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 One Wrap-Up (September 13 – 19)

I’ve been in Exeter for a week now and while there have been ups and downs (and I don’t mean just the hills), I’d say that things have been pretty alright for the most part.

I was greeted in Exeter last Sunday with a partly sunny, partly cloudy day by the incredible Welcome Team from the University. From making sure that all the confused faces coming out of the terminal at Heathrow found a friendly face with a smile, to ensuring that everyone found their way to their humble abodes for the next 4 or 8 months, the Welcome Team made a fantastic first impression.

The rest of that first day was a bit of a blur for me, honestly. It may have been due to the fact that I’m one of those strange oddities of a person who doesn’t sleep on planes; I got into London at around 6:25am local time and there’s a 5-hour time difference between Exeter and Canada. A little tip for all travelers: please sleep on the plane!

Culture shock definitely hit by the second day. We’re always told to anticipate it and I tried, but it’s hard coming from someplace that speaks English and going to another place that speaks English and thinking it’ll be super different. While it’s not drastically different, there are definitely nuances here and there that deem me to be a bit of a foreigner to this place. I have an ‘American’ accent, I walk on the right side of the sidewalk which isn’t right, and I just can’t seem to get the hang of how the doors work here. When I first got here, I kept turning the locks the wrong way and ended up fumbling with it for a good 30 seconds before I got it. Luckily, I’ve been able to get that time down to about 10 seconds so hopefully, that shall soon cease to be a problem.

Then came Freshers’ Week, which is, effectively, the equivalent of 101 Week or Frosh for me back home. For me personally, one 101 week was quite enough for me, so I found Freshers’ Week to be a little mentally taxing. However, it was a really great way to sort of familiarize myself with the surroundings and meet new people. I found my perspective to be a little interesting because technically, I know how ‘university’ works but Exeter is an entirely new place for me, so it was like I was half a fresher.

It’s the end of week one and I think I finally have my ducks in a row more or less. I can get myself to and from campus from my accommodation without finding new ways to get lost (funnily enough, the first day I was here, I must not have looked as lost as I thought I did because five people stopped me in the streets to ask me for directions). I have yet to get used to the hills, but I’m not sure if that will ever be a possibility; I honestly don’t recall ever having had to walk so much to get to places before but my driver’s license and bus pass back home may have spoiled me. I’ve also made peace with the fact that the taps here will only either dispense piping hot or freezing cold water. Kind of.

When it’s not raining buckets here and the sun decides to shine, Exeter is truly breathtakingly beautiful, and I’m looking forward to discovering more of it in the time to come. Next week will be the official start of classes so we’ll see what that holds in store!

Going Abroad!

IMG_4915 - Version 2I am extremely excited to be coming to the University of Exeter from Canada on exchange. I’m originally from Toronto and I study at the University of Ottawa. I’m sure being Exeter is going to be quite a change for me from but it’s one that I’m looking forward to!

Whilst I am on exchange, there are a number of things I won’t be without. Firstly, I won’t be without a spirit for adventure and an open mind. Besides being an academic learning experience, I believe that studying abroad will allow me to discover different sides of myself as well as the world in which I live. However, in order to truly broaden my horizons, I know I must be open to new things and be willing to step out of my comfort zone. Something I always have when I go away somewhere is my camera. I feel that it’s important to capture all the incredible moments that make up my trip, and I love having photographs to look back on as reminders of all the great experiences I had and the amazing people I met. I’ll also have a plan of what I want to accomplish; this plan will most likely change but I think having a rough idea of what I want to accomplish will allow me to get the most out of my experience here. A final thing I know I’ll always have with me while I’m in Exeter is my Canadian tendency to say sorry because some habits are just impossible to break.

Personally, I love hearing other people’s stories and having that little glimpse through that window of their lives, so here I am offering a couple snapshots into my life during my exchange term here at University of Exeter.