin air because a fog had descended across most of the UK that day).
• University of Galway
• Travelling back to Exeter

When I finally made it back to Exeter after several flight delays, I was considerably sleep deprived; I think I actually walked into a couple of walls. I still had to go to class as it was Monday by the time I returned so I went to get coffee from Costa. I gave my order to the barista and had a nice little chitchat with him about the little nothings of everyday. As he handed me my coffee, he asked me, “Where’s your accent from? Is it Irish?” I responded to that with a laugh and a very Canadian “Sorry, no, I’m from Canada.” This little episode was extremely amusing to say the least; I knew my trip had been deeply impressionable but I didn’t think it ran that deep, but hey, what do I know?

Week Six Wrap-Up: Cream Tea and Conversation Workshops and Country Hopping

This week’s post comes a little early I’m heading off on Friday for some travel – yay for Opportunities Week! But I will make sure to get some reading done or I’m going to come back from my mini vacation to a mountain of work and that’s not a mountain I want to scale.

Cream TeaI had my very first cream tea ever at Tea on the Green, which identifies itself as Exeter’s most traditional café. It was so lovely and quaint and right in the courtyard of the Cathedral so it had the loveliest view. I went with one of my friends from my flat and we got to sit upstairs, right by the window! I always knew tea was a thing in England, but cream tea is something particularly special to Devon, and its surrounding area. As I have been led to believe, traditional cream tea consists of tea/coffee, scones, clotted cream, jam, and preserves. I’d never ever had clotted cream before so in my head, I imagined clotted cream to be like whipped cream. Unsurprisingly, the notion in my head was nothing like the real thing. Clotted cream is more like butter in its texture but it’s not salty; rather, it’s a little sweet, like cream (brownie points for pointing out the obvious?). I’m envious I don’t get clotted cream back home. The cream tea came with two scones per person; I never thought that two scones could be so filling but they really were! It was a delectable little meal/break for the afternoon and definitely an experience in and of itself.

I signed up to be a language teaching assistant and we had our first orientation meeting today. I’m really excited for this! This scheme is for international and Erasmus students and essentially, teaching assistants help language tutors lead one-hour conversation workshops in their native language with a small group of University of Exeter students studying Modern Languages. I have to say, as an English student, one of the questions I get asked the most is, “Do you want to be a teacher when you’re done at school?”, and every single time, I stifle a sigh and answer, “No, that’s about the last thing I want to be.” I’ve really never imagined myself having a career as a teacher, and plainly put, I just don’t think I’m cut out for it. Yet somehow, I’ve found myself in a sort of teaching position a lot the past few years. I used to teach at a music school, I worked as a writing advisor for my home university, I volunteer with a local after-school music program back home… All these things just add up and I’m almost starting to get the sense that I’m just in denial. I had someone tell me once that if life consistently puts me on a certain path, maybe I should just go with it, so maybe I should just go with it.

A friend I met here is hosting a photography exhibition this Saturday (The Glorious Art House, in case you’re wondering) showcasing the different traders and histories that make up one of the busiest and most eclectic streets here. As I’ve likely mentioned before, I think the heritage here is just absolutely incredible and I think this whole exhibit that she’s helping put on is super amazing. In my opinion, there’s so much value in knowing about the history of a place in which you live; it really opens up your perspectives and makes you see the place in an entirely different light. It also makes me wish I did a part of my degree in History back home.

Super excited to be heading off to Scotland and then Ireland for some adventures during Opportunities Week! I wish I could pack Exeter’s sunshine with me, but I’ll have to settle for hoping that the sunshine decides to come along with me on my trip.

Week Five Wrap-Up: Milestones and Me Moments and Movie Theatres

Tuesday October 13th marked me having been in Exeter for one month – I can hardly believe it! It seems like everything has just flown by. I feel like I’ve been here a lot longer than I actually have, and I can bet I’ll feel like I hardly spent any time here when it is time to leave.

This week was a bit of a milestone week as I also handed in my very first couple of assignments on Thursday. Exeter uses an electronic submission system and while it’s very sustainable of them, I have to admit that handing things in online scares me a little. I’m someone who likes things to be more tangible and I quite revel in the feeling of having a printed copy of my essay and giving it away to the professor for him/her to decide my fate. Submitting something electronically gives me the impression I’m giving away my efforts to an abyss. To be fair though, I did like the fact that I got to hand it in whenever I pleased instead of waiting for class time and having six pieces of stapled paper feel like the weight of the world in my bag.

In light of having made it through my first due dates here relatively unscathed, I treated myself to a little break after the big deadline day. I took advantage of the lovely, crisp weather and poked around Exeter, walking into the little eclectic vintage-y stores in which Exeter seems abound and sitting down with a delightful cup of coffee and taking a “me moment” in one of the many coffee shops on High Street. I love the vibe here; people really know how to sit back, take their time, and enjoy things. They also know how to make incredible coffee.

An especially enjoyable part of my week was when I went on a city walk with my film class to look at past and present cinema venues in Exeter. Britain had a pretty big cinema culture in the early 90s so there were no shortages of theatre spaces back then. Unfortunately, during the Blitz of WWI, a lot of the original buildings were destroyed, but it was still really interesting to go around and see how the locations had changed. It surprised and disappointed me a little to discover that a lot of the old cinema venues weren’t commemorated in any way, shape, or form. Granted, given the number of venues there used to be (about ten locations all within a ten block radius), I guess it wouldn’t be very practical to have a plaque for every single one, but I feel like there is a lot of heritage and historical value there that’s worth preserving. However, I will acknowledge that I may be sappier than most people when it comes to stuff like this. The walk also made me think about how much I knew about the spaces I live in back home and I realized it wasn’t much. This is definitely something I’ll have to change once I get back.

Opportunities Week (or Reading Week as I’m more used to) is coming up soon and while some time will need to be set aside for a bit of work, I’ll also be taking the opportunity to travel around. I’ve been making some plans this week to figure out where I will be going and what I should see; I’m looking forward to acquainting myself better with more of England! One thing I was quite baffled to learn was that Opportunities Week is not something that all the students at the University get; it depends on what you study, what year you’re in, and probably a slew of other factors of which I’m not aware. Fortunately, I am one of the lucky ducks who gets the luxury of Opportunities Week so I’m not going to deny that I’m quite pleased.

It’s starting to get cooler now but I’m loving it because it means that autumn is really here. This is probably my favourite time of the year, and I’m glad Exeter isn’t one of those places that just goes straight from summer to winter. I love the feeling I get when I step outside and it’s cold but not cold to the point where I feel cold, I love seeing all the green of the trees transform into brilliant reds, fiery oranges, and golden yellows, and I love watching the magic of 5 o’clock light give the city a magic touch. Perhaps it’s the season but I must say that Exeter has also given me its magic touch; my time here is almost half over but I can hardly imagine leaving!

Week Four Wrap-Up – Parades and Prehistoric Monuments and Palatial Baths

Exeter proved me wrong this week and didn’t rain cats and dogs like I had predicted. Now usually I don’t like being wrong but in this case, I can make an exception. Besides, I think I got the better end of the deal because it was, once again, lovely and gorgeous outside for most of the week.

Unfortunately, I spent more time than I would like to admit in my room as a good part of my week was given away to doing Skype interviews back home. Time zones definitely did a fantastic job of boggling my brain as I tried to keep myself organized; with having my laptop still on Canadian time, my little clock on my nightstand on UK time, and my wristwatch forever stuck on 12 o’ clock until I get some new batteries into it, it proved to be a bit of a challenge. However, that’s over with now and fingers crossed I’ll have a job when all is said and done – I have to fund my exchange experience somehow!

It’s Thanksgiving back home so I thought it would be good to stick with the tradition of giving thanks for all the wonderful things I have, so here’s a quick recap of some of other the lovely moments that happened this week besides interviews:

  • Lunch with all the girls in my flat. We’re all one-semester exchange students from different parts of the world so it was really nice to get together and chat with one another. It’s been almost a month since we all moved in and we hadn’t really done much as a group just because there were so many little finicky things we had to take care of in the beginning, so it was high time we finally did something altogether.
  • Meeting my global mentor for the first time. She just finished a year abroad (and in Canada!) so it was really great to hear about her experience.
  • Having some really wonderful flatmates who made me dinner one night after a particularly long and trying day. It was an extremely sweet gesture for which I was immensely appreciative, and I loved having had the opportunity to get together for a wonderful meal with great company and conversation.
  • Rehearsals. Because no matter what or when, music just always makes my life better. And I also got to try out an alto flute at flute choir this week. It was really, really, really, really cool and just so, so much fun! I hope I was able to adequately convey my level of enthusiasm there.

In addition, I had a fairly eventful weekend of fun. I went to the Exmouth Illuminated Carnival (Exmouth is about a half hour train ride away from Exeter and it’s super convenient to just hop on a train to get there) with one of the girls in my flat and we milled around the carnival area for a bit, then stayed on into the evening to see the parade. The procession was great with the creative lit-up floats and assorted displays of talents (the majorettes particularly wowed me with their baton twirling). One of the best parts for me was seeing all the younger kids looking so excited to either be a part of the parade or just watch it. There’s just such a really great community feel here. I come from a suburb back home and I live downtown during the school year; therefore, being in Exeter and the surrounding area is a change for me in terms of the way and pace of life, but it’s definitely a refreshing and welcome one.

The fun continued on into the next day as I took part in a trip organized by the University to see Stonehenge and the city of Bath. The morning looked a little gloomy and foggy but by the time we got to Stonehenge, the sun had decided to come out to join us in our fun. We only got to spend about two hours there and I really wish we could have had more time to really see everything. Yes, at the end of the day, maybe they are just rocks but there’s such a rich history that goes along with it and the surrounding area is absolutely beautiful as well. I also wish we could have gotten to stay on into the later hours of the day; the stones in this prehistoric monument are aligned on the solstice axis, making it a must-see during the sunrise of the summer solstice and sunset of the winter solstice, but I’m sure it would have been incredible to see it even just on a normal day’s sunset!

After our visit to Stonehenge, we boarded the coach and set off for Bath. We arrived around 3:45pm and were instructed to reconvene at 6:45pm to return to Exeter. For me, one of the most peculiar (and perhaps mildly frustrating at times) things about England is that everything closes so early. Stores and tourist sites and the like will all close up shop at 5pm, sometimes 6pm if you’re lucky. I’m sure this is rooted in some cultural norms and habits that are valuable, but I still haven’t fully gotten onboard with this yet. I’m the kind of person who could spend an entire day, or probably even an entire week, at something like a museum, so I felt like the 3 hours we had wasn’t nearly enough time to go around the city and truly take in everything. Nonetheless, sometimes you just have to make the best of what you have. My friends and I chose to spend our time going through the Roman Baths and venturing around the city’s centre and waterfront. Bath’s 18th century Georgian architecture was absolutely stunning; this is going to sound a little incredible on my part but I felt like the ancient spirit and energy of the place was still alive in the city in all the buildings. All in all, the day was a thoroughly enjoyable one, albeit a tad rushed at times, but it was still lots of time and I’m very grateful to have had the opportunity to venture outside Exeter and see more of what England has to offer.

So after a weekend of playing hard, it’s time to get back to the grind. I’ll be handing in some assignments this week for the first time as a University of Exeter student and I’d prefer not to make a bad impression here or give a bad rep to Ottawa. I have to admit though, sometimes I wish travel could be a course. I know some universities have Harry Potter as a course so why not travel?