how to (barely) survive orientation week

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On the day of my departure I boarded the Eurostar, sat at my window seat and waited for the train to leave St Pancras. Instead of admiring the French countryside speeding past my window as I waited to arrive in Brussels, my primary thought had been “Did I remember to pack my toothbrush?” (I didn’t.)

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The journey was an interesting one: I only finished packing 15 minutes before I had to leave to catch my train, the journey to St Pancras was spent reassuring my mother that yes, at the age of 20 years old I am able to travel by myself and only a few minutes before departure did I manage to lug my suitcases onto the correct platform. It was slightly chaotic, thought notably without any major mishaps. These seemed to begin during orientation week.

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I am particularly prone to making mistakes, so the initial week of my year abroad has been no different. Speaking from personal experience, here is a list of five things not to do prior to starting your year abroad in Belgium:

1. Don’t leave packing ’til the last minute.

If it seems like an overwhelming task to pack everything up to be shipped off for a year abroad, thats probably because it is. It might seem blindingly obvious that you should not pack all of your belongings needed for a whole year in Europe the night before, but alas I never learn. At 2am on the morning I was travelling, I found myself frantically googling “Will I need my food processor?”, something you would find only a totally underprepared exchange student doing. Help yourselves out – avoid the unnecessary stress and pack your bags at least a week or two in advance!

2. Keep track of essentials!

Don’t lose your phone! Obvious? Yes. Highly unlikely to occur if you are not a total scatterbrain? Also yes. Did this happen to me? Unfortunately.

 

Being in a foreign city without google maps has shown me how dependant I am on the internet for everything: navigation, registering for my courses, knowing the orientation day timetable, communicating with those back home as well as everyone I’ve met here. After we had a pizza to commiserate my loss, I walked home and was off the grid for 24 hours (until I very luckily had my phone returned to me!) Travelling might be frazzling, but keep track of your essentials such as your passport and phone.

3. Do not believe the myth that because you are only across the Channel, you won’t struggle with the cultural differences as much.

I was aware that the language would be different, and the food and the people. I just thought that as a European way of life I would understand it fairly easily and adapt to it. I was very much mistaken.

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I have probably almost collided with every one of these bikes on my walk to lectures.

Belgians go home from university every weekend to visit their families. The university has ‘kotnet’ which is not as simple to sign up for as eduroam in England – it’s taken me five days to register, activate my number for internet, get my head around it, install a router, and I still do not have wifi in my room.  Everyone rides bikes. You’ll get almost run over at least five times during your first week. The shops are closed on a Sunday, and close at 5pm everyday. Sometimes I feel like I’m in the twilight zone.

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Overall, just be aware that you will encounter a very different culture on your year abroad no matter where you go, and you’ll be confused at first but ultimately end up loving it – after all how could anyone not when the Belgians are famous for their waffles, fries and beer!

4. Read your housing contract.

Please. Don’t turn up and realise that your room doesn’t come with a mattress.  Just read it – you’ll make your orientation week go a whole lot smoother if you turn up with everything you need.

5. Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there.

Everyone will tell you that a year abroad is a difficult experience. I was told multiple times before going how lonely and stressed I would be, how difficult it was to make friends and how alienated they felt living in another country. I haven’t experienced any of these problems so far, but maybe it’s just because I’m on a freshers week high, because we had an orientation week to help settle us in or because the number of international students in KU Leuven is extremely high. Regardless of the reasons, I am really happy that I took a chance and applied to Erasmus on a whim.

Exploring Queenstown

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Hello again,

The mid-semester break has rolled around already in Dunedin and I had the opportunity to spend a few days in Queenstown.

Queenstown sits on the shore of Lake Wakatipu, nestled amongst some of the smaller peaks in the Southern Alps. It is a beautiful and picturesque town well known for being the ‘adventure capital’ of the world. As someone who tends to avoid anything that makes my stomach do flips riding the chairlift up the mountain when we went skiing was enough adventure and adrenaline for me!

But as well as classic bungee jumping or running off the side of the mountains for parachuting there are plenty of other things that I got up to when I visited with my flatmates last week and I’m going to share a few of my favourites Continue reading

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

A (Belated) 春节 Chinese New Year in Hong Kong

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Loyal readers (so, probably only my mother) I owe you an apology. Why? Because I have failed, quite comprehensively, to do anything out of the ordinary this Chinese New Year (春节 – Chūn Jié), much to my chagrin. I’ve been a boring Hong Kong tourist.

It wasn’t for lack of trying though. Promise. Continue reading

Reading Week Myanmar Trip: Part II

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N.B. This post is the follow-up to Part I, covering the second half of our week in Myanmar. 

Nearly 5 million people visited Myanmar last year, compared with just 800,000 in 2010. The rise of tourism here has been rapid here and the people are clearly still transitioning to new ways of life. American dollars (which must be crisp, unfolded and unmarked bills if they’re to be accepted!) are flooding the economy – probably for the worst. One of the positive effects of so much foreign money though is the potential for the restoration and preservation of the beautiful sites and sights of Myanmar. ‘Entry fees’ charged at the boundaries to archaeological areas, such as the 12,500 kyat we paid to enter Lake Inle (Inlay) and the surrounding land are one such way this money is being put to good use by the government. Continue reading

How a Year Abroad can make you Happy – Derren Brown and Stoicism

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If you’re not a philosopher, then Derren Brown’s new book, Happy: Why More or Less Everything is Absolutely Fine, may be a pleasant surprise. It’s an accessible foray into stoicism, an ancient greek philosophy that’s gaining momentum in the modern day amongst philosophers and non-philosophers alike. Returning to Hong Kong this week, one element of stoicism that he touched on seemed particularly poignant in the context of a year abroad: appreciating those things in our lives that we take for granted. I want to explore, briefly, how a year abroad can facilitate such reflexive activity. Continue reading

My first semester: an interim report

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Wouldn’t you think that four months in a city is enough time to explore it and do all the things you want to do? Well, it is not.

16 weeks in Paris and there are still so many places I haven’t been to despite wanting to go, museums that I have not yet visited and bars I haven’t tried yet.Luckily there are another four months in Paris waiting for me when I return in January. Continue reading