Christmas in NYC

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Christmas is probably my favourite time of the year. I love the Christmas vibe that lasts the whole month, decorating, carols, concerts etc. I obviously also love the food and laziness of the holiday, meaning all I have to do is sit around drinking tea and eating mince pies for at least a week. I also know that it’s guaranteed that all my siblings (who are in the country) will come home for Christmas.


Canadian Pacific Holiday Train

This meant that one of the things I was most worried about when coming to Canada was what to do about Christmas. Since we only had 2 weeks break I decided it wasn’t worth it to come home, so had decided from August I would be staying. I expected to stay in Calgary with my flatmates, but I was extremely lucky and grateful to be able to stay with some relatives in Boston and New York over the holidays.


Christmas in Flat 209

This led to me ‘adulting’ – I successfully sorted out my flights, transport from Boston to NYC, travel insurance and visa myself, which may seem pretty standard but there’s a first time for everything. After successfully getting through customs in Calgary (where I declared my sweets, chocolate and tea, making the border agent laugh) I survived my first solo flight (managing to get stuck in the window seat for 4 hours while my two neighbours fell asleep) and promptly started panicking because everything I had read online about coming into the US hadn’t happened (in case you don’t know me, I stress very easily)


Canada covered in snow



I stayed with my cousins in Boston for a couple of days between finishing my exams and Christmas Eve, which had terrible weather but was still great. Here are a couple of things I did:

  • Seeing Harvard University
  • Walked around Cambridge: It still creeps me out a bit seeing British names in North America, so going to Cambridge was a little confusing. I loved walking round a small, old, red brick town, which made me feel nostalgic and very similar to home, especially after 4 months of living in a city
  • Boston Common: This was beautiful, even in the pouring rain, with statues, trees and an ice skating rink
  • Chinatown


    Boston Common

Christmas in Brooklyn

I moved over to Brooklyn to stay with some more relatives on the 23rd. I really enjoyed getting to know different sides of my family (obviously as they live in the US it’s hard to see them, and until now I’ve spent a grand total of one afternoon with them) and they knew everywhere to show me around. We did a lot of Christmassy stuff (lots of tea, films and late mornings), and also went to a lot of cafes, restaurants and ice cream places, which suited me perfectly, as well as doing some sightseeing. I spent Christmas here, with loads of my extended family, which made it a really nice first Christmas away from home. Some of my favourite food I tried include:4DB36FAA-711F-4FF6-ACCC-2B25011DBDE4

  • 10 Below Ice Cream: Rolled ice cream with unlimited topping
  • Grilled Cheese at an American diner: This is basically a fried cheese toastie, but seems to be a must have in America
  • New York Bagels: They’re basically big bagels, but again a must
  • Frozen Yoghurt: My cousins were baffled that I’d never tried this, and I have to say it was pretty awesome
  • Cake Pop: I don’t know if this is an American wide thing, but cake pops to me mean a small ball of cake on a stick, but I experienced three layers of cake, ‘frosting’ and topping, which was also incredible

NYE Fireworks

New Year in Manhattan

After spending nearly a week in Brooklyn, I moved to my Great-Aunt and Uncle’s in Manhattan. It was really cool to be able to stay in different areas of New York, and I was staying next to Central Park and with easy access to basically all the sights in Manhattan, which was awesome. I mostly spent my time here going to museums and sightseeing, and being fed extremely well by my aunt and uncle. I managed to meet up with a friend from home and I spent New Year with her and a couple of her friends watching the fireworks in Central Park, which was incredible but extremely cold. Some of my favourite things I did (other than the fireworks) were:


This felt like a very NYC view

  • Seeing and going over the Manhattan and Brooklyn Bridges
  • Taking the Staten Island Ferry to look at the Statue of Liberty and the amazing view of downtown Manhattan from the water (and pretending I was in Spiderman: Homecoming)
  • The view of Manhattan from the top of the Freedom Tower, and the 9/11 Memorial, both of which were extremely humbling
  • Ridiculous Christmas lights in Dyker Heights
  • Wandering through Central Park
  • The Cooper-Hewitt, The Met and The Guggenheim

Overall, my break was pretty incredible, and something I definitely did not expect when I decided to come on a year abroad. It was quite tough being so far away from home and seeing all my friends meeting up back home, but I am so glad I decided to do something different, and I’m especially so glad I managed to meet some more of my family. As well as doing my first solo travelling, it was also the most amount of time I’ve lived in the centre of a city (other than Durham, which is quite anomalous) and I loved exploring on my own, even though it was strange not having a white Christmas after being surrounded by snow for most of the last 3 months. New York at Christmastime was pretty awesome, but spending time with family (even if they were different family to those I’d normally spend it with) was my highlight of Christmas for sure.


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One Month In

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So the title is a bit of a lie because I’ve been in Canada almost 7 weeks

Campus covered in snow
on the 1st October!)

now, but 1.5 months in didn’t sound as good… but there are still situations that take my breath away. A couple of weeks ago we woke up to a covering of snow, and walking to my 9am was actually enjoyable, wrapped up in loads of layers with fresh white snow on the ground but the trees were still autumnal, bright orange with some green.

The International Centre have put on a couple of trips and events, and the Greyhound Buses are pretty good for exploring by yourself. We’ve visited Banff, Canmore and Lake Louise in the Rocky Mountains, which as an area is just amazing. The scenery, lakes surrounded by huge mountains with the tops covered in snow with forests all around is incredible – and having the opportunity to explore this place is awesome.


Lake Louise

Lake Louise

We planned this trip ourselves to go out and explore the Rockies a bit – it involved waking up stupidly early to get a taxi to the Greyhound bus station, where we were all pretty blurry eyed (understandably). The bus journey was about 2.5 hours, stopping in a couple of places along the way. This was my first look at an area of Canada outside a city and it was pretty cool! We basically drove in a straight line for an hour or so, and once we got out of the city we were in the ‘plains’, where it’s almost


Waterfall at the top of Lake Louise

completely flat and on either side it just goes on until the horizon. Once we got a bit further out of town you could start to see snow capped mountains in the distance, which was an amazing view.

Lake Louise itself is a beautiful lake surrounded by mountains and forests and other smaller lakes. We took the regular tourist photos at Lake Louise before hiking up to Lake Agnes. This was our first experience of going up and we’re at altitude here so it was pretty tough going, but eating our lunch by the side of a lake looking out over the valley with chipmunks (potentially) was running around next to us made it worth it!



Flat 209 at Sulphur Mountain

This was a trip put on by the International Student Service. Banff is about two hours outside Calgary in the Rockies, most buildings are wood and the aesthetics are cool. We walked down to some pretty cool rapids before taking the (extremely wobbly) Cable Car (confusingly called a Gondola) up Sulphur Mountain. The views from the top were absolutely incredible and the Aussies got very excited by the snow at the top which was fun to watch, especially when


Aussies + Bea intrigued by Snow

you encourage them to hold the snow with no gloves for a photo. We decided it would be good to walk down instead of taking the cable car, which led to an extremely precarious though hilarious couple of hours – we’d seen the snow on the paths on the way up but didn’t register that by 2pm a lot of people would have walked on it, meaning it was very packed down and practically ice, on a very steep and tall mountain, and only one of us was wearing appropriate shoes. Overall it was on one of my highlights so far!



Lunch with a View

This was another outing that a couple of us arranged ourselves (ie we booked a Greyhound bus). Another ridiculously early morning was rewarded again with the views over the Plains and the rockies – we drove past the 1988 Olympic Park and seeing the ski jump (think Eddie the Eagle) was pretty cool!

When we arrived we spent a while trying to work out where to go (Canmore is like Banff but ‘less touristy’ – meaning the tourist office is a 40 minute walk outside the centre of town, which we weren’t that keen on… we eventually found


our bearing and got a bus to the start of a hike up to Grassi Lakes, which was my favourite walk I’ve done so far. We walked through the forest (amid bear warnings) and every so often got a view through the trees over the valley and Canmore town, and as we got higher the view got better each time. We were following a waterfall the whole way up and the lakes at the top were incredible – the colour was pretty unbelieavable, and sitting on a rock with mates looking over the best view I’ve had so far was a definite highlight of my 6 weeks here. What made it great as well was almost constant snow flurries throughout the day – it’s like drizzle back home, just constantly there but not bothering your day – but snow drizzle is much more fun than rain drizzle, and again it got the Aussies excited!



View from the World’s Largest Dinosaur

This was another ISS planned trip, and it was pretty cool, but not really what we expected. First stop was the dinosaur museum, which had certain fun bits (e.g. the interactive children’s activities) but wasn’t really what we’d signed up for and it was a really sunny day outside so it felt a bit annoying to be stuck inside. We walked a little bit through the hoodoos outside the museum before we all got take back into town to climb the World’s Largest Dinosaur which was again cool but a little weird. Walking round town was strange as well – apparently it was a typical Albertan town, and it was pretty small and quiet – though there were 22+ dinosaur statues dotted around the town (including a batman one). We then got



taken to a suspension bridge above an old mine before going to the main Hoodoo area, which were my favourite bit. These are some kind of tall rock, and basically we were let loose on them and climbed/ scrambled up to the top which showed Hoodoos stretching on for pretty long way! Coming down was pretty exciting… it was basically lose dirt, meaning we pretty much just slid down the entire thing. The bus journey back was basically the Brits trying to wind up the Aussies as much as possible and arguing about whether British or Australian things were better (e.g. vegetate vs marmite, weetabix vs weetbix etc.) which I think made every single other person on the bus hate us.

Obviously I’ve been working as well – I’ve been able to do subjects that I wouldn’t be able to do at Durham, so I’m studying some history modules as well some Kinesiology subjects that can link in to my degree which is a real benefit to being on a year abroad, since you can explore things you can’t necessarily learn at Durham to expand your degree programme, but you can also do some electives (though it obviously depends on your faculty)! I’ve also done a couple of little things, like ice skating, incredibly tense bingo games and watched Canadian Football, Ice Hockey and Field Hockey matches. I’ve seen the weather turn from 25 degrees and sunny to -6 in 3 days, and I’ve eaten way too much pizza. It definitely hasn’t been plain sailing for the last 7 months, but it has been pretty awesome.

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Almost there…

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It’s now less than one week until I leave for my year abroad in Canada. It’s finally starting to sink in, after a busy summer where I didn’t really have time to think about it. I am now in the middle of a two week period of attempting to make sure I have everything done on time – before I left to do my various summer activities I was pretty sure I was on top of preparations, but now I’m not so sure… Continue reading

What it feels like to be spending a final two weeks in Tokyo

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This year has been the most intensely amazing year of my life without contest. I came to Tokyo hoping and expecting to fulfil all of my childhood and academic dreams. I wanted to shop in Harajuku, become a regular on some of the most famous streets in the world for pop culture, take Japanese trains, eat rice every day, and see my favourite Japanese artists in the flesh. I wanted to visit centuries old temples and shrines, understand Japanese religion, learn about Buddhism and the philosophies of ancient Asia. That was where I was at. But where am I at now?

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We went to Korea!

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Being in Japan for a year, it seems silly not to take the opportunity to bob over to (South) Korea. And we did! For a long weekend of Korean fun.
The Republic of Korea is only two hours from Tokyo by plane as Japan’s closest neighbour. Although the two countries have shared many of the same cultures throughout history (Indian and Chinese philosophies and religions as well as the kanji writing system all passed through Korea from China to get to Japan in the past, and during the colonisation of Korea by Japan Japanese culture was forcibly imposed there to a large degree), today they have many stark cultural differences, and the Republic Korea maintains itself as a unique nation with a rich individual culture. Although me and Emily were only there for four days, this was really apparent!  Continue reading

Nice Things About Japanese Society

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I recently made a post about things in Japan that aren’t amazing. When a country’s problems are summarised and presented to you one after another like that, it can probably be quite off-putting. So this one is about the aspects of Japanese society that stand out to me as particularly nice and not scary. Sometimes, regardless of its underlying serious problems, Tokyo seems kinda like an actual utopia compared to the UK. Continue reading

Commuter life

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Commuting is something that we definitely do not have to do in Durham. Tokyo, however, is very different. The city is the size of the entirety of Yorkshire, and it’s very common for people to be travelling for about an hour to get to work or school.

For me, living in West Tokyo, it takes around forty minutes to get to Komaba campus and around an hour ten to get to Hongo campus. You might be like ‘WHAAAAAATTTT’, but it’s actually okay. For starters, it’s a taste of REAL LIFE away from Durham, the city in which we come to expect everything to be on our doorstep. It’s also the case that while in Durham we’d go to class and go home, at U Tokyo campus life thrives and lots of people stay on campus for a good chunk of the day. AND once you’re done with class, you can stop by some of the most awesome locations in the world for a shop or a drink before going home (Komaba campus is walking distance from Shibuya and Harajuku, and Hongo campus is right by the famous Ueno park as well as being close to Akihabara and loads of other cool places – it is seriously super awesome).  Continue reading