Christmastime in the UK

Hi all,

I hope this post finds you in good holiday spirits. If not… grab a cuppa (tea) and cheer up.

I’m not going to lie, it’s been awfully hard to focus on my classes when there’s so many winter activities to do in so little time. I’m used to going ice skating and Christmas shopping in Toronto, but London takes it to a whole new level.

For starters, there are lights everywhere! Some streets have more than others, especially Oxford and Regent, but no area is left untouched. This helps me cope with it being dark at 4 pm. There are also Christmas markets all over the city – I think I visited three in the span of a week and a half. Christmas markets originated in Germany, so they always smell of delicious bratwurst and mulled wine. So tempting when you’re walking in the cold! If you don’t know what a Christmas market is, don’t worry, neither did I… Basically, there are a bunch of stalls outside, all lit up, with handmade goods, food, or drinks. If you’re lucky, you’ll come across a stall with samples (and naturally, eat everything and run). I can never bring myself to walk past a Christmas market without stopping by for what I think will be “a few minutes.” If that sounds like something you’d like to see, check out the Christmas market at the Distillery District in Toronto.

I also managed to get away from the city for a weekend to see a few of my friends who are studying at Cardiff University. Cardiff is located in Wales, which is a whole other country. The city itself isn’t much different from cities in England, minus the Welsh signs. Seriously, it’s impossible to read them if you don’t speak Welsh. For example, Cardiff is Caerdydd, and city is ddinas. How does one even pronounce that?!

Anyways, I’ve been to Cardiff a few times before, and it’s always a fun time. It’s a city populated by university students, so it can get quite crazy sometimes, especially on nights out. I managed to stay out of trouble and have a good weekend. I think my highlight was going to a Christmas fair with rides and reindeer. If it wasn’t clear already, I’m obsessed with the holiday season.

We also had a delicious Sunday roast at a pub, which is perhaps one of my favourite things about the UK. Every Sunday, families and pubs prepare a carvery, containing all the foods you would have on Thanksgiving and more. I’m definitely going to miss that in Canada.

Well, I should probably start on my final essays…

Until next time,

Veronika

 

 

 

 

Berlin Perspectives

With this blog, I would like to share more about my school life here in Berlin.

The Humboldt University is a massive institution located in the heart of Berlin. There are different campuses across the city, but the main one is in the city centre. There are 11 faculties into which the university is divided. There are about 30,000 students enrolled, with about 4,500 being international students. They have departments for every sort of administration and university-related issue you could think of, such as an international office, kind of like our Centre for International Experience.

One program the international students are offered here is called Berlin Perspectives. It is very unique and involves different aspects. The courses are taught in English in the area of history/politics/social sciences and literature/urban/culture studies. They are aimed at those students who feel their German is not yet good enough to be taking the normal courses offered, which are of course all in German. I myself do fine in full-German lectures, but the courses offered here and the entire program in general just seemed so interesting to me.

Beautiful view from one of my classes

Beautiful view from one of my classes.

Along with these special courses, there are two other aspects which Berlin Perspectives involves. Every student first must take a language course at the Language Centre. This course, which usually entails a fee, is given to us for free. These obligatory language courses are 4 hours per week and it really encourages us to improve on our German skills. A very good incentive.

The other aspect is a mentoring program. We are all paired up in groups with a senior mentor. With our mentor, there are different objectives meant to be completed. For example, we met early on in the semester in the main library with the sole purpose of learning how the system works. From getting internet on our laptops, to logging onto the school computers, to finding books, to taking out books, to using the printers, to checking university email. Such a lesson proved so useful for me and it helped me get a good start to the year. Another topic we covered was how to give presentations in a German-university setting. We went over what the professors look for and some tips that would prove handy. We still need to do two cultural events with our mentor. I think we will go to a classical concert and then to a museum. I am looking forward to it.

The courses offered are Berlin-specific, which is great, since we all live here. Many of the courses incorporate excursions to different parts of the city, which allows us to gain a first-hand experience of what we learned in class. For example, so far I have been to a former East German prison, four museums, a monument, and a district in Berlin. I am seeing parts of this amazing city that I normally never would have been to on my own.

Classic street car I found roaming the streets in East Berlin

Classic street car I found while roaming the streets in East Berlin.

All I can say, is that if any international student is considering studying in Berlin and at the Humboldt University, this Berlin Perspectives program is golden! Even if you just take one of the offered courses, the mentoring program and free language course is included. Plus it is an amazing way to meet English-speaking students who come from all over the world.

This weekend I will be heading off to Hamburg, Germany’s second biggest city. I am sure there will much to share with my next blog!

Allergies, Electrofishing, Trawling, & a Hike

Right, so where to start…? Oh, I know, how about we give a big ‘hurray’ to medical insurance!

The week of November 4th, I had noticed a rash slowly building on my face. I didn’t really pay that much attention to it until Sunday morning, when I woke up to tight, painful, bumpy skin. I (for some odd reason) thought it was heat rash, and that it would clear up if I just spent the day keeping it cool. The remainder of my Sunday was filled by me sitting in my bed, watching movie after movie, constantly rubbing an ice cube around my face to keep it moist and cool. I went to bed thinking tomorrow would be fine.

However, when I awoke on Monday, of what I could see of my face, the rash had become much worse. It was hard to tell though, considering my eyes were close to being swollen shut. Hmm. Not good. I still thought about going to class because I really didn’t want to miss a day out on the water bringing up the gill nets and sorting through the catch. But really, my face was quite painful, and I figured my classmates would think I was crazy for not going to the doctor. So, I went to the doctor.

To make a long story short, the doctor ruled the swelling and rash (small hives) down to an allergic reaction. Two weeks have now passed since the reaction took place. My face is completely back to normal, but I look at every piece of food in my cupboards and fridge with distrust, since I have no clue as to what initiated the reaction. My curtains, bed sheets, and pillows are also under my investigative eye.

Although I missed the first day of the field excursion for Fisheries Ecology, I did manage to make it out for the following two excursion days. The first day was spent electrofishing, while the second day was spent trawling in a small area of Øresund.

Electrofishing! Yours truly is in the pink coat. Photo credit: fellow classmate.

Electrofishing! Yours truly is in the pink coat. Photo credit: fellow classmate.

Electrofishing was hilarious. We were working in a small stream not too far from Lund. We took turns, working in pairs, to use the electrofishing equipment to catch the resident fish. A big plus about electrofishing is that the technique, when performed properly, only stuns the fish. This allows us to catch all the fish in our portion of the stream, keep them alive in a holding tank, identify, record lengths, and then free them back into the stream.

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Enjoying the view while waiting to start the trawl. Photo credit: fellow classmate.

 

Trawling in the small area of Øresund was good fun too. The trawling itself was only 15 minutes long, but we spent a few hours on the boat due to travel time. During our trawl we caught a lot of cod, haddock, whiting, and mackerel. We brought the catch back to the university lab and began the messy process of removing otoliths and stomachs, and searching through the organs to find the gonads so that we could sex each fish.

Stomach analysis. Photo credit: fellow classmate.

Stomach analysis. Photo credit: fellow classmate.

Now, since the fish were no longer needed after their otoliths and stomachs were taken, everyone at the gutting bench continued to fully gut the fish. At the end of the day we were all allowed to take home as much of this gutted fish as our little hearts desired. I do consider myself a vegetarian. I never purchase meat or fish because my money would then be supporting an industry I have huge issues with, which in turn means I would be supporting that industry. However, when presented with a massive container of fresh, already gutted fish, well, I’m certainly not going to let it go to waste.

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Fish that I brought home at the end of the day.

Finally, I would like to end this post by describing to you how I spent my Sunday here in Sweden. I was dressed, packed, and ready to go by 9am. I cycled downtown to the central station where I met up with nine of my classmates. We took the bus to the southeast coast and spent the morning hiking up hills and crossing through bogs. Around one, we decided to break for lunch. Everyone piled sandwiches, cookies, crackers, hot chocolate, chocolates, and fruit into the center of the extra large picnic bench. The following 45 minutes were spent gorging. After lunch, we packed up and started in on a two hour hike along the beach. It was the best hike of my life. Twilight was setting in, the waves were crashing, and thankfully the wind was pushing us forward, toward the little seaside town where we caught our bus back home. I quickly cycled back to my apartment, crammed my face with food (don’t judge, close to six hours had passed since lunch!), and then was back on my bike heading toward a sauna where I met up with three others from the hike. I now sit comfortably in my bed, exhausted and fulfilled, finishing the last of this blog.

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My morning view. Photo credit: fellow classmate.

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View just after lunch. Photo credit: fellow classmate.

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View at twilight. Photo credit: fellow classmate.

Until next time!

Abby

FOR SCOTLAND!!!

Edinburgh was AMAZING.

The museums alone make it well worth the 7 hour drive (or at least they do if you are a total nerd like I am). The admission everywhere I went was free and I will include lots of pictures of all the spectacular things.

On arriving in the evening the first thing I did was find a pub and drink a real Scottish pint. I kept the Scottish Tenner I was given in change and plan to frame it upon my return.

The next day I started my journey with a visit to not quite a mountain, but a Hill with Aspirations. The landscape was AMAZING (I am sensing a theme here in my typography).

First of all, it was quintessential Scottish. Lush, green and rocky, with stone ruins and roughly weather hewn stairs. At the top, several people had left messages using spare stones and I was sure to add my own message to the mix.

Second of all, the hill was so wind swept that ravens, searching for prey, could just hover for ages. This was a breath taking sight (and not just because the bitter gusts made it hard to breath), which I was sadly unable to get a photo of.

At the top of the hill I was amazed by the wind; it literally lifted me up and pushed me against the rocks. I could see the entire city of Edinburgh below and the ocean stretched out before me on all sides.

In spite of my lack of success finding an affordable pin bearing my family crest, I have never felt more in touch with my ancestry. What kind of hardened, crazy people would choose to settle here in this merciless, frigid, savagely beautiful landscape? People I could be proud of to count myself among, surely.

That evening I had dinner in a lovely pub called the Half Way House (perfectly suited to all of my future aspirations I’m sure) where I ate Haggis (which was DELICIOUS but no photos sadly as the light was too dim for my camera) and drank a pint (of some beer or other). The bar maid was a hilarious waif of a woman who seemed terrified by my request of, “Whatever she recommended.”

A very kind man gave us his table as well, which made me feel just absolutely chuffed.

Before visiting the Hill with Aspirations I spent some time wandering around a graveyard, as I often so morbidly do, and turned the whole situation into a comedy of sorts as can be seen in the following pictures.

I also wandered around the city quite a bit, to discover a series of astounding shops and beautiful architecture. I didn’t have much money to spare on my week out of classes but I did manage to scrape some funds together for the essentials.

Namely shortbread…

Which I ate in one sitting…

I regret nothing.

The first museum I stopped at was the Museum of Childhood, which housed a terrifying selection of dolls, as well as other things.

Next on my list was the Castle, which is a series of museums itself, all demonstrating Scotland’s valiant history of warfare. Here I also saw how kilts were made, both traditionally and in the present.

After the Castle I was able to hold an owl for only 3 quid (pounds) and the biologist in me was ecstatic. I held the poor patient dear for about 10 minutes (9 minutes longer than the average passerby) and spent the entire time telling the owl keeper all the facts I knew about owls (namely that their ears are lopsided so as to maximize their field of sound and also that their whole face is shaped to maximize their hearing; kind of like one giant middle ear in between two others). The owl keeper, as a keeper of owls, was not impressed. And I felt like a giant nerd (namely because I wanted to keep the owl and use it to fly letters to and from various locations).

Next was the Scottish National Museum, very close to the University of Edinburgh campus, which featured an amazing variety or art, history and science.

Now, I have told this story somewhat out of order. Obviously I spent my evenings sleeping, and I should like to tell you how. I realize that this sounds overwhelmingly creepy, but bear with me…the story gets better. I stayed in series of hotels; the first being a relatively nice, extremely over priced TravelLodge, which due to its location on a side street, was almost impossible to find (it took 2 hours, even Taxi drivers with GPSs didn’t know where it was).

In my attempt to find the TravelLodge I wound up at a very posh hotel where I met a lovely man named Michael, who not only knew the directions, but also knew everything about everything else. He quizzed me on the Dominion of Canada (formed in July 1, 1867) and then sent me, smiling, on my way.

Because I had only booked accommodation for the one night; (a very effective method I find is to book your first night to avoid stress and then wander around finding either a hostel or hotel offering cheaper rates once you arrive, not for everyone but a good strategy for me) I now found I was in need of a new place to stay.

After a few fruitless attempts to find a cheap hostel I was starting to think I would have to pay another 52 pounds to stay in the TravelLodge (a rip off by anyone’s standards, even if they are in the heart of the city) when a man startled me out of my thoughts with a jolly cry of “Free fudge!”

I was charmed by his enthusiasm and allowed myself to be ushered into the warm, sweet smelling shop wherein the free confectionary delights were promised to await. Robin, The Fudge Man, was only too happy to give me several samples of free fudge and met me with a fun, flirtatious attitude and a very fine waistcoat. He also happened to have directions to a very fine hostel.

I purchased some fudge in gratitude and made my way over to Brodies Hostel.
Brodies was owned by Pete, the blue haired Scott. Pete was perhaps one of the kindest men I have ever had the pleasure to meet and offered me a room for 30 pounds, plus parking.

I was very pleased by this offer but I still felt indebted to Michael, the manager of the posh hotel, for his helpfulness. I knew it would be unlikely that I could afford to stay in such a place, but a strange loyalty in me to the kindness of strangers drove me to implore him.

As it turned out, the very posh hotel was actually cheaper than Pete’s place, essentially because it included free parking.

Upon my return to Michael’s however I was met, not by Michael, but by Michael’s wife. All of the loveliness of her husband was replaced in her by all the attitudes and mannerisms of a waffley c*nt.

It was so evident, in everything that she did, that this woman just hated every aspect of being alive. Everything she did was a giant pain in the ass, and this was her attitude towards life the entire time I stayed with her and Michael.

This was offset by the loveliness of the location and the room and the ease with which the city could be accessed from such a location.

All in all Scotland is an amazing place filled with art, architecture, food, tartan, amazing people and the potential for incredible experiences. England is amazing, but if any Toronto student gets the chance to visit the country where my roots lie, I highly endorse it.

One month left…

Today I realized that I only have 31 more days left in Glasgow. This gave me really mixed feelings. On the one hand, I feel like I have so much left I still want to do. 31 days doesn’t seem like enough time to see all the museums, visit all the places I still want to go. It takes me a while to get into the groove of a new place, and I am finally starting to find my place here. Plus, with all the traveling I’ve been doing, I feel like I haven’t had the chance to experience the city of Glasgow as much as I wanted to. I’ve spent so much time traveling around Scotland and Europe, I kind of forgot about the city I live in. As I only have one more trip planned (a field trip to visit the European Parliament in Brussels with one of my classes), I’m making it my goal to get out there and explore Glasgow beyond the University and City Center in these last few weeks.

On the other hand, 31 days seems like forever. While I have really enjoyed my time abroad, I have moments when I really miss my friends, family and especially my boyfriend. Being in a relationship while on exchange is hard. My boyfriend is also on exchange in Asia. Him literally on the other side of the world from me means we have not seen each other (other than via the computer screen) since August 22. I am so glad I chose to have this experience alone rather than us go on exchange together. I would advise anyone in a relationship to do separate exchanges rather than going it together. I think being on my own has pushed me out of my comfort zone and forced me to try new things and be more outgoing. That being said, I will be one very happy girl when we’re finally together again on December 22. :)

I’ve been keeping myself really busy with school and traveling to somewhere in Europe every weekend.  This weekend will be the first that I’ve spent in Glasgow since the beginning of October and it feels a bit strange. Without the rush to get papers done so I can get on the plane in time I don’t know what to do with myself. That, coupled with the fact that it’s been almost 3 months since I left Canada for Scotland, means that homesickness is starting to set in. (It doesn’t help that Glasgow’s downtown has been covered in Christmas lights. Christmastime always makes me feel like I should be with my family…) I suppose that is one of the benefits (though it doesn’t feel like a benefit sometimes) of being on exchange. Since coming to Glasgow I’ve realized just how much I value my friends and family back home.

But don’t worry readers, the news isn’t all bad from here across the pond! I’ve had some really lovely time these past few weeks as well. There are definitely worse places to be spending the weeks leading up to December 25th! I didn’t know this before I arrived, but Europe is the home to a ton of Christmas markets. One can’t help but feel the Christmas cheer walking around brightly lit stalls with mulled wine and Churros (weirdly, Churros are the Christmas pastry of choice at the Paris Christmas market I was at last weekend).

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While in Paris last weekend I also got the chance to go up the Eiffel tower! It was so cold, but so worth it!

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Adjusting to Being Abroad

As is the case with starting a new school in any area, it takes a while to get adjusted.

I was a little skeptical coming to Denmark for school, as not only is it a new school in a different part of the world, but with it comes a new culture, a new set of rules, and a new language.

I realized I was lucky when I found out that literally everybody in Denmark can speak English. Apparently it’s been part of the grade school curriculum for decades, so even the older population is fluent. That in itself made life so much easier.

The university curriculum itself is a lot different from what I’m used to at U of T. Instead of being grades and testing based, classes at Aarhus are very discussion and essay based. Both curriculums offer different things, but I must admit school here seems a lot less intense than what I’m used to at U of T!

Aarhus does a great job of integrating new students into the social aspect of the school community. Campus parties, club nights and pub nights are held by the school societies very often, and it’s a great way to meet a lot of people from all over the world. It’s funny to note that in making friends, most of the internationals have stuck together, while the Danish students seem pretty settled within their own groups. Most of the friends I’ve made here have come from other parts of the world, like me, and it’s been a really cool chance to learn about a lot of different cultures. There are people from Ireland, England, Australia, Germany, Spain, as well as a few other people from Toronto.

The currency here, the Danish kroner, may be one of the hardest parts to adjust to… One kroner is comparable to about 5 Canadian dollars – so 20 dollars Canadian is about 100 kroner. It’s easy to feel like you have a lot more money than you actually do (something I’ve had to deal with more often than I’d like to admit!)

The fact that everyone speaks English has definitely made transitioning here a lot easier. For everyone living in Denmark for more than 3 months, you are able to enroll in a Danish language course for free for up to 3 years. I was going to do this, but once I realized everyone speaks English (and when would I ever really use Danish again?), I decided to not take advantage of that – I’ll focus on my schoolwork instead!

So basically, getting adjusted to life in Denmark hasn’t been too hard. I think the only trouble I’ve really had adjusting has been with the weather… The culture is great, but this rain?! Not so much!

 

Take care and safe travels,

Patrick

Sojourns to Spain

Reading break travelling is a widespread phenomenon at Sciences Po. Though I usually spend that week catching up on readings back in Toronto, it is almost a pathological need in Paris to visit the half dozen countries on my travel list. Spain seems as good a destination as any. A word of advice, the few days you leave before or after the trip for ‘studying’? They won’t be very productive days.

An hour and a half flight gets you from Paris to Barcelona.

La Rambla - Barcelona

La Rambla – Barcelona

Stepping off the plane, I was hit with the most pleasant humid warmth. Even at midnight, Barcelona was about 22 degrees Celsius. It was a much welcomed change from Paris’ perpetual rain and chill. Contrary to what I had first believed, Paris is not a very sunny city. Rain is a very familiar companion now that the weather has cooled.

Stumbled upon a Saint’s festival celebration at Placa de Sant Jaume – Barcelona

 

The three cities I visited: Barcelona, Seville and Madrid were exceedingly lovely. The food was amazing. I have never had that much delicious food for such a relatively (relative to Paris at least) inexpensive price. I went to a sangria and paella-making class that gave us unlimited sangria and fresh made-on-the-spot paella taught by a chef all for 20 euros. I would recommend this to anyone who visits Barcelona. The street performances, in Madrid especially, can be somewhat bewildering. I have seen men with faux baby bodies making cat noises, but I have also heard truly talented operatic singers performing along Calle Mayor. The architecture, without a doubt, is beautiful. From La Sagrada Familia to Plaza de Espana, Spain is a feast for the eyes and the camera lens.

The awe-inspiring Plaza de Espana - Seville

The awe-inspiring Plaza de Espana – Seville

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Seville is beautiful, but a large portion of the population simply did not speak English or French…- Alcazar, Seville

If I could redo this trip, I would try to learn more Spanish (a language with which I had no previous knowledge). French won’t get you very far in Spain, even if Catalan seems to be a mix of French and Spanish to me. Success with English also varies depending on your location. I had thought to learn the few greetings and gratitudes in Spanish, but it is never ideal not to be able to communicate with the locals properly. I was unprepared when I found myself lost at the Seville train station at night, not seeing the promised shuttle to the hostel and unable to ask for directions from the train station help desk. After half an hour of hand gestures and a few completely made-up words that sounded vaguely Spanish, I decided to bite the cost of roaming charges and called for help with my phone.

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Walking down Gran Via – Madrid

Madrid also saw my biggest tactical error: not checking the weather of the city beforehand. I had assumed that Madrid, due to its southern location, would be considerably warmer than Paris (think Barcelona). And consequently, packed only short-sleeves with a very light jacket. Big mistake! I spent my stay in Madrid doing some desperate shopping for warm clothes.

Despite the few downs, I loved my time in Spain. It was definitely well worth the sleepless nights spent studying for midterms the week after. I am of the belief that people should shape their exchange experience in any way they desire, but please keep in mind the opportunity to travel. An hour flight from Paris will take you to at least 6 different countries. The same cannot be said for Toronto. Wherever you go for your exchange, maximize your experience. Don’t hesitate to fly out and travel.

Impressions of Germany

Berlin is one of the (admittedly few) European cities that, for me, has “long-term potential.” By that I mean I find it to be one of the more liveable cities on the continent, in the sense that it’s not too crowded, things work properly, and you can make a decent living. I’m not saying it’s perfect; every place has its struggles and hardships. But Berlin, for the most part, fares very well.

On my walk to school.

On the walk to school between Kreuzberg and Mitte.

What makes this city really great to explore is its variety of districts, all exhibiting Berlin’s characteristic creative and counter-cultural vibes yet each with a distinct personality. I live in Schöneberg, which is directly on the border of one of the most popular boroughs called Kreuzberg (Kreuzberg in a few words: good nightlife, graffiti, Turkish influence). The Hertie School of Governance is in Mitte, the most central and probably the most posh area of town. Then there’s Prenzlauer Berg, which is a bit more residential and affluent than other parts of town and where you can find numerous restaurants and some great bars. There is also Friedrichschain, sometimes called “the new Kreuzberg,” as it has recently begun to gentrify. Friedrichschain is gritty yet fashionable and is home to tons of great cafes, bars, clubs, and restaurants. As Berlin is a pretty big city — population roughly 3.5 million — there is no shortage of things to see or do and you can’t really go wrong in any of these neighborhoods or the many others that I have not even mentioned. Because public transit is so vast and reliable (I’m really dreading going back to Toronto’s TTC…), you’re relatively well-connected to all the neighborhoods no matter where you are.

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The Berlin underground (U-bahn). Alexanderplatz is one of the many transfer points.

In Prenzlauer Berg, there is a particular bar called Weinerei which — get this — operates on a “pay what you think you owe” basis. An initial 2 euro deposit gets you your wine glass. Then you serve yourself from the various bottles of red and white wine on the bar. At the end of the night you, quite literally, put whatever amount of money you feel you owe in a big clear bowl on the table.The only downfall: the place closes at midnight. It’s not really fair to complain, though, as I doubt this would continue being a successful business model were it open into the late hours of the night. Weinerei and its hipster charm make it a popular place, amongst Hertie School students as well. Check it out, if only for the experience of such a unique establishment, if you ever find yourself in Berlin.

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Grocery shopping. Anxiety increases exponentially the closer it gets to your turn.

Also for future visitors, an unrelated but important word of warning: grocery shopping here represents German efficiency at its finest. After two and a half months, I have yet to master it! “Speed” and “agility” are adjectives I had no idea I’d one day use to describe such a routine, even mundane, task. It doesn’t matter which grocery chain you’re shopping in, the check-out clerks swipe the items at the speed of light… which is great, right? You don’t have to wait forever. But then your purchases begin piling up FAST in the teeny, tiny area beyond the swiping spot (I’m used to having a bit more space). What inevitably happens to me is that I simultaneously attempt to dig cash out of my wallet with one hand and hurriedly and sloppily stuff whatever I bought into my bags as quickly as possible with the other hand, to make room for the next customer, trying not to drop or break anything in the process, with this whole circus occurring under the watchful eye and strained patience of not just the clerk but also the next customers. Apparently in some stores they monitor their check-out clerks’ scanning speed per minute! Grocery shopping is not only a balancing act but a test of your ability to stay cool under pressure. Although I won’t miss the anxiety that comes with this when I’m back in Toronto, I will really miss fantastically short wait-times.

There is one thing at home that I do prefer (this might be the only thing…): no-smoking laws are enforced across the board. From what I understand, smoking indoors is technically illegal in Germany also, according to EU legislation, but here it’s more of a compliance issue on the part of certain bars or locales.

It seems like in German there is a word for everything because you can put words together so easily. My favorite example is “durchmachen” (durch = through, machen = to do). This compound word translates, I believe, to something like “to go through” or “to endure.” It depends on the context, but it is used in a variety of ways: to endure a divorce, to go through a difficult phase, to stay up all night into the next day, etc. Such a handy word.

My last observation is a cultural one. I’ve noticed that Germans are quite direct and to the point. Often they will give you a short and simple “yes” or “no” in response to a question. “Did you like that movie?”… “No.” It makes me laugh, but to be honest it’s refreshing to hear people say what they mean or to choose a side. It does not make them impolite; I have not encountered any rude Germans (although, as in any country, I’m sure at least a few of them exist somewhere out there). It’s just that they are efficient… so it’s no wonder that expression is more direct!

That’s all for now… thanks for reading. See you next time :)
Mari

Tea, Tourism, and Theatre

Hi everyone!

I’m happy to announce that it’s officially Christmas time in London town.

Fortnum & Mason

Fortnum & Mason

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Even Oxford Street is all lit up! The cold just seems much more bearable when there are lights up (and boy, did it get cold fast).

While London was busy getting dressed up, my family visited me during my reading week here. It was great having a break from res life and not having to cook and clean. I even had proper afternoon tea for the first time since coming to the UK!

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It was a lot of fun! I would definitely go again if it wasn’t so expensive… guess I’ll just have tea and biscuits at home.

It’s funny that all the foods and activities that North Americans would classify as “British” actually cost quite a bit here! For instance, it’s hard to find fish and chips in London for under 8 pounds (roughly 15 dollars), which is ridiculous. It’s not cheap being a tourist.

Annoyances aside, I’ve been taking advantage of all the plays on in London, as they have amazing student prices for tickets. Last night I saw Much Ado About Nothing, with Vanessa Redgrave and James Earl Jones.

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And tonight, I’m seeing Richard II with David Tennant – which I’m now late for.

Talk soon!

-Shakespeare enthusiast, aka Veronika

 

Everyone Wants to Study in Berlin

A different way home from class one day. Left: German Cathedral. Middle: Concert House. Right: French Cathedral

A different way home from class one day. Left: German Cathedral. Middle: Concert House. Right: French Cathedral

So yesterday I went to get my study visa. What a long day is all I can say. For students studying in Germany, within 3 months of their arrival, they must go the Ausländer-Behörde (foreigner’s office) and apply for a study visa. To book an appointment online would be useless, as the waiting times are backed up until January at this point. I urgently needed to get one because I booked a flight home for the Christmas break and hence a visa is required. The last thing I need is to have problems at customs in the airport!

I had to bring along a biometric photo, show many documents such as proof of enrolment in university, my health insurance, proof of financial stability and other such hassles that governments need from you. Since I didn’t have a booked appointment, I needed to go early to get a waiting number… and I mean EARLY. My alarm was set for 3:45am and I arrived there at 5:30am (it opens at 7:00am). I heard from people that you need to get there early, and this is NOT an understatement. I personally think that everyone wants to study or do research in Berlin, as it is THE place to be as a student in Germany. Even with the pitch darkness of the night and the cold weather lingering, there were already about 80 people in front of me when I arrived- the lines are like this every single morning. I was afraid I wouldn’t get in, but I was lucky. Only after waiting another 6 hours did I finally see someone and with a 50 Euro payment later, I received my student visa which lasts until September 2014 (it states that I can even be employed and work up to 120 days if I wanted to). So that was a bit of information for any of you thinking of studying in Germany in the future :) The task seems daunting, but it really isn’t so bad. Bring study materials or videos and music and you’ll be good.

A tasty, oven-fresh snack I grabbed from a local bakery

A tasty, oven-fresh snack I grabbed from a local bakery

There are a few peculiar things I find about German universities and I would like to share some of them. After almost every lecture or seminar, all the students knock the desks with their knuckles. Back home, sometimes the professor would get a little round of applause at the end. But here, I guess it is a part of the culture and customs to tap the tables lightly in appreciation for the work that was given. Another aspect that is unusual is how the libraries work. Everyone must lock everything in lockers before entering the stacks or study areas. No bags or coats or anything is allowed. They provide you with clear plastic bags where you must put all your notes, books, pencils, paper, pens, laptop, chargers, and so on. There is security at the front who scrutinizes everyone as they enter the library, turning back those who don’t comply with the regulations. Talk about strict guidelines.

The German Cathedral (foreground). The French Cathedral (background)

The German Cathedral (foreground). The French Cathedral (background)

Germans also take their recycling seriously! To them the environment is a very important issue. All the households/apartments and most public areas have a sorting system for every type of waste. Some of it is like ours back home. There are the bins for just paper products. There is composting. Then there are of course the recycling bins for glass. However they are sorted even further between different colours: clear, brown and green. There are also bins just for cans. On top of it all, there is a separate bin for Verpackung, which means packaging. So anything that was used as packaging is put into here. And then whatever is left would be considered “normal” garbage. I guess this reaffirms the efficiency of the Germans :) Just another fun fact about living in Germany.

Thanks for reading and see you again in two weeks. I will talk about my courses next time.

Typical public garbage bins. Household bins are even more specifically organized

Typical public garbage bins. Household bins are even more specifically organized