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)

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Edinburgh Field Class 2015

Post by Dr Paul Williamson

Congratulations to this year’s Edinburgh field class photograph competition winners. Here are the winning entries for the category ‘Views of Edinburgh’:

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And here are the winning entries in the category ‘Students in action’:

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The field class took place in late-April and saw 43 Year 2 BA Geographers and 3 staff heading north, enjoying the warmest and sunniest Edinburgh-based week on record as they to put into practice a variety of research skills acquired over the last year and a half of study.

These included interviewing Members of the Scottish Parliament; surveying any member of the public unable to run away fast enough; interviews with local activists; and participant observation of the local nightlife.

Comparing the 'sense of place' of locals and students

Comparing the ‘sense of place’ of locals and students

This year students researched topics as diverse as perceptions of the newly launched tram network, factors explaining Scottish political allegiance, tourist perceptions of Edinburgh and a comparison of the Liverpool and Edinburgh students’ sense of place.

Tourist perceptions of Edinburgh

Tourist perceptions of Edinburgh

The final part of the field class focussed on data analysis, ranging from traditional graphs and tables of survey results through to the deconstruction of interview responses.

Survey results

Survey results

The Edinburgh Field Class is just part of our wider three-year field class programme, which includes trips to Mid Wales, the Lake District, Spain, California and Singapore. All of these trips are designed an ethos of ‘learning by doing’. Or, in Edinburgh’s Case, ‘learning by doing whilst getting a suntan’. Happy Days!

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

California Field Class and Travel

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Santa Cruz Boardwalk Beach

Post by Sean Dunn, graduated BSc Geography 2014, current MSc student

The beginning of our trip started in Terminal 5 of Heathrow Airport with a mixture of excitement for the trip and dreading the long flight ahead of it. After a couple of good films, singing along to songs in Frozen with Amelia, my teddy bear George and I landed in San Francisco. Due to some severe jetlag we barely made it to midnight after a slice of pizza and a local beer. The next morning we made our way to the Airport to meet the rest of the Santa Cruz goers and the lecturers, where our journey began to Santa Cruz in some rather lively minivans playing California themed songs.

Once we arrived in Santa Cruz we had some time to explore and get orientated with this new city. It may be fair to say on the first night some of us enjoyed the local selection of alcoholic drinks and the novelty of being 21 in America. The next day we were taken on a walking tour of the city by the lecturers making friends with some lively seals, crossing a disused railway bridge and exploring local lagoon systems (which we revisited during our group project). The evening was then our own to begin planning for the next working day on our projects.

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My group did a project concerning drought and whether it had heightened arguments between recreational users and conservationists of state parks and wetland areas. I think I speak for all of my group when saying we thoroughly enjoyed this experience and our project. At times we felt a bit out of our depth choosing a more human geography related topic but wouldn’t change it at all in hindsight. Our methods included interview and volunteering days and I believe this way we were fully able to experience the most of being in California and meeting the locals. It was a lot of hard work but enjoyable at the same time. We had the opportunity to travel throughout Santa Cruz County meeting countless interesting locals from keen fishermen all the way up to conservationists for global companies.

As well as our project work the lecturers took us on trips around the County which I really enjoyed as there isn’t much point going so far to visit a place without learning about your surroundings. The locations visited included the University, San Andreas Fault line, Redwood forests and a beach site where the famous surfing brand O’Neil was founded. I feel like I learnt a lot about the city.

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When we weren’t working on our projects, the evenings and night time were ours to do whatever we wanted. Obviously some privileges come with our first trip to the USA being over the age of 21… a well-deserved night out!  One of the best nights was for our pal Liz’s 21st where the lecturers gave her a cake and card. Most evenings were spent on the beach playing volleyball at the public courts and just soaking up the last of the California sunshine for the day. My room and I bought food from the local supermarket to make group dinners and lunches but if you didn’t feel like that there is no shortage in options. I don’t think there was a day when the boys didn’t have at least one Mexican from the little taco joint opposite the hotel! Apart from that there was a large selection of restaurants and small takeaways both in the city centre and along the boardwalk.  One of the best places we visited doubled up as a restaurant and bar. It is a pizza place called Woodstock’s where we searched online finding a voucher which is pretty good. If you sign up to the newsletter you get half price extra-large pizzas which is about 20 inches. There were 8 of us with 4 pizzas and enough for lunch the next day! Whilst there we saw they had a dollar night, so we returned that day. When you buy a beer it is just one dollar for a refill!

After all of our fun in Santa Cruz and 10 brilliant days it was time to leave the city. It was a weird feeling to be returning back to San Francisco Airport. Once we arrived the goodbyes began but not before a big group photo of the whole trip. It feels weird saying it but it was emotional seeing everyone slowly walk off in different directions with suitcases rolling behind them. Everyone had made different plans whether it was travelling, first flight home or visiting family. For us, we were travelling.

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Our car

First thing to do was collect the cars. It started well when the guy upgraded us to an SUV for free. I was the person driving and when I saw the car, I was in shock. My car at home is a Ford Fiesta and this was huge! Once I managed to get out the small lanes of the car park we were on our way due south! 8 of us in two cars starting our California Adventure. Our first stop was in Monterey at the opposite end of Monterey Bay to Santa Cruz. We grabbed a bite to eat in a restaurant and had a drink before going back to the hotel. We were absolutely shattered and I was preparing myself the drive the next day.

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The next day was the drive down Highway 1. This is possibly the most picturesque driving I have ever done. Every few seconds was a perfect picture moment. Navigating up and down the cliffs on windy roads we finally arrived at Big Sur. We climbed to the top of the mountain to a beautiful waterfall for a photo moment before climbing the other way to one of the best views I have ever seen: looking out onto the redwood forests with the Pacific Ocean in the background. After this we continued to Santa Maria our rest stop for the night. The next morning we set of for LA. We stayed in a hostel on Hollywood Boulevard and drove up Mulholland Drive to take a picture of the Hollywood sign. This was the best part of LA as from this viewpoint you could see the entire skyline of the city.

Our last driving point was San Diego. This was one of my favourite cities we visited and I finally had some time off from the driving. We spent 3 nights here and did so much in such a short space of time! We drove on the interstate to the last exit before Mexico to an outlet mall. I would 100% recommend visiting one of these! I ended up getting a pair of Reebok classics and a Ralph Lauren polo for the equivalent of £40 where that would be about £120 over here! We also went to watch a baseball match between the San Diego Padres and the San Francisco Giants. I couldn’t attend without getting a foam finger! Our last day we spent on a local beach watching the sunset all together before an early night for the morning drive back up the coast towards San Francisco. We stopped only for some lunch in Santa Barbara which was beautiful. Lunch at the natural café for some healthy vegetarian food and a quick look in the thrift stores! One overnight stop and 16 hours of driving later we made it to San Francisco. The next two days we spent walking around the city, sampling the seafood and getting some presents for loved ones at home! Our last night was a bit emotional after spending so long in America!

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I would 110% recommend this trip to anyone. I still look back on it now knowing it was the best experience of my life. The photos just remind me of what a good time we had. It was the most amazing way to end my University experience with some of my best mates over the previous three years! I hope I haven’t bored you too much and I hope you enjoy the photos of my teddy bear and his tour around California!

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.

Cruise 1: Days 1-6 trials, tribulations and triumphs

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Originally posted on Britice-Chrono NERC Consortium:
By Rich Chiverrell and co from the edge of the shelf Developed as a concept 3-4 years ago, and planned over the last 2 years with massive input from across the Britice-Chrono team and…