Karlie Kotsabasakis

Academic exchange | Bangor, Wales

4th year Arts (Psychology major)

Where did you live when you studied abroad? I lived in residence in the Enlli (pronounced En-hih-lee… the double ‘l’ makes a ‘h’ sound in Welsh) building, which was the furthest building from everything, but the newest and nicest!

What was the hardest thing when you arrived in Bangor? The initial shock that you are officially away from home (for me for the first time as I stayed home for university), and away from everything you know for the next three and a half months. Also not having any sense of where you are, how to get to your residence building, where the university is.

What was the easiest thing when you arrived in Bangor? Getting settled in. When we got there early September it was just international students, so they gave us time to get used to things and to unpack in residence, see the town before it got too busy.

What did you find different about studying in a Welsh University? First of all, the university was straight out of a Harry Potter movie and is even nicknamed Hogwartz. It was beautiful. But not a whole lot was different. I had seminar courses along with my lecture, which doesn’t happen back home. 5 courses at home was equivalent to 3 ‘modules’ in Wales. There was also hardly any homework. Most of my modules just had one essay and one exam for the entire semester.

Best things about Bangor? The food was so good. It took us a while, but we eventually landed upon this cute little café not far from campus called Blue Sky Cafe, and it is maybe one of the things I will miss most about Bangor. It served the best hot chocolate, homemade soups, fresh sandwiches, homemade pastries... we often studied here as well. Bangor is small too, so everything was in close proximity. If I needed something from the grocery store, it was only like a 5 minute walk from my residence, school was only 10 minutes if that, downtown to places like the café was just a hop and a skip from the school. The weather was hard to get used to because rain storms were not uncommon, but they usually were short lived. Other than that, the temperature was like warm fall weather the entire time we were there which was nice, and the grass stayed green and leaves were on the trees. That was something that was so weird to us the entire time we were there. Going back home in December we knew would be a shock because we were like how are we going to go home to snow now, when here in December everything is vibrant green?

What do you find most interesting about Bangor? There were no stop lights, literally just round-abouts. The side-walks were so small, and it took us forever to get used to checking left and not right before crossing the street. Houses were close together. When some of the Brits found out some of us live on nearly an acre of land, it blew their minds.

Most memorable experience in Bangor? One of the first things we did when we got to Bangor was me and three other Canadian friends I met went to Snowdonia National Park to hike Snowdon, which is their highest mountain in Wales. In total, we walked over 24,000 steps (9.5 miles, 205 floors). It was an amazing hike and I felt like I was on the set of Game of Thrones the entire time. At the summit, we pulled out a Canadian flag for a picture.

Funniest thing that happened to you in Bangor? We met someone from London studying in Bangor who we became friends with, and immediately like everyone else when they hear our accent, he asked where we were from, but we just kind of shrugged it off like he wouldn’t know many places in Canada, let alone our small city. Come to find out, he just spent a few weeks in Saint John for rugby. It was so weird I don’t think he believed it until he said he visited a really good Italian restaurant and my friends said “Italian by Night?” and his jaw dropped because they guessed right.

This wasn’t the only time this happened though. We went to this Fresher’s event where we could sign up for extra-curricular activities. A Bangor student working one of the booths asked me where we were from, and the same story where I just said a small province in Canada. He asked me again, so I said it’s New Brunswick. He also had recently visited because he goes to Maine in the U.S for sports camps. It was so cool to go so far away and meet people who have been to New Brunswick, and loved it as well.

In terms of the Canadians we were friends with, they made fun of us East Coasters and our accents the most. I guess compared to them (from West Coast and North of Canada), we pronounced words like ‘car’ with a thick accent and they found it funny. The Brits also loved and basically threw a party every time one of us said ‘eh’ at the end of a sentence.

Lastly, the Brits found it so funny when they would over hear our conversations about nonchalantly driving across Canada. We’d be like “oh we’ll come visit you in Ontario it’s just like a 12-hour drive!”, or “we’ll come see you in Halifax that’s just 4 hours away”... they’d think it was so funny because in the UK that would get you across the country and back.

What surprised you most about Bangor? How small it was and how the university was spread out across the entire town. Also, the amount of people who referred to Canada as just North America, or even just America. I was shocked by how many people weren’t familiar with Canada.

Food you miss the most and could not get in Wales? I missed normal chips because the brands tasted so different there, normal fries (they only have ‘chips’ which are thick cut potatoes), poutine obviously! They also didn’t have ranch there for some reason.

What did you miss about Canada when you studied abroad? My two cats and my puppy. My parents had just bought a puppy less than a month before I left, so it was so hard to leave her. I also missed normal Netflix which is lame, but true. By around end of November I missed all the celebration of Christmas. Like back home, you expect to see Christmas lights on houses by late November, Christmas music, Christmas decorations, but that didn’t happen in the UK really. They also don’t celebrate Halloween.

What do you like most about studying abroad? All of the people I met. In the orientation week there were meetings for just international students to help us get used to everything. Beyond that, there was a meeting for just North Americans. This is where me and 3 of my friends from Saint John met our closest friends for the semester. They were from all over Canada, even as far as the Yukon, and we picked up one American from Denver, Colorado! It was such a good group of friends and we traveled together to places like London and Dublin. Other than that, I liked just having the opportunity to experience campus life. At home, I live with my parents, so I’ve never had a true university experience. It was so cool to have ‘flat mates’ and share a living space in a residence with 8 other people from all over the world.

How many other countries did you visit when you were studying abroad? I visited London twice, Manchester twice, Dublin (had to visit the famous Temple Bar!), some towns in Wales, and my favourite by far was Athens, Greece when my Dad came to visit me on my reading week.

What are your future plans, and has studying abroad made you change your future plans? Hopefully to visit again someday, or to convince my British friends/West Coast Canadian friends to visit East Coast Canada! It hasn’t necessarily made me change my future plans, sometimes I think of going back to Europe for grad school, but I think it was a great opportunity and it will open more doors for me in the future.

Do you have any advice to future students, who may wish to study abroad? Just take the chance and the risk. It is terrifying in the months leading up, and even initially when you arrive abroad, but it is so worth it in the end. It truly flies by and then you’re home again. The chances of getting an experience like this along with good timing to do it is so slim, so just go for it.

More stories like this