Ways to make your new room feel like home (on a budget)

By Zoe Watson (University of Bergen, Norway)

Making your new room feel like home is important, especially if you are going to be living there for the best part of a year. My room at the University of Bergen’s student halls seemed bare and clinical, but within a few weeks it felt like home. Here are some ideas for how to decorate your new room, whilst in a foreign country and on a tight budget. 

  1. Print photos of family and friends

Pictures of your family and friends will comfort you when you’re having a down day and missing them, and will also brighten up the bare walls. They also make a nice conversation starter with your new flatmates and friends. Whilst in the UK, I used the Free Prints app to print off a bunch, which then took up minimal space in my luggage. Don’t forget to bring some blu-tac too!

  1. Pack your favourite duvet cover and pillowcase 

I chose to pack my favourite duvet cover and pillowcase from home to add a personal and familiar touch to my room. Once I rolled it up tight, it took up surprisingly little space in my luggage. It also meant I had one less thing to buy at Ikea once I had arrived. I brought a duvet cover and pillowcase with fun colours and patterns to brighten up the room, and remind me of home. Make sure to check beforehand whether you will have a single bed or a double bed!

  1. Seek out free stuff

There are plenty of places to find free or super cheap stuff for your room. At my accommodation, previous tenants had left the stuff they didn’t want to take home in the communal areas. Here, my flat mates found a kettle, vacuum cleaner, and a chest of drawers, amongst other things. Unfortunately, once I arrived (after my mandatory hotel quarantine) the best stuff had gone, so instead I kept an eye on the accommodation’s Facebook group, where people would post what they were giving away or selling. I managed to bag a lamp, coat hangers and a bedside table, all for free. Second hand stores and garage sales are also great places to look, as well as your host country’s most popular advertisements website (in Norway, it’s FINN). 

A typical room at the University of Bergen’s student accommodation.

A Guide to Self Quarantine

By Hannah Wheeler, Vrije Universiteit, Netherlands

I feel that my first blog requires an honorary mention to Miss Corona. Since my acceptance to Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam back in February, Corona has always been trying to get in the way. Thankfully, she did not succeed.

I’m now three days into my self-quarantine and every second grateful to be out of the UK and at the start of my year abroad. Self-quarantine has given me the opportunity to write a blog and a great topic to start off with, considering it is relevant for many of us leaving to start our study abroad years. Here are some of the things that are helping me pass the time of quarantine… 

  1. Getting creative:

Do something that’s fun and interactive. Packing a paint-by-numbers was my best decision. Each day you make more and more progress. Plus, the final piece can contribute to decoration. Win win. If painting isn’t your thing they try youtube dance tutorials, baking or othe things more creative. I’ve also started a daily journal to keep going throughout the year. I dont write anything important but its a nice keepsake at the end. 

My Amsterdam journal
  1. Not wasting the time: 

Like most newly moved exchange student i also downloaded duolingo. Surprisingly, thirty minutes of it went in a flash. For once, i actually felt committed to do it. I have a great motivation as I actually live in Amsterdam now. Dutch should be a must. I’d hate to feel like an ignorant Brit abroad, not knowing how to say please and thank you even. Learning the basics is essential and what better time to do it. 

  1. Staying connected: 

Overall, I’m not much of a phone person. Luckily I have a roommate living with me so am not fully alone. However, when she’s out I find that a quick facetime with my folks or a little conversation on a group chat keeps my mood up. I may not be a social media person but I am a social person. I like company. Even if you facetime a friend and just stay on the line but carry on with your day, have little bits of chat but nothing that intense. Or plan to play an online board game with your family. Staying connected definitely helped me. 

  1. Making it more valuable: 

Of course, you are gonna watch a lot of TV. Days are long and you can only fill them with so much of other things. In an effort to make my time in front of the tv screen semi beneficial, i started a docu series called ‘Can’t get you out of my head’. Its an odd one. Its about why the world is like this and how we got there. To be honest though, i can’t quite tell what its arguing yet, i’m only 2/6 episodes in. It is a show that makes me give 110% attention. If you look away for a moment you’re lost. Try a show or podcast that may give a bit more back to your life than killing time maybe. 

  1. Not slacking on self care:
Morning coffee on balcony

Now this one is basic. For me, routine keeps me focused and going. I love a to-do list. Even when I can’t leave the house, a to do list makes me feel like I’m accomplishing something. I even tick off that I’ve had breakfast! – a bit sad I know.

Plan in when you want to paint or chat, or to do a quick youtube workout or yoga. Plan in when you are gonna eat a snack or make a nice dinner for yourself. Plan when you are going ot write in your journal or do some duolingo. It means that you can break the day down into smaller sections. For me this makes days not seem so never ending then. 

No matter what you do, stay excited and proactive and look forward to the year ahead.

Five spots for drinking and eating like a Parisienne around Sciences Po: Ah bah oui! Les cafés, chocolats chauds, vin chaud, trois plats, et falafel…

By Stephanie Banatvala

1. Arabica coffee @ Beaupassage courtyard.

When you find yourself staring blankly at the library computer screen without coffee, fear not! The Arabica coffee cart is nestled in the courtyard of Beaupassage. Just over the road from Sciences Po, it is easy to miss. Three different entrances take you in to the courtyard. It is calm, bright and full of plants. I was lucky to find this gem in my first few days in Paris. It became ‘my place’. It is where I took my friends, lazed around, and got my emergency caffeine fixes. Once, my friend Ollie actually ran from his flat to buy me a coffee when I was in dire need and didn’t have my card on me! It will meet all your flat white and matcha latte gentrified café needs… But even better, take at least two days before lessons start, to explore random alleyways, so you can find your own Beaupassage equivalent.

2. Angelina’s – the ultimate pick me up.

The famous chocolat chaud chez Angelina’s is more like a cup of melted chocolate. Le maison de Angelina’s has been on Rue de Rivoli since 1903, but they have since opened a boutique on Rue de Bac, near Beaupassage and Sciences Po. From my father to my grandmother, my whole family regards Angelina’s as the simplest formula for sorting anything and everything out. Bad day? Get an Angelina’s. Miss home? Get an Angelina’s. Feel like university work is excruciatingly endless? You guessed it. Angelina’s. End of term? Celebrate with an Angelina’s.

Photo taken from: Chicandgeek.com

3. Cheap meals – €1-3 @ Crous canteens!

You will be very thankful for Crous canteens when you have spent too much money on gentrified coffee and Angelina’s hot chocolate. These are dotted all over Paris. Sciences Po does have a Crous canteen, but it’s not always open and the options are limited. Instead walk 8 minutes from the library to Café Mabillon. For €1 (or €3 euros outside of Covid-19 times), you get an entry, main and desert. You can buy up to two meal sets a day, so you can buy one for dinner too. All you have to do is sign up for an Izly account. Simply bring your student card to the desk at Café Mab, or email assistance-izly@crous-paris.fr .

4. Le Marais: falafel, falafel, and more falafel.

When you think of Paris, you probably think about les croissants and croque-monsieurs. But I promise you, falafel is the new croissant. There are falafel stands all over Paris, but Le Marais is home to the best (historically, Le Marais was the Jewish district in Paris). The queues can easily go around the block. So try to head over on a weekday. Put ‘L’As de Falafel’ into google maps. If it’s not open, the vendors next door will be.

5. Vin chaud.

As early as 8am you will see men standing around drinking beer at their local bistros. It’s part of the Parisian way of life. So jump on that bandwagon. Okay… so maybe 8am is a bit excessive… but a glass of vin chaud awaits you on every Parisian corner at the end of your study day. Until you’re drinking the occasional glass between lessons with friends, you won’t feel like you’re truly living life as a Parisian.

For those away from home, studying online, or not studying at all :)

Whether you are studying abroad at a different university or on placement/ interning in a different city or country, being away from your comfort zone and in a new environment will sometimes come with its own difficulties.  The effect of moving away on mental health is often not spoken about before departure, and this can potentially end up completely overshadowing what should be a year of making new friends, improving language skills and learning a new way of life.

So it is important to recognise that these transitions can be challenging, and anticipating being away from home and familiar support networks can sometimes lead to worry, anxiety and stress. These emotions are to be expected, especially when you’re adapting to a new environment, culture, group of friends, education system, and sometimes even a new language in a short timeframe.

Here are a few tips to look after yourself whilst abroad and a list of some resources that are available to you if you live or study in Amsterdam more specifically.

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Roeterseiland Campus – University of Amsterdam

The University of Amsterdam has four campuses located around the city. As I study social sciences I am located at Roeterseiland campus which is located just East of the city centre, in the Jewish Quarter of Amsterdam.

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The Academic Lifestyle at Lund University

Lund University and the University of Manchester have quite differing teaching and assessment regimes. I am now able to see advantages and disadvantages to both and why it is a great experience, if there is the opportunity, to try different styles outside those you are comfortable with and used to. Lund University offers a wide range of module choices which cover a lot of topics and agendas. As a human geographer and international student, I have to take at least 15 ECTS per semester from the Social Sciences School. If I wanted to take modules from outside this School, this would be allowed but I would not be a priority. However, there is still such a diverse range from Social Sciences where you can learn about subjects that you have not previously studied or potentially go into more depth about ones you have.

The way that the academic year runs is different from Manchester for a start. Each semester has two study periods within it, each of which runs for about half the semester. So, for example in the first semester, the first study period runs from the start of September until the end of October (ish) and the second period starts at the beginning of November and finishes just before Christmas. The semester as a whole also runs for a longer period of time. For 2019, the Autumn semester ran from the 2nd September until the 19th December for me and you have no real breaks during this time, i.e. there are no reading weeks. This can make the semester feel really quite long in some ways, especially at the beginning when Christmas seems very far off. However, the first study block has just finished for me and I cannot believe how quickly it has actually gone! The second semester this academic year is running from the 20th January until the 5th June. However, the precise dates depend on the specific modules taken.  

Lund University’s Main Library

Across the two semesters, you are required to attain 60 ECTS, the equivalent of 120 credits at home. This means 30 ECTS are taken per semester and generally 15 per study period. At Lund University, this is undertaken largely through 2 x 7.5 ECTS or 1 x 15 ECTS. This mean of learning enables you to have a strong focus on your module choices and keep up with the high amount of reading which comes with studying a social science. The amount of reading is balanced by the few lectures there are each week. I have on average 2 or 3 lectures per week. Additionally, the volume of reading is needed for the essays (for my module choices, there is one due about every fortnight) and is then reinforced by the seminars. Seminars are mandatory and, if they are missed, a ‘make-up’ assignment must be completed instead. The seminars normally take place prior to the assessment hand-in date to help with the writing of the assessment. This study pattern means that the assessments immediately follow the associated teaching and reading.

Something to note on the readings given also is that not all of them are online. Having said that, most pieces will be either online or in a university library, but nevertheless some classes may expect you to buy some books. However, I would say to always check UoM’s library search before spending your money as they have had most I have looked for so far!

Lund University’s Sociology Department

Alternatively, there are a few options of studying one 30 ECTS for the whole semester. I do not think that I would recommend this as you would be doing only one module for the entire semester with no other work to do, so it may seem repetitive even if you enjoy it. Additionally, if you discover you do not enjoy the module, you are then studying that one single module for the whole 16-week semester. As well, Lund does not have a ‘pick-up/drop period’, where you can trial different modules, so you have to do what you chose. I believe there are some cases where you can change but it is not the ‘done’ thing. Of course, this is subject to how you learn best and what you think will work best for your learning. The way in which assessments are graded varies too. All assessments I have had have either been marked on a sliding scale of A-fail (A being the highest and E the lowest passing grade) or pass/fail (G/U in Swedish).

A Lund University tradition is the ‘academic quarter’. I believe this is not unique to Lund but essentially it means that, when classes say they begin on the hour, they actually begin at a quarter past. So, if a class starts at 10:00, it will actually begin at 10:15. Supposedly this tradition is from when students knew the time from the cathedral in the middle of the city. When the cathedral’s bells rang at o’clock, the students knew they needed to get to class for quarter past. As a result of the academic quarter and a break in the middle of the classes, the time passes very quickly. This is a particular perk if lectures are at 8.00 am or 5.00 pm, the times classes can run from. Something to note is that classes run all day on Wednesdays; there’s no half-day. Also, as far as I am aware currently, there is no real break for Easter.

Although I can see many advantages to the shorter and more intense study periods, I would also say that there is something of a feeling of temporariness that follows it. In itself, the temporariness can have advantages and disadvantages if you do not enjoy your course for example (or a lecturer!).

Lund University’s Human Geography Department

How to finesse your way through study abroad in Amsterdam (broke student edition)

Living and studying abroad is already expensive, and unless you’re able to get a part-time job/paid internship alongside your university contact hours (which are 5x that of Manchester’s), having fun while still maintaining a sustainable living situation can be tricky. I had heard that Amsterdam was an expensive city before I got here so I was ready to spend mindfully in an attempt to budget but I failed within the first two weeks of getting here. I found it too easy to get caught up in spending on little things and forget that a few euros here and there adds up really quickly.

Writing this post has made me beyond thankful for my Erasmus grant, but there is only so much that this will cover, especially when you’re broke but living in a city that has so much going on – like Amsterdam. So I’ve decided to put together a little list of tips that have definitely helped me save a substantial amount of euros here and there. Some of them might be a bit extra…but desperate times = desperate measures!

Surviving Copenhagen on a student budget

Alice Logan, University of Copenhagen, English Literature and American Studies

Firstly, as a disclaimer we all know that Copenhagen is an insanely expensive city to live in, however having spent five months there I did find some handy ways to save some pennies for summer travelling ☀️

 

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The harbour at Nyhavn 

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Copenhagen Coffee Culture

Alice Logan, English and American Studies, University of Copenhagen

 

Denmark is one of the happiest countries in the world and after exploring Copenhagen one coffee shop at a time, I can see why!  Below are a few of my absolute favourite coffee shops…

42Raw

Pilestræde 32, 1112 København

Tucked away down an unassuming side street just off Norreport station you’ll find 42Raw, one of Copenhagen’s plant based coffee shops.  Their expansive menu ranges from açai bowls and raw smoothies to lentil burgers and peanut butter milkshakes.  Try the raw chocolate chip cookies and the beetroot latte for a light snack or the vegan lasagnaee which is life changing.

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Studying Scandinavian Style

Alice Logan, English Literature and American Studies, University of Copenhagen

After completing the first half of my semester abroad I thought I’d do a blog post on the differences between studying in England vs Copenhagen, as the scandi culture seems to have a massive influence on the way that the Danes study and has changed my approach to studying.

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South Campus looking very pretty in the sun ☀️

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Erasmus, disabilities and long-term health conditions

As a former exchange student and a student with a disability, I thought I knew all there was to know about the funding and support available to disabled students, but alas I was wrong.  Indeed, there are more options than I first thought.

When I decided I wanted to go on exchange, I was adamant I did not want to study in Europe and instead wanted to go as far away as possible, as I felt this would make the most of my time away.  Since I have been back, I have found out more about the options available in Europe, which are particularly helpful to those who feel they would be unable to study abroad due to their health condition, without the help of additional funding.  Whilst I am fortunate that my disability proved fairly unproblematic, as I didn’t have to transport equipment or copious different medications, had I realised the benefits to staying in Europe, I might have given it a chance.

What benefits?

Firstly, is the additional funding available through Erasmus+.  Not only are you entitled to the Erasmus grant, but you are also able to apply for a higher amount to help cover additional costs arising as a result of your health.  Whilst there is no absolute guarantee that you will be awarded this additional sum, it is worth considering, especially as there is no set limit of funding through this avenue.

Secondly, is ‘other funding’.  This is quite difficult to access information on but worth exploring. For some courses, it is possible to obtain funding from private bodies, notably Google have scholarships for technology-based degrees, but there will be different options available to you, depending on your course.  It is also worth contacting different societies (e.g. the Epilepsy Society) and charities to see if they are able to help. It isn’t always possible, but you may find they are able to help, especially if you are willing to promote their cause.

Thirdly, is proximity to home.  As I have already mentioned, I wanted to get as far away as possible and it is absolutely possible to do this with a disability or health condition.  This said it is worth thinking about the likelihood of problems with your health- if you are really unwell its much easier to fly home for the weekend, or for a hospital appointment if you are in Poland compared with New Zealand!

Finally, is the law (sorry, I am a law student, so it had to be said!).  Although the laws in European countries do differ, there is a greater consistency when compared to other parts of the world.  There are some clear benefits of European laws, including the prohibition of discrimination on the grounds of disability (EU Charter of Fundamental Rights) and the protection of rights of persons with disabilities (UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities).  Interestingly, the EU is currently contemplating a European Accessibility Act, which aims to increase accessibility for all, but with a particular focus on education, which could make a huge difference to those with disabilities and health conditions studying in Europe. Of course, there are many countries with disability legislation of their own and so this maybe be unproblematic, but I would really recommend having a look at the protections legislation can offer you in your desired country.  Remember, what is considered a disability in the UK may not be considered a disability in another country!

My Advice

There is definitely more to consider when applying to study abroad when you have a disability or long-term health condition, but it doesn’t make it impossible.  The greatest advice I can offer to students thinking of embarking on an exchange is to first disclose your condition to the university and more specifically the exchange office and secondly, to really consider all options.  I have friends who studied in Europe and absolutely loved their time there- it doesn’t really matter where you go, it is what you do with your time that will shape your exchange.

Sorcha

 

Two Weeks in Copenhagen

Alice Logan, English Literature and American Studies, Univeristy of Copenhagen

After just two weeks in Copenhagen, I already feel at home in this beautiful city and am slowly acclimatising to the depths of Danish winter.   I defy anyone to not have positive first impressions of this incredible city.  Copenhagen boasts beautiful architecture, both modern and Renaissance, canals to rival Amsterdam, a multitude of ornate gardens and the most beautiful harbour that’s so colourful it can cheer you up even when the sky is grey (which it is 90% of the time).

 

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Candid Nyhavn photo as modelled by my parents

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