Study Abroad: A semester in Sweden

By Isobel Beech (Year 2 BSc Geography)

In the middle of August I arrived in Sweden as a flustered exchange student laden with suitcases and I could never have predicted what the next 6 months studying in this country would hold.

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After an emotional farewell at Manchester Airport, Patrick, Diana and I (my fellow Liverpool students) departed for Sweden. The day we travelled to Sweden was the official arrival day for Lund University with 1100 exchange students arriving. After sorting out some essentials such as picking up the keys for my accommodation, I was taken to my halls ‘Greenhouse’ in a mini bus. It was on this journey I realised the distance of my accommodation to the main town which meant getting a bike became one of the first things on my to do list. Greenhouse is very isolated and located in the centre of Swedish countryside, this holds some disadvantages but these all disappear when watching autumn sunrises while cycling to your 9am lectures! The accommodation houses a small group of international students whom have become a tight knit community over the semester with many social events and everyday shenanigans.

The first two weeks in Lund consisted of an orientation period allowing time to settle into the new environment before classes commenced. During this period we were introduced to our international mentor groups lead by student mentors who arranged activities for the new exchange students such as a tour of the town, a trip to the beach and other activities to get to know people and explore the new surroundings. The orientation also included a Swedish language crash course and an obligatory trip to Ikea to sample some of those iconic meatballs.

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Lund is a small picturesque town located in southern Sweden with university as the focal point. The campus stretches across the whole town with a number of flagship buildings including ‘the whithouse’, the AF Castle and the university library. Nations are scattered across the campus which are student organisations hosting a full weekly programme of activities including meals, pubs, clubs, sporting opportunities and more.  Nations have a noivsch period at the start of the semester where you are put into mentor groups and compete against each other. This Novisch period ended with the Novicshfest which was traditional Swedish dinner party known as a sittning, this included ceremonious speeches, awards, singing and of course a little bit of drinking too. During my time here I have become very accustomed to the Swedish practice of fika which is a break in the day marked by coffee accompanied with pastries; I think I’ll be continuing this daily ritual back in Liverpool!

The Swedish university system varies compared to the UK. Only one module is studied at a time here, with a lot more contact hours. The class sizes are also significantly smaller ranging from 15-20 people.  Modules consist of lectures and exercises with assessments in both group work and individual assignments. The courses are also very dependent on fieldwork and excursions which was a great way to explore Sweden. While in Sweden I decided to study geology modules, focusing on quaternary geology which has strong links to physical geography. The first module focused on glacial geology and this course began with a fieldtrip to Norway which was an unforgettable experience and undoubtedly a highlight of my study abroad semester. The trip included climbing up the Blåisen glacier to the plateaux and to Jökullhytta glacier. This required climbing equipment and training which had taken place the previous week at university by hanging from a tree outside the geology department and practising the procedure if we fell down a crevasse!  The views on the glacier trek were incredible and quite unforgettable. Another highlight of the trip was abseiling down a crevasse and climbing back up using crampons and an ice axe. The second module I am studying is focused on palaeoecological methods and environmental analysis. This module involves analysing cores which we took in groups in Pilevad in Southern Sweden and ultimately creating a poster showing our findings.

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In addition to university and everyday life in Lund I have had the opportunity to travel around a little. So far I have made trips to Gothenburg, Copenhagen and Helsingborg. In Sweden a child is classed up to the age of 19 which meant travelling to these places was relatively cheap. I also hope to make it to Stockholm before the end of my time here.

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To summarise my time so far, I have made great friends, embraced the Swedish culture and created unforgettable memories. To any first year students thinking about applying for study abroad I would without hesitation encourage you to do so. I am now 4 months into my study abroad adventure and excited to see what my last 2 months in Sweden will hold. The winter is fast approaching with plummeting temperatures as low as minus 2 degrees, Christmas decorations are appearing round the town and I am looking forward to celebrating Christmas Swedish Style before my return to Liverpool in the New Year.

Isobel Beech (Year 2 BSc Geography)

Top Ten Blog Posts of 2014

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As we enter 2015 we look back at the top 10 most viewed blog posts of 2015. These include posts by current and past undergraduate and postgraduate students and staff and give a good idea of some of the things that we do here in Geography at University of Liverpool. We look forward to more posts in 2015 and wish you all a happy new year.

 

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10. In Tenth place, a post from February 2014 by PhD student Madeleine Gustavsson on her first publication: First publication – ‘Procedural and distributive justice in a community-based Marine Protected Area in Zanzibar, Tanzania’

 

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9. In Ninth place, a post from June 2014 by James Wilford who graduated with a BA (Hons) Geography in July this year on the Singapore Field Class 2014

 

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8. In Eighth place, a post from June 2014 by Dr. Paul Williamson on the winners of the Edinburgh Field Class 2014 Photo Competition

 

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7. In Seventh place, a post from May 2014 by Samantha Brannan who graduated with a BSc (Hons) Geography in July this year on Geographers on Tour: Santa Cruz Field Class 2014

 

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6. In sixth place, a post from January 2014 about Lisa Reilly who graduated in July this year about her success as National Student Award Winner

 

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5. In Fifth place, a post from December 2014 by Dr Bethan Evans on a Disability, Arts and Wellbeing Workshop with DaDaFest

 

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4. In Fourth place, a post from October 2014 by Sean Dunn who graduated with a BSc (Hons) Geography in July this year and is now studying for an MSc. His post is about the final year Santa Cruz field class on California Field Class and Travel

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3. In Third place, a post from August 2014 by Alexandra Guy, currently a second year BA Geography student on A Year in the Life of an Undergraduate Geography Student

 

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2. In Second Place, a post from August 2014 by PhD student Natalie Robinson on her research with homeless people in Chicago ‘This is My Story: A Photographic Exploration of Chicago’ – Notes from the field.

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1. And in First place, our most viewed blog of 2014 is a post from February 2014 by Jonny Clark who graduated in July with a BSc (Hons) Geography on How a work-based dissertation re-affirmed my confidence in my subject, my own ability and my future

A Year in the Life of an Undergraduate Geography Student

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Post by Alexandra Guy – about to start year 2 BA Geography

Before I visited the UCAS Higher Education Conference at Liverpool, I’d had my sights set on a university elsewhere. Being from Merseyside, I didn’t intend on staying local for uni, however, I was finding it really difficult to find a geography course that I could tailor to my interests. It was at the HE Conference that I discovered that Liverpool offers exactly that, and, one year on, I’ve just completed my first year of the BA Geography degree.

Our field trip to Wales in October was a really interesting way to start the course. We were given a list of topics to research in groups, alongside larger group activities like a debate, and then put together all our findings into a poster presentation once we got back to uni. I enjoyed the independence we were given during the field work, which continued throughout the year. There’s also a module that involves field work in Liverpool (Human Geography through Merseyside), which involved using observations from around the city to create unusual projects like an exhibition for a museum and a brochure for tourists. I was surprised to find that not all the field work and coursework related to it was essay based – it kept things interesting throughout the year by having a variety of essays and presentations combined with more creative tasks.

Photos from Liverpool field work

However, my favourite module (Research Frontiers in Human Geography) involved a series of lectures on the recent work staff in the geography department have been carrying out, in areas such as cultural geography and geopolitics. We then had to relate this research to a recent story in the news, for an assessed group presentation. This introduced us to areas of geography we had never studied before, while highlighting its relevance to contemporary issues – making deciding what modules to study in second year a lot easier. I’ve been able to identify exactly what areas of geography interest me, and I’m looking forward to focussing on them in second year, particularly with my optional modules in Social and Cultural Geography and Political Economies of Globalisation.

Support in the department is second to none, due to the fortnightly small group tutorials with a member of staff. These sessions helped me get used to university-style studying – knowing that I have a member of staff available for me to chat to or send a quick email to, regarding everything from academic advice to careers, has made such a difference to my first year and has really helped me settle in to university life well. From my friends at other universities, I’ve heard that this kind of support is quite rare, so I know I made the right decision to come to Liverpool! There’s also support with pretty much everything else outside of the department too – Liverpool Student Homes were a great help during my search for a house for second year, and the Financial Support Team were invaluable while I was trying to reapply for student finance.

Shanghai

Shanghai

A geography degree also gives you plenty of opportunities outside of your course to develop your CV and help you relate geography to potential careers. Thanks to a reference from my tutor and the support of the Careers and Employability Service, I was selected by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills to take part in the Government’s Study China Programme. I spent Easter at Zhejiang University, near Shanghai, studying Mandarin and political changes in Asia, with students from across the country. Additionally, the amount of group work I’ve done this year has proven useful in job applications – team work is a key skill that employers look for, and it’s partly thanks to this that I’ve secured a part time job acting as a student rep for the company I hope to work for after graduation.

Receiving my certificate of completion from the Chancellor

Receiving my certificate of completion from the Chancellor at Zhejiang University

I have thoroughly enjoyed my first year and wouldn’t hesitate to recommend Liverpool to anyone considering studying Geography.

‘This is My Story: A Photographic Exploration of Chicago’ – Notes from the field

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Post by Natalie Robinson – 2nd year ESRC NWDTC PhD student in Sociology and Geography

In February this year, I moved from Liverpool to Chicago to start my PhD fieldwork, exploring homeless experiences in the city. Six months later and somehow it’s almost time for me to leave the United States and return to England to complete my thesis! Supervised across sociology and human geography and funded by the ESRC NWDTC, my doctoral research focuses specifically on homeless young people’s inclusion in and exclusion from public urban spaces in Chicago, and uses ‘photovoice’ methods to include participants’ points of view. Photovoice involves the use of participatory photography to discuss community issues and aspirations, with an oft cited aim of enabling community ownership of representations. With prior experience working in homeless services in the UK, I had spent the first year of my PhD preparing for my overseas work – reading up on relevant literature, attending seminars, workshops and PhotoVoice’s facilitator training in London. I arrived in Chicago with a research plan in theory, but nevertheless endeavoured to remain flexible – entirely open to exactly how this would be realised in practice.

My aim was to work with a small group of homeless individuals who were interested and would hopefully enjoy taking part in the project. After a productive meeting, Julie Dworkin, Policy Director for the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless (CCH), connected me with CCH Youth Attorney Beth Cunningham, who, along with her colleague, Policy Specialist Jennifer Cushman, runs the H.E.L.L.O group. H.E.L.L.O stands for ‘Homeless Experts Living Life’s Obstacles’ and is an activism-focused group for homeless and formerly homeless youth, meeting Tuesday evenings at the Broadway Youth Center (BYC) in Chicago’s Lakeview neighbourhood. Food and transit are provided for all who attend, and any young person between the ages of 12-24 is welcome. Along with CCH and the youth centre, H.E.L.L.O is also supported by Chicago-based organisations One Northside and The Night Ministry. Each week, the group participate in activities, ranging from arts, crafts, spoken word poetry, and yoga, to discussions around ‘rights’ when dealing with police, community safety and relations. During my time with the group, we also took day trips down to Springfield – Illinois’ state capital – to lobby for youth homeless services funding, as well as to the McDonalds headquarters in Oak Brook, IL to ‘Fight for 15’, demanding a raise in the minimum wage. Needless to say, there was never a dull moment!

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My own project involved the distribution of disposable cameras to a number of young people attending H.E.L.L.O, along with an invitation to picture places in Chicago that are meaningful to them. Once developed, the photographs formed the basis for group discussions, with a focus on perceptions of inclusion in and exclusion from city spaces. This is particularly relevant in Illinois, where since 2013 the Homeless Bill of Rights has formally legislated that homeless individuals cannot be denied access to public spaces solely because of their housing status. Five young people over the age of eighteen volunteered to participate, and chose a select number of photographs to be included in a community exhibition, which they entitled ‘This is My Story’. The exhibition took place in the BYC in July. The pictures were given titles and captions by the photographers and their peers, and these were displayed alongside the images, explaining the significance of each. The event was well attended by homeless and formerly homeless young people, community members, local and national organisations, CCH staff and Executive Director Ed Shurna as well as IL State Representative Greg Harris – a strong advocate for homeless services in Chicago. To see the full selection of participant images, and to read more about the project, please visit www.hellophotoproject.com.

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I have thoroughly enjoyed working with H.E.L.L.O and look forward to continuing a relationship with this group, the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless and partner organisations. It is my hope that my doctoral thesis and related work around this project will contribute to qualitative social research, specifically relating to youth homeless experiences of Chicago, in a way that will be valuable for all involved.

HELLO exhibit

*All photographs courtesy of Shruti Sharma, Photographer for the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless.

A semester abroad

By Anna Durbacz, 2nd year BA Geography

My semester abroad in Hong Kong went far too quickly, especially the second half of the semester, after reading week.

Reading week was a real highlight of my semester. One of my chosen geography modules included a compulsory field trip into Guangdong Province, mainland China, to look at the differences between rural and urban lifestyles. There were only two other exchange students who look the field class, which gave me a fantastic opportunity to fully integrate myself with the local students. The scenery was amazing, we saw karst landscapes and terraced rice fields. The activities included trekking to a mountain village, interviewing the local people and visiting a primary school.  I felt that I witnessed first-hand the issues that are facing the people of China whose lives are focused only on the rural economy. This experience has made me very interested in China, and what the future holds for China.

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Academically I feel that I have benefitted hugely from my time abroad. It is always very interesting being taught by and gaining an understanding of people with different approaches and different takes on the world.  The workload was heavy,  but manageable. Exam period at HKU, like every exam period, was quite intense with multiple early starts in the library.

As the exams were before Christmas it left us all with an awesome opportunity to see some more of Asia before heading  back home to Liverpool. Before last summer I didn’t have any experience of any Asian culture, now I have had the chance to visit several Asian countries. The culture in Hong Kong is fascinating, it is completely multidimensional with different influences from throughout Asia and the world .  The city is so contradictory, Chinese & western, old & ultra-modern, densely populated yet with large rural areas. The general lifestyle in Hong Kong was very active, when we were not travelling, most weekends were spent hiking in the New Territories, swimming at the beaches or playing tennis. All the sporting facilitates at HKU were free  to students.

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The opportunity of study abroad is completely unique, it enables you to fully immerse into the place in which you are studying. Without sounding cheesy, this experience has broadened my horizons, not only in an academic way but in every sense.  The experiences and friends that I made during my time abroad will stay with me for a long time. I cannot express in words how much I loved my time abroad and I would suggest if anyone had a similar opportunity to take it instantaneously.

Studying Gender and Mobility in India

3rd Year BA Student Becy Ainsworth is the latest student to write about her dissertation research for the LivUniGeog blog.

“This summer I spent two months in Jodhpur in northern India volunteering for a local NGO whilst conducting my dissertation research. I was able to combine my desire to volunteer and travel with my academic work, each of which benefited the other. Having the basic knowledge of India’s politics, economy and society from various modules allowed my research to delve deeper into issues, which at the start of my trip I would probably have overlooked or misunderstood. Coming from the ‘western’ world, it was extremely challenging for me as an outsider to grasp the complex and diverse values in India that were so alien to me. As someone who loves travelling and understanding local culture, I found that combining that with my research abroad changed my entire understanding of the country.

The City of Jodhpur, Rajasthan, India

The City of Jodhpur, Rajasthan, India

My research was a response to the horrific gang-rape of a woman on a bus in Delhi in December 2012. Shocked that such an act could occur on public transport, I decided to investigate wider practices of mobility – which is do, how and why people move around on a day-to-day basis. I particularly focussed on how women used public and private space and public transport systems – as a country that is strongly patriachal, Indian women often have many challenges in their daily travels around urban areas like Jodhpur. I conducted interviews and focus groups, and kept a detailed research diary noting my conversations and interactions with local people and my own experiences of mobility in the city. The language barrier was only an issue for the focus group (everyone else spoke perfect English) and I needed a translators during and after the group (when transcribing the recording) – both translators had quite different interpretations so that was my greatest challenge during the research process. The women were so open, enthusiastic and willing to share their experiences and opinions with me, which made my research a really insightful process.

Teaching some of the Women at the Sambhali Trust

Teaching some of the women at the Sambhali Trust

My role in Sambhali Trust was teaching English and maths to low-caste women and children, and to run workshops that would help with the empowerment of women. I was fully absorbed into Indian culture, which meant my daily interactions with the men, women and children of Jodhpur were valuable for my research and more general understanding of Rajasthani society. I was fortunate in that my everyday conversations revealed mobility to be a prevalent issue in women’s lives, as it was important to me that my area of research was relevant and addressed serious problems.

A notice for a women's helpline on a bus in Jodhpur

A notice for a women’s helpline on a bus in Jodhpur

Working with and researching in another country with a completely different culture to my own was a challenge and a very steep learning curve. In India, things tend happen very ‘last minute’, which was stressful for my western mind-set at times. For example, Sambhali Trust organised a conference on child sexual abuse, which is an incredibly taboo subject throughout India. We invited 60 local professionals and dignitaries related to the field, but only began doing so five days before the event (which we had spent six weeks planning). This was obviously very nerve-wracking for the European volunteers used to planning events far in advance, however most people invited to the conference attended and it was a real success, with Sambhali Trust establishing a new project two days later. Another example is how I tried to interview someone that I was living with; we set a time and place every day for my final two weeks but only on the morning before I left did we both find the time for the interview to actually happen. I definitely learned the art of patience!

I kept a blog during my time at Sambhali Trust explaining about the charity’s projects, campaigns and workshops if anyone has an interest in women’s empowerment or development work.I would really recommend students to consider researching abroad. The endless possibilities of the research subject, the opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of another culture, and the skills you develop from the daily challenges of the research have made it an incredible experience that I would love to do again (minus the dissertation write up bit!).”

Liverpool Geography Student studying at the University of Hong Kong

The first month studying at the University of Hong Kong has flown by.

As I stepped off the airplane –the heat, humidity and busy nature of Hong Kong was overwhelming. Arriving at the Halls of Residence where I am staying was easy and stress free. Living in a 16-floored high rise building for a semester is still a surreal concept, but being part of hall life here is a unique experience. The first week consisted of the local students practicing hall songs and chants at 6am every day. Sports teams and cultural teams are taken very seriously and the inter–hall competitions are extremely competitive. The halls I am living in consists of 300 students, 5 of us are international exchange students. The local students are very welcoming, helping the exchange students to embrace their culture. The international community is large – on the first week there were multiple orientation events for the international students – enabling us to meet other exchange students from all over the world.

View of the Hong Kong Skyline from the Peak

View of the Hong Kong Skyline from the Peak

The HKU campus is on Hong Kong Island and has great accessibility to the rest of Hong Kong.  The campus itself is very modern, the geography department is situated in the Centennial Campus which was built two years ago. A lot of Hong Kong is built on hills and steep regions and the HKU campus is no different. It is built on different levels – making it very hard to navigate around it. I still get lost going to the same lecture theatres every week. The lecture style here is similar to Liverpool, however there is less group work here in Hong Kong, the classes that I am enrolled in vary from 20 students to 100 students. Most of the assessment here is based on coursework throughout the semester and a final exam in December.

Singapore

Singapore

 Hong Kong is a very busy and bustling city, a place where you can never get bored – I doubt that I have explored a half of the city yet and I have been here over a month. In my free time I have spent my time investigating the attractions that Hong Kong has to offer, both the main tourist attractions and the more local attractions, for example hiking to the peak, going to local bars, going to the Hong Kong light show, visiting temples, haggling at the markets, camping at the beach and eating a lot of the local cuisine! On the third weekend here, I managed to fit in a trip to Singapore, arriving on the Friday and leaving on the Monday morning – I got a brief impression of Singapore. Last weekend Hong Kong prepared itself for the hit of typhoon Usagi, all the shops were packed with people stocking their cupboards up, the local students and authorities advised everyone to stay inside for the Sunday, which was the expected day for the typhoon to hit Hong Kong. Luckily for Hong Kong, the typhoons path changed meaning Hong Kong wasn’t a direct hit.

Tai Long Wan Beach

Tai Long Wan Beach

The opportunities that are available studying here are incredible. Studying abroad has definitely lived up to my expectations – it’s amazing!

Anna Durbacz (BA Geography, Year 2)