A Summer to Remember

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I remember as an incoming freshman I was one of those people who was beyond excited to move away from home to attend university. Granted, I came from a city that was only an hour and a bit from UTM, but the thought of living in a new city and embarking on a new chapter of my life was so incredibly uncertain and exciting. The first three years of university were great, however, I found myself slowly getting into the routine of things and adjusting to this new lifestyle. School, work, and extracurricular did keep me occupied, however, I started to feel much too comfortable and I found myself losing motivation in the things I once found exciting.  My surroundings were now familiar, the city and the campus no longer had the same newness to me as it once did. That’s when I realized I wanted to do something different. I heard about my friends who had gone on exchanges and I thought to myself, “how cool would that be if I could live somewhere totally different.” I attended a study abroad fair on campus and I was sold, I knew going on exchange was what I needed to do to renew my motivations and drive. After research and consultations, I decided to do a two-month summer research opportunity at Cardiff University in Wales, Cardiff.

Cardiff University Main Building

Cardiff is a small but dynamic city, a perfect intertwinement of historical charm and modern style. It’s centred by Cardiff castle, bounded to the north by beautiful Bute Park and university buildings, and the River Taff to the west. Upon arriving, I could not wait to start exploring this new city! Every day after I finish work at the university laboratory, I would roam around the city and beyond. Some of the most iconic places I first visited in Cardiff are the Cardiff Castle- with a view overlooking the entire city, Cardiff Bay- a port overlooking and the city centre- home to many charming Victorian arcades filled with tiny shops and food markets.

St. Mary’s Street

A wonderful benefit to staying in a city for an extended amount of time is that you are not only limited to the main tourist attractions but you have far more time to explore the lesser known ones. You truly become like one of the locals, and grasp a better idea of the best places to eat, drink, study, and hangout. Some of the best cafes and pubs were recommended to me by friends, while others I came across purely by luck.

Fish and chips

Nata and Co – An amazing Portuguese bakery in the city centre

I’m a huge fanatic for food and I definitely wanted to try some of Cardiff’s specialties, such as their famous English Tea and crumpets housed at Pettigrew Tea Rooms right by the castle. It was hands down the best English tea experience I’ve ever had!

Pettigrew Tea Rooms

Some of my favourite memories were simply studying or reading in the cute cafes and taking long walks through Bute Park, which was only a 10 minute walk from where I stayed. The beautiful weather complimented my mood, as I often admired the gorgeous lake and the rolling green hills serving as a scenic backdrop to this perfect gem. I felt so relaxed and in tune with myself every time I came to this area. It definitely renewed my spirits and gave me a sense of calmness and serenity.

Bute Park

I could write pages and pages about the things I did and the places I traveled to during my stay in Cardiff, but I do not want this blog to be a mile long. Thus, I’ll limit myself to some of my favourite highlights of this trip. One of them was Penarth, a seaside resort a couple of miles south of Cardiff and Rhossili Bay, a gorgeous bay resting at the most western tip of Wales. Throughout this experience, I saw some of the most beautiful crafts of nature that left me in awe. I will let the photos speak for themselves.

Rhossili Bay


For any of you that may be in a rut or lacking a sense of motivation, I highly recommend going somewhere new. I cannot emphasize enough how refreshing it was to be in a completely new surrounding. This experience has given me a sense of joy and audacity I never would have anticipated. I loved having something to do every waking moment and feeling like there weren’t enough hours in a day. I constantly felt like there was so much to see and do, my curious hunger left unsatisfied. I could not get enough of the city, the people, and the culture. It was vastly different from where I had spent the last 10 plus years of my life.

There are countless things I’ve learned while being on exchange. You become much more independent. It may be daunting at first but at the end of it, you practically feel invincible. You become more confident, well read, well traveled, and knowledgeable about things that are beyond your area of study. There is no such thing as reaching your full potential, as personal growth is limitless. As long as you keep seeking experiences, the world is your oyster.

Written by: Grace Gao

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