Diary of a Master’s Student Abroad: Month 6 (February 2017)
I can’t believe we’re already half way through the academic year – it’s shot by in a flash! Here is the sixth of my monthly updates (here are the others) that I’m writing 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’.
February has been all about settling into my new home in Sweden, starting my classes at the University of Uppsala and figuring out how to adopt the Scandinavian lifestyle. The pace has thankfully been less hectic than in the Netherlands (at least so far!) and I’ve had time to explore some other parts of Sweden and even Norway too! The long and short of is that I really like Sweden and am feeling very happy about the year ahead!
So here’s the sixth blog post of the series, covering February 2017: the sixth month of my 2-year Master’s in European Society, Politics and Culture in a Global Context.
Where I’ve been in February
Uppsala, Stockholm, Gothenburg (all in Sweden) and Oslo (Norway)
What I’ve been up to in February
Having moved to Uppsala in late January, I spent this month settling into my new Swedish lifestyle, meeting up with new and old friends, kitting out my new flat and planning out my next few months here with trips and visitors. In comparison to previous months a lot less has been “achieved” as there have been fewer deadlines for my Master’s, which can make writing this monthly review feel a little empty at times… But never underestimate the amount of life admin that moving to a new country can involve!
- On the studying side of things, I met my new classmates in Uppsala and got stuck into our different classes here. One of the key attractions to me of spending a semester here was our class on the Baltic Sea Region (including the Nordic countries, Russia, the Baltic states comprising Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, as well as Poland and German), as it’s not a region that I’m at all familiar with, bar 5 days in Stockholm, 2 weeks in St Petersburg and Moscow, and my attempts to learn Russian. I’m particularly interested in Russia and its ongoing role in ex-Soviet states. We also have a class on research methodology and another class in which we have to design and manage a group project (which is so far looking likely to be a conference on the role of media, fake news and post-truth politics in the upcoming elections the Netherlands, France and Germany – although that could all change!). But that’s it! Only 6 hours of classes a week! In addition to that we have literally a library-full of reading to tackle and I need to get started on two sizeable research papers – gulp. My writer’s block regarding the exact topics to research prompted my recent blog post on passion vs interest. I also received all of my grades for the 1st semester, and have thankfully passed everything!
- On the extracurricular side, I’ve started my Swedish lessons, although I keep defaulting back to Dutch, as they’re more similar languages than you’d expect: (“Ik heet Virginia” in Dutch vs. “Jag heter Virginia” in Swedish). I’m still working on organising the Illicit Trade Summer School at the University of Groningen, which is open now for applications until 1st April! The school is running from the 2-8th July 2017, taught by experts in the field from across the world, so do take a look and forward to anyone you think might be interested! My mother and I are getting stuck into our training for Mont Blanc (if you’re on Strava then you can follow me here), and finally, I’m working on a proposal for an independent Honours College project that I need to complete by August. I’m currently thinking of a field trip this summer across various European countries to research, collect data and conduct interviews on European identity – but we’ll have to see! My Italian has got a lot of practice too, thanks to some great films I can recommend: La miglior gioventù and Alla luce del sole.
- On the travelling side, I’ve been on a bit of a city tour of Scandinavia, with day trips to nearby Stockholm (to the fantastic Fotografiska gallery), a long weekend in Gothenburg in western Sweden to meet up with friends and attend the annual horse show (but mainly to gorge on incredible food and drink), before venturing into Norway for 3 days in Oslo, visiting a Norwegian friend of mine. Norway is now officially my 51st country, although I’m dying to go back in the summer to see more of the fjords and the beautiful countryside up north. As I’m currently in a reading week with no lectures (tough being a student hey!) I toyed with the idea of taking the very scenic train to Bergen as well, but have decided to save it for a sunnier season. Closer to Uppsala, my classmates and I also explored some of the local lakes in Knivsta while walking our friend Luca’s adorable dog!
On the blogging side of things, I was a little quiet on the blog… But I did manage to interview the inspirational Charlie Bartlett, who cycled for 7 months from Turkey to Hong Kong – don’t miss that one as it sounded and looked incredible! I also announced my mother’s and my attempt to follow in the footsteps of my great-great-grandfather by climbing Mont Blanc this summer, a whole 138 years after he climbed it! There’s also a post about my first impressions of Uppsala and a post about why ‘finding your passion‘ is the wrong career advice. Over on The Well-Travelled Journal, I’ve published a new essay about how Hollywood defines Europe’s identity, which might interest any of you cinephiles.
February 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 February
- Some Swedish! So far we’ve only covered the basics, such as introductions, numbers, time and my daily routine, but with 4 hours per week provided to me by the university, I’m hoping to grasp it sooner rather than later!
- About the Baltic states. Thanks to one of my classes, I’m learning and the region surrounding the Baltic Sea, in particular about the role of Russia in post-soviet states and the energy geopolitics at play between Russia and the EU.
- About the Balkan states. My shamefully low knowledge of the history of former Yugoslavia and the current context in the Balkans, especially of the tensions between Serbia and Kosovo, has been somewhat improved thanks to my Serbian classmate Stefan who’s been educated me and bringing me up to scratch! I think it’s embarrassing that so little news from that region reaches the mainstream in the UK (which is my excuse for my relative ignorance up until now) and I’m really intrigued to learn more.
- How to drive a van. Aside from briefly driving a Land Rover many many moons ago, I’ve only ever driven quite small cars, so hiring a whole and simultaneously navigating the streets of Uppsala to obtain my much-coveted sofa was a challenge! By a stroke of luck I had a handful or rugby players on hand to help with the sofa (including one from the Swedish national team!) but the driving was all down to me – and no crashes to my relief!
February’s high points
Living in utter luxury in Gothenburg for 3 days! Characterised by the 5* Dorsia Hotel, champagne sunsets at Heaven 23, private dining rooms at Sjömagasinet, world-class horse-jumping and 19-course tasting menus with paired wines at the Michelin star Upper House restaurant on the 25th floor of Gothia Towers, I was in absolute paradise! Because I’ve been moving around so much in the last few years, I really treasured catching up with my London friends Simon and Ingvild. Acquiring a (free!) sofa bed to complete my flat literally made my week – my quality of life has quadrupled in one go! Visiting the Fotografiska gallery in Stockholm never fails to amaze, and likewise my very first gasque (a traditional black tie dinner unique to Uppsala) at Stockholms nation was an absolute feast and such, such fun. My morning runs in the sun along the frozen Fyris River are real moments of pure happiness, and I was so touched that Ingvild and her boyfriend helped me celebrate Pancake Day in Oslo! And getting all my visitors booked in was very exciting as I’m so excited to show them Sweden!
The cost of living in Sweden is a real party pooper, especially after how cheap the Netherlands was. Every single supermarket trip leaves me feeling deflated and bereft, as if my hard-earned savings have been stolen from me! The inevitable life admin involved in moving to a new country and university has also been a pain, as has having to schedule Skype calls with my family instead of just seeing them all the time, as I got used to over Christmas and during January. Worst of all, I started the month by researching and applying for a few different work placements and internships, but I ended up just feeling very disillusioned by the prospect of doing unpaid and probably menial work, after 4 years of real work… So there was a bit of questioning and difficult indecision going on about my 3rd semester, which is thankfully all resolved now!
February in a Tweet
“Optimism is a strategy for making a better future.” — Noam Chomsky
Upcoming Plans for March
In March, once my reading week is over, I’ll have to knuckle down and actually start working on my various papers, aside from some very welcome distractions that I’m looking forward to: a weekend back in London and two separate sets of visitors! I’ll be playing host to two school friends and then two uni friends, showing them the delights of Uppsala and Stockholm!
February has been a fantastic mix of meeting new people, making new friends and also catching up with old friends from London. The lighter workload has left plenty of time for socialising and I’m enjoying exploring Uppsala’s different student nations. Fingers crossed for more of the same next month!