100 Days Down

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It’s the last week of term, Christmas decorations are everywhere and finals are looming, so I thought I’d reflect on my time so far – which has flown by. I can’t really believe that I’ve almost finished my first term (‘semester’) which means that I’m almost halfway through my year abroad. As I write this I’ve been away for exactly 100 days and I can’t really believe that either. There have definitely been days when I just want to sit in my room and not talk to anyone, but at the same time I’ve made fab memories and had amazing opportunities that I wouldn’t have had back home in Durham, which outweigh the bad times.

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Making fun memories (in typical British weather) in the summer

Hardest Moments

1. Saying goodbye to everyone/making new friends

For me this was in two parts, where I left my dad and stepmum (and everyone else) in the UK but had 10 days with my mum out here in Canada. Before I left we made sure I had good memories to leave with, which made it a bit easier. I really loved having my mum with me, because it meant that I could get used to money, terms, looking the wrong way when crossing the road etc. with someone before being thrown in to uni work. What this did mean though was it was pretty hard to let her

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Making New Friends

get on a plane and abandon me in this new country. I also had a bit of a rough time in the first couple of months when I’d go somewhere and remember being there with my mum and homesickness would hit me out of the blue. But each day gets easier and after a while you get used to only seeing everyone through a computer screen – and Facebook messenger filters make things extremely entertaining. And once you’ve got over saying goodbye you’re immediately thrown into a new environment where you’re also trying to make new friends – which for me has been ridiculously hard and it took me quite a long time before I felt comfortable, but again in time things get better and now I’m feeling happy and settled.

2. Getting used to a new school system

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Flat study session in the library (because we do actually work as well)

I think I’ve said this before, but I’ve both enjoyed and hated experiencing a new system. Here I only have 4 modules each semester (instead of 6 at Durham), but I have more hours and generally the workload is a bit more. I had to completely change my working style (which was not easy for me), and getting used to different referencing and essay styles was difficult, but again once you’ve settled into a routine and worked out how to make it work everything gets easier

3. Language barriers

This is clearly a bit of a joke, seeing as Calgary speaks English, but its complicated to hear a term or word and have no idea what it is to only be explained that its something completely different in the UK. And then comes the inevitable debate about which term or word makes more sense. This also happens within the internationals (Aussies I’m looking at you), and at times even with the other exchanges from the UK. I’m torn between being stubborn and sticking to what I normally say and changing to Canadian terms so that people don’t always ask what I’m on about when I’m talking to them (e.g. when I say I like someone’s jumper and they have no idea what I mean because a UK jumper is a sweater in Canada).

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Combing Canadian Thanksgiving with Australian Delicacies…

4. Adapting to Canadian style food

Obviously the worst part for me was when I ran out of Yorkshire tea and had to buy Orange Pekoe tea from the supermarket (this seems to be the Canadian equivalent of ‘English Breakfast’). The bread also tastes weird because it has sugar in it and there’s no brown pasta or Wensleydale cheese, which if you know me is a literal disaster. I’m a fussy eater so the first few weeks were pretty hit and miss. Especially

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Emergency Food Parcels

trying to find something to try and replace Wensleydale (which could never happen). Most food is more expensive here than in the UK, so in the first few weeks I had to change my eating habits and what I usually buy regularly. But it’s also strange because some things are much cheaper – just a small tip, don’t get the cheapest fish possible purely because it’s cheap – it probably won’t be very nice…

Best/Most Satisfying Moments

1. The First time you find you way to all your lectures on time without getting lost

This has been easier for me seeing as my Mondays, Wednesdays + Fridays and Tuesdays + Thursdays are exactly the same, but the feeling when you realise you know your way around campus (including short cuts, best ways to stay out of the cold etc.) is really satisfying, and for me was one of the first moments when I realised I was settled in and ready to stay for a year.

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After standing on 3 frozen lakes we needed to come up with interesting poses for our photos…

2. Going on trips with friends

A good thing about a year abroad is that, in a way, you can concentrate on the fun things and (slightly) less on the academic side (don’t completely ignore your classes…). This has meant that over the last 100 days I’ve gone on numerous weekends away and day trips to a wide range of places, some utterly ridiculous (e.g. back country camping halfway up a mountain in the snow) but all so much fun. I’ve walked on frozen lakes, seen elk up close (because we nearly ran over it…), climbed mountains, gone snowshoeing and gone skiing, along with other trips.

3. New Experiences

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Smiling at the top of our first proper run because we didn’t realise what a massive mistake we were making

There are so many things I can do out here that I’ve not been able to do back home. The obvious example is to do with snow, like snowshoeing, and skiing, which is something I’ve always wanted to do but never been able to, and I’ve now managed to struggle my way down a green run (which I’m very proud of), I can get on and off a chair lift without falling off (mostly), and now I want to ski as much as possible. There are smaller opportunities as well – UofC is very sport orientated, Kinesiology is pretty big and everyday there’s some kind of sport to get involved with. Elite athletes also train at the Olympic Oval and the Speed Skating World Cup was held there over the weekend, so walking to and from class and passing athletes in national team kit is pretty exciting.

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Autumnal Viewpoint over the City

4. Exploring a New Country

I have loved (and sometimes not liked so much) living in a completely new country. Seeing different landscapes, architecture, lifestyles, culture etc. has been fabulous, and made me appreciate the things I love most about home, but also I see bits that I prefer over here. The landscape is so different from what I’m used to in Yorkshire, it’s so flat and all the roads are completely straight while I’m used to rolling green hills and ridiculously wiggly roads. I loved seeing the Hoodoos which were completely different to anything I’ve ever seen, I noticed the trees turning orange in Autumn (for a brief period before the snow) which I take for granted

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The Frozen Waterfalls were Amazing

back home, and the views from the top of Sulphur Mountain and at Lake Louise were like nothing I’ve ever seen before. Seeing Elk and Wild Sheep (which are completely different to our sheep) and the threat of being attacked by bears is exciting, and seeing a city full of modern office blocks and buildings threw me first, being used to old brick buildings everywhere. Snow staying on the ground for two weeks or more, and everyone continuing about their day as usual, which is something that would just not happen in the UK. There have been many similarities, but more differences, and I’ve loved living in a completely new culture.

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One of numerous Dinos games I’ve been to

 

5. Living on Campus

Compared to Durham, living on campus at UofC has been completely different, but something I’ve loved, which is also strange because when I was choosing universities when I was 18 I was adamant that I didn’t want a campus uni. It makes going to 9ams pretty easy (although I still dread them anyway, as I am doing with my three 8am exams next week) and it means everything is within reaching distance. UofC has a tunnel system connecting most buildings, so when the snow hits I can make my

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Skiing next to the Olympic Ski Jump

way to classes and be outside for as minimal amount of time as possible. As a kines student and a sport lover it’s great to be able to walk 5 minutes to watch Dinos matches in volleyball, basketball, ice hockey etc. and the same distance to amazing sport facilities (which are also mostly free to use). The fact that everyday I walk through buildings left over from the 1988 Winter Olympics is incredible – I’ve skated on the ‘fastest ice in the world’ at the Olympic Oval, skied next to the ski jump that made Eddie the Eagle famous, walked and skated in the Olympic Plaza where the Olympic medals were handed out and been in the stadium where the opening and closing ceremonies were held.

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Cultural Guilt

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After almost 11 weeks in Paris, one of the things I’ve struggled with the most is the guilt of not making the most of my time here. When I’m relaxing after university, eating tinned soup and even when I’m studying I have the feeling that I could be using my time to see and experience more of Paris.

This feeling was growing towards the end of October as I’d spent a lot of the month worrying about and sorting wifi, my bank account and then even more so when I had a mid-term exam for each of my modules. Mid-terms at my host university count for about 20% of the module mark and normally take place between 18:00 and 20:00 in the evening. This is probably my peak procrastination time so really isn’t when I’d choose to take a relatively important test.  This meant staying in and studying for these, taking more time due to the language difference and resulting in more guilt. The other side of this is guilt for not studying. I was in a bit of a vicious cycle, yet to find a balance between everything.

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I will admit to a quick visit to Le Musée de l’Orangerie when I should have been studying.

However, with midterms over and everything finally sorted, I’m planning to assuage my guilt by getting some more cultural activities under my belt. The next week is looking hopeful with plans to visit the Catacombs of Paris as well as an organised run through the heart of Paris and a birthday party with lots of other Erasmus students.

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At the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées.

This past weekend also allowed me to experience some fantastic food and discover what there is to do in Paris other than visiting museums. Despite being vegetarian and most menus listing only meat and fish based meals, asking for a vegetarian alternative normally results in some delicious food. On top of the incredible food, a highlight of my weekend was seeing a classical music performance at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées. This was a brand new experience for me and was such an exciting opportunity to get dressed up and discover something a bit different. With tickets as cheap as 5 € I think I’ll go again!

Finally, I was lucky enough to be invited for a meal in the Eiffel Tower, by far the coolest thing I’ve ever done. This was an experience of a lifetime made all the better by exceptional food, breath taking views and great company. While we were up on the second floor, the weather changed from rain to fog and then cleared to give an amazing sunset. This gave us some dreamy photos (see below) which I’ll be showing to people for a long time to come.

 

 

 

 

 

Student Nations: a 101

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The thought of  escaping the comfort of the Durham-bubble for 12 months was a big factor in my decision to undertake an Erasmus year – a notion which is becoming increasingly ironic as I spend more time here in Uppsala. Researching before I moved to this small, medieval European student city, reading about it’s dominating castle and cathedral, rural surrounds and strong café culture, I’m still not entirely sure whether I missed the uncanny parallels, or was drawn to them. Obviously, Sweden has presented some degree of culture-shock, even if it’s only in the form of the weather (snow in October, anyone?), but I can’t help feeling at times that I’ve entered some sort of colder, more expensive parallel universe.

The most obvious counterpart to Durham has to be the tradition of Student Nations. I’ve alluded to these previously, but, as the core of student culture in Uppsala, they deserve an explanation in full. The notion may seem a bit foreign, and my friends here were certainly perplexed by the system, but, as a Durham student, I had an immediate point of comparison. The idea of belonging to a small student body, complete with its own housing, pub, societies and formal dinners was completely new to most internationals; to a Durham student, however, this is a simply our collegiate system dressed in stylish Swedish garb.

The ‘nation’ model was adopted by Swedes from the French in the 17th century, and today exists in Uppsala university and our greatest rival, Lund. There are 13 nations in total, each named after a Swedish province: Stockholms Nation, Gotlands Nation, Västgöta Nation (VG), Östgöta Nation (OG), Gästrike-Hälsinge Nation (GH) , Göteborgs Nation, Värmlands Nation, Norrlands Nation, Uplands Nation, Kalmar Nation, Södermanlands-Nerikes nation (aka Snerikes), Västmanlands-Dala (V-Dala) and Smålands nation.

Traditionally, to be eligible to join a specific nation you would have to be from the province it represented. In today’s international academic environment, however, that logic doesn’t translate too well, and all students are now free to chose to join whichever nation/s they wish. This is with the exception of Snerikes, which still maintains that Swedish students reside in/ have close family residing in its associated province if they wish to become members. I’ve heard that people go to the lengths of presenting their grandparents’ birth certificates in a bid to join, so I was very relieved to hear that this condition is waived for Erasmus students!

Each nation varies massively in size, history and character, making for a lot of overwhelmed students in the first week of term, each very conscious of the looming deadline to join a nation before the temporary, all-access card given upon arrival expires. I, being true to form, deliberated for hours over the pros and cons of each nation, but finally settled for Västgöta and Snerikes, the two oldest nations – an apt choice for a history student.

The famous ‘Pink Castle’ of Snerikes nation

Snerikes is a very popular choice for international students, mainly because membership grants you free entry to a weekly club night held in the incredible ‘pink castle’. Built in the 1890s, it’s what it says on the tin, and its grandiose exterior is continued inside, with a large staircase winding upwards from the first dance floor to a balcony flagging the other two club rooms, in which portraits of sombre-looking old white men stare down at you disparagingly whilst you dance. It’s quite the experience.

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VG’s beautiful nation house

Västgöta nation, whose house boasts a candlelit medieval cellar as its pub, is one of the smaller nations, but equally historic and charming. Sitting on the riverbank, it has a lovely beer garden (which I only got to glimpse before it closed at the end of ‘summer’ in early September), quaint library upstairs and the most amazing daily vegetarian soup lunch.

Every nation serves food of some variety, whether it be three-course vegetarian dinners at Kalmar, study fika at Uplands, Sunday brunch at VG or traditional Thursday pea soup at Norrlands, the choice is expansive, the prices are good and the best thing is that they are entirely student designed and run. Working at a nation is something every student should try at least once – the pay is never the incentive (you can expect about £10 for a 6 hour shift, and if, like most exchange students, you don’t have a Swedish bank account, you won’t be able to receive it anyway), but it’s a lovely friendly environment, there’s always free food, and it’s a rare chance to meet elusive Swedes. I worked at Sunday brunch a few weeks ago with a friend, and the ‘work’ consisted largely of making industrial scale pancakes and hummus, which we ended up bringing home with us.

If nations are the body of student life in Uppsala, gasques are the beating heart. Best described as Durham formals on crack, these evenings need to be experienced to be understood, but I’ll give it a try. The night begins at around 5pm, when members of a nation gather in varying degrees of formal wear (according to dress code) for a drinks  reception. Following this, a three course dinner is served in the nation’s great hall. So far, so Durham, you might be thinking. You’d be wrong. Whereas Durham formals are occasionally enlivened by some odd traditions, in Uppsala the traditions are the gasque.

Firstly, every student owns a songbook specific to their own nation, which is employed at increasingly regular intervals throughout the night. You arrive for the dinner, you sing. Your food is served, you sing. Someone gives a speech, you sing. A choir or theatre group performs; you sing a special song to thank them for their efforts. And, of course, all these songs are unfamiliar and entirely in Swedish. After every song, a shot of snaps is drunk, involving an elaborate toasting ritual which had to be taught to us new students at our recentiors (freshers) gasque. The songbooks also serve as a journal for your friends to write notes in during the evening, which tradition dictates cannot be read until the morning after. The dinner ends with, you guessed it, another song, which is finished whilst standing on your chair – if you take a seat after this point it’s said you’ll never graduate…which is a convenient means of emptying the room of rowdy students and releasing them into wherever has been assigned as the dance floor for the night’s festivities.

Often, the gasques are themed: in the Backwards Gasque desert is served first and guests dress in pyjamas;  the Luccegasque celebrates Sweden’s St. Lucia by serving a traditional Christmas smörgåsbord ; and the Sångbooks Gasque provides extra singing for those who find the usual schedule to be a little too quiet for their taste…

Every year around Halloween, one of the most famous of Uppsala’s gasques occurs: the Skelettgasque. The story goes that, a few hundred years ago an Uppsala alumnus died, donating his body to the university in his will. The problem was that he was a member of two nations, Östgöta and Gästrike-Hälsinge, so his remains belonged to both. This issue was creatively resolved by separating his skull from his body, and ceremoniously bringing the two parts together once every year at a feast held in his honour. This tradition became the Skelettgasque, which is now distinctly Halloween themed, with a costumed dress code and the nation house replete with cobwebs and bloodied hand prints, and of course the skeleton of the great man himself taking pride of place on stage. I had a brilliant, if somewhat bizarre, evening, though was greatly disappointed when my (less naïve/ better sighted) friends pointed out the plastic qualities of the skeleton… our suspicions were confirmed when the hosts started dancing onstage with the bones, but I still like to imagine that the real thing was lurking in a cupboard somewhere nearby.

So that’s nations in a nutshell. Job opportunities, dancing, studying and, most importantly, singing. Student life in Uppsala just wouldn’t exist without them, and, as a Durham student, you can be sure that you’ll feel right at home.

 

 

 

One Month In

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So the title is a bit of a lie because I’ve been in Canada almost 7 weeks

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Campus covered in snow
on the 1st October!)

now, but 1.5 months in didn’t sound as good… but there are still situations that take my breath away. A couple of weeks ago we woke up to a covering of snow, and walking to my 9am was actually enjoyable, wrapped up in loads of layers with fresh white snow on the ground but the trees were still autumnal, bright orange with some green.

The International Centre have put on a couple of trips and events, and the Greyhound Buses are pretty good for exploring by yourself. We’ve visited Banff, Canmore and Lake Louise in the Rocky Mountains, which as an area is just amazing. The scenery, lakes surrounded by huge mountains with the tops covered in snow with forests all around is incredible – and having the opportunity to explore this place is awesome.

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Lake Louise

Lake Louise

We planned this trip ourselves to go out and explore the Rockies a bit – it involved waking up stupidly early to get a taxi to the Greyhound bus station, where we were all pretty blurry eyed (understandably). The bus journey was about 2.5 hours, stopping in a couple of places along the way. This was my first look at an area of Canada outside a city and it was pretty cool! We basically drove in a straight line for an hour or so, and once we got out of the city we were in the ‘plains’, where it’s almost

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Waterfall at the top of Lake Louise

completely flat and on either side it just goes on until the horizon. Once we got a bit further out of town you could start to see snow capped mountains in the distance, which was an amazing view.

Lake Louise itself is a beautiful lake surrounded by mountains and forests and other smaller lakes. We took the regular tourist photos at Lake Louise before hiking up to Lake Agnes. This was our first experience of going up and we’re at altitude here so it was pretty tough going, but eating our lunch by the side of a lake looking out over the valley with chipmunks (potentially) was running around next to us made it worth it!

Banff

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Flat 209 at Sulphur Mountain

This was a trip put on by the International Student Service. Banff is about two hours outside Calgary in the Rockies, most buildings are wood and the aesthetics are cool. We walked down to some pretty cool rapids before taking the (extremely wobbly) Cable Car (confusingly called a Gondola) up Sulphur Mountain. The views from the top were absolutely incredible and the Aussies got very excited by the snow at the top which was fun to watch, especially when

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Aussies + Bea intrigued by Snow

you encourage them to hold the snow with no gloves for a photo. We decided it would be good to walk down instead of taking the cable car, which led to an extremely precarious though hilarious couple of hours – we’d seen the snow on the paths on the way up but didn’t register that by 2pm a lot of people would have walked on it, meaning it was very packed down and practically ice, on a very steep and tall mountain, and only one of us was wearing appropriate shoes. Overall it was on one of my highlights so far!

Canmore

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Lunch with a View

This was another outing that a couple of us arranged ourselves (ie we booked a Greyhound bus). Another ridiculously early morning was rewarded again with the views over the Plains and the rockies – we drove past the 1988 Olympic Park and seeing the ski jump (think Eddie the Eagle) was pretty cool!

When we arrived we spent a while trying to work out where to go (Canmore is like Banff but ‘less touristy’ – meaning the tourist office is a 40 minute walk outside the centre of town, which we weren’t that keen on… we eventually found

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our bearing and got a bus to the start of a hike up to Grassi Lakes, which was my favourite walk I’ve done so far. We walked through the forest (amid bear warnings) and every so often got a view through the trees over the valley and Canmore town, and as we got higher the view got better each time. We were following a waterfall the whole way up and the lakes at the top were incredible – the colour was pretty unbelieavable, and sitting on a rock with mates looking over the best view I’ve had so far was a definite highlight of my 6 weeks here. What made it great as well was almost constant snow flurries throughout the day – it’s like drizzle back home, just constantly there but not bothering your day – but snow drizzle is much more fun than rain drizzle, and again it got the Aussies excited!

Drumheller

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View from the World’s Largest Dinosaur

This was another ISS planned trip, and it was pretty cool, but not really what we expected. First stop was the dinosaur museum, which had certain fun bits (e.g. the interactive children’s activities) but wasn’t really what we’d signed up for and it was a really sunny day outside so it felt a bit annoying to be stuck inside. We walked a little bit through the hoodoos outside the museum before we all got take back into town to climb the World’s Largest Dinosaur which was again cool but a little weird. Walking round town was strange as well – apparently it was a typical Albertan town, and it was pretty small and quiet – though there were 22+ dinosaur statues dotted around the town (including a batman one). We then got

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Hoodoos

taken to a suspension bridge above an old mine before going to the main Hoodoo area, which were my favourite bit. These are some kind of tall rock, and basically we were let loose on them and climbed/ scrambled up to the top which showed Hoodoos stretching on for pretty long way! Coming down was pretty exciting… it was basically lose dirt, meaning we pretty much just slid down the entire thing. The bus journey back was basically the Brits trying to wind up the Aussies as much as possible and arguing about whether British or Australian things were better (e.g. vegetate vs marmite, weetabix vs weetbix etc.) which I think made every single other person on the bus hate us.

Obviously I’ve been working as well – I’ve been able to do subjects that I wouldn’t be able to do at Durham, so I’m studying some history modules as well some Kinesiology subjects that can link in to my degree which is a real benefit to being on a year abroad, since you can explore things you can’t necessarily learn at Durham to expand your degree programme, but you can also do some electives (though it obviously depends on your faculty)! I’ve also done a couple of little things, like ice skating, incredibly tense bingo games and watched Canadian Football, Ice Hockey and Field Hockey matches. I’ve seen the weather turn from 25 degrees and sunny to -6 in 3 days, and I’ve eaten way too much pizza. It definitely hasn’t been plain sailing for the last 7 months, but it has been pretty awesome.

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A strange sight to see…

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unnamedTo most people this is probably a strange scene and it certainly turned a few heads through campus on Friday. I’ve seen these kind of thing in TV shows but never in real life  – I didn’t think people actually did this. Yet, it is these slightly weird and wonderful scenes that have now become an unsurprising and almost expected part of my year abroad experience and my time here at Otago.

The challenge: keep your hand on the van the longest.

The rules: one hand on the van at all times, no sitting down, no food but water is allowed, 2 toilet breaks (meticulously timed at 10 mins). And also complete any challenge Hugh the OUSA president makes up on the day.

The prize: the van (a.k.a. The Silver Bullet)

As I wrote this they had been running on the spot and doing high knees whilst keeping their hands on the van for at least five minutes. Hugh tempted them to let go with free pizzas and supermarket vouchers (a valuable commodity). Health and safety of course is important, especially on hot days so suncream was handed round periodically. It was a competition of who could be the most stubborn – and stand up for the longest! You don’t just win a van here, you get to keep your pride. Although having a car as a student here is not as uncommon as in Durham people still love you for it. Watching from my sunny lunch spot on the balcony above really opened my eyes to how much of a spectator sport it actually is!

Unfortunately I couldn’t spend my whole day watching people stand by a van but I am told that after 14 hours a winner was crowned. Apparently they had to resort to a general knowledge quiz to knock out the last few ‘competitors’.

The ‘Great Silver Bullet Giveaway’ was run by the Otago Universities Students Association (OUSA) which is like the equivalent of the DSU.  They help to run most of the student societies, provide a space for delicious $3 lunches (more on that in the future), have a sauna and in general make campus a fun place to be by organising events like this one throughout semester. Everyone here works hard on their studies, especially as we near the end of the academic year. But at the same time, so many people came out to enjoy the sun, have a study break and a laugh watching the competition even though exams are just over 3 weeks away.

There always seems to be something happening on campus here and I’m loving getting involved in anything I can. Since I got here in July, we’ve had student art exhibitions, rummage sales, photography competition displays and market stalls in the courtyard. During the recent NZ general election the central university Link was even used as a polling station. The liveliness and buzz about campus makes it a lovely place to study.

Not quite french yet

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Hi everyone!

I’ve been living in Paris for just over 5 weeks now and a lot of things have happened since my last post: I’ve finally found myself somewhere to live (phew!), I’ve started going to classes properly and I’ve already handed in work that counts towards my final mark – all before Durham has even had freshers’ week. The only sad part about moving into my new flat was the fact that I’d no longer get to walk past the best shop in the world on one of my daily commutes. Aptly named ‘The Dog Club’ as it sells the most adorable puppies, which are on display for everyone to see!

However, 5 weeks has definitely been enough time for me to notice the massive cultural differences as well as just the downright weirdness of life in France. Here’s 5 things that I’ve noticed so far:

  1. It’s not easy to find proper cup of tea: As a tea addict, this is the main issue I’ve encountered so far (a lot more problematic than missing my first week of classes). The French almost always choose coffee, which is not something I’m willing to get on board with. The first thing I’ve learned is not to order tea in a café or you’ll end up having to go back and ask for milk. The second is that once your supply of PG Tips has run out, head straight to Marks and Spencer’s for the next best thing- their strong English Breakfast tea. Finally, don’t expect to survive by boiling water in a pot, it’s just not the same.

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    The kettle and toaster I bought to complete my flat.

  2. France is closed on a Sunday: I thought it was annoying that many shops in England close early on a Sunday, but this is the next level. Almost everything is closed on a Sunday. It’s possible you might find the odd shop but you’d have to be looking quite hard. Apparently, no one is unwell on a Sunday either with all pharmacies and doctors having their doors firmly locked and their shutters down. The only saving grace is that McDonalds follows its own rules, so there’s no lack of Mcflurrys all week round.
  3. Every lecture or class is at least 2 hours: Coming from a University where lectures and tutorials are 50 minutes, and the longest class I’ve had is 3 hours, this was quite a shock. Not only are all lectures and tutorials 2 hours, but my programming and practical classes are 4 hours! (not including the 15 minutes that’s meant to be a break). I’m slowly getting used to this new system, but I have to say I’ve struggled to retain my concentration for 4 hours- who wouldn’t?
  4. The use of the internet hasn’t really caught on yet: Pretty much everything here is done on paper. Processes that would normally be quite straightforward in England such as opening a bank account and signing up for modules all have to be done in person or via a hand written form in the post. This does tend to mean that everything takes a lot longer and uses a lot more paper than it really needs to…
  5. French keyboards are confusing: A bit of a strange point, but one that has been quite a big deal amongst my friends and I, even those from countries such as Germany and The Netherlands. Here in France, the QWERTY keyboard doesn’t exist and you have to hold ‘shift’ to be able to type numbers and even for a full stop. It doesn’t sound like much of a problem, before you realise that your typing is littered with ‘q’s instead of ‘a’s and symbols where you meant to type numbers. Have a go yourself by following this link :https://www.branah.com/french

So there you have my summary of what I’ve learned here so far. It turns out that most things are very similar to England, but there a couple of differences that I haven’t quite managed to get my head around yet. At least the buildings are always pretty:

 

Screaming, saunas and sunsets: A belated rant about accommodation 

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Hej hej folks!

Apologies for the delay in posting, I’ve been documenting my days by taking an excessive number of photos over the past few weeks, but have only today found the time to sit down and write. Too much has happened for me to produce anything comprehensive that’s even vaguely succinct, so I thought I’d focus on addressing the issue of accommodation, which is a pretty vital starting point for any exchange student.

I can’t say that the Erasmus application process was particularly smooth for me, but beyond a doubt the most stressful aspect was the month or so I spent in search of private accommodation online this summer. The standard procedure for exchange students at Uppsala is an accommodation guarantee for the duration of your studies, but for one reason or another this had fallen through for me, so I was informed I’d need to find somewhere to live on my own. Okay, okay, so I know this probably sounds a bit melodramatic, considering the stress a lot of my friends living abroad have been under, actually moving to a new country with nothing more than a few nights in an Airbnb secured. The difference is, however, that said friends were moving to cities where the housing market is relatively navigable. I’m not entirely sure what the issue is in Uppsala, or indeed in Sweden as a whole, but finding property to rent at short (or even long) notice is pretty much a no-go.

Articles such as this https://www.thelocal.se/20100928/29292, filled with their horror stories of students sleeping rough in the cathedral, lingered at the back of my mind through exams, and firmly made their way to the forefront as I divided my time between celebrating the end of second year and scouring the internet for available rooms. I paid to join a housing queue in which I never achieved a place below 100, sent numerous messages in response to ads (and learnt never to expect a reply) and eventually started to consider the possibility of abandoning the whole endeavour and begging the history department to find space for me this October.

As you’ve probably guessed – apologies for spoilers – this story has a happy ending. The scare-mongering emails I’d received from the housing office never came to fruitation, and I was able to secure a room through the university in a later application in June. It’s worth noting, however, the challenges you might have to face if you can’t get an accommodation guarantee. It’s by no means impossible to find somewhere, but determination and a little creativity (a friend of mine is currently living in a vicar’s house some miles out of Uppsala…) may need to be called upon.

So, as to where I finally ended up living! The point of that rather excessive context was, I think, to emphasise my belief that, so long as you’ve a roof over your head in Uppsala, you’re good. I’ve been rather envious of friends here who’ve the luxury of beautiful self-contained flats in the city centre, but at the end of the day, I’m here, and that very nearly didn’t happen. For exchange students applying for accommodation through the university, you’ve the option of selecting your top three choices. I won’t list them here, but the various options can be viewed at http://housingoffice.se, and I’m more than happy to chat to any potential applicants about the housing available.

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The deceptively charming path to Flogsta…

I mentioned Flogsta in passing in my first blog post, but, as an institution in its own right, it deserves returning to. I’ve been reliably informed that Flogsta emerged as the product of a rather endearing, if entirely naïve, belief that consigning hundreds of students to a purpose-built complex, in woodland 3 km outside of the city, would result in an environment conducive to peaceful study. The environs are indeed beautiful, with bike paths from the city leading through densely forested, bilberry studded grounds, but its charm ends there. Despite the presence of families, Flogsta is very much a microcosm of student life, and somewhat deserved of its affectionate (?) nickname the ‘Swedish Ghetto’. Flogsta consists of both ‘low’ and ‘high’ houses, the latter of which there are 10, each with 7 floors of two flats of 12 inhabitants…you do the math. As a result of such a large student populace, and a questionable housing company, the standards of hygiene leave a lot to be desired, and my initial excitement at realising I had a balcony was quickly shattered when I saw the state the previous inhabitants had left it in.

 


Flogsta found fame online a few years ago when a video of one of Uppsala’s strangest student traditions went viral. If you’re ever on site at 10 pm, beware, as the peace of the surrounding countryside is brutally shattered by the ‘Flogsta Scream’, a nightly exercise in stress relief which sees students leaning out of their windows and yelling with gusto for a good few minutes. Having participated on my first night in Uppsala, after a long and stressful day of travel, I can confirm its therapeutic properties, but I’m since finding it more useful as a timepiece – the punctuality never ceases to amaze.

 

Flogsta is also renowned for its parties, which test the limits of student ingenuity with brilliant results. I’d only been in Uppsala for a few weeks before word got around about a rooftop party on the building next to mine. The bizarre appearance of the high houses, which is best described as a fusion between brutalism and sci-fi, is partly a product of the colourful corrugated structures which sit atop of each building. These roofs actually house saunas, which were once accessible to all students, but after a series of escalating incidents – culminating in a flaming sofa being tipped from a rooftop – have officially been closed. The construction of metal bars on the steps up to the roofs has, however, failed to entirely deter students. Which is how I found myself climbing  through a narrow gap in the bars to join a host of others enjoying the sunset nine stories up.

 

The housing company has apparently since got word of this unintentional access point, and clamped down further, but I was so glad to get a chance to see the view whilst I still could. Looking east across to the lights of the city and westwards out over vast expanses of beautiful Swedish countryside, the quirks of Flogsta could be forgotten. Until of course, the clock struck ten…