Splitting my year abroad

by Gabriella Tomlinson

As I am writing this I have just sat my final year abroad exam, and whilst sitting it at home and celebrating with my family was not quite what I expected I did on the whole have an amazing year! But one of the reasons my year was as amazing as it was is because I chose to split my year between two places, which is not hugely done with only a handful of students doing this in my year. So, I am hoping by the end of this I will have inspired some people to take the opportunity to split your year and experience two different countries.

I split my year between Hamburg in Germany and Antwerp in Belgium… two countries both known for their beer, but I promise that is not the only reason I chose them! But whilst splitting my year seemed hugely daunting, by splitting your year abroad there are so many benefits which I am going to tell you about before telling you a little about both Hamburg and Antwerp.

Why split the year?

 The vast majority of Erasmus students only do one semester abroad. So, when I arrived in Antwerp in February the students who were doing the full year were the odd ones out so making friends twice in a year was not an issue because almost everyone was in the same boat. So do not let the fear of being the new kid in school put you off, because chances are you won’t be!

Also, you benefit from two completely different learning and exam systems. This is maybe not the most important thing when planning your year abroad but whilst in Hamburg most of the modules were international commercial law based, whereas in Antwerp almost every module was European Union law of some variety. They were hugely different semesters from an academic point of view and I managed to do 16 modules this year, majority of which I cannot do in Sheffield.

Whilst I did not fully appreciate it until leaving either place splitting your year gives you the opportunity to make two amazing sets of exchange friends as you do not stay in a clique all year. Whether it was crying in Hamburg when realising we were all returning to different continents (I blame the beer and I was not the only one in tears!) or the sad realisation that in Antwerp I would not get to say bye to my friends as we all rushed home, I got to meet the most amazing people many of whom I would not have met if I had only been to one country.

Finally, splitting the year gives you the chance to live in two amazing countries! And I cannot explain how brilliant that was. Yes, it can be a little stressful planning accommodation twice especially planning the second semester whilst on your first but once you have done everything once doing it the second time is so much easier! Whether it’s the moving to a foreign country nerves, the stress of figuring out the local transport and the campus at the university, once you have done it once it is so much easier because you are more adaptable!

First Semester- Bucerius Law School, Hamburg

As I have said I spent my first semester in Hamburg, Germany. I know this sounds cliché, but I fell a little in love with Hamburg despite being homesick when arriving. It is a beautiful place which is big enough that you feel like you will never run out of places to explore but small enough it felt like home so quickly. The law school was instrumental in making the city feel like home and had an intro week which involved so many activities, and day trips which continued throughout the term. The highlight was 100% the on-campus Oktoberfest, which was attended by lecturers, students, and my exchange cohort.  

In Hamburg most of the students were either from Australia or the US, and there were only 90 something of us. It almost felt like being back at college as you knew everyone on the exchange and the café was frequently overtaken by a huge group of us… I think the home students were glad to see the back of us! We visited multiple towns around Hamburg, and almost every Christmas market within Hamburg… I have the mugs to prove it! We spent many a weekend in the Irish pub watching the Rugby World Cup, the Aussie, Kiwi and English rivalry was real! However, I do not believe for one second, I got to experience everything Hamburg has to offer because no amount of time will ever be enough to discover every brilliant coffee shop, restaurant, and area. I cannot recommend Hamburg enough because it really does have everything, and it is so well connected for any travelling plans you may have for your year abroad.

Antwerp

My time in Antwerp was limited to a mere 6 weeks, and it rained for about five and a half of those… the winter months were not kind! It is smaller than Hamburg without a doubt and the university was bigger so my experience had completely switched. Everyone lived within walking distance of each other instead of a U-Bahn ride away, and I could connect to the university Wi-Fi from my flat instead of needing a 15-minute U-Bahn trip to Uni. But the university was multiple buildings which required figuring out instead of one big building.

Despite this being a short-lived experience looking back I crammed so much into those 6 weeks. I visited both Brussels and Ghent, went to numerous Antwerp attractions including the chocolate museum and most importantly drank a ridiculous amount of Belgium Beer. My friends and I managed numerous ‘international dinners’ where people brought food from their home country and days spent exploring in the rain. Doing the majority of my semester in Lancashire was not the plan at all but the six weeks I did experience in Antwerp were brilliant! Sadly, I did not get to experience sitting in the squares in the summer when all the restaurants put their chairs out and live my summer Erasmus dream but it just means that one day I will have to go back!

My email is gltomlinson1@sheffield.ac.uk if anyone wants to ask anymore questions 😊

Or you can reach any of the Global Opps ambassadors at Globaloppsamb@sheffield.ac.uk

Managing your mental health whilst studying abroad

Calsie Tyler

Studying abroad can be a challenging time for your mental health – you’re in a new place on the other side of the world where you don’t know anyone and don’t have your usual support system. But it can also be one of the best experiences you’ll ever have if you make the most of it whilst looking after your wellbeing. The advice I was given prior to going abroad really prepared me for the challenges it brings and enabled me to deal with the ups and downs much more easily. In this blog post I’d like to pass on some of the advice from my own experiences.

My first piece of advice is to set realistic expectations for your year abroad before you even go. If you go into it acknowledging that every day isn’t going to be perfect, you’re less likely to be disappointed with the experience. If you’re reading this blog post, you’re already heading in the right direction by taking the time to hear about others’ experiences and prepare.


Film camera print of me making a snow angel, taken by my friend Hette

Building a support network of friends that you can turn to if you’re having a bad day is really essential. This can take some time, so don’t worry if you don’t have loads of new best friends straight away. Of course, you can and should still keep in contact with your friends and family from home, but if you’re several time zones away from the UK you can’t guarantee that they’ll always be awake when you are. You also don’t want to be constantly glued to your phone, so try to balance catching up with old friends and making new ones.

Hiking in the Rocky Mountains

I know it’s easier said than done and I’m definitely guilty of doing this, but don’t compare your experience to other peoples. Everyone is in different places, having different experiences. Seeing your friends posts on social media can make it seem like they’re having an amazing time, just remember that people only share the best bits of their lives and it’s not representative of reality!

Journaling is one of the things that helps me most, when I’m feeling down I like to write something I’m grateful for to remind myself that not everything is bad! Your mind tends to focus on the negatives, getting your thoughts down with pen and paper makes them a lot more manageable.

Standing round a camp fire to warm up

While you’re away you might feel pressure to constantly say yes to every opportunity for fear of missing out on anything. Whilst I do recommend taking as many opportunities as you can, make sure that you also take enough time for yourself. It can be quite hectic socialising more than you’re used to and trying lots of new things. It can also be really fun, just try to find a balance between pushing yourself out of your comfort zone and giving yourself time to rest and recover.

Wherever you go for your year abroad, know that you are not alone in facing difficulties. There will inevitably be ups and downs, but that’s part of the experience! However if you are really struggling please do reach out for support, I’ve put some links for resources which you might find helpful below.

Sheffield Nightline: https://www.sheffieldnightline.co.uk/

Togetherall: https://www.sheffield.ac.uk/mental-wellbeing/bww

Guide to Support at the University: https://www.sheffield.ac.uk/mental-wellbeing/self-help-guide

Switching to online learning

Jess Knee- Robinson talks us through her experience of how she coped switching to online learning during the 1st wave of the pandemic.

3 weeks into my Erasmus semester at the University of Heidelberg in Germany, I found myself abruptly packing up and hauling 6 months’ worth of (mostly untouched!) belongings back to the airport as the World Health Organisation declared the Covid-19 pandemic.

I was shocked. I wasn’t sure how to react. As the German skyline disappeared from view out of the airplane window, the only thing I was certain of was my dismay at the emergency-style end to my Year Abroad. Initially, arriving home wasn’t much comfort because the differences in the current situation between Germany and the UK left me feeling tense. Germany was further along in terms of infections, so whilst I had been settling in and adopting changes in behaviour there, the UK was still a couple of weeks behind. In a situation like this, I think it’s important to be ready to accept a very different reality from what your family and friends are experiencing back home.

Sigh of Relief that I got to at least try currywurst before I returned home!

The move to online teaching was delayed at first and I think it’s safe to say that a lot of European universities aren’t as tech ready as the UK. I got the impression that this isn’t so much about access to technology as it is about cultural differences. I had been attending a pre-semester language course before I returned home and whilst digital presentations were used, teachers preferred whiteboards and textbooks. This meant that the start of the summer semester was pushed back to early May.

Two weeks into my Sommersemester an der Universität Heidelberg and I was busy with video calls, exercises to submit on Moodle and presentations to prepare. Although, the workload of an Erasmus study abroad semester isn’t typically expected to be as full on as a semester at Sheffield. I wasn’t required to complete the equivalent of a full 60 credits a semester – a study abroad semester is more of a unique opportunity to explore new areas of interests that you perhaps otherwise wouldn’t have the opportunity to study in Sheffield. I chose 3 modules; two language based and one political module about the German Federal Government. For students who were not there to learn German, there was also a wide range of modules fully taught in English.

Being a languages student, I did really want the opportunity to practise with others and I initially worried how easy this would be with online teaching. That said, I enjoyed the interaction during the virtual classes a lot more than I expected. Being in the comfort of your room with the option to have the camera on or off seems to give students an additional level of reassurance when speaking a foreign language. Usually, we spent half the class on a video call and the other half completing worksheets. During the call the teacher often set up “breakout” rooms and we found ourselves on a separate isolated call with a partner to practise speaking as much German as possible. Suddenly, I was getting to know people halfway across the world – from my desk!

Although I was disheartened that I couldn’t experience the campus or take part in extra-curricular activities, the online semester nevertheless offered the opportunity to make international friends. There were plenty of virtual language cafés and ESN (Erasmus Student Network) events such as online quizzes and board game nights. I still felt a strong sense of belonging to the University of Heidelberg and I’m pleased that I could spend lockdown acquiring a set of results from a university abroad that I can now add to my CV.

It may not be perfect, and it may not have been Germany, but I’m grateful for this study abroad experience all the same.

The ups and downs of studying abroad

Most people spend a lot of time preparing for their year abroad – where they’re going to live, what they’re going to pack, and so on. But they often don’t take as much consideration as to the emotional journey that they will go through. This is the less commonly talked about and less glamorous side of studying abroad. In my experience, high and low feelings tend to be exaggerated while you’re away. I’d like to share how I’ve dealt with the ups and downs, hopefully it can help others who might be in my place in the future.

Even if you’re certain that you won’t get homesick, everybody does at some point. When you’re feeling down, remind yourself of why you wanted to do this. View negative experiences as opportunities to learn and grow. It may feel strange to have conflicting feelings, but this is completely normal and understandable. You may feel homesick and at the same time not want to leave your new country. Remember that changing as a person isn’t a bad thing, that’s how you grow. Be open to new things.

Making friends can be difficult at first, it might take some time but eventually you will find people who you ‘click’ with. In my experience, a lot of exchange students aren’t open to putting a lot of effort into building long-term friendships when they’re only around for a semester. Where you choose to live also influences your opportunities to meet people, which might not be something you can predict beforehand. But even if you’re not friends with anyone in your residence, it’s not the end of the world! You just have to make more effort to go out of your way to meet people. It can be difficult to push yourself out of your comfort zone, especially if making friends came naturally throughout school and uni. For me, it was totally worth it as I’ve met loads of really inspiring and genuinely nice people. The type of people that I probably wouldn’t have become friends with otherwise. It’s really refreshing speaking to people from all walks of life and different cultures. I recommend creating routines to regularly spend time with people. For me that’s things like walking to class with a friend, going climbing weekly, and studying with my flatmate.

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Winter camping in the Canadian Rockies, definitely a unique experience!

Journalling is another thing which really helps me. I’m having so many new experiences at the moment, I don’t want to forget them! Write about what you’ve been doing, reflect on how that made you feel, and what you can do differently if it wasn’t a positive experience. Keeping yourself busy keeps you feeling good, but it’s also important to take time to reset.

Even though it’s been tough at times, it’s so worth it and I definitely would have regretted not coming. Surviving on your own in a place where you don’t know anyone is something to be proud of. You can’t guarantee that you’ll have an amazing time on your year abroad, but you can go into it with an open mind and it will be an experience you’ll not regret!

So, how is your year abroad going?

Name: Hanife Kocacinar

Host country: Denmark

Subject: Law

I believe many of the exchange students are asked this question which is why I wanted to share my experience with you all.

So, it has been about 5 months since I left to study in Denmark therefore, I need to rewind a little.

Settling in Denmark

Before moving to Denmark, I was told that it is a very bureaucratic country and little did I know that this would be the biggest challenge of living in Denmark for me. There were so many pre-requisites for opening a bank account to getting registered for healthcare, and at first it seemed like an impossible wall of complications. I was very lucky to have a roommate who had been in Copenhagen since August, so she was always guiding me through these endless steps. While I do not want to get into “What” these steps were, I can indeed answer any specific questions if you are planning on studying in Denmark.

Another issue was the waiting time for all the necessary legal documents like my official visa ID card, which was about 6 weeks, but I did not get it even afterwards. I was starting to get worried because of my plans to leave Denmark for holidays so I chased after this and made a few phone calls to learn that my CPR (Civil Registration Number) number was never sent to the Immigration Office in Denmark hence causing an unreasonable wait for the ID card. I received my visa ID the day before I left for holidays …so you may have to be proactive even if the country is “bureaucratic”. I had a similar issue with my student ID card, which I had not received until late November. I could not open a bank account until late November as well. So, a great beginning to a year abroad huh?

Nevertheless, I knew it would take a while for me to settle down in Denmark so I aimed to make the most of it because at the end of the day these legal processes are not stopping me from living my daily life (and apparently I have to wait for 6 weeks right..)

Around October, due to the lack of friends, I decided to take part in one of the Erasmus events that was aimed for meeting new people.

But what was next?  ..

I decided to organise an event for the Erasmus students to have a drink and chat, so I made some polls and went to the venue. I was actually shocked at the amount of people who came to this event. We were about 20 people, so we decided to mix the tables every once in a while, to meet everyone. I met so many wonderful people there. Interestingly, I also met my next-door neighbours in my accommodation at this event. What a small world haha!

It was inevitable that some friendship groups were formed after this and we all started doing some fun stuff together. I was very happy to have two Erasmus students next door whom me and my roommate organised trips and events together sometimes as well.

Academic

I only had two classes (15 ECTs each) that were master’s level at the University of Copenhagen as master’s level is the only modules available in English for exchange students.

International Investment Law (probably my favourite) was set out in an unusual setting where every week we had to present our case to the Tribunal. Each week different groups took turns to be the Claimant, Respondent or the Tribunal and presented their arguments. I enjoyed this arbitration practice a lot and so did some of my peers as well therefore we had a pre-set group prior to the class and formed our arguments. I learned so much from the other groups’ arguments and how they think as a lawyer. The exam for this class was a 24-hour exam -open book- 2 questions in total.

My second class was International Commercial Contract, this was a more difficult class in my experience as there were so many new legal concepts introduced. I admit that I struggled in the beginning and sometimes had no idea what was going on. But after a few weeks, the topics started to fall together, and I started to see the full picture. I started to read more about the topics to make sense and paid very close attention to the lecturer. By the end of the semester, I understood most of the concepts but especially the ones that I could not get my head around in the beginning. The exam for this class was a research essay that had to be done within 72 hours on a selected topic.

Reflection

I would say that this has been an experience that I could not have prepared for prior to moving to Denmark. There are certain struggles in settling in that only happen once you move, and for some people these are easy to overcome and for some it takes a while. The first 2 months were the most difficult for me, even though I had settled in and knew how to do things already, I did not have a group of friends at that point. After my initiation of organising an event for this purpose, things started getting better. I felt homesick probably in the few weeks or so, but I think that is very common. Besides, I am a bit used to being away from my family since I study in the UK, but I sure missed my friends in Sheffield!

Please follow for more:  https://legallyinternational.com/

Overcoming Obstacles on your Year Abroad

I am currently studying abroad in Münster for the year, and whilst the experience has generally been fantastic, there was initially one major obstacle to overcome: finding somewhere to live. Anyone who has lived in Münster will tell you that the housing situation is untenable, and as the university has no accommodation set aside for international students and waiting lists for their accommodation that start at six months, but stretch to three years, it can definitely be a struggle finding somewhere affordable to call home. I hope the following tips help, as with any challenging situation, often the key is just to stay calm and positive, and it will work out in the end:

First off, you’ll want to start looking early – June at the latest – and set up a profile on German website WG-Gesucht, which is the equivalent to Spareroom.com and very very helpful.

Next you should join as many Facebook housing groups as possible, as well as bookmarking sites like asta.ms and nadann.de, which also regularly post flat listings.

Finally, you just need to constantly check for new updates, and constantly be sending out messages to people until someone replies. Don’t be discouraged if people ignore your messages or say no, most people have to send out hundreds of messages before they get a viewing, so it really doesn’t reflect on you as a person.

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My room in Münster

One last thing to say, is to be wary of scammers. I know of at least one international student who was scammed this year in Münster, so do not send anyone money until you have seen the flat with your own eyes. Worst comes to worst, the university has emergency housing and there are plenty of Air b‘n’bs and good public transport, so don’t worry about living too far out – you could always move once you’ve found somewhere better.

Christmas and New Year’s Eve abroad

During my study abroad year in the USA I had 4 weeks off from uni over Christmas and New Year, so I was able to fit in lots of travelling. Initially before leaving the UK I only booked 2 weeks of stuff so that I’d have time to go home if I felt homesick, or if I met people who wanted to travel too, but I ended up just travelling for 26 days straight and didn’t return home. I figured I was probably never going to get to spend Christmas and New Year’s Eve abroad again, so with some encouragement from my family, I booked the rest!

The first couple of days I went to visit my friend in Portland who I’d spent Thanksgiving with, and we went to a British pub, drove around to see all the Christmas lights, baked cookies, and watched a Christmas movie. She was kind enough to drive me to the airport at 5am, and my first stop was the opposite side of the country – New York! After dreaming of seeing New York city at Christmas since I was a kid and being obsessed with Home Alone 2, I’m sure you can imagine how excited I was at this prospect! It definitely lived up to the hype, and I was in full tourist mode. I visited Times Square, the Empire State Building (which always reminds me of James and the Giant Peach!), went on a boat to see the Statue of Liberty (and they played the Alicia Keys/Jay-Z song on the boat as we passed the Brooklyn bridge, which was so cliché but amazing), the Rockefeller Center for the famous tree and ice rink, Central Park, the 9/11 memorial and World Trade Center, Grand Central Station, and paid to go to the Top of the Rock to get some amazing views. I was torn whether to do TOTR or go to the top of the Empire State, but I wanted the Empire State in my pics and TOTR was also cheaper, so it was win-win!

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One of my favourite things to do when travelling is just wander around with a vague plan of what I want to do, and see what I stumble upon in between, and doing this meant seeing lots of amazing Christmas trees and decorations which was really cool as Americans go all out for the holidays! On the way back to the hostel I always walked back through Central Park, and it was nice seeing people taking horse and carriage rides, and the ice rink with the skyline in the background was really cool too. I did get lost in the park on one day and it was getting dark so that was a bit scary but Google Maps always comes in handy – I would highly recommend using this as even if you don’t have a lot of data or might not have service somewhere, you can download map areas for offline use! That experience although a little scary at first did make me feel like I was living my true Home Alone 2 dream, though unfortunately there was no pigeon lady. I also used the subway for the first time which I’m proud of as they terrify me, I literally walk for hours whenever I visit London instead of getting the tube for 5 mins, and I’ve watched far too many horror movies/shows! But it was so easy to use, top up, and get around so I would definitely recommend getting a pass for it. Even though I was staying right next to Central Park and everything was close by, the city is so huge that some things are still quite far away. Also, money saving tip: skip the fancy food and get $1 pizza. It is SO good, and did I mention it’s $1? #studentlife

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After New York I went to Washington DC, which is definitely my favourite eastern US city! I did enjoy my time in New York, but I have to say it wasn’t my fave place and probably not somewhere I would visit again. NY reminded me of the things about London that I don’t like, whereas DC reminded me of all the things about London that I love. I wasn’t expecting to enjoy DC half as much as I did, but was pleasantly surprised! The city felt very safe (even walking around at night I felt safe), was very clean, everyone was friendly, the public transport is great, there’s so many free things to do (all the museums – and there’s a lot as it’s home to all the famous Smithsonian ones – are free every day and HUGE!), and the architecture is just so beautiful. I was really lucky as although it was freezing, it was sunny with blue skies almost all of my time there (and there’s museums to hide in when it’s not). I did the monument trail and saw all the well-known ones, as well as some lesser-known (at least to me) ones, one of which ended up being my favourite. To say it was the week before Christmas it was pretty quiet in a lot of places too which was nice – I pretty much had the entire inside of the Jefferson memorial to myself! In addition to all the monuments on the trail, I visited a few museums (Natural History – this took up an entire day, Air & Space, and the Smithsonian), and I went to see the White House, the national Christmas tree, the botanical gardens, the Supreme Court, the United States Capitol building, and lots of others around that area. If you’re big on sight-seeing and/or history, science or technology I would 100% recommend a trip to Washington DC! It’s also one of few states that doesn’t have sales tax (Oregon is another, yay!) so is great for shopping too! It also means you actually know how much things cost, as sales tax being added at the till is probably the most annoying thing about America!

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Before leaving the UK I knew that Oregon had a similar climate to Sheffield in the winter months, so I’d decided to get some sun over the break. I booked onto a Trek America tour that spent Christmas week touring around Florida, and the New Year in New Orleans. It was so nice flying into Florida and being reminded of what warmth felt like! I was meeting my tour group in Miami but since I couldn’t afford the flight on the day before, I’d planned it so I arrived a week early and stayed in Fort Lauderdale for the first few days (again, because flights to Miami were too expensive!), then got an uber down to Miami a few days later. I’d visited Fort Lauderdale before on holiday and mostly just spent time at the beach which was really nice, and I had a proper hotel so it was good to relax and catch up on sleep after a week in hostels! There was even a huge sand man instead of a snowman, with lights wrapped around the palm trees. I then headed to Miami, and for the first few nights booked into a hostel, which ended up being the worst one I’ve ever stayed in. Then the night before my tour I stayed in the pre-departure hotel, which was beautiful, but unfortunately I didn’t have time to enjoy the rooftop pool etc. as our reservation hadn’t been made. I would recommend Trek America in general, however I wouldn’t recommend doing the pre/post tour accommodation through them – they messed it up for our entire group which meant wasting hours on the phone and an entire afternoon sat on a hotel reception floor, so it was getting dark by the time I got into a room, and only then it was because someone else on my tour arrived and let me share with them as otherwise I’d have had to pay $250 as well as the others paying for it not being booked in advance. From Miami we headed down to the Florida Keys to stay in Key West, which I had been to when I was younger as it’s my dad’s favourite place in the world, but this time I was old enough to drink so it was definitely a lot more eventful! We went to quite a few bars and sat outside enjoying the sun, and went to watch the sunset over the water at Mallory Square which was beautiful. I spent Christmas Day snorkelling a coral reef in the sunshine, Facetimed my family back home, and had a Starbucks festive panini and famous key lime pie instead of a Christmas dinner! We then went on another bar crawl and after befriending some locals that took us to some interesting places it ended up being the most random night of my life, let alone the most random Christmas night!

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After Key west we headed up to the Everglades national park and stayed at a swamp safari which was very rustic but so cool with all the wildlife. It was a bit intimidating going to the toilet in the middle of the night though as it involved a decent walk past strange noises in the dark, and knowing that a panther had been spotted earlier in the day haha. We went on a swamp boat tour of the everglades and saw alligators, fish, birds, deer, water buffalo, all sorts. The next stop was Orlando, and I really wanted to go to a water park but it was so hectic that we decided to skip the parks. I love Orlando and have been a few times, but I would highly recommend NOT going over Christmas – even the food places had lines so long that it took 2-3 hours just trying to find somewhere to eat that didn’t have a few hours wait. I’ve been in various months of the year and it’s never been that bad, even in the summer holidays! We spent most of the time relaxing by the pool making the most of the heat & humidity, shopping, and spending the evenings at sports bars. We then headed up to Destin, and unfortunately the weather was shocking, so we didn’t really get to do much there. We then drove through Alabama and Mississippi on the way to Louisiana, and stopped en-route for some traditional southern BBQ food. The place we’d wanted to go to in Alabama was full, so we stopped at a dodgy looking place in Mississippi but I have to say they did the best pulled pork sandwich I’ve ever had! We finally made it to New Orleans on the 30th, and started to celebrate the new year early. There was a Saints (NFL) game that day and a college football bowl game on New Year’s Day, so there were a lot of football fans and parades in town which I loved. Drinking in the street is allowed in New Orleans and it’s just a constant party vibe all the time, it was a lot of fun spending a few days there! We got to see a country music festival with one of my favourite bands playing live, saw the fireworks over the Mississippi river, went to a burlesque show, and partied on Bourbon Street. I also went on a swamp boat tour to the Bayou, and a walking tour of the city to learn more about its history and why it’s associated with voodoo and witchcraft. I’m a huge American Horror Story, Vampire Diaries and The Originals fan, so this was really cool!

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The final stop on my travels was Houston Texas, as I’d always wanted to visit the NASA Space Center there. It was amazing there and I’d definitely recommend a visit, though unfortunately I didn’t see much of the city of Houston. I then flew back to Oregon, and after 4 weeks on the road I was very happy to be back in my apartment and ready to see my friends and start a new term! Despite it being quite expensive and there being a lot of things that went wrong (from hotel reservations to flight problems to falling over and smashing my phone and elbow!), I’m really glad I spent the break travelling and have sooo many stories to tell, in case you hadn’t guessed from the length of this post!

Thanksgiving in the USA

During my study abroad year in Oregon in the USA I was fortunate enough to experience a very traditional Thanksgiving holiday. My friend Emily invited me to spend the holiday with her family in Portland, so we drove up after classes finished on Wednesday, which thankfully finished earlier than usual. Her entire family were so welcoming and made me feel really at home, and we had a great evening chatting, eating, and doing a jigsaw. The next morning it was officially Thanksgiving and some more family members had arrived from Montana, so it was really nice getting to know them too. Around lunch time we headed over to Emily’s cousins house who was hosting dinner this year, and I couldn’t believe how nice their house is and how much effort had gone into the decorating – Americans really go all out for holidays!

There were around 30 of us over for dinner which was slightly hectic but also lovely, I have quite a large family back home, so it was really nice to have lots of people around. The food was AMAZING. We had a lovely platter for starters that had things like cheeses, sliced meats, nuts and salad, as well as lots of seasonal alcoholic or non-alcoholic drinks. Thanksgiving dinner is basically like a British Christmas dinner, just with a few differences. We had turkey, ham, stuffing, mashed potato, sweet potato casserole (it has marshmallow on top, sooo good!), gravy (different to English gravy, but also different to the country gravy they have with breakfast in the US!), a mix of sweet potato/cranberries/pecans that I’m not sure what it was called but it was good, dinner rolls (bread rolls, not something we would have with a roast!), salad, and cranberry sauce. American cranberry sauce comes jellied in a can over here which I thought was weird – this is probably the only thing we have Americans beat on! There were also so many desserts as various family members contributed different dishes. I got to try pumpkin pie for the first time, and I’m glad I held out for a homemade one as it was great. There were also cinnamon rolls, peanut brittle, jello with cream, and cupcakes.

 

Before and after dinner we watched a lot of American football, which is a huge American tradition. Since I was completely obsessed with the sport by this point, I really enjoyed this! There was also a red wine tasting competition, lots of chatting, and some naps after a huge meal. We eventually headed back to Emily’s house where we watched a Christmas movie and carried on with the jigsaw, it was a lovely end to the day.

The day after Thanksgiving was also a holiday day, so another day off uni! Emily’s family were having a second celebration at home, but I’d made plans to go to the Civil War football game at uni so I headed back to Corvallis in the morning to meet up with my friend Diana. Civil War is kind of like Varsity / Derby Day over here – it’s when each uni plays their biggest rivals, and this year it was a home game. For the Oregon State University Beavers this means playing the University of Oregon Ducks, which is a huge rivalry! People from all over the state drive over for the game, with fans paying so much money for tickets (all home games are free for students thankfully). The weather was awful, after a brief appearance from the sun it turned into probably the rainiest day of the term so far, and we unfortunately lost 55-15. Despite the loss and the weather, the Beaver Nation pride shone through and everyone was up chanting and dancing, I really love the American sports culture! As usual there were cheerleaders, a fire eater, the dance team, the marching band (U of O’s band also performed during the half-time show), and they even gave away an SUV! It’s crazy to me how much of a big deal in the community university sports are over there!

There was a week of classes left after the Thanksgiving break and then it was straight into the final exams for the term, so it was a really nice break having a long weekend off for the holiday. I really enjoyed my first Thanksgiving and spending it in such a traditional way reminded me of all the things I have to be grateful for. On that note I’ll end on this pic from the day, as it sums up the holiday well!

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Tips for Travelling on a Budget

One of the very obvious bonus points about studying abroad is the ‘abroad’!

When I found out I was going to be studying in Oslo, Norway, I was pretty excited—the great thing about being in Europe is that there are so many countries just a stone’s throw away from where you are studying!

Gamla Stan, Stockholm, Sweden (September 2018)

During the year, I managed to travel within Norway, and to Sweden, Iceland, Denmark, Finland, Russia and Estonia, as well as squeezing in a couple of trips back to the UK. Scandinavia is one of the most expensive regions in the world, so I wanted to share a few top tips for travelling on a budget:

  • Consider your mode of transport

Look at different methods of travel for different trips! Obviously for some trips such as Iceland, your options are pretty limited to flying, but it often worked out cheaper to look at other transport methods. For example, a friend and I took the train to Stockholm, and we went on a ferry to Helsinki, St Petersburg and Tallinn. Some of my friends also used FlixBus, which had very cheap tickets! Other modes of transport may take longer, but are often worth it not just in terms of money—the train ride from Oslo to Bergen is one of the prettiest I have ever seen! It is also worth remembering that coaches and trains will usually take you into the centre of a city, whereas airports are usually on the outskirts, with further transportation costs required to get into the centre.

Bergen, Norway (September 2018)
  • Look for discount codes

Some transport companies accept different international student cards and discount codes to get money off travel. I found the most discounts available with airlines. For example, Ryanair are currently partnered with Erasmus Student Network (ESN), so ESN cardholders/members can get 15% off flights. SAS Scandinavian airlines offered a youth ticket, and the discount code ‘UNDER26’ also gets money off flights with Norwegian airlines, so it is definitely worth keeping an eye out for different deals in your region!

  • Try to visit multiple places in one trip
Walking on a glacier, Iceland (January 2019)

If you are wanting to travel to places that are close to each other, try to find the time to squeeze as many as possible into one trip. This saves you money on multiple methods of travel, and is better for the environment too! For example, I went on an ESN ferry trip that began in Stockholm and docked in Helsinki, St Petersburg and Tallinn before ending back in Stockholm. This took a week and allowed me to see four places—it was also much cheaper doing it with ESN as many of their trips and activities are subsidised as you are such a large group. Ferries are great too as they double up as your accommodation.

  • Don’t worry if you can’t do everything!
Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood, St Petersburg, Russia (April 2019)

Although I managed to travel to so many places during my Erasmus year, I still felt like there were places I missed out on. Although I was studying in Norway, outside of Oslo I didn’t manage to see much else of the country beyond Bergen, as all the travel was either out of my time frame or budget. My friends and I also made provisional plans to go to Germany, but this never happened either. It’s so common to not be able to do everything, and it’s definitely an excuse to come back and travel more in the future! It’s also worth remembering to be a tourist in your own city—I got to know Oslo really well through having people come visit me, and each time gave me a renewed appreciation of why I love the place so much!

Nyhavn, Copenhagen, Denmark (March 2019)

As daft as it may sound, try not to worry too much about money! It is worth remembering that your student loan is usually a little larger whilst abroad than it would be at Sheffield, so utilise this if you can. Book travel and accommodation within your means, but enjoy yourself whilst you are out there and don’t cut too many corners—you are allowed to enjoy yourself!

Happy travelling!

Blog about my experience on the British Council Generation UK programme, Beijing 2019

I applied to the Generation UK programme and completed an internship during the summer of 2019.

The programme was a perfect fit for me, a cross-cultural experience working in a Chinese organisation as well as learning mandarin. Before undertaking the internship, I knew that I wanted an international career that was meaningful, and purpose orientated, therefore I chose the Non-Government Organisation (NGO) category to reflect this. However, there are a variety of sectors you can choose tailored to your discipline or individual preferences, including Engineering, Legal, Technology and many other types of internships available.

I undertook my placement at the China-Britain Business Council (CBBC) in Beijing for two months and my role was a Research and Editorial Intern. From the moment I stepped in, I felt at the heart of China-UK trade relations. I feel working at CBBC was a good match for me, because it utilised my knowledge of my International Business Management degree. My role was to review and contribute to business proposals ensuring that CBBC delivered work to a consistently high standard for both British and International clients, ranging from small enterprises to large Multi-National Enterprises. The experience at CBBC also exposed me to other membership organisations including the EU SME centre and the British Chamber of Commerce as well as CBBC’s strong relationship with UK Governmental departments including the Department for International Trade. I was invited to many events including a sustainability conference, thus enhancing my network in China.

There is a strong community on the programme as you will be with other Generation UK interns.

In addition to the Internship, there are lots of cultural opportunities during the programme, for example attending Calligraphy classes and food tasting. Weekends are free and I had the opportunity to travel within China visiting Shanghai and Xi’an with friends on the programme.

The language barrier was certainly a challenge for me, as I went to China knowing limited mandarin, however the weekly mandarin lessons supported my learning and I was allocated into a group based on my language ability. If you are looking to improve your language proficiency, this is a great opportunity to practice in a working environment.

I feel the Generation UK programme has opened many doors, and avenues that I did not think of before taking the internship. I would thoroughly recommend the Generation UK programme to anyone that is interested in undertaking international work experience, learning about Chinese culture and those looking to step out of their comfort zone.

It is open to students who are still at University, or recently graduated.

If you have any questions about the internship or application process, feel free to reach out to me at staviner1@sheffield.ac.uk