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Diary of a Master’s Student Abroad: Month 8 (April 2017)

I’ve now just 1 month left here in Sweden (out of a 4-month semester) and the city of Uppsala is truly starting to feel like home. So here is the eighth 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’.

This month I practically lived out of hand luggage. In fact for 20 out of 30 days this month, I was either abroad (living out of a suitcase) or hosting friends from abroad (who were living out of their suitcases). In fact I’ve barely had a moment alone to myself in Uppsala, having spent two weeks of the month flitting between the Netherlands, Italy and London. So much packing and unpacking has made the month pass quickly, and also meant I barely had any time for blogging! It’s also given me plenty of chances to compare and reflect on the different qualities belonging to each of these 4 countries that I’ve spent time living in, and to work out what I like about each and ponder where I might want to spend more time living in future.

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

Where I’ve been in April

Uppsala, Stockholm, Groningen (the Netherlands), Bremen (Germany), Milan, Lake Como, London

What I’ve been up to in April

I spent April hosting different sets of friends and my sister here in Sweden, as well as popping back to my former homes, London and Groningen, and also sneaking in an indulgent Easter weekend in my beloved Italy! My classes basically all ended this month so there was a good deal of work done to finish off, but even less structure and even fewer contact hours than last month – something I’ve already complained about on my blog and which will no doubt be a stand-out memory for me from Uppsala – a university which has otherwise really impressed me. So aside from my Master’s work, I’ve managed to keep myself busy, as per usual, by travelling elsewhere and playing the tourist in Sweden.

  • On the studying side of things, I spent a solid weekend indoors working on a paper for my Baltic Sea Region seminar, on the geopolitical labelling and identity of Estonia, analysing the various nation brands ascribed to Estonia: Baltic, Nordic, post-Soviet, Russian, Eastern European, which I then had to present and lead a seminar group discussion on. I promise to publish it on The Well-Travelled Journal soon. I also got the chance to read and debate my classmates’ fascinating papers, on wide-ranging topics such as Roma beggars, military conscription, Sami tourism, majority-minority language relations, feminism and education, among others, all related to the Baltic Sea Region. In a separate Methodology class, we also elaborated on our main research papers by writing an abstract, bibliography and project precis (you can also find a new article on methodological approaches to studying society and culture here). Now the task falls to actually write the paper itself by mid-May and it seems a mammoth task, despite only being 6,000 words. And finally, in preparation for our ‘The War on Truth: Is Europe Next?’ conference on the 15th May, on the topic of fake news and disinformation, I created a website for the event and taught a few classmates how to do so too. If you’re in the Uppsala area that day then please do register to attend as it’s free (!) and set to be a great event, with speakers flying in from the rest of Europe to participate! Check out our website: warontrutheurope.com
  • On the extracurricular side, I spent 3 days back in Groningen working on preparations for the Illicit Trade Summer School with a dream team made up of an American, an Italian, a Chinese, a Mexican and myself! We’re thrilled by the calibre of applications received and excited to welcome the students to Groningen in two months’ time. Another little side project I’m involved in is Exeter University’s female alumni group. Along with the rest of the Exeter Alumnae committee, we hosted our annual Women in Leadership event at the University Women’s Club in London’s Mayfair and it was a big success! Our committee is also looking for a new chair and for interested volunteers to join our committee, so if you’re an Exeter graduate then please do get in touch. Finally, I experienced Valborg! Valborg is an annual Swedish festival on 30th April which is luckily a very big deal in Uppsala, which receives huge crowds all celebrating and drinking all weekend long. More on that below!
  • On the travelling sideI showed around my uni friends Jess and Georgie around Uppsala and Stockholm, exploring the Archipelago by boat, picnicking by Lake Ekoln, visiting Stockholm’s Modern Art Museum and eating plenty of ‘fika’ at my favourite cafe in Uppsala: Guntherska. Flying further afield, I spent 4 nights back in the dreamy canal-lined, bicycle-filled city of Groningen in the Netherlands, savouring the Dutch lifestyle and feeling instantly at home again in the city where I spent my last semester.
  • From there I travelled briefly into Germany (the city of Bremen looked very pretty from my 15-minute tram ride en route to the airport!) in order to fly to Northern Italy for a sunny Easter weekend of good food, fine wine and stunning scenery in and around Milan and Lake Como, with an Italian friend who lives there. While at Lake Como we visited Villa Balbianello and Villa Carlotta, the waterfront villages of Bellagio and Pescallo, and we hiked up to Rifugio Martina for an Easter lunch typical of the Lombardy region: polenta uncia (polenta covered in melted cheese). I of course took zillions of photos, which I’ll save for a special blog post just on Lake Como.

  • After Italy (and after another stint of hosting my sister Olivia and another friend Jess in Sweden), I flew home to London primarily for the Women in Leadership reception I already mentioned. But I also caught up with plenty of friends over lunches and dinner parties, and I managed to fit in a cocktail afternoon tea at the London Bridge Hotel, the World Photography Exhibition at Somerset House, a stroll along the Wandle Trail, a couple of afternoons at the Oriental Club near Bond Street and a fantastic Escape Room game at HintHunt. London on a sunny weekday when I’m not at work = heaven!
  • On the blogging side of things, I’m ashamed to admit that I published a pitiful total of one blog post in April. I’m mortified that I neglected my blog to this extent! Despite low quantity, the post hopefully made up for it in quality, as I focused on ‘Why “Save Money” is the Most Important Advice of your 20s‘, not only to protect yourself for the future but also to enjoy your youth. On the The Well-Travelled Journal however I did publish two articles (Methodological Approaches to Studying Society and Culture and How to Approach Europe’s Identity Crisis) and I have various other blog posts in the pipeline. Two of my London excursions were part of the Traverse Bloggers’ conference (the afternoon tea and Escape Room game) so I did manage some mingling with other bloggers and I wish I could have attended the full weekend line-up too! I’ve recently got more into sharing short videos of my travels (see below), and I was also pleased to be featured on two major bloggers’ websites from outside of the travel niche, hopefully signalling that my writing is applicable and relevant to a wider audience than just travel addicts. These two were Iona Bain’s Young Money Blog and Lindsay Pollack’s millennial careers blog.

Literally in love with this lake!

A post shared by Virginia Stuart-Taylor (@vstuarttaylor) on

April 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.

Words can't really express my overwhelming excitement about spending Easter at Lake Como! I'm in absolute heaven!

A post shared by Virginia Stuart-Taylor (@vstuarttaylor) on

Things I’ve Learned in April

  • The history of Estonia and its impressive transition from a communist country occupied by the USSR to a modern, fast-growing and highly skilled economy. This was through research I did for a paper on regional labelling and geopolitical identity of Estonia, which I found a truly fascinating country to study and which I’d now love to see with my own eyes.
  • How difficult it is to write about a country you’ve never been to (ie. Estonia). I’ve never before tried to write in depth about a country I’ve never visited nor ever met an inhabitant of, and I had real moments of impostor syndrome while writing the paper on Estonia – worrying what an actual Estonian would make of an uninitiated foreigner (me) trying to analyse from afar. What the process did teach me is the utmost importance of travel to understanding a country or a place (good news for my travel plans!), and also the difficulty that the vast majority of the world must have in understanding other countries if they don’t have the resources to travel there in person. I realised this while in Nepal, when talking to a graduate of English who will most likely never have the opportunity to set foot in a native English-speaking country, and this experience of writing about Estonia has just reaffirmed my belief in the importance of promoting intercultural activities and encounters to allow different cultures and countries to meet and understand one another.
  • That I’ve once again taken on too many commitments, and that in order to keep my head above the water and deliver everything I’ve promised, I’m going to need to spring clean my to-do list, re-assess my priorities and give up on some of the side projects I’ve got going. I feel like I’ve grasped minimalism in quite a few other areas of my life (8 days travelling through 4 countries, living out of hand luggage, with all liquids under 100ml = piece of cake), so why can I never be more minimalist with my to-do list?!
  • Not all universities are the same. Uppsala University has a great reputation and (like Groningen) is in the top 100 worldwide, but the academic culture is so different and I feel like the course content isn’t as refreshed, current or innovative as in Groningen. I would have liked to see more connections between my classes here in Uppsala and current affairs, European politics and the dire state of the world in 2017 – to make my studies relevant and applicable to the wider world. If I complained that academia in Groningen was in a proverbial ivory tower, distant from the real world, then academia in Uppsala is floating many, many miles above it amidst fluffy ivory clouds.
  • That the ‘Glass Cliff’ affects not only women in business, but also women in politics. The concept of the Glass Cliff was developed by Exeter University Professor Michelle Ryan, out of the more commonly known ‘glass ceiling’, and explains why women are likelier than men to achieve leadership roles during periods of crisis or downturn, when the chance of failure is highest. This likewise occurs with female parliamentary candidates who are most often proposed for election in unwinnable seats, effectively setting them up for failure. Professor Ryan gave a fantastic presentation at our Women in Leadership reception and gave the very appropriate example of Theresa May, who stepped into the Prime Minister role just as the relevant men were scarpering away as fast as possible from the devilish task of exiting the EU (think David Cameron, Boris Johnson, Nigel Farage, etc.). Good food for thought.
  • That an inferiority complex can jump out of nowhere and it’s all down to context. Here in a university city, I couldn’t feel more satisfied with my life decisions and my progress towards my Master’s – I love my lifestyle, I feel intellectually engaged and really happy to be living abroad again! Likewise I feel very happy when I’m back in London too, but something about that high-paced, career-driven city allows a creeping concern to enter my mind. In a professional networking context or in conversations with friends about career progress, I became plagued with niggling doubts about my decision to give up having a salary for two years. About my decision to switch from working the lucrative private sector to aiming for the more cash-strapped public sector. In London recently I found myself trying to justify my Master’s degree among a room-full of ambitious career climbers, and feeling inferior to friends of mine who are ploughing ahead in consulting and finance. That feeling of inferiority is just bizarre, as I’ve never wanted or even tried to get into consulting or finance, as I know those careers just wouldn’t float my boat. So my conclusion is that being aware of the role that context plays in influencing your emotions and self-confidence is important, and that living in a bit of a bubble can (to some extent) be a good thing!
  • How to play Kubb – a brilliant Swedish lawn game! Apparently called ‘Viking chess’, this is my new favourite game and one I cannot wait to import to an English summer garden very soon!

April’s high points

Hosting more visitors! Finally getting a grip on my main research paper for this semester (on the role of the sea in British Euroscepticism) and identifying a theoretical focus (political geography) and feeling optimistic about it. Spending a reading week feeling motivated and inspired in Groningen, and relaxed and spoiled in Italy. The incredible food in Italy – without a doubt a highlight of my entire year. Spending a decent amount of time with my darling sister at long last and laughing for days on end together! Tackling a live Escape Room game, which is completely addictive and totally appeals to my inner Miss Marple / Detective Barnaby / Montalbano! Experiencing the drunken Swedish tradition of Valborg in Uppsala and watching the ill-fated rafters optimistically tackling the rapids of the Fyris river. Finding out that a good friend will be leading a team of Raleigh International volunteers this year in Nicaragua, partly after hearing so much about it from me, and that we’re potentially combining travel plans in Central America later this year! Watching two brilliant films (Get Out and Beauty & the Beast) and realising how much more I appreciate them, because I never watch any other type of television these days. The long daylight hours and the brightness!

April’s low points

Spending a lonely weekend working last-minute on my Estonian research paper, which is always torture but which I never seem able to avoid. Not having enough contact hours with lecturers and spending too much time studying alone instead of with other people – thankfully I’m not the only person in the class with this feeling so we can commiserate together. Hearing of the Stockholm terror attack and feeling sad that I’m having to include another attack this month again, after last month’s post mentioned the London terror attack. Seriously worrying about not being fit enough for summitting Mont Blanc in exactly 6 weeks… Gulp. A truly abominable day of 13 hours’ travel from Milan to Stockholm (via Dusseldorf), with every single leg or segment delayed. And finally, the current state of British politics and basically every BBC News notification I receive.

April in a Tweet

Upcoming Plans for May

May will be another busy month, albeit entirely outside of the classroom. I’ve now finished all my lectures and seminars (bar Swedish language) and I just have 1 paper to submit and present, 1 conference to organise and run and 2 Swedish exams. Apart from that, I’ll be heading on a road trip around the Norwegian fjords and hiking the steepest slopes I can find, in an attempt to train for summitting Mont Blanc, and I’ll also host my parents for a long weekend in Uppsala and Stockholm. And then before I know it, at the end of May I’ll be packing up my flat and moving back to London for the summer!

April was over-filled with travel plans, but of course I loved every single trip and adventure. As the weather warms up, Sweden is really blossoming and I’ve now just one month left to enjoy and make the most of it, before I head back to London (and abroad of course) for the summer months. I hope you all had a lovely April and have some great plans for May up your sleeves – and let me know if you relate to anything in this month’s diary of a Master’s student abroad?

4 Comments »

    • Thanks Eena! If you’re interested in studying abroad then I’ve written plenty of blog posts about the various options – have a browse and feel free to ask any questions!

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  1. This sounds amazing – I’m moving to Sweden this summer to study an MA at Lund University, and reading about your experience has really encouraged me as I prepare for it, so thanks for sharing!

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