Lapland: lockdown edition

As Covid-19 rolled ominously across Asia and into the West, initially causing a deluge of cases in Italy, eventually the cloud burst over everyone. The distant, fluffy, cumulus cloud metastasized into an irksome storm cloud which proved to be the ultimate rain check for everyone on placement.

We first heard about the coronavirus shortly after arriving in Sweden in January. We heard distant reports of a new illness affecting East Asia, like the lockdown of Wuhan and the quarantine of the Diamond Princess cruise ship off the coast of Japan. Though saddening news for those impacted, such stories made the threat of coronavirus seem distant and almost unimportant from our perspective, like a small white cumulus cloud in a sky of bedazzling blue.

Yet as Covid-19 rolled ominously across Asia and into the West, initially causing a deluge of cases in Italy, eventually the cloud burst over everyone. The distant, fluffy, cumulus cloud metastasized into an irksome storm cloud which proved to be the ultimate rain check for everyone on placement.

What was to be begin with a trickle of stories concerning the spread of the virus became a monsoon of messages from parents, university staff and government urging for the repatriation of international students.

What were drips and drabs became a torrent of international students fleeing Sweden. They left for different reasons, for some it was the demand of their home institutions, for others it was the fear being stranded. But, one by one, students left and dutifully echoed the mantra of ‘get out whilst you still can’ to those who chose to remain.

But returning home doesn’t shrug off the shadow of coronavirus, does it?

Indeed, for many international students returning home was a step into the eye of the storm. Some countries have more cases of coronavirus and more stringent measures to enforce social distancing. Whereas Sweden is something of a pariah among the international community when it comes to Covid-19 responses. It only recently prohibited social gatherings of fifty or more and schools, shops, club and pubs remain open for business.

Nevertheless, the gaping hole left by fleeing students is irreparable. The remaining months for those remaining will be uncertain and possibly lonely. And I ,writing from a UK under lockdown, cannot help but reminisce back to brighter times.

Through the rose-tinted glasses I see through when looking back on my time abroad, one memory which stands out is my time in Lapland in late February, when coronavirus was but a dot on the horizon.

I arranged to go with three other Brits (Ben, Kirsten and Emily) through a tourist company called TimeTravels who produce an attractive itinerary of activities quintessential to Lapland. Though each of our experiences in their own way deserves a separate post, I will attempt to condense my experiences to the what I think is essential, whilst paying lip-service to the truth.

The trip began at the end of a hum-drum day in Uppsala. We met our group with whom we’d be spending the next week alongside and waited to be collected by coach to embark on the 19-hour bus journey to the Arctic Circle.

Our journey was punctuated by occasional outbursts from the group leader, Nico, an exuberant employee of TimeTravels who’s passion for adventure and lust for knowledge shone out of him like sunbeams.

He and the satisfaction of seeing the coach thermometre inch incrementally lower from 5°c to -20°c throughout the night made the time pass a little easier.

In the afternoon, the next day, we arrived at our accommodation, a ski-resort which, judging from the bustle activity that greeted us, was yet to be opened. Snow ploughs and staff shovelled snow frantically to clear paths from an astronomical amount of snow that had fallen during closed season. One employee told us that the region had experienced 3m of snow since January.

The next four days flew by. In fear of sounding repetitive, I’ll provide some photos with captions rather than exhausting descritptions.

The 6am sunrise at Riksgränsen, Sweden’s northernmost ski resort.
A pair of huskies, tethered to a sleigh and resting before the next run.
A traditional Sámi hut, used to dry meats in the summer months.
An inquisitve reindeer following the smell of lichen.
An Ice Hotel: international sculptors competed to design rooms inside.
The town of Kiruna. Due to the activities of a nearby iron mine which provides most of the jobs here, the entire town is in the process of being relocated.
Not sure who these guys were, but here they are at a Norweigan Fjord.
The Norweigan city of Narvik as seen from the 16th storey.

Of all of the experiences making up this trip, only one deserves a proper description. That is our sighting of the Northern Lights. Thanks to an app, we could track the movement and visibility of the lights throughout the trip. And on one fateful night, the clouds parted.

Faint at first, from a snowy perch outside our bedrooms, we saw them stretching across the sky. They moved constantly due to solar winds which blew the charged particles and created a rippling effect.

Yet, to call it a visual experience fails to convey the experience authentically. The tendrils of an illuminous lime-light unfurling before us in the sky transcended beauty and produced simultaneous feelings of awe and cosmic insignificance. It was what Kant, Hulme and Burke would compare to the sublime. And what the Sámi People would describe as the dancing souls of ancestors.

Both interpretations touch on a feeling that we were invited to witness something ineffable, that cannot be put into language, and that inability to describe represents our impotence in nature. It is the same feeling one gets from being stranded in the middle of the ocean with mountainous waves crashing against the side of a ship. A demonstration of the power and beauty of nature and reminder of how small we are.

What will we see when the coronavirus cloud parts?

Food Tourism in Flogsta

Not too long ago, I heard a rumour about an Ethiopian restaurant run from a bedroom somewhere amongst the brutalist blocks in Flogsta. Though I was told so little about it that it seemed mythical and even absurd. How could someone possibly do that? Where would they sleep? Is it profitable?

Not too long ago, I heard a rumour about an Ethiopian restaurant run from a bedroom somewhere amongst the brutalist blocks in Flogsta, Uppsala, where I’m living this semester. Though I was told so little, the prospect seemed mythical and even absurd. How could someone possibly do that? I thought. Where would they sleep? Is it profitable?

My mind raced and I struggled to believe it. Perhaps it was an urban myth made up to taunt international students with the promise of a cuisine that had more to offer than picked herrings and meatballs. Nonetheless, when I caught wind of the rumour I was struck by insatiable curiosity and felt compelled to find out the truth.

Over the next few days, after asking the same questions many times, I found out that there was indeed a restaurant run from the comfort of a bedroom. However, the discovery of this fact was only half the battle if I were to eat there.

Making a reservation was a tricky business but eventually, through a friend of a friend, I managed to obtain the name and phone number of the restaurant.  Perhaps this was due to the dubious legality of the set-up, the restaurant is not well advertised except for an obscure Facebook page which provides only a mobile number. Nevertheless, I called it to make a reservation for my flatmate Marie and me with the hope about finding out more about the identity of our host.

A man’s voice answered, he spoke quickly and abruptly as if he had been interrupted from doing something more important and curtly told me than now wasn’t a good time. Over a subsequent SMS exchange, he asked two questions; what time we’d would like to book and how spicy we’d like our food. Though the only nugget of information I gleamed from this interaction was that the food would have some level of spiciness, I was glad that my fantasy was fast becoming a reality.

With a ravenous curiosity and even deeper appetite, we approached the restaurant. As we neared, my apprehension for what we would find grew. A torrent of questions bombarded me. What sort of man would do this? Is he mentally okay? Why would I willingly go to a restaurant so ostensibly lacking food and hygiene regulations?!

It now dawned on me that my appetite for adventure had dampened my much more rational fear of the unknown. Such questions stewed in the back of my mind as we walked down a corridor that was so familiar to my own flat yet distorted unrecognisably by the potential danger that awaited us.

Even being a Hotelier at the Hotel for the Unexpected would not have prepared anyone for what awaited us behind his door. Could you imagine? What if someone had done this in Owens Park tower?

The restaurant, geometrically identical to mine and every other in Flogsta yet different in every other imaginable way, was dimly lit by single lamp nestled in the corner. Its light illuminated everything, from bookcases brimming with beer bottles to shelves stacked with CDs, vinyl’s and vintage magazines. In this archive of antiquities, lit up by a ghostly white light, stood our host, a man on the right side of 70 dressed entirely in khaki beachwear with a crop of greyish pink hair in a bun.

He was everything you’d expect and everything I deserved. He was old, Swedish and vivacious. After a short round of pleasantries, in which he refused to shake our hands and we admired his vast collection of collectibles, he spoke a little about himself. Though he never mentioned his name.

It turns out that he belonged to a group of residents who privately rented before the University bought out several blocks for student lettings. So, since 1989, he has lived here. Whilst Flogsta is little more than a half-way-house on the way to a career, mortgage and a family for most students for him it is, and has always been, a home.

It had also been, for a shorter time, an Ethiopian restaurant. Evidently, his room served as both the front-of-house and the kitchen. Amongst his collection of nostalgic knick-knacks were hotplates, saucepans and four hurriedly arranged chairs where Marie and I made ourselves comfortable.

A collection of beer bottles thats taken decades to grow

When asked what drew him to Ethiopian food, rather than a cuisine a little closer to home, he was unapologetic about his distaste for European food. What he disliked particularly about it was the absence of spice, a crucial ingredient which he used in spades in his restaurant.

He described his introduction to spice as a sort of religious awakening. Whilst hitch-hiking in the Scottish Highlands around the time Kraftwerk’s first album came out, he stumbled upon an Indian restaurant which served him a simple vindaloo which converted him to a new cuisine. I know a lot of people re-evaluate life after eating this dish. But who knew a vindaloo could transform a worldview?

It transpired that his love for Ethiopian food came from a flatmate from 25 years ago who had taught him the recipe for injeras, a kind of sourdough-risen flatbread with a slightly spongy texture, traditionally made out of teff flour. It was her recipe he’d been perfecting all these years, testing on the new batches of students who heard about him, through friends of friends. A legacy which Marie and I were to become a part of.

Alongside the national dish of Ethiopia he served spiced spinach and an ambiguous-looking meat sauce. Everything was laden with a smorgasbord of spices which overwhelmed every other flavour the dish had to offer. It is only now looking back that I question if he deliberately disguised the flavours…

But reflecting on my experience, I realise that what we ate is irrelevant. He wasn’t selling dishes, but rather himself. I had gone there to satiate a curiosity about a rumour, to find out about the man behind the myth. Not to be wined and dined in a Michelin star establishment. And to that end, my appetite for adventure was gone.

Tips you may have overlooked to help keep your mental health in check

There’s no doubt that, as an international student in a foreign country, you’ll emerge from the experience with new knowledge about a different part of the world but also about yourself! However, getting out of your comfort zone can be a struggle. Whether you’re completing a course overseas or taking part in a shorter exchange programme, international students are required to adapt to a completely new environment, culture, group of friends, education system, and sometimes even language; and all in a very short timeframe.

I have found the work-load at the University of Amsterdam pretty difficult to keep up with among everything else I’ve been trying to juggle. I had a lot of deadlines and an exam period which I found pretty overwhelming, and it was easy to fall into the habit of comparing yourself to friends who were doing well (grades wise) and in every other aspect you could possibly (over)think of. In this moment I asked myself, am I taking care of myself and my mental health? So instead of trying to tackle the rest of my reading list I’m here writing a blogpost, because looking after ourselves is more important than pretending I know what’s going on in tomorrows seminar.

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

Continue reading “Tips you may have overlooked to help keep your mental health in check”

Uppsala Universitet: ‘run by students, for students’

In my first week here, a pair of Swedish students gave the University of Uppsala a glowing endorsement. They told me that Uppsala, with 40,000 strong student population, was a University ‘run by students, for students’

By Lucca Di Virgilio, Uppsala University, Sweden.

The Carolina Building. This is the main library of Uppsala University which sits on a hill overlooking the city.

In my first week here, a pair of Swedish students gave the University of Uppsala a glowing endorsement. They told me that Uppsala, with 40,000 strong student population, was a University ‘run by students, for students’.

After an agonising process of scrutinising this claim, I must say, begrudgingly, it would be misleading to characterise the Univerity of Uppsala as anything other than a sort of student-utopia with the phrase ‘run by students, for students’ it’s unofficial motto.

In this University town, that is close enough to Stockholm to visit at the drop of a hat, it is clear to me that the student always comes first. In the two subsections that follow I will show how when it comes to student-wellbeing Sweden has got it right.

Social Life

The postulations of the snus-taking Swedes have particular resonance when it comes to Uppsala’s social life.

In place of having societies, Uppsala University has student-run nations instead which, in exchange for a small fee, offer an eclectic range of sporting, musical and artistic pursuits. The nations are different sizes, from the towering and impersonal Stockholms nation and Västmanlands-Dala nation to the smaller yet friendlier Kalmar nation of which I’m a member. Although students stopped being required by law to join a nation in 2010, joining a nation offers myriad benefits. Not least, day-to-day entrance to nation bars, cafes and restaurants which are heavily discounted and weekly club nights. Being a member of a nation grants access to any nation-run activity across campus and allows international students to participate in the fabled Gasques which are traditional dinner parties culminating in Swedish hymns and dances.

Though the nations were created as homes-away-from-home for students coming from different parts of Sweden historically, their exclusivity has broken down with age. Now they have become a quintessential part of Swedish university culture which attracts thousands of international students each year. Indeed, students breathe the life and soul into the nation’s by working as part of the administrative or catering team where they can accrue points which can be used to apply for free residence at the nations. Though work at the nations is usually on a volunteer basis, consistent contritution to the nation opens the door for student to friendships and housing opportunities in their final year.

Naturally, the larger nations offer a greater range of events job opportunities and scholarship prospects as the recipients of most funding, nonetheless for the home-sick mancunian, the smaller ‘alternative’ nations have the most to offer in the way of concerts, jazz-nights and music sharing meet-ups.

As you’d expect the club nights in a small Swedish city are a far-cry from the broad palate offered in Manchester, most of the nation’s club nights feature the same dance-floor filling tracks you’d expect to hear on Capital FM. Nonethless, there is a indefinable charm to the way students flock to the clubs, in freezing cold or blistering wind, on any day of the week when they’d probably have a much more enjoyable time listening to the radio at home. Perhaps, it is the student-run ethos of the club nights which inspires students to come out in droves?

More likely still is the fact that club nights end by 2am and pre-drinking is an inconvenient and costly business in Sweden. Indeed, any alcohol over 3.5% can only be bought from Systembolaget, a government-owned chain of liquor stores which close at 8pm weekdays and have limited hours over the weekend. But, ultimately, this is a minor inconvenience and can be overcome by simple foresight.

Student accomodation in Uppsala adds another dimension to the social life at the finger tips of students. By far the largest and most popular student area is Flogsta, a suburb that is the same distance from campus as Fallowfield is from the SU. The complex itself is a thriving community of students who live in twelve person flats in seven storey blocks. Though aesthetically they are strikingly similar to Owens Park Tower, these flats are all self-catered, come equipped with an ensuite and cost a little over 4300 SEK (£327) a month with heating included. The fact that these flats are not owned outright by the University means that the building-complex also plays host to families who rent privately from the landlord.

Flogsta on a cold morning.

The international presence in Flogsta is overwhelming and each flat is a petri-dish of cultures and nationalities. In my own, there are undergrads and postgrads from Mozambique, Germany and Japan to name a few. The heterogeneity of the accomodation offers the opportunity to educate yourself about the different cultures, try different cuisines and make contacts all over the globe.

The mix of cultures, absence of any security presence and size of the student population creates wild possibilities which I hope to go into greater detail about in later posts. But, perhaps the most apt example of the solidarity and freedom of expression found in Uppsala is the Flogsta scream, everyday at 10pm students in the Flogsta flats join in arms to scream from their windows and balconies to allieviate the pressure of academic life, which, conveniently, I will discuss now.

Academic Life

Freedom is as much of a factor in the academic arena as it is in the social arena of Uppsala University. Each department is devolved and has complete control over its syllabus. The autonomy of departments extends to the architectural design of the university, with each department having its own building with cafes, libraries and study spaces for students. Last year, 29% of the University’s profits of $75 million USD were reinvested into the improvement of undergrad and postgrad courses taught in each department. Clearly, the upkeep of the academic environment is high up on the university’s list of priorities.

For Humanities, Arts and Languages, the course structure is vastly different from Manchester. As oppose to studying three modules per semester, students undertake generally a module each month or two comprising 7.5 or 15 credits. And attend one to three 2-hour lectures a week plus the occasional non-compusory seminar. Though this system is not without its qualms, it nonetheless allows for very independent learning which affords students the time adjust to Sweden and time to join in at the Nations.

Student well-being is also at the heart of the University examination system since students can retake exams if they fail or miss the first exam they can retake without penalty. Though this system trades off the competitive edge UK University students attain by having one proper shot at a good grade, it mitigates the liklihood a student is having an ‘off’ day when exam season rolls around. Perhaps this is only possible due to the simplistic grading system used in Uppsala consisting of Pass/Fail and Pass with Distinction. Swedish exams are traditionally an hour or two longer than UK exams too, which gives students room to breath in a claustrophobic exam hall

Bike racks are commonplace across the city. Pictured here is one outside of Uppsala Central Station.

The academic life of any student in Uppsala would not be complete without a second-hand bike. Uppsala certainly does not break the mold of the Netherlands and Scandanavian cycling culture. The ubiquity of cycling lanes and bike racks throughout the city makes buying a bike seem like a prequisite for fully embracing the student life. Bikes are easy and affordable to buy from one of the many second-hand bike shops in Uppsala or the Flogsta facebook page between 600-1000 SEK. And even easier to maintain as most cycling shops offer free repairs and servicing.

In light of these points, it is clear that the centrality of student well-being to Uppsala University is as clear as the Swedish sky.

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!

The end of a chapter

Returning to Manchester has been great, the whole transition has been surprisingly smooth – more so than I expected.

Having had an incredible year in Amsterdam, it also strangely feels as though I never left. It does feel a little odd that I could have had such a big year of growth and adventure in the Netherlands and then moved back to the UK with such ease.

I expected to have a hard time coming back and returning to Manchester as a lot of my friends have now graduated and i’m now going into the year group below. However, this isn’t the case; instead I got to move in with my best friend, and I have seen old friends and picked up where we left off. Manchester just feels like home again.

Without sounding cliché, I’d like to think that coming home has been so easy because of the life lessons and skills I learnt in the Netherlands. The year taught me how to be resilient, positive and more confident, enabling me to tackle challenges head on. And therefore, coming home was less of a challenge than I anticipated.

However, that doesn’t mean that i’m not sad that my exchange has come to an end. I miss the city, cycling around in the sunshine. I miss the beautiful buildings and sunsets. I miss the experience of living abroad. But most of all, I miss my friends.

Attempting to describe how my year abroad has been is a task which I find difficult because it has been such an interesting, exciting and happy time but also one which had its lows. It is bitter sweet that this chapter has ended and i’m now back to reality. However,  all I can say is that I am very grateful that I got to have this experience and would definitely do it all again in a heartbeat.

IMG-20190525-WA0017

A Comparative Map: Manchester vs. Perth

https://drive.google.com/open?id=1_vkQtLFlJEZjE2SSF_fYOoayKM4486mQ&usp=sharing

Click or copy and paste the link above to access the map. Make sure to zoom in on both cities and click on the icons for descriptions of each pinned location.

This map demonstrates my experience studying at the University of Western Australia, compared to the University of Manchester.

Locations such as my home, the library, and my study spaces have been pinned. These show the spatial difference between Manchester and Perth as well as showing my movement in the cities.

By clicking on the different pins and reading the descriptions, you can view how locations in the separate cities differ.

Furthermore, comments on the assessment style difference can be found under ‘Main Library’.

The main finding when completing this map has been seeing how little space I occupy in Perth. Compared to Manchester, where I cover 10km more.
This shows the difference between a campus university and a city university. As well as how they influence your learning experience, sense of place and movement.

“Great things never came from comfort zones”

Today marks two months since I returned from my year in Amsterdam, which has made me reflect on my time there. The experience has been one the most rewarding things I have done in my life, and I would highly recommend it.

The idea of going on a year abroad was always appealing to me, however it was not something I seriously considered because I was enjoying university so much that I didn’t want to leave it. I was afraid of missing out on living with my friends in third year and graduating together. The idea of starting something new abroad wasn’t what was putting me off, it was leaving the bubble I had created for myself in Manchester. Knowing that if I stayed, I was guaranteed to have a great final year, but if I left there was the potential to miss out, which scared me from applying. 

I eventually realised that I was looking at it from the wrong perspective, and that when else in my life would I get the chance to study abroad. Once I committed to the application process, and got my acceptance, I was suddenly desperate to go and ready to experience something new. 

Arriving in Amsterdam and becoming a new student in an unfamiliar city hit me hard. I was expecting it to be a relatively smooth transition because I had found starting in Manchester easy. I realised that moving from a house with ten of my best friends to living with just one other person was the main reason for feeling lonely, so I decided I had to ‘put myself out there’. This didn’t come naturally to me and I found the making friends process more difficult than I thought I would, not because there weren’t lots of great people around, but because there were almost too many people to choose from.

However, as the weeks moved on and school started, I began to settle in. I met some great friends, who were quite different from my friends at Manchester. It was so refreshing to meet people from all over the world, making friends from Australia to Canada and everywhere in between. I loved the city, the feeling of making my home in a new country was exciting. Cycling around at night with my friends, exploring restaurants and bars, visiting places I had never heard of before all contributed to my fantastic time there. I’ve made some amazing memories and friends for life (who right now, I am very much missing).

Looking back on my year, despite the tough start and ups and downs along the way, I truly did have such a fun, happy year. I discovered new passions, grew in confidence and developed my love for travel. As cliché as it sounds, living abroad has changed me for the better. 

As the quote says, “great thing never came from comfort zones”; if I had stayed in Manchester, I’m sure I would have had a fine year, but I would have missed out on all the great things that my year abroad gave me. 

I guess what I’m trying to say, is that if you are considering going on study abroad don’t let your comfort zone convince you not to. 

Recommendations for the Netherlands

As you can imagine, living in Amsterdam is pretty cool. However, the hustle and bustle of city life can be pretty exhausting, especially when trying to explore the city at the weekend. There are huge amounts of tourists cycling around with no clue where they are going…and booking up lots of the museums far in advance. So, I decided to explore some of the less ‘touristy’ places in the Netherlands – they are well worth a visit!

Continue reading “Recommendations for the Netherlands”

Top tips for thriving not just surviving Amsterdam

All things considered Amsterdam is a very easy place to live for a foreigner, with 90% of people speaking English. However, there are a few things I wish I had known to buy or to do which would have made my first few weeks easier. So here are some things to consider when moving here:

Set up a dutch bank account: up until Christmas time I managed to get by using my international bank card. However, it was causing me a bit of hassle, as lots of shops here only take dutch cards. Also, online shopping using dutch companies is impossible without a dutch card. However, since I got a job and had to set up an account I realised how worthwhile it is to have one. I recommend ING for a free student account.

Get a bike ASAP: I actually brought my bike with me from home, as I was lucky enough to have my dad drive me here. But if you can’t do that, then I suggest either renting one from Swapfiets for €15 per month, or you can buy a v cheap one at Waterlooplein.

Order a student OV chip card: for the super windy and rainy days when you can think of nothing worse than cycling, you’ll need to have a student OV chip card to allow you to take public transport (unless you want to fork out a fortune for the standard ticket).  You can order them online and they give a discount on all transport.

Museumkaarts: are a must if you like museums. Going to exhibitions in the Netherlands can become expensive, so if you want to go to more than 4 times I would recommend you get a card. It costs about €60 to get one, but if you buy it at the museum the cost of the visit is deducted.

Free food: there are quite a few spots in the city for free or cheap meals. Taste before you waste is a charity which hosts dinner’s twice a week. You can also go to their food market and get free ingredients.

Booze: annoyingly, I wandered around the supermarket for about 15 minutes looking for vodka before I mustered up the courage to ask where the spirits were. Turns out, in the Netherlands if you want spirits you have to go to a liquor shop.

Flixbus: by far the cheapest and easiest way to get around; both to different dutch cities but also further afield.

Although this blog isn’t super exciting, I do wish I knew these things and I hope it is useful for whoever comes to Amsterdam on exchange.