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Posted 30.01.18

Studying in Vancouver - Rachel Ronnie reports back

By Kat Peberdy

Rachel Ronnie in the ceramics studios at Plymouth College of Art

Guest blog by Rachel Ronnie, BA (Hons) 3D Design Crafts

In September 2016, I was approached by staff at the college who asked me if I wanted to be part of an exchange program with a student from Emily Carr University in Vancouver, British Columbia. I’d considered Erasmus+ when I was in the second year, but I thought that I’d missed that chance so this seemed like too good an opportunity to miss a second time.

I applied in April 2017 and was one of 20 successful applicants. So off I went to Canada!

Rachel visited scenic parts of Vancouver such as Buntzen Lake

I arrived in Vancouver a few weeks before my classes started so I had time to explore the city. I discovered Kitsilano beach during the first week, which went on to be one of my favourite spots in the whole city. There’s a place just by the beach where you can get a huge box of sushi for $10 (which is only about £6!)

Starting out as an exchange student in a brand-new university campus was a unique experience because everyone else is equally as confused about where anything is, but I soon settled in. I was really lucky that I was able to enrol in whatever classes I liked given there was enough space, so I decided to branch out and take classes in computer animation and woodwork, as well as ceramics, which was my area of study at Plymouth.

The 'cork calves' were part of my woodwork class. The class was called 'new materials' and we were restricted to using just wine cork as a material. I was working on the project collaboratively with two other girls on the exchange, from Sweden and Norway. In Scandinavia, they have a multi-stage race called Swim Run, in which contestants compete in pairs (like a triathlon minus the cycling).

Rachel's Cork Calves, designed and produced during a woodwork class

The initial design idea was that we would make it from completely organic materials, but every time we tested the experiments in water, they'd just begin to disintegrate, so we ended up using a non-toxic latex. The 'cork calves' were developed as an improvement of the current buoyancy devices that the athletes use. It took a lot of experimenting, but we ended up with a reasonably environmentally friendly and sustainable product that floats and is much more streamlined.

The learning outcome of my ceramics class was to 'learn something' whilst responding to the theme 'space' - it was a completely open brief, and I chose to go back to slip casting and mould making to refresh my skills on the basics. I decided to cast milk cartons as I liked the shape, which became a nice canvas to document my experience in Vancouver.

Rachel's fine porcelain pieces for her ceramics class

I began by responding to the 'new space' that I was living in, and over time I accumulated photos which I transferred into ceramic decals. The porcelain was so thin that I was able to light them with tea lights, and for the purpose of the exhibition, it was a bit of a memorial of my time in Vancouver. The photos included my friends, my apartment, trips that I'd taken, so it was very personal to me.

All of my instructors were industry specialists so I got a lot of great advice and support, as well as having the opportunity to collaborate with other students in group projects.

During my time in Vancouver, I shared a flat with another student in Mount Pleasant, a vibrant neighbourhood abundant with bars and restaurants; about a ten-minute bus journey from the university, and twenty minutes to downtown Vancouver.

Street art from the vibrant neighbourhood of Mount Pleasant

Some of my highlights from the four months include seeing killer whales on Bowen Island, zip-lining down a mountain in Whistler, and seeing the Canucks at an ice hockey game. There’s so much going on in Vancouver, so I was never short of something to do.

Although going to university in a different country has been great for my creative practice, the experience of living abroad is totally unique. To anyone who’s even considering it, my advice would be to just go for it. Although you’re still there to study it’s a great time to get a bit of travel in before you graduate. I made some friends that I think I’ll stay in touch with for life, that on its own made it totally worthwhile.

Follow Rachel on Instagram to keep up to date with her work.

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