Smiling at Snow

Now, if there’s one thing English people are disinclined to endorse it’s any sort of display of emotion towards strangers that is anything but mild (and private) approbation. Vancouver seems to be trying its hardest to drum out the disgruntled Brit in me: on four separate occasions my listless and absent-minded glances that happen to fall on a stranger’s face are met with beaming smiles. This was a far cry from Blighty’s mutual understanding that we both immediately glue our eyes to our shoes and forget we both ever existed. After overcoming my patriotic duty to be immediately suspicious of any degree of unsolicited positivity, I actually came to be warmed down to the cockles of my perennially downbeat heart. Not only that, but the heavy metal/pizza themed patch on my backpack had already been the genesis of at least 5 conversations with random Canadian strangers in two months, despite having passed a year in England with nary a remark. I was beginning to think, “Perhaps people are just nice?” Surely not. Such a sea change was far too much for my stiff upper lip to take.

Yet Canadians who hail from outside of Vancouver have told me repeatedly that the city is well known for its relative coldness (emotionally that is, weather wise Van is positively balmy compared to the rest of these fairly frigid northern climes). The mere thought of how inundated with grins and affable greetings these other territories must be filled me with levels shock and fear akin to that of a prospect of a world without English Breakfast Tea (no worries on that score, plenty of Yorkshire Tea to be found in Vancouver. Mercifully).

I was lucky enough to visit one of those other provinces when I made the drive (I say I made the drive, I relied on an Aussie and a couple of Dutch drivers, but that’s a mere footnote) to Jasper in Alberta. Beautiful, sublime, awe-inspiring: these are all vaguely synonymous words that totally undersell just how beautiful the forests and peaks of Jasper were. Empty, non-existent, hard to recommend: these are all somewhat less synonymous words that are probably over-generous ways to describe the Jasper nightlife. But an English style piss-up shouldn’t exactly be your main reasoning for making the 22-hour round drive to one of the most stunning locales in North America. The ice-fields and the glaciers therein, the forests, with bears and wolves aplenty (although good luck finding them, closest we got was some promising looking footprints) and some truly glorious hikes are what Jasper’s all about.

So if you find yourself in British Columbia and its surrounding environs, remember to smile back, wrap up warm and that the word “bangin’” doesn’t have quite the same connotations in North America.
Tom Gordon (AMA)

Goucher College & Vietnam Travels

Goucher College, Baltimore

As Goucher is such an inclusive and cheery place, the year abroad whizzed by, until I left in mid May 2016. As it is such a small campus, after a month of studying there, everything from accommodation, fellow students and staff to dining halls began to feel so familiar. In October 2015 during the weekend when my parents came out to visit me, I had crab for the first time; smashing open crabs with a mallet was good fun and the crab was so tasty. I felt so comfortable living at Goucher and loved how when I got up, I was in the middle of campus, even though it took a while to adjust living with a roommate and there were a few mice that appeared in my room – that nearly gave me a heart attack.

Even the simple pleasures of playing 5 a side football at 10pm, or soccer as Americans call it, were so much fun.  As for classes, in my first semester I was really unlucky, having two 7pm-8.40pm classes a week and one excruciatingly timed class at 7pm-10.20pm, where I was half asleep by 10pm. They were fascinating subjects nonetheless from Japanese Imperialism to Race and Ethnicity in TV and Film. In my second semester I felt really privileged to be able to learn about Terrorism and political violence and read accounts by mostly deradicalized ex-terrorists, and Latino history, which is particularly relevant now. Being at Goucher was a lot of fun, it was an invaluable experience for me and I cherish the friendships I made out there. Being at Goucher, my confidence skyrocketed; never have I ever felt so independent and excited to get up in the morning.

Travelling in Vietnam

During my second year at UEA I took the module America and Vietnam and in July 2016 I travelled in Vietnam with my brother from Ho Chi Minh to Hanoi in four weeks. It was exhausting due to the humidity, the night buses we took, yet it was also exhilarating to experience such a different culture at the same time, where motorbikes and rice are invaluable commodities and to enjoy many nights with backpackers from around the world. There were beautiful beaches in more southern Vietnam in Nha Trang and Hoi An, the latter place was great for tailored clothes, which like everything in Vietnam, is a fraction of the price of what the same goods would cost in the UK.

Ninh Binh, 94 km south of Hanoi, was the most beautiful place I have ever been in my life. We stayed in the Tam Cuc Homestay, where we were surrounded by mountains and spent our few days there cycling, hiking and canoeing around the amazing scenery, it was such a surreal experience.  After a few days we headed to Sapa, right on the Chinese border, where vast sways of rice paddies, were visible everywhere we went on our many hikes across this rural region that was almost as beautiful as Ninh Binh. For our final few days, we stayed in Hanoi, and on our penultimate day, we took a boat trip to Halong Bay. I had been looking forward to this trip during my time in Vietnam and to actually be in this iconic place, was fantastic. The unexpected and most astonishing bit of the trip was our venture in a cave that was lit up with so many different colours, it was a sight to behold. If you ever get a chance to go to Vietnam, I highly recommend it, for the scenery alone, the 12 hour flight to get there was worth it!

Stuart Aitken (AMA)

You’ve Changed?

Everyone talks a lot about going away, the challenges and excitements of going abroad and all the stories you will come back with. And so they should. Spending time abroad can be some of the best experiences of your life, they form you and challenge you in ways few others things can, but there’s always the constant, dull reminder of your return tossing and turning in the back of your head. It’s not a bad thing, in fact in my experience, that tossing and turning was a friendly reminder not only to make the most out of everything study abroad had to offer me but also everything I had waiting back at home.

Now I was tentative on my return, there was a lot of people to see and a lot had happened in the year I’d been away. I felt the excitement drain as I got off the plane at Heathrow and mostly anxiety took over; I wasn’t quite prepared to relive everything I’d just left or tell the ins-and-outs of my time in Philadelphia. Nevertheless I greeted my mum and it all came spilling out. The return was simple, until I got the dreaded and wildly uncomfortable, “you’ve changed” – what could I possible say to that? Yes? No? Oh really? There’s no easy response. I just sat there and shrugged trying to remember myself 10 months beforehand.

The truth is, people will say this. They will tell you that you’ve changed and that there’s something different. Most of that will be the stories you tell now don’t include them, there’s an alienation, a detachment from a life that you created for yourself with entirely different people that makes you seem like an entirely different person yourself. Don’t be offended, chances are you will have changed. Studying abroad makes you grow up in a matter of weeks, makes you realise that some things are just too trivial to worry about. When everything you know is a world away, the state of your kitchen doesn’t seem as concerning as it did in second year. It’s not that you’re no longer you or that you’ve conformed so much to some other place that your friends can’t recognise you anymore, it’s just that you’ve had to adapt, had to be in a world that they were not in and be a functioning human being in an entirely new place. ‘You’ve changed’ isn’t always easy, but it should never be bad.

Embrace your change, embrace the way the world around you has shaped you into someone complex and layered, don’t dismiss the great waves of wonder that can be bought into a person through a small bit of change. People will either change with you, or they will fall a little behind. That’s the beauty of it though; they may catch up one day.

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Milly Godfrey (AMA) studied at Temple University, Philadelphia. She is now the incoming Study Abroad Ambassador.

The Berkeley Bubble

 

I’m over 9 weeks into my year abroad at the University of California, Berkeley and I feel it’s that time in the semester where a bit of reflection would be a nice break from the 100 pages of reading, 4 problem sets, 3 journal entries, 2 presentations and 1 group project due tomorrow – so here we go!

Currently ranked 4th in the world’s top Universities by U.S. News, the University of California, Berkeley holds a large inventory of assets. From Nobel Prize winners to Olympians, Berkeley has produced some of the world’s greatest people, companies and ideas. I have never felt so inspired to be better; to learn because I want to, not because I have to. The campus breathes excellence and sweats determination.

The opportunities here are endless and everything is unnecessarily extravagant or extreme. The good things are incredible and the bad things are awful, it makes England seem like such an average and grey existence (which I also really miss!). The students at Berkeley are plunged into a pool of driven and talented individuals. With a baffling range of courses and hundreds of events and activities, there is so much opportunity to learn more about the world. And it gets better, the forward and friendly nature of the people – despite clashing with the awkward English charm – is only benefitting me. I smile more, I laugh more and I’m better for it.

But there’s a stranger side to Berkeley and for an outsider, it doesn’t take long to see it – the people. Let me explain. I’m sitting in one of the libraries in the first week and it’s there – the standard Berkeley student in their natural habitat – worlds away from UEA. Intoxicated with caffeine, the Berkeley Student can often be found in the depths of one of the 41 libraries on campus and surrounded by an assortment of apple products, 5 textbooks and a sports bottle. Although sleep deprived, the standard Berkeley Student has evolved to concentrate for long periods of time, with recordings of some staying in this state for over 16 hours. Interestingly, the Berkeley Student has developed the skill of perfectly coordinating their attire to look like that they go to the gym. This is an attempt to fool the opposite sex for mating season.

The course of natural selection for the Berkeley Student is determined by a curve process. Sabotage and independence are key to survival in the wild and with the survival mark at 70%, it is important that the species are aware of the weakest in the pack. Only some will make it.

In between the long meditative states, known as ‘knowledge absorbing’, the Berkeley Student spends time worshipping the elite. Filling stadiums in the region of 60,000 is not uncommon and chants are used to connect with their heroes. Recently there has been sightings of groups of Berkeley Student combining and consuming a form of liquid which enhances the level of worship. This process is known as pre-worship.

I do not claim to know everything about the Berkeley Student but I can claim that they are an inspiration to the average student. I can only dream to be half as driven as the students here at UC Berkeley, but with this intensive work ethic comes responsibility, stress and kegs of pressure. There is a strong underlying passion for knowledge and no one should settle for anything less.

I am very much enjoying this new habitat and although my life expectancy as a Berkeley Student is somewhat short, I have already learnt so much that I can take forward into my future adventures!

The Berkeley campus is in a great location for exploring neighbouring cities, San Francisco and Oakland. Sporting and music events are frequent and the Bay Area hosts a vast variety of cultures to explore. Since I’ve been here, I’ve met some great people and I’ve had the opportunity to do things that I never thought I’d have the chance to do. The work is tough and the intense constant assessment means that I am not able to travel as much as I would like, but that’s the compromise of studying Mathematics (or ‘Math’ as I am reluctantly becoming accustomed) at one of the best universities in the world! I’ll end this blog with my three main goals that I set myself for my year abroad:

  • Learn as much as possible;
  • See as much as possible, and;
  • Not get deported, accidentally or otherwise.

 

Fraser Holmes-Mackay (MTH)

Return and Reverse Culture Shock

About halfway into my study abroad program at the University of Missouri – St. Louis (UMSL) I had a panic. In America I was having the time of my life, travelling, meeting people from all over the world, and discovering so much about myself, but then it hit me: I would have to go back to England. So after 11 months, 15 states, and countless wonderful people, I got on that plane that would take me back ‘home’. Reverse culture shock hit me far harder than culture shock. When you’re away everything is a new experience, but when you’re home it’s what you’re used to, and if you’re thriving on the adventure it’s a shock to the system for those new experiences to suddenly stop.

When I got back to UEA I was given a piece of advice that I’ve found invaluable; if you want to go away again, organise it now, harness the feeling that you’re not in the right place. The Study Abroad office at UEA is a fantastic resource for your return, as is Careers Central. During my first and second years I didn’t use the resources that UEA has, but I’m using them all now. Look at Erasmus+ and Global Opportunities for internships, volunteering, or advice for postgraduate study globally. Learn a language, attend events for incoming international students or join societies. Like the year abroad, your time back in Norwich is what you make it and your final year at university is a time to use all the resources available to you.

Now, I’m working with the Study Abroad office at UEA as an ambassador for the outgoing team. I get to talk to students about why they should study abroad and help them with the practical side of the application process. I had the time of my life in America, so if even in the smallest way I can help facilitate someone else’s period abroad or convince someone that they should go, then coming back to Norwich was worth it, even if it has been a hard adjustment.

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Jasmine Daze (AMA)

Study Abroad Ambassador – Outgoing

 

Australian views on Brexit

Australia is a country with close political and cultural ties to the UK, and so its people are naturally keeping a close eye on the unfolding political break of the United Kingdom from the European Union. Most news coverage in Australia seems to communicate one main emotion shared amongst the Australian population; confusion. This event seems to have caught the world off guard. The majority of Australians don’t seem to know what to think about the new unexpected direction that the UK has taken. Not unlike most Britons back home, I imagine.

 

Bill Shorten, leader of Australia’s central opposition to Malcolm Turnbull’s government made a statement outlining David Cameron’s “weak leadership” – a point I doubt many would disagree with – and promised a “strong and focused future” for Australia under his lead.

 

One news channel captured a reporter interviewing a number of Australian holidaymakers who said that they were “delighted” by the drop in the pound, as their winter holiday destination had now become significantly cheaper. The reporter predicted that more Australians would now be incentivised to travel to London but also made the claim that fewer Britons were likely to visit Australia as a result of Brexit. Soon after, a vibrant tone of sovereignty flooded into the broadcast as the news coverage changed topics to Tasmania, a dependant state of Australia who’s right to govern itself as an independent country has not yet become a mainstream political argument.

 

I often heard it said before I began to live here that Australia is a fundamentally racist country. It isn’t, but when talking to almost any Australian over the age of forty it’s easy to see why this is a fairly common misconception for visitors.

“The Muzzies wanted their own parallel society didn’t they, the cheeky buggers” I was informed by a fifty year old taxi driver on the way to Sydney airport. “They gotta understand that we’re a Christian country here… You don’t get to just move in and start making demands.” The driver was from Melbourne, and was speaking in defence of an anti-Islam protest he had attended a week or two before I left. “They gotta learn that if they come to this country, they needta adapt to our way of livin’, not the other way around!”

 

In Australia, English people and occasionally Scottish, Welsh & Irish too – as Aussies tend not to make as much of a distinction between us all – are referred to as “poms” or “pommies”. One older gentlemen from Perth I started a conversation with kept apologising for accidentally calling the UK the “United Pomdon”. Old habits die hard, he said. Although you’ll occasionally hear the word ‘pommie’ used maliciously, it really doesn’t have any racial connotations. Most people would use it in the same way we might say ‘Scots’ or ‘Kiwis’. It is neither quite the same as the word ‘Gringo’, which implies wealth as well as racial characteristics, but the word is also not entirely free from stigma.

“People do not have the right not to be offended” claims a spokesperson from the liberal-democrat party in Australia on live television. “Don’t be afraid to say what you believe just because someone else might get offended – vote liberal-democrat and say no to political correctness.”

While in the UK we might see a problem with using a word like ‘Muzzie’, as opposed to the word ‘Aussie’, Australians seem not to beat around the bush quite as much as we do. They tend not to see labels such as ‘Muzzie’ or ‘Pommie’ as particularly problematic, they place heavy value on their right to say what they think without being castigated.

 

The first thing I noticed about Australian politics is that nobody seemed to care about it very much. Most people I talked to would much rather watch an AFL game than a new speech from the Prime Minister. I don’t think that this is necessarily a bad thing either. Countries that tend not to be concerned with their own politics usually have fewer domestic problems than countries which are. Their lack of interest in politics doesn’t come from a poverty of passion for their country, but rather from the fact that most people don’t see any pragmatic need to become involved. They don’t see many general problems in their lives that could be solved with a vote.

 

But with political parties becoming more and more indistinguishable over the years, many older Australians confessed to me a feeling of isolation among recent times. They find themselves being punished for using words or phrases that were often said by news anchors or on the radio back in their youth. They can sometimes feel that everything they say is being cautiously reviewed and monitored, as though they were treading on eggshells with every word they utter. A feeling I’m sure is not unfamiliar to many older Britons who voted to leave the European Union. There is a higher visible pushback against political correctness in Australia. The pushback in the UK seems to have been largely silent until the results of Friday’s referendum came to light.

 

When asking a barman more or less my own age what people generally thought about Brexit in Australia, he responded with: “I don’t think many people here know anything about the issue really.” He later laughed when I told him I thought exactly the same about the UK. All eyes are on Great Britain post-Brexit, and I feel that most of the world is having largely the same reaction as Australia; they don’t know what to think. It is quite clear looking in from the outside that the whole world is watching the United Kingdom to see what it will do next. Come what may, at least we might enjoy being the centre of attention for a few brief moments, even if it is only to make fools of ourselves.

Tom Brown – (LDC) English Literature with Creative Writing,

Semester abroad at University of Melbourne