A new semester means a new beginning

The secret to a rich life is to have more beginnings than endings” (Dave Weinbaum).

At the beginning of the semester I had to choose my courses and deal with a lot of unknown and complicated situation. I was in such a perplex situation that I was thinking of maybe shortening my full year student exchange to 1 semester. However, with some wise advice, confidence and courage I decided to see how my semester was going to be before making any rush decisions. Now that a few months have passed, I truly feel blessed to be here in Belgium, not only because I learned so many new things at ULB but also because I’ve met so many great, intelligent and inspiring people from so many different countries that genuinely made my 1st semester unforgettable.

A new semester is beginning very soon and I have to choose new courses and organize my schedule again. I am thinking of doing a psychology research course this semester, it is a small risk (or “opportunity” like my Swiss friend would say) that I am taking because I am not in psychology (btw I’m in neuroscience!) and I am not very familiar with all the methods and rules in psych at ULB. Nevertheless, I hope I will gain a little bit of experience in the field of research and it will give me the opportunity to see if I like do to research in the future.

I have this bittersweet feeling inside of me; on one hand I am really excited about the new trips that I am going to have and new people that I am going to meet in the future. The Erasmus group at ULB is organizing several activities one week before school starts, called “Introduction Week”. I am looking forward to it especially because I didn’t participate to it in September. However, I am also a little sad not only because the start of the 2nd semester means that my exchange is halfway over, but also because some of my friends are leaving to their home university for the 2nd semester.

If you are reading this blog, please be assured that your departure might seem like the ending yet for me it’s only the beginning; the beginning to a great friendship. Come and visit us in Brussels while we are here (mi casa es su casa) and I will also try to come and see you in your country. Also don’t hesitate to visit me in Toronto; it would make me really happy to see you. Thank you for all the great adventures and trips we had together. I believe that people you are meant to meet will touch your lives in such a deep way that they will never be forgotten and that their paths are destined to cross again. Therefore, I am looking forward seeing you in the future and keeping in contact.

Thank you…

For being who you are, talking together, laughing together and making some great memories together. Thank you all Erasmus students!

For laughing and being with me in a class, which was interesting yet a little too Freudian for our taste.You are also the most courageous Erasmus student I met, you had so many courses and work, yet you always had a smile on your face. I will miss our Freudian jokes and your positive attitude.

For being one of the first people I met in Brussels. We lost touch for a little while, yet we rekindled our bond in your beautiful city in Paris. I will miss your humor, extrovert personality and the way your face lights up when you talk about archeology or Versailles.

For participating in so many Erasmus Express activities, I could always count on you and find a friend in any activity. I will miss your openness and your umbrella when I forgot mine (oohh Liège…). And don’t break your teeth opening to many beer bottles in Poland!

For being a passionate architect. I will miss you and your knowledge about architecture, whom should I ask now if I have a question? Please come and visit me in Toronto, I will show you our quirky peacock Robarts library.

For organizing a Canadian dinner, without it I wouldn’t have met so many people and most importantly you. I will miss your acrobatic skills and your blue eyes, which are always full of joy.

For being such an amazing polyglot and always making me laugh in German or Luxembourgish. I am happy that you are staying one more month in Brussels and I hope that we will make lots of memories before you leave for warm and sunny Portugal. There are lots of things that I will miss about you.

For being the cutes Asian, Taiwanese (not Chinese!) girl. I will miss you tactful attitude, smile and always ready to participate in any activity. Our trip in Paris was great and I will keep great memories of it. You are a great traveler!

For always bringing your ukulele to any event, thus not only making people sing but also to make them cheerful. I wish you all the best in Taiwan and I hope everything is going to go well when you start the army.

For being such as friendly Italian. Unfortunately, we haven’t seen each other a lot, however you are lovely person and I hope we will meet again. Grazie, for the few days we have seen each other and I will for sure try to watch a few Tarantino movies!

“You and I will meet again, When we’re least expecting it, One day in some far off place, I will recognize your face, I won’t say goodbye my friend, For you and I will meet again.” (Tom Petty). 

cheers,

Nazanin

 

Temple Stay

Last week my American friend Kyle and I went to a temple stay in the northern province of Kangwon-do where we stayed at the Guin Buddhist temple, for 24 hours and took part in the daily rituals and other goings on at the temple. For those of you who don’t know, temple stay is a service where you can reserve a place at one of Korea’s myriad Buddhist temples which you can stay at for up to three days (depending on the temple). During your stay you are expected to take part in a number of activities that range from meditation to manual labour. It sounds pretty tough, but it can be a very interesting experience. Ours went as such. . .

We took the bus from Dong Seoul bus terminal at 6:59am and arrived at the temple gates at 9 after a scenic bus ride through the country. Upon arriving at the temple we walked around the temple grounds, which to our surprise, were huge! It was like a small Buddhist village. As we were walking we saw all kinds of people young and old who were working at the temple or staying there for a retreat. The temple was located on the side of Mount Sorak which is very large and scenic. We made our way to the top of the mountain which was breathtaking and then we went back down to the temple office to sign in with the monks, however, not before eating some of the temple’s vegetarian food which was actually pretty tasty.

After signing in with the monks we were issued our temple clothes which were orange garments resembling a traditional Korean design, shown to our quarters and then given a tour of the temple and made paper lanterns that resembled lotuses which can be seen in many Buddhist temples. The tour concluded with the evening ceremony in which some monks played a drum and wooden fish and rang a bell to signal the end of the day. After that we went into what was called the Dharma Hall to do prostrations in front of a large idol of Buddha himself. After that we had a vegetarian dinner which consisted of rice, various kinds of kimchi and bean paste soup. After that we had some free time to walk around the temple and then we did some additional exercises in the dorm that were led by the two monks who supervised us. These exercises consisted of meditation and 108 prostrations which left us pretty tired. After that we went to bed at 9pm.

We woke up at 2:50am to take part in the morning ritual which consisted of walking around the Dharma hall and doing more prostrations in front of Buddha after which we were given a two hour break. After that we had breakfast and walked up the mountain step by step in what we were told was “walking meditation” in which we had to count our breaths as we ascended the mountain. After getting down the mountain we walked along a grid that had been painted on the temple compound that was also used for walking meditation. We then went to another dharma hall, this one dedicated to the temple’s founder where we performed additional prostrations.

After that we were given tea and various edibles during a tea ceremony where we were able to ask the monks about their temple lives and engage in general conversation. After waking up at 2:50am and climbing a mountain it was a nice break and made very pleasant by our monk hosts. The temple stay period ended after that and finally we changed back into our jeans and coats and hopped on the bus to go back to Seoul.

By this description I’m sure you must have realized that temple stay is not exactly a walk in the park, but it’s certainly an interesting and worthwhile experience, especially if you are interested in East Asian culture. The food was quite tasty and the monks were friendly, patient and informative and the sleeping area was quite comfortable, if not somewhat overheated. It was a lot of fun and I would certainly recommend it. If you ever decide to do it though, it is much more interesting if you book a temple in the countryside. Also, be ready to do a lot of bowing.

A Little Goes a Long Way

Hello friends! Hope everyone had a happy new year and all that great stuff! I am now on the two month winter holiday that is standard in South Korea and am currently trying to brush up on my Korean and go check out some cool spots outside of Seoul.

One of the great things about studying in Seoul is that transportation to other regions in Korea is very convenient and affordable, possibly attributed to the fact that Korea is rather small. As I may have mentioned in my Chuncheon post, if you want to get out of the big city and enjoy the countryside it’s all too easy. My latest excursion out of Seoul was to a small town called Onyang, located about two hours from Seoul via metro and I shall recount it here for your reading pleasure. The town of Onyang is known for the Onyang hot spring hotel which travelers can stay at for around $130 a night, not all that appealing to a penniless student such as myself, however on the lower level of the hotel there lies the Onyang hot springs which can be accessed for a mere $6.

Your enjoyment of the hot springs will depend entirely on how much importance you place on spring water and its alleged healing properties as the baths themselves are fairly basic as far as bath houses go. However, the difference here is that the water is being tapped from an actual hot spring instead of the usual heated tap water wherein lies the payoff.

Before my friend and I checked out of the hot spring we went to a restaurant that specialized in marinated Korean barbeque meat with flavour combinations that I had not before seen. We were a bit sceptical of the price at first which was higher than most barbeque places (about $10-12/serving) but the taste was worth it and with all the side-dishes you get with Korean meals you always have to factor in that you’re getting more than what is says on the menu. The boss was also fluent in English which was pretty helpful as even now I can only use Korean in basic scenarios.

After the hot spring we decided to seek out another bath house/sauna to spend the night, which is something you can do at most bathhouses/sauna or “jjimjilbang” (찜질방) in Korea for around $8 to $12 a night. Very convenient if you’re spending one night somewhere and don’t want to shell out for a hotel. After finding the jjimjilbang my friend and I concluded that it was much too early to turn in and so we decided to seek out a Korean pub or “sooljip” (술집) (lit. Alcohol House) and that’s where the most interesting part of this story takes place.

At first we had a bit of trouble finding a place that was open as Onyang is quite a small city with not a whole lot of night life, but sure enough we eventually found a place. This particular pub we chose at random and it was a small non-descript place that was a bit rundown and looked like it had been there for years. When my American friend and I walked into the place it was like one of those scenes in a western film where the hero walks into a saloon and everyone immediately stops what they were doing and stares as the hero makes his way to the bar.

As soon as we entered the pub, which was full of older local workers from the surrounding neighbourhood everyone immediately started staring at us and did not take their eyes off of us even when we sat down. It felt a bit tense to say the least. Eventually the boss of the pub, a woman in her 50’s, asked us shyly in Korean if we spoke any. I answered back in my basic Korean “Sure, a little bit” and suddenly everyone in the pub relaxed and went back to their various conversations. A table of older men directly behind us even started clapping as I delivered my answer and did so once again after I ordered a bottle of “makkoli” a traditional rice wine indigenous to Korea.

The rest of our time at the pub was very pleasant as even though we only ordered a little bit of food the owner kept giving us, and everyone else in the pub free “service” which included all kinds of kimchee, peanuts and two whopping plates of clams all for free! By the time we were finished we were totally stuffed. After that we headed to our bathhouse where we slept and had a decent sleep at that.

The next day we stopped by at Suwon to check out Hwaseong Fortress, which we could only see for half an hour as we arrived kind of late. However there was a park and a trail nearby which was fairly interesting. After that we hopped back on the subway to Seoul which took about an hour. All in all a fun and inexpensive excursion.

Portugal, Porto & Coimbra

Porto was a quick dash through the Caves where I got to taste all the fresh Port from Cálem! Then it was on the train later that evening to Coimbra!

In Coimbra

I stayed with Carlos and his family as he showed me around the great city of Coimbra! I had a good time seeing the oldest university in Europe, the local markets, and the Portuguese famous Fado singers on my last evening!

Vilafranca de Penèdes, Espanya

What a great trip this was! As all the new university students showed up for the new semester at UPF, the university organized a lot of trips around the Catalunya region for students to become acquainted with the Spanish lifesyle.

This trip was to the the Wine and Cava region of Catalunya! We hopped on the 45 minute train from the centre of Barce

lona to Vilafranca de Penèdes, located just southwest of Barcelona. We had a great day sightseeing around and getting a superb tour of one of the wineries/cava-eries (La Bodega) and also a great tour of the old city.

Highly recommend for anyone within the region and with a taste for some good wines or cavas!

Liverpool & Manchester

This was our Football Weekend! Martín and I decided back in November that we were going to head to England to catch a football match and that through rain or shine, we were going to pull it off. Well…we got what we asked for, a snowy record breaking weekend it was in Liverpool and Manchester for the two guys arriving on Ryanair from sunny Barcelona! But things worked out and we had a great time laughing with the Brits and enjoying a few pints before enjoying the football magic of England!

We had a great start as we landed late evening at John Lennon International Airport in Liverpool. We caught our first double decker bus heading to central Liverpool and the Albert Docks where we fortunately got the “Penthouse Suite” overlooking the docks and Liverpool. Of course on night one, we headed out for our “cultural experiences” in Liverpool and met a great guy named Dave from Dublin who showed us around the town. We began the evening at ‘The Liverpool’ with some ‘incredibly good’ Tom Jones karaoke before heading out to the local Irish Pubs in the clubbing district and meeting what seemed like all of Dave’s friends along the way. After a few pints of Guinness and surprisingly Coor’s Light as well, we made our way back home for an early wakeup for the Anfield Tour.

And boy was it an early wake up indeed trying to get ourselves to Anfield for our 9:20am tour. But it was worth it. We got the match-day tour of the infamous Anfield Road and The Kop section, renown for the best Football songs in the league. Then it was an English Breakfast for Martín some coffee and ‘Toasties’ for me before heading off with the crowds to the local British Pub to ‘warm ourselves up’ before the game. There we found our favourite machine playing Monopoly, Jewel Buster and British Pub quizzes before cashing out with a grand total of 2 Pounds! But we finally got into the game in time for the famous “You Will Never Walk Alone” sung by the entire stadium and then all the best Football songs for the entire 90+minute match. A whopping 5-0 slaughtering given by Liverpool FC against Norwich made the game even more exciting to watch as every goal was joined by more screams and songs! Then it was off for the evening where we were introduced to “Pub Golf” from some interesting british characters!

The next day was Manchester! We had a great tour of Old Trafford and saw the locker room of the Manchester United team as they were out in London playing against Tottenham that evening. But with Tony as our guide, we had a great time enjoying his stories about how ‘Liverpool has no need for long corridors because they have no Premier League Trophies to display’! But after a good dinner and a train ride home to Liverpool we decided to pay one more visit out that evening on the town!

The last day was spent touring around snowy Liverpool as we watched the BBC tell us that airports around the UK were shutting down because of weather concerns. Fortunately, Ryanair got us out safe and sound and we had a smooth ride back to sunny Barcelona where we were greeted by the Spanish Sunshine that we both missed!

All in all, great weekend with great Football and ‘British’ memories!

Hello world!

My name is David and this semester I’ll be studying at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (HUJ) in Israel. I am currently in my fifth year at U of T completing a specialist in International Relations (IR), and after this exchange I’ll be able to graduate in November.

Exams = stuDYING

Veni, Vidi, Vici (English: I came, I saw, I conquered).

EXAMS, the most dreaded word in the English language for any students anywhere in the world… So what is the difference between Toronto and Brussels during this stressful period?

In Brussels exams start in January right after the holiday break and this is their only exam period for the first semester. At uoft we have several exams, midterms, projects, lab work (sometimes), tutorials (sometimes), participation marks and the final exams that make up your final grade. Here you’ve got only one shot (WTF), everything you’ve learned from September until the end of the semester you’ve got to learn…so you might think “Nazanin, that doesn’t seem to bad, you’ve got soooo much time to study plus the Christmas/new year’s holiday”. Well, reason would suggest that you are right, yet there is something called “procrastination”; (*sight*). You really need to be on top of your game the entire semester, learn periodically, so you don’t have a million pages to understand and memorize. Also, they have a very peculiar number of courses, some courses start in October, some courses finish in November, some courses you have the exam in January others in June. Therefore, in January you can have 3 exams and then in June 8 exams (yes, 8!!!! That’s a lot, don’t you think??).

If you don’t pass the exam you have to redo the exam in August unless you are in 1st year then you’ve got another shot in June. Therefore, a lot of students decide not to write the test in January, or they come to look at the exam and if they see that it’s hard they hand in their test early.

How is the grading system? when do you fail? When do you pass? At uoft you need a 50/100 in Brussels and I think in most universities in Europe your grade is out of 20. You need to have 12/20 to pass a course, 12 is a 60/100 which seems doable yet it’s very hard considering that every 0.1 or any number after the “.” is so precious. In one of my exams I had a question that was worth 0.2 marks, so you see how every little bit helps.

Below: 10/20 everywhere in the world, totally disgusted ; at ULB 10/20 I’m a genius

Also at ULB you can get 2 types of exams, it’s either written or oral exams. I never had oral exams so I was really worried about them. My mom, who studied in Brussels, told me her experience in oral exams and she said she liked them better than written exams because you could interact with the prof and in written exams you get marks removed if you have spelling/grammar errors. She also told me that in her days there was a dress code, i.e. men in suits and women in dresses or skirts, no pants. For my exams I think things changed; I wore no jeans, yet no dress/skirt, because most people were casually dressed. For my first oral exam, I had 10 min to analyze a French text and then say what I found. You really need to stay calm during these situations, I didn’t have time to read the entire the passage but I kept my cool and everything went fine. Then for my 2nd exam, I chose a letter which was randomly assigned to a question, sat down and I had 15 min to write down my answers on a scrap paper while the student before me said her answers. It was a bit intimidating to hear the person in front of you say their answer especially if their questions were easier than yours. I think the best strategy here is to say everything you know and show to the prof that you’ve studied and that you are interested in his course (…even it might not always be true).

Then there are multiple choice questions, most people like those tests, but you would like them less if you would get 3 marks for a good answer, -1 for a wrong answer and 0 for not answering. You have 48 questions, so what is here the best strategy? Of course answering as many questions as possible, but then how many questions should you guess? How many should you leave blank in order to maximize your grade and pass? Also in this exam the prof put 6 pictures on slides, each slide was changing after a few seconds. I wasn’t happy with this situation because I am just a little blind, hence the glasses, and I was seating at the very back of the room… why didn’t he just add all 6 pictures at the end of the question package? Another unusual thing was that we had to answer 2 scantrons one lose paper and one was stapled to the exam/question package, why?  “in case we lose one of your answer sheets”. (what??? Why would you want to lose an EXAM??)

However, this wasn’t the weirdest thing that happened, my roommate told me that after they were told to stop writing their test, a girl didn’t listen and erased something on her paper. The prof came, took her exam and do you think he wrote 0 on it? Well, actually no, he…wait for it… RIPPPED HER TEST IN 2!!! That’s a really harsh way to tell somebody they got 0, don’t you think? Yet, I think that’s just one weird exception, most profs at ULB are really nice and I found them especially nice in my oral exams.

And the final topic: the exam seating system. In a 3 hours exam, you actually had less time because they needed 30min or 1hrs just to seat 500 people. I like our system in which we have an entire building only for exams, the well known Examination Center in which there are a lot of medium/big size room, the seats are comfortable and the individual desks are great. I wonder what the teachers at ULB would have done if they had to seat my first year bio class in which we were almost 2000 students…

Although we all love to conquer all of our exams, you got to keep in mind “the important thing in life is fighting well, not conquering” (Baron Pierre de Coubertin).

Until next time’s happier topic,

Lots of kisses,

Nazanin

Cape Town Festival of Beer & Surfing

Beer festivals are quickly becoming one of my favourite parts of summer, and frankly are just a ton of fun. I got to go to the Cape Town Festival of Beer with a couple of my roommates and some friends. We had a great time and the festival was packed. It’s a two day event that goes over a whole weekend in November. There are over 150 different types of beer to try, many of which were South African breweries. They had food, free glasses, and every booth had free taste tests.

Trying 150 different beers in an afternoon? Challenge accepted.

Favourite South African Beer:  Darling Bone Crusher

Check out their beers at Darlingbrew. I love their bottles just about as much as I love the beer. It runs a little more expensive then Black Label or Castle which are a lot more common and generally run R7-9 at the beer store. However, Darling makes a great variety of beers and are worth trying if you get a chance.

 

Beerlympics. 

The beerlympics involved beer pong, keg lift, tapping, and darts. I thought about playing, but lifting kegs and carrying them around? Not my strong suit. ( My smile is that big, because I’m trying really hard not to drop the keg and destroy my feet….soo heavy)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Surfing

So I tried out surfing for the first time in Muizenberg! The beach there is basically lined with surf shops and so you can sort of have your pick of where to get lessons from. I headed out there without too many expectations. I wanted to get up on a wave, and hopefully not drown or get eaten by sharks. Muizenberg actually has quite a large number of sharks come through every year (note: I kinda feel like any sharks is too many or quite a large number so I might be biased)

Lesson went super well! Went to the surf shack for it, cost about R150 and luckily no one else showed up so it was just me and an instructor. However, disaster struck about an hour and a half in and I got stung by a blue bottle, these little devils are also called Portuguese man o’ war. They are poisonous but not lethal. They hurt a lot more than a bee bite, and less than breaking your arm. They recommend you leave it in salt water or warm water, and peeing on it apparently does help though I didn’t try it. The surf shack had medicated cream for it. The poison makes your armpits hurt as well because it causes your lymph nodes to swell. I don’t recommend you try it.

 

Friday Photo: Shipwreck

Arniston Shipwreck

We went on a trip to the southern most point of Africa and one of the things we were recommended to visit was to go see the shipwreck. We weren’t given much context to the ship, and it has a rather sad history. The ship was embayed on May 1815. Only 6 of 350 crew members made it to shore alive after the crash. When she sank she was carrying 100 wounded soldiers, some wealthy passengers, 22 iron cannon, two 12-pounder cannons and twenty 18 pounder carronades. The ship weighed 1498 tons was 53.8 meters long, and 13.2 meters wide, 3 decked, and 3 masted. It was built in 1794 an completed 8 trips to India and China before its crash.