#StopTrump Protest London 2018: A Photo Series

I had never attended a protest before.

Marching in a protest is such a fundamental thing when it comes to political activism. For all my writings about refugees (see here and here) and social inequality, I felt like a bit of an imposter having not stepped away from behind my laptop screen to actually demonstrate my beliefs. So when I discovered that an anti-Trump rally was to be held in London on the 13th of July, there was no way I was not going to be one of the protesters marching down Regent Street.

In what was dubbed ‘the Carnival of Resistance‘, a grand total of 250,000 people protested Donald Trump’s visit to the United Kingdom. It was Britain’s biggest demonstration in over a decade, and the atmosphere was infectious. I’d heard lots about protests – the Egyptian Revolution in particular comes to mind – but fortunately, this demonstration was not violent. From Portland Place to Trafalgar Square, our fists punched the sky and we chanted in powerful solidarity against everything Donald Trump stands for.

“We are asserting our right to demonstrate, our right to free speech… human rights belong to all of us.”

Jeremy Corbyn’s address at Trafalgar Square

Of course, a recap of the event is incomplete without a nod to the ‘baby blimp‘ that took centre stage that day. For those of you who somehow escaped the media hype, the baby blimp was/is a crowdfunded, 20-foot balloon in the shape of an infantile, nappy-clad Donald Trump clasping his beloved phone in a chubby hand. Whilst I unfortunately did not capture any snaps of this inflated delight, you can rest assured that we have not seen the last of baby blimp.

Some of my highlights from the march included a swollen papier-mâché Trump head and a particularly graphic depiction of Donald Trump and Mike Pence engaged in some friendly activities (*ahem*) – but I’ll let you enjoy that for yourself.

I’ll keep this short; after all, a picture tells a thousand words. As always, a vlog is in the works… ✊

To learn more about the Stop Trump Coalition, visit the website.

Let’s Get Social!

Facebook ● Twitter ● YouTube

And don’t forget to subscribe to our behind-the-scenes email newsletter and sign up to our pen pal network!

Continue Reading

Postcards from Oxford

Oscar Wilde once said that Oxford still remains the most beautiful thing in England, and (that) nowhere else are life and art so exquisitely blended, so perfectly made one.

He wasn’t wrong.

When I arrived in the City of Dreaming Spires only three months ago, it was impossible to turn a blind eye to its reputation. I had been well-informed that it was the most beautiful town in England, and the fact that I would be living (quite literally) on the doorstep of the world’s oldest English-speaking university that has educated the likes of Stephen Hawking, Aldous Huxley, and Emma Watson (shout out to the Harry Potter generation) didn’t alleviate the suspense.

All of five minutes after I stepped off the train, I decided that the suspense had been worth it.

I plan to write a lot of blog posts detailing my Oxford experience, but for now, sit back, relax, and enjoy a ‘lil appetiser of what’s to come. Oxford is a fantastical place that you really have to see with your own two eyes, but for now, see what it’s like through my lens…

There is quite possibly nothing more transcendent that Oxford under snowfall

Enchanted by New College (deceptive in the fact that is actually one of the oldest colleges at the University of Oxford)

Learning a thing or two at the renowned Museum of Natural History

“Oxford lends sweetness to labour and dignity to leisure.”

Henry James

Exploring Hogwarts at one of Harry Potter’s film locations at New College

Taking in the views from the University Church of Saint Mary the Virgin

December blues… Oxford the ghost town

Christ Church College, where they filmed the Great Hall scenes in Harry Potter 😍

The romantic Bridge of Sighs

Another fine specimen from the Museum of Natural History

Idyllic, cobblestoned streets containing gems like this

The iconic Radcliffe Camera basking (for once) in the sun

For more of my postcards series, feast your eyes on Postcards from Madrid, Postcards from Angkor Wat, and the oldie but a goodie, Postcards from Ha Long Bay. Furthermore, stay tuned for the Oxford travel vlog that will be airing soon! In the meantime, keep up to date with latest on the Ginger Passports’ YouTube Channel (and show some love!)

Let’s Get Social!

Facebook ● Twitter ● YoutubeLinkedIn

And don’t forget to subscribe to our behind-the-scenes email newsletter!

Continue Reading

8 Things I Wish I’d Known Before Studying Abroad

I realise that I’m probably not the archetypal exchange student. I largely went on exchange to escape a love-hate relationship with my home country, and I had no intentions of returning afterwards. Homesickness simply was not an issue for me, and the decision to study abroad in the first place was not complicated by attachment to my old social life.

Nevertheless, the fact that my exchange did not come with a sacrifice did not mean that it was all smooth sailing from the moment I stepped on that plane.

I went to the University of Bristol in the United Kingdom, and – at risk of sounding like a walking cliché – it was one of the best experiences of my life. Certainly, it was the peak of my undergraduate degree. Aside from all the other reasons studying abroad is fantastic, it provided me with an opportunity to reevaluate the direction I am heading, and to work out which things I really want to pursue after university. There’s nothing like being plucked out of the comfort and familiarity of home routine to question whether those same comforts and familiarities are really all that.

Yet, as I said, there still exist a number of key things I wish I had known before going on exchange. If you’re in the position I was six months ago – tickets bought, suitcase packed – then maybe you too can benefit from a little hindsight.

The Clifton Suspension Bridge in Bristol

You don’t have to do the stereotypical ‘exchange’ thing

If that doesn’t make sense, allow me to rephrase.

You don’t have to make your study abroad experience a reflection of the advertised stories you hear from returned students. Before going on exchange, my impression was that studying abroad was basically one to two semesters where you made a ton of new friends, went out partying every night, and every Friday, flew to a new destination for a weekend break.

And hey – maybe this is your cup of tea. I’m not here to tell you how you should and shouldn’t spend those months. But what I am here to do is to reassure you that there is no one template to the exchange experience. Me, personally? I probably made about seven or eight close friends. I didn’t go out partying once, and my traveling was saved for before and after the semester. And you know what? I am perfectly happy with that. I don’t see my experience as any less of a success purely because I was more of a homebody and preferred to get a leisurely feel for the city as a local rather than a visitor. I wanted to walk away regarding Bristol as a home rather than a holiday destination – and I achieved just that.

You’ll mostly meet international students

This can be a good thing or a bad thing depending on what you want to get out of your exchange, but from my experience, I really struggled to meet locals.

The locals I did meet were the ones I was flatting with – and even then, I was also flatting with other internationals. I soon discovered that the sorts of social events I participated in, and the sorts of people who made use of social apps, were far more likely to be internationals than locals (or even just other people from the United Kingdom).

Don’t get me wrong; I love meeting people from all around the globe. One of the closest friends I made was a gorgeous ray of sunshine from Germany. But… it’s kind of like when you go on holiday and only end up mingling with the tourists.

Your lecturers don’t give a damn that you’re an exchange student

When classes began, I wasn’t expecting special treatment. But as I had never studied at the University of Bristol before – let alone in the tertiary system of the United Kingdom – I was arguably disadvantaged academically. There were a lot of disparities between the system there and the system back in New Zealand, and some naïve and idealistic part of me had anticipated at least a briefing from my lecturers beforehand.

It didn’t make matters easier that I was studying third-year papers. At least if you are studying with first-years, the lecturers treat you as though you’ve just come out of high school and are as oblivious to the university system as the next eighteen year old. But I was thrown in (well, opted for) the deep end, and right from the word go, I felt like I was wading against a downhill current.

The solution to this isn’t to follow my lead and sit at the back of the class scratching your head. Rather, the solution is to introduce yourself to your lecturers on day one, explain that you are an exchange student and that the system is unfamiliar to you, and tell them that you might need a little extra direction throughout the semester. Your lecturers won’t think you any less capable; instead, they will likely commend you on your initiative and go out of their way to help you the best that they can.

Do not take travel for granted

One of the perks of studying abroad is not just the opportunity to experience student life in a different culture, but also to travel. Other Kiwis can sympathise with me when I grumble about New Zealand’s isolation, and how expensive it is to fly to even the closest country. Because of this, many students are motivated to study abroad because of the relative ease in which they can see more of the world.

The first thing I did when I arrived in Bristol was to purchase £10 return tickets to Germany. I just couldn’t wrap my mind around how cheap it was to roam Europe when you have second-largest international airport practically on your doorstep.

Whilst I didn’t venture out of the United Kingdom during my exchange (those Germany tickets ultimately went to waste), I did spend a whopping four months traveling before the semester began. Make the most of gaps between semesters, as it is highly likely the school year between your home university and overseas university will not align.

Going on exchange during the last semester of your degree is not the smartest idea

During the organisation process for my exchange, my university warned me on multiple occasions that I was risking completing my degree on time by studying abroad during my last semester. I, of course, turned a blind eye to their advice. But it only took a few days of studying abroad to fully realise the gamble I had made.

Unlike in New Zealand, your papers (or units, as they are called) in Bristol are not finalised until after you arrive for the semester. This generally isn’t a problem unless you are counting on specific papers to meet the requirements of your major and minor so that you can pass your degree in a couple of months’ time. Unfortunately, I happened to be in that exact situation, and all chaos broke lose when I arrived only to discover that one of those mandatory papers I had elected was cancelled. Fortunately, I was able to convince my home university to let me take another one that didn’t exactly align with the requirements of my original major, meaning that I wouldn’t have to travel all the way back to New Zealand just to take one paper to pass my degree.

This isn’t a position you want to be in. Your study abroad experience shouldn’t be inhibited by technicalities, and you can avoid this by planning your exchange for somewhere in the middle of your degree.

You actually have to make an effort to make friends

This kind of ties into the point I made earlier about how you don’t have to do the stereotypical ‘exchange’ thing. Although returned students make it seem as though they had new friends coming out of their ears, achieving this isn’t a passive process.

It’s super easy to meet people; just turn up to a social event and say hello. But progressing from that initial introduction stage to actually seeing someone on a regular basis and developing some kind of friendship is a very different thing. As soon as I realised this, I stopped going to bigger social events and began focusing on one on one interactions where the chance of getting to know someone was better.

This is where social apps are a huge helping hand. I highly recommend you download Bumble, which has a ‘BFF’ setting which lets you match with individuals of the same gender with the intentions of making friends. Couchsurfing – which I have raved about countless times in the past – is also great for finding both locals and travellers (contrary to what most people believe, you don’t actually have to couch surf to use Couchsurfing). A recent discovery of mine is Meet Up, which lets you join different groups where you can connect and meet people who share common interests. It’s a bit like the clubs and societies part of the university experience without the university experience. At one stage, I even created a Tinder account, set my settings to girls, and wrote a straight up bio saying, “Hi, I’m here to abuse Tinder and make actual friends.” To much surprise, this produced great success.

Academia is important – but not in the way you think

I’m not an expert on the way other universities function, but as was the case with my experience – and similarly with other exchange students I have talked to worldwide – you do not receive a grade for your work. Rather, you receive either a pass or fail, rendering both excellent and standard work to the same level of recognition. It’s both a blessing and a curse.

The implication of this is that many students adopt a certain “f*ck it” attitude towards their studies during exchange. After all, what’s the point in cramming for hours and pulling all-nighters when there’s no actual payoff? I don’t deny the logic behind this approach, but I do want to raise another point.

Study abroad is a brilliant chance to take papers that you wouldn’t have the opportunity to otherwise. At Bristol, I enrolled in papers that were absent from the curriculum back home; ones that ended up fostering a passion and interest that I continued studying in my own time even after the exams were done and dusted. An example is a paper I took called Gender and Migration; I have published an abridged version of my final essay about refugees on the Ginger Passports, which you can read here.

Independence doesn’t always mean control

Whilst going on exchange will give you newfound independence, you won’t have complete control over everything. This is something I personally struggled with, as I am someone who loathes the feeling of powerlessness.

I was just about to write a list of the things you likely won’t be able to control, when it occurred to me that there is only one thing you really do have control over: you. So many things could happen whilst studying abroad; your flatmates might be antisocial or disrespectful, you might strike awful weather, you might fall incredibly ill, or there might even occur a political event that tunnels its way into your everyday life. Don’t get me wrong – these things suck. But one thing your exchange will teach you is to roll with the punches and make the most out of shitty situations. That’s not something you should mindlessly shrug off.

And now for the good stuff…

After rambling on and on about the things that I wish I had known before embarking on my exchange, I’m worried I’ve put some people off the remarkable adventure that is studying abroad. So to clear the air, here are the positive outcomes that nonetheless came out of the above…

  • I made peace with the fact that I am never going to be an extrovert who socialises over ten shots of Jägermeister. It may sound trivial, but accepting that took a weight off my shoulders and made me feel a hell of a lot more comfortable and fulfilled with a more relaxed lifestyle.
  • I met people from all over the world. It may not have felt like an asset at the time when I was trying to fully immerse myself in British culture, but now that I have invitations from all around the globe… I think it’s fair to say that it is by far one of the biggest advantages of going on exchange.
  • I was academically challenged. Looking back, I should have been far more proactive in reaching out to my lecturers when I was confused, but something that did come out of that was that I learnt to be more independent with my studies.
  • I spent four insane months traveling around Spain, France and Egypt before settling in England. These weren’t just high intensity one-day-in-each-city trips either; with the exception of perhaps Egypt (where I was based in Cairo for the whole time), I left each country feeling that I had an intimate understanding of it.
  • I was pushed out of my comfort zone when making friends. Back in New Zealand, the only new friends I made were ones I was introduced to when visiting old friends, so the art of meeting people was not one I had refined. When I arrived in Bristol, the thought of meeting someone in a coffee shop or art gallery for the first time made me positively squirm. But by the time my three months were up, I found myself looking forward to such encounters.
  • I discovered a new academic passion, which – as I have already said – I have written about on the blog.

Studying abroad can offer some of the biggest highs and some of the biggest lows. It may not be for everyone, but for those who are prepared to take the risk, the payoff is immense.

So… where do you want to go?

Photographs courtesy of Unsplash

Let’s Get Social!

Facebook ● Twitter ● Youtube

And don’t forget to subscribe to our behind-the-scenes email newsletter!

Continue Reading

Grey Skies, London Highs

Where does one begin to describe London?

After the last six months, I have learnt that you should never nurse expectations when experiencing a new place. All expectations do is harbour disappointment – and what would be the point of that?

Stepping off the train at Paddington Station, I immediately found myself transported back to big city life. After shying away from the masses for the best part of three months, I ached to lose myself once again in the faceless crowds. In a city of nearly nine million people – over twice the size of my home country – I was pretty sure that wouldn’t be difficult.

In true British fashion, we were welcomed with miserable, melancholic weather. Cursing my photographic luck, I readjusted my scarf, kept calm and carried on (sorry, I had to). It was the first time I had been reunited with the Metro since my week in Paris, and I wasn’t expecting to have missed it so much. There’s that galvanising feeling of silent camaraderie between passengers that you just don’t experience on buses and trains. Or is that just me? Yeah… that’s probably just me.

“… when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life”
Samuel Johnson (1777)

The modus operandi of this trip wasn’t so much participatory as it was observatory. We had arrived for one day only with a very special objective – to see Star Wars – and the rest was really just the icing on the cake. I was quite content wandering around the streets and getting hopelessly lost in the hopes of learning even a little about this beautiful, monstrous metropolis.

We strolled down the River Thames and lapped up the intoxicating scent of mulled wine from the Southbank Centre Winter Market. I had never before encountered such a market culture before arriving in England, and could wile away hours at a time exploring the myriad stalls.

Weaving our way through buskers and tourists alike, we looked up to find ourselves bathed in the shadow of the London Eye. Spoiler alert: it’s freakin’ huge. There are certain landmarks over the world that I have found somewhat underwhelming in size – the Pyramids and Big Ben, just to name two – but this iconic ferris wheel certainly lives up to the hype. Whilst we didn’t join the queues to see London from above, we enjoyed the view from below, and then carried on our merry way towards Parliament.

“London is a roost for every bird”
Benjamin Disraeli (1870)

Without a doubt in my mind, I can say that the highlight for me was the Camden Market. Unlike most people (I imagine), I had never before heard of this place. This fact was met with disbelieving ears, but I digress. Upon arriving, part of me felt like I had been thrown back in the MBK Shopping Centre in Bangkok, with it’s eccentric labyrinthine marketplace. Camden Market has over one thousand shops, stalls, bars and cafés nestled inside, plus spectacular events on the daily. My personal favourite food hubs include the infamous Cereal Killer Café (you know, the one with over 120 types of cereal on the menu) and the Cheese Bar (try the rosemary goats’ cheese, honey, walnut, and rosemary butter grilled cheese toastie! Phew, that’s a mouthful…). This is also a neat place to visit if you’re vegan 🌽

The ‘Deats

Name: Camden Market

Website: www.camdenmarket.com

Location: Camden Lock Place, London, NW1 8AF

Hours: 10am – late

I also discovered that one of my favourite artists – Amy Winehouse – lived and died in Camden. For this reason, a lot of places in this district pay homage to her, such as the striking statue found right in the heart of Camden Market, as photographed below.

The day concluded under the evening glow of Leicester Square. Located in London’s West End, this pedestrianised square is home to some of the city’s most iconic shops. Think M&M’s World and the LEGO Store – but honest opinion? The LEGO Store is slightly overrated, and M&M’s World didn’t even sell my favourite flavour (peanut butter, in case you were wondering). But hey, this trip wasn’t about retail therapy. After digesting that M&M’s could warrant four floors worth of consumerism and merchandise, we withdrew back to Leicester Square and explored the lights and the art and the Christmas atmosphere. London is most beautiful at night.

I will be returning to the Old Smoke very soon. I barely scraped the surface of London, and next time, I want to get my hands dirty. There are so many things to see, so much to do… far more than a day could ever afford. What do you recommend?

Stay tuned in the coming weeks for my London travel vlog, which will be uploaded to the Ginger Passports’ YouTube Channel. Don’t forget to subscribe so you don’t miss out on any exciting updates! I will also be writing about my favourite London café’s in January, so keep your eyes peeled. Last but not least, if any of my readers are based in London and would be interested in meeting up next time I’m around, flick me a message on any of my social media profiles, or else email me at thegingerpassports@gmail.com – till then! 👋

Let’s Get Social!

Facebook ● Twitter ● Youtube ● Bloglovin’

And don’t forget to subscribe to our behind-the-scenes email newsletter!

Continue Reading