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 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 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!