Time Flies

Leave a comment Standard

My second semester in Cologne flew by. It feels like a picked my classes and took the exams a week later. A good friend that I met during one of my backpacking trips in Vietnam came to visit from his hometown in Germany, it was a strange thing to see him in colder weather.

The weather did however start to get a lot warmer soon after. My best friend came over from Mannheim, Germany (where he was doing his year abroad) and we went to see Jeremy Loops in concert (my all-time favourite artist). The craziest part is that we ran in to him as we were heading home from the venue and managed to snag a signed poster and picture with him. What a great night.

I also surprised a good friend in Rotterdam (again) and went to an insane music festival (I feel like this is a recurring theme). My friend from Mannheim was also there, I can easily say that doing a year abroad shrinks the time-space continuum significantly (whatever that means, sounded smart in my head). The whole purpose of this weekend was to celebrate the birthday of King Willem-Alexander, everyone was dressed in orange and having a great time.

Unfortunately, I must start cracking on with assignments and exam revisions, so my adventures need to take a brief hiatus. Not for long though, don’t worry. Everything feels a bit more urgent, or even just pressing, seeing as these are my last couple of months in the city that I have grown to love. I’m definitely not looking forward to saying goodbye.

Germany Has Other Cities

Leave a comment Standard

This might come as a shock to you, but Germany actually has other cities. Crazy right? Exam revisions have been taking their toll on me, so I booked a spontaneous trip to Mannheim to see my best friend and hang out. Mannheim is a pretty small city, I can’t say there’s MUCH to do, but when you’re with good company anywhere works.

Fun facts about Mannheim: It is considered the capital of German pop music. The first automobile, tractor and bicycle were invented there. During WWII, most of the city was completely levelled (aka destroyed), so most of the old looking buildings are copies / a lot of the buildings are relatively new.

While I was there, we made our way to the beautiful town of Heidelberg. It’s only about 20 minutes away from Mannheim by train and definitely worth a visit. That day was blistering hot, I’m pretty sure I was on the brink of a heat stroke. Still worth the visit though.

Fun facts about Heidelberg: Heidelberg University is the oldest university in Germany. The guy who invented the bicycle in Mannheim was from Heidelberg. Unlike, Mannheim, Heidelberg escaped the destruction of WWII. One in five Heidelberg residents is a student. It’s home to the world’s biggest wine barrel (220,000 litres). Fascinating.

Other than that, the long weekend exploring a few other cities in Germany was the break I needed from the crippling grip of academic commitments. I love what I study, but sometimes enough is enough and this kid needs a little nap. My exams / deadlines are coming up soon, so I’m afraid this marks the end of my travels from Cologne. Once I’m home in France, the travels will resume.

And That’s That

Leave a comment Standard

IMG_20180613_125807_590Well here we are. Almost a year after moving to Germany, the adventure is coming to an end. I’ve turned in my last assignments, sat through my last exams, signed off my last academic documents. Now, I have a few weeks to enjoy the sun and the oh so delicious German breweries. I won’t lie to you, my last few weeks have not been incredibly varied in terms of activities – it usually resembles something along the lines of barbecue, drinks, reading in the park, more barbecues, maybe more drinks.

There is one thing, however, that has truly marked my year abroad on many occasions. This year has pushed my social boundaries to an extreme that I did not think possible. It’s quite frankly incredible how a simple gesture towards a complete stranger can mark the beginning of a long-lasting friendship. One of these occasions was captured by my fellow friends: I had just passed my last exam, there was an open-air festival in a nearby park, so naturally we all moved in that direction with our trusty case of beers.

After a while, a group of people sat not too far from us with the whole live music hook-up: microphone, speakers, guitar and a positive attitude. None of my friends wanted to get closer to appreciate the flowing tunes, so I went alone and sat right in front of the guitarist (see picture below). They turned out to be a really cool group of people, and no later than 20 minutes after we were all sitting together singing along (my sceptical friends included). We ended up inviting them to a party that night, to which they actually showed up to, and we are still in contact since. All this, just because I put my pride away and decided to enjoy the moment.

I have plenty of videos from this year stashed on my phone, which I will eventually put together into a little recap video for all of you to watch (and for myself to keep as a souvenir).

Valborg, Walpurgis, What?

Leave a comment Standard

No student in Uppsala can claim to have lived the full experience without participating in what has to be the most quintessential of Swedish student celebrations – Valborg.

Although Valborg was also traditionally celebrated in England, as Walpurgis Eve, this knees-up as an ode to the coming of spring is now a rather obscure pagan hangover in places outside of Scandinavia. I’m Sweden, however, ‘Sista April’ (the last of April), is no ordinary day in the calendar, especially in the calendars of students in Uppsala and our rival university, Lund.

As soon as you step foot into the university, Valborg becomes as fundamental a part of your new vocabulary as hej or fika or oh god it’s cold. Lecturers rave about it, the Nations begin planning bigger and better festivities, and veteran students reminisce about previous years’ antics. For this reason, the international students who only stay for the first semester feel practically obliged to book a trip back in April, meaning that the city’s once again filled with familiar faces, and the capacity of small student dorms is pushed to new limits. I was lucky enough to have four of my first semester friends to visit, in addition to my boyfriend, who I somehow managed to persuade to return after he’d suffered the coldest day of the year when he stayed in February.

So what is it?

Despite its name implying that the celebration is limited to a single eve of merriment, in its present form students eek out an entire three days to put aside the commitments of studying and sleeping, prioritising instead a host of weird and wonderful traditions.

28th April – Skvalborg

Skvalborg is the warm-up for the warm-up, a day (and night) of easing yourself into the celebrations, choosing one or more of the nations to base yourselves for eating, drinking, socialising and partying. It’s a bit more low-key than the other days, but there’s a tangible sense of excitement around the city.

The previous evening, my friends and I had won tickets in a quiz to ‘Tirolborg’ at Västgöta Nation, an Oktoberfest-style event with tankards of beer, bratwurst and strudel and a live oompah band. After braving the cold and sitting outside, we cooked together in student accommodation in town, before heading to a very packed Flogsta Party until the early hours.

Enjoying traditional Bavarian sustenance to prepare ourselves for Swedish custom

29th April – Kvalborg

Due to the previous night’s antics, our Kvalborg began later than intended, as we headed to VDala Nation’s rooftop terrace for food, overlooking the revellers at Upland Nation’s day-club next door. We met with a few friends to recuperate by the river, then out to another house party in the evening.

30th April – Valborg

The big day! Alarms were set intimidatingly early to ensure we could secure a good spot by the river Fyris, for forsränningen – the running of the falls of the river – one of the most established Valborg traditions. An annual feature of Valborg celebrations since 1975, this race pits small teams of engineering students against one another as they attempt to navigate the weirs of the Fyris river on a self-constructed polystyrene raft, modelled on whatever wild imaginings take their fancy. This year’s highlights included a wine bottle straddled by “Frenchmen”, a bathtub and the Hogwarts Express. You can read more about this peculiar tradition here.

img_0806

The most challenging weir that the rafts have to navigate

After we’d had our fill watching students capsize into the icy cold water, we headed to Västgöta for a traditional herring lunch, consisting of pickled herring, boiled potatoes, hard bread, chives and sour cream (and, of course, singing and snaps).

For the week before the day of Valborg, a countdown is projected on the front of the university library, Carolina Rediviva, marking the moment of the ‘donning of the caps’. At precisely 3pm, the vice-chancellor, watching the crowd below from the balcony, removes her traditional Swedish student cap – an action which is replicated by other graduates, young and old. The white caps were first introduced in Sweden during the 1800s and were used by students to show that they belonged to a student union. Later, they were worn by students upon completion of their high school studies. Paper caps are handed out to students without the real-deal to don, but I borrowed my Norwegian friend’s for the authentic experience.

There’s a choir performance to follow, and then tradition dictates that students move to Ekonomikum Park to drink and listen to music, a quiet and usually civilised space that turns into a post-apocalyptic nightmare once the revellers have left and all that remains are bottles and camping chairs.

Our Valborg ended queuing in the rain that night for an extortionately priced club, but if you’re really hardy, I hear that ‘Finalborg’ and ‘Katastrofalborg’ are on some people’s agenda. If you can hack another two days and nights of partying, I salute you.

“Studying” Abroad?

Leave a comment Standard

Having just submitted an exam this morning, I came to the realisation that, despite having spent seven months studying abroad, I’ve yet to actually address the academic side of my year in this blog. I like to think that this is because the opportunity to travel and immerse myself in Swedish culture has been much more representative of my experience so far than any discussions of exams or assignments, but they are nevertheless all part of the package.

Whilst I don’t think it’s unfair to say that, for most people applying for a year abroad, the prime motivation tends to be the opportunity to live in a new and exciting place, academic considerations are undoubtedly also important.

So, what’s it like to be an undergrad student in Uppsala?

Well, firstly, really different from my previous two years at Durham. I knew that learning in a foreign environment would be a big change, but I had no idea what to expect from the pace or style of teaching, or the workload. Every subject is taught differently, so I can only really speak for the humanities, but here’s my two cents for what they’re worth:

  • The year is divided into two semesters – running from the end of August to mid-January, and then mid-January to the end of May. Something worth noting about this system is that it’s far more accommodating than its British counterpart in terms of the opportunity for students to stay for half the year. This is pretty handy if you’ve somewhere else to be for the other five months, but, for those of us registered for the whole academic year, it also means you’ve got to be prepared for a lot of reluctant goodbyes after Christmas. The majority of the people I befriended in August ended up leaving mid-January, which made an already cold and gloomy month that little bit more miserable, but thankfully I’d made some wonderful British pals amongst the international crowd, who were also sticking the full year out.
img_3637

Emotional farewells at Uppsala station

  • Holidays don’t really exist… This was something I’d spotted when applying, but – used to Durham’s generous month at Christmas and five weeks at Easter – had assumed I’d misunderstood. I hadn’t. There are no official holiday periods in the academic calendar, with only national holidays guaranteeing time off. Between modules, it’s usual to have a few days or a week clear, but, taking Easter for example, there’s only Good Friday and Easter Monday off-timetable. This can take a bit of getting used to, and makes booking trips a little more challenging, but it’s certainly not impossible to travel.
  • Teaching is modular, with most modules comprising 7.5 ECTS. The standard format would be four 7.5 modules taken back-to-back, per semester, but this can vary a lot.
  • So far, I’ve taken modules in the department of cultural anthropology, modern languages, economic history, social and economic geography, and history. The method of teaching has varied, but has generally focused more on lectures than seminars, with a couple of two-hour lectures per week as standard. My next module is seminar-based, but so far, their absence has been one of the most noticeable differences for me, as I’d become accustomed to them on quite a frequent basis at Durham, and learnt the hard way to prepare adequately…
img_3661-1

Snowy scenes at the beautiful Engelska Parken – the humanities campus

  • One of the nicest differences is the practically stress-free assessment that the Swedish system seems to encourage. The knowledge that this year doesn’t contribute to my final grade is always reassuring, and takes a lot of the pressure off, but regardless, the system here seems designed to minimise stress – a model I think British universities could learn a lot from. Firstly, there’s the exams, which (though admittedly aren’t ideal – often involving bike rides in the dark to reach locations very far from campus for an 8am start), rather than rinsing you of knowledge in the smallest amount of time feasible for you to write legibly, actually set the clock hours beyond the time necessary for completion. The prospect of a five hour exam is initially pretty daunting, but when you realise you’re only given that much time so everyone can work at their own pace, and walking out after an hour is perfectly acceptable, it all becomes a lot easier. Re-sits are also far from the terror they’ve become at home, being released only a few weeks after the original, and lecturers actively encouraging students not to turn up to the initial exam if they’re under-prepared. Another perk is the take-home exam, a set of questions released by email, which are submitted online after a period of time. With these, you can work entirely at your own pace, with whatever resources you desire, even at home in your pyjamas, if that’s your jam.
  • Studying in the U.K. had made me accustomed to pretty erratic sleeping-patterns and hours of work, with the first all-nighter a veritable rite of passage for the uni student at home. In Sweden, however, the student culture is far closer to the world of real work. This can be seen most clearly in the hours libraries are open. Who knew that the 24/7 Billy B was such a blessing? The university main library here, Carolina Rediviva, closes at 7pm on a weekday, and 4pm on a weekend. I love the idea of being sufficiently organised to pack-up work in the early evening like a real adult, but I’m also not completely naive… I think it says a lot about Swedish culture that, whilst the libraries shut at seven, you can rely on cafés to be open until 10pm. Priorities.
fullsizerender-4

Carolina Rediviva library

Time to go home

Leave a comment Standard

Hello readers,

Although it pains me to say it, the time has come to head home from New Zealand. At this time last year I was attending my first welcome talks at International Orientation Week and can remember them like it was yesterday. It seems so strange that a whole 12 months and a whole year of experiences has happened since. It still has not quite sunk in that it is already time to get on that plane and leave this beautiful country.

But I also know that in just over 40 hours, after 3 flights and a 14 hour stopover in Singapore airport (the flight was cheaper!), I will actually be able to see my family in the real life flesh and bone and not just over face time. My sister has promised me that she will not be bringing embarrassing signs to the airport! My bags have been packed and after donating what seems like half of what I own to flatmates and op shops (charity shops) they fit within the weight restrictions.  I honestly did not think I had that much stuff!

So I guess that means that it is time to reflect back on what has gone on this year. I have been blogging occasionally throughout my time at Otago and documenting some of my experiences for you but those have just been snapshots of a year living as a student in New Zealand. And this year has definitely had its ups and downs, as would a year at Durham. There are some times I wish I had travelled more instead of staying in Dunedin job hunting. Some parts of me wish I had been more confident to go away on the weekends and explore more remote places.  Most of the time I was having a fantastic time and keeping busy so didn’t even think of home but at other moments it was difficult to forget exactly how far I was away from my family.

I’m sure there are quite a few things that I intended to do whilst I was abroad that I never got around to doing, or I simply decided that actually I didn’t want to do them at all when I really thought about it. Equally, and probably more so, there are HEAPS of things that I have done that I never intended to do or even imagined that I would do before I left the UK.

Just some of the lovely and sometimes unexpected things that I have experienced and achieved this year, big and small:

  •  Ran in the Dunedin Quarter Marathon – my first ever running event
  • Tried out possibly all the vegan cakes that are available in Dunedin cafes
  • Learned to dive under big waves (this may sound silly but I was 100% scared before!)
  • Tried out surfing (only on the little waves)
  • Took a road trip and drove in another country for the first time
  • Harvested, dyed and wove harakeke (flax) into a bag – a traditional Maori art
  • Volunteered with conservation groups around the Otago Peninsula and on Quarantine Island
  • Took a photography course and practiced a lot
  • Climbed up Roy’s Peak to watch the sunrise
  • Went to late night improv comedy shows with my flatmate and laughed a lot

 

Over this year I have learnt that your experiences are your own and they don’t need to be compared to anyone else’s. You don’t need to have experienced the wildest, most exotic things or climbed up the highest mountains to have had an experience. I am proud to say that I have lived on the other side of the world for an entire year. I arrived in Dunedin this time last year and moved into a flat full of strangers and have left a year later with friends for life and people that I can go back and visit and who can come to visit me too!

This year has been so special to me and one that has really helped me whether it be reminding me exactly why I love studying Geography or developing my self-confidence whilst I’ve been living abroad independently.

Thank you so much to everyone who has hung out and helped me out in every way this year. I couldn’t have done it without you guys! Good luck to Emma, the next Durham student heading to Otago, I wish her all the best as she starts her year of adventure and am only a tiny bit jealous!