Farewell Berlin… Until We Meet Again

This last blog will be short and sweet.

The fall semester at the Hertie School is basically over. Most students have already returned home for the holidays. From speaking with the first-year students, I know a lot of them are particularly relieved to finally have some time off after their first (sometimes academically grueling) semester in this Master of Public Policy program.

It has been overwhelmingly sad saying farewell to people that I know I will not be seeing again for who knows how long, if ever. I tend to have trouble with goodbyes, but this time they’ve been especially difficult. But that is one of the telltale signs of a really fun experience, and I can honestly and happily say that I have no regrets, which I didn’t know was possible! I’ve certainly had the time of my life and have definitely fallen in love with the city of Berlin in the process. I can only imagine the infinite ways to enjoy this place when the weather is nicer and the days are longer, too.

The Hawaiian-themed Christmas party at the Hertie School. Going to miss these people!

The Hawaiian-themed Christmas party at the Hertie School. Going to miss these people!

A small group of exchange students spent one of our final nights together at a cool bar-restaurant called Ausfurtz in the Mitte neighborhood. Afterwards, we went down to the Spree River and popped open a bottle of prosecco to toast to the semester. It was a warmer night, the moon was full, the stars were out, and we had a beautiful view of the bright and glimmering Fernsehturm (TV tower), an iconic landmark of Berlin. It was perfect. Later that night, it got me reflecting on this whole experience. I just could not help wondering how exactly it happened that I got so lucky to be here. To have met my wonderful new friends and shared this experience with them, to have had the opportunity to get out of my comfort zone yet again, to even be blessed with the resources to do a bit of travel on top of it all, and, of course, to have learned so much! … Not only in school, or about Europe and the EU in general, and not even about Germany or Berlin in particular, but about myself. For that I am truly thankful. I will often think of that particularly pleasant, memorable and reflective final evening next semester in the many moments that I know I’ll be missing this place like crazy and craving to be back.

That’s it for this blog series for me, and Berlin 2013 is a wrap! It has been super fun writing about this experience, and I hope I’ve been able to portray Berlin and Germany accurately for anyone and everyone who has read it at any point.

As they say here… Frohe Weihnachten und ein glückliches Neues Jahr!

Cheers!!

Mari

Reflections from Home

Hi again (and for the last time this semester)!

I’m writing this from the Great White North, back home with Timmies in hand. It’s definitely good to be back for the holidays, even though this semester abroad has been incredible.

I’m happy to see my family and friends, to have a proper shower and heating, to have a break from cooking, and that I don’t have to walk everywhere.

That being said, I do miss my friends and flatmates in London and I’ll be happy to see them again come January. To each his/her own, but I’m glad that I chose to do a year abroad, rather than a semester. I still have so much more to explore in London and so many places to travel to.

Sadly, I still have four essays due beginning of January, which means I don’t get a proper break. I much prefer having my work due before the break, so those of you at U of T – you should feel lucky that you’re done (or will be soon)! I’ll be slaving away by the warm glow of my laptop.

I’m stuck between looking back on the good times I had this semester and looking forward to the times to come, which isn’t a bad place to be. If anyone reading this is considering doing an exchange in London, there are a few things I can tell you that might help your decision along.

1. London is a huge city. If you leave your room, it’s almost guaranteed that you won’t be bored. However, it can be intimidating at times. You should consider it if a fast paced life is what you’re looking for.

2. You’ll be surrounded by people constantly. People on the street, people in cafés, people everywhere!

3. It’s incredibly expensive, but it is possible to find good student deals. The UK is much more accommodating to students and student life.

4. You’ll pretty much always be busy.

5. As with anything, it’s what you make of it. If you make an effort to meet new people and explore, you should have an amazing time.

That’s all the advice I have for now. It really just depends what you’re looking for in an exchange. London was the right choice for me, but you should decide what you want to get out of studying abroad.

Well, I should get back to my essays. Words, words, words. (Some Shakespeare for you Lit students).

Happy Holidays everyone!

Talk to you next year…

– Veronika

Good-bye Glasgow… :'(

Only 2 and a half days left in Glasgow. On Friday I will be writing my final exam (Labour Law) then rushing off to the airport to hop on a plane to Amsterdam. I will spend Friday night in Amsterdam and then Saturday morning I fly out to Shanghai to see my boyfriend!! It’ll be exactly four months to the day since I last saw him when we meet up in Shanghai. I suppose the excitement of seeing him and the stress of exams (I’ve written three so far in the space of a week, eek!) has kept me from really processing that in two sleeps I will be leaving Glasgow, my home for the last four months. While I’m happy to be reunited with my friends and family from Toronto, there are a lot of things I will really miss about Scotland.

The Weather: I have a love hate relationship with Scottish weather. Take today for instance, it’s 12 degrees and only slightly damp. AMAZING for December! Especially when I see all the pictures of snow on my friends Facebook pages However, the sun will set at 3:45pm today, thus I basically live the life of a vampire. Scotland is so far North that we get about 7 hours of sunlight a day.  NOT FUN. I never understood how much I needed sunlight until I came here.

How active it is here: Honestly, I don’t think I’ve ever been in better shape. Being so close to parks and the highlands means there’s always something to do outdoors. (The temperate weather makes this easy to do even in December!) I hope I can keep this up in Canada, it will be hard without a massive park five minutes away and consistently 10 degree weather…

The Food: I know I’ve said this many times, but I’ve never felt healthier and eaten better. That sounds funny considering most people think pub food when they think the UK. That is so not true.  Its really easy to eat healthily here for cheap.The pub at the end of my street serves affordable vegan food and many of the instant grocery store meals are not only healthy but tasty. Plus, the Scottish know how to do carbs right. The Scones! The pastries! The cakes! I will miss the scones SO MUCH.

The amazing people I’ve met here: 4 months just isn’t enough time to properly integrate yourself into a city. Its only in the last month that I’ve started becoming close friends with people here. It’s sad to go, especially when you can see the potential for such awesome friendships starting to develop. Luckily we live in the internet age and I’ll be able to keep in touch.

Discount airlines: How amazing is it to pop over to Dublin for a weekend for only 30 quid return? (aka 50 Canadian dollars) Canadian’s airline market is ridiculous, its so cheap to fly all over Europe, I will really miss being so mobile.

The Uni: The University of Glasgow has been really good to me. The classes were challenging and useful, not to mention I got to take them in buildings rumoured to be used for the third Harry Potter movie. All the amenities, from the libraries to the cafeterias, have been excellent. Eating on campus is cheap and healthy, the gym is fantastic, the buildings look old on the outside but are new and comfortable on the inside. Its just a great university experience all around.

The City: Glasgow is awesome. And every day I’m here I realize how awesome it is. I could write a separate blog post on all the cafes, teashops, clubs, pubs, shops, restaurants, museums, beauty parlors and even laundromats I’ve found that I love. There are so many things here that I just won’t be able to replace back in Canada (the SCONES!).

European attitude: I find people in Europe to be more laid back. Law school in the UK is less about getting the high paying job and more about learning. This makes for a less stressed out and anxious class (though exam time is the exception, but I suppose that would be the case everywhere). Half the students here don’t even want to be lawyers. They go on to do such varied things with their degree, its really inspiring. I hope I can take this attitude back with me to Canada. I love how much calmer I’ve become. It’s made the learning process fun for the first time in ages rather than a giant task I must conquer.

So good-bye Scotland, I will miss so much about you. I wouldn’t have chosen anywhere else in the world to live for the last four months. I will definitely be back to visit!

P1120750

Bye-bye Europe

At this writing, I’m getting ready to pack up my things and say farewell to Europe. I can’t believe that after four months of being abroad, visiting new places and seeing new things, my time here is finally over… It felt like it was never going to end!

I’ve been spending my last few days in Amsterdam with one of the closest friends I’ve met on my journey, and it’s been interesting to see people get revved up for Christmas in another place… I’ve been hearing a lot of the same Christmas carols, seeing a lot of different traditions I’ve never seen, but overall the feeling of Christmas is much the same as it is in Canada. Family, friends, and food!

Although I’ll be so sad to leave Europe (I think it’s called “reverse culture shock”… I might have to get readjusted back into Canadian society!), I must admit I’m getting antsy to be back home with friends and family and enjoy a (hopefully) white Christmas. All I know is that I’ll have a LOT of memories to take back with me.

In the end, the past semester has been an incredible experience – Europe has been everything everyone said it would be, and then some! Four months, countless countries, great food, and amazing people – I’ve been so lucky to have had such a great opportunity spending a semester abroad. By not only visiting a different culture but also living and studying there, I feel like you really get a feel for a place in way that you couldn’t by just vacationing.

In the end, I bid adieu to Europe, for now at least, and look forward to my return to Canada.

Until we meet again!

Patrick

 

One door closes…

Leaving England was an absolutely gutting experience. I was not ready to leave and what made it harder was the overwhelming kindness shown to me by everyone I had met. My whole residence building put together a book filled with photos of us and lovely messages, all hand written.

My time here went so quickly and even though I am now happy to be home I know a part of my heart remains over the pond. Seeing my friends and family has been amazing as the long time away from them has made me appreciate my loved ones and all they mean to me on a whole new scale.

I feel it is mandatory here that I complain about the Pearson Airport. After the lovely service of Heathrow, Pearson feels especially manky.

I was planning on saying much more here today but words really cant wrap around it; this is the kind of experience that should be had by everybody as it will be unique to everybody.

Good by everyone in England! I will miss you all so much but fear not, I know I shall return.

Happy Travels!

Christmas in Berlin

A set-up amusement park within this Weihnachtsmarkt

A set-up amusement park within this Weihnachtsmarkt

The Christmas season has fully hit Germany now and the festivities are in full swing! For a few weeks during the holiday season all German towns and cities have their own Weihnachtsmarkt (Christmas market). Small villages may have just one, while a massive city such as Berlin has numerous. They are really done over the top which creates an amazing experience, especially for a visitor like me. The weather is also abnormally mild at the moment, which of course adds to a more pleasurable time.

Weihnachtsmarkt at Alexanderplatz

Weihnachtsmarkt at Alexanderplatz

The layout is quaint. Little wooden huts are erected in rows and they sell everything from arts and crafts, to delicious meals, to Christmas desserts. Specialties include roasted sugarcoated nuts, stuffed crepes and gingerbread. Stages are built to host concerts in public spaces. In Berlin, there are amusement park rides, picture opportunities with Santa, games to be played and there was even an artificial skating rink constructed. The most famous drink during these festivities is Glühwein. It is a hot wine punch which is spiced and served very hot. Almost everyone has a glass in their hand.

Me drinking Glühwein

Me drinking my Glühwein

Dozens of fires set up for people to sit around and warm up

Dozens of fires are set up for people to sit around and warm up

All the trees on the mains streets have Christmas lights on them. Most stores are decorated with lights and even trees as well. I must bring up a peculiar observation I made back near the end of September. I went to Ikea and the entire store was already decked out and set to go for the Christmas season! They sold everything you would expect to find a week before Christmas. Maybe they get a bit too excited for the holidays here? Personally, September for Christmas is a bit too early for me.

IMG_3657

IMG_3534

With this whole Christmas/holiday season and all the buying of gifts, I would like to mention something what I noticed about Germans and how they make their purchases.  The society, I would argue, is heavily based upon solid cash transactions. No one really uses credit cards to buy their goods. They like to have their wallets and purses stuffed with money. One lady I observed wanted an appliance or something big and simply pulled out a couple of 100 and 50 Euro bills and bought it. I remember once going to a restaurant (not a bar/pub kind of place) to have a few drinks with some classmates and I had no cash on me. I wanted to simply use my Visa card to pay, but there was a 30 Euro minimum purchase that was needed in order to use a credit card. Back in Toronto, I would sometimes buy fast food with credit without any problems at all. I guess it is a good thing over here as it discourages spending money that you don’t have.

A curling game on ice

A curling game on ice

Well, this is the last blog that I will be writing for the semester. I know that the semester back at U of T is coming to an end with the approaching winter holiday break. As I explained in an earlier post, the German university system starts and ends later. The first semester for me ends in February. I will be writing for the Centre for International Experience again during the next session as I am here for the whole academic year. I would like to thank everyone who followed me thus far at the Humboldt University in Berlin and all my experiences here. I am certain there will be many more great moments which I will share with you all in the future- my adventure here is just beginning. I wish you all a very Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays and a Happy New Year! Take care and until next time,

Robby

Colourful Christmas lights are a common theme

Colourful Christmas lights are a common theme

It’s only just begun…

I have finished my first semester at Sciences Po today. How time flies!

I remember my first day in Paris in all its minute details, but the four months of my exchange seems to have fast-forwarded without my noticing. A year-long exchange is really only 9 months, and the time passes deceptively quickly. I am aghast to realize that many things were left undone (such as attending an opera performance at the Palais Garnier) because I believed I had plenty of time. Regardless of lingering regrets for time misspent, my first semester abroad in Paris was a joyous experience that I foresee will only improve.

Les Mis

Queen’s Theatre

The past weekend, I had the opportunity to visit London and fulfil one of my long-time dreams – watching the West End Les Misérables production. To all theatre-loving students out there, TKTS is the official discount ticket store for all your West End musical, dance and plays. For anyone watching Les Mis, I would recommend avoiding the holiday seasons and Fridays and Saturdays if you want to be able to buy discount tickets. I had splurged on a stalls ticket about eight rows from the stage, and had an altogether amazing three hours there. Since I had made a resolution to actually read the original French version of Les Mis, the West End production was a wonderful motivator. It is not the most holiday-spirited musical out there, but if the chance presents itself, I would highly recommend it (those in Toronto, there is a wonderful production at the Princess of Wales Theatre until February!)

Como

Water of Lake Como – photo taken from Varenna

My London visit was followed by a visit to Milan, and Lake Como. Mostly visited by people during the summer, the little villages on the shores of Lake Como are mostly deserted in December. This may be off putting for some (and it does get quite eerie at times) but it is the perfect time to take photos. There is barely anyone around, and the view is just as breath-taking. From the hectic city-life in Paris and London, Lake Como is a highly recommended place to slow down and unwind. A word of advice, it was warm when I visited the lake, but the sun starts setting around 4pm, and it gets a little nippy afterwards. Plan to arrive early, and leave early.

Lago di Como

Lago di Como

This will be my last post in 2013. Good luck to everyone who still have exams, have a great holiday season and a happy new year!

Grace

Class Debate, Celebrating Lucia and Arranging for Italy

Hej hej!

So, after handing in my stock assessment assignment this past Monday, it was nice to get back into the routine of regular class hours. Tuesday’s lecture was devoted to an overview of the stock assessment. Our professor prepared a PowerPoint filled with all the graphs we should have been able to create and add to the report, as well as what conclusions we should have drawn from their interpretation. Sadly, about half way through the presentation, I realized my graphs began to deviate from what was being shown. I was slightly alarmed…until I looked around the class and recognized that same alarm chiseled into the expressions of all my fellow classmates.

However, the climax of the week came on Friday. Weeks ago, our professor had sent out an email explaining that we would be having a round table debate about issues presented in the European Union’s Common Fisheries Policy. At the bottom of his email he listed seven stakeholder groups; industry, large scale fisheries, small scale fisheries, green peace, aquaculture, and scientists. Beside each stakeholder group was a list of three to four student names, indicating which group everyone belonged to. Thus, everyone’s argument depended on which stakeholder group they were representing. I was grateful to see my name listed beside the scientist stakeholder group…since I pretty much have opinions regarding all aspects of the fishing industry, AND scientific evidence is always my weapon of choice. Overall, the debate was surprisingly good. All groups had valid points to argue, and everyone was given appropriate opportunities to speak.

Once again, this represents one of the many practical reasons of why I decided to come to Sweden to study for a year. I think it is advantageous for me to grow my debate skills while completing my undergrad, instead of sometime later in my academic career. I think doing science is only half of the battle. Being able to persuade others because of what your science shows is equally important.

A photo of a traditional Lucia event. Photo credit goes to Wiki.

A photo of a traditional Lucia event. Photo credit goes to Wiki.

Moving away from the academic world, I filled several of my evenings this past week attending Lucia events. Lucia, from what I gather, is a strong tradition amongst all Swedes. I first experienced it in Lund’s central cathedral downtown, a grand old building dating back to 1085. Lucia was performed by a large choir comprised of a mixture of young children to young adults likely no older than 16. The girls were all dressed in white gowns with red ribbons wrapped around their waists, while the boys wore black slacks with white shirts. All the choir singers held candles as they sang for us at the front of the church. Many of the songs were in Swedish, but were beautiful and enjoyable nonetheless. The event in its entirety is about darkness and light, cold and warmth, which I suppose makes sense since the Swedish winters can be long, dark, and cold, making it important to celebrate light and warmth.

Outside Lund Cathedral. Photo credit goes to Andreas Georg.

Outside Lund Cathedral. Photo credit goes to Andreas Georg.

 

Inside Lund Cathedral. Photo credit goes to Wade Aiken.

Inside Lund Cathedral. Photo credit goes to Wade Aiken.

 

Inside Lund Cathedral. Photo credit goes to The Dynamo.

Inside Lund Cathedral. Photo credit goes to The Dynamo.

Sadly, with the holidays coming, it means I am having to say my goodbyes to some of the other international students who I have met here in Lund who will not be returning for the upcoming semester. This past Saturday night was a farewell party to my good German friend Stefan. The party was great, and although it was sad to say my farewell, it was amazing to say “see you in Berlin”.

As for my holidays plans, I’ve been trying to listen to those quiet murmurings coming from the depths of my right and left atria…umm, I mean, my heart. I’m happy to say that I went ahead and booked a flight to Italy, Milan to be exact, and will be taking the train South to Faenza, which is where I will be meeting a past roommate who also happens to be a U of T alumni. Hopefully I’ll have some good stories to share come January.

Until then, lots of love and holiday cheer being sent your way,

Abby

Germany: The Land of Christmas

Germany is undeniably the Land of Christmas. If you love this holiday, then this is the place for you at this time of year! The window displays of little shops are teeming with festive goodies, and gifts and lights decorate many buildings across the city.

The Gendarmenmarkt Christmas market, near the Hertie School of Governance in Mitte. Glorious!

The Gendarmenmarkt Christmas market, near the Hertie School of Governance in Mitte. Glorious!

Christmas markets — a truly brilliant German invention and tradition — are all over Berlin as well. In German, Christmas markets are called Weihnachtsmarkt, and they’re essentially street markets that take place during the four weeks of Advent. They’re typically held outdoors in big public spaces, such as town squares, and they contain little booths/stalls that sell food, drinks, holiday items, treats and more. I have not been to nearly as many as I would like. They are just beautiful! Many of them put on a show involving singing or dancing of some kind as well. The “Gendarmenmarkt” Christmas market, which is just around the corner from the Hertie School, had a couple of acrobats on the stage one night.

The epic backdrop to the Gendarmenmarkt Christmas market: Konzerthaus Berlin.

The epic backdrop to the Gendarmenmarkt Christmas market: Konzerthaus Berlin.

One of the other popular attractions of Christmas markets is the Nativity Scene. And I haven’t even mentioned the best part of them yet… which is the delicious, hot Glühwein (spiced, mulled wine). You can sip on Glühwein in the crisp, fresh outdoor air while you enjoy the music, the show, the company of your friends and family and the many other people milling about in the holiday spirit. That’s really what makes them so special, they seem to be rooted in the tradition of community and to have been designed specifically to bring people together at this time of year. Germany has got these things down pat! I can’t wait to explore some more in the time I have left.

Friends and Glühwein!

Friends and Glühwein, after our German exam!

On December 6th, Germany and many other countries in Europe celebrate St. Nicholas Day (Sankt Nikolaus, in German). From what I understand, St. Nicholas was known as a bringer of gifts, and so children put a boot outside of their bedrooms the night of December 5th. If they’ve been good, it’s filled with treats the next morning. My flatmates placed a little candy and chocolate by my door that I was pleasantly surprised with in the morning after some initial confusion. Just another of the many lovely Christmas traditions here!

IMG_5304

More festive treats “vom Nikolaus” (from St. Nicholas) on the 6th of December, made by my flatmate Jule, who is simply brilliant in the kitchen.

IMG_5384

She has also made her own homemade spiced syrup. This adds the special Glühwein flavor to hot wine. I can’t wait to try it!

German Christmas, of course, would not be complete without advent calendars. They can be found in all kinds of stores and some of them are huge.

I’m happy for the opportunity to experience how Christmas is celebrated outside of North America. Relative to an American Christmas, which I find has warped somewhat into a consumeristic, frenzied shopping spree that many people dread (deep-down), German Christmas seems to still have a deeper meaning, a respect for tradition, and is truly enjoyed (proof: Christmas markets).

So far it has snowed in Berlin only once, maybe twice, but very lightly, and none of it has stuck. I’m not sure whether Berlin gets a White Christmas but I am sure it would be just beautiful.

Taking a study break in the Hertie School cafeteria.

Taking a study break in the Hertie School cafeteria.

On a much less exciting note, it is final exam week at the Hertie School. Classes ended last week and examinations take place this week. Some final paper deadlines are the week or two after exam week, which gives students a bit more flexibility.

It’s really strange to think how fast time has gone! The semester was just beginning and now it’s almost all wrapped up. Luckily, the school is hosting one final event this semester, a Hawaiian-themed Christmas party, where we will also celebrate the end of exam week and close out the semester. I’ll be very sad to say farewell to the many new friends I have made, who are returning home in just a few days, and to say goodbye to this amazing experience. But, I won’t think about that until the time comes. For now, it’s best to keep enjoying the time that is left.

I hope everyone reading is enjoying the holiday season as well, wherever in the world you are. Take care and see you next week! Cheers!

Crunch Time

It’s my last week in London before the holiday break which means I have a lot of researching to do for my final papers, but also a lot of activities to squeeze in before I leave on Saturday. I’m torn between my desire to frolic around the city and the knowledge that I have papers that won’t write themselves (unfortunately).

However, one can’t sit in the library all day long. Especially not when there are so many other more exciting options. Study breaks are important, after all…

Thus came about the decision to go skating at the National History Museum.

P1010453 P1010462

National History Museum

National History Museum

It was a fun night, but skating in London almost isn’t worth it… First off, it’s expensive. This was the cheapest rink we could find, with a student deal of 8.50 pounds for 50 minutes. Secondly, the rinks are tiny and over-crowded. I’m actually excited to go skating back in Toronto, where the rinks are free and there’s space to move!

However, something we don’t have in Toronto is Winter Wonderland, which happens every year at Hyde Park. My friend was visiting London so we decided to check it out. It was quite a sight to see! It’s essentially a huge carnival with rides, a skating rink, a Christmas market, and pubs. Lots to do, but you’ll have to pay an arm and a leg to get on one of the rides. So, my friend and I just walked around, sipping hot cider and ogling the pretty lights.

Hyde Park Winter Wonderland

Hyde Park Winter Wonderland

 

The next day, we headed to Portobello market, which is one of London’s most famous markets. It’s up in Notting Hill, which is a lovely area to get lost in.

P1010547

Portobello Road

Portobello Road

P1010546

When we went, the market was having an antique fair with stalls all the way down the street.

P1010550

The area was bustling until late at night when the market shut down. It really is one of the must-see attractions in London.

Admittedly, I may have overdone it with the study breaks, which I will definitely pay for later. Off to the library I go!

Good luck with revision to all…

Until next time,

Veronika