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Diary of a Master’s Student Abroad: Month 9 (May 2017)

Just when you feel like you’ve got a hang of things in a new place, it’s suddenly time to leave. Typical! 10 days ago I moved back to the UK after 4 months of living in Uppsala and I’ve already written my thoughts about saying ‘Goodbye to Uppsala’. May was a seriously fun month, and it sadly came to an end all too soon! This monthly update is a bit overdue but nevertheless, here’s the ninth 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’.

Last month was busy with trips across Scandinavia, from the Norwegian fjords to the Baltic island of Gotland, as well as cramming for various final deadlines, a conference to run and parents to host. Spring finally arrived too, with only 4-5 hours of darkness at night!

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

Where I’ve been in May

Uppsala, the Norwegian fjords, Stockholm, Gotland (Sweden)

What I’ve been up to in May

I spent May tying up my final assignments of the semester, spending two weeks exploring Sweden and Norway on holiday, enjoying the spring and trying to soak up the last of my Swedish adventure, before saying my goodbyes to classmates and friends, packing my bags and moving back to London on the 31st May. I remembered how much I love to travel purely for leisure, escaping the commitments of day-to-day life and the reins of a schedule – nothing better!

  • On the studying side of things, the big task of May was my 6,000-word research paper on the role of the sea and island mentality on British Euroscepticism, which I submitted two iterations of after 4 days solid (and a further 2 days) of being locked up in a room writing. I also presented it to the rest of my class in anticipation of the week-long conference we’re all attending in Krakow at the end of June. It’s a theoretical discussion of various political geography theories and I found it fascinating to research. It’ll be up on The Well-Travelled Journal sometime in July once I’ve received my grade. My other big project of May was ‘The War on Truth: Is Europe Next?’ conference, which our class organised on the 15th May, featuring 5 guest speakers from Sweden and abroad, attracting circa 40 attendees to watch and participate in a panel discussion on Russia’s disinformation campaigns and an interactive workshop on combatting ‘fake news’ and ‘echo chambers’. It was a great success and we were thrilled with the result! My very last assignment was to submit a report on the conference and then that was me finished with all my official assignments for the semester! I was also thrilled with the grade for my April paper on Estonia’s nation branding and labelling, so that is also up on The Well-Travelled Journal.
  • On the extracurricular side, I sat and passed both my Basic Swedish exams! Neither actually count towards my degree, but it was still satisfying. Our class also had a fascinating meeting in Stockholm with the European Social Fund about the EU funding provided and the work they do to help newly arrived migrants from places such as Syria to find work and integrate into the Swedish labour force. It was a nice example of what governments and public bodies actually tangibly “do” and what sort of thing we students might be able to work on in future. In other news, we’re gearing up for the Illicit Trade Summer School in July with an exciting excursion to Rotterdam and the Hague in the pipeline, as well as some great guest lecturers, which are all coming together nicely! And after a bit of a break for my injured tendons, I resumed my Mont Blanc training and fitness regime.
  • On the travelling sideI stayed entirely in Scandinavia for a change, with two actual holidays (!) and a weekend in Stockholm hosting my final visitors in Sweden: my parents. I took them on my by now well-trodden highlights tour of Uppsala and managed to drag them to visit three things in Stockholm that I hadn’t yet managed: the two royal palaces and the absolutely incredible ABBA museum. I joke not, it’s absolutely hilarious, with karaoke, auditions, dance videos and all sorts of things they record you singing and dancing to, and then send you the videos afterwards! Prime material for future birthdays and anniversaries – pure comedy gold watching us attempt to perform ABBA songs on stage with ABBA holograms. Highly recommended.
  • The first real holiday was a fantastic escape into the Scandinavian countryside, with a 6-day road trip around the Norwegian fjords near Bergen and Stavanger. Norway was just mind-blowing and I’d happily spend an entire month there. We drove along 4 of the country’s 18 special ‘national scenic routes’, through the Hardangervidda plateau and along Eidfjordvaten, picnicking alongside Hardangarfjorden, driving along Suldalsvatnet, Sandsfjorden and Erfjorden, catching a short ferry across Jøsenfjorden, driving along Tysdalsvatnet and finally staying near Jørpeland overlooking the islands of the Idsefjorden. Our two hikes to Trolltunga and Preikestolen were also fantastic, as a view feels all the more beautiful if you’ve earned it with a tiring 8-hour trek!
  • The second was a much-needed sun-filled 4-day trip to Gotland, the largest island in the Baltic Sea, which I swear has it’s own Mediterranean micro-climate. Gotland was more of a rest, with relaxed strolls through the UNESCO World Heritage medieval town of Visby and explorations up the coast and along the cliffs and beaches. It felt like another country altogether, not part of Sweden, and I understand why it’s no.2 on Lonely Planet’s list of places to visit in 2017.
  • On the blogging side of thingsI wrote down everything I know about how to afford and fund a Master’s degree at the special request of some of my readers, and I published a great blog post on heli-skiing in Canada written by my aunt (sadly not by me, as I haven’t yet been but I am positively dying to go heli-skiing one day!). Finally I also wrote down my thoughts on leaving Uppsala. All in all another shockingly low number of blog posts in May – I’m getting into very bad blogging habits! If anyone has found the magic ingredient to produce a huge blogging boost, please do inform me! I do find that spring and summer weather makes it harder to stay inside and blog, when there’s the outdoors tempting you out to enjoy the fresh air and delightful rays of sunlight. None of which helps a travel blogger keep on track with her blogging schedule!

May 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 May

  • There are apparently more multilingual people in the world than monolingual! It’s just in places like the UK (an unsurprised sigh) that we buck that trend with our monolingual population. I’m starting to worry about losing my own languages to be honest, as I use them in casual conversation but never for any professional reason that demands grammatical accuracy or precise technical vocab… My current trick is to listen to audiobooks in foreign languages to expand my vocabulary, but does anyone have tips for actually writing/producing formally and correctly?
  • Travelling spontaneously can either turn out perfectly or very expensive. Both my trips this month were spontaneous cases of finding accommodation on the day, and in Norway this strategy worked perfectly (staying at a friend’s flat in Oslo, a great little hotel in Eidfjord and a to-die-for magazine-worthy but also cheap Airbnb in Jørpeland), but in Gotland this proved an expensive mistake to make. I’ve learned that on bank holiday weekends, spur of the moment decisions and student budgets don’t go together, so we ended up having to splurge on something outside of our price range.
  • The human body is more capable than we think. Even though I might not have felt fit enough for the 8-hour, 23km-long, 800m elevation gain hike to Trolltunga, I was surprised at the amount my body could withstand and at how my tendons decided to behave themselves on the day. It was much like during my marathon – when I’d experienced injuries through much of my training but not the slightest twinge on the day itself.
  • A lot about British Euroscepticism – the focus of my large research paper. It was a difficult paper to write, considering how strongly pro-European I feel and how little I identify with those countrymen of mine who seem to despise and detest Europe. But I wanted to understand the phenomenon better and find out why Britain is such a so-called ‘exception’ in Europe in its fervour for sovereignty, independence and fear of “others”. It was an interesting interdisciplinary excursion into history, linguistics, geography, education and psychology and I do feel much better informed as a result. In the context of France sensibly electing Macron over Le Pen last month too, Britain now looks even more alone and isolationist from where I’m sitting.
  • About the tumultuous political history of Albania, as I reviewed a friend’s research paper on the subject, as well as about the EU’s stance on robotics and artificial intelligence and the importance of generation on social values, attitudes and lifestyles, thanks to two other classmates’ papers. It’s so fascinating to see what everyone else is researching alongside your own paper, and to the different methodologies everyone adopts, and I learn a lot from reading other students’ papers.
  • About the fine balance between politics and media bias, and the importance of investigating a media outlet’s ulterior motive or agenda, from our ‘War on Truth’ conference on fake news and the post-truth phenomenon. It’s been starkly exemplified by the amount of hatred and vile articles published in the British press ahead of the UK general election. I honestly feel embarrassed for journalists in the British press and cannot wonder how these editors and journalists sleep at night, knowing how poisonous and biased the supposed “news” they distribute is and the huge impact they have on millions of unwitting readers who don’t know better than to lap up every misleading headline in their daily newspaper.

May’s high points

Finally reaching Trolltunga after so many hours of thinking we might have to turn back. Our amazing Scandi-style Airbnb in Norway overlooking the islands of the Idsefjorden. Driving along the fjords and having the freedom of a car once again. Feeling inspired by the expertise and public speaking skills of Marek Neuman, Jack Werner and the other excellent speakers at our ‘War on Truth’ conference. Relief at receiving a good grade after a semester of zero feedback and not knowing how I was progressing. Passing my 2 Swedish exams with flying colours. Feeling inspired and motivated by the real working world outside of academia, during our meeting with the European Social fund meeting in Stockholm. Singing and dancing our hearts out in the ABBA museum! Eating scrumptious food in Stockholm thanks to my parents. Feeling like I can add Stockholm to the list of capital cities I know well enough to guide people around. The end-of-semester celebration and big barbecue I had with all my class! Barbecuing, sunsetting and stargazing in Gotland. Learning to drive a scooter at long last.

May’s low points

Not getting any feedback on my large research paper before spending a lot of time on it – and therefore still not knowing if it’s actually any good or just a load of codswallop! Worrying about painful tendons in my legs, a remnant marathon training injury, and having to pause Mont Blanc training because of it. Getting an excruciating £90 parking fine in Oslo for the silliest of reasons (that isn’t even signposted or indicated anywhere on the road!). Having a completely empty bank account after 4 months in Scandinavia and spending my entire month’s budget on holidays (oops). That horrible but recognisable feeling of self-loathing for leaving large papers until the last minute and then having to cram it all under extreme pressure – why oh why do I do this to myself?! Passionately arguing about British politics while tipsy, which is never a good idea… The stress and expense of looking for same-day accommodation on an island that’s practically full to bursting. Breaking my DSLR in Gotland (but also thanking my 24-year-old self for wisely buying insurance!). Taking down my postcards, cleaning, packing up and leaving my flat in Uppsala, knowing that once again I have to settle into somewhere new after finally grasping life in Sweden.

May in a Tweet

Upcoming Plans for June

First things first I moved back to London and spent a couple of days there before a week chilling at “home home” in Hampshire, hosting some friends and catching up with my family after Sweden. I’m now off to Chamonix in France for Mont Blanc with a week-long digital detox from the internet, then back in London for a week, before heading to Krakow in Poland to be reunited with all my fellow Master’s students for a week’s conference.

I adored May! I was hardly in Uppsala at all but I really appreciated every minute of my freedom as a student, to travel whenever I please and with such a free schedule. Scandinavia really comes alive in summer and when you can escape the public transport, there’s oodles to explore. I’m happy to now have a few months off (although there’s always still something to be working on) but I’ll still keep up my monthly blog series all the same!

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