Is that you, Spring? A (tentative) farewell to the Swedish winter

Leave a comment Standard

As the last tiny patches of snow have been melted by an unseasonably warm few days last weekend and the famously long days are making their highly anticipated appearance, spring looks to have finally sprung in Uppsala. The sudden change in temperature and scenery has been a shock, and it’s not long before you find yourself acting like a true local. Face turned up to the sun at every opportunity, having fika outside not because it’s especially warm, but just because – for the first time – you’re not risking frostbite doing so, admiring blossom and birdsong like you’re an extra in a Disney film… If you thought Brits were known for being ridiculous at the first sign of sun, you clearly haven’t met a Swede.

Joking aside though, the upturn in the weather has sparked some pretty serious conversations about the impact of such a long and difficult winter on people’s mental health. Before I came to Sweden, I had a reasonable awareness of Seasonal affective disorder, but I definitely hadn’t fully comprehended how intricately connected daylight and weather are with physical and mental well-being, especially my own. The notion of biting cold and extremely short days was only a novelty when I was organising my year abroad, and I gave little thought to the fact that my reality wouldn’t be a winter wonderland of hot chocolates and sledding for a week or two, but rather attempting to navigate the mundanities of daily life in miserable, cold, dark conditions, for what ended up being about a five-month stretch.

I don’t intend to sound all doom and gloom, and this isn’t to imply that I regret having moved to Uppsala, nor that I would discourage students from coming on exchange here. Rather, I think it’s really important to have frank conversations about the realities of living in an environment that can, for many people, be very challenging. Whilst it’s very difficult to predict how you’ll cope with a Scandinavian winter, there are definitely strategies that you can employ to make things more bearable. I asked a few friends who’ve also struggled over the winter for their tips and tricks:

1) Be social!

As much of a chore that leaving the warmth and comfort of your bed may seem on particularly dreary winter days, I cannot stress enough the importance of forcing yourself out of the house and meeting up with friends. The Swedish institution that is fika is practically designed for this purpose, so embrace the local culture and consume copious amounts of coffee and cinnamon buns in good company. Uppsala has an abundance of cosy cafes, many open until 10pm, and of course the nations all offer watering holes – VG and OG both have underground bars, which you may as well make the most of when the weather’s poor, as you’ll be ridiculed for sitting indoors when the sun finally makes its appearance.

2) Embrace the cold

Even though I’d opt for Swedish summer over winter any day, I’m really glad for having had the opportunity to experience activities which the mildness of the British climate doesn’t facilitate. Cross-country skiing on a frozen lake is one of the coolest (pun intended) things I’ve done on my exchange, and I can’t deny the beauty of the city when it’s entirely blanketed in snow. Skating, skiing and sledding are all popular Swedish activities which you rarely have the chance to try in the U.K, so make the most of it while you can! Exercise is also a fantastic antidote for low-mood, so you’re killing two birds.

blog

Cross-country skiing on a frozen lake at the beautiful Fjällnora

3) Det finns inget dåligt väder, bara dåliga kläder!

This Swedish proverb – “There is no bad weather, only bad clothing” – is something to live by on your exchange. If you’re to achieve the above points, you’ll need to be ready for all that the Swedish winter can throw at you, so pack wisely/ be prepared to invest in clothing that will last and get you through some very cold and damp months. Leggings/tights under trousers is a must, biking (or for that matter, anything) will be impossible without heavy-duty gloves and wool socks are your friend.

blog 2

Winter happiness = abundant layers of clothing and a hood so furry you’ll forget peripheral vision ever existed?

4) Keep busy

As a student city, there’s always something happening in Uppsala, and events are often free or discounted. Pub quizzes are regularly organised by the nations and provide a great opportunity for catching up with friends, Musicum (the university music department) often hosts free concerts, and film, music and theatre festivals are a regular feature in the winter calendar. Uppsala also boasts a number of independent cinemas which are a lovely way to spend an evening when the weather’s against you -Fyrisbiografen and Slottsbiografen are my personal favourites.

 

5) Top up that Vitamin D

As a history student, I have to confess that I don’t fully understand the scientific importance of vitamin D, I only know that my mum insisted on packing me off with a year’s supply of tablets that I was told to take daily. I failed in this instruction, but would pass on the advice to others, as it gets bandied around a LOT here, so I assume it’s a rather big deal. Without many hours of daylight (around 5 hours in Stockholm in winter) and weak sun, not to mention being wrapped up from head to toe, your body’s vitamin D supplies will be seriously lacking, so supplements are the go to. To compensate for the impact of a dearth of sunlight, the university also has a free “light room” to tackle winter fatigue, and I’ve heard good things about light therapy boxes from a friend, which can be purchased online, though a good one will set you back a fair bit.

6) Communication, communication, communication

Most importantly of all if you’re struggling, remember that you’re not alone, and that it’s a difficult season for most people in Scandinavian countries. Talk to your friends about how you’re feeling, and reach out to the university’s student health services if you feel in need of extra support. It can be a tough few months, but believe me, the Swedish spring tastes all the more sweeter for it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thoughts on being a tourist

Leave a comment Standard

“You choose, you’re the tourist”

These words were considerately said to me when discussing potential destinations for hiking. Yet instead of leaving me feeling inspired and excited to choose exactly where I wanted to go these simple words really struck a chord with me and played on my mind a lot as I travelled over the summer break.

Firstly, for someone as indecisive as I am the phrase ‘you choose’ instantly strikes fear in my heart. But honestly it was being labelled as a ‘tourist’ that really bothered me and it took me a while to figure out why. Am I a tourist in New Zealand? In all my time here so far I had never really considered it.

I guess the answer is essentially yes. I am not from New Zealand and have recently spent my time travelling around the country with the sole intention to see various places and things that other people are also travelling to see. I hired a car and drove from town to town, down the Great Coast Road, through a few National Parks and, yes, I did stop at the places along these roads labelled with brown tourist information signs.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

But the label (for want of a better word) doesn’t quite feel right. Is it because I think that there are negative connotations to the word ‘tourist’? It conjures images in my head of just being the next person in a queue of hundreds of thousands of people waiting to take a picture of the exact same view to share on Instagram or Facebook. And you can probably find better pictures online or on a postcard.

 

IMG_9965.JPG

Aratiatia Rapids, taking the same photo as so many others…

 

Some of my photos I look back on and ask myself whether I took a photo because I wanted to record something beautiful or meaningful to me, or just for the sake of taking one whilst in that particular place. Was I taking photos simply because that is the way you are expected to behave in ‘tourist’ locations? If I found myself doing this I would purposefully put my camera away to make sure that I was truly experiencing and taking in what I was doing and where I was instead of simply living through the lens.

Evidently, part of my problem with it was not wanting to fall into the trap of tourist behaviours and mindlessly move from place to place, attraction to attraction and not really experience being in New Zealand.

Another thing that I considered is that I have always viewed my primary purpose in New Zealand as being a student (even my visa says so!) and experiencing studying and living in another country and not just visiting. I had been living in Dunedin for almost 6 months before I even began my summer travels and I didn’t really feel like just a visitor anymore. Although I take the opportunity to leave Dunedin during semester for tramping or visiting new places, primarily I spend my time in Dunedin experiencing the highs and lows, the busyness and the occasional mundanities of student life just the same as other students whether that is here or in Durham. Living as a student and living as a tourist (even a long term one like many backpackers here) can be quite different and whilst I was travelling I really felt that shift in the way I was experiencing places. I’m never going to know Hokitika or Christchurch, for example,  in the same way that I know Dunedin because I don’t live there.

After almost a whole summer of considering this in the back of my mind, far too long spent mulling over an almost trivial sentence, I have decided that I can be both a tourist and a student in New Zealand and neither of these is a bad thing. Dunedin is my New Zealand home and I feel as though I know the city too well to be a tourist here. When I visit new places I will embrace my tourist nature but just be mindful of myself and my behaviours.

Is this something that any of you who have lived abroad ever feel?

 

A Kiwi Christmas

Leave a comment Standard

Happy New Year and a belated Merry Christmas from New Zealand!

For me, not only has it been my first experience of Christmas in the sun but it has been the first festive season that I have spent away from home. I knew since my time in New Zealand began that I would not be going home for Christmas but did not really have any firm plans until mid December. “I’ll either be on the beach or up a mountain on Christmas Day”,  I had told my parents when I said goodbye in June hoping to reassure them that I didn’t mind the prospect of potentially spending Christmas alone during my period of unplanned travels.Whilst I did not end up on the beach or up a mountain on Christmas (my plans and ideas have been constantly changing since June) I was invited to spend a really lovely Christmas with two of my Dunedin flat mates and their absolutely wonderful family up on the north island.

Christmas trees are a little different to ones at home, but still beautiful Christmas trees are only a little different to at home, but still beautiful

In typical Christmas fashion everybody ate lunch together and spent the afternoon napping, chatting, watching movies and playing games. I guess the main differences were that some of Christmas dinner was cooked on the barbecue and napping could happen on the grass outside! I video called my family in the evening (their morning) and they were treated to beautiful singing from the Te Punga family.

I’ve spent the post Christmas and new year period exploring the mid North Island with Tania and her family. We’ve been exploring glow worm caves at Waitomo and tramping (a.k.a. hiking) in Tongariro National Park with awesome views of Mount Ngauruhoe. I’ve been told this is better known as Mount Doom but I’ve never actually seen Lord of the Rings or anything (shhhhh!) so I wouldn’t know!

Lower Tama Lake

We also kicked off the New Year with a swim at Waihi Falls, beautiful even with very little rainfall in this area over the past few weeks.

I’ve been loving Christmas and New Year in the sun, it’s still very novel to me. It feels like everything new that I’ve been doing is making my list of things to do (or do again) steadily grow. And is making me more and more sure that I will be back to New Zealand in the future!

Happy belated new year and I hope that the new term begins well in Durham! All the best until the next blog 🙂

London, Berlin, Leuven

Leave a comment Standard

The month of April was a busy one – it was my last month without weekly deadlines and exam revision, so I decided to take advantage of the freedom. I went home for the Easter holidays in London, then travelled to Berlin and then back to Leuven.

Here is a little run down of the places I’ve visited, the food I ate and my inability to travel without forgetting at least one essential item or having a train delayed.

London

Despite finding out I had a surprise deadline for the end of the Easter holidays, it was great to be home. I did a little sight-seeing, ate a lot of food and caught up with a few friends along the way.

Whenever I travel I try and account for the actual amount of time I will need to change trains, to walk, to queue, etc. but for some reason I always end up waiting for 3 hours before a scheduled train because I have no real sense of time and would rather overestimate than underestimate.

Being away, you start to appreciate home a little more, and even start to realise how long it has been since you visited the Tower of London and the London Eye, despite it only being a 20-minute train journey into London. My year abroad has reminded me that along with my love for the restaurants in London, there is a whole lot of things to do and stuff to see. We decided to go on a tour of a lot of the London attractions I had done at least 5 times as a young child, but wouldn’t be able to tell you a thing about as a 21-year-old.

Berlin

After some encouragement to get my act together and book my plane tickets, I flew to Berlin for a 4-day weekend on the hottest day of the year so far. The friend I was visiting was working on Thursday and so I went on a one-man mission, determined to see everything in Berlin. As a first-time Berlin tourist, I saw the Berlin Wall, the Oberbaumbrucke, Checkpoint Charlie, the Jewish Memorial, the Brandenburg Gate, the Reichstag Building and the Tiergarten.

 

I managed to see everything I wanted to on my first day there. When I was finally done, I sat in front of the Reichstag in the sun and felt very accomplished.

That night we realised I had given myself (mild) heatstroke.

After some sleep and a lot of ice tea and water, I was ready the next morning to go exploring. Over the next few days, I was introduced to flea markets where I desperately wanted to make at least five totally unnecessary purchases and take a rug and a footstool home with me. We had a lot of vegan food, went to a lake to cool down and went to more parks than my hayfever could handle. We even went to an outdoor bath on the river called a Badeschiff?

 

Leuven

Heading back to Leuven was a little sad, but it ended up cooling down a little (thank god) and I ended up settling back into work, meeting up with friends and catching up with everyone in Durham.

Travel is not one of my strengths – I really enjoy it, but I stress about delays and train changes and a plethora of other seemingly minor issues – but I’ve really enjoyed this term and feel like I’ve taken full advantage of the (almost) free month!

Is it summer yet?

Leave a comment Standard

So, the Beast from the East may have left me with no feeling in my toes but I still managed to take a few road trips at the beginning of the month. We had a brief few days of sun, and then another bout of snow which shook me to my very core. The weather had me asking whether summer would ever come, and so far, the answer still seems to be a no.

I made a couple of attempts at sightseeing in sub-zero temperatures – something which I would not recommend even to my worst enemy. Here’s the tragic tale of a perpetually freezing British girl trying not to catch hypothermia on her year abroad:

Leuven

Studying in Leuven was a struggle. The hazardous journey to lectures was made twice as bad by the potential to slip on the snow. I usually have to contend with cyclists and roadworks on the journey – but an added five inches of snow really made academic life chaotic.

IMG_8380

With the snow and the gloomy skies, and almost no possibility of sun in sight, Leuven felt a little sad. Snow is all well and good for the first hour or so, and then things become impractical. You can’t wear your glasses for fear of them steaming up every time you breathe, not being able to feel your face becomes a common occurrence and leaving your accommodation for a drink with friends becomes a truly absurd suggestion. Thankfully the snow melted, leaving some freezing temperatures which were, in comparison, much more bearable than the beast from the east.

Frankfurt

IMG_8723

Yes, it looks pleasant. Maybe that sunset even looks warm, but it truly is an illusion. We had to pop into shops, museums and cafes every 30 minutes to ensure that my hands would not turn purple.

Regardless, the view from the tower was stunning, though a long wait without booking. The art gallery we went to made my brain hurt, in the best way and (very) luckily for me the exhibition was all in English as well as German.

Walking along the river was a life-threateningly cold experience, but definitely worth it. And the city’s skyscrapers almost reminded me of London.

It’s not a very tourist-y city, but if you get the chance there’s a surprising amount of things to do in Frankfurt.

Antwerp

I do not remember how many times I’ve been to Antwerp now but it’s still pretty entertaining. Also, it has a Wagamama– one of the only ones in Europe – so it’s always a priority to go there in my opinion.

Heidelberg

IMG_8507

I honestly have no words to describe how pretty it was. The river, the bridge, the view from the castle… all straight out of a fairytale. We were pretty cold and so it was difficult to stand outside for long, but we did manage the walk up to the old castle. In between all of the sightseeing however, we had to pop into a number of places to make sure our body temperatures did not drop below zero.

We tried to find a traditional German restaurant but it turns out we ended up with Austrian food. We later went into a German pub and I almost ordered some English cider but thought better of it. The number of international students and tourists probably outweighs the number of Germans in this traditional looking town. For such a typical German city, I felt like I managed to miss out on a lot of the culture, the food and the tradition completely by accident?

A lot of the restaurants and shops reminded me of everything stereotypically German, though I suspect that they are just putting on a show for us visitors. Regardless, it was nice to wander around and the cold seemed to have scared off all the other tourists – perfect for getting all the instagram photos. We really should have followed suit and stayed in but this beautiful city was calling, and with only a few days in Germany I was determined to make the most of it.

England

I’ve recently returned to England and mercifully, the weather has been mild. Hopefully this is the end of my struggle with the Beast from the East and my complaints about cold weather – until next time!

England is looming

Leave a comment Standard

As my time in Paris draws to a close, I’ve been thinking a lot about what I’m going to miss about living in here and what I’m looking forward to having back in my life once I’m in England.

Things I’m going to miss

  • The boulangeries: It’s so nice being able to buy a fresh baguette or croissant whenever you fancy, I don’t think Durham will be able to match that.
  • Drinks by the seine: A lovely place to meet up with friends in the evening!
  • Café au lait/ café crème: I basically became addicted to these, in theory the same as a latte but for some reason it just tastes so much better.
  • Crêpes on every corner: Nutella and banana crêpes are soooo good.
  • How much there is to do: If you’re bored its so easy to find something to do for free. That reminds me that I’m going to miss the gardens and the free access to museums a lot as well.
  • The transport system: It’s so easy to get to where you want to be, with so many different options for the same route. As long as there isn’t any snow or strikes that is…
  • Speaking French: It’s the best feeling when you actually understand and contribute normally to a conversation.

Things I won’t miss

  • The taste of the water: The water in my flat was weird. I don’t know why.
  • Going for runs and trying to dodge all the tourists: One of the most frustrating things, why doesn’t anyone move out the way when they see you coming!
  • Not having an oven: So many recipes that wanted to be made and weren’t, can’t wait to do some baking finally!
  • The lack of a good cup of tea in cafes: I don’t have much to add, I just really miss buying tea when I’m out.
  • Nothing at all open Sundays/ bank holidays: What if I run out of milk on a Sunday!? Or I need to go to the doctors! Both of these things happened, the solution was always expensive.
  • The prices: (!) I can’t wait to put my Tesco Clubcard back to work and actually buy food for reasonable prices.
  • Living on my own: I’m glad I did it, but I’m ready to live with people again, it can get very lonely.
  • Speaking French: As much as I love it, I also hate it when I can’t understand and contribute. It will be nice to go out and not fear having to ask questions. Being able to speak a language fluently is so amazing.

As my next blog will hopefully be a video blog with pictures and videos of my year, I wanted to take this chance to talk about whether I actually met my aims for my second semester. My aims were to make more French friends and speak more French in general. While I’m not sure I made actual friends, I do have a French student on Whatsapp since we were lab partners! And I’m actually quite proud that I put myself in the situation where I was working in a pair with one French student for six weeks- It certainly meant I was speaking more French. As far as speaking French is concerned, I definitely did more of that due to a group project and working in a café as well as forcing myself to speak French was I was out and about. While I’m not fluent yet (anyone will tell you that this is very difficult), I certainly feel much more comfortable with the language than when I arrived and in general I’m comfortable conversing. The good news is I have a lifetime to improve, so I’ll definitely be returning to Paris! A bientôt x

$3 Holla

Leave a comment Standard

Today I attended my last official lecture at Otago. That means it is 8 days until my first exam of the semester and 12 until my last. It also leaves me only 24 days left in New Zealand before I head home to the UK which is really sad. Whilst my first semester here felt like I had all the time in the world, this semester has felt like a countdown until I go home. The date of my flight home has been steadily looming closer and closer and I have been quietly ignoring it but I probably can’t anymore! Over the next 2 weeks I will be knuckling down and studying for those pesky exams before I have planned a final 10 days of adventure and getting stuff done.

That’s talk enough of exams and going home. Today I wanted to address something that is far more important and close to my heart and that is, of course, food.

I’ve managed to get away almost the entire year without mentioning it on here (some people would say that is surprising) but I’m confessing to you now: I’m a vegan. There, it’s out, I hope we can still be friends. This means that when I first arrive in a place it can be more difficult to find good food on the go (that isn’t chips) and especially around campus. Normally, I try to take my own food but often I forget. However, the OUSA has the answer to every hungry student’s prayers – vegan or not and to be honest even if you are not a student – and that is $3 lunch.

When? Monday – Friday 12 – 2 (ish)

Where? OUSA Clubs and Socs Building on Albany Street

Each day the Hare Krsna group cook up a delicious and nutritious meal ranging from pasta, to soup, to lentils and rice which is jam packed with veggies and goodness. And all for $3 which doesn’t break the bank on a student budget. And its all vegetarian (and mostly vegan) too. Mmmmm….

You are normally greeted by the ever wonderful Jma who I have been told has been running $3 lunches for over 25 years. She always welcomes you with a smile and her energy and singing just shows that she absolutely loves what she does. “Hello, just a $3 lunch please” from the next student waiting in line is often followed by the enthusiastic reply of “$3 holla coming right up” from Jma.

$3 lunch is a great place for a catch up with friends or to read Critic (our student magazine). In winter you can sit in the warm and have a hot meal at lunchtime. As long as you wash your plate afterwards and say thanks on the way out, you’re all good. Some students come every day, others just once in a while. Some people bring a container and grab some lunch on the go.

Over the last two semesters you could probably find me here at least once a week. If its a particularly busy time of assignments or I have not had time to meal prep then probably more! Thursday lentils are my fave but Wednesday soup has been growing on me, especially as it’s the time when I am able to catch up with friends who I don’t always see in classes.

I’m going to miss $3 lunches back in Durham for sure! And if you are ever in Dunedin (student or not) I would 100% recommend heading over to OUSA for a $3 lunch.

Bye for now,

Copper