Uppsala: A Journey of Discovery (posted by Indira in Sweden)

January 4, 2013

The time truly flies by. It’s already 2013. 2013… it feels really weird to write that number. Since it’s the New Year we all makes wishes and hopes as compared to the previous year(s). I was thinking really hard, but my 2012 was good on so many levels that I honestly didn’t want it to end. My semester abroad in Uppsala definitely plays a huge role in that.

Today when I checked my Facebook there was an entry saying: “Graduated from Uppsala University” and then it hit me – wow, that was really it. The best semester yet is over, but I learned so much about Sweden, as well as other countries, traveling, people, my major, and most importantly about myself. The last 5 months in Uppsala have truly been a journey of discovery. I started learning a new language, learned how to cook (I’m really proud of this one), figured out how to live on my own, mastered the art of constant cycling, made friends from all over the world, survived Swedish winter (which involved -7F temperatures and a major snowstorm), travelled a lot, attended a Nobel Lecture, took some amazing classes, gained the experience of living in Sweden, and so much more. It’s really hard to remember everything I went through over the past semester. Sometimes it feels like August was just yesterday, but then again when I think of everything that has happened since, August seems so far away.

The Swedish summer truly is amazing: You learn to appreciate every second of the sunshine, enjoy countless barbecues in parks and on the rooftops, and buy a bike. Uppsala looks absolutely breathtaking in summer – there is green everywhere, city parks and squares look stunning, and people are so happy.

A scene of summer in Uppsala

Summer in Uppsala

Fall is no less impressive: Uppsala puts on new clothes and amazes everyone with its colors. The whole city looks like it came from a fairytale scene. Golden and red leaves, somewhat pleasant cold, and warm sunshine, as well as rain create a perfect atmosphere to spend hours in cafes drinking some hot beverage, eating cake or a cookie, talking to friends, watching people, or simply studying. Fall In Uppsala has it charms for sure!

A beautiful scene of fall in Uppsala

Fall in Uppsala

Before you can notice, the rain is replaced by a snow layer and golden leaves are nowhere to be seen. That is a sign that another glorious season has arrived in Uppsala – Winter makes a grand entrance and it doesn’t cease to impress. It is not hard to enjoy Swedish Winter even with the cold and snow: Glögg, Julmust, fikas, sledding down the Flogsta or Uppsala caste hill, cycling in the snow adventures, and snowball fights can definitely make anyone enjoy Uppsala even during its most cruel months.

A scene of winter in Uppsala

Winter in Uppsala

Seeing Uppsala change through the seasons is like seeing yourself grow fonder and fonder of this place, but also seeing yourself grow as a person. There is something magical about it. I feel Uppsala is home. But that is not the only reason why someone would want to study abroad in Sweden; the list of things one can love about Uppsala is very long:

  • Uppsala University is an old and prestigious university
  • Diverse classes
  • Great professors: knowledgeable and chill (you can go for fika with them)
  • Mixed student body: a lot of internationals from all over the world and Swedes from every part of Sweden
  • You are very much in charge of your in class experience: some classes are not mandatory and you choose your seminar groups
  • One class at a time system: you take only one class and you focus on it for about a month, take the final exam and then move on to the next course
  • Campus makes up most of the city and the buildings are in different parts: great way to explore the city
  • Each building is unique in its own way and has a story to tell
  • Attend Nobel lectures: Need I say more?
  • Chance to make friends from all over the world
  • New culture, language, traditions
  • Everyone speaks English: In the beginning when I needed help with something I would always first ask if the person spoke English but then I would just go over and ask for help right away. Basically everyone is bilingual in this country
  • Flogsta: you get to live in the most amazing and fun accommodation area ever! Ever thought of a 500 person Halloween party in two corridors? Well, that is how wonderful Flogsta is. The party was even featured in the local newspaper!
  • Your corridor: you corridor-mates become your family and your corridor your new home. Corridor dinners and parties are definitely one of the best part of dorm life in Uppsala.
  • Cycling: you get to cycle everywhere, anytime. And you’re gonna love it. Seriously.
  • Ekonomikum: Most amazing place to study, chill, or simply get some snacks
  • Blåsenhus: probably my favorite building. One part of the building looks like a spaceship hovering over the entrance hall. Great place to study or get fika
  • Carolina Rediviva: the most beautiful library ever. Even if you don’t have to study, you simply go there to hang out since it’s so cozy
  • FIKA! Forget Starbucks or whatever you consider to be “the best coffee ever” because I’m sure nothing beats Swedish fika. Just imagine great coffee/tea with amazing pastries, cookies and cakes, cozy kaferummet atmosphere, and the warmth of the people around you while it is snowing outside. And you get to do this for hours every day. One of those “I don’t think life can get any better” moments!
  • Kanelbullar: Oh, sweet love o’ mine! Cinnamon buns/rolls that simply taste great. Oh, and there is a day dedicated solely to this delicious treat: Kanelbulledag.
  • Marabou: best chocolate ever! Don’t even try to argue it. I mean it.
  • Music: Do you love house? Electronic music? Well, then Sweden is a heaven for you. Everyone makes music (I don’t think it’s even possible to keep count of how many people who make music I’ve met) and Sweden’s home to Avicii, SHM, Adrian Lux, Alesso, Lykke Li and many others.
  • Student nations: It’s really hard to explain, but once you get here you’ll get it. BEST thing ever! Every university should have them.
  • Great night life!
  • Stockholms nation’s lunch: make sure you get there at 12 sharp otherwise you’ll spend some time waiting for the deliciousness prepared by the Stokcholms nation’s Kökmästare
  • Värmlands nation’s bread: I don’t think I ever had better bread. Definitely worth going for the lunch at Värmlands. Make sure you start queuing at noon.
  • Gasques: there is a gasque for everything (newbies gasque, Halloween gasque, Fall gasque, Christmas gasque, Lucia gasque, and even Doomsday gasque)
  • Uppsala: it’s a student city so literally everyone is organized in a way that serves the students.

I think those reasons are more than enough to make anyone want to study abroad in Uppsala. I couldn’t have asked for a better semester. Coming to Uppsala was one of the best decisions I ever made. I fell in love with the city, country, and the people – I plan to go back one day. Maybe even sooner than I think. I actually remember my first month in Sweden when I met so many international people who live/work in Uppsala and they kept telling me that one day I will be back to Uppsala (or at least Sweden) for whatever reason, and could quite possibly make this place my home. I sure hope they are right, but right now I should focus on Seoul.

In less than two months I will start a new adventure on the other side of the world; with new people, a new system, new language, new culture. It is frightening, but also exciting. Knowing that the new adventure awaits around the corner makes me miss Uppsala a little bit less. New year – new adventure. And I’m more than ready to embrace it in the fashion of the words of one of my German friends: “Vollgas!”. 🙂

Uppsala Celebrates: Nobel Prize Laureates and Sankta Lucia (posted by Indira in Sweden)

December 19, 2012

Uppsala, being a very old city (it was founded in the 13th century), respects traditions in a way that integrates tradition with the modern-day setting the city has. Student life itself is a big part of the traditions that made Uppsala what it is today- a university city that each student cherishes. Over the last week two important traditions that are specific to both Uppsala and Sweden took place: Nobel Prize laureates opening lectures at Uppsala University and the Sankta Lucia celebration.

It is a tradition that some of the winners of the Nobel Prize hold open lectures at Uppsala University in connection to the festivities that take place in Stockholm. First there is a reception with the Vice Chancellor and lunch at Uppsala Castle, and then the much appreciated and well-attended open lectures by the guest laureates. This year I had tremendous luck to be in Sweden when Prof. Serge Haroche and Dr. David J. Wineland (Physics), Prof. Shinya Yamanaka and Sir John B. Gurdon (Medicine), Prof. Alvin E. Roth (Economics), and Prof. Robert J. Lefkowitz (Chemistry) paid a visit to Uppsala University. Unfortunately, all the lectures were at the same time so I was forced to choose only one to attend. In the end I decided to go and see the lecture by Professor Roth and learn more about Game Theory. First of all, the lecture started at 10.30am and we had to get there super early (a few of my friends and I got to Ekonomikum (the place where the lecture was to be held) at 9am, got breakfast at the cafeteria there and patiently waited for the lecture hall to open) in order to secure a seat. There were incredibly many people interested in all the lectures and getting a seat was truly a privilege. The lecture itself was amazing. Prof. Roth’s lecture on The Theory and Practice of Market Design was definitely one of the most fascinating lectures I have atteneded. I have to emphasize that I have very poor background in economics (I only took a Microeconomics class at UR last year), but I really enjoyed the way Prof. Roth explained the work he won the Nobel Prize for. I never thought I’d attend such an important lecture given by a person who shaped Economics so much and it’s all thanks to being an exchange student at Uppsala University this semester. This is definitely another highlight I would add to my study abroad experience in Sweden!

Lecture at Uppsala University by Prof. Roth, Economics Nobel Prize Laureate, who talked about Game Theory

Lecture at Uppsala University by Prof. Roth, Economics Nobel Prize Laureate

Another important tradition (and experience for me) was the celebration of St. Lucia that takes place on December, 13th. Ever since the late 18th century Sweden celebrates St. Lucia (or St. Lucy) around Christmas time. St. Lucia’s Day is nowadays celebrated by a girl dressing in a white dress with a red sash round her waist and a crown of candles on her head. Lucia walks at the head of a procession of women and men, the ‘maids’ and the ‘star boys.’ Being the Lucia is a very honorable role and as far as I understood, a girl who is to be chosen as a Lucia needs to be very beautiful and to sing well. Everyone in the procession is dressed in long white dresses and some of the procession members also wear white pointy hats (we were told about this back in August. When we first heard the part about the long white dresses and pointy hats Swedes would respond to our confused looks by saying: “Oh no, no – it’s not what you think we mean. That’s just a part of the Lucia tradition.” Also, everyone recommended we attend Lucia events since that really is a big deal in Sweden). The tradition also involves singing traditional Lucia songs (such as the song “Sankta Lucia” which is really nice) and eating sweet, saffron-flavoured buns (lussekatter) and gingerbread cookies best enjoyed with glögg.

There were so many events all over the Sweden for Lucia. In Uppsala, there were concerts in the Domkyrkan (Cathedral), Lucia processions in various Univeristy buildings (I was lucky to see the one in Ekonomikum).  All the processions, no matter how big, involved Lucia, maids and star boys. There were multiple Luciagasques as well. I didn’t attend any, but I went to an after-party of the Luciagasque in Snerikes Nation and there were so many people wearing shiny decorations that are usually part of the Lucia costumes.

Another highlight of this semester is actually related to the celebration of Lucia. Every year there is a big Lucia Concert held in Friends Arena in Stockholm and International Committee at Uppsala University organized a trip for the students who were interested to see it. It was amazing! Friends Arena was full and the performances were really great.

Lucia Procession, which I attended, with Lucia in the middle of the stage

Lucia Procession with Lucia in the middle of the stage

There was an orchestra and choirs singing and playing. Multiple groups performed: Elementary and middle school children, high schoolers, and some university students. I really enjoyed the concert.

Now I’m kind of doing the final countdown. Just a few days left in the place I consider to be “a home away from home.” It is really sad to get so many invitations to the Farewell Parties since it means that I might never again see some of the people I spent so much time with this semester. I remember when I attended the orientation with the previous participants of the exchange program with Uppsala University back during the Spring semester at UR: I was told that I would be really sad to leave and that I’d probably want to stay a year in Sweden. At that point I thought that would be impossible, but now those words echo in my head. Leaving is really hard, but I will use the days I have left in the best way possible in order to wrap up my Sweden experience the right way. After all, next semester I will be in South Korea and that’s a great reason to put a smile on my face. 🙂

Sleepless in Uppsala: Exams, Projects, and Concerts with a “Little” Pinch of Snowstorm (posted by Indira in Sweden)

December 15, 2012

Too much to do and not enough time! That is basically my life right now. Can’t a day last longer than 24 hours? Or can we at least get an extra day in a week?

Finals – we all know the stress and the amount of work that comes with them. Even when abroad. Last week I had my final exam and a project for the two classes I was taking in November. For one of the classes 100% of the grade is based on the final exam. Actually, that is one of the things I am not that happy about. I like it much more when there are different assignments that each carry a certain percentage of the final grade. For my Sustainable Development class, for example, we had to write three individual papers and a group case study, and make a group presentation. In this way I feel like the grade is much more structured. Having only one exam, however, does have its benefits. Classes and seminars are much more relaxed and as a result students feel less pressure. On a happy note – now I am done. Yesterday I had my group presentation and my November courses are finished. It was actually sad thinking that I might never again see the people I worked so hard with on our group case study.

Speaking of exams: they can be a challenge…but think about going to the exam hall (which is located on the opposite side of the city compared to the area where I live) in a raging snowstorm. Yea, you read well – snowstorm. It was snowing the entire day, but it got really bad about the time I finished my exam. I tried walking over to the bus stop to go back to Flogsta and it was so hard walking because the snow was getting in my face – it was kind of snowing horizontally. First the busses were late and then they were not running at all after 5pm. I was lucky enough to catch the very last bus to Flogsta and get back to my room. The trip back, however, took more than an hour (usually it shouldn’t take more than 15-20 mins cycling): I had to wait so long for the bus and the ride took much longer since there was so much fresh snow on the roads. I have to admit though: This was a rather interesting experience. I figured out that if I survived very low temperatures and a snowstorm, and yet I still love every bit of Sweden… well, then it must be that special study abroad bond. 🙂

View from my window: Snowy Uppsala, the remnants of an incredible snowstorm

View from my window: Snowy Uppsala

After the snowstorm, the skies cleared, the roads were cleaned and I hopped on a new adventure – an all Swedish concert. In the Stockholms Nation there was a gasque and at the after-party Alina Devecerski (she is pretty popular Swedish singer, especially among the youth) was to hold a concert, so I went there with a couple of my friends. The place was full! I don’t think that Stocken (Stockholms Nation’s club) was ever that full. And the concert was amazing: I enjoyed it so much, especially the front row! The only bad thing was that she sings in Swedish and that makes it kind of hard to sing along. We were also in a very Swedish crowd; there were only five exchange/international students there, which makes this event “all Swedish” as my friends call it.

Alina Devecerski concert (hosted by Stockholms Nation), which I attended after my last final exam!

Alina Devecerski concert (hosted by Stockholms Nation)

And then came Stockholm City as a great finish to a busy week, kind of a well deserved time off. I went to Stockholm with one of my friends simply because we felt like it (good thing Uppsala is only 40mins by train away from Stockholm and trains are running almost all the time so it’s easy to get to Stockholm and back anytime you want/need). We had a great afternoon of walking around the city, seeing the Christmas market, enjoying fika, and doing some shopping.

Stockholm City, where I visited after my final exams were complete

Stockholm City

One really has to use one’s time wisely – only one more week left and I’ll be leaving Sweden. I always try not to think about it, but it’s impossible. I feel like I’m on a time pressure now: I want to do as much as possible before I leave, but the time is simply slipping away. Still, I’m postponing the thought about leaving for some other time (Basically along the lines of “I can’t think about that right now.  I’ll think about that tomorrow”).

Reflecting on my First Term Abroad (posted by Jimmy in England)

December 15, 2012

80 days ago I flew across the Atlantic where I began my 9 month journey abroad. At that time I could only dream of what I wanted my experience to resemble, and looking back on it I firmly believe that it has been everything I hoped for and so much more. I left Oxford over a week ago after deciding to return to UR in order to be with the Men’s Basketball team before winter break. My original plan was to spend the two weeks after term traveling across Europe. I quickly changed that after watching our first home basketball game of the season. As crazy at it may sound, I prefer being with the team more than traveling across Europe during the cold winter months. Plus, I will have then entire spring and early summer to travel, so I decided to move my flight up two weeks and enjoy college basketball. With all of that in mind, I am officially done. Over the last 80 days I have written on orientation, academics, beauty, lectures, challenges, a TedX conference, Thanksgiving, a stomach virus, and end of term festivities. This entry will carry a more reflective tone as I try to encapsulate some of the ideas that I have learned in preparation for my next term. So what did I learn?

I learned that I am in charge of my successes and my failures. I touched on this idea briefly in my last entry and want to elaborate on it. There was a direct correlation between my work habits and my outcomes. When I planned everything and had a specific schedule I felt that I was headed in the right direction. When I failed to do this, I was either behind on my work or scrambling to complete it. This didn’t just apply to academic work, but I realized that it applied to life. In the immortal words of William Ernest Henley, “It matters not how strait the gate, how charged with punishments the scroll. I am the master of my fate; I am the captain of my soul.” Oxford cut away all of the distractions that I typically used when I wanted to hide from my work. I couldn’t take weeks off in order to cram at the end of term for a final. Every week I had to be ‘on my toes’ and ready to learn. I couldn’t hide in the back of a classroom when it was a 1-on-1 meeting with a Ph.D. discussing the piece that I wrote. They, like the University of Richmond, hold their students up to such a high standard. After going through an intense 8 weeks I can see why Oxford continually produces some of the most important leaders in the world. Simply put, they demand the best out of themselves all the time and they go through a rigorous 1-on-1 academic battle every week. When you consistently do that for years, you develop critical thinking abilities and confidence in defending your arguments. I caught a glimpse of the importance of being able to analyze situations rather than simply memorizing facts. This was my biggest academic achievement during the first term.

I also learned that social interactions have such a strong influence on me. My parents always used to say that our environment, the people who we constantly interact with, is so important to the people who we become. When I arrived at Oxford, there was not one person that I knew. It took me a while to realize the depth of being all by myself 3500 miles away from home. Up until I left for college, there was always someone (family, friends, and coaches) that I knew. When I left for college, there was still familiarity with other friends attending UR and an immediate connection with the basketball program. I realized once I arrived at Oxford that there was not a single person that I knew. I was completely by myself….and I loved it. It was challenging, but made me appreciate all of the amazing friends and family that I have. The old saying about never understanding the importance of something until it is gone carries so much more meaning.

Where do I go from here? I am currently on break until January 10th. I will try to catch up on some rest and prepare for my next two terms. After that I will be back in Oxford until June 15th. In terms of blogging, I will take a break for a few weeks and will return upon my arrival in England. I would like to thank all of the people who have been following while I am abroad. I would also like to thank Chris Klein, Abby Ward, and the entire Office of International Education at the University of Richmond. Not only have you renewed my blogger contract for the 2013 spring semester, but you also may be the best international education department in the country. Am I biased? Absolutely! But, of all the students that are studying abroad, I feel like I was the most prepared even though I had never previously been to England. Other students were upset with the lack of communication or help that they received from their universities and programs in preparation for their abroad experience. Just like everything else at the University of Richmond, your department does things in a first class manner. You don’t allow anything but your best, and it shows. If it wasn’t for the massive amounts of email reminders to study abroad, I would not have applied to Oxford. In closing, I want to say if any students have never thought of going abroad, it is not too late! Go home after finals, relax and think about it. At this time last year, there was not a chance that I would be spending my junior year at Oxford…. Be open to new ideas and I will see you in mid-January!

Never say never because limits, like fears, are often just an illusion.- Michael Jordan

White, white Uppsala: Julgasque, Snowball Battle, and Fireworks (posted by Indira in Sweden)

December 7, 2012

I don’t think I have ever lived in a place that could get this much snow at once! Right now snow is knee-deep and it’s white everywhere. It is both beautiful and dreadful (it can get really cold – last week we had -7 degrees Fahrenheit!). I find it funny how no one really cares about how cold it gets; we all try to make the best out of the very few weeks we have left in Uppsala.

Since it’s all so snow covered what can we do – well, how about a snowball battle with 250 participants? Sure, we’ll organize it and take part in it! Definitely an epic 1 hour long fight with more and more people joining in every moment. Due to the excitement and adrenalin rush you don’t even care about the snow getting into your mouth or your eyes, and eventually you get used to the fact that you can no longer feel your fingers. It was worth it in every possible way.

Snowball Battle with 250 people!

Snowball Battle

Right after the snowball battle, we all rushed to get warm and ready for yet another gasque of the semester – Julgask (Christmas gasque). Värmlands nation was fully in Christmas spirit – Christmas tree, decorations, presents, and the smell of the pepparkakor (gingerbread) was everywhere in the Big House. During the gasque we had a huge choice of typical food you eat in Sweden during Christmas, and Christmas drinks, (here they have this thing called Julmust which is the most popular soft drink during the Christmas and Easter season; it has a very strong smell and taste, but it’s really good – I love it!). Entertainment did not lack either. Choir performances, Christmas songs, dancing, and a visit from the Göteborg nation made this gasque so amazing. Of course, if you are surrounded by the right people at your table the night is guaranteed to be a blast. Even though the seating arrangement is random and you don’t have any say in it, I have had great table-buddies during all of the gasques I have attended. One of the Julgask highlights was Santa. Since Värmlands nation got a new First Qurator (officer), he had to dress up as Santa and take pictures with the gasque attendees. After the dinner, we had the after party until 4am. I am definitely glad I was a part of this gasque since it was my last gasque in Uppsala and I had loads of fun with my friends, but I also made a lot of new friends.

My table buddies and I during the Julgask, a Christmas celebration!

My table buddies and I during the Julgask

Last week I also had a lot of school work. My biggest assignment was due – a 9000 word case study on sustainable urbanization in Stockholm. It felt so good clicking submit after spending hours and hours working on it. Countless group meetings, articles and books read, interviews, and hours spent putting it all together payed off. I was really happy with our case study and our group effort. Next week we have a presentation, but after that my Sustainable Development class will be over.

And what is a better way to finish off a week than watching the fireworks? Well, I can’t think of any. Luckily, Uppsala has a few tricks up its sleeves and rewarded us all with amazing fireworks on Sunday. The Uppsala Lights Festival ended and it was also the First Advent, so there was a huge closing ceremony that included the fireworks. Even though we had to wait for half an hour in the freezing cold, we all enjoyed the show. We also learned that the best way to stay warm is to just randomly dance to whatever music they are playing – lifesaver.

Fireworks, a perfect way to end the week


Now I’m anxious to see what my last three weeks in Uppsala will bring. 🙂

Christmas Lighting Ceremony and 8th Week! (posted by Jimmy in England)

December 1, 2012

After a very eventful Thanksgiving I thought it would be impossible to have a better weekend in Oxford. I was wrong.  Even though the British do not enjoy Black Friday, they do know how to have light festivals.  The morning after Thanksgiving I woke up and attended a Health and Disease tutorial.  Our director of studies told me to attend the evening’s light festival. This was bold advice considering our college was hosting Olympic gold medalist Andrew Triggs Hodge at our formal dinner that evening. As I walked back from the tutorial I saw that the center of the city, a mile in each direction, was being  blocked off and decorated for the evening’s events.  The Oxford Christmas lighting ceremony, an annual tradition where the tree in the center of the city is lit and children from local schools parade around town, was that night.  Jordan and I were prepared to attend for a few hours before the St. Catherine’s formal ball.  It was the 50th anniversary of the establishment of St. Catz and the festivities would be extravagant. Anyways, that night Jordan and I attended the lighting ceremony before the ball.  Since we live in an apartment in the center of the city, we were able to walk out our door and experience the ceremony.  A large Christmas tree was lit and the rest of the festival was based on the American carnival.  There was a ferris-wheel, merry-go-round, carnival food, games, and thousands of families roaming the streets. The event was incredible.  Jordan and I bought Brazilian cheese-balls before we experienced an a cappella performance by the Oxford all male “Out of the Blue.”  Even though they are English, they rely heavily on American pop culture songs including “California Girls”, “Hit me baby one more time,” and “In the Jungle.”  The performance was brilliant, but we had to leave early in order to prepare for the formal ball.

 Ferris Wheel at the Oxford Christmas Light Ceremony, a big Oxford tradition

Ferris Wheel at the Oxford Christmas Light Ceremony


After Jordan and I got ready, we walked to St. Catherine’s in time to see the fireworks show.  I will say that it compared to the 4th of July ceremonies in the states.  After the fireworks display, we headed to the formal ball.  The formal balls at Oxford seem to be a big deal.  All males must wear black bow-ties and a suit and entertain their tutors from the first term.  The night was very interesting.  I will say that it was a different experience seeing my professors in a ‘party’ setting.  All of the tutors attend and get to experience the evening’s festivities.  That night was definitely incredibly memorable.

Firework Celebration at St. Catz 50th Anniversary, before the formal ball

Firework Celebration at St. Catz 50th Anniversary

Black Tie Formal Ball Attire, which I wore to the St. Catz 50th Celebration ball

Black Tie Formal Ball Attire

The day after the formal ball, I began to prepare for 8th week. Oxford terms last eight weeks and although it might not seem like a lot, I am ready to take a break.  Every week I have had either 2 essays due or an essay and a 10 minute presentation.  By the 8th week, students are worn out.  That Saturday I set my weekly schedule for my HIV tutorial and my Health Prevention tutorial.  I knew that it would be a long week, but the idea of finishing kept me energized.  Before this year, I had never pulled an all nighter, but in the last 7 days I have been through 3.  Looking at it from the other side, I will say that they were all my fault.  If there is anything that I have learned from my time at Oxford it is that you are the reason for your success or failure.  My nonchalant attitude in the first few days of the week forced me to make up for it in the back end.  With my last tutorial completed I can say that I have successfully completed an Oxford term.  It feels amazing.

I will leave you all now for a few days.  I will take the next segment to prepare my final post for the term.  In that post I will highlight how much I have learned and where I will go in the next two terms.  I have had a wonderful time here and look forward to writing this last post!

Thanksgiving in Uppsala (posted by Indira in Sweden)

November 30, 2012

Who said you can’t celebrate Thanksgiving unless you were in the US? Well, exchange and international students at Uppsala clearly showed the opposite! As the time for Thanksgiving approached American students at Uppsala University (and there are quite a lot of them, especially from California) decided to organize a dinner for about 50 people in order to show them what is so special about Thanksgiving.

I was amazed by the amount of food prepared by just a handful of hard-working people who made the commitment to organize such a big dinner. Everyone was taken by surprise, and the food was amazing (plus it’s nice when you get to eat great food with amazing people without having to cook yourself!). It was nice seeing how Thanksgiving is celebrated among an international community (last year I spent Thanksgiving with an American host family in Richmond so I got to see how it is celebrated among Americans), but it was also nice knowing the story behind it, as well as the traditions related to this holiday. I enjoyed sharing the knowledge I have gained during my two years in Richmond about Thanksgiving with other students who never actually thought they would be celebrating it. It’s funny how Uppsala keeps proving itself to be an international city where one can encounter the world.

Thanksgiving Dinner in Uppsala, Sweden

Thanksgiving Dinner

Thinking about it, it definitely is time to be grateful! Even though I keep pushing the thought of leaving away, it always hits me in random moments that I will be actually leaving the place I call home in about three weeks. Where did the time go? I can swear that it was just yesterday that I moved into my room in Flogsta, took my Swedish language course and met so many amazing people. It’s funny how I can still remember August warmth and barbecues on the rooftops, buying the bike and pushing myself into mastering the art of cycling. Those are just some of the things, moments and lessons I can be grateful for. There are so many more. I experienced so much in the last four months that it will take me years to remember and retell everything, as well as figure out how much this study abroad experience shaped me as a person, as a student, and most of all as a global citizen. It all lingers in my mind. The worst thing is that I am already nostalgic about this place and I haven’t even left yet. That is a sign that there will be a lot of tears shed and that leaving Uppsala will be one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. At least I have something else to look forward to: a semester at Yonsei University in South Korea.

Even though I do get lost in my thoughts about leaving Uppsala, I don’t actually have all too much time to think about it. First of all, I try to keep myself busy at all times by taking part in all kinds of activities offered in Uppsala through student nations or the student union because I know this is my last chance to do it all. Secondly, I still have classes to attend. And since the end of the month (and semester) is approaching, most of my exams, papers and projects are due in this and next week. I’ve been working like crazy in order to  balance everything. One of the biggest challenges, also one of the most interesting projects, I’ve worked on is the group paper on sustainable urbanization and urban resilience in Stockholm. After weeks and weeks of intensive literature reviews, interviews, weekly group meetings and extensive writing, we are wrapping up paper up. I am extremely proud of our piece of work since I learned so much on the subject, but also got a chance to work with a very international group of people learning a lot from them and about their countries (one girl in my group is actually from Seoul so she’s been giving me loads of information on life there in preparation for my next semester abroad!).

My class on feminism, role of women and international development is also ending this week and I will be taking an exam next week. That class was amazing – I learned so much; academically on the subject, and technically though ‘expert model’ seminars where absolutely everything was student led. Also, my new class – Armed Conflict and Development – starts next week as well, so it’s going be really tricky balancing all of that.

On a happy note – Uppsala looks amazing. Today it snowed. A lot!

Snow in Uppsala, where its very cold!

Snow in Uppsala

Everything is white and pretty (unfortunately it’s cold too) and the snow is sticking to the ground so it’s beautiful. There are already plans to organize snowball fights at some point soon. As much as I like snow and enjoy winter, going to class in 2 degrees Fahrenheit is not going to be fun. Today when I was cycling back from my class it started to snow and it was already a challenge. The worst part about it is getting all the snowflakes in your eyes. I am definitely not a fan of that. I will be using bus and other means of public transportation from now on, though. It is just much safer (it’s really easy to fall off the bike on slippery paths) and warmer.

And since it is a winter season, Christmas craziness has already began in Uppsala. There are Christmas decorations on streets, in stores, and even in our kitchen on my corridor. I will be also attending Julgask (Christmasgasque) on Saturday and rumor has it that Santa will be present. I am looking forward to that! 🙂

Christmas Decorations in a shop in Uppsala

Christmas Decorations

Thanksgiving in Oxford (posted by Jimmy in England)

November 23, 2012

Ever since I can remember, Thanksgiving Day has always consisted of a series of repeated events.  I would wake up, go into the kitchen and start eating with family.  We would all watch the parade, maybe play a little football outside, listen to Christmas music, eat more, watch some football, eat more, sleep and then prepare for what is known as Black Friday.  There would be endless amounts of different appetizers, stuffing, turkey, potatoes and of course pies.  The feast would go on all day and it was all about enjoying the company of family.  During college, Thanksgiving has also been a time to relax after 13 long weeks at school and prepare for that last haul before finals.  Last year if someone had asked me where I would be during the next Thanksgiving, Oxford wouldn’t have even been a fathomable attempt at an answer.  Yet even though I missed Thanksgiving this year, I will say that the day was pretty memorable.

I woke up early in the morning to prepare for my cancer tutorial at 11 o’clock.  Yes, I had a tutorial on Thanksgiving.  The previous three days had been marked by very little sleep. I haven’t mentioned it yet, but this summer my 3 friends and I started a non-profit organization called Chance To Play.  We aim to use sports as an outlet for families dealing with a medical issue.  We wanted to release our website on Thanksgiving as a way to show how thankful we are to the people who have helped us and for the opportunities that we have been given.  Needless to say, that is where the lack of sleep came from. (If you would like to check out the website, please visit us at http://www.chancetoplay.org it’s awesome! ) Anyways I was very excited about the launch and it is what got me through the devastating idea of having a tutorial on Thanksgiving.

After the tutorial, I slept for a few hours; what’s Thanksgiving without the typical mid-day nap?  After the nap, the true American festivities began.  The people who run St. Catherine’s College, the college that I am affiliated with at the University of Oxford, are amazing people.  They knew that the visiting students would be missing their normal festivities, so they planned an evening for us.  It started at 18:30 when we all met at the college for champagne with the Headmaster and Deans.  About 30 undergraduate visiting students, along with a few graduate students, attended.  It was one of those full circle moments where you realize how far you’ve come along.  The drinks were in the same room that our welcoming ceremonies were in and this was the first time that we had been back.  A little bit less than two months ago, none of us knew each other and at the time we were all imagining what the next chapter of our lives would entail.  After having been through 8 weeks I can say that we’ve come a long way.

Thanksgiving table at St. Catz, my college at Oxford University

Thanksgiving table at St. Catz

After the drinks, we went to a hall where all of the visiting students were given their own table to enjoy a Thanksgiving meal.  I don’t want to betray the familial ties, but I will say that it came close (it wasn’t as good, but very close) to a typical Thanksgiving dinner. They went all out with potatoes (mashed and sweet), gravy, stuffing, breads, wines, green beans, turkey, bacon, sausages and of course pies.  It was incredible!

The menu for the evening, at our Thanksgiving celebration at St. Catz, Oxford

‘ The menu for the evening

One big family to feed at the Oxford Thanksgiving celebration for students

One big family to feed

Once the meal was over, two of my friends and I went to the University Club.  Jordan is a visiting student from Oklahoma City who goes to William Jewell College in Missouri.  We became friends over our mutual love of the NBA and the Oklahoma City Thunder.  Sports connect us all.  Jess is a visiting student from Oregon who goes to school outside of New York City at Sarah Lawrence College.  She’s the visiting students representative and is helping produce a play in Oxford in the spring.  There are so many amazing people at Oxford with different backgrounds and different interests.  It has helped me realize how big of a place the world is.  The University Club is a recreational hall for Oxford students…. it also was the only place that we could find the American tradition of Thanksgiving football!  We showed up in time to see the Texans beat the Lions in overtime and then stayed to watch the Redskins beat the Cowboys!  I couldn’t think of a more American way to celebrate Thanksgiving!

In looking back on it I can truly say that I will remember this one for a while.  Although I wasn’t home I did have a great time enjoying the day with friends.  Like every Thanksgiving, it gave me a time to realize how thankful I am for everybody in my life and all of the wonderful opportunities that I have been given.  Who knows where I will be next Thanksgiving, only time will tell!  HAPPY THANKSGIVING!!

Stand up, on this Thanksgiving Day, stand upon your feet. Believe in man. Soberly and with clear eyes, believe in your own time and place. There is not, and there never has been a better time, or a better place to live in. -Phillips Brooks.

Uppsala goes fancy: Norrlands Nation’s Höstgasque and Gasque 101 (posted by Indira in Sweden)

November 23, 2012

As I mentioned in some of my previous posts, Uppsala is a meeting point for many contrary and contrasting things. Last week it was new and old. I was a part of a tradition so specific for Uppsala University students and so deeply embedded in the history of the student organizations here known as the nations, and yet so modern that still it occurs every semester.

The student life at Uppsala Uni is organized around 13 nations each representing a city or a region/county in Sweden. One can work in the nations, go for fika, study in nations’ libraries, meet friends, watch sport matches, go to the pub, attend concerts, participate in open mic and karaoke nights, go to the club there, take part in the gasque, as well as do many other things. But, let’s focus on the gasques (or gasks as they are called in Swedish). A gasque is basically  a formal dinner with an after-party. During the gasque you eat, drink, make toasts, and most importantly – sing. Yes, sing. Quite a lot, actually. Singing is basically the most important part of the gasque: You sing before making toasts, when drinking snaps (a celebratory tradition), when starting the dinner, when the dinner is almost finished, and for any other reason you could possibly propose to sing. And singing during the gasque is rather fun. Most of the songs are in Swedish, but you get a Songbook so you can follow and sing along. It’s also very easy to get the rhythm. Some songs even have their own little choreographies: My favorite song so far is one for which you stand up on your chair and sing and once the song is finished you should not sit in the chair since it means bad luck and you will fail all your exams. All in all, gasques are fun events where you get amazing food and meet new people, as well as familiarize yourself with Uppsala University and the nations’ traditions.

Höstgasque is the most formal of all the gasques during the Fall semester (höst means Fall in Swedish). The dress code is tail coat for the guys and ball gown for the girls. Ever since I heard of this gasque I made the decision to attend one, and I did so last week. A friend of mine plays in Norrlands nation’s orchestra so she attended the gasque and I joined her. All the members of the orchestra had dinner in a special room, but they followed all the gasque traditions.

The dinner table before the gasque started, a Swedish University tradition

The dinner table before the gasque started

There was a lot of singing, toasts, speeches, and chatting. I got to meet the members of the orchestra who were all Swedes. It was great practicing my Swedish and learning more about Sweden. Apart from that I enjoyed the food a lot – I ate moose for the first time ever. That was a whole new experience. We also played a game: All of us had a “top secret mission” that we had to fulfill during that evening. My task was to be obnoxiously loud after every toast and speech, applaud as loud as possible, and compliment the speech or toast. It was so much fun doing that! Other people had to propose toasts on every possible occasion, or start a conversation about music etc. It was a good way to bond with the people sitting near you at the table.

 Some of the members of the orchestra, which, played during the gasque, at the after-party

Some of the members of the orchestra

After dinner, the orchestra played and other gasque guests danced waltz and polonaise – that is how formal Höstgasque is! The formal dance continued during the after-party as well since more classical and jazz music was played. This is the typical after-party for these formal gasques in all nations.  Below is a video of the orchestra that played:

My friend and I decided to go for a full Höstgasque experience and went to the after-parties in two other nations  – Värmlands and Östgöta. The whole atmosphere made me feel like I travelled back in time. It was definitely an experience I am happy I was able to have. Attending the Höstgasque is definitely going to be one of the highlights of my semester abroad in Uppsala.

Small World in Uppsala: Reunions, Cruise to Riga, and Northern Lights (posted by Indira in Sweden)

November 19, 2012

It always surprises me how small-yet big- the City of Uppsala is. One can easily walk or ride a bike everywhere, but if you are looking for something – you will most certainly find it in Uppsala. It sometimes reminds me of a small, cozy, convenience store where you can find anything; you know where to find everything you’re looking for, but you are also oftentimes surprised by the new things you unexpectedly find. Metaphorically that would be a summary of my last week in Uppsala.  I met 4 people – 2 from my high school and 2 from the University of Richmond – who were visiting Uppsala. Yes, it’s a small world indeed!

On Tuesday morning I woke up to a message from my friend saying that he was in Uppsala and asking me where in Sweden I was studying since he might come and visit me. I sprung out of my bed and sprinted to the downtown to meet him. He was traveling with one more of my high school friends and they decided to visit Uppsala. I was so happy to see them since I haven’t seen them in years. We had so much to catch up on and we did so while I showed them the best of Uppsala. We spent the entire day walking around, touring the iconic pink castle of Uppsala, the Botanical Garden, museums, Carolina Rediviva, Domkyrkan and many other places in Uppsala. They had a great time and I enjoyed being around the people who brought back so much memories, but also made me think how far I have come since my high school days.

Next reunion surprise came even more unexpectedly on Thursday. Since Thursday evening has become a “Stockholms Nation evening” among my friends, we went there. Next thing I knew I saw CJ (Swedish student who was on exchange at UR last year) and he was telling me that he had 2 friends from Richmond visiting him. It was great meeting new people and talking about Richmond. Actually, it felt a bit odd to talk about D-Hall, B-School, Commons etc. and have the people know what I was talking about without me having to explain it to them. Both UR students I met were also studying abroad: one in Italy and the other one in the Netherlands. Even though it made me miss Richmond, it was great talking about it. It also made me feel kind of ‘home.’

But the fun of seeing new (and already familiar) faces didn’t stop there. My friends and I took a part in the International Students Cruise to Riga, Latvia. International students studying all over Sweden gathered in Stockholm harbor in order to go on a 3-day-cruise to the Latvian capital. It was really nice meeting other students studying in Stockholm, Lund, Gothenburg, and some other cities in Sweden and hearing about their abroad experiences. Seeing the city of Riga was also a great experience. I enjoyed the Old Town, as well as the more modern party of the city . And once again we were happy to have nice weather and no rain. It made our travel experience just so much better!

A street in the Old Town of Riga, Latvia, where I visited with my friends from Richmond

A street in the Old Town of Riga, Latvia

The City of Riga, the capital of Latvia

The City of Riga

And just when I thought the week could not go any better … well, it did! I was lucky enough to enjoy sighting the Northern Lights once again. Cold night and clear skies made it possible for the green lights to be seen above Uppsala in the direction of the North. It made me really happy and now I can say I have already seen Aurora Borealis twice this year! I am hoping to see the Lights again. It is always stunning to see Mother Nature and her beauty. 🙂

Aurora Borealis, part of the Northern Lights

Aurora Borealis

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