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 Nine Wrap-Up: Movies and Music Stash and Moments of Reflection

Compared with the last couple of weeks, I think this week’s recap is going to sound far less exciting. It wasn’t that it was a slow week, far from it actually, but I did more sitting down to hammer away at my papers than spelunking and adventuring. All in all, it was a rather stressful week, but there were still a number of highlights.

I went to see Spectre this week and it was the very first James Bond movie I’d ever seen. It was a decent movie but I’m not sure if it’s really my cup of tea. I also discovered the incredible deliciousness of sweet and salty popcorn. Back home, we just have…popcorn and you can choose to add butter but no such thing as sweet popcorn exists. I was a little excited about this novelty to say the least. My friend who came with me told me that they have sweet and salty popcorn back in Singapore too; I think I need to pitch this to movie concessions when I get back. We’re totally missing out.

The thing that really stands out for this movie-going occasion is that I finally went to the Odeon, which is, literally, a three-minute walk away from my accommodation. What’s also really special about it is that the theatre has been in Exeter since 1937; it survived the world wars and the Blitz, and to my knowledge, it’s the only theatre of that time in Exeter to have done so. The venue was different from the Odeon in Scotland that I poked my head into as well as the Cameo, and very different from the theatres I’m used to at home. It was smaller overall (although I’ve heard that there are different screen and room sizes in the theatre, another thing I’m not used to) but it was still a nice atmosphere. The seats seemed comfier too, but as always, I wished that they came with a little popcorn holder. I’m really surprised no one has acted much on that idea, but perhaps I’m the only person who thinks that popcorn holders are something of a necessity. Or maybe people just don’t eat popcorn much at the theatres nowadays.

I think a lot of the time, we get sucked into the mindset that if we’re in a place for a long time, we end up taking some things for granted. It’s sort of like when you live near a tourist-y landmark or some kind of attraction; you don’t really take the time to go out and see it even though it’s right there. You get stuck with the mentality of thinking that it will continue to always be there and there will always be a chance for you to go see it and you just keep pushing it off. Now that I’m really starting to feel the end of my exchange come up (there are only 4 more weeks of study!), I’m trying to get out of that rut and do all the things I keep thinking I can push off.

At this week’s concert band rehearsal, sweaters and polo shirts came in, so I am now a proud owner of an Exeter University Concert Band sweater. It’s quite spiffy I would say and for me, it’s a really nice memento of my time here and my concert band experience. Here, they call club uniforms and sweaters and such “stash.” I don’t mean to offend but I just think it’s the most bizarre thing. Stash. I don’t think I can ever call any piece of clothing I own, stash. Stash is either a verb or a noun in the sense that you have something of a hoard of something…but clothing isn’t stash. That’s one thing I don’t think I can really get behind. I guess at home, our equivalent of “stash” is “swag,” but frankly, I find that quite odd as well. So I’m just going to stick to the generic term of sweaters and shirts.

The latter half of last week, a number of tragedies struck that resonated with me a lot more, being in the UK than being at home. When I’m in Canada, there’s literally an entire ocean that separates me from a lot of the horror that goes on and somehow, that makes it seem less real for me. Here though, there’s only a channel that separates me from the events and everything about the disasters hits much closer to home, figuratively and literally. The attacks on Beirut, Baghdad, and Paris are awful and my heart goes out to everyone who has been affected in any kind of way. I don’t think I can say that I can truly comprehend their grief and trauma, but I hope they can find reconciliation and peace in some form once again.

On ne peut pas expliquer les raisons pour les tragédies comme celles-ci et j’admette que c’est difficile d’accepter toutes les conséquences qui les accompagnent. Cependant, j’espère que tout le monde peut faire face à ce désastre avec le courage et la solidité. De plus, j’espère que le monde, comme une coopérative, peut poursuivre un chemin où on ne doit pas être témoin des actes de terrorisme.

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 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 Three Wrap-Up: Windows, Winding Roads and Walter Brennan

As of late, I’ve found that I’m beginning to notice less the stark differences between here and home and rather, more embracing what is here that I would not have, or see, or be able to experience back home. I feel more like I’m a participatory observer versus an outsider looking in, and it’s a refreshing perspective.

Last weekend, I looked outside to see my very first lunar eclipse. I stayed up to see a part of the eclipse and then gave in to sleepiness, but I managed to wake around 3:30am when there was supposed to be the supermoon; therefore, despite my tiredness, I managed to get my eyes open and myself out of bed to look out the window. The entire spectacle happened at much more reasonable hours for my North American friends, but from what I heard, I think I had the better view so I guess you win some, you lose some.

When I’m back home, light pollution basically zaps any and all chances of seeing celestial extravaganzas. But here, as long as it’s a clear night, you look up and you can see the stars, and they are absolutely beautiful. I can’t say that it’s exactly comparable to stargazing in the middle of nowhere, but it’s a million times better than what I am used to. My dorm room has this big lovely window that’s reminiscent of a skylight and I remember being really excited about it when I first moved in. The excitement fizzled out fairly quickly when I realized I couldn’t keep it open 24 hours of the day because it would mean that I’d rise with the sun every morning. But I’ll really have to find a clear night to stay up to slightly ridiculous hours and pretend to be a stargazer – I won’t have this kind of view forever! If I were an Exetonian (I learned that term during quiz night this week), I really think I’d get into the whole business of real stargazing.

Anyways, I think that’s enough starry-eyedness about something as inconsequential as a window. So besides having the good fortune of being in a part of the world where the lunar eclipse/blood moon was visible, I also got to visit Cornwall last weekend, courtesy of some lovely friends, one of whom possesses a car. I do have a driver’s license back home and I do drive every so often; however, I could never imagine myself driving here. The roads are much narrower; a three-lane road here (not that there seem to be many of those) would likely only be a two-lane back home. On the drive to Cornwall, we took some roads that really only had space for a single lane of traffic to proceed at a time, but that same road allowed traffic to travel in both directions. Add in the hilly terrain that this place is known for and it made for an adventure that was packed tight with thrills. Cornwall was beautiful – we went through the Teign Valley and made a stop at the beach. Or I guess, one of the beaches. Honestly, there are so many beaches here on account of us being so close to the water.

Being close by the waterfront also means that I’m always treated to really incredible views. The weather was absolutely lovely this week, with sunshine and blue skies nearly every day and so I got to bask in the full splendour and beauty of this place. Some days are a little more brisk and the evenings a little cooler but it was nothing an extra layer couldn’t fix. I’m utterly sold on Exeter’s magnificence…but now that I’ve said that I’ve bought into it, it’s probably going to start raining cats and dogs next week. I’m sure that will be wonderful.

The rest of the week was business as usual in terms of class and rehearsals, coupled with a few interviews. I have to say that I quite like how they run classes here. Classes won’t go beyond 6:30pm, and I believe it’s to allow time for extracurriculars, which is super fantastic. There are also more breaks during lecture here. I have one lecture that is a straight 3-hour block and I personally struggle a bit with the longer lectures. However, over here, the Professor gives us a break at every hour. I think after three months of this, I’m going to find it extremely hard to go back to 3 hour lectures at home with only one break at the halfway point and classes that can go from 5:30pm-7pm, or, heaven forbid, the dreaded 7pm-10pm.

A particular highlight for me this week was when we got the chance to go through some archive materials from the Bill Douglas Cinema Museum for the film class I’m taking. Yup, the University of Exeter has a museum on its premises (not to mention a theatre not unlike the NAC), and it’s about one of the grandest discoveries I’ve made, along with the fact that the Royal Albert Memorial Museum and the Exeter Phoenix (an art gallery) are both about a 5-10 minute walk away from the heart of campus. And they’re open every day. Free admission too. Now that, is incredible. It pains me terribly to say that I have not very thoroughly made my rounds through either of those magnificent places, but I intend to do so soon!

But back to archive materials. We’re learning about fandom and fan culture in cinema during the early 1930s, and we were going through fan magazines, scrapbooks that fans made of their favourite stars, postcards, and fan mail. I think I suppressed it pretty well in class but I was buzzing with excitement on the inside. I don’t know how I could have not been excited – I mean, I was touching a piece of history! Maybe I’m a bit of a busybody and I enjoy other people’s life stories, but for me, it was such a treat to have been able to go through all those items and get an inside look at a piece of the culture at the time. At the end of the lecture, the Professor mentioned that the collections were open for viewing during business hours. I think I’ve found my new haunt.

On my walks to and from campus, I’m starting to see leaves on the ground now. It is autumn and there are so many trees here so I’m sure it will look fantastic once the trees colour. As of right now, the trees are all still looking very green to me still; maybe I’m looking in the wrong places or just not being all that observant overall, but I’m hoping there will start to be more autumn colours soon!

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.