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 !

23261732_10155456487524681_1777235507_o (1)

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!

 

Work hard ~ Adventure Harder!

We finally finished up our quarter at the beginning of June and needless to say we were all itching to get out and see some more of Japan. APU usually gives you three days of break and since this year it was tacked onto a weekend, we had a good solid five days of escapism. Everybody was doing different things but most of us were centred around Osaka so we planned to meet up in various places while away. The Sunflower Ferry from Beppu to Osaka is an overnight transport ship that docks near AP4 so we booked tickets to head out in the evening after our exams. The trip takes 11 hours and it is a pretty good deal if you are a student as you can get a cheaper rate and an upgrade to an actual bed through the campus Co-Op. The ship itself has a great all-you-can-eat buffet and even its own onsen onboard. A bunch of us were going at the same time so we met up and spent the night playing cards, over-quoting the Titanic movie and having a few drinks to pass the time.

The sailing gang, our cute cabin & the Sunflower Ferry docked at Osaka

When we arrived in Osaka, we went our seperate ways. Some of the gang were heading to Kyoto, others to Universal Studios and I had managed to wangle my way onto the 1st International Natural Hazards and Disaster Management Conference which was being held at the Hyatt Hotel near the port. Yes, I know, Universal Studios sounds like so much more fun but I was so pumped to do something related to my degree and I had an absolute blast. I was the only non-speaker there so I was a little nervous at first, but everyone was really nice and I made lots of new contacts. The range of speakers was huge and I got to listen to talks about disaster management from a variety of fields and countries which was fantastic.

Screen Shot 2017-07-02 at 10.09.58 AM

Some of the conference speakers and I sneaking in a group pic 

Representing Aus, some of the fab speakers I met & me (for some reason) with a mic bugging people with questions

The conference lasted three days which meant I also got to stay in the Hyatt for that time as well. As already established earlier in this blog, I’m a little obsessed with good showers. Combine a walk-in power shower with a giant adult sized bed and a panoramic cocktail bar on the fiftieth floor, and I was in heaven.

Digging the kawaii vibe in the Hyatt bathrobe, doing back to school prep work with margaritas and a killer view (the best way to study), taking in the lightning over Osaka

When I initially arrived in Osaka, I had the whole day free before the conference kicked off so I spent it running around on a mad mission to see as much as I could of the sights. It is a beautiful city with so much to do and I wish I could have spent more time there. I spent the morning exploring Osaka Castle and the surrounding walls and shrines.  Then I headed the Osaka museum which gave a great account of the history of the city. After that I was on a mission to find the infamous coffee in a cookie-cup that had been doing the rounds on Facebook. It took a little while but (as a severely caffeine obsessed individual) it was worth the trek. That evening I met up with one of the girls for some sushi and got to try sea urchin for the first time which was very cool (and delicious).

The sights & delights of Osaka

Screen Shot 2017-07-02 at 11.03.48 AM

The infamous ‘Ecospresso’ Coffee in a Cookie-Cup! #muchjapan #muchdelish

The conference finished early on the Saturday so I jumped the Shinkansen to Kobe for a little afternoon detour before i headed to Kyoto that evening. I only had a few hours so I headed straight to the Disaster Reduction and Human Renovation institute which houses the memorial museum for the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake of 1995. The Kobe Earthquake was the very first natural disaster I was ever taught about (and pretty much the only thing I remember from high school geography!). Back then I did not know the spark of interest I felt would spur a journey of international travel, study and hopefully (gods-of-student-loans willing) a dream career. The centre is fantastic, managing to be both humbling in the face of nature’s terrible power and inspiring through the stories of amazing community resilience and bravery. The staff go out of their way to make it a super fun and interactive experience so I definitely recommend it.

Screen Shot 2017-07-02 at 10.00.39 AM

The Kobe Earthquake museum – It also lights up blue at night!

After a few hours getting lost in the museum, I was back on the train and heading up to Kyoto. It was pretty late when I arrived so I checked into my capsule hotel and then went for a wander down the backstreets for something to eat. After grabbing some street food from a random hole-in-the-wall vendor, I (shockingly) happened upon a traditional whisky bar and spent a little while sampling some scarily expensive but very delicious Japanese single malts. Once remembering to remind myself I was not in fact one of the travelling businessman that I was drinking alongside but a student with a slightly less stretchable bank account, I quickly made haste back to my hotel to get a few hours shut eye.

Screen Shot 2017-07-02 at 10.00.47 AM

Variety is the spice of life…

The next morning I dragged myself out of bed at 05:30 to head to climb Mount Inari. The infamous Fushimi Inari shrine walk has been on my bucket lists since forever and I wanted to make sure I arrived before the (equally infamous) crowds did. At this stage, it is safe to say I was regretting the drinking choices from the night before but I managed to get to the entrance temple by 0700 and start the climb to the top. Thankfully my efforts were  rewarded with a beautiful serene climb in a surreal yet amazing setting. It takes  about 60 minutes to get to the very top of the mountain, making time to visit the many of the shrines that line the way. It’s a little bit of a hike when your legs aren’t used the steep steps (or you have been in a whisky bar the night before) but definitely worth the effort. It truly was an amazing experience.

Some of the amazing views from the climb

I started back down from the top about 8:30AM and already the crowds were starting to build. By the time I reached the ground, it was wall to wall with people. If you want photos without hoards of tourists getting in the way, I definitely recommend an early start. I rushed back to my hotel to check out and then made the journey back to Osaka. That afternoon, I met up with the gang, who’d had a different yet equally fab time on their various adventures. We caught the boat back to Beppu and arrived home 0700 on Monday morning, just in time for school. A dumping of bags, a very quick shower, an even quicker downing of coffee and before we knew it, we were already back on the bus up the mountain ready to start the new school quarter.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Oh Tokyo… damn you’ve got some wicked style

A throwback ‘Ohayo’ from Tokyo! ❤

It’s been a week and a half since we returned home from the big smoke and already we are longing to be back there again. I can’t tell you how much I love Tokyo! It’s so busy and crazy and energetic; you can’t help but get swept up the madness.

Last time I wrote we had just arrived in Shibuya and I was smashing down a Starbucks reading to begin some adventuring. We finished school on the Friday and took the bus to Oita Aiport that night, arriving at Narita just after 10PM. Got to the hostel at Shibuya around 00:30 and stayed up until the very wee hours eating and drinking in a local late opening restaurant. I have to say I dig the hostels in Japan. Most follow the capsule vibe and have pull across curtains which is great for some extra privacy. They also have towels, sockets for your chargers and lockers for your important stuff. Then there is the shower… Oh the shower… I think I died and went to heaven, I swear.

Screen Shot 2017-05-31 at 10.27.03 AM

Shibuya Crossing ❤

I have to admit AP4 showers are a little lacklustre however I was under the impression prior to coming to Japan that we had communal bathrooms, so I was eternally grateful to find one in my room and will not complain about it. Saying that, it is admittedly a bit rubbish. The bath (like everything in Japan) is tiny, and also weirdly deep so it feels like you are clambering into a trench when you get in. The water spray of the shower itself could be best described as going ‘out’ rather than ‘down’, and it’s practically an art form to be able to arrange the taps so not to boil your skin from your bones. This mental test does wake me up first thing however and I don’t need to share the experience with other people from my floor, a fact that I count my blessings for every morning. Anyways, long story just as long, I was very excited to find a proper power-shower in the hostel lol (easily pleased hey?)

Screen Shot 2017-06-04 at 11.50.44 AM

Our super kawaii AP4 bath 😛

I digress.. where was I? Oh yes. So we were super happy with the hostel and it was only a 15 minute walk from downtown Shibuya and great coffee (and not Starbucks thank god). I spent Saturday morning down at the Tsukiji Fish market which was fantastically busy and exciting!. There was so much delicious food to eat and crazy seafood to look at while you try to keep out of the merchants way.

Some delicious treats at the market!

After the fish market, I went to the royal palace and then went in search for something to eat. After a little walk, I saw a queue coming out of a restaurant and (being British and innately obsessed with queuing), I joined it. The difficulty was that when I got to the front of the queue, you had to pay before you went in and the pictureless menu was only in Japanese. Thankfully, I was saved as someone walked passed the door with a tray so I was able to point to his bowl and gesture that I would have the same. Still unsure what I ordered, I was ushered to a kitchen area and given the most enormous plate of noodles I had ever seen, a bowl of spicy looking sauce and an egg. Turns out I had ended up in a stand up noodle bar which was famous in the area. There aren’t any seats so you just shuffle into a spare space at the bar and slurp to your hearts content. It was delicious and once I had a very full stomach and messy shirt, it was time to get on my way.

The slurp-ier you are, the better it is! 

Met up with the gang again that evening for dinner and cocktails in Roppongi, followed by a cheeky 3am icecream on the way home. The next day I was up early and happened upon an awesome coffee shop in the backstreets of Shibuya. Funnily enough I ran into three Melburnians in there; I don’t know how we do it, it’s like we have a sixth sense for good espresso no matter where we are. Went to visit the Meji Shrine and walked up to Harajuku for an afternoon of delicious snacks and crazy clothes shopping. Favourite purchase has to be the psychedelic fluro dinosaur and laser-eyed cat t-shirt. Much Japan.

Met the guys again later that afternoon and we made the long weary trip back to Narita airport, before back home to Beppu. Once home, we were officially in finals week so there was no more putting off the work for holidays. Most of our group reports were due and exams were dotted over the last few days of the quarter so the last week has been spent holed up on level two for some desperate cramming. Since most of the house is down there together, there was lots of impromptu late night trips for coffee and icecream and plenty of sleep deprived banter to keep us going through the night!

Screen Shot 2017-05-31 at 11.10.07 AM

Back to Beppu!

Screen Shot 2017-05-31 at 11.11.18 AM

Level 2 study dungeon isnt too bad!

Anyways, I’ll leave it here. Best get back to studying I guess 😛

Off to Osaka at next week so I will check in again after the weekend. Until then, wish me luck with finals; providing I can stay awake, all should hopefully go okay (caffeine gods willing).

Have a great weekend!

xo