The One a Year On

A year ago yesterday, I was sitting in the departure lounge of Manchester airport.

Balancing a honey sandwich on one armrest, my phone (mid-charge) on the other, I pulled my laptop out of my hand luggage, perched it on my lap and quickly drafted a blog post entitled ‘The One Before the Flight’.

I can remember vividly the nauseating mix of emotion churning up my insides, the concerns and excitements rattling around in my head. I remember my hands shaking a little bit as I typed, still overawed and emotional from the tearful goodbye to Mum. In the original post, I compare my feelings to getting my A levels, to ad-libing a speech in front of an assembly hall at school – to driving up to my accomodation on my first day at Exeter. I was sad, a little bit, to be leaving home behind, but that feeling was mostly swamped by the thrill that I was finally going. I felt in many ways like I’d already left. I’d been living for the departure day for months, counting down for weeks, spending my last day at home drifting aimlessly around the village, acutely feeling like I didn’t belong.

“I can’t believe I’m finally here,” I wrote. “I’ll see you on the other side.”

And here we are. On the other side. A year on since I moved to Canada for 10 months, and now just over two weeks before I go back to Exeter to begin my final year of formal education.

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The One With A Guide On How (Not) To Roadtrip America

Road-tripping across a decent portion of the United States in the summer following my year abroad in Ottawa was a pipe dream of mine from the start.

Bumping along a road closer to resembling a dirt track than any highway, music blaring, the windows rolled down, with Monument Valley looming on the horizon; I’m not quite sure where this image came from, but by gosh, the idea stuck. It stuck, gained roots, and grew, branching off into a whole, insane, ridiculous vision. I wanted to see not only Monument Valley, but the Grand Canyon and the Valley of the Gods. I was also desperate to visit San Francisco, which I’d heard so much about, and hike through Yosemite National Park. I also thought, as an added bonus, it might be quite lovely to take the iconic coastal road up from California to Seattle, but these, I thought, were all pretty fanciful ideas. My family,  friends, and even I doubted they’d actually happen.

Except, when dates began falling into place, and Emily and my best friend from home expressed an interest in joining me for parts of the journey, the dream gradually grew into plan. We could rent a car, stay in airbnbs and hostels, and actually do this.

In the end, my road trip comprised of two parts, over 4 weeks. The first section was an insane cross-country trek, from Colorado Springs to San Francisco, via the Grand Canyon, Zion National Park, Las Vegas and Yosemite. The second, after a few days recovering in San Francisco, was north up the coast – largely sticking to the famous 101 coastal road. This section of the trip took us through the famous Redwoods, past beautiful ocean overlooks, into Portland, and finally up to Seattle, which was my final stop. I kept track of the mileage counters of the three cars we travelled in, from Colorado to Seattle, and the final distance clocked in at 3,896 miles. I know. Mental.

If I’m honest, nearly one month on from the end of the trip, it still feels like a dream. I still can’t talk about it at any length without grinning from ear to ear. It was the most epic, incredible, challenging and freeing experience of my entire life, and capped off my year in a way like no other.

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Living a ‘pinch-me-this-isn’t-real’ moment

It was also an adventure that required (and certainly benefitted from) an extensive amount of planning and research. I think we were about halfway through Death Valley, having cracked into our second water gallon jug and discussing how grateful we were to have invested in them, that I started a list on my phone of roadtrip hints and tips – inspired by our good decisions, and less good ones. I thought I’d share them here, as a starting point for anyone considering their own road trip adventure, especially in the States (because honestly, I can’t recommend it enough.)

13 of Tess’ Top Roadtrip Tips

1. How to get started – it’s all in the planning.

Faced with an enormous list of things we wanted to do, an indefinite amount of time and a fairly decent budget (goodbye lifetime savings, this was what you were being saved for) – the world was our oyster. Which was terrifying. Cue roadtrippers.com, which was a fantastic way for us to start our planning. You plug in your start and end destination, and then can add things you want to see on the way as detours. Even better, once you’ve got your basic route, you can filter suggestions of other things near your route that might not have come up in your research. Our next stage of planning was one mega Google Doc, with shared editing accessibility. That way, we could add independently ideas for food, things to do, and potential accommodations. Accommodation incidentally, was decided in a very simple way; find a town, roughly every 2-3 hours of driving, unless there was an exception, and find somewhere to stay. This meant our driving wasn’t unreasonably insane each day, though we did break this rule on some occasions, to allow for a full day at the Grand Canyon and in Zion National Park.  Continue reading

The One With A Guide to Studying in Canada

We’re only halfway through the first week of second semester and I am already prepared to sleep for approximately 4 years. My timetable is giving me an absolute headache (who thought it would be a good idea for students to build their own timetable, WHO I ASK), being back in the swing of 2-hour daily basketball practices is a toughie, and on top of it all the weather is all over the place (-19? Sure. Plus 4 the next day even though you’re dressed appropriately for the Arctic? Why not.)

Fortunately, Light Of My Life Emily has returned from England, and we’re setting about trying to motivate ourselves to plan ahead Fun Things. That has so far taken place in the form of booking our flights and accommodation to Boston for February reading week (!!), and Emily looking up weekend day-trips to Mont Tremblant. January Blues are definitely a real thing, and with the prospect of an entire semester stretching out ahead of us and a seemingly-infinite amount of time until I see my family again, I’m feeling them all the more this year.

Nonetheless, I know this is a transient time. I’ll get over it. The weather probably won’t improve for a while yet, but my class situation will (eventually), and I really am actually very excited for the basketball season ahead.

This time of year is also a pretty major one for future year abroaders. It’s around now that you start submitting your applications; Emily received an email only the other day from an Exeter student asking for more information about Ottawa. With that in mind, I thought it appropriate to draft a brief, practical guide on studying in Canada to anyone out there considering it. I may not be a born and bred Canadian, but having lived in the country for going on 5 months I’m pretty well acquainted at this point, and know what aspects coming from the UK I found particularly challenging.

Please note: I’m by no means an expert! This guide is based entirely on my personal experience, and although I say a guide to ‘Canada’ it really is specific to Ottawa and Ontario. I’m making a few assumptions that the educational experience and cultural nuances I’ve picked up in the capital are broadly similar across the country.

Why Canada?

Incredible scenery, enormous variety, thriving culture, immense diversity and a pretty hot liberal PM to top it off – Canada is in many ways the #NationGoals of the Americas as Scandinavia and the Netherlands are in Europe. There’s a reason Canada has topped multiple rankings (from both the New York Times and Lonely Planet) as the number 1 country to visit in 2017; it’s beautiful, sprawling, and a darn sight cheaper than the US. It’s an officially bilingual country, so English-speakers feel at home with a healthy dose of French on the side, and from Niagara Falls and Lake Louise to Vancouver and Quebéc City, there’s plenty to see and explore for nature and city-lovers alike. I have been lucky enough to visit BC many times, and it’s honestly one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been, but I am loving living in Ottawa too. Being in the capital especially has made me aware of several subtle notions of national identity. Namely, Canada feels uniquely different to the UK as there’s a feeling that as a country it’s just getting started. This year will see the Canada celebrate it’s 150th, which by European standards is pretty young, but there’s a strong sense that the 21st century is going to be Canada’s time to really shine.

Now, enough nice adjectives and ~feelings~ in favour of some more practical advice. Continue reading

Why should you Study Abroad?

A while back, before Easter, I had my good Syrian friend from my national side basketball team round for dinner, and we eventually got onto the topic of why I wouldn’t be playing with the team next year. I explained the whole commitment to year abroad, how I would be studying at a Canadian university and playing basketball there if I could, and that I’d be back for my final year at Exeter.

In my room I have a map of the world up on the wall, and it was at this point she got up and put one finger on the UK and the other on Ottawa, frowning at the huge expanse of the Atlantic between the two.

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The map on my bedroom wall

“And you have no family or friends there? You know nobody?”

“Well, I’ve an aunt in Vancouver on the other side of the country, but other than that, no not really. No one in my family has ever been to Ontario.”

“So you will be all on your own? Have to make all new friends?”

“Yep! Pretty much.”

“Tessa – why would you do this?!”

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Where on Earth should you go?

Obviously, a huge part of deciding to study abroad is choosing where exactly you’d like to go. The partnerships your university already has in place will limit you somewhat, but it remains a bloody huge decision. In this post I’ll be talking through how I decided where to go, and what you should bear in mind when making the decision yourself.

At Exeter, each college is linked to a number of universities around the world. These are generally the same across subjects but there can be some variation; University of Toronto was right up on my wish list until I realised it was only available for English students (boooo). For History there was a decent spread, covering everywhere from China to Sweden, but as I’ve already said, with my not-so-great grasp of languages, I’d already set my sights on somewhere English speaking, and preferably outside Europe. When I submitted my study abroad application, I had 8 slots to put down my options. In the end I only went for 5, deciding not  to use up my slots with places I wasn’t super keen on just for the sake of it. In order of preference these were:

  1. The University of Ottawa, Canada
  2. The University of Sydney, Aus.
  3. The University of New South Wales, Sydney, Aus.
  4. The University of Adelaide, Aus.
  5. The University of Perth, Aus.

(I know, pretty Australia weighted wasn’t I?)

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Why I decided to Study Abroad

Warning: gratuitous backstory (I’m not a very concise blog-writer, just a heads up. I’m working on it.)

Me as a critically awkward bean on my first day at school

Growing up I always considered myself a bit of an introverted home-bird. Not so much in that I was shy, but more in that I was the type to use “my Mum said I can’t, sorry!” as an excuse to get out of birthday party invites, and that I always looked forward to being back in my own bed after holidays, no matter how nice a time we’d had. As I’ve gotten older though, my outlook has shifted. Going to university 200 miles away from home and having to build everything from scratch; friendships, academic record, my meagre cooking skills, was a bit of a turning point I think. I had to adjust to Exeter being my home, and though it was hard going at first, I eventually did, and now honestly love it to bits. I started to realise that home, really, could be wherever in the world I decided to make it.

My keenness for travel however, despite always loving home, was a whole other ball game. I am in no doubt at all that I was very lucky growing up, with regular family holidays to North Wales, France and other European destinations, and a few incredible trips to Canada to visit my Mum’s sister living north of Vancouver.  Continue reading