Gabrielle: Asking for A Bit More

Before I even spoke about an exchange, I sent a covert email to the University of Edinburgh disability services. It was from one of my many ‘spam’ addresses, which I use to log into dodgy WIFI or give as I sign up for membership shopping schemes so I can have those good discounts.

I inquired about their disability policies. And the email was sent from an unnamed prospective exchange student (me) who wanted to know what exams would be like for students with learning difficulties.

The night before, I had spent hours digging through their website only to find general information, nothing specific to dyslexic students enrolled in Arts programs. I needed details!

Because as much as I wanted to go on an exchange, I knew different countries and different universities can have very different attitudes and resources towards learning difficulties. I’ve spent my whole degree writing essays but give me a pen and paper instead of a laptop with spell-check and you might as well slice my grade in half. This held me back. I almost didn’t apply—because I honestly didn’t know if I would have the help I needed. I tried to enrol in all internally assessed papers and ended up with just one exam to organise for (a true triumph). For the record, Edinburgh Uni is as accommodating as Auckland Uni for learning difficulties.

Upon arrival I arranged a meeting, under a traceable email this time. They were incredibly helpful. Edinburgh does not provide amanuensis unless absolutely necessary, instead, I had my exam in a computer lab.

I can’t attest for other more extensive disability accommodations, and I’m lucky to require minimal adjustments. But I still feel the anxiety of encountering new people, of going through this process again, dredging up those old Educational Phycology reports. It’s always hard to be the one asking for a bit more than everyone else.

And yes, it will require more effort, more organisation, more stress. It may even influence which uni you apply too. But if you need adjustments of any kind: send those emails, ask those questions, do the leg work. I’m glad I got over myself and just did it. It worked out. I’m privileged in many respects. To even be able to go to on an exchange in the first place. To only require exam adjustments. But I guess I’m ending this blog on something of a small encouragement.

If you need financial assistance, academic assistance, or anything of that ilk – don’t rule yourself out of an exchange. Go apply, bring your case forward, see what can be done. Trust me when I say it’s worth the awkward conversations and extra paperwork.

Gabrielle: Weekends Not-Away

In less than a month I’ll be off to Edinburgh Airport again, and honestly, I’m not prepared to go. I know the way well by now. I’ve taken the 100 airlink bus five times, and 300 airlink bus once. That’s three trips all up. Wouldn’t recommend the 300 – took twice as long.

You don’t need travel tips from me: Pack light. Download Google maps of the city. Find a good crew to travel with. Travel alone. Use Ryan Air, or don’t. I’ve only got my experience to go off and I doubt a few weekends away make me a travel expert.

But what I will say is if you book your flights right they’ll be one of the cheaper things. It’s airport shuttle buses, accommodation, food, and sight-seeing entry tickets that will drain your bank account.

When I arrived in this country, I planned to stay – get to know Scotland’s corners and edges, make a friend with a car and travel the highlands. But turns out the people I meet that were down to travel weren’t locals, but all international students like me.

So I found myself in Venice (a week before it flooded), Iceland (during a yellow warning storm and with a crappy rental car), and Dublin (on the weekend when it seemed half of Edinburgh flew over).

I’m glad I went. Iceland – I will never forget, even if we did get up at 1am every morning never to see the northern lights. I never planned to go, but I am so glad that I was able to.

It was raining as I walked home after the Dublin trip, the rain wasn’t a surprise. Scotland is cold, it rains, and the sunsets at 4pm (don’t say I didn’t warn you). But what did surprise me was that as damp and cold as I was, I felt a little like I was coming home. Not just home base, a chance to rest, to get into work again. Like actually home home.

Six months is enough to start to know a place; it’s enough time to catch feelings, before any long-term relationships drains kick in. If you check ‘photos’ on my phone you’ll find pictures of street corners: the church spire beside Uni, the street outside my house with Arthur’s seat in the backdrop. I’ll still stop on my way back from the grocery store and shuffle my bags awkwardly into one hand so I can take a picture. I’ve got a crush on this city.

I guess what I want to say is, as romantic (and worth it) European weekend away are – there is still the experience of your city, your place. Here are some pictures from my Weekends Not-Away. Right now, I’m quite happy to stay away from those airport walls for a just little while longer. I don’t have a whole lot of time in this place left.



Gabrielle: The Fear of Getting Going

If there is one thing I want to hold onto it is the ‘Exchange Student Ethos’. There is something about being in a new place that makes you run toward opportunity. It makes you delete your Netflix and get up for sunrises. You become the person who says ‘hi!’ first in lecture theaters, and then invites the crew to go out to an actual theater afterwards. You book trips away. You say ‘let’s do this’ like you’re a 2017 NZ Labour billboard, and you follow through. This isn’t my default self, usually my ethos is more of a Panic! And Hope it Works Out.


The second day after I moved into my university of Edinburgh accommodation I had a “Why on Earth Did You Fly To The Other Side Of The World” moment. My flat mates hadn’t moved in yet. The building was empty, and I didn’t know where to buy bedsheets that didn’t feel like hospital blankets.

I’ve had a few of those moments on this journey like when I thought I left my Visa application to late (it arrived with more than a few weeks to spare), or when I tried to pack six months into a 21kg suit case (I had to Marie Kondo everything).


I was sitting by myself, the first of my flat to arrive, in a new city and a new country – wondering how long I had to wait before I could call home with the time zone difference and not wake anyone up.

I think moments like that are inevitable. I decide to text a friend I’d made here instead of calling home. We went out to my first Scottish Ceilidh, I tripped over myself (and others) more than once. I laughed, and danced (when you don’t know what you’re doing, a Ceilidh is more of a contact sport than a dance). That night I meet people who would become some of my closest friends here.



I’ve found that it’s worth it to join societies. It’s worth it to get up early. To get involved as quickly and as deeply as you as you can. Because if you’re in a new place you want to get to know it, and it’s hard to do that from the sidelines. I joined way too many societies in my first week: the Murder Mystery Society, the Literary society, Creative Writing, Politics Society, the Hill Walking Club and more than send me emails and clog my inbox. I definitely don’t attend them all (I may have been slightly to overambitious), but I’ve discovered new things I would never had done at home. I wonder if I can live in Auckland with the enthusiasm that I live in Edinburgh. I want to turn my ‘Exchange Student Ethos’ into a ‘Student Ethos’. I don’t know, maybe that’s just part of traveling, or maybe that’s something I could bring home with me. But I’m definitely not heading home yet – so I’ve still got time to figure it out.





What I’m Packing: Zofia

I’m going to study at the University of Edinburgh for the second semester of their academic year, from January to May. This means I’m leaving the warmth of New Zealand’s summer and heading to the depths of Scotland’s winter; the average temperature in Edinburgh in January is 3 Celsius. Top of my packing list: several pairs of woollen socks, my puffer jacket and every scarf and beanie I own. Let’s get started.


After a strong black coffee I’m ready to go. I’ve recruited my mother to help, since she had nothing better to do. Her talent for packing surpasses my own, even though I’ve done a lot of shifting myself over the past two years. Full disclosure: I also need her vital opinion on which clothes to take.


We’ve managed to haul everything in my closet out into the lounge and are looking at it in dismay.



Mum is ignoring me while I ask her opinion on every single item of clothing I own. I’m considering buying an entire new wardrobe over there. Edinburgh is meant to have great shopping?


Progress! We’ve sorted all my clothes into seasons. The ‘winter’ pile is lacking, but that’s okay. Mum has nice jumpers, and I’m sure she won’t notice if they go missing for 6 months.


We’ve stopped for lunch. Also to watch Gossip Girl on Netflix.


I have three separate piles of clothes adorning my lounge: 1) Winter clothing (beanies, scarves, jeans, boots, woollen jumpers) to be taken; 2) Summer stuff (shorts, dresses, t-shirts, sandals) I want to take for when I go visiting actually warm places in Europe because Scotland reaches about 18 degrees max; 3) Clothes being tossed/gifted to younger cousins, and make me seriously question why anyone has ever given me a debit card.


Getting somewhere. Mum’s yelling at me to “ROLL not FOLD” while I have a mental breakdown and Christmas carols play gently in the background. Bag is half full (not a metaphor, positivity levels are at an all time low).


Stopped for a drink.


Okay, so I can’t claim that the job is done. There’s a lot more of shuffling around and hopefully adding Christmas presents to do, but the lounge is looking less like a bombsite and I’m feeling more prepared.


Here are a few tips for packing from yours truly:

You aren’t going to fit in everything

You’re going to a new place, you’re going to meet new people and totally reinvent yourself and your fashion choices. But be realistic; if you haven’t worn it in the last three years that you’ve owned it, chances are you’re not going to start. Save the space. You also don’t need to pack for every eventuality. If you get an invite to Buckingham Palace then you can always buy a new outfit; don’t bring the pearls just in case.

Roll, not fold.

Mother knows best. You save an incredible amount of space, and it’s also a fun pastime while sitting cross-legged in front of TV.

Get excited.

You’re preparing for one of the most exciting adventures you’ll likely ever go on, so just think about that instead of the amount of stuff you have to get done before you go. Pro tip: a cheeky G&T at 5pm helps with the stress levels.

But don’t forget the boring stuff.

Toothbrush, chargers, travel insurance; all less exciting than coordinating outfits, but possibly more important.