By Gemma Dignam (University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong)
One of my favourite parts of living in Hong Kong was the food, but I quickly realised that the food and eating culture here was not very sustainable. It was quite different to my experience in the UK, where I would cook at home and eat out very little. However, in Hong Kong it’s the opposite! Grocery shopping is quite expensive and the kitchen space is quite small in any accommodation, and this along with a busy schedule would mean that most meals you tend to eat out, as this is quite cheap. However, I did notice it came with some environmental costs.
My alarm goes off at 8:30am. Today is the day we go to Trolltunga! My flatmate, Charlotte, and I have some porridge together and finish making our food for the weekend. At 9am, armed with big rucksacks and excitement, we take a local bus to Bergen Bus Station. Here, we meet the rest of our group. It’s a very random assortment of people, including Myfi, a fellow Geographer at UOM, and her friends from Fantoft student housing. Together, we have people from the UK, Ireland, Belgium, the Netherlands and France.
We are also joined by Sarah (from Germany), who asked on a big Bergen WhatsApp group chat whether anyone would be going to Trolltunga this weekend and if she could join a group. Of course, we invited her on our trip. This is something I really love about Erasmus – everyone is open and inviting, there’s no cliques or exclusions happening here. After all, everyone is in the same boat – most people arriving only knowing a couple of people, and everyone is keen to make friends and explore Norway.
At the bus station, we board a coach which will take us to Odda, a town around 3 hours from Bergen. There are 3 coaches at the station and they are all FULL of Erasmus students. Usually, there is only 1 coach but extra are put on in the summer months due to the popularity of Trolltunga! And yet, 3 still isn’t enough and the bus drivers make frantic calls to arrange another coach. This is one of the last weekends possible to hike to Trolltunga without paying a guide, and the weather forecast is great, so everyone is making the most of it. Luckily, we get seats at the front of a coach.
The bus journey is STUNNING. We go through the mountains and along the fjords, and the coach even boards two ferries, which we were very excited about. You can disembark the coach during the ferry rides to enjoy the views of the fjords. It feels very Norwegian for the coaches to casually board ferries. They really are integrated into the transport system here. It doesn’t cost you any extra, you simply pay for the bus ticket and the ferries are included.
We arrive in the centre of Odda at midday, and there is a frantic rush for shuttle buses to the start of the hike. Companies put on these shuttles/taxis as they know there is high demand and there is a lot of money to be made for them! We bump into Spanish girls that Myfi and I recognise from one of our modules, and they tell us that there is a local bus service which goes to ‘Trolltunga Parking 1’ for a fraction of the price, so we wait for that bus and take it together.
15 minutes later we arrive at ‘Parking 1’. We need to reach ‘Parking 2’ where we then have the option to start the hike, or take a shuttle up a private road to ‘Parking 3’ and begin the hike there. We decide to conserve our energy and start the hike at P3, as most people seem to do. Between P2 and P3 it is an exhausting walk along a steep, bending road, shaped like a hair grip, which everyone has advised us not to do.
We are about 20 students in Parking 1 and a steward with a walkie talkie arranges for us to be picked up and driven to P3. There is nobody else here, as it is an overflow car park for the busiest weekends. He informs us that the shuttle will arrive in 10 minutes and that there will be space for all of us. 10 minutes go by, and then another 10 minutes. The steward assures us that the shuttle is on its way. Then, a quad bike type vehicle arrives! It looks very cool but we immediately notice that it will only fit 4 people! 4 lucky Spanish girls get onboard. Again, the steward assures us that the shuttle is on its way. Hmmm. It’s been around 30 minutes now. It’s sunny and we aren’t in a rush so the mood is good, but people start to get more and more frustrated. We begin to joke that maybe a Norwegian 10 minutes is more like 45 minutes in real time. It’s hard to be annoyed with the steward though – he’s a student from Odda and this is his summer job. He tells us that P1 is the most boring shift – barely anyone stops here. Private cars can drive straight up to P2, and most of the private shuttles go from Odda to P2/P3. He’s working at P2 tomorrow though and he’s excited. A group of exchange students from Bergen arriving at P1 is the most exciting thing to have happened to him here! We start to eat our lunches, frustrated and keen to get walking.
Eventually a minibus roars down the hill, and we excitedly grab our bags ready to board. But, it drives straight past P1 and in the direction of Odda! We immediately turn to the steward, outraged, and he explains it is going to refuel in Odda and then it will collect us. Hmmm, how do we know that he won’t collect passengers in Odda and go straight past us again?! 10 minutes, our steward tells us. That’s a lie, as we know for a fact that the journey is at least 15 minutes each way! Exasperated, some of our group prepare to start walking, but the steward persuades them to wait, 10 minutes he says, and then we will be collected. As we know it is daylight until late and the hike will only take 4-6 hours (we are camping at the top), we aren’t pressed for time so the situation is annoying, but it won’t impact our weekend or hiking plan.
Finally, the minibus arrives and we all board! We wave goodbye to the unreliable but friendly steward. Everyone is excited and the drive is adrenaline inducing. We roar up to P2 and then it’s a steep, mountainside road up to P3. We are immensely grateful to not be walking, as we whizz past those who have decided to hike from P2. The driver seems mad, revving up the steep road, with a huge cliff drop on one side. We are all looking at each other in complete shock, holding onto our seats for dear life! Luckily, we arrive in one piece.
Finally, around 2 hours after arriving in Odda, and after numerous, numerous ’10 minutes’, we have arrived at P3 and can begin the hike! We take a quick starting photo, and off we go. The first 30 minutes is fine. It’s mostly flat wooden walkways through a rather barren landscape. Light work! But then the ascent begins. We have about 1 hour of steep, steep ascent up what feels like a sheer cliff face. There’s no steps or explicit path, just a very smooth and steep rockface to climb up. With our heavy backpacks and the sun beating down, we walk slowly and take regular breaks. There’s differing levels of speed and fitness in the group, but luckily everyone is encouraging and waits for each other. We overtake some groups while other groups overtake us, but the atmosphere is friendly and everyone is excited. We see many familiar faces – students from Fantoft or who we recognise from our lectures and seminars. There’s hardly any older adults or families compared to the masses of students.
Once we have completed this ascent, which we are told is the worst part of the hike, we take a long break for some well earned lunch. It’s still sunny and t-shirt weather, hopefully we will tan this weekend! We take the opportunity to fill our water bottles up from a nearby stream. We then hike for another 3-4 hours, stopping frequently to take photos and enjoy the views. The scenery is amazing, with a huge fjord to our lefthand side. We can just about make out the rock itself, the Troll’s Tongue, when we are around 2 hours away, which fills us with excitement. Once we have finished all the ascent, there is around an hour of walking on flat ground.
Eventually, we reach the rock!! We enjoy some food while watching people pose on the rock. I had to close my eyes when some idiots decide to do handstands and yoga poses on the rock. An Erasmus student fell of the rock and died a few years ago, safety is no joke. The crowds soon disappear so we take it in turns to carefully take our photos on the rock. I stay well in the middle, no dangling my legs off the side for me!
Then, we find a place to set up camp. Despite the masses of crowds we saw while hiking up, there aren’t that many tents on the plateau and everyone seems nicely spread out. We find a spot with dry ground and beautiful views of the fjord, and install our tents. It’s getting cold at this point to we begin to wrap up warm. Dinner for me is a rice salad which I prepared in Bergen, while some of the boys in our group warm up baked beans on a gas stove to eat with hot dog sausages (grim, in my opinion!). We go for a walk around the plateau in the evening and then we sit around a candle (fires are not allowed) to tell stories and get to know each other better. After all, we have only been in Bergen for a matter of weeks!
As it gets darker and colder, we crawl into our tents for what I can only describe as the coldest night of my life. I am wearing every single item of clothing that I brought on the trip, including my hat, gloves, fleece, thermal base layers, down jacket and two pairs of leggings, and I am still FREEZING.
Sunday 5th September 2021
Breakfast is porridge, as we all complain about how badly we slept and compete with who was the coldest. But, we soon shut up when the sun makes an appearance and we see the magnificent views. We pack up our camp, making sure to leave nothing behind, and head back to the rock for some more photos.
Next, we split into two groups for the journey down – one with those who want to run (yes, run!), and a chill paced group. I take the latter. The walk back down is relatively easy and straightforward. We have more energy for chatting and getting to know each other too. We take a shuttle from P2 to Odda, where we all reconvene. There’s a couple of hours before the coach back to Bergen so we play cards, lay on the grass, and even have a quick swim in the fjord. There’s also time to send some jaw dropping photos to the family WhatsApp group! The coach journey back is almost silent, with most people asleep. We arrive in Bergen, exhausted but buzzing.
Overall, it was a fantastic weekend with wonderful company, incredible views and a great atmosphere. I would highly recommend this to anyone visiting Bergen or this part of Norway. And bring maximum warm layers for the night!
I have always wanted to travel and live abroad, and I was aware that it is very important to gain research experience during my degree to be in good standing for job offers/ post-graduate study. Mitacs ticked both those boxes, and as it is fully funded it removed a lot of the concerns I had around the cost of travelling abroad/other summer study opportunities.
Now I’d settled in properly and fully immersed myself in the University life, I vowed to myself that I would explore France and its culture. France is a gargantuan nation, and far larger than most believe it to be. A mind-blowing example is the fact that it takes less time to drive from Paris to Manchester (English channel crossing included) than it would to drive from Paris to Nice on the glittering South coast. From the bustling metropolis of the French capital, often grey and cold, you can travel to other parts of the nation and witness rows and rows of palm trees.
Such diversity is unheard of pretty much everywhere in the remainder of Western Europe, with a grand wealth of popular hotspots to discover and a wide range of history to see. Although University life can get extremely busy, I always take my time to sightsee and partake in activities whenever I can. For example, I enjoy long walks in the city centre, covering most of the major attractions along the way.
By Benjamin Spencer, Arizona State University, USA
Chicago – making the most of being stateside!
I hadn’t even considered the fact that I was in a whole new country with 50 states to explore before arriving in Arizona, but now I see why so many students pick to move stateside.
Chicago, or as my friends exclusively refer, CHICAGO BABY! is a truly magnificent city, especially for those looking for some rest bite from the culture of the West Coast.
THINGS I LOVED:
We picked up flights for only £56 direct return from Phoenix and sharing Airbnbs with a large group saw 3 nights’ accommodation over the weekend only come to about £50 each.
Chicago boasts quite the architectural prowess. Everywhere you look is a huge skyscraper and each is just as impressive as the other. We visited Trump tower (it was free!) upto the 20th floor and used a lesser-known ‘hack’ to avoid paying the $30 charge at the Willis Tower. If one is looking for a view up in the clouds of Chicago then go no further than the The Hancock Tower, once inside there is a bar on the 95th floor which is free to access and provides a stunning 360º of Chi-town.
Oh me, oh my. If you’re a foodie then Chicago is the place to be. Whilst living off the diet I consumed during my weekend would leave you with some type of clogged arteries or heart disease, it doesn’t mean one shouldn’t ‘pig out’ when there. I recommend two places specifically for the two key ‘traditional’ foods of Illinois: Lou Malnati’s Pizzeria for deep-pan pizza ‘pie’ and Luke’s Italian Beef for a classic steak sandwich. Both of these will leave you in a much-appreciated food coma.
Also, they have Nandos which is really cool.
THINGS I LIKED:
I liked the bean, it was cool and attracted a large crowd, which is kinda funny considering it is a bean.
The north of the city has numerous parks, particularly in Lincoln Park, which also has a free zoo. Views of the skyline are superb from here and it’s nice to be able to be at one with nature in a city that has a concrete jungle vibe at times.
Some of the shops we visited reminded me of those we find on Oxford or Bond Street in London. Equally, as Christmas was around the corner (I visited in mid-November) there was a lot of decorations already up, which always puts you in a good mood 😎.
THINGS I DIDN’T LIKE:
There are many tales about the Chicago metro, and whilst you might think that they’re overblown, they’re not really. To put it lightly, there are a lot of ‘dodgy blokes’ lurking about and I wouldn’t want to travel alone at night on it (I’m a rugby prop for reference!). We had to get an Uber for our flight back thanks to a stabbing at a station up the line. During daylight it’s fine and a cost-effective method over taxis – so use this service at your own discretion.
The Contemporary Art Museum.
I love art and history a lot and often visit the Whitworth Gallery, Manchester Gallery, Manchester Museum, IWM North Museum and the like, but this museum just annoyed me. If it was free then fair enough, but the CMA costs $12 as a student and $15 full fare (I think) but it’s not really worth it. We completed the museum in about 45mins and that was on a go-slow… wouldn’t recommend it. Avoid.
This concludes this little summary of my trip to Chi-town, up next? Accommodation advice for ASU.
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!
If you are going to study abroad in the US I’m sure that you are very excited by this amazing opportunity to travel and discover all the things that the States has to offer. The country is so vast and with each state having its own unique culture and landscape, you will never run out of new things to see! However, whilst most people have the big cities like New York, Chicago, LA, San Fransisco, etc., on their list of things to see, most people don’t have any of the numerous natural parks on their list. This, to me, is a BIG mistake.
In my opinion the best way to experience America is through its national parks. Each one is so unique and the sheer size of them is enough to take your breath away. I visited four national parks in Utah and whilst they were all within a three hour drive of each other, they all looked so different. It was amazing that there could be so much diversity in the landscape within just one state! They are also unlike anything I have experienced anywhere else in the world, which is why I think that they are so important to visit. Cities might differ from country to country, but such metropolitan life exists everywhere. However, natural parks are one-offs, the scenery and landscapes that they offer and the unique geology that they boast, are features which can be only found in that exact location.
They are also great for day-trips because they do not require much planning. You just turn up, go to the visitor’s centre, look at the different trails on offer, choose one and then set off to explore the wilderness. Another bonus is that most national parks have a driving circuit, so you can experience the beauty from your car. This was something, which was a shock to me, I had assumed that going to a national park would entail lots of hiking but I was wrong. The parks are so big that you have to drive round them and along the drive there are stops, where you can get out, walk for about 20 minutes, see something spectacular, then get back in your car and continue to the next stop. Of course there are also more strenuous hiking trails but if you just want to experience the beauty in a more comfortable manor there is also this option.
So next question is, where should you visit? My answer is any national park is probably worthwhile your visit, since they all have something different and equally spectacular to offer. However the parks I chose to visit were:
Capitol Reef, UT
Grand Canyon, AZ
As you can see they are all rather stunning and I can ensure you that they look even better in real life! Cities exist everywhere and whilst American cities may be different to cities in other parts of the world, once you have seen three or four it starts to get boring. So get out and explore the natural side of the US because I can guarantee you will not be disappointed!
One of the best things about America is its diversity. Every state is like a different country, from the mountains of Vermont to the deserts of Nevada, the swamps of Louisiana to the beaches of California, which meant that although I didn’t leave the states for 5 months, it felt like I’d travelled to a multitude of different countries. I visited 11 states in total, but it definitely felt like I’d seen more than just over a fifth of the country. If I had to pick a top 3 places I would probably say Austin, Texas and New Orleans, Louisiana and of course New York, New York.
I surprised myself with how much I loved the South. My preconceptions of the southern states were racism, sexism, homophobia and cowboys, so I was a little apprehensive to leave the comfort of the north. Thankfully though I didn’t witness anything that I deemed hateful. Austin was full of Pride flags and every southerner that I met was nothing but extremely pleasant. What I loved about the South was its extreme Americanness, it felt like there was a lot more culture there and that the people were really laid back and eager to befriend us.
Texas particularly was everything I’d dreamed it’d be. There were people dressed in cowboy boots and hats everywhere. And they weren’t in fancy dress. People genuinely dress like that because, in Texas, it is fashionable. Whilst in Texas I also visited a real-life saloon. This was amazing. There was a band belting out the countryiest of country tunes whilst everyone gleefully danced the two-step. Even better than this, out the back of the saloon there was an extremely Texan version of bingo being played. The premise: a large grid of numbers was placed in the middle of the yard and littered with chicken feed. Players then paid two dollars to be given a piece of paper with a number written on it, correlating to a number written on the grid. A chicken was then placed on the grid and the chicken defecated on the number of its choice. The player whose number matched up with the number chosen by the chicken won $200. I felt like I was in an extremely odd dream that I wasn’t sure I ever wanted to wake up from.
New Orleans, took Americanness down a completely different route. As I sat eating beignets at café du monde, gazing at the European style architecture of the French quarter I felt as though I could have been in old Orléans. However, the constant cacophony of saxophones and trumpets coming from buskers on every street corner and the kids tap dancing for people’s spare change really emphasised that New Orleans is the birthplace of the very American culture of jazz. Everywhere you looked there were stalls advertising psychic readings and shops selling voodoo dolls, the latter unfortunately serving as a reminder that a lot of the culture here was born out of slavery. NOLA was by far the most unique place that I visited in the US and I wish that I had been able to spend more than two days there.
The final of my top 3 destinations felt more like home than merely somewhere I was visiting by the time I reached the end of my stay on the East coast. New York lived up to all of my extremely high expectations and even though I visited the city almost every weekend whilst I was studying at Rutgers, I felt as if I could wonder its streets for the rest of my life and never get bored. Time square really is that mesmerising. Brooklyn bridge really is that huge. Dollar pizza really is the best thing you will ever taste.
The opportunity to travel the states for so long is something that I am extremely grateful for, and something which I never would have had the opportunity to do without study abroad. Whichever university you end up at whilst you are abroad, be sure to make the most out of travelling to its surrounding states/countries. It will make your experience unforgettable.
Here’s the pros and cons for living on/off campus:
+ Application: Quick and simple to apply online
+ Location: very convenient as near to learning spaces, gym, restaurants, cafés, bars, beaches and forests.
+ Social life: Easy to meet other exchange students
– Location: 1 hour bus journey from downtown
– Social life: Most of my friends found their flatmates to be unsociable as they were second/third-year undergraduates who were less keen to hang out due to already having friendship groups established.
– Cleaning checks and quiet hours were strictly implemented limiting student’s independence
My name is Claire. I’m a third-year psychology student, currently on exchange at the University of Sydney for a year. I arrived back in July 2018, so this article is long overdue, but I wanted to tell you guys about how my arrival and the initial week in Sydney went.
I officially left Europe on the 17th of July. Saying goodbye to the fam at first wasn’t that bad, I was probably too excited about the journey ahead. However, once I reached Doha (Qatar), that is when reality struck me like a ton of bricks. I was thinking to myself: ‘Why did I have to pick an exchange destination literally across the other side of the world? What was I thinking? I mean I’m going to be gone for an entire year, if something happens, I stuck there.’ I might have also been panicking a little because I had never taken a 13hour flight by myself before.
After possibly the longest summer break ever (a whole 4 months!), I am finally back for my second semester at the University of Auckland. I spent most of the summer travelling around, with the highlights including a trip to the South Island where I visited Milford Sound in Fiordland and hiked the Abel Tasman Great Walk, which had some of the most beautiful beaches I’ve ever seen.