New Zealand (NZ) is known to be the adventure capital of the world, so when I was seriously considering to take the “GEG6220 – Alpine environments” module in my third year, I knew I was in for the experience of a lifetime, that plus learning about about physical processes in NZ Southern Alps, of course. In order to make the most of the experience, a group of my friends and I decided to go out to Auckland and spend three days and four nights to explore more of NZ. Our stay on the North island, in Auckland was nothing short of adventurous fun, ranging from kayaking to Rangitoto, hiking 45mins to view the sunset from the peak and kayaking back during the night to visiting the Maori museum with a tour guide and topping it off with a Maori cultural performance.
Kayaking is not as easy as it looks, though I must say.. you will get that extra muscle workout on your arms
Watching the sunset but having to hike 45 mins back down the island and kayak back!
Day 3, visiting the Maori museum for some cultural fun!
After the Maori culture performance, these guys were great! Definitely enjoyed watching the haka performance
Once our stay in Auckland had ended, we made our way to the airport in order to catch a domestic flight to Queenstown to meet the rest of our class members and professors.
We could see Mount Cook right below us. The funny thing is that there was a retired Geography teacher who was sitting next to us and she kindly gave us information about the Geography of the area which gave us a headstart before our field trip
Kinlock lodge, our first accommodation and it did not disappoint! The views were amazing and so picturesque.
Our first day of fieldwork where we were looking at braided rivers on the South Island and how they evolved in response to high sediment yields and expansive valley width associated with rapidly uplifting Southern Alps, intense rainfall and glacial valleys.
Each day, we would go to different sites and focus on a longitudinal study of the Rees and Dart rivers.
A quick field sketch before getting into the van and heading to our next location
Bobs’ Cove, a pleasant nature walk through a forest and around a cover which allows a lookout where we could see much of Lake Wakatipu
On our way to our second location, accommodation – Aoraki, Mount Cook, but not before a quick stop for a photo!
On this day, we explored the accessible proglacial zones of the Mueller and Hooker glaciers, and later we were expected to produce a geomorphological map of the area through describing and interpreting the glacial landforms, processes, and hazards.
Kawarau shotover – considering the hydraulic factors that affect lake drainage, in our own unique way!
Drawing an end to our stay in New Zealand! #TEAMGEOGRAPHY # TEAMQM – It has been an unforgettable experience & I will be sure to be back!
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 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.
When looking at universities to apply to, the course content was absolutely key in my decision making process. I looked at a lot of universities but I found that many of them were only offering traditional courses for English and didn’t study anything more modern than the eighteenth century. Many other courses had no option for choice, and you had to study prescribed texts and modules throughout the whole three year course.
I found a few universities with more modern course content, and also the option to pick modules (specific topics for teaching), and this, in combination with a number of other factors is why I picked Queen Mary. The way the English course works here is that in first year everyone studies the same modules, and second and third year is when you get to pick your own modules, with the option for more modern content.
Starting with first year, we all study ‘Shakespeare’, ‘Literatures in Time’ (Medieval texts) and ‘Reading Theory and Interpretation’ (reading books “through the lens” of theories such as Marxism and Feminism). We also study two other modules, for half a year each: ‘Poetry’ and ‘Narrative’ (reading books that demonstrate different elements of books). These modules cover most of the key elements that come into English studies later on and prepare us for the course.
When I saw the list of first year modules for the first time, I won’t lie, I was a little disappointed. I’d never got on well with Shakespeare at school and I’d only heard rumours of how ghastly Chaucer (for the Literatures in Time module) could be. When the Shakespeare book we needed for the course arrived (pictured below), needless to say, I was still worried.
The Shakespeare textbook, complete with pound coin for sizing reference
But studying topics at university is very different from school. Like I said in my last post, a lot of it is self-study and the way you’re taught is different. For Shakespeare, we had a film screening of the chosen play every week, so that if we were struggling to understand what was happening in a certain scene, we could see it performed. We also had lectures (where a lecturer – like a teacher – talks to the whole group) that linked the plays to modern film, television shows and art and then in the seminars (a group discussion on the texts and the lecture) we could discuss anything we didn’t understand or wanted to focus on more. We even got to go on a few trips to the Globe – a replica of the theatre many of Shakespeare’s plays were performed at, to see A Midsummer Night’s Dream and then back again to perform a scene from it on the stage!
The view from on stage at the Globe
This was an incredible experience and it totally changed the way I thought about Shakespeare. Chaucer turned out to be not that bad either. We even studied The Summoners Tale which is all about farts (no seriously, it really is) which had everyone giggling all the way through the lecture. We got to do another trip for that module (English gets quite a few trips) to the V&A where we looked at all the artefacts that tied into what we had read in the texts. It even involved some dressing up…
My two friends trying on some of the costumes available.
Another feature of first year that came as a surprise to me, as I hadn’t seen this when I was researching my course were exams. We only had to do two exams in first year: one on Shakespeare and one on Literatures in Time. However after that, in second and third year (except for a few modules) the assessment is all coursework – so no more exams! As someone who struggles to revise and would much rather do things in my own time, this is really helpful and takes a lot of stress and pressure off.
Second year was when I got to pick my modules for the first time. When looking through the modules before I came to university, the ones focused on London really stood out for me, so top of my list was a module called ‘Representing London: The Eighteenth Century’. I also took ‘Renaissance Literary Culture’ which looked at how arts and literature really came about in that time and ‘Modernism’ – a module that included a lot more modern texts. I then took ‘Writing Now’ for half a year, all about texts published in the last few years and ‘Satire, Scandal and Society’ for the other half of the year which linked very well with the London module and studied satire in the eighteenth century. I found that overall I had more motivation because I was getting to study topics that I had picked for myself. We also got to go on more trips. Pictured below are a couple of the pictures I took on a walking tour we did for Representing London: The Eighteenth Century, where we walked along and thought about how the London landscape has changed.
The first part of the walking tour, up the Monument
A very attractive selfie of me and my walking tour group
Finally in third year, the modules I’ve picked are my favourites yet and I’m really enjoying them! I have to do a dissertation this year which counts for one of my modules. This is a 10,000 word final essay about a topic of my choice. I’m also doing a module called ‘Writing Modern London’ which was another module that excited me when I was doing my university research, and ‘Feminism(s)’, a module exploring feminist theory. Then for half a year I’m doing ‘In and Ideal World: Utopias from Plato to the Present’ which looks at utopian fiction (stories about ideal societies) and in the next half of the year I will be doing ‘British Culture in the 1950s’. I feel more motivated than ever approaching these modules and find that I am enjoying third year study the most. And the good news is that I still get to go on trips! This week I’m going to be going to the Tate Britain for my Feminism(s) course, looking at Tracey Emin’s famous bed and a photography exhibition, among all the other art. The fact that I get all this choice continues to excite me in my learning, I love getting taught about subjects I am really passionate about, and feel that I’m personally shaping my degree into what I want it to be.
This past weekend, I went to Scotland with my study abroad program. After class on Friday, I rushed to get to King’s Cross Station to board my train, which took around 5 hours to get to Edinburgh Waverly Station in Edinburgh’s city center. Since I arrived at Edinburgh late in the afternoon, I didn’t have as much time to look around, but I did get to see some attractions such as Edinburgh Castle, the National Gallery of Scotland, and St. Giles’ Cathedral. In general, I just enjoyed walking through the different areas in Edinburgh–both Old Town and New Town. On Princes Street, there are a lot of high street clothing stores. On Royal Mile, there are a wide variety of shops and restaurants. Edinburgh is probably one of the most beautiful cities I’ve ever been to. Many of the buildings in Edinburgh look as if they were stained with smog, and this is because, when homes were heated with coal fires, the soot and smog from chimneys stained the buildings, but the dark color of the buildings makes Edinburgh look even more historical and beautiful.
The next day we got up early for our bus tour around the Scottish Highlands. First we stopped by Forth Road Bridge to take some pictures. Then, we headed over to Blair Castle in Pertshire. The castle had large rooms with interesting displays and the entrance hall’s walls were impressively decorated with guns, swords and shields. Walking through the castle was like going through a mansion! The rooms were large, and everything looked so extravagant. After thoroughly touring the castle, we boarded the bus and traveled through Cairngorms National Park in North East Scotland. This is the largest national park in the British Isles, and it was a very scenic route. I enjoyed seeing the red deer and greenery as we drove by. We then went to Culloden Battlefield. Here, we looked through the exhibitions, watched a four minute film of a reenactment of the Battle of Culloden, and walked around the battlefield on Culloden Moor. The tour was very informative, and visiting the battlefield was a great way to learn about Scotland’s history. Afterwards, we headed out to dinner in Inverness, where we stayed for a night.
On Sunday, we started the day at Urquhart Castle where we saw breathtaking views of Loch Ness and the Great Glen. It was nice exploring the various parts of Urquhart Castle and going up the tower to look out at Loch Ness. I was hoping I would find Nessie, the Loch Ness Monster, but sadly, that did not happen! Later, we traveled through Glen Coe, a volanic glen, where we stopped for a few minutes to take pictures. Glen Coe was such a spectacular sight! There was fog circling the tops of the mountains, and there were small waterfalls scattered around the area. The area was so beautiful to look at, but it was horribly cold and there was lots of wind. However, enduring the cold wind was definitely worth looking at the wonderful scenery.
I do wish I could have spent more time in Scotland because Edinburgh was so beautiful and I loved seeing all the greenery in the Highlands, but at the end of my trip (as with all my trips, actually), I just enjoyed returning back to London.
We travelled to Mumbai, India, as part of our final year here at QMUL Geography – and here’s a bit more about the project we undertook exploring the economy that underpins one of the world’s largest slums, Dharavi.
For our project in India, my group conducted research on Dharavi’s leather industry and how leather is a local and global commodity. Dharavi is widely known as the largest slum in Mumbai, but less people know about the economic activity that occurs there!
Leather sheets in one of the many factories in Dharavi
For the first part of our project, a tour guide took us around Dharavi, where we had the chance to go to various factories and see the leather production process in action. Most of the leather production process occurs in Dharavi, excluding tanning, due to the fact it is very polluting. The factories create the raw materials through several stages, and then the raw material is used to make leather products such as belts, wallets and bags.
After our tour of the slum, we were driven ten minutes down the road to Megha’s office, owner of Dharavi Market. Her company sells leather products, amongst many other items such as clothes, jewellery and clay pots, made by craftsmen living in Dharavi. The website aims to promote the work of people living and working in the slum and demonstrate that Dharavi is full of economic activity. She told us that ‘the whole point is to make Dharavi more visible, provide a platform and I want to make it more mainstream where regular people…who have this perception of the slum being this notorious area… I want to change that attitude and mind-set’. Furthermore, she explained that she also wants to improve Dharavi in many ways through her website – ”It’s not just going to be returns in terms of more business but also social good, so improve the lifestyle, the whole final aim would be to improve the living conditions [of Dharavi]”.
Dharavi Market (http://www.dharavimarket.com)
The people that make the products upload photos of their products to an Android app. After approving the items, Megha sells it online to international buyers. She explained that ‘it’s nice for them to know that people around the world are buying from them’. If you’re in need of some new products, her website is www.dharavimarket.com. You can choose from a wide range of commodities, while benefitting people living in Dharavi. They have a Facebook page too so make sure to check it out!
When applying for university, it did not occur to me that I would be spending a week outside of England as part of my course, let alone spending a week in India! It didn’t even sink in until I checked in at Heathrow airport! My trip to Mumbai was a part of my third year module, Mumbai Unbound: Development Futures. The main purpose for the trip was to explore places and themes we had studied over the past few months, and to carry out a group project in the latter part of the week.
Everyday in Mumbai was very eventful and exciting! On our first day we were taken on a tour of the city and went to see famous attractions such as the Gateway of India and The Taj Mahal Palace Hotel. There were many highlights of the trip, including the visit to the Gandhi Museum, participating in a group interview with the manager of a telecommunications company, Dhobi Ghat which is the largest open air laundromat, and Colaba Market (a fun place to get cheap souvenirs). We also visited Dharavi – known as ‘Asia’s biggest slum’- twice during our stay in Mumbai. Although we all had presumptions before entering the slum, we were all pleasantly surprised. While the residential areas were very claustrophobic, there was a nice atmosphere and a large community there. My group project was about the leather industry in Dharavi, which I will be writing an article on in the near future!
Gateway of India
Most evenings, we went to different restaurants, exploring the different tastes of Indian (and Chinese!) cuisine. The food was very cheap in comparison to London. For example, on our first day, we went to an Indian restaurant and ordered bread, a curry with rice and a drink, and the bill was only 2,000 rupees (£2)! All in all, the trip was definitely one of the most educational and enjoyable weeks and it is somewhere I will never forget. I am so fortunate that I was able to go on this trip and explore somewhere completely different. One of the main things I realised is that there are two extremes in Mumbai: there are derelict buildings and poverty, but it is also a city that is home Antilia – the second most expensive house in the world!
Apart from the loud noise (I don’t recall one moment when you couldn’t hear a car beeping) and the chaotic traffic, Mumbai was a real eye-opener and an experience I would recommend to anyone.
Antilia, the second most expensive house in the world!
Two worlds: a slum with Mumbai’s skyline in the background
It is kind of scary to think that in one year I will be a graduate about to start a career in the real world. University so far has been so full of experiences that time has gone by really quickly, and I haven’t even fully realized it.
Still, I really am looking forward to starting my third year. So far I had only been able to choose my Politics modules, while all the Economics modules I had to take were compulsory (the technical term is “core”). This is because I am on a joint degree, but single honours Economics students have more choice also in their second year.
But now I have had the opportunity to choose all my modules for the next academic year. This is amazing, because it really allows us to pick the areas we are mostly interested in, and I really cannot wait to start. I chose mostly Macroeconomics subjects for what concerns Economics, as I am really passionate about governmental policy-making. For what concerns Politics, I am going to do Electoral Behaviour and Parliamentary Studies. The latter is a workshop-based course which will include a trip to the Houses of Parliament, and I am really, really excited.
In the final year we also have the possibility to write a dissertation on a topic of our choice. In my case, this was compulsory for Politics (but I would have done it anyway, I love the idea of working on my own project) and optional for Economics. Unfortunately, I find that one dissertation is challenging enough, so I will not be doing the Economics one. But the great thing about joint degrees is that they give you a more global view about several issues, and my knowledge of Economics will certainly be really useful in writing my Politics project.
It will be a hard, probably the hardest, year. But I am sure it will also be the best one!
How do I wrap up five glorious months studying abroad in London in a single blog entry? I really can’t. All I can say is… Experience it for yourself! JUST DO IT! London is the most awesome city in the world and there’s something for everyone here. There’s always something to do and see and experience. Also, try new things! I was never a theatre-goer until I lived in London. Now I love the theatre and am even considering a profession in scenic design. Here are my top seven things to do in London:
1. Watch a play or musical (at least one!)
(Queue early in the morning—it’s not that bad especially when you’re with good company—to get cheap tickets. I saw Matilda for £5! I couldn’t help smiling the entire night after watching it.)
‘Matilda the Musical’
2. Subscribe to The Londonist
(You can get daily emails about random free or cheap events around London. For instance, I went to a free arts and crafts party. There’s always something fun and weird going on around town.)
3. Visit markets
(I wrote a whole entry on markets! They are fantastic and a lot better than the ones in the U.S. There are always delicious street food to try and funky vintage threads to look out for in this town.)
4. Frolic in the parks
(Queen Mary is right next to Mile End Park, which leads to Victoria Park. It’s my favorite park and a great area to have a morning jog. I also recommend the famous Hyde Park. It’s HUGE. There are so many parks scattered around London and it’s a lovely escape from all the concrete.)
5. Visit castles and palaces
(They are remarkable to say the least! You can spend hours upon hours in one place and not see everything. My favorite place had to be the Tower of London just because I love the history of Henry VIII. I even spent about six hours at Hampton Court Palace and didn’t see everything. London has some remarkable history. The architecture and craftsmanship that goes into every palace and castle is also mind-blowing.)
6. Visit museums
(Museums sometimes sound a bit boring, but they don’t have to be! London is filled with museums with various exhibits. One time I went to the Science Museum for a special exhibit on zombies. People dressed up and the whole exhibit was interactive and fun! I particularly love the Victoria and Albert Museum and found their theatre exhibit really interesting. Oh, and did I mention that museums are free?! It’s fantastic!)
The V&A’s Cafe
7. Get lost!
(That’s right, I’m encouraging you to get lost in the city. Although there are maps outside of most tube stations, I managed to get lost a few times, but during those times I got to see parts of the city that I would not typically explore and loved it. You get to know the city a lot better by wandering around and you can actually see how everything is actually so close together and walkable. Don’t worry about not being able to find your way home: there’s always a tube stop nearby!)
Writing about London makes me want to go back so bad! It’s a city that can honestly steal your heart when you’re not expecting it. I even miss the cold weather! Strange, right? The study abroad experience is really what you make it and I can honestly say I’ve had such a full and wonderful experience. Queen Mary is also a great university to attend while in London. It’s nice to have a closed campus a bit away from the center of the city. I would highly recommend taking the course on London architecture at Queen Mary. Every other week is a field trip and you learn to appreciate the city so much more. I hope you get the chance to study in London or at least visit. It’s been such a pleasure sharing my experiences with you. Cheers!