Study Abroad

Life is for living.

I’m sure many of us have heard the phrases ‘life’s too short’ or ‘you only live once’ and these are phrases I believe to be very true. With so many great things to do, see, taste and accomplish, surely we can’t do everything on the planet, but we may as well try. Luckily, being a biology student, studying at QMUL and having the great chance to be in this fantastic capital, there is at least a place to start.

Aside from lectures and labs, my course has provided adventures across the globe. A field trip to Somerset in first year meant I could discover the ecology of a beautiful part of Britain. Second year ventured further afield, reaching Eastern Europe with 7 days in Croatia. Finally in third year, a trip to South Africa meant I could experience safari adventures like no other. I have seen parts of the globe that I perhaps would not have seen if it weren’t for these opportunities. Not only with my course, but other great chances have allowed me to travel to Asia. In the summer between first and second year, I went to China with QMUL on the study abroad programme. Two weeks at Sichuan University provided insight in to Chinese culture (and cuisine!).

The Kruger National Park,  South Africa

The Kruger National Park, South Africa

The Great Wall of China

The Great Wall of China

Returning to my base in London, there is so much to offer when not gallivanting the world. Numerous parks to wonder, cuisines to taste and things to see, there is always something to do, and it doesn’t have to be costly. For something different, I danced a ceilidh with the Ceilidh club, went swing dancing in Victoria Park, or have cycled the city by night on a Borris bike. Nowhere else is there such variety, in amongst a vibrant atmosphere of culture and fun.

Reflecting on some of the memorable experiences I’ve had so far, I can’t think of anywhere else I would have chosen to do my undergraduate degree. These times maks me realise I must live my life more than ever, as this is only the start. Life is for living. So live it.

Sundays in the East End

As someone who grew up in quite rural areas, when I applied to universities, they had to be in London. Spending half my life in Cornwall and half my life on the Isle of Wight, I really wanted to move to a big city.

I’m not going to lie, it was a big change. There are so many more people, it’s easy to get lost and not everyone I meet smiles, says hello and asks me how school is going. Shops are open after 5pm (this is still a fact that I sometimes have to be reminded of) and there is always something to do, even on a Sunday. Plus, being in the East End, there are a lot more quirky things to occupy your time with. One of my favourites is something me and my house mates like to refer to as “Brick Lane Sundays” where we go to the Sunday market to browse and get food, sometimes venturing as far as the flower market at Colombia Road.

Map of the East End with Queen Mary, Brick Lane and Colombia Road circled. (courtesy of google maps)

Map of the East End with Queen Mary, Brick Lane and Colombia Road circled.
(courtesy of google maps)

As you can see from the map above, Brick Lane and Colombia Road are both fairly close to the university. It’s about a 30/40 minute walk, which is also quite enjoyable if you want to look at all the shops along Whitechapel Road (the main road running between the uni and Brick Lane), or you could take the bus or the tube to get there even quicker.

Colombia Road is a personal favourite of mine. It’s a small, narrow street (top left of the map) where every Sunday, flower sellers fill both sides of the road and thousands of people turn up. The crowds are insane, and it gets so packed that you have to shuffle along the road, like you’re at a festival. There are also loads of unusual little shops selling cute bits and bobs for home decoration, garden ware, art, antiques and food and drink. Even if you’re not a fan of flowers, it’s worth seeing all the people, enjoying some of the music from the buskers and looking at all the shops and flowers. Also during the lead-up to Christmas, the shops open late on Wednesdays and they have carol singers and Christmas trees out, which is great for picking up any unique Christmas gifts.

Some of the flowers in Colombia Road market

Some of the flowers in Colombia Road market

My mum and sister clutching some flowers from Colombia Road

My mum and sister clutching some flowers from Colombia Road

Brick Lane is also another great place to visit on a Sunday (bottom left on the map). Every Sunday, the road and a number of halls on the road fills with stall sellers, selling everything from festival sunglasses with interchangeable lenses to an adult-sized peperami costume (no, seriously). They’ve also got, you know, normal stuff too, like books, vintage clothes, antiques and jewellery. They also have an incredible food market, selling food from all over the world for really reasonable prices. Brick Lane is also famous for its beigels, sort of like bagels, but they’re incredibly cheap and really delicious. There are also all sorts of different musicians that perform every week, from full live bands to a guy who beatboxes with a harmonica, and for those into art, there is a load of street art all along the road that photographers come to capture every day of the week. Again, just like with Colombia Road, the spectacle is worth seeing, even if you’re not a big fan of the sort of stuff they sell. Plus, outside the Sunday Market, Brick Lane is around every day. There are a huge number of shops including the Cereal Killer Cafe, a cafe that (you’ve guessed it) only sells cereal. There’s also an incredible chocolate shop called Dark Sugars that often hands out free samples (yum), loads of cafes, a bowling alley, a record shop and so, so much more.

Some of the street art along Brick Lane

Some of the street art along Brick Lane

The Thirst performing on Brick Lane

The Thirst performing on Brick Lane

Some more Brick Lane street art

Some more Brick Lane street art

Going from never really having anything to do, to having so much to do and see it’s almost overwhelming is a big change. Despite this, it’s sometimes easy to forget that I am living and studying in one of the biggest and most impressive cities in the world. In between studying I like to try and explore as much as I can and try and see something new. London caters for everything – last weekend I went to a cat cafe! And the crazy part is that that wasn’t even the first cat cafe I’ve ever been to, but TWO are also within walking distance from the uni. You think of it, London probably has it, and whilst I’m here I’m going to enjoy and do as much as I can, and potentially stay forever!

One of my favourite cats from Shoreditch's London Cat Village

One of my favourite cats from Shoreditch’s London Cat Village

That’s why I’m so grateful for the opportunity university has given me – to go and live somewhere new. If you’re not ready for that yet, you can always stay at home too (as long as you’ve got a university fairly nearby), but it’s nice having that freedom of choice. You can even choose to study abroad for something even more different! In fact, Queen Mary offers study abroad programmes and the Erasmus Programmes also offer this study abroad option. You can choose to move as little or as far away as you like, and I loved having that choice. Although it’s hard being away from home, London is a big transport hub, so it’s not too tricky to get home, even though I do have to get a boat! For now I’ll just go on exploring London in whatever free time I get – in fact I heard there’s a jungle themed cat cafe opening in West Hampstead…

Germany In The Sun

I booked my final journey home last week. Since I arrived it’s felt like I have forever to explore and learn the language. Now I am in panic mode, trying to fit everything into the next four and a half weeks. One thing that is especially hard is the language. When I make mistakes or forget words I feel even worse because I know that in a month I won’t be here to ask my housemate what words mean or be able to practise speaking every day! I am also planning for moving. I arrived here with a small suitcase and a large ‘gap-year’ rucksack and will leave with the same.. but packing it all again is going to be a challenge! I will also have to do some administrative tasks before heading home which I will tell you about in a separate blog for those also going away on a Year Abroad. One of the truest pieces of advice about the Year Abroad is that is goes really quick. I cannot explain how unbelievable it is to think that I have been here for a whole year! It has been one of the most wonderful experiences and it is clear why so many people recommend it. Since the summer has arrived in Germany, we have spent a lot of time going outdoor swimming. It is in the woods and a section of the river is protected for open swimming. There is also a little pool and chairs for sunbathing and reading. Our heatwave started during exam time, so people would bring revision notes to read in the sun!   This town seems to get more and more beautiful:

Room with a view- the river you can swim in from the terrace

Room with a view- the river you can swim in from the terrace

 

The Light at the End of the Tunnel

I did it!

I made it through another gruelling semester of exams. They were extremely stressful, but they only come around once a year, so we should embrace them! Because now that they’re all over, I’ve got so much to look forward too!

Long evenings spent relaxing in the park with your friends, exploring beautiful cities for their historic wealth, days where you can open the window and smell the morning air without your whole room becoming a freezer. I love summer.

Although I’m probably one of the worst people when it comes to receiving results, because I can’t think of anything but think about what my results might be! Which is silly, because no matter how hard I think about my results, they won’t get any better (I wish they would).
So this time, I’m going to try and spend more time doing the things I love as opposed to waiting for nothing to change.

These results are as big as my last year of college, because once again, they will determine whether or not I get into another university, but this time, it’s in Miami.
A 2:1 with no fails guarantees my place at the university. And to be honest, anything less than 2:1 will be disappointing because I know that I’ve done better than that!

I hope everyone gets what they’re wishing for this summer. If you don’t, learn from it and come back stronger. It took me three years to pick the right A-levels for university, but once I picked the right ones, I soared.

Returning to Germany

In recent months, I have had very little to write about when it comes to my Year Abroad: the German university system means that the break between the Winter Semester and the Summer Semester was approximately 10 weeks.. If you’re planning on studying in Germany, this might be something to plan for and bear in mind.

I realised that most of my friends in Bamberg would be going home for the break and there wasn’t much going on in the city (its quite a small city), so I went back to the UK to enjoy a relaxing break at home with my family. I had no idea that the holidays were going to be so long, so I was caught off guard and with little to do.

I made a list of things I wanted to achieve, looked for some work experience, I passed my driving test and relaxed. But the whole time, I felt a growing concern that it would be hard to get back into speaking German everyday when I came back.

After a very long 2 months, I booked flights and headed back for the start of the new Semester! And I found that whilst it took a few days for my spoken German to really come back, my understanding of the language hadn’t gone. In fact, it was easier than ever before.

This term I get to study medieval German- something that I would have never been able to do in such depth before. I am also learning more about Linguistics in Morphology and Language Acquisition. The options available to Erasmus students and more generally, German Studies students, is far beyond that of anything I’ve experienced. The sheer size of the University means that they are able to offer this level of variety.

For now, I am enjoying being back and studying again and will update with more Year Abroad adventures!

The Great London Pillow Fight

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A couple of weeks ago, London (as well as other major cities around the world) saw a spectacular sight as hundreds of strangers gathered to do battle with pillows. I went with several friends to Trafalgar Square, where beneath the gaze of the lions, several British dignitaries, and that cool new horse skeleton they put up, we joined in with the crowd whacking each other mercilessly with pillows. And I really do mean mercilessly – people went hard, and they went for head shots. My friends and I ourselves took a somewhat unsporting approach to the fight by choosing victims who seemed to be alone to gang up on four-to-one. It sounds bad, but since we were all girls on the shorter side, it really was the only practical way to make our mark during the fight.

Our success rate was fairly decent, and we got several people to admit defeat and proclaim us the victors. This especially happened when they realized they were outnumbered, and that we didn’t believe in holding back. On one notable occasion I knocked a pillow out of someone’s hand, and before he could pick it up again I grabbed it for myself. For a while after that I fought with two pillows, usually using one as a shield, and became even more unstoppable.

IMG_2686

Being short did have its disadvantages though. Tall people have a much easier time reaching your head, and some of the boys in the crowd hit hard enough to make a pillow hurt. One of our friends was even worried afterwards she had suffered a concussion (don’t worry, she didn’t). And the tall people weren’t the only hazard, as there were children in the crowd who fought dirty as well, particularly one little boy whose pillow was inexplicably wet, which is really not the kind of thing that is supposed to happen in a pillow fight. Once water is involved, something has gone wrong.

After about an hour we decided that we had done enough damage and made our way to safety. On the way out, we ran into a girl desperately trying to buy a pillow off anyone, as seeing as back in my flat I have about five pillows for one reason or another (I didn’t buy any of them, they just gravitate towards me) I found this to be a great opportunity to make a couple pounds, and of course help the mighty fight to continue. After that, we watched the feathers fly t from a safe seat, and generally felt a sense of pride in the weird things human beings like to do.

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Unleash the exam timetables!

“Unleash the exam timetables!” said the head of department, and so it was done.

The Exam Timetable

My exam timetable this year has been more forgiving than my previous timetables. But with seven exams spread out over four weeks, it’s still safe to say that it’ll be hard work! Especially because I’ve found the content much harder to comprehend this year. But I’ve almost finished all of my coursework just in time to start revision about a month ahead of the first exam.

These last few weeks before Easter have also been crowded with a heap of job applications, which means writing and re-writing a lot of cover letters. Although it’s starting to pay through as I’ve already managed to land myself an interview with BAE Systems for a job in augmented reality! Where I’d get to work with exciting new technologies such as the Oculus Rift. It’d be the perfect summer plan before jetting off to Miami!

The Oculus Rift

Since I’ve only got what feels like a very short time to enjoy London right now. I’m trying to make the most out of it! Tonight I’m suiting up and going to the end of year sports ball at Queen Mary’s Great Hall, I’ll be arriving with my swimming team, who I’ve loved training with this year. I really came for the swimming, and stayed for the people.

Last night I had an evening in Soho with a couple of my flatmates as well, the prices in central London reminded us why most students stick to the east of London!

The Boys

It’s important to find the balance between work and fun, it’s probably the biggest lesson I’ve learnt this year.

A Pilgrimage to Canterbury

While studying in London and travelling to different countries, it’s sometimes hard to remember that there is more to England than this incredible pocket of diversity. A weekend trip outside of London can be a great way to counter that perception and the county of Kent was my choice for this experience. My journey to Kent included a visit to the well-known city of Canterbury, where I saw the Canterbury Cathedral and a very odd tour depicting Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales.

Canterbury

Canterbury

While Canterbury has been a significant religious site for centuries, literature lovers like myself think fondly of it as the inspiration for Chaucer’s tales. One of the best aspects for me of being abroad has been seeing the actual places I’ve read about in some of my favorite works. I’ve gotten to read Virginia Woolf’s novels while actually living in the city she often tried to capture in her writing. I saw the Brazen Head Pub in Dublin, where Jonathan Swift, the author of Gulliver’s Travels, a work I’m currently reading in my Satire course, used to hang out. Traversing the final point of Chaucer’s pilgrims’ journey was certainly just as spectacular.

The Cathedral with its incredibly detailed design gave me a greater understanding why people would have made extensive journeys to this place, even though I only took a two-hour bus ride from London to get there. The rich history of the Cathedral including the murder of Thomas Becket provided me with a foundational background for Chaucer’s work. It was spectacular to actually be in a place that was so intimately connected with something I had read in a classroom. My trip to Canterbury allowed me to have an interactive experience with a piece of writing from the fourteenth century, which was eye-opening for me, in part because I don’t have that opportunity in the U.S.

Canterbury Cathedral

Canterbury Cathedral

Of course, the city of Canterbury acknowledges this connection to a very old text, and provides an interactive museum of manikins, which I can only describe as creepy and uninformative. It was still slightly entertaining, though, and mimicked the kind of unclear humor lurking beneath Chaucer’s writing.

 

London Café Hopping

As a student studying abroad for one semester, I often feel as though my life will end when I get back to the U.S. Now is the time to do everything in London that I scribbled onto that little post it on my bulletin board titled “Bucket List.” This drive to see and do everything possible in London has even pervaded my studies, and for this reason, I café hop.

Cafe hopping is a great way to see and do a lot abroad, with the added bonus of staying in school and not losing all of your money. For just £2 you can grab a coffee and a seat in some, dare I say, “hip” locations around London. I like to think the café or coffee shop is an important aspect of English culture, since Coffee Houses in England date back to the Enlightenment, when Englishmen discussed new ideas in chaotic and stimulating settings.[1] Of course, now most people at cafes are plugged into their iPods or laptops doing their own work, but I still find those excitable groups sitting with their £2 espressos, discussing life and London.

Some of the most unique and colorful cafes I’ve  found, where I can catch up on readings or work on module assignments, are pretty close to Queen Mary. These are three gems I’ve stumbled into, all within about thirty minutes of campus!

Look Mum No Hands!

Look Mum No Hands!

 

Look Mum No Hands!: Nearest Tube Station, Barbican 

This is one of the more unique places I’ve been to. The café doubles as a bike repair shop and reflects this setup in its souvenirs ranging from bike equipment to coffee mugs. I would definitely recommend coming here for a few hours to study and grab lunch, as it turns into a makeshift restaurant in the afternoon.

Shoreditch Coffee: Nearest Tube Station, Shoreditch High Street

I would describe this café as too cool for me, as is most of Shoreditch. The atmosphere is a wonderful combination of dingy and edgy accented with some large comfy couches and square tables. The space is cozy and small, but kind of quiet and ideal for working. I never wanted to leave Shoreditch, especially after trying their vegan blondie.

TImberyard Old Street

TImberyard Old Street

 

 

Timberyard:  Nearest Tube Station, Barbican

I’d choose this place for its chill atmosphere and range    of cronuts. They also have strong coffee, which helps when you’re struggling through an essay, or four.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] Unknown, “The Internet In a Cup,” The Economist, 20 December 2003, Christmas Specials.

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