China is not as far away as you would think

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Well yeah… practically speaking it’s on the other side of the world; it took me 10 hours of flight from Amsterdam just to get to Shanghai and that does not include my flights to Amsterdam. But good news! China is a modern country, full of potential, easy to explore and although mysterious from its nature, the Chinese culture challenges you to explore it.

That was my aim for the 5 weeks I spent there along with 19 UoE students. My home base was NUAA, Nanjing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics. I have to admit, the lifestyle was very different to what we are used to back in the UK. Different cuisine, different language, different mentality; but thanks to technology and some hand gestures we managed to move around!

The main reason for my visit to China was to take part in the 4-week long scheme which included 2 weeks of Chinese speaking, culture and painting lessons and quite a lot of trips around the city during weekdays. The other 2 weeks we were tasked to design and build a mini-vise in order to improve our engineering skills; that included using CAD software, CNC machining and 3D-printing.

The students at NUAA were very friendly and always willing to help around. Additionally, 3 more universities were part of the scheme so we got to hang out and collaborate with people from Ireland, Sweden and Korea making the whole trip a more universal experience. There is nothing to worry about; yes, Mandarin and Cantonese are hard languages, especially for Europeans. But China is a tremendously technologically advanced country! Everyone uses a smartphone, everywhere the words are also written in Pinyin (Romanized Chinese) and the metro systems are incredible and very easy to use. So my initial concerns of getting lost in China were fortunately never fulfilled.

Of course, during our visit we didn’t limit ourselves to one place. Every weekend we ended up visiting another part of China: Shanghai (more than twice since it is close to Nanjing), Beijing, Huangshan (Yellow Mountains) and the Autonomous region of Hong Kong. We got to try local dishes and more exotic ones; I personally had snake, frogs and lobsters… And rice, lots and lots of rice. I have several valuable memories I will never forget from those trips, such as sleeping on the train on a 6 hour ride, playing guitar with a local man in a hostel, meeting people at the hostel and ending up travelling around Shanghai and Beijing with them, and of course climbing a whole mountain which took approximately 4 hours just get on the top!

It was definitely an experience I will never forget; it pushed me to the limits of my comfort zone, I made great friends with whom I will meet again soon and I learned a lot of engineering related techniques used in the production lines. It’s a trip people should have at least once in their lifetime!


The Forbidden City in Beijing


On the steps of the NUAA School of Engineering Building


Hong Kong at night


Last day in Shanghai-Lujiazui region


Climbing the Yellow Mountains

Making Holes in Italy

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This summer I went to Vacone, Italy on an archaeological dig. Organised by the University of Edinburgh, we were a group of students excavating a Roman villa for three weeks. The Principle’s Go Abroad fund was instrumental in my going on this trip, as it helped pay for my board and lodgings as well as my flight costs.

On paper I was there to try my hand at archaeology; really I was hoping to find something more to history than primary sources and textbooks. Much as we all love the library (or not), I wanted to stop reading other people’s accounts and get out there to see it for myself.


Walking in the Forum, Rome

I am not a well-travelled person. Before this I had never been to Italy or even flown on my own. I was going to an unknown country with people I had never met. Honestly, I was terrified. I had lists running through my head of all the things that could go wrong; illness, injury or pickpocketing. I’m not even an archaeologist, so the probability of making a fool of myself seemed pretty high. Yet for all my worries, and though I probably made a fool of myself plenty, my time in Vacone was incredible.

Excavating was certainly hard work, especially at first. The days passed in a flurry of picks and shovels, blisters and bruises, and an ever-growing spoil heap that had to be somehow traversed with a wheelbarrow. Yet strange to say, it was brilliant. A particular brand of camaraderie comes from seeing each other plastered in mud every day – I gained so many new friends from the experience. There’s also fierce joy in physical exertion, and nothing can express that spark of excitement as your trowel uncovers something in the soil. My best find came near the end of the dig, when I unearthed a hoard of beautiful stucco. It had seen the Roman Empire in all its glory, a tangible piece of history that had waited millennia to be found. That’s what made me realise that while books and papers are important, in the end they are only descriptions of the past. Holding a lump of patterned stucco in my hands, I felt at last I had found the real thing.


Mosaic floor

My time on excavation gave me a new perspective, not just on history but on myself. I know better what I am capable of and feel more confident travelling abroad. As a place to visit Italy is breath-taking. From the clamour and energy of Rome to the sleepy walled towns amid rolling forested hills, the country is stunning. Spectacular storms rolled down our valley some evenings, making the lights flicker. One night we played an impromptu game of rugby in the streets of Orvieto with some local children. These are the treasures I have taken away from Vacone; not just technical skills and an obsession with stratigraphy but also memories, new friends and a sense that my horizons have been thrown wide open.


Friday night drinks in Configni


Game of Thrones night

Care management in Kenya

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I set off to Nanyuki, Kenya for 3 weeks this summer. I travelled to Kenya through Projects Abroad, which was a brilliant, reliable company that I would recommend to any student travelling somewhere foreign for the first time. It was through this company that I was able to really pre-plan my trip. This made me feel less worried about volunteering in Kenya and meant that I also felt very safe the duration of my stay. I am so glad that I did my research before teaching in Kenya because it meant that I was able to have the best experience and do a variety of different things.

A friend and I taught and cared at Happy Kids Pre-school which was a life changing and incredible experience. I genuinely have never been so appreciated and loved, which made it extremely heart-breaking to say our goodbyes. Even the smallest gift such as homemade bracelets that we took with us from Scotland brought a tear to some of the kids’ eyes and made their week. I chose to travel to Kenya because I have always had a passion to teach and I learnt that I definitely want to be a teacher when I graduate. I am still in contact with the schoolteacher at Happy Kids and would love to spend a full year teaching out in Africa once I graduate. They were all the most incredible, grateful children yet (being a donation dependent school) they had close to nothing.

Through Projects Abroad we had the opportunity to meet other volunteers from all over the world, making it an experience that you could easily do alone. We were also able to see how our fundraised money and generous donation from the Principal’s Go Abroad fund was put to good use in Kenya. We planted 130 trees along the perimeter of an orphanage for protecting crops against the wind; visited the most incredible animal orphanage; painted an entire new school for the tribal children and carried out a care outreach at our pre-school-teaching the children basic hygiene and how to brush their teeth properly. As if that wasn’t enough, during our free weekends, I pre-planned a weekend safari, which was an amazing experience and included the rare opportunity to touch and feed a blind black rhino in the park.

It wasn’t just the children at the school or the opportunity to teach that I fell in love with on my trip away; I also completely fell in love with Kenyan culture and their “hakuna matata” way of life. I ate Kenyan food every day, my favourite being chapati, and learnt all about Kenyan tribal life. I even had the opportunity to visit the Samburu people and dance with a Maasai tribe!

I feel blessed to have been given such an incredible opportunity and would recommend volunteering in Kenya to anyone. Hopefully I will be able to return to this beautiful country someday to visit my host family and pre-school once more.







Salzburg European Private Law Summer School – Studying in Austria

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I attended the University of Salzburg in Austria for a European Private Law Summer School. I went with seven other Scottish students to learn about the legal systems of around forty other legal systems. The programme was structured as lectures, workshops and panels. There was a professor from each legal system who did a one to a three hour lecture on their legal system concentrating on Contract law, Property law and the history of their legal systems. The workshops gave the students a chance to apply their legal system to a problem question and compare their answers to the legal systems of the other students. The panels gave the lecturers a chance to argue on some of the topics touched on in their lectures, e.g. the creation of a new Civil Code, Brexit and mixed legal systems.

I decided to go to Austria to learn about different legal systems as I thought this would be useful for writing my dissertation. I also had not studied abroad in third year and I thought this would give me some insight into what studying abroad is like as I am considering doing a masters LLM. degree abroad.

Before leaving for Austria, I was worried about how to carry money (i.e. on a prepaid card or in cash or on my Scottish bank card). I had never travelled alone before and was concerned about what would happen if I lost my access to euros. There was plenty advice for this online so I felt fairly prepared before I left. I also took out insurance which made me feel fairly secure if something were to have gone wrong.

I was also worried about travelling from Germany to Austria as I was flying to Germany rather than directly to Salzburg. I do not speak German and did not have internet access on my phone in Germany. I was concerned that I would struggle to find the train station in Munich. I had planned most of this before I left which relieved my stress a little but it was difficult to plan everything in advance as the train station websites were in German online.

I learned that it is easy – and okay – to ask people for help when you are travelling abroad. I think I would have learned a little more basic German before travelling there again as it can come in useful to be able to read road signs or speak to natives for directions. I also learned that it is better to be over-prepared rather than under-prepared as sometimes the smallest piece of information you thought might be irrelevant can end up being extremely useful.

Veterinary surgical training course – WVS ITC Ooty, India – Chiew Ting Ng

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2 weeks at an Animal Birth Control (ABC) facility in a remote mountainous region somewhere in the south of India.  A somewhat worrying description of what turned out to be an amazing experience. The Worldwide Veterinary Service (WVS) organizes about 7 courses each year for overseas veterinary students to help them gain valuable skills in neutering dogs. When I first came across the program, I knew it was where I wanted to go. I had to apply more than 1 year in advance in order to secure a place in the 12 person team going to Ooty in July 2016. Hands-on experience in surgery is very difficult to come across in the UK and 2 weeks at a spay and neuter clinic would give me the confidence to perform bitch spays alone when I graduate in a year’s time.

There are quite a few similar programs being run in many different countries, so why this one? I decided on this because it is organized by the WVS and they certainly did not disappoint. It was very well organized and each participant performed 16 surgeries each during the 2 week period. The standard at which the surgeries were performed was also very impressive. From strict asepsis to multi-modal analgesia, everything was done to ensure that the dogs operated on were given the best care possible. Under strict initial supervision by the experienced vets at the International Training Centre (ITC), we worked in pairs rotating between performing the surgery and monitoring the anaesthetic. I learnt how to control anaesthetic depth using total intravenous anaesthesia (TIVA) which would be very useful for performing operations under field conditions.

Before going to India, I was really worried about the safety and hygiene aspects. We stayed in a closed compound and only went for walks in groups, so it was all quite safe. However, the infamous “Delhi-belly” did strike and just about all 12 of us experienced it to varying degrees of severity. Regardless, we had a great time exploring the little villages and tea plantations around ITC and drinking loads of tea, or chai as the locals called it. “Incredible India” is the catchphrase used in many tourism brochures and sure enough, it is a very vibrant nation, bursting with colour, sound and culture. They say a picture says a thousand words but no picture could really tell you what India is like, until you experience it for yourself.


Tea plantation


The crew in ITC


Cow by the roadside in Ooty

In the land of Shoppen and Spundekäs, a.k.a. Rheinhessen in Germany

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Reflecting on my three-week experience of learning, teaching and conversing in German has been difficult because it was a spontaneous whirlwind of encounters, adventures and lessons. Before I left for Germany, I was anxious about helping to launch a pilot project which I thought would be very emotionally harrowing, given that we were going to be working with refugees. Although not every experience was positive, I was unprepared for the level of optimism and resilience that I encountered.


Barfußpfad (Barefoot walk) on our last day of the Summer school

The highlight of my week became our weekly visits to a refugee cafe in Bad Kreuznach. For some, the cafe offered a brief escape from the pressure of starting a new life in a foreign country; for others, it was their lifeline for navigating their way through German bureaucracy. Whilst of no use in the latter area, I was able to play cards and help the people there forget where they were for a bit. Communication was…interesting. German was always the go-to language, but sometimes English and body language just had to suffice. This taught me that misunderstandings are simply part of life and communication will never be perfect. I’m glad I realised this now because I’m about to spend a year as an Erasmus student in Germany, and had I not overcome my fear of mistakes, I’m sure I would be going to Germany with a far different mind-set.

As well as the refugee cafe, I helped to lead a two-week Summer school for children from one of the high schools in Bad Kreuznach. I was astounded to learn that the school is home to 49 different nationalities. One of the hardest challenges of the Summer school was incorporating German into fun activities and making it accessible to all different abilities. I’m not ashamed to say that a lot of the children’s German was better than mine. Their rapid acquisition of the language is testament to how unconsciously courageous they are and gave me a newfound appreciation of Germany’s ability to create a thriving environment. Integration was a word I heard repeatedly, yet its meaning was never really elaborated on. I came to realise the meaning of this word by living in the tiny Weindorf of Zotzenheim for the duration of my stay. Some locals were wary of a group of twenty young people moving into their parish house for three weeks, so we made it our mission to be as active as possible in the village. The effort we had to put into gaining acceptance in the village gave me an insight into just how hard integration is. Regardless of how helpful and educated people may be, it takes time and effort to restore an equilibrium.

The Principal’s fund gave me the opportunity to meet a rainbow of personalities from all walks of life and I’ve realised that life is just one big lesson.


Playing Jenga at the Bon Cafe


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This summer I donned my rucksack, tried not to fall over, and headed off to the Yucatán Peninsula in Mexico for a month.

I would be spending two weeks in the jungle in the Calakmul Biosphere Reserve, and two weeks at the coast in Akumal with Operation Wallacea, helping collect data for conservation research programmes. It was a trip I had been excited about for months (when I wasn’t stressing about the logistics of it of course). I want to work in conservation biology in the future, so this was an amazing opportunity to get some experience, meet scientists working in the field, and help contribute to some important research myself.


Look, no hands!

Once on the plane, however, the panic began to set in. I was travelling halfway across the world by myself, to meet a group of people whom I had never met, and spend a month living in relatively unknown conditions.

All of these fears, however, were quickly assuaged. The group I was working with was lovely, and there were twenty other university students in the same position as me. The living conditions, while not exactly Hilton standard, were much better than the worst-case scenario my mind had conjured up. There were actual structures for the toilets (even if they were mosquito-filled), the food was generally very good (although I haven’t been very excited by rice or beans since), and as it turns out, bucket showers are a pretty fun experience.


Home sweet home.

The complete lack of phone signal and internet for the first couple of weeks wasn’t even an issue. We were spending so much of the day doing interesting things that there wasn’t much time for homesickness (although I did manage to fit it in occasionally!). We were out doing surveys most of the time, and when we weren’t, we were either having lectures, eating, or socialising. It was exhausting, but at least it meant that even the intense heat and the rocky ground didn’t stop me sleeping at night!

I learnt so much about the flora and fauna of the region during the trip. In the jungle, I became fascinated by the bats that we were studying, and fell in love with the snakes we encountered. I even learnt to be ok with the tarantulas and scorpions that were around (Big Deal for me). By the end of my time at the marine site, I was able to identify most of the fish, the coral types and the invertebrates on the reef, and I had also gained my PADI Open Water scuba diving qualification.



Overall, I had the most amazing month. I got hands-on experience doing fieldwork, I encountered wildlife that I never would at home, I had the opportunity to work with and learn from experienced biologists, and I made some incredible memories with people who I am sure will be long-lasting friends.


Say queso!

Plastic Surgery In Penang

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This June I was lucky enough to spend two weeks with Carl Corrynton Medical centre in Penang, an establishment specialising in aesthetic and cosmetic surgery and the workplace of Dr. Lee Kim Siea, a nationally renown plastic surgeon. Penang is a north-western state of Malaysia, half of which exists as an island, and is where the medical centre was located. I have family on my father’s side that live in Penang who made it a great deal easier for me to get around the island.

My first week at the hospital was spent around general care units, as my intention was simply to learn about the clinical aspects of genetics and biology. Perhaps most noteworthy was the day I spent conversing with a locum doctor about the Malaysian health system, its flaws and peculiarities. This particular doctor had spent two years of his degree in an Indian university. However, upon returning to Malaysia he was to discover that his Malaysian degree was not even recognized in the Indian town he studied in. He lamented that the only place he could work was in Malaysia and that the state tries its utmost to retain their doctors.


Interesting though this was, the medical centre was quiet and most of the focus seemed centred around the third floor. I became curious and inquired as to what those elevators led to.  My questioning was to result in an invitation to look around and eventually I was permitted to observe some of the procedures performed by the famous doctor.

Dr Lee, assisted by two capable nurses began most operations by marking the patient with a special ink, called methylene blue. The doctor designs and plans his incisions while consulting with the patient and his staff, drawing and gesturing, seamlessly switching between various languages: Malay, English and the numerous Chinese dialects that Malaysia is home to.  I watched a lateral canthoplasty, which involved multiple incisions allowing horizontal lengthening of the eye; numerous botox injections; and fat grafts where fat from one area of a patient was repositioned elsewhere (usually the face).  The first few procedures were a squeamish endeavour but it quickly gave way to fascination. The slicing of skin by hand seemed like such a crude method. The end result however was always far from crude, sewing the skin back together and wiping the area clean transformed a gory situation into a work of art.


I enjoyed my time at the hospital a great deal; the staff were always very helpful and welcoming. Learning about the different machines and surgery techniques was a really different perspective on biology to the lab work I have been used to. I’d like to thank the Principal’s Go Abroad fund and to Dr. Lee and the staff at Carl Corrynton for helping this experience to become a reality.

Inspiration and Friendship in Russian Forest

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This summer, I was a volunteer at the Green Street Camp in Russia.


Winnie at the Red Square, Moscow


Allie Belle & Winnie

I choose to volunteer in Russia because I’ve always been interested in Russian culture and literature. More importantly, two of my best friends Belle and Allie who major in Russian language are going as well. I take this as a great opportunity to grow our friendship tighter.




My biggest concern before departure was the language and cultural barrier. Since I don’t speak any Russian and English is not by native language, it was really a huge challenge for me to communicate with kids in Russian, whose English are not very good.


Allie Winnie & Belle at the Red Square

I learned many things during my one month stay in Russian.

It was absolutely one of my most happy month in life. We were running in the morning, dancing and doing hand craft in the afternoon, performing in the evening in the tranquil and beautiful forest in Russia.


At the camp

I was inspired by nature, the beautiful trees in the forest.

I was inspired by my friends. We went through emergent situations which tested our friendship and nourished our mutual trust and love. We argued, laughed together and cried together.


I was inspired by kids. Purity, bravery and creativity of Russian kids are one of many things that we could learn from them. They really inspired me to find the peace of my heart. The most important thing I learned from them is to face the world bravely and kindly!


Nature Poetics in Newfoundland – Alex Hackett

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Two weeks in Newfoundland assisting Marlene Creates [link:] at the Boreal Poetry Garden, hiking the East Coast Trail, reaching the most easternly point in North America, whale watching, and exchanging five Scottish shells for five Newfoundland rocks.

01 dormant isles sleeping like whales

dormant islands sleeping like whales

02 what will you do when you get there

what will you do when you get there

03 a kitchen party a mug-up

a kitchen party, a mug-up

04 a day for looking at the details

a day for looking at the details

05 tears could drip down your cheeks

tears could drip down your cheeks

06 pink lady slippers get eaten by rabbits

pink lady slippers get eaten by rabbits

07 we stumbled upon a fish fry a rowdy crowd

we stumbled upon a fish fry a rowdy crowd

08 there's sheep that live on that island in the summer

there’s sheep that live on that island in the summer

09 rocks carried in glaciers a mile high

rocks carried in glaciers a mile high

10 purified shale rock from long time bogs

purified shale rock from long time bogs

11 knees bent up on planted rock

knees bent up on planted rock

12 twisted trees in the salt of the Atlantic

twisted trees in the salt of the Atlantic

13 an exchange of five scottish shells

an exchange of five Scottish shells

14 cliffs like hooves in water

cliffs like hooves in water

15 the full moon is always to rise at sunset

the full moon is always to rise at sunset

Emerging work from the trip can be viewed on my artist blog