Breaking News: Swedish Professor Bakes for Students!

Greetings once more from Sweden!

Since I last posted, I have wrapped up my Marine Ecology course and am now a week into Fisheries Ecology. I must say, the end of Marine Ecology was unlike anything I’ve experienced in University ever before. On the final day of class, we finished the remainder of the individual presentations and then proceeded to watch a slide show created by one of our classmates. Over the duration of the course, this particular classmate had continuously collected photos from all our excursions and laboratory exercises. The resulting slide show provided many good laughs, and to top things off, our professor brought in cinnamon buns that he baked earlier that morning. WHAT?! I had professor Kenneth Yip last year for BIO230 and was amazed when he brought in Timbits for one of his evening lectures that had to run for three hours instead of two….But a professor baking his own treats, well, that is just a game changer.

As for Fisheries Ecology, well, I must say it is starting off a bit slow. I’m scheduled to be in class from 9:15am to 5pm every weekday, but each day this past week we finished up early. Now, you might think that 9:15 is somewhat of an odd time to begin class, and I would agree. However, I asked one of my Swedish friends and apparently the story behind this start time is that in the past, students would use the ringing of the cathedral bells (at 9am) as a signal to leave for class. Since Lund was so small (still is), everyone would arrive by 9:15, so that is when class would start. Anyway, forgive my digression. From 9:15 to noon we are given a lecture that introduces us not only to fishery concepts, but also to common equations used by fishery managers. The latter half of the day is then spent completing an exercise pertaining to the equations we were introduced to earlier. The mornings are what I am finding a bit slow, but I think that is commonly the nature of trying to teach mathematical equations. For me, I find math always makes more sense when I just get stuck into a problem. Then I can work out exactly what each variable means, and why I want to perform the corresponding operations.

Having said all that, this upcoming week is looking quite promising. On Monday, half the class will be boarding a small trawler to collect samples from areas of Øresund, while the remaining half will board a small boat to collect samples using survey gill nets. Then, on Tuesday, we will be going to some small streams to practice electrofishing, while recording length and weight data of the specimens caught. The remainder of the week will be used for data analysis in the lab.

In non-school related business, I managed to visit Kulturen i Lund, an open air museum located in the center of town. A friend led me to a new apple picking tree, also in the center of town, albeit slightly hidden. Oh! I also managed to venture to Malmö to see The Feeling of Going at the Malmö Opera theatre. The performance was amazing. A fantastic combination of music, singing, dancing, costumes, and a stellar set design.

Outside the Malmö Opera. Photo Credit: Malmö Opera.

Outside the Malmö Opera. Photo Credit: Malmö Opera.

Finally, the last topic I would like to mention is that I am doing my very best over here to salvage Toronto’s image as a cool, multicultural, and exciting city to visit in spite of Rob Ford. Seriously, it’s crazy the amount of times people brought up the topic of Ford in my presence over the past week. Toronto has so much to offer…and yet I think we are quickly becoming known as ‘that city with the crack smoking mayor’. *sigh*

Until next time!

Abby

Life is Weird

Life is really weird.

This may seem like a statement of the obvious. But take a moment to really consider it. I don’t mean to start this off hard and heavy but really, regardless of what you believe about the afterlife, etc. our time here is very short. It is short and unimportant.

I know that once I am gone it will only take 3 generations or so to be completely forgotten. Even if I do something completely spectacular, like conquer a nation, I will be forgotten. That nation will be re-conquered and reformed and ultimately, my contribution will be rendered pointless.

Again, I don’t mean to be too heavy here. Because looking at the world like this gives me an enormous sense of perspective. To know that I really don’t matter and nothing I do matters, really takes the pressure off.

When I look at the world like that all I am left with is a profound sense that I should collaborate as much as possible, love everyone and try not to cock up too often (as the English would say).

The feeling that I do not matter motivated me to do things, not to try to matter per say, but to try to make the most of this strange, weird, pointless, wonderful, incredible miracle that is human consciousness.

I think this is why I get so much joy from feeling a wave crashing over me on the Brighton Pier. I will be soaked and cold and salty for the rest of the day, but this will only serve to remind me of the incredible power of the ocean and the sheer statistical improbability that not only have we navigated the escapeless vastness of such fierce waters, but also all the things that live there. And my inescapable connection to all of those things.

The smallest plankton is just as important as I am, in that we are both utterly pointless, and ultimately, part of a larger ecosystem system. The older I get, the more I am able to understand my place in the eco system. I think my place is as a catalyst.

I am excellent at doing things. What’s more, I am excellent at getting other people to do things. This is my only talent. And it can often fail with complete spectacularity.

Spectacularity may not be a word in the strictest sense. But it is here and now, for my purposes.

I don’t do things because I want to, although certainly this is part of my motivation. I do things, with others, because I want to share an experience. I want to make stories. I want to give some meaning to this ultimately pointless trek though the dark, even if only for the briefest of moments.

Because, so far as I am concerned, the only reason to be here, the only point in living, is the people.

It is the people we meet and learn form and share with that make this whole awful, terrible, wonderful, pointless life worth something.

My favorite author, John Green, once wrote the words, with the collaboration of many others, “My thoughts are stars I cannot fathom into constellations.”

And this is what the world is. We are all stars trying desperately to align ourselves with others enough to make some kind of sensible pattern. We are all of us galaxies, trying to fill the insurmountable gaps of space between us and inside of us.

I make no attempt at philosophy, nor do I consider myself either particularly wise or even a very good or very interesting person. And I know you, dear reader, are here to read of England, so I will digress for now and move on from my own existential crisis to tell you of all the attractions you must see.

If you end up studying abroad and it is possible to take a drama course, I HIGHLY recommend it. You may have to do some public speaking and that is uncomfortable yes, but many of the drama courses will also give you access to shows and events that you would not otherwise think to see or even know about.

If drama really isn’t for you though and you want a free and entertaining time I cannot stress enough seeing Covent Garden; the place is beautiful and full of street performers who put on some truly spectacular shows. Though I did find that English audiences are somewhat more reserved then I am used to. Finding myself as the only cheering, screaming, enthusiastic audience member was a bit of a strange, though entertaining, experience.

The hills of Worcestershire are more than worth a visit if you can get there. Teeming with sheep in a wind swept, classically Dickens landscape; this is the real English countryside.
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I head to Edinburgh soon and I cannot wait to share what happens there. Until then, tata dear reader.

And remember to smile.

 

Adventures outside of Scotland!

These past few weeks I’ve started venturing further away from Glasgow and exploring the rest of Europe. Through much trial (and some error), I’ve learned a few things about traveling like a student so I thought I’d share some tips from my travels:

Pace yourself
You cannot do everything you want to in Paris/Amsterdam/London in two days. You cannot in five days. These cities are just TOO big and amazing and have too much history. So accept you will not be able to do everything and don’t try. If you only have a weekend pick one or two awesome things, and then spend the rest of your time just walking around and enjoying your time.

P1130020[The Eiffel tower, a MUST see for your first time in Paris… I literally cried when I first saw it.]

Travel companions, choose wisely!
People have very different travel styles. Some are up at the crack of dawn ready to hit the pavement while others aren’t up till noon. Figure out what’s important to you in a travel partner and ask the tough questions now and not standing in line to board your flight.

P1130077My cousin, aka, the BEST travel companion ever!

Always have a paper map

Phones die, ipads are too big and are like wearing a giant “tourist, ROB ME” sign. Paper maps can be popped in a pocket, drawn all over, and are easier when you want to get a general sense of an area.

Pack light
Heels take up too much room in your suitcase and you won’t wear them, trust me. Similarly, don’t bother with the workout gear… Yeah, it would be lovely to go for a jog in Hyde park, but between figuring out the tube, seeing the Tate gallery, catching up with friends, do you really think it will occur to you to work out?

Accept that even on a strict budget, travel will be more expensive then you think and get over it.
Even the best laid plans sometimes go awry. You’ll get lost and miss your train, the museum won’t take your Scottish student card, the cheapest meal around will end up being the cost of your labour textbook. I’m not suggesting you blow the bank. Quite the opposite, it’s important to make a budget and take the frugal route whenever you can. However, there will always be things you just cannot account for. There is no point feeling stressed about cash when you should be enjoying the Eiffel tower, so make sure you have a cushion for emergencies.
[In that vein, if you cannot afford to go somewhere, DON’T DO IT! “I got stranded in Amsterdam” very rarely goes over well when you’re collect calling your parents for plane fare.]

P1130168[Example of things not going as planned. My cousin and I were trying to leave Bruges but all the roads were blocked. Why? The king and queen were visiting (!!!!!!). So we missed our train, but saw Real European royalty! I think it was worth it…]

Budget airlines are budget for a reason
They are fabulous for the student on a budget, but never forget that you will be paying for every morsel of food served to you, as well as any excess baggage. With that in mind, have a big meal before getting on board and pack lightly (see number 4)

A cool pair of shoes will get scuffed and thrown away in 3 years, but you will never forget the first time you saw the Eiffel tower. Take advantage of your time abroad! Who knows when you’ll be back?

Misadventures in Spain

I was lucky enough to spend a few weeks in Spain over my fall break with a great friend of mine. It was here that I learned that having a solid “in-case-of-emergency” backup fund is really important.

Unlike my usual trips (in which I’ve gone without itinerary or anything booked, and hoped for the best), we booked all hotels, flights, and other expenses in advance.

We landed in Malaga, Spain and jumped on a bus to a place called Marbella, a beautiful beach town in which I was looking forward to unwinding and getting that ever-elusive tan I’d long lost with the early arrival of fall in Denmark.

The first few days in Spain were absolutely amazing. The place was breathtaking – beautiful sunny weather, sandy white beaches, and palm trees spanning the coast. We spent our days lounging around the beaches, and our nights at restaurants and bars with good food and fine wines. Life was good… maybe a little too good.

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Beautiful Spain!

About two days before the end of our trip, we flat out ran out of money.  A mishap with the hotel (costing us €70 on top of our bill), a cutting-it-too-close rush to the airport and thus having to pay an extra €60 for baggage check, and the realization that the hotel payment hadn’t yet been processed by credit card quickly turned our trip from a dream to a bit of a nightmare.

Scraping together any and all of the money we could find in our Savings, Chequings, and/or Credit accounts, we paid off the hotel bill – but just barely. Two days left in Spain with barely any cash, our trips to restaurants quickly turned to trips to the nearest convenience store for some trail mix to share… Two days of this may have put a damper on our vacation, but luckily having the sand and sun made it hard to really complain.

However, after bidding adieu to my friend at the airport (he was flying off Saturday, me Sunday), I headed for the €7 hostel I’d found online. Sure, it was a far cry from the nice hotels we’d been staying at, and bound to be the sketchiest sleep I’d ever have in my life, but as long as they had wifi I’d be down to just curl up in bed, relax, and not have to worry anymore about money.

I then realized that after the bus ride to the city centre I was now a few euros short for the hostel… Having already used up everything else I had, I had no choice but to try and ask someone on the street if they could maybe, possibly, help me out. Realizing no one spoke English very well (and not knowing a single word in Spanish myself), asking for help eventually turned into a desperate game of charades: pointing at the few euros I had, and showing my passport to prove I wasn’t just a homeless person. I finally (miraculously) managed to scrounge up the money for the hostel, and settled in for my last (and by far least luxurious) sleep in Spain.

So Spain was an experience to say the least. I got to experience some beautiful things, and for sure experienced some ugly things as well. I survived, I’m happy to say, and when I look back, I’ll be sure to remember the beauty. :)

Safe travels and take care,

Patrick

A Survival Guide to French Bureaucracy

The exchange experience is not only about getting to know a brand new culture, travelling, and generally having the best time of your life. It is also about dealing with the complexities of a different culture, the paperwork and the ways things are done in a different country. When I extended my health card back in Toronto for my stay in Paris, the lady at the counter remarked off-handedly that the French love their paperwork. It was almost a premonition to what was about to come.

As an exchange student, you will need to deal with the French bureaucracy in 3 major cases: student registration at Sciences Po, residence permit (for the Non-Europeans) and CAF (the French government’s housing subsidy). And that perception of a slow and cumbersome French bureaucracy? It is mostly true.

There isn’t really a way to escape the bureaucracy. But there are ways to make your life easier, and some things that I would have done differently were I to be given a second chance.

1. Be prepared and have contingency plans.

If you thought course registration at U of T was stressful, think again. All exchange students at Sciences Po register for courses at the same time. To give you the context, all third-year Sciences Po students either go on a full-year exchange or a full-year internship. That means there is a full year worth of exchange students coming to Sciences Po and choosing courses at the exact same moment. I managed to get 4 of my 5 desired courses, but there were many students who had empty schedules by the end of course registration. The key is to know that English courses fill up much more quickly than French ones, to try to enrol in the most interesting-sounding courses first, and to watch the course enrolment demo video very carefully in the days before.

2. Follow the instructions very very carefully. 

Staying on the topic of course registration, people who were not able to enrol in their preferred courses can send a request to the administration. The course request procedure is very particular, and the steps have to be followed to the letter for your request to be processed in a timely matter. When the Sciences Po admin say to only send them the form once and not to contact them otherwise, they mean it. I know students who emailed and phoned and generally tried to reach the administration every other hour. They were often the ones who had their problems resolved later than others. Of course, no one likes that feeling of panic and helplessness, but it is important to keep in mind that Sciences Po (and Paris at large) has a very particular way in which certain things are carried out, and it is highly unlikely for them to change their ways upon your request.

In many other cases, such as for your residence permit (carte de sejour) or CAF, you may not be able to go to the different offices and hand in your documents personally. Many things have to be done through mail, and it is generally the case that French government branches will not process your file if you did not send in all your documents following their exact requirements.

3. Do everything as soon as you can.

For the Canadians and other non-Europeans out there, please do not wait until a few days before your visa expires to apply for your carte de sejour. You will end up like one of my friends who is now stuck in France during reading break because her visa has expired. Getting your carte de sejour (residence permit) is quite tedious. I will not go into detail here, but should anyone have any questions, feel free to ask. If you qualify for the housing subsidy from the French government (aka CAF), keep in mind that they do not subsidize your rent retroactively. That means if you apply for CAF in November, you will not be subsidized for the months of September and October.

4. Keep copies of all your documents, no matter how insignificant and irrelevant they may seem.

This may seem like a no-brainer, but the number of documents you will encounter throughout all the administrative processes inevitably means something will be missed. I had forgotten to save a copy of my online CAF application form, which was apparently needed for the paper part of the application. To my dismay there was no way to access the form after I exited the CAF website. It took the better part of an hour and a 40 cent per minute phone call to the CAF office for a staff member to agree to mail me a paper version of the form.

5. Expect yourself to be unprepared. 

I had thought I would be prepared and made countless electronic and paper copies of all my important documents stashed in various compartments of my luggage. But during my carte de sejour application, I was told that the visa-sized photos I shelled out $19 for back in Canada did not conform to the standard glossiness for the permit (I did not even realize there were different levels of glossiness for photos). Luckily there was a photo-booth one floor up and I was able to have my photos taken for 5 euros (this says a lot for being over-prepared). But this did mean lining up again and re-submitting my documents for inspection.

6. Have patience, and a healthy dose of optimism. 

I realize that things may seem a bit grim and tedious, but the way I found most effective to combat bureaucratic stress was to believe that things will work out. Deal with these necessary bureaucratic nightmares, but don’t lose sight of all the fun and excitement of the exchange experience. I remember copious amounts of Nutella and a dinner out with friends after a cold and miserable 8 hours spent trying to submit my titre de sejour application in person. And sometimes, French bureaucracy will work just right and pleasantly surprise you with their efficiency

Italia, ti amo

Greetings from Berlin! Where the air is crisp and fresh, the leaves have turned colors and begun to fall, and the glühwein (mulled wine) season has arrived. A beautiful time of the year! …

… that also includes midterms.

The first-years studied particularly hard for their exams the past couple of weeks. Luckily for me, second-years are enrolled mostly in electives, which generally do not involve exams, instead requiring papers or presentations at various points throughout the semester. The midterm system at Hertie is a bit unique in that, for a week, there are no lectures — only exams. As a second-year (and, admittedly, a true exchange student), the no class-no exam combination could only mean one thing: travel. I took full advantage of the time off provided by this fall break and hopped over to Italy for a 10 day holiday. (I say “hopped,” because my conception of what constitutes a long distance is, and will always be, North American)!

Italy is one of my favorite places on the planet, which I have probably made abundantly, perhaps excessively, clear to my Italian friends at the Hertie School (and any Italian I have ever come into contact with, really). I just can’t help it. Its history, architecture, language, wine, fashion, culture… all of it bedazzles me. Italians have an eye for beauty and perhaps a flair for the dramatic. This is evident in all of those aspects and more.

Visiting the Duomo di Milano.

Visiting “Il Duomo di Milano,” a huge cathedral in the city center.

My trip began in Milan, where I visited an old roommate from my time living in Florence a couple years ago. I had not seen Milan before, but had heard from Italians that it was a place where people tend to “live to work” rather than “work to live.” I was there less than two days, so technically speaking I am in no position to judge, but I found that to be a bit of an exaggeration, particularly relative to some other cities or countries. My former roomie took us out for pizza and drinks at a lovely restaurant on one of the canals where the young people gather. He told me that the Navigli, the canal system in Milan, is actually artificial/man-made and was conceived and designed by Leonardo da Vinci. I sometimes wonder if there is anything da Vinci didn’t do.

An unbelievable view of the Duomo di Firenze (Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore) from the apartment.

An unbelievable view of the Duomo di Firenze (Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore) from my cousins’ apartment.

Next I spent a few days in my old stomping ground, Florence (Firenze, in Italian). I am fortunate to have two cousins teaching English there now with whom I could stay and visit! They have started growing into the little Florentine community, an inevitable conequence of living there, and are surrounded by locals that have kindly welcomed them into their beautiful city. Indeed, Florence is as exquisite as ever. A piazza (public square) or statue hides around every corner and the magnificent Duomo (cathedral) acts as the city’s compass.

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The magnificent ceiling of the San Luigi dei Francesi church in Rome, my favorite of the ones I visited. Most churches in Italy have free entrance, and it is worth your while to go and see them.

I rounded off my journey in Rome, visiting another group of friends, also English teachers. (A quick side note: if you are a native English speaker and want to live in Italy for a while, go teach — they are always looking for people like you). Rome was a real highlight of the trip! If I had to describe it in just a couple of words: organized chaos. I loved it. Between the Vatican, the Colosseum, the Pantheon, scattered ancient ruins across the city, and the many churches, neighborhoods and piazzas I walked through, I could feel my senses working overtime trying to take in all the sights and sounds; there was so much for my eyes and ears to comprehend! I have to give a shout-out to my friends that welcomed, toured, and hosted me so generously in this huge and unfamiliar city. You know who you are — grazie mille!

 

Revisiting Italy was not just a walk down memory lane with old friends and family. It was a cool opportunity to compare and contrast its lifestyle and culture with Germany’s. Doing so, I came to the (rather innocuous) conclusion that both places are wonderful in their own ways. Wine-drinkers or beer-drinkers, chaos or organization, designers or engineers… it just depends on what you’re in the mood for. These two countries will always have a special place in my heart, and I recommend them both to any student considering an exchange semester abroad in Europe. You will not regret it — I promise.

Aperitivo with friends in Rome

“Aperitivo” with friends in Rome at a cool bar called Open Balladin near the Jewish quarter.

Sicilian style dessert.

If you are lucky enough to have friends living in Rome or know any locals, this could also happen to you: Sicilian style dessert in a little gem of a cafe that you would never otherwise happen upon.

The Pantheon in Rome. A must-see.

The Pantheon. A must-see.

Until next time! Thanks for reading!

Cheers,

Mari