The final few weeks

Only 3 weeks left at Western!! It’s getting to crunch time with one more week before what is known as “dead week.” It’s pretty much when final presentations, papers, group projects – everything is due before finals week. No teachers are allowed to assign any homework but a few of my professors have sneakily added quiz dates before we went on Thanksgiving Break.

I’ve just come back to Western after a week off, and experienced two family Thanksgivings in Chicagoland, and also ticked off a few bucket list items that I didn’t get to do during my first visit. It’s funny because usually when I have a break like this at home, I will use the time to do assignments or prepare for exams etc. I did none of that. I was a busy bee, going up 103 floors to Sears Tower, or driving to neighbouring states, doing Black Friday shopping.

It’s crazy how the time has flown. I keep reflecting my time at Western and one of my biggest regrets is how long it took for me to establish myself in this new environment. I was feeling homesick, and I would go out with my friends and think of my friends back to home. But now, I want the days to go slower, I want to savour every moment, write down every minute detail, because I know in a couple of months I’ll forget everything.

Whilst the next few weeks are going to stressful in terms of workload, nothing is more stressful than knowing that you are going to have to say goodbye to some very special people that have impacted your life so greatly.

My advice for anyone considering an exchange program? Home is always going to be there for you, no matter how far or long you are away from it, so whilst you’re away from 4, 6, 10  or 12 months, make sure you are living in the moment and saying yes to every opportunity. The first couple of weeks are always the hardest, but before you know it, you have three weeks left and you have to start to say goodbye to your teachers, your classmates, your friends, your boyfriend/girlfriend, and you’ll be left wishing that you could stay longer

Two Months in Chester

It has been officially two months since I cried my eyes out going through international security at Melbourne Airport. Since then, there has been more tears (I’m a cry-er) but also many amazing memories already made.

I spent my first few weeks in Chester walking (almost literally) every inch of downtown Chester. I was promised a beautiful, typically ‘English’ town centre, fantastic shops and enough coffee to fill a pre-service teachers’ quota. And MAN OH MAN did Chester deliver. A brisk (has to be brisk otherwise my fingers freeze) 15-minute walk from my accommodation and I am in some sort of English wonderland. Black and white timber buildings, cobbled streets, every English shop I love and yes, coffee shops and restaurants galore. Little did I know this would only get better as Christmas mania hit- I will give this ‘season’ the recognition it deserves in a separate blog post to come.

As a CSU Global student I was guaranteed university accommodation at the university of Chester. I have never lived in ‘student halls’ before so this was something that excited me. I spent hours looking at all the options on the University of Chester website and secretly hoped for one specific location. By some miracle, I was placed in Grosvenor House on the main campus of Chester. This mini “studio” room included a little kitchen and ensuite and felt perfect from the pictures. Although a little on the pricier side, I was thrilled to have a little place of my own.
As an international student I was moved in a day before UK students. After being picked up from the airport by the Uni International Team, I found my building and my room quite easily. I got to work unpacking my single (extra-large from Aldi) suitcase and began the process of making this room feel like home for the next 9 months.

Fast forward 2 months and my room, apart from needing a bit of a deep clean, finally feels like home. There are enough fairy lights, Christmas decorations and throw pillows to fill my heart.

I was fortunate enough to be in contact with some people who live on my floor through Facebook leading up to moving in. This really helped when everyone arrived and encouraged me out of my room and into the ‘corridor’. The corridor is yes, a corridor but also the hub of floor 1. Even though I am good 3 years older than most of the people I live with, they were nothing except welcoming, fun and understanding and have remained so.

(Photos will follow-having some technical issues…)

Journey To Exchange

Hi, I’m Claire. I study a Bachelor of Education based on the Albury Charles Sturt University campus. I have now been on exchange at the University of Chester, England for a little over a month.

My road to exchange started at the beginning of 2016 when I first stumbled across the idea. I started researching and although I had missed the application date to leave in 2016, I had plenty of time until the next one. This was a blessing and a curse. I spent the next year & a half excited and wishing the time to hurry up, however, it took almost that long to complete the application and prepare myself for the big move.

The Application Process

This, I will be honest, can be tedious and at some points disheartening, however very worth it, as the more organised you are on arrival the smoother settling in will be. I’m  unsure if it is the degree I am studying but it was a lengthy process to find and approve equivalent subjects to study. My course director and the CSU Global team were incredibly supportive throughout the whole process and always responded to my many emails (often irrelevant and sent at 1am) quickly and with great advice. Once you have a subject set approved the process is a lot kinder. I am incredibly fortunate to be a dual citizen with the United Kingdom meaning I did not have to apply for a VISA.

Packing

About two months before I was due to depart I grabbed a huge whiteboard and some markers and wrote everything I thought I needed to pack. Over the next two months I wrote and rewrote on the whiteboard, piled clothes and items next to it and subsequently took them away again. This process, apart from an attempt to make the time go quicker, gave me an opportunity to really think about what I was packing and to make sure I had everything.
I said goodbye to my beloved hair curler in favour of a good raincoat (good decision) and traded my favourite pair of heels for a sturdy pair of Dr Martins (another surprisingly good decision by past Claire). Upon reflection, anything I left behind I have been able to buy here (except my fav teddy  which I am glad made the final cut).

Pre-Departure checklist

As the weeks until departure dwindled I made sure to do all the last minute jobs. This included sorting out banking, bills and all those boring things. I said goodbye to the many families I babysit and my numerous jobs whilst completing a few final subjects with CSU. This time was a very busy and emotional one, but reminded me how lucky I was to be embarking on such a big adventure with an amazing support system behind me.

 

Winter is coming….

As the first half of the semester comes to a close, my friends and new Trent family all head home or to travel for reading week. I decided I would head to Toronto, Ottowa, Montreal and Quebec city for some new and exciting adventures.

Toronto is amazing. Despite the lack of enthusiasm many Canadians show toward the city, it is full of amazing people, food, sights and events. I finally got to experience my first live ice hockey match in Ottowa. Even though the Maple Leafs had an off-game, the vibe and noise created by the crowd in the stadium made it a night to remember. Quebec city is full of cobble stone streets, a deep entrenched history of war and destruction and amazing food and drink. Upon walking about 2km out of the Old City walls, I found myself a part of town full of young people, amazing bars and friendly locals wanting to show me round the city. Lets just say it was definitely a fun night… For the second time I visited Montreal on my way back to Trent. Coincidentally it happen to fall on Halloween. My first Halloween in America, and definitely my favourite. Everyone dressed up in serious costumes, ready to have fun and dance the night away.

 

I have now returned to Trent for my final 7 weeks. The Fall colours (which were amazing) have come and gone, and winter is well on its way. Not sure I’m ready, but definitely looking forward to another crazy adventure !

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2 months in, 2 months to go

It certainly holds true that time flies when you are having fun. I am almost at the halfway mark of my time at Western Illinois, and I am certainly starting to feel sentimental – thinking about the amazing group of friends that I have made, knowing that I will have them for life, and how they have made my journey in America so extremely special. What I love about being over here is that I am not only just learning about American but about Spanish and Latino cultures and their prominence in the States.

So much has been going on here – I’ve participated in Mud Volleyball in one of the first weekends that I was here and joined Swing Dancing, the Marketing Club and the acapella group Invoxicated. Through these groups I’ve had a chance to attend an AMA Collegiate Conference at Aurora University, as well as venturing to Springfield, Illinois to  go to a Swing Dancing event called The Groove (think Footloose).

But whilst it has been great to explore parts of Illinois, college and classes have been an interesting experience. Before I came here, I was advised that college is very different to University in Australia and boy, that still resonates. The first couple of weeks, it felt like I was back in High School in terms of the schedule. It’s been nearly three years since I’ve had homework so it was a major throwback when I started attending classes. Exams are more like tests and are multiple choice, so I am definitely not complaining.

It’s hilarious that whenever I talk to people, they look at me, wanting to ask where I am from but are too afraid to ask. When I first arrived, it took me a while to get used to the American accent, expecting the Australian accent whenever I started talking to people. Fortunately I have maintained my accent, with many of my friends wanting to learn specific phrases or try and demonstrate their attempt of the accent, to a somewhat success… It’s funny after being here for the past two months, I am starting to understand how Americans get Australian and New Zealander accents confused – something I never thought I would understand.

Next week we have a three day weekend and looking forward to exploring downtown Chicago and seeing the Chicago Blackhawks play ice hockey against the Edmonton Oilers!

 

My first week at Trent University

IMG_1883.JPGAfter 5 weeks of traveling up the west coast of America, arriving to a beautiful campus and a place to call home for more than 2 nights was a huge relief. The international O week started with the usual introductions and tours of our new home. Throughout the week we all started to form friendships and enjoying the beggining of this new adventure. After many social events and activities, it has become obvious that many of these people I will be spending most of my time at Trent socializing with. I have also joined the rugby team which has given me another avenue of meeting new mates and has allowed me to get even more involved in the student community. If this is only the first week here, I truly can’t wait for the rest of these four months to come !

 

Let’s start my Wild Wild Midwest Journey

You can watch so many TV Shows and movies about American college, research campus life and American culture. Have so many people that come up to you suggesting to do this, or try this food – but nothing can prepare you for that moment you step off that plane, drive into the gates that say “Welcome to Western Illinois University!”

Currently it is 4pm on a Wednesday, approximately 7am Thursday in Australia and I am over looking the north side of the campus from room in Thompson Hall on the 14th floor… The view is absolutely stunning in it’s simplicity. There is a baseball field and a softball filed behind it that reads “The Fighting Leathernecks”, the school’s team name and a water tower with the school’s name on it, amongst dense bush and wide sparse roads. It’s one of the first things I noticed when I entered out of Chicago city – every town’s name is printed on a 10 foot water tower no matter what area. The campus is perfectly groomed as well – no matter what corner I turn, beautiful purple and marigold yellow flowers are featured in gardens, in front of lecture buildings, not to mention statues of “Rocky the Bulldog” the University’s mascot, painted in various purple and gold patterns.

It has taken me a while to get over the feeling of being overwhelmed by just how larger and wide the campus is – directions are not my forte and rely solely on another exchange student from Bulgaria to guide me to where the international orientation activities are. Knowing me, I will most likely just get the grasp of different buildings just in time before I have to depart…

Slowly people are starting to move in which is daunting and exciting as it means that this exchange experience is becoming real, with classes starting in 5 days. I have already met a few American students with some confusing Australia with New Zealand, and believing that Australia is quite isolated from the rest world in terms of pop culture- I was asked if  I knew what Forrest Gump was…

I am excited to start this journey, see what I learn and in 6 months reflect on who I become over my time in America. Let’s go, Western Illinois!