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.

Pic_1

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.

Pic_2

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.

Pic_3

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.

Pic_4

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)

Advertisements

A Year in the Life of an Undergraduate Geography Student

IMG_0924

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.

India Visit for Student

3rd Year Undergraduate Student Jon Hunt reflects on his time on a UKIERI Study India Programme last year.

I spent six weeks last summer in India, (mostly Delhi), as part of the UKIERI (UK-India Education and Research Initiative) Study India Programme. As a geography student I found the opportunity to learn about a great economic and social power by actually visiting the country itself too great to miss. I enjoyed various experiences around India both as part of the programme and my own adventures, and I tried to reflect on their significance from a national and global perspective. The programme involved visits to cultural and political sites around Delhi (as a background to India’s past and present); talks from prominent business people and politicians; an internship with a choice of organisations including the Tata Corporation and some NGOs; and talks in schools and universities. Such activities allowed an opportunity to consider the Indian story from a variety of backgrounds before a series of workshops were provided in UK schools in an attempt to engage the future generation with global issues and to develop the enthusiasm to solve them.

What I consider to be my first experience of India was a lady on the plane who proceeded to force-feed me popcorn before we’d even spoken. This remained one of my fondest memories of the trip and came to epitomise the generosity and friendliness of the people of India. It is easy to be alienated by the cultural curiosity of many people in India – the staring, the questions, the giggling – but if one accepts this then an endless stream of chit chat and jokes can be shared. Some of my most enlightening times came not in a great temple or a guided tour but in talking to other young people. This was a generation that was embracing modernisation, wanted to connect with the global society but was also very wary of following the route towards ‘western’ capitalism. As a result I felt we shared certain commonalities despite upbringings that likely couldn’t have been more different. Of course there were times when I didn’t always feel so welcome and it would be wrong to make such broad assumptions. Yet, if you don’t let people treat you as a tourist or regard the country as a museum then you can quickly begin to break through the barriers.

My initial exploration involved a life and death struggle to cross the road where lanes, speed limits or even traffic lights don’t seem to be respected. The heat was unbearable and the degree of poverty and waste was striking. Such was the colour, the chaos and the variation, the first couple of days involved frantic photo taking, before I began to stop acting like a spectator in a zoo and instead opened myself up to the people and the country. Once I took the plunge, India was not such a different universe and began to feel like a place I had belonged to for a long time. As we wandered round temples of religions I didn’t follow and took part in rituals I knew nothing about, I began to respect their openness and they seemed to respect my curiosity. A communal ritual of fire in a Hindu temple was a perfect way to end my first week and gave the group a chance to reflect upon a hectic series of activities in an even more hectic country. We revelled in soft chanting and the warmth of fire, set against the backdrop of a slowly calming monsoon.

Jon participating in a Hindu fire ceremony

Jon participating in a Hindu fire ceremony

The first chance to experience India as an individual came at the end of the first week. Five of us instead hired a taxi to take us the eight hour drive north to the town of Rishikesh – known as ‘the home of yoga and meditation’ – which rested in the foothills of the Himalayas. We were initially greeted by cows, thieving monkeys and a hairy gentleman who looked like he had more than a few stories to tell. Without much explanation he began to lead us off the beaten track and up into the hills; like excited children we eagerly followed. We decided to ignore the common warnings on this one and it paid off: instead of finding ourselves dead in a ditch, we were showed a fascinating abandoned village in the trees, originally built as a meditative retreat. With the sun setting the silence was eery as we explored darkened corridors and inspected inspirational graffiti.

Other excursions included an obligatory trip to Agra to visit the Taj Mahal. After hearing so much about it, I cannot pretend I wasn’t slightly under-whelmed at first: even at sunrise there were already crowds of people and the excessive photo opportunities seemed just a formality after travelling so far. That said, the tomb rising over the dirty, sprawling town does make it all the more imposing. Once the rising sun cast a warm glow over the white marble and I could appreciate its intricacies, the building revealed its true beauty. I sat for a good couple of hours taking it in, before I saw a monkey dragged past me on a leash and being beaten with a stick. I then wondered how a country could simultaneously invoke feelings of awe and disgust. That was perhaps the hardest part about being in India; it is a country that is open about its culture, that doesn’t seem to hide its corruption and, as a result, you can witness the most uplifting and the most saddening aspects of humanity.

Jaipur seemed to encompass almost everything you expect from India including combinations of narrow, winding streets and large open bazaars; snake charmers and puppeteers; bustling restaurants and street food vendors and a trip to the top of the Red Fort on the back of an elephant. Set against a backdrop of hills and lakes, the Fort provided an impressive view before we travelled to ‘Monkey Temple’ – one of my favourite sites of India. Walking up a hill through swarms of running, playing monkeys helped to portray a country that boasts the extremes of nature (humans included) and, despite the young boy guiding us throwing the occasional stone to ward off the over-enthusiastic ones, both sets of beings seemed content with each other’s company. In a similar way, the family who dwelled at the hill-top shrine were open to our presence and the parents watched calmly on as we sat and played with their children. Our two cultures may never truly understand each other – the phones and cameras we flashed and the respects we paid may seem shallow and superficial, whilst their spiritual artefacts were never going to invoke authentic belief on our part. Yet just as human and monkey may need each other more than they believe, perhaps it is only the endless diversity of culture that creates any meaningful significance.

Cultural exchange?

Cultural exchange?

Back in Delhi, to highlight a further issue in Indian society, we visited an orphanage, which provided an enlightening experience. I was somewhat reluctant to make the visit at first, feeling the children were being used as tourist attractions. Despite this I found it thoroughly enjoyable and can’t remember the last time I smiled for so long. Once again wishing to avoid generalisations, I have to admit I have never met such happy and positive children and cannot help think there is something implicitly wrong with the construction of our own society that is currently experiencing an epidemic in childhood apathy and depression.

Crowds celebrating Eid, the end of Ramadan, at India Gate in New Delhi

Crowds celebrating Eid, the end of Ramadan, at India Gate in New Delhi

Once the four-week programme in Delhi had concluded it was time to take the adventure elsewhere, this time alone, as I headed to Goa and Kerala for the final 10 days before term was due to start again. My time in Goa essentially involved relaxation, and, after four weeks in the fumes and chaos of Delhi and a jam-packed programme of activities, it was the perfect antidote. There was to be no plan for the days after rolling out of bed to sunshine, nature and a lush tropical scenery.

For the final few days I jumped on a ‘quick’ eighteen-hour train down to Kerala. The train itself was an experience – getting lost in the views and striking up conversation with a few interesting characters; the majority of whom seemed to find me just as interesting and, for some reason, absolutely hilarious. The mere sight of me alone on the train hanging out the open door, partly for the breeze but mostly because I hadn’t grasped the magnitude of the dash for seats upon boarding, was enough to invoke lots of giggles amongst passengers. I stayed for a night on Varkala cliff, an impressive stretch of rocks and beaches and an apparent rendezvous for travellers from across the world. For the final day I headed out to Eravikulam National Park. The journey through forests and mountains in the morning sun seemed a fitting tribute to the end of my time in India and a stark contrast to my first experiences of the country.

Keralan Sunset

Keralan Sunset

As I took the flight back to Delhi the next day I reflected on the frantic stress I’d endured the previous few days in return for several moments of pure bliss and the relationship seemed to sum up the experience of travelling in India. The prospect can be daunting but, if one takes the time and makes the effort, the rewards can be truly extraordinary.