StudyAdvantage Magazine

The Life-Changing Christmas Break

Published: December 4, 2016


The days are getting shorter, deadlines are approaching, the internet is flooded with pictures of hot chocolate and cosy jumpers and the playlists in supermarkets have been drastically reduced to ‘Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree‘ and ‘Let it Snow’. Every student knows what this means – the Christmas break is coming! Many will be spending their well-deserved time-off with their friends and family. But when it comes to international students, they often don’t have the resources to go back home so instead they decide to explore the country of their alma mater.

We wanted to know more about their experience and so we spoke to the traveller and gaming fan Paola – a Canadian student who travelled around Europe during her break at the University of Manchester and describes her trip as “life-changing”!


april article photo

Tell us a bit about your undergraduate studies and why you decided to spend a semester abroad?                      

I was studying Sociology and Global Development Studies at Queen’s University in Canada. I wanted to study abroad to gain a new perspective and see how these topics are discussed elsewhere. At the same time, I thought studying abroad would provide me with a positive change of environment.


What was your study abroad experience like:

It was a mixed bag! I was very excited to be in Europe for the first time, but I didn’t know what to expect. There were things that I enjoyed a lot – especially meeting new people and making friends – but being on a tight budget I feel like I didn’t do as many things as my fellow study-abroad peers did. I remember needing to be very creative and resourceful because I want to travel as much as possible. I would refrain from going out every week to save for a 3-week solo-trip around Europe. Or I would find opportunities like working as an au pair so I could live in Spain for a month and a half.




Do you have a favourite memory from your time in the UK?

I think one of my fondest memories is visiting Liverpool. I was listening to Penny Lane by the Beatles while being in the actual location. It felt surreal and it’s something I’m really grateful for.



How was University of Manchester different from Queen’s University?

School work was different in many ways. There was a reduced work load in Manchester which was great because I had more free time on my hands. Volunteering was easier as well, I didn’t have to go on interviews or write cover letters and resumes.

 Manchester is also a bigger city and has much more on offer than the small town where Queen’s University is located.


The Christmas break is coming up and many international students in Europe will take this as an opportunity to travel. What was your Europe trip like?  

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 As cliché as it sounds, it definitely changed my life and the way I see myself. I got lost at night in many of the cities I visited. Some people will try to take advantage of your situation by, for example, jacking up taxi rates (be aware of this!) but most people are amazing. I remember one time when I was lost in Vienna. I was carrying this heavy backpack (side note: DO NOT BRING YOUR HEAVY LAPTOP) and I couldn’t find my hostel. I was lost in the middle of the night in this obviously dense suburban-like neighbourhood and I saw these two teenage girls who were walking their dogs. I approached them and they kindly walked me to the right place. During the walk, I learnt that they were step-sisters and one of them was planning to be a doctor. These kinds of situations taught me that you have to be open to people and not panic in stressful situations.

 I had many stressful moments. One such situation was when I sprained my ankle and booked the wrong train and therefore did not have a reserved hostel. However bad it may have been, it was still the most exciting, exhausting and exhilarating thing I’ve done in my life. Like I said earlier, it changed the way I see myself. I had to be with myself the whole time. I mean I got to meet other people and hang out with them for a few hours but I was with myself the entire time. I had to keep myself entertained for three weeks. I remember I developed a new sense of respect for myself because of my ability to handle all the mishaps along the way. I also got to see a lot of places, meet amazing people, experience great things including a trip to the opera in Vienna and a boat party in Budapest. I learned to value myself and THAT is a very important perspective moving forward in life.   


Where did you go and which destination surprised you the most?

I travelled by myself from Germany -> Hungary -> Czech Republic -> Austria -> Netherlands and back to the UK with a stopover in London. Before this, I went to Dublin during St Patrick’s weekend and Spain after the semester ended.

 I think the biggest surprise was Hungary. I didn’t think much of it when I decided to go there. Turns out it has a rich history, culture, and tons of things to do for people on a budget.

 amsterdam of                                 Amsterdam, Netherlands. PC

 budapest                                 Budapest, Hungary. Courtesy of Paola Santiago.


Do you have any advice for international students who will be spending their Christmas break away from home?

Find what you really like to do and do it. If you can be with a friend, that’s great! If you can’t, then treat it like any other break. For the actual holidays, treat it as an extra special day where you get to do whatever you like.


Read more about the University of Manchester HERE.



Article written by Tereza Gladisova, a contributing editor at StudyAdvantage covering stories in education, media and entertainment.


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