East Coast/West Coast Field Trip

Hey, welcome back!

As expected, the East/West coast field trip was a crazy good time1. Each morning started with getting on the  Lund University Aquatic Research Vessel and bringing in the fish nets that were laid out the previous evening.

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Lund University Aquatic Research Vessel, or more simply, a boat. Photo comes from a classmate.

My group ended up working closely with another group who had decided to study the morphological differences in spine and vertebrate count of Atlantic Cod, comparing the subpopulation found off the coast of Baskemölla (East location) to the subpopulation off the coast of Magnarp (West location). Once the nets were in, we worked as a team to remove, identify, measure, and weigh the fish caught. Additionally, any cod that were caught had their otoliths removed2, as well as their stomachs (for prey content analysis). This process of cleaning the nets took the majority of the day, and was actually quite tiring.

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Our hostel in Baskemölla. Photo from Svenska Turistföreningen webpage.

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Our morning drive to the dock in Baskemölla. Photo from Svenska Turistföreningen webpage.

Each night of the trip was great fun.  Prior to leaving Lund, everyone in class pitched 100 krona (~$17) into a dinner fund. We had six dinners to make while away from home, and conveniently we had six different group projects occurring. Each of the project groups were given one night to cook a meal using a portion of the pooled funds. The resulting dinners were epic combinations of stews, pastas, curries, bread puddings, apple cakes, apple crumbles, and steamed muscles3. 

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Our hostel in Magnarp. Photo from Svenska Turistföreningen webpage.

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The road leading to the dock, this time close enough to walk. Photo from Svenska Turistföreningen webpage.

Another notable excursion moment was observing bioluminescent plankton off the coast of Magnarp. The professors took groups of students out on the boat two nights in a row so that everyone had a chance to experience this natural phenomenon. We were able to watch as little sparks of blue and green appeared when agitating the dark water with our hands.

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Bioluminescent plankton. Photo credit to Adam Plezer. Photo found on the National Geographic website.  

We returned to Lund Sunday afternoon, and were back in class Monday morning. Every group had this past week to use the laboratory for data analysis, as well as report writing. My group was unable to reject our null hypothesis, which was a bit sad, but data is data. We carried on, presenting and discussing our non-significant results, while making suggestions for future studies. Overall, the combination of the excursion, with the data analysis and report writing, has been a great opportunity to get a taste of what conducting a field experiment is truly like.

Spending six nights in shared hostel accommodations during the excursion certainly made it easier to get to know my classmates. So it was only natural that after such a long week in the lab, a large group of us ended our Friday night with burgers and beer at Kalmar Nation, one of the University pubs.

1If this sentence makes no sense to you, please feel free to scroll down until you come across my first entry entitled “A Tale of Two Cities…Or perhaps, more of a comparison”.

2Otoliths, otherwise known as ear stones, can be used to age a fish in a similar fashion to aging a tree. When an otolith is broken in half, alternating light and dark bands can be seen with the aide of a microscope. Counting these bands allow for the age determination of the fish. However, be warned, this is MUCH easier said then done.

3A big thanks to the group studying benthic communities who spent the better portion of a day collecting muscles for our final dinner.

 

IT’S FINALLY HAPPENING!!!

My friend Amalia Damberger

My friend Amalia Damberger

 

My lovely friend Bronte.

My lovely friend Bronte.

 

The School!!!!

Schmancy dining hall ceiling is schmancy.

Schmancy dining hall ceiling is schmancy.

This blog is going to be somewhat jumbled because the closer I get to leaving the more it feels like my brain is made of mangos. If you will bear with me, dear reader, then I am sure you will gleen something useful, or at least entertaining, from my rambling.

First off, several obstacles have tried to prevent me from getting to Royal Holloway. I feel a great deal like Harry Potter caught in the scheme that sought to unfairly allow him to return to Hogwart’s. First I was mistakenly sent a tuition of about 5,763 pounds. The exchange rate to dollars would have crippled me financially and before discovering this was a mistake I was launched into a 3-day spiral of depression. I came to terms with not getting to see the UK, started making preparations to get into classes at UTM late and generally hated being alive. The email saying the tuition fee was an error is the best news I have ever received and I do suspect the only news I could ever hear in the future to rival what I felt would go something like,

“You do not have a terminal illness.”

“Your child was born healthy and strong.”

“Your mortgage is paid in full.”

A day after my good news came I noticed I had developed a strange abdominal pain that wouldn’t let up. It felt like cramps and so I ignored it as an inconvenience. About three days later though I was woken at 3am by a searing pain in my lower abdomen. I ran to the bathroom and discovered that I was urinating blood.

I know what you are thinking. You are thinking,

tmi .

Perhaps, but stay with me the story gets better.

I got my roommate to take me to the hospital at about 5am when I could stand again. Luckily the hospital is only just down the street. While there we sat across from a sleeping-homeless-partially-nude woman. After waiting for a few hours a man in complete hysterics came in and began screaming and crying about how he had been robbed.

We listened to him whine for a few hours and discovered from his many loud and self-important phone calls and chats with the police that he had gone to a club, had 6 drinks in 4 hours and accidentally Rufilin-ed himself.

Seriously.

This is too stupid to make up.

He had intended to drug and then do god knows what to an unsuspecting victim and accidentally took the drugs himself because he was too drunk to remember what cup he put the Rufilin in. So far as I am concerned, he got what he deserved.

After the drugs started to kick in the club called him a taxi to get rid of him. In the taxi he had taken out his cell phone and all his ID (including passport) and put them on the seat. He then panicked, thinking it had been taken by the taxi driver and demanded to be let out. The taxi driver let him out on the sidewalk, where he promptly passed out before coming into the hospital and claiming he had been robbed.

I, in the mean time, was in agony waiting for a doctor. When I was finally seen the doctor and nurse were lovely and were able to determine that I had a UTI and needed antibiotics. In his effort to discover what was wrong with me one of the doctors asked me if I had ever had an STI. I mistakenly thought he said UTI and off handedly said,

“Oh yeah, tons, all the time.”

He gave me the kind of horrified look that indicated my answer was somewhat worrisome. I felt I needed to break the petrified silence and so I said,

“I usually drink cranberry juice, I’ve heard it helps.”

The cranberry juice thing is, as it turns out, recognized by doctors as a helpful aid to getting rid of UTIs because my mentioning this helped the good doctor to recognize that I have not in fact had several STI’s (or any STI’s for that matter).

These are the kinds of things that seem hilarious at 8am.

***

The closer I get to leaving the more anxiety I am starting to feel. So I am engaging a well-practiced university skill and not thinking about it.

This anxiety is combination of good and bad; bad feelings like, “What if I get there and realize I haven’t packed any underwear?!” which is of course ludicrous, as I have packed more underwear than what is housed in the average Calvin Klein wear house.
These notions of paranoia are broken up with good thoughts such as, “Ican’tbelievethisisreallyhappeningIamsoexcited!”

My bags are neatly packed, a friend is subletting my apartment while I am gone, I have completed (with the aid of my mum) all the necessary documents at this point. The full gravity of the situation hasn’t yet hit me. And I don’t think it will until I am up in the air.

I am not worried about being on my own because I am just as introverted as I am extroverted. I am looking forward to the time away from everything familiar (though I fully admit to being terrified of the idea of a totally new habitat) because I am hoping to gain, among other things, a new perspective of what I have by experiencing something new entirely.

In a vain effort to appear organized and travel ready I have herein attempted to prepare a list of all the things one must do to prepare for a long journey, alone, internationally. I do make my first recommendation this; if at all possible avoid attempting to complete 2 difficult summer school classes while simultaneously moving from a mold ridden, cockroach infested apartment to a more suitable, if notably more expensive, dwelling in the city.
Having successfully avoided all the above, here are some things that will help prepare you on your travels!

1. Waiting. Get good at this.
There will be a lot of paper work and registering and waiting in soul crushing suspense to get in. Once you have found out you are accepted there will be a lot more paper work, registrations, meetings, seminars, et cetera. All I can really suggest is wait it out, check email constantly and don’t panic. I know this isn’t spectacularly helpful or informative advice but everything is relatively straight forward and lain out for you. Just follow the steps your school gives you and don’t expect anything to happen at a normal pace. Everything will either happen too fast or painfully slowly.

2. Pay Attention.
To deadlines, instructions, registrations et cetera. There will be a lot of things to keep track of, so make sure you keep track of them.

3. Keep a list of the things you pack!
Once you get to the packing point, which may be sooner for some of us and later for others. Having everything written down on your mac book or another, inferior piece of hardware (I jest) will make it easier to avoid losing things and will give you a solid idea of what you already have and what you need.

***

I am not a savvy traveler. People skills and resourcefulness I have down pat; it is following directions and finding locations that I struggle with. But here is where the people skills come in handy; find someone who is going where you are going, make friends with them and follow them to the gate.

So upon entering the terminal I find I have just enough time to board the massive plane, my first time on such a plane. In the connecting suspended hallway I can hardly contain my excitement, an old man ahead of me notices this and says, “Are you excited to go to Cancun?”

I can feel the color drain out of my body and puddle onto the floor around my Doc Martins which are large and make my feet look big. Except they don’t actually make my feet look big, my feet are actually just that big.
The cheeky bugger. He realized he had half scared me to death and told me he was kidding; this flight goes to England.
I let out a huge sigh of relief and recounted to him the occasions on which I had nearly died before this flight. Surviving all that, only to find I was about to get on the wrong flight, would be too much.

The flight attendant is a spiffing man with a Jordy accent who point me in the direction of my seat and says, “Have a good flight love.”

As I enter the plane I pass through the first class section; large sprawling, reclining seats, foot rests, cup holders a premium amount of space for carry on luggage. I am over taken by a moment of giddiness until I realize that my section is closer to the back of the plane, far removed from this life of luxury.

As I walk down the aisle people struggle to get their luggage into the over head compartments and I actually cheer them on in their struggle.

“You can do it!”

“I believe in you!”

“Take your time, you got this!”

7 and ½ hours later I find myself in Heathrow Airport. I had been warned that it was big. I was never told that it is FRACKING MASSIVE. Immediately everyone is shuffled into lines to cross the border. I worry that I may be in the wrong line because there is a line across from me where a lady is yelling “Students!? Students here!”

As it turns out I am in the first class line. I have no idea how I got into the ‘fast track’ line as it’s called because I didn’t have a first class ticket. I start to get nervous and because sweating seems to be my body’s response to even the suggestion of emotion I also begin sweating heavily. I start to panic, thinking things like,

“What if they don’t let me into the country?”

“What if they make me go stand in another line and I miss the shuttle taking me to Royal Holloway?”

“What if they think I am up to no good because I am sweating so heavily and looking paranoid?”

Getting across the border was of course no problem. The officer was lovely and I was not forced to return to Canada. Having then crossed the border I began searching for the shuttle that was to take me to the school.

Rows and rows of bored, grumpy and scowling faces met me. All the taxi drivers half hold up cardboard or washable signs with names like ‘Charles Munchin’ and ‘Mike Lee Zoa’. None have the words “Royal Holloway” embossed on them.

I start to panic again. Luckily just as the first bubbles of dread popped on the surface I saw a giant orange sign.

ROYAL HOLLOWAY.

It told me. I quickly joined the group to meet friendly, if jet lagged, girls from France, Kazakhstan and Greece. The drive to the campus was somewhat disappointing; it looked just like Ontario. Any disappointment I had from the drive was washed away by the view of the campus cresting the hill: it was spectacular.

Once moved in and settled I met several lovely girls who are now friends and joined a group who gave me free beer promptly before losing me accidentally in the winding halls of the building. Everyone is lovely.

***

Administration here is disorganized and painstaking. But it must be done. I am successfully moved in and hope to have my class timetable soon.

I have found that I am able to stay up until early morning and only sleep until 8am without feeling tired. I am unusually positive about everything that happens, good and bad. I am, I feel, truly living to the fullest in a way I have never been able to before. Small inconveniences don’t bother me the way they usually do.

For the first time in my life I feel truly, and fully, content.

Tata for now.

Hello CIE Blog readers!

I thought I’d tell you a bit more about my life here in Glasgow now that I’ve settled in. My flat is located close to the university in the city’s Westend. This is an awesome area full of little shops, vintage stores (they LOVE vintage here in Glasgow), cafés and parks. I live right beside a huge park called Kelvingrove with amazing running trails that go for miles… Glasgow is an incredibly active city and the university has many clubs devoted to sports and other outdoorsy type activities. It’s great for people like myself who aren’t good enough to play on a varsity team but still really enjoy being active.

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I’ve joined the “Hares and Hounds” club (a British name for running clubs, love it!). Contrary to what you may think, Scotland has the perfect running weather. The rain and overcast skies keep you from overheating and the scenery is really magical, so green! Just make sure to bring a jumper and a windbreaker… you will be getting wet!

Since I’ve come to Glasgow I have also seen a ton of live music. Glasgow was appointed a UNESCO City of music in 2008, and after being here 3 weeks I can already see why. One of my favorite local haunts is this little pub right around the corner from my flat where Celtic musicians come to jam every Thursday night. The music is amazing and it isn’t a university pub, which can be refreshing at times. At the risk of sounding cheesy, being there really makes you feel like you’re in Scotland.

The music scene isn’t all traditional bands either. This is the city that produced the likes of Travis, Belle & Sebastian, Franz Ferdinand and Snow Patrol, so you can bet the indie band scene is amazing. My new friends and I have been able to see some great bands like King Charles and Mise en Scene at tiny venues for a fraction of what you’d pay in Canada.

Note: Being a “Mature” student on exchange
Law in the UK is an undergraduate degree, and the majority of people one meets at international orientation events and in residence are in their undergrad. As a 26 year-old law student who hasn’t seen the inside of a dorm room since 2006, I am in a very different place in my life than a lot of my colleagues.  While socially it helps that I’m often mistaken for a 16 year old, it can feel a little isolating at times. However, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Part of going on exchange, especially going on one’s own, is forcing yourself out of your comfort zone.

So for all you mature students out there, don’t think exchange isn’t for you! There is still loads you can get out of the experience, from traveling to exploring new hobbies to actually spending time enjoying your classes (I mean, we’re here to learn right?). Plus, I’ve still been able to meet a ton of nice, interesting people through clubs and other activities, you just have to get out there!

Also remember that sometimes, age really isn’t more than a number. People who go on exchange, regardless of their age, are usually adventurous, ready to explore a new culture and eager to make new friends, just like you! So, if you can get over thinking, “OMG, I was in undergrad when you were in grade 8!!!”, the experience can be a ton of fun. (Plus: who doesn’t ever wish they could try reliving their undergraduate years once or twice, sans all the rookie mistakes?)

This weekend I am off to the Isle of Skye with the international students club! Check it out, it was apparently named the fourth best island in the world by National Geographic! I will definitely be taking my camera with me!

10 Ways to Fall in Love With Amsterdam

Before I began my travels in Europe, Amsterdam wasn’t even on my list of must-see places – I kind of just ended up travelling there on a whim. But once I got there, I completely fell in love! So laid-back, so beautiful, so clean… I basically had to drag myself out of the country at the end of my stay.

I stayed there for four days, and on the way picked up a few helpful hints for anyone hoping to visit this “land of wooden shoes”.

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1. Stop and smell the flowers

Amsterdam is famous for its tulips, so this is a given. Not that I’m that much of a flower guy, but I can tell you they definitely live up to the hype. Beautiful!

2. Go on a canal tour

I recommend this first of all. Since Amsterdam is just one big city full of canals, this is a great way to see pretty much every part of the city close-up.

My original plan for the canal tour was to flag any sights I was really interested in, and then go back to them when I got back on land. Only thing is I totally forgot where any of the stuff I wanted to see was once the tour ended… Fail. So my advice is to bring a map!

Views from the canal.

Views from the Amsterdam canals.

3. Catch up with van Gogh

The Van Gogh Museum is located in an area called Museumplein, which contains – shocker! – most of the city’s museums. I checked out quite a few of the museums, but van Gogh was probably the most iconic/worth writing about. Not even one mention of him cutting off his ear though, sadly.

4. Go to the city zoo

If you need a break from all of the history, architecture, and space cakes Amsterdam has to offer, the zoo is a great place to spend an afternoon. This place was huge! So many animals, the garden is beautiful, and the restaurant there was actually really good too.

Visit to the Artis Royal Zoo. Cutie!

Visit to the Artis Royal Zoo. Cutie!

5. Hit the town!

While I was there, Amsterdam really came to life at night. Every single night felt like a Saturday night! Which is saying something, since my stay was mostly during the start of the week (Monday-Thursday). The restaurants, the bars, even the streets… everything was jumping. One can only imagine how crazy the actual weekend would be!

Amsterdam Cafe at night!

Amstercity at night!

6. Eat pickled fish… (Or not)

No getting away from this delicacy! I was lucky enough to witness my Amsterdam friend indulge in some pickled herring, a cheap Amsterdam street food. Sadly (…note sarcasm) I didn’t get a chance to try some myself. Boo hoo.

I think I'm gonna pass on this one.

I think I’m gonna pass on this one.

7. Go see Anne Frank’s House

This is a must-do. As the name implies, a heart-wrenching and thought-provoking walk through the house where the Frank family hid during WWII. Simply breathtaking… Especially when you see how big the line-up is waiting to get in. But trust me, totally worth it!

The line-up for the Anne Frank Museum... No words.

The queue waiting to get into the Anne Frank Museum… No words.

8. Check out the red light district

Before I came to Amsterdam, everyone told me the red light district is a must-see. It was definitely an experience – I was surprised at how many tourists, kids, and older people there were. It was kind of like a risqué Disneyland… during the day at least. I’m sure at night it’s a different story – I’ll leave that for another blog, though!

9. Go see the windmills

Okay, so I didn’t actually do this, sadly. But the Netherlands is famous for its windmills, so I feel like no Amsterdam to-do list would be complete without mention. However, I did take a picture of a store that had a windmill attached… That’s like the same thing, right?

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Use your imagination.

10. Stop by a café

Honestly, this goes for anywhere in Europe… such a cliché, to sit outside of a roadside café and sip a coffee, but you have to do it. If not for the European-style coffee (so frothy!), then for the free wifi! Brownie points if you wear a beret.

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BONUS: one way to NOT fall in love with Amsterdam… using your credit card as collateral to get a gym day pass, and then forgetting to pick it back up again before you leave the country… Yeah, that totally happened. I guess my visit couldn’t be all positives!

In the end, Amsterdam more than lived up to its great reputation. I’d always heard amazing things about it, but it’s not until I actually visited that I completely understood the hype.

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Basically, I’ve found love in Europe, and it’s Amsterdam. Sadly, it’ll have to be long distance for now, but I’m sure we’ll be seeing each other again soon!

– Patrick

Sciences Po – the ‘academic’ part of the exchange

While frosh week and related shenanigans took place on the other side of the Atlantic, the academic term started at Sciences Po on September 2nd.

For those unfamiliar with the school, the Institut d’etudes politiques de Paris (Sciences Po for short) is one of the leading universities in Europe in the fields of political science and international relations. It was founded in 1872 as a reaction to France’s defeat in the Franco-Prussian war and from a desire to change the French political and ideological landscape. The university, I was told during the Welcome Day, was created to teach future politicians and diplomats how to make decisions and how to lead.

Whether or not the school succeeded in doing so is up for debate. But what it does mean for an exchange student studying here is some truly multi-disciplinary courses taught by practitioners and academics of the field. It is very difficult to find a course in Sciences Po that is strictly in its given discipline. And that perhaps explains, partially, why it is so difficult to get that 300 level economics transfer credit. Your economics course is not just economic theory; it also incorporates elements of history, politics and philosophy.

This is a field day for international relations students who, by the structure of the IR program at U of T, have to take courses (that may or may not integrate nicely) from the economics, history and political science departments. You have an advantage here over other students, who might have been confused by that throwaway reference to the Wars of Devolution in your Public International Law class.

Campus:

Sciences Po map

Map of Sciences Po campus courtesy of Sciences Po’s website. The buildings in red are school buildings. (For undergrad students, your main classes will be in buildings A, B, H and J)

Sciences Po is located in the centre of Paris. It is a 15 minute walk from the Louvre and a 30 minute walk from the Eiffel Tower.

The school is very different from U of T, not just in terms of the overall size (Sciences Po is much smaller), but also in how decentralized and integrated the campus is.

(Aside: interestingly, Sciences Po gives 15 minutes in between consecutive classes, while U of T gives only 10…You will never have to sprint down the street to get to your next class on time at Sciences Po.) 

Walking to school is an exercise in colour-coordination and pulling off that seemingly-effortless elegance. This may seem incredibly clichéd, but when you have to walk past speciality Haute Couture stores and other finely-dressed Parisians (even your classmates!) on your way to class, you will be hard-pressed to continue dressing like a slob.

A comparison of the physical sizes of the two universities:

UofT

U of T St. George campus (courtesy of google maps)

Sciences Po campus

The much smaller Sciences Po campus (courtesy of google maps). You can barely see the school buildings behind the giant Sciences Po label.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Academics:

Sciences Po employs an unique methodology that is difficult to explain. Perhaps you have encountered it elsewhere, but this was my first time encountering this particular format, and it caught me by surprise.

A proper ‘Sciences Po’ essay or exposé needs to have a problématique. The problématique is the central paradoxical question that your essay is trying to answer. The essay/presentation body is structured in two parts divided in a coherent manner (either thematically or chronologically). Then each of these two parts, is further divided into two sub-parts.

My TA provided a sample outline:

  • Introduction (historical context, define the terms of the assignment, problématique)
  • Part 1: Thematic argument 1
  •      1A: introduction to the specific argument, background, context
  •      1B: main argument 1
  • Part 2: Thematic argument 2
  •      2A: main argument 2
  •      2B: implications of the arguments
  • Conclusion (thesis)

Professors, especially of classes taught in French, are a stickler for this format. But don’t worry if this all seems awfully vague, everything becomes a bit clearer after you watch a few of the presentations by the local students.

A few things on classes at Sciences Po:

Attendance is mandatory. All courses (except lectures) take attendance. Missing more than two classes results in automatic failure. Suffice it to say, do not miss class.

Do not be late for class either! Depending on how strict your prof is, arriving 5 minutes after the start of class can be considered late. Accumulating enough “lates” will equate to an absence.

Follow the rules. In the words of my French Opera prof, the rules are not there for you to circumvent, no matter how cleverly you can do so. They are there to measure how you excel given the constraint of the rules. Your talent is demonstrated by your ability to follow the rules, like everyone else, while still presenting your own take on a given topic. It’s a different mindset than the one I am used to, but when in Rome, do as the Romans do right?

Like most buildings in France, Sciences Po is not air-conditioned. Summer can be extremely stifling, but given how quickly the weather has cooled, that should not be a problem. Whether or not the buildings have some sort of heater for the winter remains to be seen.

Until next time,

(Heading to Belgium this weekend. Anyone Europe-bound at the time?)

Grace

Hallo, Berlin!

BERLIN. Where to start? What an incredible couple of weeks it has been in this ultra cool city!

My two fellow University of Toronto exchange students and I, who are studying at the Hertie School of Governance this fall, landed at Tegel Airport in Berlin in late August, and we hit the ground running.

To celebrate our arrival in Germany on that beautiful Saturday summer’s eve, we (quite appropriately) enjoyed our first German beers at the bar just next door to our AirBnB apartment, a pub called Wiener Blut (readers beware, many more hilarious German words to follow throughout this blog series). With outdoor seating and some hipsters at the neighbouring tables, we kicked off the start to what would surely be, and so far has been, an awesome semester.

Before being able to see many of the famous historical sites or explore the numerous museums and galleries, we had to see to finding permanent accommodation.  So the day after our arrival, we grabbed our laptops and happened upon an incredible cafe-restaurant called Morgenland, not 5 minutes from our AirBnB apartment.

Street music near Warschauer Strasse. Creative culture abounds in Berlin. The famous Fernsehtrum (TV tower) is visible in the background.

Street music near Warschauer Strasse. Creative culture abounds in Berlin. The famous Fernsehtrum (TV tower) is visible in the background.

Little did we know, Morgenland is a well-known Sunday morning brunch spot. It was packed, but we managed to get a table outside and enjoy the enormous spread of delicious foods, even being told after we paid that we could take our time and try more. The two young American guys that arrived ahead of us, to save space, were seated at the same table as a young German couple, one of whom was rocking a futuristic, silver space suit and the other the funkiest mohawk you’ve ever seen. The two pairs were positioned at the table so that they faced the other couple, rather than their respective partners. It must have facilitated some rather interesting dialogue because by the end, we noticed these unlikely new friends laughing it up and really enjoying each other’s company. I think it was at that moment, not even 24 hours in, that I first fell in love with this city – its openness, its freedom from constraint, inhibition, timidity, its unique way of bringing people together, no matter their backgrounds.

Pulling out our Macbooks, we spent the afternoon in Morgenland using the free Wifi to begin the search for rooms in shared flats, which are called “WG,” short for Wohngemeinshaft (…see, I told you). It took a few days, but I eventually found a well-located sublet for a big, bright room in a WG with 4 Germans, a close group of friends all about my age. They remind me of the TV show Friends! Each with a unique personality, and a truly fun and pleasant bunch of people who I hope can put up with my bad German and many questions these next few months…

My flat is on what I like to call “Dude Street” – really Dudenstraße – mere steps from the now-closed, historic Tempelhof Airport (which was a wicked backdrop to the free David Guetta concert I saw there last weekend)! The nearby U-bahn (subway) station is called Platz der Luftbrücke. As my AirBnB host, a born-and-raised Berliner, explained to me, luft = air and brücke = bridge, and this was the site of the Berlin Airlift in 1948-49, in which the Allies supplied the people of East Berlin by aircraft after the Soviets cut off all water and land access to West Berlin. I swear every single corner of this city has some fascinating historical tidbit behind it.

Getting a cell phone, opening a bank account, and registering with the City of Berlin (you are given €50 “Welcome Money”!!!) were some other things that needed to be taken care of in the first days. Prepaid phone plans are extremely affordable here, and the diversity of your options in general puts the Canadian cell phone industry and its major companies to shame. The cost of living, in general, is quite a bit lower than Toronto, to my delightful surprise. Rent including everything, even Internet, is €330 or about $450 Canadian. And since I know some you are curious, beers are I’d say €2.50 on average!

New friends. Michelle and I at the Brandenburg Gate on the famous boulevard Unter den Linden ("under the linden trees").

New friends. Michelle and I at the Brandenburg Gate on the famous boulevard Unter den Linden (“under the linden trees”).

Based on my experience (only in Berlin so far), Germany is a well-organized, clean and friendly place. Many people speak English and I’ve had no trouble communicating, although if you are ever here, do try to learn at least a phrase or two in German! Public transportation is fast, vast, and easy. The extensive U-bahn and S-bahn trains (the equivalent of the TTC subway) even run all night on Fridays and Saturdays! I hope I don’t need to be more explicit about how incredibly awesome that is?!

I feel welcomed by the Hertie School’s administration and faculty and I just love the über international feel of the student body! Nationalities represented include Belgian, Dutch, English, Greek, Polish, German, Italian, French, Russian, Mexican, Colombian, Brazilian, Chilean, American, Canadian, South Korean, Chinese, Turkmenistan and surely many others.

I never leave my apartment without my camera!

I never leave my apartment without my camera!

During O-week (Orientation Week), incoming students were spoiled with a great big variety of social events and activities, ranging from indoor beach volleyball, to a “pizza & quiz” night at school (with complimentary beer!) to a Floating Boat Tour on the Spree River complete with kaffee und küchen (coffee and cake… a German thing, from what I’ve gathered…also brilliant), to the grand finale of the “Semester Opening Party.” I think it’s safe to say that a fabulous time was had by all and some lasting friendships will come out of this memorable week.

I am blessed and excited to be able to spend the next few months here in Berlin and I plan to explore as much of it – and Germany – as possible!

In the next post: more about Berlin’s many districts, karaoke at Mauerpark, museums and historic sites, the Berlin Wall, and other tidbits…

Stay tuned! 😉

Mari

Welcome to London, The Land of Rain

People say that the weather in London is unpredictable. I can tell you for sure that it is not. It’s rainy. It might start out sunny, but at some point, it is going to rain. I’ve been here for only four days so far, so I’m still getting used to being constantly wet. Other than that, I’ve been having a good time settling into my new home for the next year.

I guess I should introduce myself! Hi, I’m Veronika, and I study English Literature at Victoria College. For my third year, I’ll be doing a year abroad at King’s College London. After all, there’s no better place to study English than England!

I’m now living in one of King’s residences with six other students. Luckily, I have my own bathroom and shower, and the kitchen is huge! My roommates flatmates are from Paris, Frankfurt, Berlin, and some smaller towns in the UK. Quite a cool combination; the conversations never get boring.

I haven’t done much in London since I’ve gotten here, but my classes don’t start for another two weeks, so I’ll have plenty of time to explore the city. I did leave the flat today, however, with some new friends to explore Camden town. We were originally going to hide from the rain inside, but one of them advised us to not get in the habit of avoiding the rain… otherwise we’d be inside all the time! Thus, we put on our rain boots and raincoats and made our way to the tube (subway).

The only thing I can compare Camden town to in Toronto is Queen Street West… but it’s bigger and weirder. Here are some photos, though admittedly none capture its weirdness:image[2]image

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We ended up getting lost in the area, but that led us to discover that Camden town is much bigger than it originally seems. We even spotted a fake Banksy:

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I’m now safe and dry back in my room, resting up before a quiz night in my residence, and then a Freshers event (Freshers is the UK version of frosh week, except it’s not only for first years and it lasts a few weeks).

I’m excited for what’s to come! Whatever it may be.

Talk soon…

Veronika

A Tale of Two Cities…Or perhaps, more of a comparison.

Greetings from the land of fika1 (“fee-ka”) and complex, yet efficient, garbage disposal systems! Seriously, there are eight different containers outside my apartment for sorting my trash into, which is great, except that the labels are in Swedish and the pictures are not very informative. However, I am a U of T student! Thus, I am highly capable of translating these Swedish words into English…eventually.

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(Fika! Photo credit:  flickr user ruminatrix)

I am here in Sweden to attend Lund University for their Aquatic Ecology program. The program is actually a two year master’s program, but I am able to participate for a year as a bachelor student. Currently, I’m only two weeks into the semester, but I am already so grateful for my decision to venture away from Toronto for a year.

Unlike U of T, I will only be taking one course at a time here. I find this quite appealing because it allows me to focus all my energy into the subject at hand. My current course is Marine Ecology. It runs from the beginning of September to the end of October. There are 25 students in the class, a mixture of Swedish, German, Spanish, Australian, British, and Canadian. The classroom environment is casual and relaxed, and since we spend monday to Friday from 9-4 together, there are ample opportunities to speak directly with the prof.

Possibly the greatest perk of this course, for me anyway, is the opportunity to complete actual fieldwork. In fact, as I write this blog several piles of folded clothes, rain gear, foot wear, toiletries, and snacks surround me. This is because I leave early Monday (Sept. 16th) morning for the east coast of Sweden, where I will spend three days collecting data on the Atlantic cod inhabiting the brackish waters of the Baltic Sea. Then I will travel to the West coast of Sweden, where I will spend another three days, this time collecting data on the cod inhabiting the Kattegat, a region of the North Sea. As a student aiming to enter into master’s studies, this practical research experience is invaluable for me. Moreover, I feel especially lucky that I am gaining experience in the field I hope to pursue in my future studies. This is a drastic contrast to the research assistant positions I often applied for at U of T. Positions that would have me sitting in a lab for the summer practicing mainly my pipetting skills.

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(The entrance to a cow pasture while hiking on the West coast.)

But enough about education. The Swedish outdoors are absolutely beautiful, and my little city of Lund is perfect. Student life has a huge presence in town, which means there is always something to do. Everyone I have met thus far has been friendly, helpful, and inviting. Conveniently, I have been able to bike anywhere in town in under 20 minutes. Also, I managed to find an amazing falafel place that sells wraps for only 30 krona2 (approx. $5)!

1Fika – basically a coffee break that includes a cake-like sweet of some kind, possibly my new favorite thing.

2Sweden is expensive. Finding a something delicious, like a falafel wrap, for 30 krona is a rarity in these parts.

Ich bin ein Berliner!

“Germany.” What do you think of first? Tons of beer. Mercedes, BMW, Audi and Volkswagen. Sausages. Wiener schnitzel. The Autobahn. Oktoberfest. Jägermeister.

But then there is “Berlin.” They say that Berlin is not Germany. A once thriving, central city in the world. A city laying in ruins and decay after the Second World War. The fierce iron curtain splitting the city into east and west. A leading, alternative city in our modern times…

The Reichstag Parliament buildings. Notice the famous Berlin radio tower in the corner

The Reichstag Parliament buildings. Notice the famous Berlin radio tower in the corner

Hello, or should I say, Guten Tag to my fellow readers! I arrived here in Berlin two weeks ago in preparation for my two semesters of study this upcoming year at the Humboldt University. I am continuously blown away every day by this city. I have seen many different German cities in the past, but just like last time, there is just something about Berlin.

The city of Berlin itself is an open, free city. I feel literally like a tiny ant facing vast amounts of untapped experiences. It is a huge cultural city with diverse peoples, immigrants, students, it has a rich and interesting history, new movements, young artists, a large music scene, museums, art … the list goes on.

Humboldt University, main campus. My soon-to-be university for the next 10 months

Humboldt University, main campus. My soon-to-be university for the next 10 months

They say cities can come alive. I can say coming from Toronto (and any fellow Torontonians reading here), that my city has a rich feeling to it. Am I right? The same can be said about New York for example. Here in Berlin, I sense it every second. I can feel this electric vibe sprawling through every street and every crevice. Berlin is alive. It is breathing. Its gigantic train, subway, streetcar and bus networks are like the veins and blood flowing nonstop through this live entity, always circulating. I have been here for only 2 weeks, yet there is this magnet drawing me into the heart of the city to experience it all. From the local daily markets, to the legendary night life, to strange artistic street performances, to the sheer size of the city, to the green parks, to the faces of people from all over the globe, to the hip bars in distinct neighborhoods, to the historical buildings and monuments, to live music on every corner, to the eerie line of where the former Berlin Wall once stood….

With this blog, one of the things I hope to do is capture this vigour that Berlin has. I talked too much about the city on the whole and how insignificant I feel within it. I am so innocent to what it has to offer and too ignorant to make any claims just yet. The posts to come will try to grasp exactly what the city represents through my experiences studying in university, meeting new people, traveling and simply just living.

The infamous Brandenburg Gate- literally just down the street from my university

The infamous Brandenburg Gate- literally just down the street from my university

 

P.S. Of course there is beer, and German cars, and German cuisine in Berlin. I was just referring above for example to the unique, funky, fresh and alternative sides of the city, something that is matchless in Germany and the rest of the world.

So You Want to Go to England…

So you want to go to England?

And why wouldn’t you? The land of adorable vlogger boys, Butter Beers, Benedict Cumberbatches, Tom Hiddelstons, Whovians, tea, Corgi’s, Royals and Shakespeare. A perfect destination for any traveler looking for a little class and romance.

But first you have to get there. And this process, dear reader, is distinctly un-fun. I’d like to talk about the process I went through in attempting to gain a visa, only to discover that I did not, in fact, need a visa to begin with. Let the ballad of bureaucracy begin.

To confirm for any Canadian citizens’ future reference:
– If you are in England for LESS THAN 6 MONTHS you DO NOT need a visa.
– If you are NOT planning on WORKING or VOLUNTEERING while in England you DO NOT need a visa.

I was unaware of all these things and dead set convinced I needed a visa. However, I was unwilling to pay the outrageous fee for a visa until I knew for sure. My paper work was done and ready to be handed in, but my resolve was lacking.
I was filled with anxiety. After all, I didn’t want to be unable to enter the country, I didn’t want to get in trouble, and I certainly didn’t want to make waves. My mother was quite certain I did not require a visa, but I was not willing to make any decision regarding the purchase of a visa until I was dead sure on the matter. Suspended in a sort of visa-less limbo and growing ever more anxious on what to do about my predicament, I opted to call the lovely and wonderfully helpful Julienne Lottering, Safety Abroad Officer, at 416.946.3929.
For anyone interested in visas, travel safety or just a wonderful collection of travel stories (once she is not on the clock of course) Julienne is your go to woman.

Sadly, in this instance the bureaucracy was working against she and I both. Julienne gave me the number to the British consulate, which is: +1-416-5931290.

Stop reading.

Call that number right now.

Now that you have heard the recording you know that the number takes you to a recording that is as hilarious as it is useless. I actually cried I was laughing so hard. I can’t think of anything any more delightfully, stereotypically British that that woman’s voice. The only thing missing? She neglected to offer me tea.

One of the first things the message states is that they do not deal with visas, however, they are kind enough to give you the address of a consulate which will help you with your visa troubles.

The address is 777 Bay Street, Toronto. And approaching this office is an exercise in futility. The office is lovely; large British Flags, soft and inviting looking lounge couches, a small crystal bowl of candies.

All of which are behind glass doors and not accessible to you.

I kid you not. So far as I could tell, the office cannot be entered. Instead, and this is the best part, there is a phone. Outside of the office that you have just come to IN PERSON there is a phone, which you must pick up and wait for someone to answer. The less than polite, less than tangible secretary on the other end of the line will inform you that you may not enter the impenetrable glass barrier which prevents you access to the office and at this location, 777 Bay Street, they do not deal with visas.

This whole endeavor had thus far cost me many months of anxiety and now a full day of goose chasing.

I was feeling slightly defeated.

But, never fear! For in my resolve as a UTM student, I was determined to persevere. At the 777 Bay Street Office-that-you-may-not-enter which has the phone-that-you-must-call I was given a new address; 1 Dundas Square.

With new abandon I made my way to Dundas Square, where I witnessed a man replicate the CN tower out of paper clips in record speed, cheered and rallied a dance battle between two spry and athletic men in saggy pants and was informed that the error of my ways could be cured so long as I found God.

Now rallied by this entertainment I resumed my now epic quest to the British Consulate on my journey to find a visa.

Once in the office I found that the woman at the desk was new to her position and as such, had no idea what she was doing. Seeing my immediate look of nausea and deflation she rushed to get her superior. The man’s name was Richard and he was, for all the world, a spitting image of Hugh Grant.

With the utmost contriteness and politeness he listened to my awesome struggle with the dragon called bureaucracy and expressed great sorrow to hear of my many defeats. Then, with a flourish, his slightly balding head flashing in the light of the now setting sun, he provided me with all the relevant information I could possibly need. He then proceeded to explain the same points I made above about visa policies and the instances in which they are required.

Richard and I shook hands then. His hand shake was firm and he smelled like lemon grass as he wished me luck and good fun on my travels.

By the time I left the office darkness had fallen. But I was unconcerned, guided by a new light I made my way back to Hart House and stood in line to board the shuttle bus. With hardened tenacity I was ready to tear up my completed visa paper work and focus on the next steps required by my journey.

Look Out Queen Victoria, here I come.