4 days, 6 hours, 3 minutes, 20 seconds and counting

Back in 6th form like many other students I was really confused about what to do after A levels: everyone seemed to be going to university and I had no idea if this is what I wanted to do and if it was; What would I study?, Where would I go?

After looking at many different courses I decided that I wanted to study Environmental Science, but I still had to decide where I wanted to go. I have always loved to travel and so when I read the prospectus for Lancaster University the opportunity to study abroad in my second year was too good to miss. All I had to do now was to achieve AAB in my A levels and 60% in my first year at Lancaster.

It didn’t seem like I was at Lancaster two minutes before it came around to end of exam celebrations and now after achieving the grades I need I am going to be flying out to Calgary in less than a week! I keep telling  people that I’m going to Canada on the 4th of September (I feel like I’ve said it a million times) but I still don’t believe it! I keep saying that I’m so excited but the truth is I don’t really feel like it’s actually going to happen! There’s been so much to sort out this summer; flights, accommodation, visas and trying to decide what I need to take with me!! I’ve just been making so many lists and hoping that I don’t forget anything important!

After barely having any room left in the car when I went to Lancaster last year I didn’t think I would fit all my stuff in a suitcase! I haven’t quite managed to fit everything in a suitcase but here are the two I packed this morning!!!

Lydia Cowell_Suitcase

I have been a bit unsure on how cold it’s going to be, temperatures in the winter can fall to -10 degrees but everyone seems to say that it’s a ‘different’ cold to Europe (Whatever that means!?) Anyway I know there is going to be lots of snow so I have my ski jacket, my salopettes and these snow boots that I got the other day!!!
Lydia Cowell Sallopetts

I am going to be flying out to Calgary on Sunday (my first ever time going abroad on my own!!), I’ve managed to get a direct flight from Manchester which I’m glad about. I am going to be 4,222 miles away from home, a lot further than the 1.5 hour journey to Lancaster!!

I’ve never been to Canada, or even North America before so I don’t really know what to expect but I’m very excited to travel into the Rockies and maybe even learn how to ski!! Calgary is known as ‘Cowtown’ for the Wild West culture and the world-famous stampede that happens every July (Unfortunately I won’t be there for it though 🙁 ) I am really excited about exploring the city, there’s quite a lot to see; Calgary tower, the zoo, the Olympic park….

Lydia Cowell_Calgary

This week is going to be full of goodbyes and the stress of getting ready to go but hopefully it will all be worth it!!
I’ll keep you all updated on my travels
Until next time,
Lydia x

The 101 survival guide of being an exchange student – part 3

3) Don’t be afraid to be a tourist, get travelling. One of the most difficult challenges you’ll face as a study abroad student is the fine line between seeing the country you’re living in and getting good second year grades. During ‘Reading Week’ I did no reading at all as the name suggests and got the Greyhound all the way to Vancouver. I spent the week soaking up some rays and sightseeing. I don’t regret anything and ended up doing just fine. As soon as I got back I was straight in again with my work. Some weekends I really wanted to go travelling but remember you have time either before term starts or afterwards to go and cross some landmarks off your list.

Image of Vancouver

4) Take modules that you usually wouldn’t get the opportunity too. My study abroad advisor suggested this to me. As long as you’ve matched up the core modules that you’ll be doing in Lancaster then there isn’t much of a problem if you want to do a few wild and wacky ones. I did the whole geography of Canada so now I’m some sort of expert! It was really good to take modules offered by another university as much as the content that I did was focused on Canada and other North American cities specifically, so I found it really interesting to learn about the region I was living in. Nerdy I know.

5) Get a little part-time job. It’s the best way to meet new people and as a study abroad student it’s much easier to get a job on campus because most visas allow this rather than having to apply to work off campus and left waiting. I worked at two little Starbucks stores on campus. Nearly all of my colleagues were students so we had a great laugh taking the mic out of each other’s accents. They didn’t know what I meant by ‘rubbish’ and apparently I was saying ‘mocha’ wrong. I got discount off drinks and a guaranteed laugh. Those extra Canadian dollars also helped to fund my travelling!

Image of Laura working inStarbucks

6) Date an ice hockey player! This last tip is a joke. However I did date an ice hockey player during my time in Canada (hehe). If you don’t get the opportunity to date one (not that you’d want too, they embarrass you beyond words when they take you on a date ice skating), then attending ice hockey games is just as fun. The fans from both teams actually mix together and you can get unlimited hot dogs and beer. Watch out for the ‘dome beer’ though at the Saddledome, that stuff is lethal and you’ll be drunk after just one sip! The atmosphere is amazing at the hockey games and I know the Canadian National Anthem off by heart now. “Oh Canada…”

I hope that this mini guide has helped any of you considering doing a year abroad or are already down to do a year abroad, you lucky sods! I’m green with envy and I’ve only been back for a few months now.  If you want know any more then you’ll probably find me in Bowland bar, although as a third year student I should now be in the library until the early hours of the morning with my duvet and 5 empty cans of Relentless. I know that this sounds cheesy but follow your dreams and make the most of every minute during your year abroad.

Try to do things in moderation! “Work hard but play harder”, that’s something that they told me in Canada. If you do go to the University of Calgary though please be prepared for the fire alarms going off in residents. You’ll find yourself walking  to the dining centre, wrapped up in a blanket at 5am as they decide to do a fire drill. That’s the only downside of my whole trip!

The 101 survival guide of being an exchange student – part 2

So a little about the logistics! When it came to selecting my host university I only wanted to attend a Canadian university, all the US universities were crossed straight off my list, not because I dislike the US but because I’m a true Canadian at heart, get me some skis, a pint of Molsons Canadian and I’ll happily get up to some Canadian mischief!

I set about ranking the Canadian universities with exchange student places and was eventually told that I had a conditional place at the University of Calgary. So it was decided, I was going to Cowboy Country! In your first year at Lancaster you’ve got to get a minimum of a 2:1 to be able to study abroad. Getting an email confirming my first year results was the best feeling, especially as I was in Belin at the time.

Before I went away the prospect of taking 9 months worth of stuff in a single suitcase (I didn’t want to pay extra for another one because I’m tight), being away from my Mum and my friends as well as being in a ‘foreign’ country seemed very daunting. However, as soon as I started my journey to Calgary I couldn’t sit still, I was so excited I just wanted to get there. I found myself settling in straight away. I honestly had the best time of my life, so I’ve created a 101 survival guide on studying abroad so you can make the most of every opportunity like I did and things that I learned from my experience.

1) Attend all the events during O-week. O-week is our equivalent to Freshers’ Week. Here you’ll meet many freshers but you’re guaranteed to meet many other study abroad students just like yourself. You’ll find that the people that you meet in your first week will be your friends for life. Now I’ve got contacts all of the world, I have places to stay not just in Canada but in the Netherlands, France, Germany, Italy, Sweden, the list goes on. It’s often these other exchange students that’ll want to do all of the touristy stuff with you such as go up the Calgary Tower that Canadian’s have probably done 1,000x before and find boring.

Laura dressed as a banana during O-Week

2) Get in with the locals. Whilst I was in Canada they had two Thanksgiving dinners. I had nowhere to go, it wasn’t like I could fly home for an extravagant Sunday dinner. So I resorted to making friends with Canadians. It wasn’t difficult at all, I just spoke to people in my classes and I soon had a whole group of Canadian friends. Honestly they were so hospitable and warm, my friend’s Mum invited me around on numerous occasions when she’d made too much dinner!  What? I know that I should like a vulture but I’m a student that normally lives off baked beans after all!

Laura's image of Thanksgiving dinner

Please see ‘The 101 survival guide of being an exchange student – part 3’ to find out the other must-do’s!

The 101 survival guide of being an exchange student – part 1

Sitting in the computer room at sixth form I was approached by my tutor who was delivering a thrilling lesson on how to apply to university. I think that he must have seen my forehead crinkling slightly as I stared blankly at the UCAS website. The problem was that I had no idea whether I wanted to go to university or not! When I told him this, well that was it, he started to lecture me on how intelligent I was and that it would be a shame to throw away all that talent, after all I was expected to get solid A grades… But still the uncertainty…

I began to look anyway, I copied what my boyfriend at the time was doing, ordering the same prospectuses as him (Oxford, Cambridge, St. Andrews… mmm yeah I wasn’t quite sure if those places were for me and that I’d even get in, I mean getting asked to describe an egg in your admissions interview, what the hell?!) and trailing my way through the different types of geography degrees offered.

Finally a prospectus from Lancaster University was delivered through my letter box, definitely not to be frowned upon. I opened up the prospectus and to my amazement there was a three year course which involved a year studying abroad in North America. Seeing this degree was such a relief to me, I knew at once that it was what I wanted to do. Having always had the travel bug and liking Canada so much after my first ever visit I thought why not?! I guess that you shouldn’t be as spontaneous in picking your degree like that but why would I want to spend three years in one place, especially Lancaster, yes they have a castle and a cathedral but still, it isn’t for me and it rains ALL OF THE TIME… Anyway, I’m a jet setter and couldn’t wait to set off!

Early Travelling

Visiting the Rockies is the most beautiful place that I have ever been!

Currently I have been lucky enough to visit Banff National Park twice! During those times I have been to five lakes: Lake Louise, Moraine Lake, Mirror Lake, Lake Taylor and Lake O’Brien. I cannot describe to you how phenomenal the Rockies are. They lie about an hour and a half away from Calgary depending on where you are going. Approaching them for the first time made my friend cry and also took my breath away! Seen as I cannot describe the beauty of the Rockies you simply need to go and see it for yourself. The best way to see them in my opinion is through joining the Outdoor Adventurers Society, a society on campus that bands together and drives you to your destination for a small fee. We went on hikes together through the wilderness and it was the perfect opportunities to get to know people, soak up the Canadian landscape and get some fresh air.

Image of Lake Louise

Lake Louise

Image of Mirror Lake

Mirror Lake

Image of Moraine Lake in the Candian rockies

Moraine Lake

I could talk about so much more, trying to fit a months’ worth of adventurers into this one blog update is proving to be impossible! I do not write this blog to make you jealous but to inspire you to come and visit Alberta. From my experience so far Canada is an amazing country with so much to offer! I have got the feeling that I am never going to get bored here and I will be sad to leave next year. Therefore, I’m going to make the most of every minute that I spend in Calgary. I have also got a trip planned to visit Vancouver during the term’s reading week. You can get a coach service called the Greyhound from Calgary to Vancouver quite cheaply, the only problem is you will be on a coach for over 10 hours, but I am hoping it will be worth it.

I hope that you enjoyed my blog this time round.

Bye for now,

Laura x

Embracing Calgarian Culture

Firstly, please do not miss the famous wing night! Often one chicken wing costs only $0.35 on certain nights, on campus that will be Wednesday. This price is equivalent to about £0.15p and it is up to you to consume as many as you want! From teriyaki to salt and pepper, hot wings to BBQ wings the possibilities are endless! I always have wings after the gym to fix my protein cravings! YEAH! Let’s work out! Sorry, I am getting a little bit carried away here, a lot of Canadians are into being fit and healthy so I have kind of adopted this trend and regularly go to the gym on campus, which is free apart from a $25 residence charge at the start of the academic year.

Okay so me talking about hot wings is not the most interesting topic and yet again my blog has gone back to food, but now I am going to promote to you the wonderful game of hockey. I just wanted to say that I cannot believe how aggressive ice hockey is! Oh and please just call it hockey and not ice hockey because ice hockey is the only form of hockey that Canadians know. This was the first time that I have ever watched it and every time a player got slammed down into the ice, elbowed in the face or smashed into the side of the area all I could do was grit my teeth and go “oooooh!” However, I did get more into the game as it progressed and when there was a fight I joined in with the crowd and yelled in delight! I was just copying the crowd and trying to fit in. They are big guys and undoubtedly they can handle themselves. Anyway, it was a pre-season game and I watched the University of Calgary Dinos play the Calgary Flames (the city’s hockey team), unfortunately we lost 3-1 but it was an experience that I will never forget!

An image of Laura with a Candian mascot

Continuing on the sporting theme I also watched Calgary Stampeders play at the McMahon stadium one weekend. They were playing the Toronto Argonauts! We were losing badly during the first half but somehow the Stampeders managed to pull ahead in the last 5 minutes, ending the game on 40-33! I have never been so excited before, I did not think that I would like it, let alone understand the Canadian Football League but I have picked it up and now I am a little bit of an addict, I must admit. I still say football when I am on about the football leagues at home but I get reminded that it is called “soccer”, something I was not so happy to repeat. On the note of word differences, I must add that I sat in a restaurant and ordered chips the other day, I had a real craving for them! Instead I was surprised when the waitress brought me out crisps. The Canadians call chips fries and crisps are non-existent apparently, I need to say fries if I actually want chips next time, lesson learned.

Image of Laura in a cowboy hat

Okay so one last thing. Calgary is known for its chinooks, a warming wind known as the ‘ice-eater’ and varied weather patterns but the whole community was shocked by a particular event. During my second weekend in Canada I was enjoying the sunshine. I went river rafting on the Bow River and it was such a beautiful day. I was wearing my bikini and floating along the river with not a care in the world. The next day I looked out of my window and I was met by a mountain of snow outside. Now I am not a permanent snow hater but this sudden change in weather completely bewildered me! All that could be said for it by the locals was “Welcome to Calgary!” Thanks!

The City

Calgary is a great city to live in, even though the University of Calgary is bordering the city. You have to get the C-train, a light transit rail system, into downtown which takes around 15-20 minutes or there are regular bus services.

An image of the City of Calgary and bridge

The city itself is pretty cool, bordering the Bow River. There are plenty of scenic places to go jogging along the river or sunbathing during those hot days that you still get in September. The city is also very easy to navigate around, it is based on a grid system, with logical street names. If you ever get lost just look out for the Calgary Tower, trust me, you will not miss it.An image of Laura with a friend overlooking Calgary

There is plenty to do, with great night life, places to eat, sports venues, shops, cinemas and more! There is something for everyone! I would consider some of my highlights to date to be river rafting down the Bow River, eating up the Calgary Tower for my 20th birthday and going to the Saddledome to watch my first ever ice hockey game.

Halls of Residence

I love my halls of residence. You probably think that as I am in North America that I am having to share a room with another girl, but instead I live in a cute little apartment that I love and we each have our own rooms! I live with 3 other girls: Liv, Charley and Jessica. We are a right fruit-salad! Liv is from England like myself, but she laughs at how I pronounce ‘raspberries’ as my accent is “Northern” apparently although I am from the Midlands. Charley is from Holland and Jessica is from Ecuador. I love these girls to bits and I am so happy with my room mates, I could not ask for better ones to be honest! It is nice not to be with Canadians in a way because as we are all new to Calgary it gives us the perfect opportunity to go travelling together!

A picture of a student room

My life with my roommates consists of constantly drinking tea of all varieties (apart from PG Tips as I am awaiting for a much anticipated parcel from England to arrive) and cooking together like a communal household should do! We also like to party hard when we are not studying and hold weekly international Come Dine with Me sessions! The Brits are up next; the questions is Sunday roast or a classic mean and lean full English breakfast?

Oh and just to let you know Mum if you are reading, I am eating healthily whilst I am here and not living off fast food all of the time, I even made a salad the other day! You can avoid the fast food by making sure you live in self-catered accommodation, it is cheaper and you can easily walk or get a bus to Safeway or the Canadian Superstore for all of your groceries. It is about a 20 minute walk. Talking about the fast food though you must try Calgary’s famous chicken wings, covered in any sauce you could possibly imagine!

Image of a typical Calgarian dish

Okay so enough about where I am living and about food and cups of tea, I making myself hungry! I am guessing that you want to know more about the city that I am living in. Please see my next post!

30 Days, 4 Hours, 37 Minutes and 22 Seconds After Touch Down!

Hello there my fellow readers,

I bet that you have been worried about me! I am afraid that I have been away from my computer screen for too long! Phew… It feels so good to be writing my blog again, it is my pride and joy after all and I do like to keep you all updated! Anyhow, I bet that you have been wondering what I have been up to this past month? Well, I don’t really know where to start… I have had one hell of an amazing month, filled with ups and no downs (apart from when I got all emotional one night because I was missing English tea bags and roast dinners but that can be easily solved).

Since touching down, approximately 30 days ago my life has changed completely upside down and for the better. I have met so many amazing people and done so many wonderful things, I appreciate how lucky I am to be here every day! Just to let you know that I am currently sitting in a dark and dingy basement waiting for my washing to be done (it is not all fun and games), but this has given me the perfect opportunity to fill you in! So come on and step on into my new world and I will let you know about the basics – the halls of residents, the city, travelling opportunities and Calgarian culture.

A nightime image of the University of Calgary

The night of my arrival!


Waking up at 6.00am I suddenly jolted upright and realised that today was the day! I cannot believe how quick my summer has come and gone, it does not seem one minute since I was downing two pints of cider to celebrate my last exam! Suddenly, my Stepdad broke my trail of thought by yelling again but this time louder than before…

“Get up you cretin!”              

I sleepily rolled out of bed and hoped that jumping in the shower would wake me up! I cannot really describe to you how I felt at that moment when I first woke up; it was a mixture of nerves, apprehension and excitement that coursed through my veins. As hoped the shower woke me up so I was no longer a morning zombie that must be avoided at all costs! My morning involved throwing the final items into my case and praying that I was not over the 23kg luggage allowance.

When we got to the airport a woman asked me before checking in when I was intending on returning to England, I replied that I was never coming back! Not seeing the funny side she asked me what I meant and then I told her that I had not booked a return flight home and would be back sometime the following April! My Mum would be devastated if I did not come home haha! She seems to think that I will fall head over heels in love with a Canadian and never want to return but I will have to come back at some point anyway to take the rest of my wardrobe over to Canada with me! Oh, and to complete my degree.

Anyway, once I had checked in I bumped into my friend at the security gates, he was with his Mum and Dad. His Mum gripped me and told me that she felt like giving me a hug and it felt like she knew me already! I then turned to my own parents. My Stepdad was looking upset, his eyes were twinkling in the light, and I had never seen him tearful before! My Mum on the other hand was sniffling quietly, but I had expected that, I told her to bring a box of tissues with her so she was prepared for the waterfall of tears that would proceed as soon as I waved goodbye to her. I gave them each a kiss and a hug and I was surprised when my Stepdad gently slipped a letter into my hand that he told me to read later. I then let a few tears roll down my cheek and headed off through the security checkpoint with my friend in tow. I turned back and waved to them about 10 times, it felt like I was in a film such as Love Actually. Goodness I am going to miss them and I could not ask for more supportive parents! They are 100% behind me and the tears were a mixture of sadness but also happiness as I have achieved a dream and they are so proud of me!

I am currently sat on the plane right now! My friend and I have had some luck indeed! When I booked my tickets I selected my seats but I could not sit next to my friend as the seats next to him were reserved. When I asked an employee from Canadian Air if it was possible to sit next to my friend he was happy to print us out new boarding passes out. Much to my delight we have ended up sitting just behind the posh business class. We received a free pillow, blanket and have more than enough leg room that I appreciate as I have been told in the past that I have got giraffe legs. We are about half an hour into our journey long. A long, long journey. But I am pleased to confirm that my adventure has officially begun!