Posts Tagged ‘study abroad’

Back to School, Plus My Trip to Oxford

Lately, I haven’t been writing new blog posts, so hopefully I find the time in these next few weeks to update what I’ve been doing during my time in the UK. My winter break was quite interesting, and I’ll have to make a post about that later, but for now, I’d like to share my experience returning back to school after a month of holiday (or vacation, as Americans call it).

Since I’m an English major, my modules in Queen Mary don’t require final exams like the modules for sciences, etc. (Whereas, in America, most of the English courses I took had final exams at the end of the quarter. Some even had multiple choice exams!). Instead, all my modules required 2000-3000 word essays due about two weeks before the second semester. Writing these essays was stressful, especially since there’s a difference between the expectations of British courses and American courses, and it took a while for me to notice and adjust to these differences, but now that I’ve finished a full semester at Queen Mary, I have a better understanding of how to prepare myself for this new semester.

For example, I found that keeping up with my course readings was the most important thing to do. As a study abroad student, it’s easy to get distracted and make excuses for putting off readings, but with the few contact hours we get, it really is essential to come to class prepared and ready to discuss the material.

Another important thing is to go over the secondary material that professors suggest looking over. Many of the final essays I wrote last semester required the use of secondary sources, so it’s better to go over these throughout the school year, rather than spending a chunk of time sifting through multiple sources in order to find the relevant ones for your essay.

And while we’re on the topic of academics, here are some pictures of my trip to Oxford last semester:

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While we were in Oxford, there was a small march going on for the events that took place in Ferguson, Missouri this past Fall. It’s nice to see solidarity in the UK for an event of such significance in America.

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View of Sheldonian Theatre from University Church of St. Mary the Virgin

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Magdalen College

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Christ Church

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Ashmolean Museum

 

It’s actually very inspiring to go to a city that’s known for its education. According to my tour guide, Oxford is the oldest university in the UK. Isn’t it awing to think about the number of significant people who were educated there?

In terms of seeing Oxford as a tourist, you can’t go wrong visiting any of the buildings of the university, but my favorite was the tower in University Church of St. Mary the Virgin. From atop the tower, you can get a great view of the university, but the swirling steps are a bit  narrow and steep, and it was really crowded with a bunch of people going up and down the stairs. I’m usually afraid of heights, but going up to the tower was fine for me, so I would definitely recommend it for anyone who doesn’t mind a bit of physical exertion.

After our tour, an acquaintance said to me, “When I’m older, my children have to come to school here.”

Yes, hopefully mine too (I say this half-jokingly). But until then, I have a handful of readings and a full semester ahead of me to distract me from these hopes….

Holiday Away From Home

There are certain times of year when it’s harder to be away from family than usual. Holidays tend to be at the top of that list. One of the things I associate most with holidays is spending time with family. Combine not being with family on a holiday plus being in a country where that holiday isn’t even celebrated, and you’ve got Thanksgiving abroad.

This was the first time I have ever had class on Thanksgiving (and probably the only time I ever will). It’s also the first time I haven’t been with family for this holiday. Not being with the people I am most thankful for on a day designated for showing thankfulness was tough.

But it’s amazing how kind and warm people can be. I had a potluck Thanksgiving with some of the American friends I’ve made here. We laughed, shared stories, and made a surprisingly good dinner for a group of kids who have never made Thanksgiving dinner before. I also got a message from a British friend asking if I had somewhere to go for the holiday to make sure I wouldn’t have to be alone, and I tried to pass on this holiday spirit by inviting a classmate last minute when I found out he had nowhere to go.

Not being with family when you want to be with them most is hard, but friends can be family too. My friends certainly helped me start off a great holiday season, and they gave me plenty to be thankful for.

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A Warm Welcome

Being an associate student is strange in some ways: you’re new and don’t know the ropes, but you’re unlike the other new students because it’s not your first year. It can seem a little bit daunting to figure out where and how to find people who are in the same boat as you.

That’s where the study abroad office comes in. I have found that one of the best things about the Queen Mary Study Abroad Office is that they make it easy to experience new things and meet people with similar interests and experiences. They organize events throughout the semester that give you the opportunity to experience things you might not have pursued on your own.

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I went on a bus tour of London, toured the National Theatre, saw a performance at Shakespeare’s Globe, had afternoon tea… And all of the other students at these events are people who were equally excited for them, so I got to meet a lot of people with similar interests to me. Some of the best friends I have made since the beginning of the semester were through these events.

I would definitely say taking advantage is key – you should take every opportunity that is presented to you and make the most of it. Whether opportunity comes via a society, the Student Union, the Study Abroad Office, or a flat mate, experience as much as possible. The more you experience of London, the more you’ll feel at home.

Making the most of study abroad!

A few weeks ago we had our autumn break, which I took full advantage of and traveled to Oslo for a few days, and to end the week the university’s mentor program had arranged a cabin trip for the exchange students, which is apparently a traditional part of Danish university life.

I started my trip to Oslo with very little sleep, and arrived early enough to watch the sun rise over the city which was a really wonderful way to begin the week. By complete accident I managed to stumble onto the parade route for the official welcoming ceremony of the president of India to Norway, and ended up standing at probably the best possible vantage point for watching the event. Having the opportunity to see the Norwegian royal family on my first day in the country was a very special experience, and it was a great start to my trip there. I would say without a doubt that the best museum I visited while in Oslo was the Nobel peace centre, which is, as the name suggests, a collection of exhibits relating to the Nobel peace prize, including the winners of the prize, the work they have undertaken in order to promote peace, and also a celebration of the creator of the peace prize Alfred Nobel. It was a really eye-opening experience, and one which I would definitely recommend visiting if ever you are in the area!

After returning from Oslo, I very quickly had to prepare to leave on my second trip of the week. The cabin trip was two night of activities and getting to know more of the international students that are studying here. It was nice to get to get out of the city for a while and see some of the Danish countryside, and the cabin which we were staying in had a lovely view over the sea. It was a very busy weekend, the highlight for me being making snobrød over a campfire on our last evening.

Sunrise over the royal palace, Oslo

Sunrise over the royal palace, Oslo

The Norwegian royal family from afar

The Norwegian royal family from afar

The Nobel Peace Centre

The Nobel Peace Centre

Making campfire bread

Making campfire bread

A Balancing Act

As an American, there is a unique aspect of being in Europe that appeals to me: I can be in another country in less time than it would take me to get from my house to my university in the States (a 20 hour drive… you’d be in the ocean if you tried to drive for that long in the UK). There is this pressure and excitement to travel Europe while studying in London that comes along with that ease of travel. I don’t want to go home in December and feel like I missed out on anything.

I’ve already been to Brussels and Bath, and I have plans to travel to Edinburgh, Dublin, Belfast, and Rome. But it’s easy to forget the main reason I’m here – they call it study abroad for a reason. Traveling so much makes it hard to figure out when and how to fit in all the studying, along with time to see new friends made in London. I tend to be better at time management and less likely to procrastinate than a lot of people, but even my time management skills are being tested here.

The key is knowing what you want. If you want to travel, you can make it happen. You just have to know that binge-watching on Netflix will have to wait until the semester is over. If you plan well and get your studying done so that you can enjoy your travel time, you’ll end up with much better stories than anything on Netflix could give you anyway.

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Visiting a friend in Brussels

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Tea with my parents in Bath

Studying in the UK as a Colombian student

De Pais en Pais (from country to country) is an annual conference hosted by the Universidad de Antioquia. Each year they invite a single or group of countries and put together a series of talks open to both students and academics, but very importantly, the community at large.

This year the guest nation was Great Britain. In 2014, I had the privilege of attending the conference on behalf of Queen Mary University of London, where I presented on the subject of what it’s like to study in the UK as an international Colombian student.

This is important because of the growing links between the two countries: there is more funding available for academics to carry out joint research projects and more funding for Colombian students to carry out postgraduate studies abroad and study English.

But, how does this affect students at QMUL?

The movement of academics and students adds to our education and builds on our global perspective. But what has struck me, and something that I suspect many students don’t know, is the eagerness of Colombians to welcome British students, researchers and teachers to become a part of their already growing academic culture.

Whilst I was talking to an audience of Colombian students about my experience of studying in the UK as a Colombian student I realised that what made my experience extraordinary was the chance to interact with different cultures and points of view and the challenge of moving to a new country. In other words, learning to adapt and learning to value a new place.

Thus, I have to echo the invitation of the Universidad de Antioquia and Colombia and call on more British students to consider a period of study abroad, and particularly in Colombia, where some of their skills (particularly around languages) will be integrated into the local and academic community (ICETEX the national scholarship and student loan company, is offering full scholarships for foreigners who wish to undertake periods of study in Colombia).

This is why it is so important that QMUL students take advantage of the language opportunities and other services such as the study abroad office, the careers service and enterprise centre. There are many opportunities abroad that offer the possibility of personal and academic growth, and as students it’s easy to forget that many of the services that we need to make this happen are right here, on our doorstep.

For me, as an international student, the conference was an inspiration and a celebration of all that is diverse about QMUL. It was a pleasure to be a part of it, and to see the amazing international links that the university has built and developed over the years.

Gabriela holds an Honours Degree in History and Politics from Queen Mary University of London. She also served as Vice President for Education with QMUL Students’ Union.

Introducing Me

Hi! My name is Danielle and I am a junior (third year) from the University of Miami in Miami, Florida, USA. I major in advertising at home with minors in marketing, business administration, and theatre arts, so here I am studying a mix of all sorts of things! I knew long before I started college that I wanted to spend a semester studying abroad in the U.K. My high school’s choir went on a week-long tour to England my freshman year, and I decided then that I had to come back to study here. I told this story to my study abroad advisor at home, and told her what I was looking for both socially and academically, and she suggested I apply to Queen Mary. I took a quick look online… Well, maybe more than a quick look. I looked at everything from the modules offered to pictures of the accommodations to a list of societies. I was just so excited that it was finally real… I was finally going to live my dream of studying in England. And I have to say, so far it’s been better than I could have dreamed 🙂

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Getting my city-legs

I was lucky enough to come to the UK before my program started with my mom, sister, and aunt. So I got some of the obligatory tourist errands done early—I went on one of the bus tours, had a pint of cider (can’t do beer, sorry), saw Big Ben, went to the free museums, watched other people eat fish and chips (I don’t eat meat either, darn it), and tried to get my mom to stop using a fake British accent before I died of embarrassment. It was terrific, and helped to calm my nerves about living in a foreign country for a year on my own.

Meeting my flat mates also went a long way to making me feel more comfortable, as they are all entirely lovely. I’ve gone from living with all American students to now living with kids from the UK, Italy, America, and Malaysia, which is incredible to me. Some of the most fun I’ve had has been chatting with them or with other friends they’ve brought over about our lives and the intriguing differences but also the similarities between them.

Life in a different country takes a little getting used to, but most of it becomes second nature surprisingly quickly. For instance, I’m not sure how I’ve lived without the tube all of my life, as it is by far the best way to get around and fantastic for people watching. Yes, there were a few awkward moments when I was first trying to figure out the oyster card system and accidentally snuck onto the train without paying (which ends up costing more, so don’t try that), but now it is a flawless process.

I’m glad the tube is so convenient, because there are so many things to do in London. So far I’ve been to several different street markets, the Globe, the London Eye, to an event called VegFest with one of QM’s societies (which are definitely one of the best ways to get involved and make friends), and walked across the Millennium Bridge. I’ve seen The Mousetrap, the Mad Hatter having a tea party on the side of a road, St. Paul’s cathedral, Deadpool and Spiderman chilling together, and a ton of pigeons. It’s a fun city, and I’m glad I get to be here.

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Why London?

When I was making my university choices on the Science without Borders website (I could choose three universities to apply to) London was just my third option. In Brazil I lived in a small town, so I was afraid to change things so much, but, I think that London choose me. When I received my offer and saw that my studies would be in London, I was freaking out! A big city, another language, without my parents! But later I realised that it is the best thing that could happen, because I will be in a city that supports a lot of other cultures, has so many different people but is still the most important city in the United Kingdom; all the monarchy, the British culture and most of all, all the students, because is a great place to be student, with so many opportunities including fun, work and freedom. The city works so well that you can take an underground (even if you never done that) easily and go wherever you want just to see a beautiful park or historical place, it is spectacular. So this is what I’m feeling now, I’m in the right place!  Of course, I miss my family and my boyfriend and my first weeks were difficult, but I was lucky and the other girls at my apartment helped me so much, not just the Brazilians, the others are so nice with me too that apparently I’m in home.  Welcome London!

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