August 15, 2016, by Liz Cass

Kuala Lumpur to Beeston by train – one academic’s epic journey between two University campuses.

They are separated by more than 8,000 miles, and for most people a day’s plane travel, yet a University of Nottingham academic is on a more unusual route between the UK and Malaysia.

Pins mark on Southeast Asia countries.

Associate Professor Suzanne McGowan is returning to The University of Nottingham after a three year secondment as Head of the School of Geography at The University of Nottingham Malaysia campus.

Instead of taking a plane she has decided to make the journey using a network of 16 trains and three buses via South East Asia, China, Siberia, Russia and Europe. She is using the experience to write a blog titled Intercampus Inter-railing.

The journey is expected to take a month, from Kuala Lumpur to Beeston, via the trans-Siberian express. And it even factors in a quick catch up with fellow Ningbo campus geographers in Beijing.

After a lot of planning and visa applications, not to mention packing up three years’ worth of belongings ready for the Autumn term, Dr McGowan and fellow geographer  Nick Wallerstein left Malaysia on July 22.

Suzanne1While Dr McGowan writes that her hostelling days are behind her she writes from sleeper cabins – exploring the vast and varied landscape around her – and attempting to answer the question on everyone’s lips – why?

“I guess I would respond by saying why not? I’m geographer…so it’s a chance to explore. And a good way to avoid jetlag”, she said.

16 trains, 3 buses, 1 taxi, 8,000 miles…

The pair are already close to Poland and have seen geographical highlights such as the massive Mongolian steppe, the coastline north of Da Nang in Vietnam, the endless taiga forests of Russia, Lake Baikal (the deepest and oldest lake in the world), the beautiful historical sites in China (terracotta warriors and the Forbidden city).

But the adventures have not been without their challenges.

“We have really enjoyed trying to read things in Russian- it’s like cracking a code when you can understand some of the Cyrillic”, Dr McGowan said.

“The best word for learning this is Pectobah (restaurant- where P is an R, c is an s and h is an n….so you can sort of work out what’s what eventually. Generally it’s just great to get insights into how local people live and travel, what they eat and how they interact with foreigners which, in almost every case, has been either welcoming or, at the very least, curious.

Trainsiberian train bending between Ulaanbaatar and Beijing

“You get to see parts of countries that are not on the main tourist maps, and so get a broader experience of places. And I just love trying out food- I’m a vegan and so I really enjoy the challenge of hunting out places to find food. I have found some amazing new restaurants, that give a chance to try some of the local dishes.”

While she is looking forward to returning to being able to walk in the Peak District and run around Wollaton Park Dr McGowan said she will miss the ‘small campus vibe’ at UNMC.

She said: “We were working in a new school and on new programmes, so there was a sense of the pioneer spirit. Because of the small class sizes, you can really get to know the students and there is a much more diverse mix of nationalities at UNMC- I learned something new every day. And of course I’ll miss the weather, which has meant that I have never had to wear socks or shoes for the past 3 years.”

Follow Suzanne’s progress on her blog

Posted in Social SciencesStaff