A strange sight to see…

Leave a comment Standard

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

Leave a comment Standard

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.

    IMG_7502

    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 

Leave a comment Standard

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.

22119324_1646563652029768_1567594865_n

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…

 

Why we fell in love with Lake Garda

Leave a comment Standard

Alongside the attractions of the city itself, one of Bologna’s best assets is its location relative to some other beautiful places in Italy: the famous Tuscan cities of Florence, Pisa and Siena are no more than two hours away; in an hour and a half you can reach the stunning principality of San Marino, near the Eastern coast and not far too from Venice; and, as I found out a few weeks ago, a train and two buses can transport you not just from grand urban architecture to the breathtaking natural landscapes of the Northern Lakes, but also from the bustle of modern city life to a simpler scene from the past – or, at least, from my romantic, escapist imagination that, I think, tends to be enhanced whenever I move from the trees and fields of Warwickshire into a new city. Perhaps it’s fitting, then, that the journey to Lake Garda from Bologna takes you past the town of Mantua, the birthplace of the poet Virgil in 70 BC, who, in his Eclogues, carried the dream of a ‘Golden Age’ defined by nature, simplicity and happiness into a Roman society plighted by political instability and war – though, I’ll admit, my relief was more from the hectic first few weeks of my placement than from the bigger worries of natural disaster and nuclear war in the world right now.

IMG_7488.jpg

It was thanks to my girlfriend, Jess, that we really saw the full extent of the tranquility that Lake Garda has to offer: the south of the lake, though still beautiful (especially Peschiera del Garda, a little port filled with colourful houses, small fishing boats, Vespas and Fiat 500s), has a big tourism trade, and it was pleasing to leave the theme-parks behind us, replaced by the string of small hamlets dotted along the eastern coast, in one of which Jess had booked a charming Airbnb.

The apartment, in fact, wasn’t on the coast but a 5-minute walk up the mountain, which gave us some lovely views over the lake, even if it meant having to make a painful climb every time we needed to go out: our ‘village’, Castello, was made up only of a church, a pizzeria and houses like ours. It might have been nice to have had a car – but, then again, such a modern commodity wouldn’t have been fitting in our Arcadia. It’s hard to write about such a perfect place without giving a minute-by-minute account of each small thing that we did, from sitting on a jetty watching the boats rock as the sun went down to gliding over the lake with the wind in our hair on the ferry home, but, I think, two things did stand out.

IMG_7464.jpg

Our evenings eating out were, simply, special: on our first night, we ate at ‘La Trattoria del Captiano’ in Porta di Brenzone, which sits on a pier so that you really do feel as though you are in the lake as you eat. Typically of the area, it is family-run: the mother cooks, the father and sons wait on the tables and the uncle goes out at 5am every morning to catch fish from the lake. We ordered too much food: I’m still not sure whether the portion sizes were too big or whether we shouldn’t have ordered pasta in between our starter and main course… but the fact that we had to roll out of the restaurant didn’t mar the incredible setting and warm atmosphere of the night.

IMG_7428.jpg

Having thought that this would be hard to top, however, our second night was, perhaps, even more special. This time we took a peaceful 20-minute walk down the gentler slope of the hill to the village of Brenzone and, thanks to the fact that our first choice restaurant was full, we found ‘Ristorante al Vapor’ – right next to the lake and, this time, outside. We both had an incredible set menu of mixed fish carpaccio, salmon pasta, gurnard with caper sauce and chocolate mousse, made all the better by friendly waiters, free aperitivi at the beginning and free limoncello at the end. Safe to say the walk home went quicker than we had feared before we came out.

The second thing that stood out was the town of Malcesine. The town itself is a maze of cobbled streets, gelaterie and tiny squares bordered by locally-supplied restaurants, but it is the castle that steals the show. By some stroke of luck, the weather cleared just as we entered its walls, meaning that, as we climbed the steps first onto a pretty terrace and then to the top of the main tower, we were greeted with views of the lake, the mountains and the rooftops of Malcesine that really did make our mouths drop.

IMG_7455.jpg

 

Thankfully for you, I caught most of the trip on video; as hard as I have tried, I’m not sure I’ve done justice to the tranquility and beauty that we experienced on this holiday with my words. I feel almost torn sharing it with you, to be honest, as though I’m giving away our secret hiding place (though I am aware that Lake Garda isn’t exactly a remote island in the Pacific) – but it would be selfish not to give you the opportunity to see for yourself why we fell so much in love not only with the view from the terrace at Malcesine, but also with the whole modus vivendi in this secret paradise in the north of Italy. Between the warmth of the locals, the silence of the single-track roads, the serenity of the lake and the grandeur of the mountains, we found ourselves lost in time and place with no will to find a map nor to call for help, but, now that we’re out, the least we can do is to direct you there too.

 

 

Surviving Week 1

Leave a comment Standard

I’ve now come to the end of my first week living in ‘Rez’ (Calgary equivalent of halls) and the end of Orientation Week (or O Week), so I thought it was time to update everyone. O Week is basically like Durham’s Freshers Week, but a bit more substantial. There were sessions with your department (or faculty as they call it here), sessions for being on exchange and fun activities throughout the week.

After unpacking on the first day I discovered, again, that I had packed extremely poorly. Due to my desire to have a beautiful holdall (which I seem to be mentioning every blog), instead of a giant suitcase, I couldn’t pack everything I wanted to, meaning my cupboards and walls are quite bare. I’m planning on collecting things throughout the year, but at the minute my rooms pretty empty. I’ve also discovered my new favourite shop of Dollarama (similar to Poundland surprisingly, but with so much stuff and such a variety that it’s incredible, and I’m finding things in there to decorate. I also packed mostly winter clothes, but no one told me that it was actually 25-30 degrees until about September – Tip: bring stuff for your room that reminds IMG_0376you of home – I’ve got some photos, but not enough, bring posters, cushions, bedspread etc., just to help you settle in. This stuff is pretty important so take out that fifth jumper and don’t skimp out on decor.

The first day of O Week started by meeting your faculty and learning chants for the Pep Rally (my first real North American ‘school’ experience). This was an extremely bizarre experience of sitting in a giant gym on bleachers and having a faculty cheer off… basically we all learnt chants about our subject and had to shout them as loudly as possible at all the other faculties. It was pretty strange but also strangely fun (the Kinesiology faculty was obviously the best, with our three part chant). This was followed by speeches by a number of people, including the president of UofC, the

IMG_0365

Pep Rally!

students union, and the keynote speaker of Sheldon Kennedy, a former NHL player. We also met all the ‘profs’ (not lecturers) – it was interesting to see the similarities and differences between the Durham and Calgary departments – I’m starting to think that part of the training to become a physiology lecturer is how to talk extremely fast.

There were lots of activities throughout the week, ending with Kick Off, the

UofC Dino’s first American Football match of the season, with a carnival type build up with face painting, inflatables etc. called Tailgate. With a Canadian near me I

IMG_0372

Had to get a photo with the Dinos mascot!

actually understood some of how it was played and enjoyed it a surprising amount.

Here are some differences I’ve found about Calgary vs Durham as well as some things about Canada in my first week on campus:

#1 A lot of things have different names – aside from Rez, O Week, jumpers and Football/Soccer, lectures are called classes, lecturers called professors (or profs), essays are called papers etc.

#2 Jumpers are not a thing. I’ve confused numerous people by calling jumpers jumpers – here they are called sweaters, which encompasses jumpers, hoodies, wool jumpers etc.

#3 Stash is called swag and there is soooooo much of it. I don’t know whether this is just at UofC or it’s a North American thing but it’s pretty excessive. So far I’ve got a scarf, water bottle, lunchbox, universal plug converter, two t shirts, two pairs of sunglasses and numerous stationary with the UofC crest on. To buy you can get jumpers, hoodys, shirts, t shirts, wool jumpers, bags, cropped jumpers, hats etc. I’m a little overwhelmed, and am having to restrain myself spending my entire student loan on stash.

#4 Kinesiology (Sport Science) is really big here. It has it’s own faculty instead of being put with science or social sciences, there are two giant KNES buildings and everyone knows what it is when you tell them what you’re doing

#5 Canadian money is confusing! There aren’t any 1 or 2 cent coins, so everything gets rounded up or down. The $1 coin is called a loonie and the $2 a toonie. The 5 cent is bigger than the 10 cent coin. Plus the price everything is isn’t actually the full price – you have to add on taxes!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

 

Exploring Queenstown

Leave a comment Standard

Hello again,

The mid-semester break has rolled around already in Dunedin and I had the opportunity to spend a few days in Queenstown.

Queenstown sits on the shore of Lake Wakatipu, nestled amongst some of the smaller peaks in the Southern Alps. It is a beautiful and picturesque town well known for being the ‘adventure capital’ of the world. As someone who tends to avoid anything that makes my stomach do flips riding the chairlift up the mountain when we went skiing was enough adventure and adrenaline for me!

But as well as classic bungee jumping or running off the side of the mountains for parachuting there are plenty of other things that I got up to when I visited with my flatmates last week and I’m going to share a few of my favourites Continue reading

Which University? (Melbourne!)

Leave a comment Standard

One of the biggest changes on my year abroad has been moving from a wee university town, to a campus university which is only a small part of a much bigger city. Next blog I’ll tell you about the city, but for now I want to talk about the real reason why I am here on my year abroad… The University of Melbourne!

Here’s a list of some important factors for choosing your year abroad university – and how mine reflects! Continue reading