My First Month in Warsaw

After initially being allocated to study at ANU in Canberra and then UNC at Chapel Hill, both of which were cancelled due to Covid, I finally accepted a place at the University of Warsaw.

The 25th of September came around very quickly and I packed up my life into three suitcases and travelled to Poland for the very first time. My dad came with me for the first few days while I sorted out my accommodation. We did all the touristy things like visiting the old town, trying local foods and strolling along the Vistula River. I took a trip to the campus to collect my student card and see which buildings I would be in. The campus is stunning, a lot prettier than Manchester! The best part has to be the Main Library which has a botanical garden on the roof. It took my breath away, especially in the sun and as the leaves change colour to gorgeous reds and oranges. 

The library garden

Before my dad left we figured out the public transport system and moved all my belongings into the apartment I would be living in for the year. I chose to live alone for a change and I’m loving my flat and the freedom it brings. The tram runs right past my window and I love to sit and people watch from the kitchen while I have breakfast. It is located next to one of Warsaw’s most historic donut shops, Pracownia Cukiernicza Zagoździński. I can confirm the donuts live up to their reputation. 

Breakfast view

Term started the following week and I met some of the people I had been talking to online and my new classmates. The workload is a lot less than normal at Manchester which is good as it gives me lots of time to explore and plan trips. All my modules are very interesting nevertheless. Me and my friends have been exploring more of Warsaw too like walking around the Royal Baths Park and trying various roof top bars and food halls. I’m a huge fan of the Polish food, especially the bakeries and the famous “pierogi” which I now keep in my freezer at all times for an easy dinner.  The price of things in Poland compared to the UK is a lot lower which is a huge bonus! 

Royal Baths Park

Within a fortnight I’d already planned my first trip, to Gdansk on the coast of Poland. It was the perfect sunny day to explore the streets and waterfront. I climbed 400 steps up to the top of St Mary’s Church to see the city from above. The view was definitely worth it! I then went to Sopot and walked to the end of the longest wooden pier in Europe. The surrounding beach reminded me of home as I live near the sea which was nice. I also recently took a 24 hour trip to Stockholm on a cheap flight which was amazing. Being in Central Europe means there is great connections to the rest of Europe so I’ll be planning lots of city breaks for sure. 

Gdansk from above

The weather has been great with the sun shining almost every day in October and it’s been lovely watching the seasons change in a new place. However, the temperature is dropping quickly so I’ve invested in a good winter coat, hat and gloves which I can tell I will get lots of use out of. 

Library Dome

Overall, my expectations have been beyond exceeded and I’m so happy how things have gone despite my original destinations not working out. I’d definitely recommend applying to Warsaw for those submitting their study abroad applications soon!

Old town
Bar at the Palace of Culture
Trip to Stockholm
Sopot

Quarantining in Hong Kong

By Yiannis Kyriacou (University of Hong Kong)

After a 9-hour flight finally landing in Hong Kong, it brought a huge sigh of relief that I had finally made it after all the trouble and work needed to get here. As soon as you get off the plane, it becomes clear that there are still some things that need to be done before you can enjoy what Hong Kong has to offer. That is the two-week quarantine and the covid testing in the airport. It took me four hours of waiting for my covid test at the airport before I could finally be transported to my designated quarantine hotel, which felt like a whole day as the fantastic view you had from the airport only made you want to leave that place more and go outside.

The bus ride across Hong Kong from the airport to the hotel was the most mesmerising bus ride of my life. It was late at night, and the lights from the massive skyscrapers made the city feel alive. The journey took you over bridges, and the view of the city was incredible. It exceeded all my expectations of what Hong Kong would look like and just made me even more excited about what was to come. However, as we approached the quarantine hotels, it became clear this was only a taster of life here as a two-week quarantine was ahead of you.  

I had prepared well for my quarantine as I brought two books with me, had downloaded many movies and tv shows, and made a small exercise schedule for myself. However, plans never go exactly as intended, and my time in quarantine was different than planned as food plays a massive part in your mood and actual willingness to do things.  

The first week was not too bad. I enjoyed doing the things I like, relaxing all day and enjoying the amazing view from the hotel. However, I started to dislike the food progressively the more I had it. We would get three meals a day, but some of the meals were inedible for me as they were not to my taste, and all the other food was bland, unseasoned and felt like no effort was put in it. The food was also very repetitive, and there was never anything tasty as they were all made to be as cheap as possible for the hotel. I even started skipping breakfast as the food was just not appealing many mornings and sometimes too heavy for morning meals. Therefore, I ordered some instant noodles from Food Panda and had them for lunch or dinner when the food they provided was not enjoyable. However, the second week of quarantine became even more challenging as the repetitive and bland food started to feel even worst and sometimes, depending on the food, I could not eat it. I ended up ordering food some nights so I would at least have some nice food for a change which would significantly lift my mood. I also discovered some amazing restaurants in Hong Kong and tried some fantastic food; however, I do not know if the food tasted this delicious because of the lack of flavour in the past week. 

Due to the lack of energy and enthusiasm from the constant tasteless food, I did not exercise as much as I had hopped, and the constant lying in bed ended up making me quite unfit as I would not walk anywhere in the room was small. I also ended up not watching any of the movies I had downloaded and only kept watching some of the shows I had as I found myself quite busy calling family, friends and reading my books. 

After two weeks of quarantine and being stuck in a small room, it was finally time to leave the hotel and head out to the real world. That day was extremely sunny and hot, and as I was leaving the hotel, I finally realised how hot and humid Hong Kong was. But the heat felt pleasant as it meant I could finally explore this city, which I had wanted to do for such a long time. As i was getting ready to leave the hotel it had also sunk in that I was in a foreign country and knew no one that could help me if needed which can be an overwhelming feeling. But after two weeks of quarantine this feeling gets taken over of excitement of finally leaving this place and going out to the real world that you do not let those thoughts scare you and it allows you do the things you have been imagining about doing for so long.

The Tennessee Tales

Well this entry is a little late, but if you’re reading it in 2025 it’s on time! I have been here in Knoxville, Tennessee for a about a month and a half now. Obviously, it has gone way too quickly, of course I have learnt a lot, but I don’t aim to dwell on the lessons learnt as it’s not as interesting to say ‘remember to do your work to keep your GPA high’ as it is to spread gossip.

Why is it worth the hassle you ask?

The People

They can be amazing and interesting. After 6 weeks of hectic partying and awkward freshers-like introductions, I can safely say I met both legends and weirdos. Whether it was the MAGA loving Texan with an ’86 Ford Bronco and an assault rifle in the trunk, or the acid ravers writing a book about wacko stuff in the study room, they all contrasted each other. Honourable mentions include the guy I traded handrail locations to slide down with, and the local band that sets fire to their guitars each gig. Quite rock ‘n’ roll really.

The new surroundings

Max Patch in North Carolinian Smokies at sunset was about as close to heaven as I’ve ever been, the grassy peak we were sat on turned to gold in the fading sun, whilst the surrounding blueish peaks gently rocked us like waves. Another notable place was Fort Dickerson Quarry, where you can have a cold one with the boys and jump off cliffs into water deeper than your bath. All done whilst sharing the water with crazy locals and aquatic snakes.

Fort Dickerson

The long nights

The parties have been a little epic, from my first ever Frat party on my second night to hopping between downtown roof top bars. If you are in Knoxville at The University of Tennessee, you will find plenty of ways to get sloshy (trollied). One example has been the sorority date party where I dressed in 70’s costume and went to the discotheque. The fact that my date was obliged to buy all the drinks made it perfect. Another example was the time me and my other foreign exchange buddies pretended to be the CIA whilst following a man who had tried to pickpocket me. The Busch Lite we had consumed made it more dramatic. The viewing of the new James Bond the night before also heightened our performance. Amusingly, during our mission we had to mingle with some attractive women to blend in. In the end, the man with very full pockets was chased down the road, never to be seen again.

Tennessee River at night, not mentioned but I just had to include the photo

The Music

Apart from people, places, and parties, I have also formed a better relationship with Country music. Considering Tennessee is the cradle of Country, this was an excellent decision by me. Drinking Problem sung by Midland is a personal fave. If you don’t like Country music, there are plenty of bars with live Rock nightly. I have been lucky enough to procure Bob Dylan tickets for a month’s time, as well as booking a weekend in Atlanta, Georgia to see the Strokes. Music in my opinion is one of the better ways to spend your student loan, don’t be afraid to too!

If you made it to the end of this beautifully crafted blog, I hope I didn’t waste too much of your time, I also hope you have discovered that Tennessee isn’t just Trump supporters and Bourbon, though, if you seek, you shall find.

Until next time,

Alex Bradbury

Max Patch, North Carolina

Cheap things to do in Amsterdam

I found that Amsterdam is a lot more expensive in comparison to Manchester. However, there are ways to live cheaply in Amsterdam. Here are a few top tips to help you navigate Amsterdam on a budget! 

  • Rent a bike – I rented my bike from Swapfiets for €20 a month, this includes any repairs for free and a replacement bike if your bike gets stolen! I found this was cheaper than buying a bike in the unfortunate event that your bike may be stolen. It puts your mind at ease knowing you will get a replacement at a small cost provided you have the key. Biking is not only a good form of exercise, but also free to ride around the city. It is therefore much cheaper than constantly getting public transport! 
  • Buying a museumkaart – this was €64 and allows free access to or discount on over 400 museums in the Netherlands. Going to a museum is a cheap way to fill your day and there are so many museums catering to everyone’s interests, it would be hard to find a museum that doesn’t peak your interest. 
  • Avoiding Albert Heijn – these shops are on almost every corner of Amsterdam, but their prices equate to Waitrose prices in the UK. Therefore, I found going to Lidl and Aldi meant I was getting more for my money than doing my weekly shop in Albert Heijn. Also Jumbo was another shop that is cheaper than Albert Heijn and props up just as frequently around the city. 
  • Shopping in thrift shops – there are a multitude of thrift shops all around Amsterdam, not only can you source cheap clothes but also cheap household items too! Shopping for cheap deals will save you more money in the long run! 

The coolest museum’s I have been to in Amsterdam

Amsterdam has a multitude of museums on offer across the city and in my short time here I have managed to visit quite a few of these spaces. A lot of these museums I have been able to attend for free through purchasing a museumkaart, a museum pass that cost me €64 for a year. Here is a shortlist of the coolest museums that I think warrant a much needed visit if friends and family come to visit you in Amsterdam or to enjoy by yourself! 

Cobra Museum 

  • The Cobra Museum is situated in Amstelveen, around a thirty minute bike ride away from the city centre. Here they showcased an exhibition of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera’s most famous works. Whilst also retelling their eventful relationship as a couple. I was most surprised to hear that Frida had an affair with Trotsky (the Russian Bolshevik) and that her relationship with Rivera was an open marriage. The cobra museum is known for showcasing art with a critical lens on the world we live in, so will peak the interest of those fascinated by anything anti-capitalist or critical. 

Stedelijk Museum 

  • I stumbled upon this museum whilst wandering in the city centre. It is located nearby the Rijksmuseum, Van Gogh and Moco Museum. At the time I visited, it presented an ‘Expressionisme Kolonialisme’ exhibition by Kirchner en Nolde, this exhibition focused on colonial African art which created a space to critique the male white gaze in the colonial era. Not only was it interesting for me as an anthropology student, but I think it would interest anyone fascinated in aspects of race, gender and power within art. They host a range of exhibitions all year round so if you are interested in art this museum is sure to offer something for everyone. 

The Fashion For Good Museum

  • This was one of the more interactive museums I visited in Amsterdam. This museum is for anyone interested in fashion, sustainability, effects of global capitalism, fast fashion or activism. It not only told you the negative effects of fashion on the environment, but gave you tips and ideas to change your actions within fashion consumption for the better. I bought biodegradable glitter here, as most glitter has microplastics that contribute to the waste in the world. I definitely learnt a thing or two about how my clothes are made on the other side of the world as well as the science behind making clothes. It was also free with the museum pass. 

The Cannabis Museum

  • The Netherlands are among a small number of European countries that have legalised the consumption and possession of a small amount of Cannabis; and Amsterdam is a particularly popular location where tourists go to smoke weed. Therefore, it is only fitting that there is a museum here that outlines the history and prominence of this drug across the globe. This museum was interesting in a few ways. I learnt about the history of the war on drugs and how the popularity of cannabis use has still managed to withstand this opposition in the states and elsewhere. It also outlined the medicinal benefits for people with Parkinson’s disease, whereby it showed a video of a man who stopped shaking when smoked. Also, I learnt that Shiva, the Hindu God, supposedly smoked cannabis frequently. Whilst the smoking and acceptance of weed is a mixed response, the museum posited useful information on a drug that has widespread popularity across our planet. 

Sex Museum 

  • Amongst cannabis, Amsterdam is also famous for the sex workers in the Red Light District and the city does not shy away from sex as a tourist attraction. This Museum presents both serious and amusing elements of sex with pictures of erotic women and men in pornographic settings. It is definitely worth a visit, giving a history of sex within pornography and telling stories of key sex celebrities like Marilyn Munroe. 

Moco Museum 

  • I loved this museum as it displayed a Banksy Exhibition. Banksy being an anonymous graffiti artist with his art represented a powerful anti-capitalist rhetoric, the museum also had some rooms with trippy mirrors and lights which was fun to walk through and experience. Although small, the Moco museum is definitely worth a visit, especially if you are a fan of Banksy’s work! It is half price with the Musuem pass too! 

Van Gogh Museum 

  • This huge building showcased most of Van Gogh’s works, whilst outlining his tumultuous battle with mental health and learning the craft of intricate art. I learnt that he cut his own ear off before admitting himself to a mental hospital, this depression was reflected in a few of his key pieces like sorrow. However, the breadth of different genres Van Gogh painted was impressive, my favourite pieces were ‘Skull of a Skeleton with a smoking cigarette’ and his paintings of Japan. I found there was a lot more to Van Gogh than the Starry night and the Sunflowers paintings and his career as an artist was anything but boring. 

Anne Frank museum 

  • This is one of the most popular museums in Amsterdam and rightly so. The museum is actually the annex where Anne hid. It follows the famous story of Anne Frank, a Jewish teenager who spent two years in hiding during the Second World War in the Netherlands, fleeing Jewish persecution from Nazi German takeover. There is an audio tour that you follow throughout the museum and it is free with the museum card! Due to its popularity you will need to book in advance but it is a must see when in Amsterdam! 

Study Abroad Application Advice/Help/Guide

I think it is safe to say this year has been ✨interesting✨ in terms of applying for a year abroad and also going on one. This post is an application advice one, so if you’re looking for an ASU specific post, then see my next blog.

I noticed that there was remarkably little guidance provided (without asking) about how to pick what university you want to apply to and especially what is expected in your IPO personal statement/top three university choices.

Picking your University(ies)

I wish life was like Disney, going where your heart desires for your dreams to come true… however it isn’t! Whilst academic performances aren’t overly mentioned by the IPO, it is pretty apparent that your academic performances at Manchester form a LARGE part of the decision-making process, so if you’re a first year reading this: work hard and get good grades. If you’re a second/third year student reading this: I hope you worked hard and have good grades if you’re looking at the TOP TOP choices. Canadian universities are particularly over-applied for, as is the University of California so make sure your academic scores are high enough to make it worth applying. I’d also arrange a meeting with your Academic Exchange Advisor to specifically talk through where to study based on your grades – they do matter.

Personal Statement

Now, probably like me, the last personal statement you wrote got you into the University of Manchester – so it must be useful for getting you into your dream foreign uni, right? Well I’m not so sure here… I certainly clipped and used some parts of my UCAS statement but unfortunately this was no shortcut, I personally had to write another statement for this process. Firstly, looking at the marking criteria is key in formulating your personal statement and I really used both of these tables as the underlying basis for mine.

I started with a brainstorming process, looking at each of these categories and just formulating a massive list of whatever came to my mind that could be relevant here – some ideas I included were: sports, societies at Manchester, previous work (and work experience), previous responsibilities (e.g in my case being part of a JCR), academic and career plans and how these directly/indirectly relate to your year abroad and hobbies!

From this list, I then ciphered most of my brainstorming into and under five headings: academic, personal, cultural, employability/future plans and ambassadorial qualities. Obviously, some of my examples were able to fit under multiple headings, but this part of the process makes sure you are addressing all the required categories to maximise your marks! I also kept the rest of my list to hand (not all ideas fit) as you can still link them in later on.

With this categorised list I wrote my statement using my UCAS personal statement as a rough reminder of how to write in this style but mainly just letting the pen flow (or fingers type!). As a rough structure I followed this:

Intro
Academic
Personal/future plans/cultural/country specific (or continent if relevant, I only applied for US universities) mixed together over three paragraphs
Ambassadorial qualities
Concluding sentence

This is a very brief explanation of what I did but it might help out those who are struggling to find a starting point in their application.

Top Three Universities

This was tricker to write for me because I really felt the need to make myself seem as though I was essentially designed for each of these universities.
Here’s some tips for what I researched and wrote about:

The area itself, like the town/city a uni is based in and what there is to see/do
The sporting prowess and options at the uni
Links between courses offered and you
Things offered to you that are not available in Manchester
Clubs and societies you might join


NB. It is okay (I think, I got into my first choice so we can assume so) to mention the same thing in each separate university box, for example skiing, rugby and politics were all consistent themes in each of my pieces.

Financial Plan

Kind of self-explanatory, all I will say is that ASU is objectively probably the most expensive option in the USA, so you don’t need to look too far if ASU is your choice.

Finally, as I’m studying at ASU, I probably ought to include something ASU-y so have the iconic photo of a palm walk.

If you have any questions about applying or ASU specifically I’ll try my best to answer, find me on instagram @benjaminhspencer or contact my Manchester email which has the prefix of benjamin.spencer 🙂

Hölökyn Kölökyn to a Very Finnish Freshers

By Amber Musgrove-Benford (Finland, University of Helsinki)

When I arrived in Finland, I had little expectation for Freshers. Made pessimistic due to the pandemic and the restrictions still in force in Helsinki, I expected nothing more than a few quiet drinks with other exchange students I met in my accommodation. Luckily, I couldn’t have been more wrong. 

Freshers at the University of Helsinki is a big deal. Fuksit (first year students) – or Phuksit for law students – take over what seems to be the whole city in a week or so of activities and orientation organised, at least for the School of Law, at both Faculty level and through the law society, Pykälä.  

Barely two hours after landing at Vantaa airport, I was already meeting my tutor group for the first time in a café in the city centre. Over the next week, we would watch introductory lectures together, both in person (what a novelty!) and online, as well as attending other events, all whilst managing to walk a massive 20,000 steps each day. 

taking a short break from sightseeing to grab a coffee and korvapuusti, a much better version of the cinnamon bun

In the afternoons, our tutors, both second year bachelor students, often took us sightseeing, around both the campus and city, or we would spend the lunch hour like typical Finns – in a restaurant or at a bar where we enjoyed the final hints of summer, all of us knowing it was likely the last time we would see the temperature reach 15 degrees until next spring. 

Evening events were often the highlights of the day and ranged from a very competitive tournament of the traditional Finnish game, Möllky, to an even bigger Flunkyball tournament (a game involving beer, a bottle, running, and a shoe – much better than it sounds, I promise!). We were even, on one evening, treated to a night-time concert attended by both Finnish and Exchange Law students in Kaivapuisto, a beautiful park right on the coast. 

The best event I had the chance to take part in was Phuksiaiset. Labelled on Pykälä’s website as “the event your mother warned you about,” this mammoth scavenger hunt was set in a handful of Helsinki’s southern parks and included teams of eight taking part in ridiculous and frankly insane games and challenges to earn points. Turning up at the starting point on the steps of Helsinki Cathedral, my friends and I quickly realised, somewhat bemusedly, that Finns take this event very seriously, and we made the decision to do the same. This turned out to be the right decision, and the day ended up being one of the most fun – and memorable – experiences from my first few weeks in Helsinki. 

awaiting our first instructions of phuksiaiset 2021 on the steps of Helsinki Cathedral

Now things have finally calmed down at little here, the temperature has dropped and my courses have begun, it feels like a good time to reflect on my first foray into Finnish student culture. 

As always, though Freshers can be overwhelming, and perhaps even worse when in a new, unfamiliar country, fthanks to the great tutor group system here at UH, I really could not have hoped for a better start to my year studying abroad. 

On that note, I’ll sign off. As the Finns would say, hölökyn kölökyn! Or for us English speakers – cheers!

Here’s to a great first semester x

End of one adventure

When I began this adventure in January, this was not at all how I envisioned it ending. Coronavirus and government recall meant that I had to leave sunny Singapore very quickly. Whilst the government recall, the pain of getting a new plane ticket and, leaving all my new friends behind was not how I envisioned it ending, I can’t say it hasn’t been memorable.

My time abroad has not only allowed me the opportunity to travel and have amazing new adventures, but stretch and challenge myself. I will never forget the amazing views of sunrises in Surabaya, rainforests in Laos, and lanterns in Taiwan. However, for me it was the people who made my experience so amazing. I never thought I would make such important friendships so quickly, and yet we’ve already planned our New Years celebration together! People often joke that you “find yourself in Southeast Asia”, and I definitely found the best group of friends. People who I would quite literally jump off a cliff after, and people who immediately agreed to finish my checklist with me on my very sudden last days in Singapore. I feel extremely lucky to have shared amazing memories with these people, and I know this is the first of many adventures for us!

I also feel that Singapore has made a lasting impact on me. I am more spontaneous and willing to take risks, to plan a trip on Thursday night and leave Friday morning. It has broadened my horizons by allowing me to take risks and grow. I know I can travel alone and live on the other side of the world and it not end in mass disaster. Living abroad has made me more independent and self-sufficient. From organising my own VISA, to navigating boarder crossings at night, it’s safe to say that I definitely learnt a variety of life skills!

Whilst my time in Southeast Asia was cut short, I wouldn’t trade my experience, or the friendships I made! (And don’t worry I’ll be back there next summer for a new adventure!)

How to feel at home in a feeling of dislocation

Written on 6th September 2021

Homesickness is a natural and common thing most people will experience when moving to a new country to study or work. The best way I found to tackle a feeling of dislocation and feel more grounded was rooted in bringing slices of home with me on my adventure. Here are some top tips I found helped: 

  • Bringing home comforts with you – some of my flatmates had a blanket they always slept with, their favourite perfume or their favourite snacks from home. I had my childhood teddy bear. These simple items make you feel more comfortable in a space in which you are not familiar with. 
  • Decorate your room – there are so many ways you can decorate your rooms, I had pictures of my friends and family, politics posters and a tapestry. You can also buy things within your time abroad. My first few weeks in Amsterdam gave me plenty of opportunities to buy decorative items in vintage flea markets (which were really cheap too!) 
  • Download/ buy a VPN system onto your laptop – I paid for NordVPN which allowed me to watch UK netflix and Amazon Prime shows. This allowed me to stay more connected to the things I was watching at home whilst also enjoying streaming shows playing in the Netherlands. 
  • An important ‘top tip’ to tackle any feeling of displacement is to keep the mind distracted – I spent the first few weeks of living in Amsterdam learning origami and visiting museums. I also strongly suggest making plans of things to do and lists of places to visit – making lists gives structure to a situation that may seem chaotic to your body and mind. 
  • Go to welcome events/ make friends with flatmates, I would urge you to make friends with people from different cultures and countries around the world. Not only does it give you companions you can visit in the future, but it brings up interesting conversations of cultural comparisons. Talking about home with a person with a completely different perspective can help to ease feelings of dislocation as it helps to see the world in different ways. 
  • Take lots of photos and pick up mementos of your activities to keep a track of your international experience. I keep a scrapbook of the places I have been to. Within this book I write down my thoughts and feelings about the year as well as sticking in pictures and postcards of places I’ve visited. 

Feelings of dislocation come and go when you’re suddenly immersed in a different culture with new people. But feelings of disarray and disturbance are not all bad. Taking time to relax and reflect on your exciting travels grounds you to your surroundings in encapsulating ways.

You’re in a new place with exciting opportunities to try new things, embrace it!

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.

Eight peculiar (but wonderful) things I have experienced in my first few weeks in Amsterdam

 Written on 5th September 2021 

I have been in Amsterdam a little over two weeks now before the semester starts at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam (VUA). This list is a little snapshot of the peculiar places I have been to and experienced in and around the city which I recommend to any city newcomer! 

Thrift shop – T Hartje 

​This quaint shop had really cheap and funky trinkets with a mixture of clothes, jewellery, glasses, books and vinyl records. I bought shot glasses here with my flatmates; which we bedazzled with beads also brought from this shop! It is perfect for the student budget to buy little mementos of your travels! It was only a twenty minute bike ride from my accommodation in Uilenstede in Amsterdam. 

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Beatrixpark 

Amsterdam is known for being a really green city with beautiful parks. Beatrixpark is one of these large parks with bike lanes passing through it, meaning you can admire the beauty on the bike or on foot. There are also plenty of benches where you can sit and observe the green spaces. It truly is a place oozing with peace and tranquility. There is also a cool sculpture (image two) designed by Rehwinkel-Windenburg and Van Pieck to Beast – it reminded me of the Black Lives Matter movement of power to the people. 

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Naeckte Brouwers 

This beautiful brewery/restaurant is a converted church with an amazing high rise roof. Not only was the beer a reasonable price of €5 for a pint, but the atmosphere was relaxed and chilled – a vibe that encapsulates a lot of the Dutch people’s lifestyle in the capital! I also highly recommend the food, I had prawns and fries which were delicious. 

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Amstelpark

This is one of my favourite parks in Amsterdam so far! It is located only a thirty minute walk from Uilenstede in the south of Amsterdam. This huge area is home to a multitude of sculptures by local artists (see one of the sculptures in the image four) which you can explore via an audio trial describing all of the pieces of art within the grounds. Additionally, they offer a fun train ride around the park every weekend! 

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Mini Cars – Canta Cars 

These mini cars are all over Amsterdam, designed originally for disabled people, these mini cars go up to 45 Km per hour – a lot faster than bikes! They’re beyond adorable and amused me to no end as I was biking around the city. If you ever visit Amsterdam, be sure to look out for these minicars, once you spot them they’re very hard to ignore! 

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SLA – Vegan/Vegetarian restaurant 

My flatmates and I stumbled upon this restaurant randomly whilst perusing the city. It offered the freshest, delicious and reasonably priced vegetarian/vegan food. I had the vegan ice cream and bliss balls which were amazing and gave me much needed energy to keep on cycling for the rest of the afternoon. Even if you are not a veggie, the food is too good to pass up! 

Cobra Museum – Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera Exhibition 

This exhibition not only displayed Kahlo and Rivera’s best works, but shed insight into the pair’s interesting relationship as lovers. I was shocked to learn that Kahlo had a sexual relationship with the Russian Bolshevik Leon Trotsky! In image six were shoes I was dying to buy (but weren’t for sale) in the exhibition – a must see in Amsterdam. 

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IJ-Hallen Flea Market 

This flea market is the largest in Europe! With an entrance fee of €5, you will find a myriad of things for sale. From earrings to clothes to household appliances. You will be sure to get some really cheap deals! I bought two vintage jumpers for €5, a deal unheard of in Manchester! It is definitely worth a visit even if you aren’t a fan of shopping! 

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