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Diary of a Master’s Student Abroad: Month 5 (January 2017)

Skiing in Murren, Switzerland

Well January disappeared in a shot didn’t it?! This is the fifth of my monthly updates (here’s the firstsecondthird and fourth) that I’m hoping to write throughout my 2-year Master’s, partly to keep a record for myself of my experience doing this degree, to look back on in future, and partly to give you all an idea of what the life of a student abroad is like, what I’m learning on my course and what I get up to. If you’re curious why I’ve moved abroad to start a Master’s, find out more about that here: ‘My Next Steps: Why I’m Emigrating to Europe’.

         January was a relaxing month at long last, after four months of a stimulating but busy schedule in the Netherlands. It was a month to lie-in bed late, recharge my batteries, catch up with family and friends back in the UK and go on holiday. I spent a lot of time in the calm of the countryside and was able to get down to work without the endless distractions and diversions of city life. In short, it was a brilliant month!

         So here’s the fifth blog post of the series, covering January 2017: the fifth month of my 2-year Masters in European Society, Politics and Culture in a Global Context.

Where I’ve been in January

Hampshire, London, Mürren (Switzerland), Uppsala

What I’ve been up to in January

Officially my first semester at Groningen didn’t finish until the end of January, however as I had no lectures or exams in Groningen itself this month I decided to save some money and move back to England for Christmas and January. While I had no lectures or classes in January, I did have research paper and portfolio deadlines worth 15 ECTS (50% of my entire semester) to meet, so there was quite a lot of work involved and my brain didn’t completely turn to mush. My car is currently broken and there’s no public transport from my village, so while I was staying in Hampshire, if my parents weren’t around, then I was pretty much in total solitary confinement. So I also made sure I escaped to London at weekends to see friends and other human beings my own age, and I indulged in a heavenly week skiing in the sunny and snowy Swiss Alps. And then I moved to Sweden!

  • On the studying side of things, the New Year brought fantastic news as I found out I’d been awarded the University of Groningen’s grant for excellent students! And then on the 30th anniversary of Erasmus I also received my Erasmus grant, which is going to be a big help in notoriously expensive Sweden. I submitted the 6,000 word research paper on the impact of colonialism on British identity that I’ve been working on for a few months and was thrilled to get a 9/10 grade! It’s the longest essay I’ve ever written and it frustratingly cost me a weekend away in Hamburg so I’m relieved about my grade, and I’ve submitted it for publication in a journal too. Next up, I wrote and submitted a 31-page portfolio of various academic assignments and I wrote a devilishly hard essay on EU law. While on holiday I struggled to write my final paper of the month, for my Cultural Construction of Europe course, and I chose to weigh up the pros and cons of Hollywood’s false representation of Europe, but I did finally manage to submit it, leaving one study-free week in which to relax and watch non-stop episodes of Midsomer Murders in the middle of the day. The life!
  • On the extracurricular side, not a huge amount happened. I reacquainted myself with Detective Barnaby and his police squad in Midsomer Murders, and also exceeded my annual quota of Agatha Christie murder mysteries as well. (If you know me well, then you’ll know that I never watch TV, with English detective series being my only vice!) Apart from that, I tried to practice a few of my languages by going running to the sound of audiobooks in other languages (currently Paulo Coelho’s ‘A espiã’ about the infamous Mata Hari) and watching the Russian TV adaptation of Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s novel ‘Idiot‘.
  • On the work side, zilch. However, I have started applying for work placements for my 3rd semester and I have one or two interviews lined up in the near future.


  • On the travelling side, I started the month with a list of travel goals for the year. Ever since I’ve been very excitingly planning my movements over the next year and booking in visitors to Uppsala. I went up to London twice for various parties and visited the excellent Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition at the Natural History Museum. But the biggie was a week-long trip skiing in the Swiss Alps, in Murren, where I raced in the Inferno! And my last flight of the month was to Stockholm to move to Uppsala! And I have booked a very exciting trip for this summer, which I’ll be revealing very soon…

January in an Instagram

Here’s the most popular photo from my Instagram this month. If you don’t already follow me, then you can find me at @vstuarttaylor.

Things I’ve Learned in January

  • How to ski race. I’ve basically ticked off two of my travel goals for the year already: do the Inferno and learn a new skill! I had never used race skis before in my life, never donned a ski catsuit or even done a few slalom turns before my trip to Switzerland 2 weeks ago! And I loved it.
  • How to write an annotated bibliography ahead of a research paper and how to write a critical review of a scholarly article. These might be tasks you did in your Bachelor’s dissertation, but as my BA didn’t oblige me to do a dissertation, I’ve had a lot to learn for my Master’s. These two tasks in particularly proved far harder than I was expecting. And so time consuming!
  • To be grateful. For the whole of 2015 I wrote a small daily journal of just a few sentences each day. It’s known as gratitude journalling, where you take a moment to appreciate all the small good things in your life that might otherwise pass unnoticed or taken for granted. Things like: having a roof over your head, or a healthy family, or even just nice weather for a countryside walk, or enough snow to go skiing. I took a pause in 2016 (as I was writing a proper diary about my travels anyway) but this year I’ve started another daily journal, and all of January I’ve been feeling so grateful for everything around me, things that are nothing extraordinary, but which I shouldn’t take for granted.
  • That we’ve entered a new phase in global politics since Trump’s inauguration and I’m honestly a little bit scared for the future. A few years ago a friend of mine organised a campaign to get British teenagers more interested in politics, which at the time (pre-coalition government) was admittedly was a bit of a same-old-same-old topic. Although I’m sure the recent turn of events will spark a new generation of young people interested in politics, I’m not sure it’s the ideal solution he had in mind!
  • That things always turn out ok in the end as long as you stay optimistic. The 24 hours directly before and after my flight to Sweden were plagued by that familiar feeling of apprehension about moving somewhere new. Excitement, but slight nervousness too. It’s important to remember that this feeling is completely natural, it’s inevitable and that it always goes away if you focus on the good things and set about resolving any bits you don’t like. So I’m happy to say that now I’m settled, I really like my new city of Uppsala!

Snowy trees in Murren, Switzerland

January’s high points

          The highlight of January was obviously my week skiing in Switzerland (have I banged on enough about that yet?), but in particular I loved: meeting such wonderful people, skiing with my aunt, eating a delicious fondue up the mountain, having a surreal sunrise breakfast on race day in the Piz Gloria restaurant on top of the Schilthorn mountain, and seeing snow in the Alps after there was so little at Christmas. Apart from skiing, other high points were receiving two grants to fund my studies(!), spending time catching up and celebrating with old friends in London, and a couple of good, long walks and pub lunches in the New Forest, Hampshire and Surrey countryside with my father, who is retired, so also decadently free midweek like me. And getting an (as yet secret) trip booked for the summer was also majorly exciting!

January’s low points

         Three separate I-want-to-die hangovers: one after a New Year’s Eve party with old schoolfriends, one after a dinner party in London got slightly out of hand, and one after celebrating the Inferno race in Murren. Honestly why do I not learn… Another low point was having quite so much work to do but no one else at home in the daytime to chat to or break up the work. At least in Groningen I would see my classmates and we’d all commiserate together, but in Hampshire this month it felt very much like a solo effort without the same support as in Groningen. Not having my own transport in Hampshire was also like taking a step 10 years back in time – asking parents for lifts is not cool aged 27! The pitch black tobogganing that followed the mammoth fondue in Murren was literally terrifying, as very few of us had head torches so at times I was literally just hurtling into nothingness in front of me, knowing full well there were trees and sudden drops all around! Weirdly fun looking back on it though! The uphill climb of the Inferno race was 10x worse than what I’d imagined and I thought my lungs were going to explode! And the final low point – because of my academic schedule, I had to turn down a paid opportunity to spend a month in Borneo this spring! Last autumn I was likewise offered the chance to spend a few months volunteering in Tanzania with Raleigh as a last minute stand-in Team Leader, which I also had to sadly turn down due to my Master’s…

January in a Tweet

Upcoming Plans for February

        I’ll be settling into my new home in Uppsala before my lectures start on the 7th February. I only have between 4-8 hours of lectures each week, but I’ve been warned about how much reading is expected here in Uppsala so I’ll likely be well acquainted with the library this month! Other than that, my month is pretty much entirely free, apart from a weekend in the Swedish city of Gothenburg with my friend Simon, and I’d like to pop into nearby Stockholm too as it’s only 45 minutes away. I’ll also blog about my upcoming trip in the summer which will be demanding a lot of my attention in the next few months.

My rather more restful January has been the perfect start to 2017 and I really enjoyed spending time with my family in between the two semesters. I didn’t attempt a detox, a diet or dry January at all, but congratulations to anyone who has succeeded and enjoy your celebrations!

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