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Christmas in Oz

Christmas of 2016 was my first Christmas without family and a very different experience to the traditional family Christmas I usually have. I had just got back from travelling South East Asia and was happy to be back in a familiar culture with my new travel buddies. Over the festive period we were staying at Noah’s Backpackers on Bondi Beach in Sydney. We planned to spend Christmas on a beach nearby- Coogee Beach and have a day full of BBQ sausages and goon (the cheap and cheerful Aussie boxed wine).

When the day arrived we all headed on the bus from Bondi down to Coogee armed with pigs in blankets to maintain some tradition. What we didn’t realise was that there was only one BBQ working for the hundreds of people who had the same idea as us, meaning we spent most of the day queuing to finally cook some sausages in the blazing heat.

Looking back, it was such a surreal experience but I wouldn’t change a thing as we had the best time feeling festive and soaking up the sun which was a welcome change to the cold winters we have over the Christmas holiday period in the UK.

Katy, Melbourne

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My favourite place

During my travels me and a group of friends visited Fiji for a week. As soon as we landed in Nadi we were blown away by the country’s breathtaking scenery and clear blue waters. We had booked to stay on one of the islands in the Yasawa group. Not only was the stay at the island incredible, so were the locals who we found to be extremely hospitable and welcoming as they greeted us with Fijian music on our arrival and supplied us with delicious fresh coconuts.

 

This has to be one of my favourite places for its serenity and water activities such as shark snorkelling and diving as I love exploring the underwater world.

I would love to go back one day and explore more of the country as it really was the gateway to paradise.

 

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Brunch

One of my favourite past times while on exchange was sampling the wide variety of brunch spots in and around Melbourne. The brunch scene is much larger in Australia than in the UK much to my delight.

One of my favourite brunch spots was Seven Seeds; a cosy cafe within 5 minutes from uni and my accommodation where my friends and I headed to on several occasions as the food was just too good to resist!

A brunch classic is avo on toast which is always a reliable staple but more adventurous dishes like baked eggs or truffle omelette always surpassed expectations too. While in Melbourne you have to become a coffee connoisseur as the endless list of coffee bean, flavour and milk often left me stumped when all I desired was a simple flat white. This also changed my drink of choice as I am usually an avid tea drinker but this soon changed when living in a city with such a reputable coffee culture.

 

Katy, Melbourne

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Aussie music and TV

My time in Australia introduced me to a variety of up and coming Aussie artists such as Flume and Gretta Ray who I saw at the St Kilda Festival in February. Australian artists are making major breakthroughs in the Global music scene as the world becomes more inter connected and access to their music becomes easily accessible.

One of my favourite TV shows I watched in Australia is Married at First Sight. It is based on the Danish show Gift Ved Første Blik which takes concepts of multiple dating shows in the UK, US and Australia combining them to create a very entertaining series. It involves psychologists matching singles based on their personality traits before they meet at the alter having never met their future wife/husband before. The bizarreness of the show kept me hooked with weekly updates on the relationships and how the couples interact with fellow ‘Married at First Sight’ participants. Each week a new hurdle was presented to the couples such as moving in together which was followed up with the couples remaining together or leaving the show if they choose to split.

Other popular TV shows include Australian Kitchen Rules and The Bachelor which are common in the US and Europe also.

MAFS

Katy, Melbourne

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My Year Overall

I am not a big believer in doing things half way; and when I left for Australia more than a year ago, my biggest goal was to make the most of my time there and take advantage of every opportunity. For me, one of my biggest goals was to travel, with the understanding I may never have the chance to be there again. Looking at the map below of all the places I have been in the last year, I feel as though I have done a amazing job of taking advantage, from backpacking the east coast of Australia, to wandering Hong Kong on a 12 hour layover, I feel as though I made the most of every minute I had. Before I left I made a list of things I wanted to do and see while away and I did it all and more.

What is even more important to me than crossing off things on my list however, is that for each of these trips I did with a variety of people from different walks of life. I know each one of these trips has memories that will last me longer probably than the information I was taking in classes and so that really is the most special part of my year.

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List of my Travel Destinations

Sydney, Melbourne, Byron Bay, Gold Coast, Bali, Uluru, Cairns, Mission Beach, Townsville, Magnetic Island, Whitsundays, Noosaville, Brisbane, Maui and the Big Island (Hawaii, US), New Zealand (both North and South Islands), Adelaide and the Great Ocean Road, Perth, Hong Kong.

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Listen to stories

During my travels in Alice Springs my friends and I were able to experience the Festival in Light- Parrtjima. The festival is held once a year and allows visitors to listen to Aboriginal stories and view artwork which is brought to life under the night sky.

One particular story that has stayed with me is that of the caterpillars. At the festival three largely lit caterpillars were the centre of focus and we learned about the Yeperenye (Caterpillar) Dreamtime story. Aboriginal stories are based on animals and creatures whom created the land, making them sacred to aboriginal culture. The caterpillars are said to have been the main forces in the creation of Alice Springs, having risen from the ground and created the west MacDonnell Ranges, thus they are extremely sacred and symbolic.

The Festival in Light was incredibly interactive, allowing visitors to choose a new colour scheme for the light show on the mountainside which made the event even more memorable.

 

 

 

Katy, Melbourne

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Market food

When I first arrived in Melbourne it was the middle of winter and much to my surprise it was actually cold. Luckily for me, the Queen Victoria Night Markets were offering hot and tasty food and drinks every Wednesday evening.

This became a weekly treat over the winter period as there were a vast amount of food stalls to  choose from all offering really good home cooked meals. One of my favourites was the paella and kangaroo burger. As it was extremely hard to choose between the stalls each week I often remained with the safe but incredibly tasty decision of the Spanish stall.

We didn’t have to wait long for the Summer Night Market to offer more of our favourite cuisines and sangria in the summer months!

 

Katy, Melbourne

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Everyone I have met

I have met some incredible people while on exchange from all walks of life which has not only enriched my friendship circle but also widened my cultural understanding. Melbourne University’s Exchange club (MUSEX) held numerous events during both semesters of my exchange to make it easier for likeminded exchange students to socialise and get to know one another. I met many of my friends through this society and similarly travelled across Australia and South East Asia with them. On our travels we met fellow travellers who joined us for part of our trips or enjoyed the days we had together.

Aside from exchange students, being in Australia I found the locals to be extremely welcoming and hospitable which is reassuring when you first arrive in a new country. The Aussie’s held up their relaxed and fun loving lifestyles with frequent BBQs and outdoor adventures.

Although I will be returning back to the UK soon, I will definitely keep in touch with friends i have made while on exchange and from my travels!

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Festival Fun

Every year in at the end of May, Sydney has a light festival called Vivid. For 3 weeks after dark, Sydney’s CBD and harbor buildings are illuminated by a colourful light show. The Opera house, Harbor bridge and botanical gardens are all lit up and there are interactive exhibitions throughout the city. What started in 2009 as a light efficiency display has now become a major tourism event for Sydney in the winter. I myself visited the harbor and took in the sights at 3 separate occasions, each time able to see something knew and pay witness to the massive crowds the lights attracted. 19758073_1364779196910711_38860666_n.jpg

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Listen to Stories

Aboriginal culture is an important aspect of Australian history and today’s culture. Nowhere did I get a greater sense of this than at Uluru (also known as Ayer’s Rock). This massive rock formation in the middle of the Australian outback is a very important and sacred place to the indigenous peoples. While I was these walked around the base of the rock with a tour guide and found that certain places of the rock where we were asked not to touch or take photographs of and also asked not to climb or walk on the rock. The tour guide also told us stories called dreamtime, these stories were children’s stories, they had lessons and very simple to understand. Other stories and lessons, we were not allowed to hear because, as non-aboriginal, we did not have the right to hear them.  We saw ancient paintings on the walls of Uluru each which told a story, some of which we were able to hear and others which we were not allowed, and will never be allowed. We learned about the roles of men and women in aboriginal culture, and how there were different stories which were heard by both. As a woman you would never hear men’s dreamtime and visa versa. I found it very interesting and important to hear these stories and, more importantly, to get a basic understanding for this aspect of Australian culture which isn’t often talked about or seen in Sydney. Growing up in Canada, also having an aboriginal contingent and a similar history of oppression, I think it is very important that this information is shared and heard by all and visiting Uluru was one of my favourite trips while in Australia.19668220_1363034803751817_92127800_n

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Go Team

A large part of Australian culture is sport. Surfing, football, Aussie-rules football, cricket, tennis, rugby, dog racing – there is no sport that Australia is not interested in. However, one of the biggest events of the year is the Melbourne Cup, a three mile horse race which lasts only around 3 minutes but makes the entire country stop and watch. In Melbourne and parts of Victoria, the day is a public holiday, but in Sydney, it didn’t seem to stop people from dressing up to go to their local bar or restaurant for a full day of drinking and eating for the event. I, myself, heard about the event only a couple of days before and soon realized that all of my local restaurants were already completely booked for the day, so I spend the race watching with my flatmates on the TV. Similarly to Ascot, people get very dressed up, just even to watch in a pub and dress codes are strictly adhered to even hundreds of miles from the race itself. While my personal experience may not have been very extravagant and watching it on TV slightly anti-climatic, seeing the whole city get excited for the event was exciting enough for me.

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Favourite Foods

As when going to or living in any country other than then one your were raised in, I feel like you can always find some interesting things locals did as children which seem so odd to you. One of those things for me was some of the food which was seen as classically Aussie. One day when I went to the grocery, I picked up a chocolate scroll from the bakery, however it wasn’t until I was home and tried it that I realized it was definitely not chocolate, but vegimite. I later learned this was a classic Aussie food, but I don’t think I’ll ever forget how wrong it tasted to me.

Another item like this is fairy bread, which is essentially white bread buttered with colourful sprinkles on it. To me, this seems like an odd combination, but apparently, growing up this was many Australian child’s favourite food.

 

 

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Top of the Pops

One of the things that struck me most while in Australia is the similarities in pop-culture. Although it might be on the other side of the world, the music and movies which I see were the same which all of my friends were talking about back at home in Canada and the UK. It was interesting talking to some family friends who moved from Canada to Australia some 40 years ago, and to hear how different that aspect of life was then. Before there used to be separation, different music and film industries, not however with the advancement of technology and globalization of consumer trends, what is at the top of the charts in Australia is at the top of most English-speaking Westernized countries.

One difference which myself and all of my exchange friends did enjoy is the Australian TV. While there were a number of programs from the United States and the United Kingdom, there was also a lot of Australian programming. Australian versions of reality TV shows like the Bachelor and Survivor were on and very popular and also shows like Home and Away and Neighbors which were what I would consider soap operas, locals were very invested in. My favorite show, however, was probably the classic Bondi Surf Rescue which which follows the lifeguards at Bondi beach which was 30 minutes away from home home. Overall, I really enjoyed the similarities and dissimilarities with living abroad.

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Everyone I’ve Met

By far the best part of this experience of my year abroad has been all of the people I have met. From when I first landed meeting my roommate and flatmates was amazingly comforting in a foreign place. The group of friends I made my first semester I think will be friends forever, at the end of the semester it was so hard to lose them and to have to start over but it was worth it because in my second semester I made so many more friends from all different places. Through my travels around Australia and New Zealand I was able to meet a unique mix of people from around the world and was able to learn so much from them. Below is a sampling of the some of the people I’ve met so far on my travels.

Caitlin, Sydney

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Beautiful buildings

Melbourne is home to quirky and alternative architecture similar to marmite, you either love it or hate it.  The most controversial architecture can be found in Federation Square which is home to many festivals and events all year round. My favourite building is The Atrium which I think is much more impressive on the inside than the outside.

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Across the road from Fed Square is a more traditional work of architecture in the form of Flinders Station, built in 1910 and the busiest train station in the Southern Hemisphere. The building is breathtaking and arguably the most iconic building in the city.

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Melbourne is famous for its laneways and street art which are constantly changing in laneways such as Hosier Lane and AC/DC Lane. My favourite piece of street art is currently by the artist Lushsux – a moral of Beyonce pregnant with her twins. This can be found in Collingwood- a suburb close to the CBD which is definitely worth a visit. This photo proves that any building can be beautiful with Beyonce on it!

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Katy, Melbourne.

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Aboriginal culture

While travelling though Australia, I have learned a lot about aboriginal culture and traditions. This was particularly prevalent in the Red Centre, where Uluru Kata Tjuta National Park attracts 250,000 people a year to take in the fascinating landscape and hear the aboriginal stories. As I walked the base of Uluru rock there were many sites prohibited for photography as they are considered sacred to the aboriginals. This is because the rock contains areas strictly for women and areas strictly for men, meaning if a male witnesses a sacred women’s area, they will be dishonoured and even exiled from the tribe.

Aboriginal stories explain the formation of Uluru which are centred around morality, so when children hear the stories, they are taught that those who commit wrong doing are punished, much like fables I heard as a child.

I also learned that to climb the rock is not only unsafe but extremely disrespectful to the aboriginals since Uluru is their sacred place. Many tourists climb the rock unprepared and with no care for the pollution they leave behind or their own safety when temperatures can rise to a scorching 40 degrees celsius.

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Aside from the famous Red Centre, aboriginal culture extends the whole country with more than 500 tribes and communities practicing their own values, languages and traditions. Although much of the population has declined since Western settlers arrived and displaced families as termed ‘The Stolen Generation’, aboriginal traditions still hold strong in the remaining communities.

Much controversy remains around how aboriginals are portrayed in the media with many being stereotyped as unemployed alcoholics, dependent on state hand outs when this is not applicable to the majority. The politics around ‘the stolen generation’ also remains an issue as to how the loss of aboriginal children during the English colonisation can be truly compensated by the state today.

Katy, Melbourne

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Festival fun

Melbourne is home to hundreds of festivals each year ranging from free concerts in the gardens to long rave weekends in the Australian countryside.

A particular festival highlight for me is much closer to home – St Kilda fest. Held once a year in the height of the summer, St Kilda fest runs over a weekend and welcomes all with free entry and plenty on offer for all the family and young people alike. The festival is an opportunity for up and coming Australian artists to showcase their music in the most artsy city of the country. I discovered new artists such as Bec Sandridge and Gretta Ray- both talented musicians who received a great reception from the crowd. Another favourite was Drapht, a hip hop artist from Perth who performed the extremely catchy “Jimmy Recard” into the night on the main stage.

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Aside from the music, there was an abundance of street food stalls and Nandos gave out free chips for those who braved the lengthy queue! The ferris wheel and fairground rides were also a hit with a view looking over the beach and across to the city it really is a spectacular setting.

Another free festival I have attended was a concert in the botanical gardens, part of the Sidney Myer series. The music was based on Romeo and Juliet making it a very theatrical and entertaining performance!

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Katy, Melbourne

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Australian bites

Australia is renowned for its kangaroos but it wasn’t until I started my exchange that I realised they are a delicacy also! My first kangaroo burger can be described as a consistency in-between chicken and beef to my surprise, but definitely worth trying while in Australia! Another Aussie favourite is a ‘snag’, aussie slang for sausage. The student union serves free snags every Tuesday which has been a great way to immerse myself in the culture while living on a student budget.

A more controversial delicacy is the witchery grub. I stumbled across this while travelling through the outback – full of protein and vitamins they are a great source of nutrition if you are willing to taste! They can be find in the roots of plants and when we dug one up we soon realised why they were used in bush tucker trials on I’m A Celebrity.. Get Me Out of Here! The texture is hard to describe, it is not offensive but an unusual one. The taste is actually similar to popcorn but I wont be exchanging it for the real thing in the cinemas anytime soon!

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Asides from the barbie culture, Australia is home to the all time classic Tim Tam, much more than the humble chocolate biscuit. I would say a Tim Tam’s closest substitute to anything in the UK is the penguin biscuit but Tim Tams are in a league of their own. You can walk into your local Woolies or Coles and find aisles full of different varieties ranging from espresso martini to double coated, both a definite guilty pleasure of mine.

TIM TMAMS

The sweet theme continues with fairy bread- this is simply white bread topped with hundreds and thousands. I’m not overly keen on fairy bread as it mixes the sweet with savoury in a weird combination but it’s a definite hit at kids’ parties for its simplicity and magical nature.

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Katy, Melbourne

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Australian Wildlife

The first thing everyone seems to want to know about my time in Australia is how many killer spiders/snakes/kangaroos do I have to face it off with in my daily life. The truth is, yes, Australia has a number of dangerous animals, but what I didn’t really come to fully appreciate before arriving is that pretty much if you leave them alone, they are harmless. In total,  I have probably seen 8 spiders since arriving in Australia and one snake, but I think it is the locals relaxed view on it which has me calm as well. Whenever I ask an Australian about the spiders or snakes they have seen, they always are very calm and matter a fact about how, yes, there might be a poisonous, deadly spider in the vicinity, but, no, I don’t need to be worried about it. Overall, my experience has been positive in terms of wildlife and has included some of the highlights in my trip; from scuba diving with sea turtles in the Great Barrier Reef,  to holding a koala on Magnetic Island, and seeing wild dingos in the outback, all of my experiences have been positive.

Caitlin, Sydney

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My Favourite Place

My favourite place in Sydney is on the ferry from the main central quay to North Sydney. From the ferry you can see everything, the Opera House, the Harbour Bridge, and an amazing view of Sydney’s skyline. It was one of the first things I did in Sydney and it is what gave me the ‘wow’ feeling. Every time I am there I am struck by how far I have come,  I am reminded of my accomplishment, of how all my hard work to get here has paid off.  The central quay itself is always full of tourists and although when I first arrived I felt like one of them, I now feel like a local, easily able to navigate the crowds and I am proud of how I have made this new place, so far from everything I have known, feel like home. More than once now I am stopped by sightseers to ask for directions and I can hear the kind of excitement of this place in their tone of voice which it also gives me. Rain or shine, night or day, this place is beautiful to me and one of my favourite things to do in Sydney.

Caitlin, Sydney

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Local Expressions

Aussie use of the English language I think is one of the most interesting, with lots of slang and swearing commonplace in daily life. One of the first saying which I notices was everyone, no matter where I was would ask me “how you going?” This I’ve found is the primary greeting just meaning ‘hello’ or ‘how are you’ and I have found myself adopting my own vocabulary. This isn’t the only slang or sayings I’ve noticed, in fact, I would say most words have some sort of shortening or abbreviation, even though at times the ‘abbreviation’ is longer than the word itself. I have compiled a sort of dictionary below of slang words I have come across here.

  • Ambo – ambulance
  • Arvo – afternoon
  • Avo – avocado
  • Barbie – barbeque
  • Bogan – redneck
  • Bottle-o – liquor store
  • Brekky – breakfast
  • Bush – country/rural area/outback
  • Devo- devastated
  • Dunny – toilet
  • Durry or ciggy – cigarette
  • Esky – cooler
  • Goon – inexpensive boxed wine
  • Macca’s – McDonald’s
  • Mozzie – mosquito
  • Pav – pavlova
  • Schooner – 425ml glass
  • Sheila – girl/woman
  • Sheepshagger – New Zealander
  • Snags – sausages
  • Stinger – jelly-fish
  • Stuffed – tired
  • Thongs – flip flops
  • Togs or bathers – swimming suit/costume
  • Veggo – vegetarian

Other than that, pretty much everything can be made into Aussie slang by adding an ‘o’ to the end of it. Other common phrases I hear daily are ‘no worries’ and ‘too easy’ as simple phrases added to then end of sentences. Overall, I’ve found that the  local expressions and colloquialisms to be a constant learning experience.

Caitlin, Sydney

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Local Aussie Cuisine

So far on my exchange I’ve had the chance to try a couple of traditional Aussie foods. The first one I experienced on my first night in Sydney and it was a ‘sausage sizzle’ – basically a hot dog, but instead of the sausage being in a bun, it was in a folded piece of white bread, typically with some sort of fried onions on top. When I first had this I was told this was an iconic Aussie barbeque staple, and throughout my exchange I have found this to be very true and pretty much all events from university orientation to Australia day are accompanied by a sausage sizzle.

Another classic Australian condiment is vegemite, which is pretty much the same thing as British marmite – growing up in Canada however, I have never really been able to stomach either. However, it was when I was sailing in the Whitsunday Islands on a catamaran when I was forced into the Aussie experience. As a result of losing a bet, I had to eat a spoonful of vegemite and I am sad to say that I nearly couldn’t do it. While I watch my friends eat it pretty much on anything, I don’t think it is something I will miss at the end of my year.

The one thing that everyone told me before I left on my exchange is that everyone gains weight, and I have to say that this is sadly true but also I can pretty much nail this weight gain to Tim Tams. Tim Tams are an extremely popular cookie which is insanely addictive. They come in a range of flavours and I’m ashamed to say I think I have tried most of them. There is also something called the ‘Tim Tam Slam’ which involved drinking hot chocolate through a Tim Tam as a sort of straw. I do not recommend trying this unless you too wish to put on a stone.

Finally, one more Australian delicacy which I tried was kangaroo meat.  I first noticed it in the grocery stores when arrived and noticed it came in a variety of forms – kangaroo steak, meatballs, ground, etc. and that it was relatively inexpensive. I did not try it until I was in the outback and I tried both a kangaroo burger and steak and was slightly disappointed in that it didn’t taste that dissimilar to other meats. Although it wasn’t terrible something about the concept has stopped my from picking it up in the grocery.

Caitlin, Sydney

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Beautiful Buildings

My first thought of Sydney before moving here was the iconic Sydney Harbour including the bridge and Opera House. When I first got here I got to fully see the skyline the Westfield tower which reminds me so much of Toronto’s CN tower where I grew up. The whole image to me is beautiful composed of so many different buildings.

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 However when I asked a local what their favourite building was they said is was the Central Park building which happened to be just around the corner from where I lived my first semester. It is a sustainable, ecofriendly building with ‘vertical gardens’ covering its walls. Every single plant growing on the walls was hand selected given the amount of sun and water it would receive and they are all native Australian plants. At night the tower is spectacularly lit entirely renewably-powered.

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Caitlin, Sydney

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Experiencing AFL

Australian’s love their sport and I experienced this first hand during my first footy match at Melbourne Cricket Ground.  Initially I was rather confused with the many variations of “footy”, “soccer” and “rugby” but I soon learned that when Australian’s talk about the “footy” they are referring to AFL- Australian Football League.

img_0002_2My first game was between Collingwood and West Coast Eagles and the atmosphere was electric. The venue – Melbourne Cricket Ground is huge and we were sat right at the top so the players on the pitch were so tiny we had to watch the big screen. You could immediately tell that the home team was Collingwood as fans were all dressed up in their team colours- black and white while chanting “Good old Collingwood forever” throughout the game. Luckily for them Collingwood thrashed West Coast Eagles 91-72 after a long match.

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AFL has completely different rules to football as I know it, or “soccer”. The main difference I noticed during the game is that players can use any part of their body to move the ball up the pitch which is shaped like an oval. There were also many umpires on the pitch at once which became confusing since there were already 36 players to keep track of. Another difference is the length of the match. As it was still the middle of Melbourne’s winter we were not prepared for how long we would be sat in the cold and the 20 minute quarters turned into half hour quarters once extra time had been taken into account – making it a longer evening than anticipated. Nevertheless it wouldn’t be a proper footy match without a trip to the hot dog stand and this kept us going until the end of the game!13895174_1067925429995106_2167911399886102740_n

Katy, Melbourne

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About Winning and Losing (Coming to terms with being a Loser)

For Exercise 18: Local Expressions, I decided to do my favourite slang so far: winner/loser. My Taiwanese friend Eunice, who has been an incredible guide, introduced me to it.

What it means: if you’re in a relationship, you’re known as a “winner” here. Following that idea, singles are called “losers”. According to Eunice, we shouldn’t be too offended if we’re asked whether we’re ‘losers’, as it’s just another way of asking whether someone is single here. However, it’s much more commonly used jokingly between friends.

I have to say it has become a bit of a running joke between my friends.

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She explained this when we were walking back from dinner one evening, enjoying NTU’s green and not very well-lit campus, and saw a lot of couples. Some were walking, a few were involved in some heavy PDA, but at least half were on a bike.  Seeing as I’m Dutch, and have grown up taking and being taken by friends on the back of a bike, this is not an unusual sight. What I had been wondering about earlier was why Taiwanese have made the back seat so comfortable: a good amount of bikes has actual pillows on the back seat, and the majority has at least BMX pegs to stand on. Turns out, it’s very romantic to cycle with your girlfriend/boyfriend on the back of your bike here. The winners like to make their bike a bit more comfortable, seeing as they spend a lot of time on them.

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Most likely a winner.

 

Eunice also told Alba and me that the NTU campus is considered a very romantic spot for couples. I’d agree, if it were not for the huge snails, massive spiders and cockroaches, which are also at least 3 times bigger than I’m comfortable with. And that’s just the wild life I’ve been able to spot: no saying what else is more comfortable staying in the shadows…

 

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who knows what those palm trees are hiding

In Europe, you might also call an unsuccessful single a ‘loser’. But if you’re enjoying your single life to the fullest, you’d be considered more of a winner than the friend who’s always cancelling to Skype their long distance significant other. I think the difference here in Taiwan is that young people want to be in love, in a relationship, rather than just in another person. This also means that when they can consider themselves winners, they’re very keen to show the world. This leads to a lot of PDA: on campus, in the MRT, on bikes… You’d want to tell them to get a room, however this is problematic. A lot of people have roommates and/or strict visiting hours. And that’s if they live in dorms.

I might have integrated a bit too well in Great Britain, but I feel very awkward seeing it. Or as a friend said: “I get that you are happy, but constant physical contact just gets uncomfortable. They are in such weird positions too, to keep their touching to a max. It makes me feel uncomfortable for them.”

I think I’ll stick to losing: although not having to cycle on the tiny bike would be nice, I’m not sure if I could survive the PDA or constant skin contact…

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Blue bike here is probably a fellow loser (no pegs, no seat)

 

Ella, Taipei

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Working at a French Market: watching people come & go

During my exchange I worked part-time at a French restaurant/cafe/market. During the weekends I worked at the market selling delicious French pastries. The place was extremely popular! There was a continuous queue of people starting at 8.30 am trying to get some tasty croissants.

After a few weeks of standing behind the counter and serving the customers I realized that most of them were regulars, coming back to the French market every single weekend! I started chatting to some of them more and tried to figure out what attracted them to the market so much. Most of them lived nearby and enjoyed starting their weekend with a cup of good coffee and a French pastry. Others enjoyed the busy French-like atmosphere a lot and would come from further away just for that. I enjoyed watching them getting really excited about the pastries and not being able to choose between them.

Through my job in the market I got to see and experience the market environment from a completely different perspective and got to know the different side of the city that I now called home.

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The most random and memorable birthday

What do you do when all your new friends are travelling abroad and you are on your own a few days before your birthday feeling lonely and a bit lost? You celebrate your birthday with Maoris!

It was just after the end of my cycling trip that I was sitting at home in Auckland and contemplating what to do with my life. I had a few days left until my birthday and it seemed that it was going to be the first birthday  that I don’t have who to celebrate it with. I was not too sad or worried. I did not mind having a completely different experience this year. The only thing I knew was that I did not want to stay in the big city… So I called my Maori friend, who I met a few weeks beforehand and asked whether I could come up and visit him again. I mentioned that it was going to be my birthday around that time but did not ask for anything special and did not have any specific plans in mind.

In the afternoon a day before my birthday I went up north to visit Tone (my Maori friend). To my biggest surprise, as soon as I got there he took me out for a birthday dinner! It was not just a casual dinner. It was a pretty fancy restaurant with some of the most delicious food I have ever eaten. And this surprise was from a guy that I met just a couple weeks ago! I thought that some of my friends who I knew for years would not have done that for me. I felt really happy:).

The fancy dinner was not the only surprise. My birthday morning Tone organized a camping trip with a group of his friends and a few other travelers. The funny thing was that when I was coming up to visit him he ensured me that this time there is no need for me to bring a tent as he had a room for me to stay in. So I didn’t; I only had a sleeping bag with me. Tone did not have one either….

When it got late we put a massive tarp down on the grass in the middle of the field and laid on it with our sleeping bags. The night was not too cold, so I did not mind. At around 2 am, however, it started raining! We thought of going and hiding in the car, but the whole situations already seemed quite funny and we decided to make it even more ridiculous by just pulling one side of the tarp over us and continuing to sleep.

The same thing happened the second night, too! This time, however, it was even more funny. I woke up in the middle of the night (while still laying in the middle of the field) and felt something wet sliding down my hair… For a second I freaked out and did not know what to think, but my reflex was to quickly grab that thing and throw it as far away as possible. I grabbed it and it appeared to be a snail, sliding down my hair! I instantly started laughing to myself. What a random birthday! What a full of contrasts birthday! From having a delicious meal at the fancy restaurant to sleeping on a tarp in the middle of the fields with snails sliding down my hair.

This is one of the funniest stories from my year abroad that I have been telling my friends and family. It perfectly reflects my adventurous, funny and random experiences in New Zealand.

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To the class through the jungle

Although it has been some time since I got back from New Zealand writing the blog seems to be a good way to reflect upon the international experience and remind myself of the amazing time I had abroad.

Every place / every city I move to I always find a “secret” favorite place. It is a place where I can run away from all the stress, worries and the daily routine. It is a place where I find at least a slight connection with nature, can watch the wildlife and listen to the birds and wind. My favorite place in New Zealand was one of the “secret” paths on the way to university. The path was hidden in the middle of the Auckland Domain and went through a dense forest that looked a lot like a jungle. There was a little stream crossing the path that created a calming atmosphere. A couple of times on my way to the class I saw three colorful parrots playing around the trees. I loved watching them! Unlike the main path through the Domain, I rarely saw any people going “my way”.

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Every day that I took this path I pumped myself up with positive energy and got ready for a new challenging day. I hope hope hope that I will get a chance to go back there one day and see those three parrots playing around the “secret” jungle path.

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A month on the road without a map

When I left for my cycling trip around the North Island I did not have a map. OK, maybe it was not as dramatic… I had my smartphone with google maps. The only problem was that I could only have internet in bigger towns and because of the nature of the journey my phone was more often dead than it was functional and useful. That more or less meant that I was up for an adventure!

I vaguely knew the direction that I was supposed to go on a certain day, but in terms of the actual road that I was supposed to take, I had often no idea. I would stop in tiny towns and ask the locals for directions or would stop on the road, and with a confused expression on my face would be hoping to get some help.

I did all happen better than I expected! I cycled around and eventually managed to get back to Auckland (my temporary home). I saw a lot of the places that I wouldn’t have visited if I knew where I was going. I met a lot more people on my way and had some really nice conversations. As crazy as it was in the first place to not have a proper map, I was extremely happy about my decision at the end of my adventure:)

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The mighty Kauri tree

Kauri trees are the largest and the most protected plant species in New Zealand. Besides being unique plants only found in the North Island of New Zealand, they are sacred to the indigenous Maori people. Maoris thought of Kauri trees as the kings of the forest and believed that “the ancestor of the Kauri tree created life”.

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My Maori friend, named Tone, once took me to a Kauri forest. He talked about Kauri trees in a very special way, always emphasizing the strong Maori connection with nature. Apparently, some of the Kauri forests are now considered as part of the Maori nature reserve and can only be accessed by Maori people.

When I first saw the Kauri tree I was stunned by its massive naked trunk going all the way and passing the tops of other trees in the forest. Its branches did not start until the very top and they were as thick as the lower parts of the trunks of other trees. Once I got to a more open space I got to finally see the whole mighty Kauri tree. A powerful feeling went through my skin. I suddenly realized what my Maori friend meant when talking about the “Kings of the forest”.

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A taste of Maori Hangi

Not very often European people get to try traditional Maori foods. There are no Maori restaurants in the cities and the traditional dishes are only made for special celebrations.

Waitangi day (a day to celebrate the signing of the treaty between Maoris and Europeans) was the special day when I got to taste Hangi. Hangi is a traditional Maori method of cooking food that involves digging a pit in the ground, heating the stones in the pit, placing baskets of food wrapped in foil on top of the stones and covering everything with soil. The food is left in the pit for several hours before it is served. A portion of Hangi usually includes some pork, potatoes, cauliflower and other vegetables.

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The photo above was taken at the time when Maoris were digging out the baskets of food.

Hangi tasted great! The smoky smell of the Hangi reminded me of home. Back at home we wrap potatoes in the foil and place them in the fire for around half an hour and so get baked potatoes that do have that nice smoky smell.

Tasting traditional Maori foods was a novel and a very interesting experience that allowed me to learn more about the lifestyle of indigenous people of New Zealand.

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Inspiration to walk el Camino de Santiago

Have you ever heard about the St. James Walk?
It’s a pilgrimage route across Spain that has different routes, all of them having as destination the city of Santiago the Compostela, in the north-west of Spain. Legend holds that St. James’s remains were carried by boat from Jerusalem to northern Spain, where he was buried on what is now Santiago de Compostela. The Way of St. James has been one the most important Christian pilgrimage since the Middle Ages, and for centuries people have walked it for spiritual reasons, but in recent years the Camino (which means “path” in Spanish) has been (unfortunately) over-commercialized. There are thousands of things that could be said about the Camino, but I won’t bore you and will give you the essentials: you can either walk or cycle (or even ride a horse!), you can decide the starting point of the journey, but to obtain the certificate recognizing that you walked the Camino, you must at least walk the last 100 km.
One of the most feared questions was why I was walking the Camino. I perfectly knew the ultimate reason, but it felt very personal, so probably not the first thing you would like to share with a complete stranger after 5 minutes meeting them. I’m not going to reveal that ultimate reason, but during the year abroad I encountered many signs that made me think that undertaking this incredibly tough journey was the answer to my doubts. Apart from the many posters advertising the Camino that I found on the streets in Granada, a photography exhibition about the Camino I found after having randomly entered a building and many of my friends telling me that one day they would like to do this journey, in the second semester I found myself in an incredibly negative and stressed state of mind: I needed to get away from the hectic life of the city, disconnect from the technology and all the social media and finally immerse myself in the nature to find myself and reflect upon what has been a very intense year. So I took the decision to walk the Camino and started training when, funnily enough, I found out that one of my best friends wanted to do the same. My initial decision was to walk alone because I needed time for myself, but the idea of having her company was more exciting because I knew we were going to experience some crazy adventures and having someone to share them with is always great. When I then shared my plans for the summer with another friend of mine encountered in Granada, she decided to join in as well, and there we were: three fearless girls who had absolutely no idea of what was expecting them.
So, we managed to walk for 12 days for 300 km approximately, from Oporto (in Portugal) until Santiago de Compostela. It definitely had been an adventure and we learnt a lot from it, both about ourselves and… let’s say, the “human nature”. In the end, what really counts is not the destination, but the journey, the people, the place and experiences you live.
I’ll leave you with a video made about our journey, hope you enjoy it!

Tharusha, from Granada (Spain)

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Italian family life.

I wanted to write a little about the experiences I had observing Italian family life during the time I spent as an English teacher to the children of two different families. I talked to the mothers about some of the stereotypes surrounding the Italian family life so let’s establish whether or not any of them are actually true.

The old movies present Italian families as huge, often with more than six children but in more recent times Italian families have become much smaller, often with two to three children. The structure of the Italian family has changed a lot since the traditional model depicted in films. In the past Italian families, especially those of the South, were made up of a lot of children and often the women did not work. The two mums that I worked with assured me that this was no longer true! They had taken some time off work to be at home during the early years of their children’s lives but said they couldn’t wait to get back to work after their children were old enough. The social revolution has also changed the concept of the family unit itself resulting in new types of families made up of single parents, unmarried couples, divorced parents, couples without children and same-sex couples. All these models are very far away from the stereotypes we see in films and read about in books!

One thing however that I think is quite true and will not change any time soon, is the close-knit ethos of the Italian family. They still spend a lot of time together and typically try to gather to eat in the evening and share the days events (without the television on!). Not only this but there are still strong family ties between members even when they create new family units. For example, the children’s grandparents would visit often, especially in the evenings and would stay for dinner, would help to look after the children whilst the parents cooked. I really liked this element of family life, the families were so close and it was nice to see such a huge influence from an older generation on the lives of the younger ones. Heirlooms of the traditional family can still be found in the modern day model but all in all I think the image below of 20 dark-haired, olive-skinned members of the same family sat around the table eating pasta on an evening is long gone!

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One year, a lifetime (so cheesy, I know).

This video will not make much sense to you, but it is probably the most emotional one for me. It shows many (unfortunately not all, as I thought I was filming them while I was actually taking pictures…) of the lovely people I’ve met during my year abroad, people who became my closest friends, my confidants, my family and with whom I know we’ll share lifetime friendships. It was so much fun filming them, and even more fun editing this video. I really miss them, and wish I had a time-machine.

Tharusha, from Granada (Spain)

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Luminous Lantern Parade

brisbane light festivalWhen walking through the streets of Southbank Parklands one evening, there were hundreds of people walking towards and away from a certain direction. That night was the night of lights, the Luminous Lantern Parade. Every year in June, there are thousands of people who gather together with lanterns of all shapes and sizes, lighting up the sky. People walk from one part of Brisbane and finish at the South Bank’s Piazza. brisbane light festival(Above are photographs of very large puppet lanterns that were part of the parade).brisbane light festivalMany people throughout the night were holding signs such as the one in the photograph above:
‘Westpac welcomes Refugees’
The parade collaborates with the Multicultural Development Association’s (MDA), to let all new Queenslander’s feel welcome and accepted in the country. It was so nice to see that a charity made sure of this and surely made me feel part of the community.
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After the parade there was lots of entertainment in the Piazza, with an audience ranging from young children to the elderly. Everyone was happy and enjoying themselves, talking with strangers around them, dancing and looking at the set inside. It was a great fun night, full of music, dancing and singing from all over the world, including a xylophone band, and African drums playing the ‘chicken dance’.

(https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KQleoBvWYr0)
This is the closest version of the song I could find on YouTube. I do have videos of the ‘chicken dance’ song, and will find a way to put it online.

India, Brisbane

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Where to live on exchange…

When it comes to looking for somewhere to live, it can be one of the most important things when going away because it will be your space, your home, your place to sleep most nights.

A week before leaving to Australia, I booked my new home in an amazing location, at a student accommodation – Urbanest. It was a few minutes walk from the art college, 5-15 minutes from local shops and supermarkets, and a two minute walk from my ‘favourite place’ Southbank Parklands. I really enjoyed living at Urbanest, the building and facilities were great; BBQ’s every Friday night, a gym, amazing views of the city, computer area, and games room. My flatmates were great and I became good friends with one named Delphine from Mauritius. We enjoyed cooking together, going to the gym, and also went to Zumba every week, which was outside on the grass in Southbank.
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(Above is my accommodation I lived in for 5 months)
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(Above left: Southbank street market every weekend. Above right: Southbank Parkland beach)
I loved coming to this area every single day, so much to see, it was extremely beautiful. In the photograph on the right, I took this at 7 o’clock in the morning when there was hardly anyone around. It was wonderful!

Some other places where you could consider living include;
Living with an Australian family. This is good because you get to see the ‘ins and outs’ of Australian homes and lifestyle. Living in a student accommodation doesn’t give you this. If you want to live within the real culture, I think this would be a great idea!
Living with other people on exchange. This is great because you are all in the same situation, new to the country, from different parts of the world with different backgrounds. It could make you feel more at ease if your with people in the same situation.
Someone in your class from your new country. I had this offered to me by my friend, but unfortunately I was already living in the student accommodation. This would definitely be my first choice if I was going to go back because we got on so well. The good thing about living with someone from the same class or college as you, is that you get to see the real life of Australian living, and also make great friends.
Student accommodation is really good fun because there are many people you meet in similar situations, from all over the world. I met people who were studying the three years in Brisbane, and also on a semester/year exchange. The diversity of people was great, and it wasn’t just young students, there were also older students too. But you had to be a student to live at Urbanest.

These are a few good examples to find somewhere to live in Brisbane:
http://www.flatmates.com/au
http://www.overseasstudentliving.com
http://www.thepad.com.au
– brisbanestudenthousing.com.au
– urbanest.com.au/locations/brisbane

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(Above left: View from Urbanest where I was living. Above right: Friends Australian natural garden.)
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(Above: Photograph from Brisbane River, showing beautiful flowers and also amazing houses on the river side)

There are so many options on where you can live, and they are all good options, it just depends on what you are looking for and what you want out of your trip.

Thanks for reading!

India, Brisbane

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The magic has to stay in Granada

30th October 2014, Granada (Spain)
It had been a very busy day at university and the idea of going back home and disappearing under a duvet was really tempting, but still I decided to accept an invitation for dinner at a friend’s place. We ended up cooking spaghetti with crab meat (and this plate made the history, as it was the first bonding moment of a wonderful friendship we share today), and having a really nice conversation about ourselves and our expectations for that year. Later on, I still wanted to go back home, but my friend somehow convinced me to go to a club just to say hi to some friends. I was about to go in, when I met some other people I talked to a few weeks before. We hadn’t exchanged numbers, and I wasn’t expecting to see them again thinking that there were far too many international students in Granada, but I was so wrong. After a while, I let them convinced me to go inside for a drink and a dance, and we had an incredible fun time together! And still the night wasn’t over. I went outside just to catch some air, and there she was: one of my best friends in Granada with some other girls celebrating a birthday, I joined them and we ended up on a bench at 4am talking about life and philosophy. An absolutely random night that became one of the moments I cherish the most: those people I was with became some of my closest friends during the year abroad. I still remember the wonderful feeling when I got back home at 6 am thinking: “I’m so glad I went out today. I would’ve missed too much if I hadn’t.” I felt there was something magical about Granada: being open to new opportunities and to new people came so natural and at that time I thought this was something I would certainly take back with me to Edinburgh. Again, I was so wrong.

13th September 2015, Edinburgh (UK)
I had just got back to Edinburgh the day before and you cannot imagine how excited I was to be back in this lovely city (maybe not to this not-so-lovely weather) and have a night out with my friends. We met at the PearTree, and as the weather was still (surprisingly) mild, we sat outside on one of the benches. The pub was full of Freshers as the Welcome Week had just started, so in an attempt to avoid their annoying excitement we sat the most far away possible from the crowd. The girls were updating me about everything that had happened in the last year while I was away, when we got interrupted by a group of guys who asked us if they could join us. As we were occupying only half of the bench, we agreed and they sat down. In a clumsy attempt to break the ice, they asked us if we were Freshers too, and one of us said we were not. The reply to that was:”Oh, then you must be second years!” “Ehm, actually we are fourth years.” To that answer, you could see all the excitement die in their eyes. They asked us a few other questions (the usual questions everyone asks during the Freshers’ Week: “Where are you from?”, “What are you studying?”, “Where do you live?”), and we limited ourselves to a straight answer to those. Then in the rudest way possible, we just got back to our own business speaking in Italian. In the meanwhile, the guys were thinking of a way of getting out of that awkward situation (they were not so quiet about it, probably thinking we couldn’t understand English so well): the plan was for one of them to stand up in a very theatrical way and say: “Guys, it’s cold out here, I’m gonna go inside!”, so that the others could follow him. And that was exactly what happened. But one of them did bother telling us: “We’ll see you girls inside?” YEAH, SURE, ADIOS. We initially laughed at it, but then I couldn’t help thinking of how rude we were. Of how rude I was. This is something that would have never happened in Spain: you would take all the opportunities you get to meet and talk to people, you would even talk to the most random people you would probably ignore in another situation. I felt so disappointed with myself for being back to be the old, sad, reserved version of Tharusha in cold Edinburgh (and surely the weather is not helping).
I don’t think there’s any need to dwell on the conclusions that come out of the comparison between these two scenes. I’m feeling very disappointed with myself for not being able to transfer that magic I encountered in Granada, but I then do realize that it’s not just me, but it’s also about the people surrounding me and the context we find ourselves in. And unfortunately my power to change these are very limited.

Tharusha, from Granada (Spain)

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The Last Chapter

Yesterday all the Third Spacers got together for a Welcome home event – after a year of following each others stories and adventures online it was really lovely to share an afternoon of story-telling and wine(of course!). Having bored our friends and families to death with lines such as, “Oooh this one time in Paris” or “On my year abroad.. bla bla bla”, there was something refreshing and almost concluding about reflecting on our times abroad with others that had shared a similar experience.

What really resonated with me during the event was that despite the fact we all went to different countries and were doing different things there were noticeable similarities in all our stories – it was hilarious to share our unforgettable experiences of trekking around cities looking for accommodation; our “lost in translation” moments in the local supermarket or our “cheesy” moments where we found ourselves capturing incredible sunsets surrounded by our new group of international friends!

One of the Third Spacers I was chatting to reminded me that the time we have left at Edinburgh university is the same amount of time we spent abroad. Knowing how quickly last year went by I certainly want to make the most of this year and so she cleverly suggested trying some of the Third Space activities here in Edinburgh …. I’m not one to say no to a challenge!

Good luck with your final year guys!

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I think my favourite thing about Third Space is the pretty little “tool kit” given to us all before we went away. Not only was it a lovely physical reminder of what we’re all a part of, but, living in such a small apartment in Paris, the box also became a very useful storage space!  My box came my “go to” for storing those things that I didn’t necessarily want to throw away but had no use for any more – all of which became an appropriate construction of my year abroad.

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Meert

I visited this cake shop more than I visited anywhere else in Lille I think… Yes, I am major cake fan. No clue how I didn’t come back the size of a house… But even if I had, Meert would have been worth it.

I took so many visitors here: my friends in Lille and visiting friends and family members. The cakes can simply not be beaten. By anywhere. Anytime you approached the shop, you knew where it was just by the crowds of people surrounding its window. The cakes changed regularly so every time you had a look in their window, you got a different taste of what they had to offer.


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Although I was a regular, both at their take-away cake counter, and in their tea-room, I just couldn’t bring myself to have the same cake twice. There was so much to offer, they could never have guessed what my order would be. Sometimes, I would recommend to my guests what they should try (based on the fact I’d loved the cake before), but I can pride myself on never having had the same cake twice.
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I loved most of all that it full of French people. Not tourists, although Lille isn’t a major tourist town anyway. It was both being immersed in French culture and having the best cakes I’ve ever tasted all in one…

Now back in Scotland, I wish nothing more than to have another taste of their take on the Religieuse..

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One of my life goals finally has been accomplished…

So, one of my life goals (and this is a clear example of the depth of my life goals) has always been to go to Spain and take a SALSA class. When I saw the Twinkle Toes flashcard for the first time, my thought was: “THIS IS MEANT FOR ME.”
In the first semester I went to some salsa classes organized by the Erasmus Student Network, but we were repeating the same steps over and over again, and at some point I started losing interest. So, I’ve decided to take it seriously in the second semester and I actually registered for a salsa class organized by the University.

Before getting to the actual business, let me just give you some “fun facts” about this dance:
1) I’ve heard many people in the UK say that they wanted to go to Italy to dance salsa. Being Italian, my thoughts were: “AARGH! These stupid tourists believing stupid stereotypes! Salsa is not part of our culture!” In the same way, when I was telling Spanish friends that I really want to start a salsa course since I was in Spain, I must say I’ve been frowned upon a couple of times. For some reason, salsa is associated with the Mediterranean countries (maybe because Spanish and Italian are hot and sexy? Weeell… no.), but here is the truth: it actually originated in Cuba and has been then influenced by dances of other Latin and Afro-Caribbean countries.
2) It is usually a partner dance, where the male leads and the woman follows and believe me girls, that is GREAT because if the man doesn’t know how to lead, this will be immediately noticed, while if a girl doesn’t really know how to move, she will still look awesome.
3) Apparently it is excellent for improving your sex appeal. Salsa is known for being a very rhythmic, passionate and sexy and it does help people to get over their insecurities. I still remember how some guys in my class were so shy and moving like robots at the very beginning; after 4 months, I was amazed to see how they were at ease and feeling so confident about themselves.

Well, enough with the fun facts. At our last class in June, I thought it’d have been nice to place a camera in the room and film us, not only for the Twinkle Toes activity, but also to have a memory of these lovely people and all the fun we had! I then somehow managed to squeeze 2 hours of video into a 4 minutes one. Hope you enjoy it!

Oh, and I’m the one wearing the green top…

Tharusha, from Granada (Spain)

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Leiden’s library cat

Unbeknownst to the majority of Edinburgh students, the George Square library is not the only university library to have it’s very own cat! Leiden’s library also has a cat who wonders round the shelves, perching on desks, and annoying hardworking students. His name is Jelmer (a traditional Dutch name), and I have to admit he made me feel quite at home. I asked some fellow students in one of my classes about him and they said he really likes it if you feed him chocomel (a kind of hot chocolate) and if you do, then he can sit on your lap for hours!

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Early mornings

Leiden’s quite a small city so early in the morning there is really not much going on. This is when I liked to get up and go on runs through the city, when there was no one around, and it was always so peaceful and beautiful. Here are some photos of the canals around the city, the Leiden observatory, and the empty streets. (sorry for the poor quality iPhone photos!) Having lived in Edinburgh for 2 years by the time I went to Leiden, I felt at home in Edinburgh. I always thought Edinburgh was the most beautiful city but coming to Leiden and exploring other Dutch cities, I started to appreciate the beauty of the Netherlands in a similar way. Apart from the many cobbled streets in both cities, the landscape and buildings are very different in Leiden than in Edinburgh. But as each month passed my feelings for the country, the landscape and the people grew stronger. I feel like I now have a real relationship with the country which will stay with me my whole life (forgive me for the cheesiness but it’s true!!). These photos hardly do it justice and also don’t capture the friendliness of the country and the welcoming nature of the people which I think makes it even more beautiful. I feel proud to say I lived there and would recommend it highly to anyone who was thinking of making the short trip over to The Netherlands.

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The day I ate a horse…

Just a quick post about a fairly unusual local dish of Verona which is the use of horse and donkey meat in several dishes, (although donkey meat is less common). I read that it’s actually a tradition which dates back to barbaric invasions.  At the end of the Roman Empire, northern European tribes settled in Verona and used to eat horse meat and it is a custom which has continued to the present day. (I don’t know how true this is but I haven’t heard any other explanations so I’ll have to go with this…)

It is not unusual to find horse meat on the menu in a restaurant and is actually used in several dishes. It is used in a stew called pastissada, served as horse or colt steaks, as carpaccio, or made into bresaola (air-dried and salted meat). Horse fat is used in recipes such as “pezzetti di cavallo” (pieces of horsemeat) and another favourite dish is horse on a bed of rocket, dressed with olive oil and fresh lemon juice.

Eating horse meat has always been quite a touchy subject and there have apparently been several campaigns in Italy to ban its consumption. However many argue that it is a part of the culinary tradition of Italy, especially in the Northern Veneto region. When I was in Verona I got the chance to try a pasta dish which contained a horse meat ragù and I have to admit it was incredibly tasty.

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Living in a hotel isn’t as good as it sounds…

Having to find a new home is always a daunting prospect, even in the UK where you actually kind of know what is going on, never mind in a huge capital city! Because of an overlap with my semesters between France and Italy, I had to get a flight straight from Verona to Paris…knowing that I had nowhere to live! I’d already messaged a lot of people who were advertising their apartments on Facebook pages and on the French equivalent of Gumtree but with no success.

I decided to book into a hotel for three days, being very optimistic that within those three days, I would’ve found some dream-like Parisian apartment with beautiful shutters on the windows, with a balcony located right in the centre of Paris, overlooking the Eiffel Tower of course. Safe to say, this wasn’t the case. My friend from Paris warned me of the difficulty in finding an apartment in Paris but for some reason I thought I would be the exception. I didn’t get one single reply from all the messages I had sent out to French people searching for a ‘coloc’ so begrudgingly booked a further four days in the hotel. Everything got so much harder when I started university because I was not able to spend all day glued to my laptop looking at advertisements.

Finally, on day six of living in a hotel, one girl replied to my message and I was able to go view her apartment. It was not in a great area of Paris, it was really far away from my university and I’d also be living alone for the next five months which was not something I had hoped to have to do, but I was so desperate I had no other choice! I handed over my deposit and got ready to move out of my hotel on day seven, not totally happy with my new home but thought it was better than paying for another three nights in a hotel. And then I get the phone call telling me that the girl has decided to give the apartment to another girl and that I could go pick up my deposit cheque the following day… Fabulous.

So I go on to book a further three days, this time in a different hotel on the opposite side of Paris (after a week of living in a hotel, you have to downgrade!). I went to see a few more apartments but none of them really appealed to me. One of them was just a mattress on a floor, the other one was so far out of the centre I’d have had to travel about an hour and a half every day to get to university. I really did think all hope was lost until I came across an apartment on a website called ‘Autroisieme’ recommended to me by a friend.

The apartment was with an Italian lady and her daughter. I hadn’t really anticipated living with someone a lot older than me but I didn’t think it would be so bad seen as she had a daughter who was the same age as me. When I went to visit the apartment, it was a lovely surprise to see how beautiful it was. It was located in the 3rd arrondissement, in Le Marais which is a gorgeous area full of lovely bars, amazing boutique shops and hosts loads of cultural events. The lady and her daughter were so welcoming and I instantly felt at home. She told me that there was someone else who was interested in the apartment and that she would ring me back the day after to see if they had chosen me. I was really worried that they wouldn’t choose me but I got a phone call from her the next day telling me that they were more than happy to live with me.

I was over the moon that I had finally found a great apartment, in a great location with two amazing people. The fact that they were Italian but spoke fluent French and not much English was great for my learning because I was forced to speak to them in at least one of the two languages I study every day. I had a really great experience in my new home and I was so sad to leave at the end of my semester but they assured me that I was welcome back at any point and even got an invite to their home in Catania.

So after 2 weeks of living in a hotel, my Parisian adventure began and I could finally settle into my lovely new home.

Ps they also had an adorable puppy which made living there a lot easier!

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My apartment was on the third floor of this beautiful building.

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The kitchen was cosy and perfect for eating dinner together.

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My bedroom. There was another part to my room but was difficult to fit into the picture!

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This was the living room. There was a long table in here where the lady hosted lots of dinner parties.

 

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Home Thoughts From Abroad

“Dear me,

Greetings from the future and the past. Before you left you were feeling stressed, excited and a tad terrified! OH MY SQUASH (yes you do that, let’s hope that got lost in translation). Please see below meaningful & life enriching targets which you better have completed! Guuuuuurl.

1 – Make at least one bosom friend and kindred spirit.

2 – Become a regular in a shop or cafe so that your presence is acknowledged with that solemn acknowledging nod.

3 – Do something that’s just really cool.

Good luck chum,

Love from me, xxx”

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This gem arrived arrived about half way through my year abroad. By that point I had finished my time in Grenoble and had moved to fair Verona, so it was a pleasant reminder of home sweet home. I had not long moved into my Veronese apartment, which was no where near as glamorous as it sounds. My neighbours were nuns and we had 3 cockroaches. Please note that hoovering them up is not a long term solution, they come back. Air con hadn’t reached us yet and sleeping in 40 degree heat was a nightmare. However, I was happy, I mean how could I complain when we had a tv with the MTV channel,  a veg shop across the street, a perfect cafe on the corner and a flat that was a 5 minute walk from university. I think I was so happy because life was so simple, ‘should I get two flavours of gelato today, or just one? Though I always get chocolate, I should I go for crema della nonna today or stracciatella again… why is life so hard???!?!?!’.

Back to my goals… I did indeed make several bosom and lifelong friends during my time away, despite thinking upon arrival in France ‘I don’t need anymore friends, grumble grumble, I already have some.’ Some of them even came to Italy to visit, and one of them I met up with in Lithuania. (Remind me to mention that in the ‘did a cool thing’ section.)

As you may have noticed from previous blog posts, I tried with earnest to find a local cafe, where my presence was noted with recognition. I tried, but you can’t always be a winner. Italy was better, they definitely knew my face in the veg shop and the cafe, but sadly first name status was never achieved. Though, once, the guy in the pizzeria gave me an extra slice because I was so loyal, so that almost counts.

Finally, did I do something ‘really cool’? That’s a tough question, personally the coolest thing that I think I did was spending a week living on a farm in the middle of nowhere, digging up onions and running away from snails. That counts. I think when I wrote the postcard I had in mind bungee jumps and deep sea dives, but being abroad really changes your perspective. Yes the Erasmus life (#lovelovelove) was about as dramatic as that, but I just wasn’t interested in the thrills of the European ESN (Erasmus Student Network, probably) party scene. I wanted, and hope that I achieved, something more authentic and genuine, an experience that could only be achieved in France and then Italy, not a generic Erasmus pool party kind of scene. Don’t get me wrong, it sounded fun, I just felt, well, over that I suppose.

Ah yes, I went to Lithuania, the coolest thing about that was probably the spontaneity of it, the thrill of popping to Eastern Europe to meet a friend, “See you in Vilnius, darling!”. The reality was nowhere near as pretentious but the excitement was real. At midnight on a chilly March evening I rolled up to the adorable airbnb apartment to be greeted by my long lost bosom pal. The next few days of gorging on Lithuanian cuisine and walks through the chilly and richly cultural Lithuanian capital were sheer bliss.

And so, even though I didn’t necessarily complete every objective written on my postcard I hope that I managed to transcend checklists and must-see-must-do experiences to have a fulfilling year abroad.

Bethan Evans

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Com’è triste Venezia

Italy is a very traditional country, where festivals and special occasions are celebrated with vigor. You may have heard of the Venice Carnival, a vibrant affair and famous throughout the world. You have however, probably not heard of the Verona equivalent, a much less formal event mainly aimed at entertaining children. When asked about the reason for this carnival, my airbnb host simply replied “perché carnevale” (“because carnival”). With that meaty explanation I was inspired to experience the festival first hand. I must admit that I was slightly puzzled by the enormous and completely garish carnival procession but I went home covered in confetti and filled with joy.

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The Colomba di Pasqua is a traditional Italian Easter cake, made into the shape of a dove and is fairly similar to the christmas variety calle panettone. I mean, it tastes ok, I wouldn’t rush out to buy one and would definitely prefer a nice hot cross bun! This is perhaps the only Italian food that I didn’t particularly warm to.

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Regional food is one Italy’s greatest defining features and I have to say that ragu with muso was my favourite Veronese dish. This brings me to Italian dialects; muso in the Veneto means asino, which in english is, you guessed it, donkey! Who knew, donkey is delicious.

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Now by far one my favourite traditions comes from the Marche region. The name of it escapes me but I will do my best to explain. First of all when a child is born ribbons and bunting and bows and more ribbons cover the house in honour of the birth, pink for a girl, blue for a boy. They then stay there for what appears to be months. This may seem a little unnecessary to most people but that’s really only the beginning. A tradition less popular today for obvious reasons involves chopping down a huge tree, propping it in the garden and putting a bike on top of it, at least so I’m told.

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And finally in Naples, if you give someone a chili, real or made of terracotta it brings them good luck. I bought ten to give to friends and family so I’m hoping I get some off shoot luck.

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Bethan Evans

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That’s Amore

Dean Martin had it right when it came to ‘old Napoli’. In order to express my adoration for this vibrant gem of southern Italy I, alongside my trusty Erasmus companion Paola, have collated some data on a subject very close to my heart. Prepare yourselves for the pizza challenge, 2 days and 6 pizzerias, this blog post aims to provide a comprehensive list of some of the best pizzerias in Naples.

The best street to sample Naples’ finest pizza joints is Via dei Tribunali, and that is where we began.

1 – Name: Unfortunately I forgot to note down the name of this one, but after some google street view searching I think it’s ‘Buongusta’.

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Taste:  Good of course, a perfectly acceptable introduction to Neapolitan pizza though not the best we tasted.

Dough: Not bad, a bit heavy. Sauce: Good, the fresh tomatoes on Paola’s were particularly good.

Price: 3 euros 50

Ranking: 4

A note of advice at this point, despite the sheer exquisiteness of the pizza before you, do not feel obliged to eat the whole thing, in fact please don’t, there is a long way to go and the road is uphill, save yourself for doughy gold.

2 – Name: Pizzeria di Matteo.

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Taste: Authentic and satisfying. I gather that di Matteo is noted as one of best pizzerias in the city, there is no indoor seating, a queue spills onto the street and customers take their margheritas away with them.

Sauce: Not terribly well spread and a little more bitter than some of the others, but still delicious.

Price: 1 euro for a cheeky (and enormous) slice.

Ranking: 2

3 –  Name: Pizzeria dal Presidente

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Taste: “Absolutely Banging”

Sauce: Delicious and quite sweet, reminded me of Heinz tinned spaghetti hoops (and not in a bad way).

Ranking: 3

4 – Name: Pizzeria Gino Sorbillo

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Taste – Can only be described as the most delicious pizza that I have eaten in my entire life.

Dough: So thin, subtle and delicious and yet not at all soggy. Sauce: Sweet, full of flavour but not  heavy, the mozzarella cheese was also particular tasty. Mozzarella can often be stringy and milky without much taste, depending on whether it is buffalo or not. This was perfection.

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If I could recommend one pizzeria, in let’s say, THE WHOLE WORLD, it would be this one. The chief pizzaiolo was even on Master Chef.

Ranking: 1!

There were two or three other pizzerias along the way as the photos will prove, the last one was even at the train station. However the ones listed above really make the cut, and to be honest after half a dozen pizzerias things start to get a little hazy. This challenge really made me appreciate the margherita pizza. Previously I thought of it as the pizza for people who are fussy eaters, it was the ‘boring one’. Now, when I think of ham and pineapple toppings, I shudder. Pizza lovers out there, we must teach the world of Dominoes eaters to appreciate the simplicity and perfection of a well made margherita.

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Naples is fantastic city in its own right, full of culture and character, but if all you do is eat pizza you’ve still experienced a slice of authentic Neapolitan Italy.

Bethan Evans

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Rambling Man

After 6 months of hoarding maps, postcards, business cards, photos and tickets I have finally put together an experience map. It is a completely geographically incorrect map of my time in Italy from February to July 2015.

The left hand side encompasses Verona, the place I called home for 6 months of my life.

Towards the bottom the map turns into the rest of the Veneto including Venice and Lake Garda, where many lazy lake side afternoons were spent. Around the edges I have added Bologna and the Color Run in Trento.

Moving up the wall my trip to Lithuania is to be found, a few magical days where I met a friend from Grenoble – aka the new bosom friend in reference to other blog post about postcards and year abroad goals. After our rendezvous  at midnight in an adorable airbnb apartment, we spent a blissful few days pottering around Vilnius, piling on the pounds with every zeppelin consumed and getting the obligatory year abroad piercing.

Moving, hmm well eastward across the wall anyway, we arrive at Naples, land of pizza, the city with the small town vibe, home of the good luck terracotta chili, known to some as ‘a dump’, bursting with life and energy, and one of my favourite places in Italy.

Below Naples meets the Amalfi coast, almost geographically correct that time, the place that sun kissed lemony dreams are made of. I feel that no further explanation is required here. Finally in the bottom corner I dedicated a space to my precious wwoofing adventure, an experience that I would recommend to everyone. I have also written another post about wwoofing.

I would encourage anyone to spend some time living abroad and these photos below show just some of the reasons. A year abroad is whatever you make it, and when you take the opportunities available to you the experiences can be fantastic.

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Bethan Evans

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It’s your turn!

Tocatì festival in Verona normally takes place every year at the end of September and I arrived just in time to catch all four days of the festival. In Italian ‘tocca a te’ means ‘your turn’ and is used particularly when playing games with family and friends (you know the kind- Monopoly, Trivial Pursuit etc.) which is why this festival is aptly named ‘Tocatì’ and celebrates traditional games, which are played in the streets of Verona. Some of the games include draughts, chess, backgammon, tug of war, ultimate frisbee, trisella,  table football, boules…the list goes on. The festival is not just for adults though, there are some simpler games for children such as hopscotch, board games, musical chairs and more. The streets are quite literally transformed into one giant playground with certain roads closed for the four days to ensure the safety of everyone. The festival seeks to illustrate that roads and streets are not just places of transit but are also places for meetings and exchanges with others. There was a real sense of community during the festival with all generations and kinds of people taking to the streets of Verona to take part in the festivities. (Some took the games a little more seriously than others- I watched a game of draughts for 5 minutes in which time neither player made a move!)

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This game is called Trisella. Small wooden balls are thrown into the corresponding coloured holes.

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Backgammon- I’ve never really understood the rules of backgammon, so can’t help with this one!

But the festival is not only about games. There are also many food stalls and tents selling food and drink from all around Italy. A great way for everyone to relax after a strenuous day of playing games all day! Below is a one of the very first pictures of me in Verona with some friends on the second day of Tocatì.

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In the evening the fun continues with bands and musicians playing all around the city. We stumbled upon two incredible beat boxers and then an amazing tribute band who got everybody up on their feet and dancing in the middle of the street. I really enjoyed Tocatì and it was great timing that the festival began on the day I arrived in Verona, it brought the city to life. Seeing what a sense of togetherness the festival brought about in the people of Verona made it so easy to settle in here. If only we didn’t have such poor weather here in the UK. I don’t imagine it would have the same success as it did in Verona if  we all had to stand outside at the end of September playing games on the street!

Here is a link to this years Tocatì festival if you’re interested in finding out a little bit more about the festival.