English

You’re at the heart of London – get out there!

New on the Blog: Jennifa Chowdhury on the Wonders of London

New on the Blog: Jennifa Chowdhury on the Wonders of London

As students at a London university, we do not always appreciate the capital city enough. We take places close to us for granted. However, I was given the opportunity to study English and History at Queen Mary and I am making the most of it! Being at the heart of London, I have access to so many attractions and places to visit. You need a couple of years to fully experience and engage with the city. I never saw myself living in London, and yet here I am, accomplishing a dream that I never knew I had!

My interests lie in photography and history. So, a good place to start my exploration was at museums. The best thing about them is that they are completely free to visit and there are so many to choose from in London alone. I was lucky enough to go to the Victoria and Albert Museum for my module ‘Literatures in Time’ last year. Studying English at university is not only about reading books and articles but being able to visit exhibitions and attend lectures on a topic that interests you. In this way, we are actively learning and gaining a deeper understanding about our subject matter. You can either go with a specific motive or just enjoy the artifacts at your leisure.

Not only does the Victoria and Albert Museum’s collection span two thousand years of art, it also covers work from all parts of the world. So if there is a particular period or culture you want to research, you can do so by admiring the products of their time and the changes that occurred since. You can make your own judgement as to whether there are similar traits within different cultures, as England is a multicultural country. There is beauty in the mixture of backgrounds and traditions as it indicates assimilation and appreciation of one another.

The Great Court at the British Museum, image by Jenny Chowdhury
The Great Court at the British Museum, image by Jennifa Chowdhury

There are a few modules that Queen Mary offers on architecture and museums around London alone which indicates the recognition of the importance of enhancing education through current research and artifacts to fully appreciate culture. It is a different experience to sitting in an hour’s lecture and only being given the chance to get an overview rather than the in-depth detail that we need. You can research further through resources outside of the university space. If interested in architecture, take a trip to the British Museum. The glass roof is spectacular. The Great Court used to be a courtyard and a competition was held to redesign the area. It is a two-acre space, allowing room for visitors to wander and rest and is known to be the largest covered public space in Europe. The work on the roof began in 1999 and was designed by Foster and Partners in such a way that the panes of glass are non-identical. It is definitely a sight to see!

Edward VII Galleries at the British Museum, image by Jenny Chowdhury
Edward VII Galleries at the British Museum, image by Jennifa Chowdhury

If there is a question that you have had a burning desire to get answered, and you never had the courage to ask, then go and research it for yourself! A sense of satisfaction will be achieved. I have taken up the module ‘Black Writing in Britain’ and I was conversing with my peers about a question that has been on my mind since a Year Seven history class. My question was, ‘Would I have been considered black because of my brown skin colour?’ Now studying this course, it is helping me understand that Asians and Black people in Britain in the twentieth century were viewed as part of the same minority group. Although they are from different time periods, from the sixteenth century to today’s day and age, the conception of the ‘other’ remains within our mind-set in the modern day. After nearly ten years, I am still trying to understand my identity as a British-born Bangladeshi.

What I am encouraging you to do is to not leave any questions unanswered. Research, research, research until you find your answer. Grab any opportunity you can and make the most of your time at university. It’s the best time to explore and develop your learning through visiting extraordinary places!

Making the most of study abroad!

A few weeks ago we had our autumn break, which I took full advantage of and traveled to Oslo for a few days, and to end the week the university’s mentor program had arranged a cabin trip for the exchange students, which is apparently a traditional part of Danish university life.

I started my trip to Oslo with very little sleep, and arrived early enough to watch the sun rise over the city which was a really wonderful way to begin the week. By complete accident I managed to stumble onto the parade route for the official welcoming ceremony of the president of India to Norway, and ended up standing at probably the best possible vantage point for watching the event. Having the opportunity to see the Norwegian royal family on my first day in the country was a very special experience, and it was a great start to my trip there. I would say without a doubt that the best museum I visited while in Oslo was the Nobel peace centre, which is, as the name suggests, a collection of exhibits relating to the Nobel peace prize, including the winners of the prize, the work they have undertaken in order to promote peace, and also a celebration of the creator of the peace prize Alfred Nobel. It was a really eye-opening experience, and one which I would definitely recommend visiting if ever you are in the area!

After returning from Oslo, I very quickly had to prepare to leave on my second trip of the week. The cabin trip was two night of activities and getting to know more of the international students that are studying here. It was nice to get to get out of the city for a while and see some of the Danish countryside, and the cabin which we were staying in had a lovely view over the sea. It was a very busy weekend, the highlight for me being making snobrød over a campfire on our last evening.

Sunrise over the royal palace, Oslo

Sunrise over the royal palace, Oslo

The Norwegian royal family from afar

The Norwegian royal family from afar

The Nobel Peace Centre

The Nobel Peace Centre

Making campfire bread

Making campfire bread

University Life

University Life

Much like some smaller UK cities, Uppsala is based massively around university life. Being one of the top research university’s in the world it has a massive student draw. It also backs this up by being absolutely stunning (The main parts of it anyway).

Whilst the city to the east of the river is where urban sprawl has taken hold, the western parts of Uppsala boasts scenic and architectural beauty in abundance, with botanical gardens, the tallest Cathedral in Scandinavia (which they like to boast about) and the oldest University in Scandanavia (Which they also like to boast about. This is mainly because of the long-standing feud against Denmark…whose university was built nine months afterwards.)

The Swedish education system is massively different than the UK’s. Not only is it free but it is much more relaxed (which is a trait shared with most of Sweden) and much more research intensive. This was done to allow people who had part-time or full-time jobs the opportunity to continue studying, which means you are often in a classroom with more mature students than usual. As I have been slack with the blog posts, I have already completed the 15.0 credit module of ‘Media in Contemporary Armed Conflict’ and am now studying ‘Sweden in the 17th Century’ and ‘Culture in Armed Conflict’, all of which require long, long essays. So far I’ve done three 1,500 words essays, three 2,000 word essays (which I had two days to do as part of a take home exam) a 5,000 essay, and I have a 10,000 word research paper coming up… But one exam in three modules could be worse.

Through these I have also met a whole lot of Swedes who, I am glad to report, are not a socially awkward as I had been told prior to arriving and have been helpful in showing us around the city and giving us some useful (and some not so useful) Swedish phrases. These have been used throughout my travels to mixed reception, probably because, as I have been told, ‘I sound like a Norwegian putting on a bad Swedish accent.’

Sweden in Seconds: Fika

THE cornerstone of Sweden. That may be a tad dramatic but fika is an extremely important part of Swedish social life and it is gloriously tasty. Fika is the tradition of eating pastry, or cake, with a cup of coffee (tea is frowned upon which I have found out to my chagrin) at any point in the day. I was told it was meant to be in the afternoon but the Swedes practice fika all the time. If you feel any emotion the Swedes usually suggest fika as a solution/reward and it is a habit that has stuck with my friends and I (I must have spent more money on coffee and pastry than anything else at this point) and I must admit it is a tradition that I will be lobbying for in the UK. So strong is the lure of fika that a man won’t ask/isn’t allowed to ask a lady on a date but rather to fika as fika is what friends do, allowing them to get to know each other before a date. I am currently using the fact that it is starting to get cold here as an excuse to build up my insulation via fika… I’m not the only one.

FIKA!

FIKA!

 

First Days in Sunny Uppsala

Where to begin! I’ve been in the sunny clime of Uppsala Sweden for three weeks now and it is a far cry from anything I have experienced but my word, what an experience I am having.

This city is the definition of a student city. Being Sweden’s fourth largest (with a population of just 140,000) may not seem to be a draw for students and yet around 25,000 students descend upon Uppsala every year. I travelled to Uppsala by bus (And yes, you do pass a huge IKEA…and a Volvo dealership…) and the moment I stepped off was met my ‘Buddy’ who kindly informed me to drop all my things off at my accommodation because “There is a party at Flogsta tonight!” Having not been to Uppsala before, getting lost on the way back to Hotel Uppsala (accommodation with two floors for students) was inevitable and yet was one of the most satisfying first evenings in a city I have spent as it is nothing short of beautiful.

I awoke a tad groggy in the morning and decided to settle in for the first day and do all the mandatory paperwork which one is plagued with when going on an Erasmus. However my ultimate top tip for Uppsala is from my second full day. Be forward. The university has a huge amount of international students visiting so there is no need for the standard first day jitters and instead meeting people is about attending events at Nations (which I shall explain later) and throwing yourself into the Uppsala experience.

Uppsala also offers Basic Swedish for students which, although not mandatory, is a great way to instigate conversation with the famously introvert Swedes!

(PS Everyone here speaks fluent English, which is nice when you see words like ‘Realisationsvinstbeskattning’ and begin to think that it’ll be one of the longest years of your life)

Sweden in Seconds Part One:

One word: Systembolaget. Although Systembolaget (“affectionately” nicknamed ‘System’) isn’t the only place to buy alcohol, it is the only place to buy alcohol over 3.5%. You also have to be over 20 to buy alcohol here. This is because it is government owned chain and the government here in Sweden are trying to curb alcoholism in the young. As most astute students have eloquently noted however “It doesn’t.”

13th Century Cathedral which is the tallest in Scandinavia and the Nordic countries. Much to the chagrin of the Danes...

13th Century Cathedral which is the tallest in Scandinavia and the Nordic countries. Much to the chagrin of the Danes…

Vibrant and stupendously pink Uppsala Castle

Vibrant and stupendously pink Uppsala Castle

First Week in Copenhagen

I have now been in Copenhagen for just over two weeks, and so far I am absolutely loving it. The city itself is really beautiful, and I’m really excited to be able to spend the next year here!

I had a few days on my own here before things started to happen at the university, which I used to start to get to know the city. Copenhagen isn’t nearly as big as London, so it’s quite easy to find your way around, and the metro system is really simple too. Most people here travel by bike, although I still haven’t decided whether to get one for myself yet.
We had orientation in Thursday, which was a very intensive day filled with absolutely everything we needed to get started. The day was for all exchange and guest students in the faculty of humanities, so it was a great opportunity to meet lots of people studying all kinds of different subjects, and from all across the globe. The university also runs a mentor programme, which held a dinner for international students in the evening, which was a really lovely way to get to know more people, and it really made the university seem like a welcoming place to come and study.
I only study two modules here, so I only began classes last Wednesday, starting with State Formation in the Ancient and Modern World. The first class was really interesting, although they teach classes differently here than they do back home, or at least differently to what I experienced last year. I don’t have any lectures in a lecture hall, instead they all take place in seminar rooms for two full hours. The other module I am studying is Nordic Mythology.

The matriculation ceremony- this year was the first that international students were able to attend

The matriculation ceremony- this year was the first that international students were able to attend

 

Nyhavn

Nyhavn

Finals and Wrapping Up

The semester is drawing to an end and the library is inundated with kids cramming for the week which decides whether it’s an A or a B. Finals Week on campus is a huge deal, and like last semester, people are freaking out and going crazy. On that basis, it’s a good time for me to update this blog with what I’ve been doing recently.

Saturday saw me and a group of friends take a day trip to New York, taking a 2am Megabus and returning at 9pm the same night. It wasn’t as bad as I anticipated, and I would definitely recommend it as a way of saving on accommodation. Being my second time in the city, it was way less stressful and I got to see some things off the beaten track, like the shops/cafes in Greenwich Village and the Highline Park on lower west-side. I really got to see a different side to New York than the previous crazy tourist hub, from when I last visited in November.

2014-05-03 13.00.02-1

Sunday saw me get to see my absolute favourite band, Foals, for the second time. I’m sure you British have heard of them more than the kids here. It was at the Orpheum Theatre in Downtown Boston, it’s a really cool old building with an old style decor and rustic red seats. They played with Cage the Elephant and it was pretty fitting that my final gig in the US was my favourite band.

2014-05-04 20.09.56

It’s been a couple of months since I last posted and there’s been a few small events which I’ve been involved with. I participated in a program called BC Splash, where a couple of hundred high school kids are invited into BC for a day of classes, which are all taught and composed by students here. I taught a class on studying abroad and moving away from home which got a great turnout and was a really cool opportunity to share my experience and hopefully intrigue kids into going abroad while at college.

This semester has also seen my rise to world Wiffleball champion. (Educate yourselves: http://www.wiffle.com/). This hybrid rounders/baseball game has been a hilarious way of proving to myself how I should definitely stick to football (soccer). Intramural sports have been a really good way to keep up with staying active while here at BC, playing soccer on a team last semester then wiffleball and dodgeball this semester.

The end of classes has passed and it’s actually been sad to see my last BC classroom. This semester I’ve heavily concentrated on human rights/international politics/security/globalization which I’ve really enjoyed and feel like I’ve started to develop strong understanding on a lot of key topics, both macro and micro. One class which was absolutely great, has allowed me to help draft a UN Human Rights report of the Maldives which will hopefully be submitted to the relevant UN  branch which has been a great experience to work on. As much as this year abroad has been a fantastic opportunity to travel and see new things, I’ve tried to stay academically focussed and this semester especially, I’ve really enjoyed the classes I’ve taken.

So as I finally stop procrastinating and get around to studying for my impending finals, I find my self becoming nostalgic of a huuuuuge 9 months, preparing head back to God’s back garden. (aka. North Yorkshire).

Hopefully I can collect my thoughts a couple more times before I leave the States on the 21st of May!

 

Aran

Midterms and Spring Break

Two alien concepts to us Brits: Midterms and Spring Break.

 

Professors love nothing more than making you struggle mid-way through the semester and making sure you stay on top of all the work, rather than leaving it to a huge coffee-induced cram session the night before a big end of term exam. These tests in the middle of exams are to be expected in all classes, and it’s indicative of the American system’s insistence on keeping education better monitored, with less onus on the individual. As I sit typing this, 5 hours after my final exam until the end of the semester, I’m happy to be focussed on packing for SPRING BREAK, which starts for me, on Friday evening.

 

It’s one of those things that everyone has wanted to do, fly into California and road-trip the coast. It’s very weird to think that this will be me this weekend, leaving far behind the sub-zero temperatures of New England. Staying in San Diego, with the luxury of a car, trips to LA, the coastal towns, beaches and parks are going to make up most of my 11 days away from Boston, as well as the normal California sightseeing. Everyone here is hyped up for Spring Break, and unlike our reading weeks at home, everybody seems to be going away. The Caribbean looks to be the main destination of choice, Punta Cana seemingly the most popular. The obvious choice of Mexico also crops up, with BC kids looking to find some sun, and legal drinking for many, in Cancun. Even other trips around the country, to DC, New York or Chicago are all hotspots for the week-long rest at the start of March. I can’t deny that I’m more excited for this than anything else on exchange thus far.

 

But I’m not going to lie, I’m already dreading the influx of new Facebook profile pictures, cover photos of cocktails and over-filtered instagrammed beaches.

Del Mar Beach, San Diego

Del Mar Beach, San Diego

 

Aran

First Six Months in America

I think this may be the only British student abroad blog on the site, so here goes…

Six months into my year abroad, I feel like its time to summarise what I’ve learnt so far and reflect on this crazy experience. It’s difficult to succinctly describe the process of moving to another country and assimilating into a new way of life, but I’m going to try anyway. With two thirds of my time away already complete, it feels like I’ll be back in the UK in no time at all; hopefully the process of maintaining this blog can slow down those somewhat depressing notions…

Gasson Hall

Academic Life

Boston College as an institution is ranked within the top 35 or so universities in America, and as a $60,000 a year university, its certainly not a holiday. Classes are much more orientated around the professor, and rather than a syllabus devised by a department, the teacher as a lot of leeway in terms of how the class is taught and assessed. It  has both pros and cons in my eyes. It means that teachers can model assessments based on the structure of a class, for example the small class sizes are conducive with a syllabus which often includes small group presentations and projects. Also teachers adapt their classes on a yearly basis, to follow student recommendations or changing topics within  the subject field. The other side of this, is that teachers have substantially more say on your grade than at home, meaning that office hours act as a perfect opportunity to share thoughts and raise questions which help build you as a student in the eyes of a professor – who ultimately will give you the grade.

The system of classes is very different here. At BC there’s whats known as a “core” (although all schools don’t require this). This encompasses a range of subjects meaning that all students have sufficient grounding in math, theology, history, cultural diversity… etc etc, which works well to ensure that all students have  knowledge of numerous areas of study. Taking only history and politics classes here had meant that I’ve been able to specialise heavily on those subjects, but the typical experience will see a vast selection of modules in other areas. For me, the amount reading is huge, and days are often 10 hour work days, with work on weekends too. The small classes make it difficult to avoid the reading, but  the sheer work ethic of so many of the students here acts as a form of motivation, to contribute to class and to really engage in what you’re studying. To put it bluntly – it is more difficult here. The depth of knowledge required to hit the top grades is immensely high, and professors don’t like to dish out the best grades unless they are truly deserved.

Bapst Library

Social Life

One of the reasons I chose Boston College over other schools, was the quintessential American college campus which I’d be living on, in and around Americans and international students alike. As much as I want to dispel all those stereotypical “myths” about what university in America is like, I genuinely don’t think I can. Yes people drink out of red cups and yes there is a crazy amount of American patriotism.

On most campuses in America, sport in some capacity acts as a social structure, but also a point of real competition and energy, especially in relation to local school rivalries (sucks to BU). Whether it be ice hockey, football, basketball, or even less popular sports, some of these huge occasions can be the highlight of the week, drawing in huge crowds and an electric atmosphere cheering the team on. Even if you don’t like sports or are completely indifferent towards them, they truly provide an integral part of the social life here and some of these events have been in the highlights of my year so far.

Aside from sport, there are hundreds and hundreds of organisations around campus which cater for all niches or hobbies, and it’s easy to find something that fits your needs, whether you can dance, sing, draw or  talk for hours, or even if you don’t have a hobby but jut want to help out a charity or give something back to the community. I hate the cliche, but there genuinely is so much going on – thus there probably is something for everybody.

Home of the Red Sox

Home of the Red Sox

Boston: The City

Sometimes downtown Boston acts as fantastic respite from the bubble of campus life, and it’s a city which is actually fantastic. Taking the public transport system, affectionately (or not so) known as the ‘T’, the centre of the largest city in New England is easily accessible. For me, Boston has a great mix of touristy hotspots and great little quirks around the city, giving it a composition which I really like. It’s not too busy that it’s claustrophobic or where you have to fight to walk down a street, but there’s vibrancy and life here so that something is always going on.

Currently in the grip of (another) winter storm, it is freezing. Averaging about -5 degrees celsius which is nippy, not to mention the relentless snow which persists. It’s nice to still have 4 seasons, even if it means spending a significant portion of my year all wrapped up and wishing warmth still.

Boston City Centre

Boston City Centre

Travelling

So far, I’ve been to New York, New Jersey, Niagara Falls and Toronto in Canada which were all incredible. I have so many plans to visit places, but its all about finding the time (and money) around college. America is HUGE, something which I underestimated for definite, you can’t just drive to Florida, or get a train to Chicago – its all about flights. This makes things more expensive, but making friends along the way (hopefully) and begging for free accommodation cuts the cost of travel substantially. My best two trips are yet to come however, California for Spring Break (yes it’s a real thing) and then Florida at the end of the academic year. Still have a huge bucket list involving DC and back up to Canada for Montreal/Quebec perhaps, but I’ll worry about that another time if the opportunity arises.

Niagara Falls

Niagara Falls

New York City

New York City

 

What’s Next?

Currently in the midst of mid-term hell (midterms are exams halfway through the semester), should I come out of this fortnight alive, spring break in California at the start of March awaits, which looks to be the highlight of my entire year! (Touchwood). Then with Florida at the end of the semester, I have some really cool things to look forward to, not to mention the culmination of the ice hockey season, and the famous Marathon Monday, where the Boston Marathon makes its way past BC around Easter time.

 

I’m going to try and keep this updated after eventually getting round to doing it. I hope there was some insight in there!

 

Aran

Countdown Begins

I’ve got exactly four weeks left here! I’ve got two and half weeks left of working at the pub and then I’ll have some time off to travel before I head back. I’m currently debating between going to Ireland and Scotland, or heading around a few countries in Europe by train. I’ll have about 7 days after my leaving do to travel, which seems like a fair amount of time to see a couple of cities. It’s all going to depend on my next paycheck!

I’ve just been at work lately, and it’s been a crazy few weeks ~ I’ve been trying to enjoy the gorgeous weather we’ve had too! I try to spend each day off in a park or outside somewhere, especially as I only have one day off a week! Today, however, is mainly going to be spent doing laundry and cleaning before I head out and about.

It’s crazy to think how fast this year has gone. I can still remember moving into halls on campus and my first day of work at The White Horse. It’s also been weird to make plans with my friends from home before we all head back to college again – I only have a week before I move into campus, so I probably won’t even unpack much! Right now though, I’m just going to get everything sorted and ready to go! I am looking forward to going home and getting back into my routine (I miss my car!) Till then ~

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