First semester done and dusted!

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Hello readers,

Exams are out of the way and the summer vacation has officially begun. I’ve been taking time to reflect on my first semester here. I’m also aware of the approaching deadline for next year’s exchange applications so I hope that these thoughts might be in some way useful if any of you were thinking of applying.

  1. Money

I think I am finally getting the hang of paying for things in dollars. Every now and then ‘pounds’, ‘quid’ or ‘pence’ slips out of my mouth but is quickly  corrected. When I first arrived it was hard to gauge exactly how expensive (or not) things were. I was never sure if I was calculating exchange rates wrong in my head or if things genuinely cost more. Imagine my first trip to the fruit and veg aisles of the supermarket and finding a single pepper for $5 (or approx. £2.50 in Copper’s conversion rates!) – and that’s not the most expensive that I’ve seen them. Other things are lot cheaper than back at home though: Dominoes is only $5 for example…

2. Academics

What we would call modules in Durham are known as ‘papers’. Most people take 3  or 4 per semester – you can take more but you’re either a genius or mad. This semester I took:

GEOG 287 Plants, People and the Environment

GEOG 298 Coastal Geomorphology

ENVI 311 Understanding Environmental Issues

SPAN 132 Introductory Spanish 2

Studying abroad has given me the opportunity to explore area of Geography that we don’t manage to cover in Durham as well as branching out of my subject.

Overall I really enjoyed these papers and found them really interesting, particularly Understanding Environmental Issues. This was very discussion and workshop based and brought together students that major in loads of disciplines from Geography to Musical Theatre and people from across the world. I found it extremely refreshing to look at issues from new perspectives and with new opinions that people brought instead or purely from a geographical point of view. We were also assessed through a group film making project!

A tip for anyone thinking about applying to Otago: Many of the papers (at least in the geography department) are offered at both 200 and 300 level. I opted for 200 level in my first semester to take off some of  the academic pressures and assignments whilst I settled in.

3. Flatting in Dunedin

The university owns a group of houses/flats close to campus (known as uniflats) where many international students choose to live. Although I did initially apply to live there in the end I opted to go ‘flatting’ in Dunedin. I found a room that was available to rent and have been living with 5 other Kiwi students since I arrived. This has been a great option for me and I don’t think I would choose differently. Programmes such as the Otago International Friends Network (OIFN) has allowed me to still connect with other international students.

I won’t lie, Dunedin flats are cold. I spent the first while wrapping myself up in as many layers as I could, blankets, and a sleeping bag just to study in my bedroom during the winter months. The house we live in at the moment is about 100 years old so it has lots of character and history but not much insulation! But this is the true Dunedin student experience. When you think Durham student life perhaps you think Klute, rowing or college bars. In Dunedin cold, slightly less than perfect flats are one of the most important parts of studying here you could say.

I have really enjoyed my first semester here and am looking forward to the next one already. But first, its time for summer and to start properly exploring further afield in New Zealand!

Good luck to everyone completing applications!

7 best things about my month in belgium

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They always say the first month is the hardest. Granted, they are usually talking about newborns, but the phrase still applies here. I’m five weeks or so into my year abroad and to be completely honest, adjusting to life here has been harder than I expected. I arrived here in September, started lectures two weeks later, and only now can I finally navigate my way home from a night out without having to use google maps.

23032730_10210557223147917_5279125630169934095_nDespite the slightly comic anecdotes I have about the struggles of shopping in a foreign language, my near death experience in a laundrette or greeting friends with two kisses on the cheek, I think I’ve finally (sort of) got the hang of things here.

It’s flown by and I’ve been so distracted by Belgium that I’ve only just come to the shock realisation that it’s called a year of studying abroad for a reason. With this came the knowledge that I need to slow down a little if I want to pass the year, so I thought I should take the time to reminisce on the freedom of the first month here by saying my seven favourite things I’ve done and seen in Belgium so far!

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1 . A walking tour of Leuven.

Meeting at the city hall, our guide showed us around the historical squares in Leuven, the library, the cultural centre and most importantly, the pubs and bars (her words, not mine).

2 . Eaten (a lot of ) Belgian food.

Fries and mayo is the Belgian food of choice. This combination confused me at first, but now it is a way of life. Belgian waffles (and occasionally pancakes) have become another staple of my diet.

3 . A boat ride in Ghent.

We might have been very cold and the weather might have been very miserable, but a boat tour where the driver told us that the last time the castle had been stormed was by drunk students who occupied it for a couple of days before the beer ran out was pretty entertaining.

4 . Going to the Erasmus Student Network’s events.

Some of the themed parties have been a little quirky, but they have been good for meeting a number of other international students. Most of the friends I’ve made have been through ESN student events and parties – so, as weird as it might have been having to introduce yourself to strangers on a pub crawl, run around the city completing group challenges and attend traffic light partys, I’ve really enjoyed it so far.

5 . Visiting Antwerp.

6 . Attending lectures.

The courses I’m taking are a little wacky, and a bit out there. But the fact I’m expanding my studies beyond law has really made this year interesting. I’m studying religion, philosophy, French and literature alongside law – the extra year has made it possible, and even made me enthusiastic enough to attend my 9am lectures.

7 . Experiencing the Belgian beer culture.

It’s only been 5 weeks but now I don’t even think before ordering myself a Stella. We’re trying to tick every beer we can find off the list by the end of the year – if it sounds impossible that’s because it is. But we’re still trying…

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

A Great (Ocean) Road Trip in Fives

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You might say in your application that your Year Abroad is all about expanding your academic horizons, but we all know that one of the main reasons for applying is to indulge in your wander lust (and possibly fit in another year of career procrastination). Once you’ve caught it, there’s no denying this addictive travel bug, and a road trip is the one of the best ways to embrace it!

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Gibson Steps Beach

Here’s five reasons for choosing a road trip for your next adventure:

  1. You see the sights as you’re driving along: the destination really is the journey.

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    Teddy’s Lookout, Great Ocean Road

  2. You have complete freedom and control over where and when you go.

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    Transportation and accommodation in one!

  3. There’s nothing like a road trip for getting closer to your friends / family – probably closer than you bargained for.
  4. It’s cheap! Hiring a car or a campervan can be a great way to travel on a budget, especially if you combine it with camping.
  5. The sense of achievement. This sounds a bit vague, but there’s a real sense of fulfilment (and relief) when you complete a trip, and driving the whole way definitely contributes.

Here in Melbourne we are lucky enough to have a bucketful of road-trippable options, from nearby Mornington Peninsula, Phillip Island and Wilsons Prom all the way to Canberra or Sydney. However, there is one stretch of road that surpasses all others (it’s in the name): The Great Ocean Road. Beginning at nearby Torquay and stretching west to Allansford, it’s 243km of Australian National Heritage listed coastline.

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Packed with world-class surf beaches, stunning rock formations and verdant rainforest, the Great Ocean Road is a hugely popular destination. The ‘must do’ iconic sights like the Twelve Apostles, London Bridge and Loch Ard Gorge feature a constant stream of tourists (and rightly so – they’re stunning). However, these are five lesser known gems that get you away from the crowd, and make this trip even more memorable:

  1. Surfing at Torquay beach 
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    Torquay is fab for learn to surf, featuring  local instructors (shout out to Curly Kev), gorgeous beaches, and mostly importantly, a great break. It’s also home to two iconic surf brands – RipCurl and Quicksilver – and world-famous Bells Beach is just down the road.

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    Plus, the town esplanade is studded with laid-back cafes: grab a delicious breakfast at Cafe Moby before hitting the waves or refuel with a burger at Bottle of Milk.

  2. Koala spotting at Kennet River           
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    Kennet River has one of the highest concentration of koalas in the region, which means your chances of spotting one in the wild are pretty good. Some tours do stop here, so the entrance can be a bit busy, but if you hike up the road you’ll find peace, quiet, and plenty of sleepy koalas

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    While you’re here, stop off at the unassuming Wye River General Store, 5km from Kennet River. The french toast is sublime!

  3. Waterfall climbing at Triplet Falls

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    Triplet Falls is an hour inland from the coast, but it escapes the tour crowds and is well worth the detour: a short hike through the rainforest leads to pretty lookouts over the cascading falls.

  4. Hiking at Cape Otway Light-station

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    Cape Otway National Park, in the opposite direction to Triplet Falls, is home to the oldest surviving lighthouse (1848) on mainland Australia. The peninsula is crossed with lovely walking tracks, and the panoramic views from the top of the lighthouse are hard to beat. The history of the light-station and original land (visit the informative Aboriginal Talking Hut) is fascinating, to boot.

  5. Sunset at Bay of Islands National Park

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    Bay of Islands and Bay of Martyrs are towards the very end of the Great Ocean Road, so they receive far less tour buses, meaning you’ll have the stunning sunset all to yourself.

Despite all the awesome upsides of road tripping, there are a few drawbacks: the cramped space and the long hours on the road, for example. So lastly, here’s my five top tips for surviving your ultimate road trip in (relative) comfort.

  1. Spend a little time before you set off becoming familiar with the vehicle (so you can ask questions before you leave). For example: how do I put this campervan into reverse? Or, what type of gas does this take?
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    Kombis are classic for road trips, and they all have their own driving quirks!

  2. Make a road trip playlistWP_20170928_003 There’s nothing quite like driving along a beautiful stretch of road with the windows down, belting your favourite tune at the top of your lungs. Plus, it’ll make those long drives go that much faster.
  3. Make regular fuel stops. Just do this. It’ll prevent those stressful moments when you realise you’re an hour deep in the rainforest and your camper is running on empty (definitely not us).
  4. Bring plenty of snacks, a good book and a pack of cards, just in case you’ve exhausted conversation topics on the drive (warning: cards can cause arguments, especially among families).
  5. Pack fluffy socks. This little brain wave made me SO much happier on the trip. If you’re a passenger, they’re perfect for relaxing in the car, but as a driver, these saved me during the nights, which were surprisingly cold. Happy feet = happy traveller.

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    ‘One way to get the most out of life is to look upon it as an adventure’ – William Feather

Hong Kong Bound

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Hey everyone,

A combination of a broken laptop and forgetting to bring my charger on holiday to Japan have meant that this blog has been a lot later than intended. I have so much to say and I’ll try not to ramble as I write this.

Like most young men heading to live abroad for the first time, I was given advice by friends and relatives about what to do. “Eat healthily, don’t get a tattoo, don’t go out alone late at night, don’t get into any trouble with the law (whilst it’s true that my only experience of confinement is voluntary house arrest during my early teens when my acne was at its worst, it’s more than enough to put me off the prospect of spending time in a Chinese prison)”.

I guess there are two obvious questions I should probably answer. Why do a year abroad? I hope it to be a “gap year” without it being a “gap yah”; I hoped to meet people from around the world, explore different cultures whilst having some structure to my year and hopefully learn some stuff in the process. Why Hong Kong University? Firstly, as a self-confessed philosophy nerd, I was really hoping to study Asian philosophy. For all of Durham’s strengths, the philosophy department focuses mostly on the Anglo-American tradition. Secondly, I’ve never been to Asia and I thought that living in Hong Kong would be as far about as far out of my comfort zone as possible.

Whilst I don’t want to be as quick to rush to judgement as those blokes off Arsenal fan TV about the new season, Hong Kong has been fabulous so far and much better than what I imagined. My expectations have absolutely been surpassed.

I would assume that most people reading this are considering doing a Year Abroad, or visiting Hong Kong. With this in mind, I thought I would leave some top dos and don’ts

Do

Use the app Revolut. This has been really really helpful since arriving as setting up a bank account without being a Hong Kong citizen is very difficult. The app will let you transfer money into a large number of currencies without any additional costs at the going exchange rate. You can withdraw money and pay for stuff like any ordinary debit card. It will also track your spending and will tell you how much you are spending on food, books, transport etc.

Learn with to eat with chopsticks. I would recommend starting with wooden ones over plastic or metal ones where possible. Although this is a fairly basic skill, I unfortunately have the dexterity of an octogenarian with arthritis. I have had a good few food-related faux pas – the worst moment was trying to eat some spicy noodle soup, dropping the noodles in the soup and causing the spicy sauce to splash into my eye. I then spent the next 15 minutes in considerable pain. With hindsight, I would have saved myself much embarrassment if I’d taken the time to learn this summer.

Explore some of the UK/Europe back home. I’ve been fortunate to do quite a lot of travelling in Asia so far (more on that below). However, it’s made me realise that I am very lucky to live in Western Europe. There is no excuse for me never going to Edinburgh, even though it is less than 2 hours away from Durham on the train. Thanks to Airbnb and low-cost airlines, popping abroad to visit European cities has never been so easy and it’s a shame that it has taken a trip to Hong Kong for me to realise this.

Like techno music/ learn to like/ pretend to like techno music. This may be a strange point and this may have something to do with hanging out with several techno-mad Germans since I’ve arrived, but techno is huge in Hong Kong. There is an enormous techno festival next month and I was lucky enough to go to a fantastic techno beach party a couple of weeks ago. I will admit my first experience of techno music sounded very similar to a washing machine and I questioned how anyone could possibly enjoy it. However, it has grown on me a large amount since I’ve arrived. To quote a friend, “techno is like a language, the first time you listen to it you won’t make sense of it but as you listen more your understanding will improve”

Explore Hong Kong!! Hong Kong is honestly incredible. I’ve never been anywhere like it. There is so much to do and see. The biggest misconception I had before going is that it would be a dense city without any countryside. I couldn’t have been more wrong. There are so many beaches, hiking routes, lagoons, caves and waterfalls; not to mention having all the amenities of a global city. Every weekend is a new adventure.

Don’t

Be afraid to talk to strangers. This may be contrary to the advice we received as little children and I would still advocate caution in some situations (see below). However, I think being “Western” in an Asian city I think causes a sense of kinship which definitely does not exist back in the UK, (whether this segregation between locals and foreigners is a good or bad thing is another matter entirely). As a result, it is really easy to strike up and have enlightening conversations with complete strangers. One highlight was meeting a hilarious South African guy who repeatedly claimed to be the most confident person we’d ever meet. To prove his point he went up to a complete stranger and proceeded to critique and analyse the guy’s dress sense.

Be prepared to live in luxury. As my housemates last year would happily testify, I’m not the tidiest person you’ll ever meet and will happily rough it up. As space is at a premium, rents in Hong Kong are extortionate. I am fortunately living in University owned accommodation and I am very grateful that it is considerably lower than the market price (in fact, it’s much cheaper than my rent last year in Durham). That being said, a large number of appliances including the microwave, air conditioning and shower do not work or partially work and we are on the 7th floor of the building (there is no lift). This is by no means a criticism of the university, and several people who are not students have similar experiences . The point I am making is that accommodation in the UK is held to a much higher standard than in Hong Kong, a large part due to Hong Kong rents being some of the most expensive in the world.

My Travels

I am aware that this is a Year Abroad blog and not a travel one and I could go on for a very long time about my various shenanigans. Nonetheless, I feel like travelling is part of the Year Abroad experience and I have had the chance to go to Singapore, Seoul and Japan and I think it would be remiss if I didn’t mention anything about it.

The first place I went to was Seoul, and I actually travelled with complete strangers (though I’m now very good friends with them). Someone posted on the exchange Facebook group saying that they were going there in a couple of days and asked if anyone could recommend things to do and that they would welcome anyone who wanted to tag along. I didn’t have anything planned that weekend so I sent her a message and booked my flight. Unfortunately, there wasn’t space at the hostel and I slept on the floor/roof but it was a really fun trip.

My housemate last year is from Singapore and I went to visit him before he flew back to Durham to finish his final year. Singapore is a gorgeous country with fantastic weather, views and food. My friend took me to this place known for serving this wrap called popiah, the filling including tofu, chilli and bean sprouts. This is quite possibly the most delicious thing I have ever eaten. I think of the individuals, past and present, who are most revered across the world – Nelson Mandela, Malala Yousafzai, Mother Theresa and (if my friends are to believed) Harry Kane. Only these few individuals are worthy of eating this delight. For the rest of us mere mortals, this truly is the forbidden fruit, the food we need and don’t deserve.

Hong Kong University has a “reading week”, where we are meant to write essays and revise for exams the week after. The majority of exchange students take this as an opportunity to go on holiday and I arrived back from Japan yesterday. I will have to admit, Japan was the weirdest experience of my life. There is far too much for me to go into detail, but one anecdote I think worth sharing was bumping into a very well dressed Japanese lady whose English mainly consisted of the words “I like your jumper”. She then proceeded to follow us around for the next 6 hours including going to a techno club with us. We tried both running and hiding to escape her but we she followed us at every turn. We have no idea where she was from and there is a healthy amount of debate about what her name actually was.

I’ve probably gone on for long enough now. I’m now very busy doing all the work I should have done in reading week and I’ll check back in a month or so.

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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Boring but Necessary

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Here it is. Today marks the two week point since my arrival in Köln, Germany. It’s been busy, to say the least, but I can’t say I would change a thing. If you ever decide to apply for a year abroad (which I highly recommend regardless), you’ll notice that little bits and pieces of the application will seem incredibly confusing and sometimes frustrating. I’ve split this post into three parts to make it as clear and concise as possible: the initial application, pre-arrival and post-arrival.

The Initial Application

Applying through Durham University was relatively simple. The coordinators were unbelievably helpful in explaining exactly what we needed to fill out / how the process would unfold, etc. Having applied for an Erasmus exchange, I wasn’t too worried about not getting my first choice of location (at the time, all Erasmus applicants got their first choice). If I remember correctly, we were required to fill out the generic application paperwork as well as write a motivational letter (#UCASalloveragain).

Once all that was complete, all we had to do was wait for the verdict. Weirdly enough, I was stranded in Amsterdam due to a cancelled flight when I received the email confirming my place at the University of Cologne (I believe this was at the beginning of the second term). Let’s say I went a little crazy in the waiting lounge.

All in all: pretty straight forward and great amount of help from Durham.

Pre-Arrival

The build-up to moving abroad was a bit unconventional in my case. As mentioned in my last post, I was backpacking Vietnam days before leaving for Germany so I had to get everything ready beforehand. This included registration at the University of Cologne, finding accommodation, figuring out if I needed any specific documentation and basically all the other boring stuff that needs to happen before moving.

To make matters worse, Köln is infamous for its’ nightmarish housing market. With over 100 000 students living in the city itself, you can imagine that it quickly comes down to a ‘first come first served’ scenario. I must have sent out hundreds of emails begging for a bed and a roof above my head, and I started the search early. I have friends here who are staying in hostels 2 weeks into the term because they still haven’t found a place! I ended up finding a room in a private residence perfectly placed in between the University and the budding nightlife: I was a happy bunny.

All in all: don’t let the housing market scare you off, it’s doable and worth it in the end – just don’t be picky and start looking EARLY.

Post-Arrival

The road doesn’t end there! My dad was kind enough to drive the 5 hours separating Paris and my new home, so I could take more with me than the common Erasmus student. I share a flat with a dude from Finland – very quiet but very nice – and my room is more than enough to fulfil my needs (maybe I’ll post some pictures in a next post?)

During the first week, we had to register for our courses (strange system – so strange that I can’t even explain it, I had to have the International Office help me) and then for our exams (even more strange – was a bit disappointed with this German (un)efficiency ironically enough).

I also had to wait for hours to get my campus card (which is your public transport card for the whole region of NordRhein-Westfalen, your library card, your cafeteria card, basically your life on one card). Again, a few hours were waited to register with the townhall (biiiigggg fine if you don’t shout ‘hey ho I’m living here now’ within 2 weeks of arrival). And then a lot of hours were spent discovering the city and wasting money unnecessarily. More on that in another post.

I hope I have cleared up at least a few ambiguities, I hope I haven’t scared any of you off, and I genuinely hope you decide to take part in the Erasmus Program. It’s been 2 weeks and I already know I’ll hate the day that I need to leave.