Lapland Larks

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Hej hej,

Apologies in advance for what is about to be a somewhat hyperbolic and unrepresentative reflection of how amazing studying abroad is, but, still riding the high of recent travels, I want to endorse seeing life in a different country as a unique experience to exploit your new geography and travel to places more accessible than from the UK.

Before coming to Sweden, I’d only a very vague understanding of what and where Lapland is, and had never considered it to be somewhere I’d prioritise travelling to. I had visions of lots of snow, extreme cold and perpetual darkness in the winter months, which wasn’t entirely unappealing, but also didn’t do much to sell the idea to me. When my newly-found friends decided to book a trip advertised at the welcome fair, however, the fomo hit, and I too signed myself up for 5 days in the far north on the ‘Lapland Express’ tour.

As a budget tour catering for students, compromises were made to keep prices low, including taking an overnight coach to spare expenditure on accommodation and transport. Laden with a rucksack filled to the brim with every piece of warm clothing to my name, I was collected from town, and we began the long drive north. Amazingly, despite what seemed to be the entirety of the UK being coated in a generous blanket of snow in previous days, Uppsala had been distinctly free from wintry weather, which I soon realised wasn’t a reflection of the situation in the rest of Sweden… Once we were outside of the city, the scenery changed dramatically, with every road, house and tree obscured by thick layers of snow. I won’t lie, the reality of spending 17 hours cooped up on a bus was as unpleasant as it sounds, but the excitement of what lay ahead (and occasional drama on the road – stopping the bus to avoid collision with a baby elk etc.) kept spirits high.

The distance from Stockholm to Kiruna

Our first stop was Kiruna, Sweden’s northernmost city, famed for its enormous iron-ore mine, which – fun fact- is causing the entire city to be gradually relocated 3 km east to allow for further extraction. After a quick change into warmer clothes, we were bussed to a local activity centre, where we immersed ourselves in the full tourist experience, driving snowmobiles across the snowy plains and being taken by husky sled back to base. It was a fantastic way to begin the trip, and definitely succeeded in waking us up after such a long journey!

The afternoon was spent touring the city, but we didn’t have the energy for much more. The darkness isn’t totally complete, as you can see from the photos, there’s a degree of light at midday, but we’d arrived right in the middle of the polar night season, meaning that for the entirety of our stay the sun never actually rose above the horizon. Regardless of how often you check the time, your body can’t keep up with such a dramatic change, and I spent most of the afternoon bus journeys napping and then waking up, disorientated, to see that it was pitch black at 3 pm…

On Tuesday, we left our hostel and headed further north, stopping at the Ice Hotel on route for a tour of the production rooms and a nose around the ice suites. I can confirm that the beds are very comfortable, but the visit did nothing to help me understand why people willingly pay £150 to sleep in the extreme cold, despite the attraction of some seriously stunning artwork. Before arriving at our accommodation, we made another stop to visit a Sami community, who continue to practice their traditional livelihood of semi-nomadic reindeer herding (though nowadays with the aid of snowmobiles and helicopters). After feeding the reindeers lichen, we warmed up inside a lavvu, a tent heated by an open fire, and drank a broth made from reindeer antlers. All very touristy, but bucket-list activities for any trip to this corner of the globe.

We were meant to be staying in Abisko National Park for the remaining days, but a twist of fate in the shape of a vomiting virus meant we were relocated to a ski resort in Björkilden, and rather than having hostel rooms, we enjoyed the luxury of wooden cabins with lakeside views, a kitchenette and PRIVATE SAUNA! Smug is probably an understatement to describe the general sentiment, and I have to say that, standing outside our cabin watching the Northern Lights that evening, life felt pretty damn good.

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Wednesday happened to fall on the 13th of December, an important day in the Swedish calendar, also my name day, Luciadagen – Saint Lucy/Lucia’s Day. This page gives a nice introduction to the general idea. I was gutted to miss the celebrations in Uppsala, but we got a taste of the festivities when a local school came to perform Swedish carols in the hotel lobby, dressed in traditional attire with the ‘Lucia’ donning white dress and crown of candles. There were also free festive snacks, which I exploited as breakfast: lussekatter (buns flavoured with saffron) and pepparkakor (hard gingerbread biscuits).

Fortune was shining on us again, as the weather was declared good enough for a trip across the Norwegian border to Narvik to be given the go-ahead. We drove across the snowy landscape listening to Christmas songs, stopping at a fjord on route to take photos before being dropped off to explore for a few hours – the longest our guide was willing to risk waiting before returning, for fear that the heavy snowfall would close the road back. She wasn’t being paranoid: a group the previous week had delayed their return by 10 minutes, and found themselves stranded in Narvik for two days thanks to extreme weather, with only the possessions they’d brought for the day with them. I can’t really speak much for the city itself, but, as a true history student, I can wholeheartedly encourage a visit to the war museum. Military history isn’t usually my style, but it turns out that I was amazingly ignorant when it came to Norway’s role in WWII, which is well worth a look into if you’re interested.

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A fjord on the outskirts of Narvik

Wednesday evening was spent in possibly the most stereotypical Swedish fashion imaginable. Not only were we drinking glögg (Swedish mulled wine, can taste uncannily like Ribena, take care) in a cabin in the snow, we were lounging in our very own sauna, and even slapped on an ABBA mixtape to complete the picture. When the heat of the sauna became too oppressive to cope with, we all dashed outside, straight into a fresh pile of snow. I kept telling myself my muscles would thank me for the rapid changes in temperature, but I can’t say it felt like they were appreciating it the next day.

Thursday was our final day in Lapland, and, having decided not to join the excursions for ice climbing and cross-country skiing, we spent it ticking off all the wintry activities we hadn’t found the time for before. We borrowed sleds, and half walked, half slipped down to the lake, taking in a magnificent frozen waterfall on our way.

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‘Olaf’ enjoying the view 

The journey back to Uppsala was as painfully long as the first, but broken up with stops – such as a visit to the ‘Arctic Circle’, which, as shown on the above map, we’d crossed days before without the slightest notice or mention. We were warned not to get our hopes up too much, which I’m grateful for, considering that it is quite literally an inflated road sign, obscured by the dark and a generous layer of snow.

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Wow what a spectacular sight (sarcasm intended)

Christmas in NYC

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Christmas is probably my favourite time of the year. I love the Christmas vibe that lasts the whole month, decorating, carols, concerts etc. I obviously also love the food and laziness of the holiday, meaning all I have to do is sit around drinking tea and eating mince pies for at least a week. I also know that it’s guaranteed that all my siblings (who are in the country) will come home for Christmas.

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Canadian Pacific Holiday Train

This meant that one of the things I was most worried about when coming to Canada was what to do about Christmas. Since we only had 2 weeks break I decided it wasn’t worth it to come home, so had decided from August I would be staying. I expected to stay in Calgary with my flatmates, but I was extremely lucky and grateful to be able to stay with some relatives in Boston and New York over the holidays.

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Christmas in Flat 209

This led to me ‘adulting’ – I successfully sorted out my flights, transport from Boston to NYC, travel insurance and visa myself, which may seem pretty standard but there’s a first time for everything. After successfully getting through customs in Calgary (where I declared my sweets, chocolate and tea, making the border agent laugh) I survived my first solo flight (managing to get stuck in the window seat for 4 hours while my two neighbours fell asleep) and promptly started panicking because everything I had read online about coming into the US hadn’t happened (in case you don’t know me, I stress very easily)

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Canada covered in snow

 

Boston

I stayed with my cousins in Boston for a couple of days between finishing my exams and Christmas Eve, which had terrible weather but was still great. Here are a couple of things I did:

  • Seeing Harvard University
  • Walked around Cambridge: It still creeps me out a bit seeing British names in North America, so going to Cambridge was a little confusing. I loved walking round a small, old, red brick town, which made me feel nostalgic and very similar to home, especially after 4 months of living in a city
  • Boston Common: This was beautiful, even in the pouring rain, with statues, trees and an ice skating rink
  • Chinatown

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    Boston Common

Christmas in Brooklyn

I moved over to Brooklyn to stay with some more relatives on the 23rd. I really enjoyed getting to know different sides of my family (obviously as they live in the US it’s hard to see them, and until now I’ve spent a grand total of one afternoon with them) and they knew everywhere to show me around. We did a lot of Christmassy stuff (lots of tea, films and late mornings), and also went to a lot of cafes, restaurants and ice cream places, which suited me perfectly, as well as doing some sightseeing. I spent Christmas here, with loads of my extended family, which made it a really nice first Christmas away from home. Some of my favourite food I tried include:4DB36FAA-711F-4FF6-ACCC-2B25011DBDE4

  • 10 Below Ice Cream: Rolled ice cream with unlimited topping
  • Grilled Cheese at an American diner: This is basically a fried cheese toastie, but seems to be a must have in America
  • New York Bagels: They’re basically big bagels, but again a must
  • Frozen Yoghurt: My cousins were baffled that I’d never tried this, and I have to say it was pretty awesome
  • Cake Pop: I don’t know if this is an American wide thing, but cake pops to me mean a small ball of cake on a stick, but I experienced three layers of cake, ‘frosting’ and topping, which was also incredible
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NYE Fireworks

New Year in Manhattan

After spending nearly a week in Brooklyn, I moved to my Great-Aunt and Uncle’s in Manhattan. It was really cool to be able to stay in different areas of New York, and I was staying next to Central Park and with easy access to basically all the sights in Manhattan, which was awesome. I mostly spent my time here going to museums and sightseeing, and being fed extremely well by my aunt and uncle. I managed to meet up with a friend from home and I spent New Year with her and a couple of her friends watching the fireworks in Central Park, which was incredible but extremely cold. Some of my favourite things I did (other than the fireworks) were:

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This felt like a very NYC view

  • Seeing and going over the Manhattan and Brooklyn Bridges
  • Taking the Staten Island Ferry to look at the Statue of Liberty and the amazing view of downtown Manhattan from the water (and pretending I was in Spiderman: Homecoming)
  • The view of Manhattan from the top of the Freedom Tower, and the 9/11 Memorial, both of which were extremely humbling
  • Ridiculous Christmas lights in Dyker Heights
  • Wandering through Central Park
  • The Cooper-Hewitt, The Met and The Guggenheim

Overall, my break was pretty incredible, and something I definitely did not expect when I decided to come on a year abroad. It was quite tough being so far away from home and seeing all my friends meeting up back home, but I am so glad I decided to do something different, and I’m especially so glad I managed to meet some more of my family. As well as doing my first solo travelling, it was also the most amount of time I’ve lived in the centre of a city (other than Durham, which is quite anomalous) and I loved exploring on my own, even though it was strange not having a white Christmas after being surrounded by snow for most of the last 3 months. New York at Christmastime was pretty awesome, but spending time with family (even if they were different family to those I’d normally spend it with) was my highlight of Christmas for sure.

 

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Home for Christmas

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It’s been three months and finally it’s time to go home for Christmas. I feel similar to a child being taken home from nursery by their parents kicking and screaming that I do not want to go. This is not because I don’t miss home, or my mum’s cooking or a good apple crumble, because trust me, I do.IMG_8965

Rather, I realise that this week is the last before a period of revision, January exams and finally, saying goodbye to those international friends who are only staying for a term. It’s a pretty weird feeling being simultaneously homesick for England and desperate to stay in Leuven. So, in the spirit of ignoring the fact I’m going to have to say my farewells to Leuven and everyone in it for Christmas, I’m going to recount the best and the worst moments I’ve had during my first semester.

The worst:

  1. Missing out

There is a constant fear of missing out. And the problem is it’s not just a fear, you really are missing out on everything going on at Durham. Seeing your friends on nights out and going on socials is not the best thing when you’ve got the English Channel between yourself and all the fun (though I did manage to fly home for Bailey Ball, so the FOMO wasn’t too bad.)

My fear of missing out almost stopped me from going on my year abroad, but I’m so glad it didn’t. Staying in contact with friends has been difficult at times. I try and remind myself that while I am missing out on that friend’s birthday meal or that big night out in Jimmy’s, I am having so many experiences here in Leuven which make missing out more than worth it.

  1. Not being able to navigate your way around a supermarket (or anything for that matter)

Sinaasappelsaft? Neushoorn? Meisjes? If you have no idea what any of these words mean, don’t be alarmed… neither do I. I regularly have no idea what is going on, and struggle with the language barrier quite a bit. Nothing is intelligible to me, and I can’t even pronounce the street on which I live. My misadventures trying to find peanut butter in the supermarkets of Leuven have been quite the saga.

  1. The workload

In Durham, I would have had fewer contact hours and no January exams. Instead of having a nice relaxing Christmas, I’ll be cramming for my written and oral examinations and probably questioning my sanity in choosing KU Leuven for a year abroad destination.

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I am not handling it well. Erasmus students either stay for a year or a term. So many of the friends I’vemade won’t be coming back after January exams, and some have even left for good. It’s been really sad saying my goodbyes to everyone, we had quite a few goodbye drinks and meals. It sucks, but having friends across the world is also pretty cool. I’ll (hopefully) be visiting them all very soon!

The best:

  1. Being able to travel around Europe so easily

I have visited all over Belgium including Gent, Bruges, Antwerp and Brussels. I recently visited Paris for the weekend for only 8 Euros. The travelling was one of my main motivations to go on Erasmus – and it has been one of the best things about this term.

  1. Getting experimental with your courses

I’ve learnt about philosophy and legal history, language and ethics and religion. In Leuven, I’ve managed to study a huge variety of subjects, including more theoretical modules to experiment with my interests for the year.

  1. Learning from other cultures

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You wouldn’t believe how surrounding yourself with people from different cultures might change how you act.  My American friends will try anything once. They always “rally” and I’ve managed to turn ‘just one beer at the pub’ into a night out too many times because of their (bad) influence. I try not to make generalisations, but my German friends are so direct. Where in England I would say “perhaps maybe you might want to…” they will literally just tell you to get your act together. I’ve been trying to copy them, even if most of the time I come across as a confused Brit who is ultimately just being slightly less apologetic than normal.

  1. Meeting new people

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The best thing about this term has been the people I’ve met. I feel like I’ve known my friends for years even if it’s only been a couple of months. Just because they’re from a different country doesn’t mean you won’t find people who are your type of people. Finding a bunch of different nationalities who love to go out as much as you do, and have the same opinions or interests as you, has been surprisingly easy. Everyone says you’ll feel alone on your year abroad, but I haven’t…  and who’s to say you won’t make a tonne of friends here instead?

 

Trip to Taipei

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One reason I’ve been more busy with work than I really should be is taking a week out of studying to go to Taipei.

In my opinion, Taipei is a lot like a green tea flavoured KitKat – they are both delightful and if more people knew about it, they would definitely check it out. For example, one of my travel companions wasn’t sure if Taipei was a city, country or region until a few days before we left.

The main selling point about Taipei would have to be the food –  the good, the bad and the ugly.

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The best part would have to be “bubble tea” – which come in a wide variety of flavours, with tapioca pearls, red beans or jelly serving as “the bubbles”. Having been to the shop in Newcastle’s Chinatown fairly frequently, this was one of the things I was most excited about when I came to do my year abroad. Taipei is the Mecca of bubble tea. There is one on every street corner.

Taipei is also home to a delicacy called “stinky tofu”. It does, indeed, stink and doesn’t taste better than it smells.

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We spent a day trip to Jiufen, an old gold-mining town from when Japan ruled Taiwan, was the inspiration for the hit Japanese animated film Spirited Away. This included a trip to a Goldmine museum.
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We took another trip to some hot springs in a suburb called Beitou. The public hot spring pools are outside, still open air, and there are a series of about 4 different pools, each a different temperature, and hotter as you go further up the steps. The bottom one is the coolest and the very top pool is the hottest – and scorching hot! I wasn’t allowed to take photos but it was spectacular! It was hidden in a valley in Taiwan and was one of the best days I’ve had since going on exchange.

The most impressive part of Taipei, I thought, was Shilin Night Market. It is HUGE. For perspective, many many sizes bigger than Camden market in London. They also sold an enormous range of stuff in everything from goth clothing, to a weird, wonderful and a little disgusting selection of food, including pig’s feet and snake.

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The Taste of Success

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Hello everyone,

The last two to three weeks haven’t been the best in Hong Kong, to be honest. Exam season is upon us, and I have spent a large amount of time in the library (by my standards). I am convinced that having an exam and essay due on 22nd December should be made illegal, and every day the library gets quieter as more people finish for the holidays.

That being said, studying in another country and my grades not counting has meant that being able to explore different aspects of my course I definitely would not have done back in Durham. To give a flavour, my essay titles have included, “an exploration of game theory in the novels of Jane Austen”, “identity and psychoanalysis in apartheid South African literature” and “the success of Zhuangzi (Pronounced Chuang-zu) in Chinese Ethics”.

Before the exam period started, I was really quite enjoying life in Hong Kong. Here a few highlights

50-kilometre Hike

As I mentioned in my last blog, one of the hidden highlights of Hong Kong is the sheer level of the countryside. Over 80% of Hong Kong is a national park. (Sidenote, given the INSANE level of rents and population density in the urban areas, I wonder if there is a case for building on some of this parkland)

With this in mind, I decided to hike the famous 50-kilometre “Hong Kong” trail in an event run by the university. Over 400 students (with a 25% drop out rate) took part in the event. Having signed up very late, I was placed with 3 very nice Chinese postgraduates. It took us 12 and half hours, we finished in pitch black, and there were some spectacular views.

Clockenflap Festival.

The next day, with some fairly sore legs, I went to the final day of Hong Kong’s marquee music festival, Clockenflap (I wonder who came up with this name). The festival included acts such as Stormzy, Massive Attack and Prodigy.

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Sincere apologies to Massive Attack, but the best part of the festival wasn’t the music but the setting. It was right in the heart of Hong Kong with massive skyscrapers all around and it was a lovely evening with friends.

Dragon Boating

You may have seen the title of this blog and wondered what it had to do with Hong Kong. Let me regale you, dear reader, with the greatest underdog story since Leicester City won the premier league. 

The dragon boat season finishes in November. However, the beginner group were invited to compete in the final competition of the season and get a taste of a competitive atmosphere (cue drumroll)

Representing the Under 23 Men’s team we did well enough in both our heats and made it through to the grand final. (Sidenote, despite being only 20, they didn’t initially believe that I was under the age of 23, I think I should start moisturising). We found that competitive racing is very different to the traditional training, using carbon fibre paddles instead of wooden ones and going at a much faster stroke rate than we were used to

We made it to the grand final. The crowd was hushed. Hearts pounded. Arms tensed.

The claxon sounded. The drums pounded. Shouts rose from the sideline.

THIRD PLACE!

We finished neck and neck with the second place team in quite possibly the most controversial and closest photo finish (this may be an exaggeration) since Michael Phelps and Milorad Cavic tied for gold in the 2008 Summer Olympics (first place went to the U23 national team).

In the famous words of DJ Khaled, We “celebrated our successes” with a barbecue in the rain afterwards and returned home.

In all seriousness, it wasn’t an especially impressive achievement (I think now is probably a good time to mention they were only four teams in our category and the heats were basically warm-ups). Despite this, we were given a ridiculously ostentatious trophy. We got very excited until we were told that massive trophies are commonplace at most competitions and the club have so many they don’t know what to do with them. As my exchange buddy and I are only here for the semester/year respectively, we were allowed to take it home with us and it currently resides on top of my fridge.  

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However, I’m very very excited to compete for HKU when the season starts in April again. There are competitions all over Asia and the highlight will be the University Championship, where HKU are defending champions. The only sad part is that I had to say goodbye to my two my fellow exchange students who are here only for the semester. The “dragon boat boys” are sadly no more. 

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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Belgian bureaucracy? Completed it mate!

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At the 10 week mark, with 3 weeks left until I’m home for Christmas, I finally mastered Belgian bureaucracy. Belgium is notorious for its excessively complicated administrative procedures, something I was unaware of until arriving here in September. You might be wondering why I chose to write a whole article on this?

Firstly, I truly think I need to vent about my battle with the paperwork. Second, it might actually be useful. Thirdly, I have far too many anecdotes about my personal struggle with administration to pass up the opportunity to poke fun at my incompetency.

There is a very specific order to the registration procedures, so without the previous step you can’t ‘level up’. It’s absolute murder and trying to complete them all in the exact order needed has been a headache from start to finish. Here are all the things you need to do upon arrival in Belgium, which I have only just managed to complete:

A compulsory enrolment session which left me traumatised

At Durham University, registration is online and relatively simple. There is the opportunity to take a photo and order your campus card to be ready upon arrival. In Belgium they like to do things a little differently… We attended a lecture which ended with half of the lecture hall  queuing to use a single printer to photocopy their documentation, while the other half queued to hand in their documents and have a photo taken for their campus card. I stood there for about two hours as one of the lucky bunch who had brought a photocopy of their ID and admission letter with them.

The printer broke. Anarchy ensued. I was still waiting for a photo to be taken. The printer was fixed. More queuing. I finally reached the front. In a second the whole traumatic experience was over. A sigh of relief.

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Then I was told I would have to wait a week to collect my campus card and bus pass from the university hall in the centre of town, and I decided I needed a cup of tea and a nap to recover.

Picking up your student packet

This is pretty self-explanatory. It contains your campus card and other documents which have vital information needed for your registration at the town hall, which will affect your ability to open a Belgian bank account…

Pick it up a week or so after the registration procedure. Apply for modules, complete your learning agreement, set up your own timetable and choose exam slots for the whole year. It’s a lot of trial and error, and going back and forth between your home university and KU Leuven. Proceed to next steps.

Running across town to register at Leuven City Hall

For this you need to have accommodation and proof of a rental contract, documents of registration, a passport photo, a letter of admission, etc. Prior to this, I made many failed attempts at opening a bank account, which I will elaborate on in the next saga. For now, just know that you need an appointment and you must be there within 15 minutes of the beginning of the appointment.

I accidentally went to the wrong City Hall. Leuven has two – and despite being warned multiple times not to go to the Old City Hall in the city centre… I went to the Old City Hall in the city centre. Needless to say, I was not amused when I found out my appointment was in the new City Hall of Leuven, which was now a 20 minute walk away.

I had an appointment to open a bank account the next day and was all too aware that I needed to have a specific form from the registration procedure at City Hall, so I power walked to my appointment, arrived there with a few seconds to spare and collapsed in a chair in the waiting room. The lady who greeted me there was lovely, and stopped me from falling into complete and utter despair at the whole ordeal. I was finally registered as a resident of Leuven, and just had to wait for a Belgian police officer to check that I lived at my address. (Yes, it really is as weird as it sounds.)

Belgian banking: a three-part saga

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A bank account can only be opened after your arrival in Belgium. This means that the appointments for setting up bank accounts are in high demand during the first months at KU, and once I’d managed to get round to it I was the last in line and there were only appointments for a month’s time available in the branches in Leuven. Not wanting to wait around, and thinking I was being very clever, I booked an appointment in Brussels and headed there one morning during orientation week, having been far too optimistic about when I was going to be an awake and functioning human-being after going to a Law Faculty social. I arrived at the bank and was told I was only able to open a bank account in the town or city where I studied. I returned to Leuven and tried again…

My second attempt at opening a bank account was more than a month after my first attempt. I had booked an appointment and patiently waited for it to come around. I brought every possible piece of documentation I thought I might need, but alas… it was not enough. I was told that I need proof of residence (apparently not the same as a tenancy agreement) which was only provided by the above registration procedure at City Hall. Needless to say, the appointment was not successful and I returned home to despair a little more.

Finally, after (running to) and registering at City Hall I managed to book an appointment at a bank in Leuven. You need all of your documents, even your National Insurance number… It was a short process and I was just very relieved that I wasn’t told I needed another mythical document to open the account. I had finally found my way out of the Belgian bureaucratic maze.

In conclusion, start everything as soon as you get there and plan your appointments in advance. Do it in the right order and don’t try to get creative with opening a bank account. I’m finally settled in here, an official resident of Leuven and student of the Law Faculty. If I can do it, anyone can!