Study Abroad Blog by Pavel Vassiljev

Saturday, August 6, 2011

MOVE-EAT-LEARN

I have not been able to write a lot these days but soon will be back in business. However, now I just got to see these short-films made by Australian guys that fascinated me! They resemble the greatest things you get when living abroad, studying abroad or just traveling. Do check them out:


3 guys, 44 days, 11 countries, 18 flights, 38 thousand miles, an exploding volcano, 2 cameras and almost a terabyte of footage... all to turn 3 ambitious linear concepts based on movement, learning and food ....into 3 beautiful and hopefully compelling short films.....

= a trip of a lifetime.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Traveling outside of UK part 1

Previously I wrote about my travel experience within UK and that there is a lot to see. However, I also loved living in England because of how cheap and easy it is to travel to other European countries. And if you have great friends that would let you stay on the floor of their apartments (At least :)) Then it pretty much does not cost you anything as you eat and drink like usual... (Great point, yeah!?) 

Amsterdam 2008
It was the first time we got out of England and it was not a trip to Tallinn. The city of Amsterdam is amazing, all right!? The city is full of bikes and I mean FULL of bikes. The bikes are actually very dangerous in Amsterdam as we almost got hit by the bikes thousands of times during our 3 day stay there. On our last day we met our friends from Rotterdam, who actually showed us whole Amsterdam, which we thought was ending around the Red Light District...

Unfortunately, we did not get to visit the Heineken factory, but went to the ice bar instead. Which was also a pretty cool experience, especially for the Greek guy... (You know, three of us were from Estonia, so we are used to ice, snow, cold and blablabla) Overall Amsterdam was a great experience and a getaway from academic life for the first time. In terms of costs it was pretty ok as well, return flights were around 30 GBP, hostel for two nights was 50 EUR and it was in the red light district. I mean how more Amsterdamish you can get? 
Dublin 2009
One day we were randomly checking Ryanair flights and stumbled upon a flight from Luton to Dublin. We just decided to go there for a Friday-Saturday. It was very spontaneous, which made the trip even more fun. We didn't even book a hostel. 

Once in Dublin, we met up with a guy we knew from Estonia (Well only one of us knew him) And walked around the center for a bit. When he asked: "So guys where are your staying for the night?"  With no hesitation we said: "Well we were thinking that we are staying at yours..." He smiled and said: "Ok!" Which we are still grateful for. After settling down with accommodation for the night and walking around the center it has been decided to get a bit closer to the culture and go for a pub crawl... The following night was full of adventures around Dublin and especially the Temple bar district. Which is just beyond cool. We had to walk back home in the rain for I don't know how long but I felt it was at least 1.5 hours. 

Next day we met up with other people from Tallinn. Of course we went into a pub and spent most of the day talking to each other and trying to understand the bartender's Irish accent. Overall, the trip was great and return tickets to Dublin cost us only 10 GBP (EPIC WINNING) 

Oslo 2009
I decided to visit my friend in Norway for the weekend. It cost me around 30 GBP return, which is again EPIC. It was funny and sad at the same time that bus tickets to Oslo central cost 2 times more than the plain tickets. I liked Oslo and had an amazing time there, however the prices and the cold (Yes, it was a bit too much even for me) were killing me. My jaw literally dropped when I had to pay 40 GBP for 5 shots of Jagermeister in a bar. But lets not talk about that :)

In Oslo I met a lot of cool people and even though it was only a three day trip it felt much longer as it was packed with action. On the last day we went snowboarding with Jamal and his friends, and that was cool. However, I'm not sure whether snowboarding was more extreme, than me driving an old Renault Laguna 150km away from Oslo. Plus the blizzard never stopped. So I probably lost half of my nerves on the way to the spot...

It was my first time snowboarding so Jamal's friend was kind enough to tell me how to stand up and start, but never told me how to steer and break... Thus, when I first stood up I started to slide down with absolute no idea of steering and just had to grab some random person to stop with an idiotic look on my face. The whole day was followed by ups and downs (literally) but the scenery was just gorgeous. You could see frozen lakes, forests, houses on hills and other mountains around. At the end of the day I still managed to drive the car back to Oslo and YES, it did hurt a lot... But Norwegian dinner and Texas Hold'em were relaxing and fun. 


Going to places and meeting your friends or course-mates is beyond great. You have the chance to experience the place from a resident perspective. You will get to know the best places to visit. And it is just nice to see a friend that you haven't seen for a while. Always use the opportunity to go traveling!

p.s. Stay tuned for the second part.




Friday, June 3, 2011

Transportation Hell...

After all these happy posts I just have to write something bitter... During 4 years abroad I had several problems getting to my destination in time or at least getting there at all. I am pretty organized with coming in advance to the airport and I usually wait for the check-in to open, while playing my Nintendo DSi XL. (Yes this is advertising :)) But sometimes even starting a journey way in advance can be useless.

Icelandic Mayhem
When being home for Easter holiday 2010 I had a lot of fun. But when it came to getting back to Portsmouth it took me 2 weeks. You heard me, 2 bloody weeks thanks to Eyjafjallajökull (Thats the volcano name). My first easyjet flight got cancelled, while I was on my way to the airport. The text message I received advised me to go online and rebook a flight. When I got home and opened easyjet.com, flight were only available in 10 days. I was shocked as I had to work on Monday and also finish and hand-in my bachelor's thesis in a week. I decided that 10 days wait is impossible and booked a flight with Estonian Air that was in the next 4 days. (Hey, the eruption just started I didn't know it was a stupid idea). My second flight never took off as well. I had only one option to postpone it for another week. I had to call up work and tell them all about it. Luckily for me they understood. So my main problem was my thesis, which I had to finish in like 5 days. But it is extremely hard to do such stuff when you are at home and everybody is calling you and want to party, since you are still in town. However I managed to finish it and my friend handed it in. After that me and my friends had a third farewell party for me (This was the fun part) and my third flight took off and got me to Heathrow (Tallinn-Oslo-Heathrow o.O). 

I was happy to get back to Portsmouth and back to work... Even though for the next half a year I was teased for being two weeks late for work..

Christmas Horror
Christmas holiday 2010 had an epic start. I was supposed to fly home from Copenhagen Airport.. Getting to CPH was a big problem starting with the first train being 25 minutes late.. However I had more than enough time to catch my flight. The train ride from Lund to CPH takes around 40 minutes the first stop is Malmo and takes only 15 minutes to get from Lund. I was stuck for a bit more than two hours.. How is that even possible?? I know that the snow was pretty bad but COME ON, it is Sweden. They got to know how to cope with the snow. We were just stuck like 5 min away from the train station and they did not let us out.. They refused to let me out when I said I want to walk there as I see the station.. After 2 hours I got to Malmo… the train terminated there.. so we had an option of a taxi and a bus.. the taxi driver wanted 1.500 sek for 3 people to drive to CPH which is like 30 minutes away.. So we took the bus to CPH…eventually I was 20 minutes late to get my flight… Pretty frustrating! At SAS ticket office I had to stay in a queue for another hour.. and I found out that the only available flight for tomorrow.. would cost me 265 EUR extra and it was business class… He also noted I was eligible only for direct flights and couldn’t take any of the ones connecting in Stockholm. I don’t see a point there… So I had to book airbaltic for 201 EUR.. And my flight was at 7AM.. but that was not the worst part.. After sleeping on the floor I woke up and went to the check-in desks. However, the lady there said I should go to the information desk as I do not show up on the system… Imagine that!? At the information desk I talked to a lady who called airbaltic and advised me to return back to her in 30 minutes saying I don’t have my ticket yet. “But I will be late to check-in”…”Sir, I have too many other customers, come back later”. You just got to love customer service like that. NOT! After calling airbaltic myself they confirmed my ticket. And I checked-in. It was the best feeling ever! However, when I arrived in Riga I had to wait there for 9 hours to connect and fly to Tallinn… 32 hours without proper sleeping and 24 hours in airports was bad. But I got home at least..

After sending a complaint to Skanetrafiken I have received a one day ticket for Skane region. Which is not even worth the money paid to get on that bloody train in the first place. So I would say Skanetrafiken FAIL both customer service and service recovery.

These two stories are definitely not the only ones I have. However they are the most nerve-wrecking. 

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Theme Parties

Now let's get down to business... After sending my final thesis draft and the rest of the day to enjoy... I want to write about the most important thing when studying abroad... PARTY! You know it!!!

Parties make people get to know each other and have a lot of fun. Common sense, right!? House parties are probably my favorite as you do not need to worry about queues, running out of money in the bar (Well, we're students, remember!) And most importantly you have the people you like around you. Minor house parties are happening every weekend, I don't need to tell you that. However, theme parties are a lot more fun (If they are well organized, of course) So let me tell you about the most fun parties we had in UK and Sweden. But first a checklist for you.
  • Create a Facebook event, where you give all the information, add your playlist and ask people to add songs they want to hear (To make sure nobody will say the music was bad)
  • Make sure people know about the dress-code much in advance (It's just lame, when you are the only one in a costume). Your guests need to have enough time to think about it and visit the closest second hand store at least.
  • Create a playlist that would include the most relevant songs for your party. (Make sure it's long enough to keep people dancing until the morning)
  • Clean your place and get rid of anything that can get dirty, broken, damaged. (Oh, I've been there)
  • Enlarge your space as much as possible (Friends bring friends you know)
  • Decorate (I like putting posters and pictures around that contain images relevant to the theme)
  • Buy plastic cups (If you don't you're screwed...)
  • Make sure your speakers and laptop are in a liquid free are (OH, it is hard to make sure of that.. Last time I used duck-tape) 
  • Invite neighbors (so they cannot be angry at you for the noise. I mean you can at least try)
  • Book a cleaning company to come in the morning (Just kidding...)
So once you got it done you are ready for some hardcore partying with your friends...

I can tell we have made some epic theme parties in the past few years.

Luton 2009 - Soviet Party 

  • Russian food buffet
  • Soviet posters around
  • Cheesy music
  • Vodka was the drink of the party
  • Around 50 people in a small English House
  • Whole day of cleaning afterwards





Lund 2010 - 90's Party
  • Some old school 90's clothes
  • Graffiti on the chalkboard
  • Some great 90's hits
  • Around 40 people in the corridor kitchen
  • Whole day of cleaning afterwards 




Lund 2011 - 80's Party
  • The best clothes from a local second hand shop
  • Graffiti on the chalkboard, duck-taped DJ place, 
  • 80's artist posters all around the kitchen
  • Some 80's rock
  • Around 50 people in the corridor kitchen
  • Several days of cleaning




But remember all fun must be followed by...
CLEANING:

P.S. I hope thats not how the corridor will look like after END OF THESIS PARTY...



Thursday, May 19, 2011

South of England Road-trip

As promised I took a break from writing the thesis and am taking a walk down the memory lane. (oh God... I do study to hard.) I mentioned previously my great French house-mates took me on a road-trip around South of England. It was mid-May and the weather was mostly kind to us. Of course occasional rains hit us during the road-trip (But, hey, its England!). Nevertheless, let the journey begin:


We headed out of Portsmouth early in the morning of course stopping at the 24H Tesco to grab breakfast and snacks. (Who doesn't). After driving for a couple of hours we got to our first place of interest, which was the White Horse in Westbury. A pretty weird thing to see... A giant horse engraved on a hill... According to Wikipedia: "The origin of the Westbury White Horse is obscure. It is often claimed to commemorate King Alfred's victory at the Battle of Eðandun in 878, and while this is not impossible, there is no trace of such a legend before the second half of the eighteenth century. " As you can guess we took a picture and continued to go. 

Our next stop was a lot more exciting - Bath. When I first heard of Bath and Bath Spa University, I was sure they only teach Spa stuff there :-/ But NO... The city has a name because of the baths Roman empire built there. Its a pretty neat city with nice gardens and old town. The most interesting fact about it is that all of the city's buildings are the same color. Golden-colored Bath Stone all the way. You may be thinking its lame, but no its not! The city has a very special feel to it. It does not really feel like England because of so many Roman buildings and such. 


After a nice walk around Bath and some Starbucks we headed to Cheddar, the village that gave the world Cheddar Cheese! The village located in the Cheddar Gorge has a narrow but beautiful road. Taking a stop at the village we went to sample some fresh cheddar (The French love their cheese you know!) The variety in small family-owned shops was amazing. You name it, they've got it... Oak-smoked cheddar, bacon cheddar, chili cheddar and my personal favorite cider cheddar with pieces of cider apples. The cheese was so fresh that we couldn't cut it, it was so crumbly. 


After eating all that cheddar we got back on the road and headed to Glastonbury, the city that is home to Glastonbury Festival and the mysterious Glastonbury Tor. But first we found Mr Roger Wilkins and his cider farm. The guy was amazingly friendly and treated the non-driving part of the crew to some home-made cider. Never tasted anything better in my life. The cider made our conversation more laid back and Roger in his mid 70's told us he used to drink 12 pints a day, but unfortunately the doctors made him cut down to 6-7... But still he thinks that "An apple a day keeps the doctor away". After a couple of pints we bought another 20 liters and continued with our journey. When we reached Glastonbury it was already getting dark, so we checked in the local backpackers hostel and then went out for dinner. The dinner was in a very, very and I mean VERY old pub, it was screaming the middle ages! After some fish pie and a couple of pints we returned   to the hostel and went to bed. 


The next morning we went to see the Glastonbury Tor, a roofless tower on top of a hill. The view from there was nice and there was a feel of mystery around the tower. There are several myths about the Tor regarding King Arthur, Celtic settlements and many others. If you want to know more... Google it! :)  


After walking around the Tor and taking tons of pictures we moved on to reach Cornwall. In a couple of hours we reached Boscastle a village that changed me. You cannot believe how beautiful it was. A small village in a valley next to hills and cliffs and the ocean. We spend a fair 2-3 hours walking around and climbing hills and cliffs. Took tons of pictures from every angle. I bet you are wondering whether it was scary to make this ------>
picture. YES it was! But I always wanted one so i went for it... Once we got enough of Boscastle (No we didn't, but had to leave) we carried on going to Tintagel, the birthplace of King Arthur and a place where Merlin's cave is. 


It was only a 20 minute drive from Boscastle along a beautiful road over-viewing the cliffs and the ocean. Eventually we found a cheap parking space and went to discover Tintagel Castle. Even though there is not that much castle left it is still impressive. The castle used to be located on two huge cliffs and is believed to be the birthplace of the legendary King Arthur. The atmosphere was quite creepy because once we got to the top everything became really foggy. It was scary to walk around because you could not see where the cliff ends... But yet again we survived. After taking tons of pictures (YES, tons again) on the cliff and going into every single cave below the cliff it was time to start heading back to Pompey...


That two day road-trip was packed with action and beautiful places I highly recommend everybody to visit Cornwall if you have the time. It is A-mazing! 


Check my Flickr for more pictures of Cornwall. 


   

Monday, May 16, 2011

Traveling in UK

During hard thesis writing days I changed the design a bit to make it brighter :). I also decided to take a break and write a post here about the good old days traveling within UK. 

To be honest when I was living in Luton I thought that there is nothing to see outside London. (How English of me :D) However, after moving to Portsmouth and meeting two great French house-mates that were amazing enough to take me road-tripping I completely changed my mind. Bare in mind that I only traveled within UK's south coast so it doesn't mean there is nothing to see up north. 

Firstly, some tips when traveling in UK. 
  • Rent a car
It's not only cheaper but also gives you the power to control everything. Some amazing places are hard to reach by train. So it would take you ages to try getting to places like Boscastle or Cheddar. Highways are also good so you reach places fast unless you get stuck in a small country road!!! :)

Every student traveler knows that hostels are fun and cheap. Hostels in South England are around 15 GBP per person per night. And the standards are pretty good for road-tripping. Most of them also have pubs inside (Of course, its England) so a nice pint will relax you after an exciting day. Most of tehm are centrally located so you can park the car and enjoy a walk exploring the city.

  • Engage in communicating with the locals
Being friendly is always good and its even better in England. People from South of England love their part and are always willing to share a story or help out if you are lost. For example we met Roger Wilkins (OFFICIALLY THE KING OF CIDER) with whom we had a great conversation and ended up buying 20 liters of farm cider. (Did I mention I love cider? Well, I do!) 

  • Try everything you can (I mean legal)
Engage in tasting and sampling local specialties. I have never tasted better Cheddar cheese, than in Cheddar. (Did I mention I love cheese? Well, I do!) And never tasted better cider than in Somerset. Oh, and Cornish Pasties are much better in Cornwall :) 

  • Don't be afraid to leave the planned route (If you do not have a work shift to come back to)
If you can extend your road-trip and don't have a work shift or uni deadline right after coming back, do not hesitate to leave the planned route. There are so many cool things in UK that you would not discover if you wouldn't dare to take a turn. For example you can find great sea-view roads in Cornwall, that are not the bigger ones. However it is worth it. 

  • Ask locals for interesting spots
Don't hesitate to ask locals to recommend you places to see. They know it better than any guide book. Simple as that.

  • Buy souvenirs and local products
It will be a nice memory and you also support locals which is a nice thing to do. 


I guess this is my top 7 tips about road-tripping in South of England. Follow them and you will have a great time traveling and discovering new things.

In my next thesis break I will write about the actual road-trip we did last Spring. Meanwhile you could check my flickr set and get the feel of South England.

p.s. I would appreciate if you follow the blog and share it with your friends. 


Tuesday, May 10, 2011

10 Reasons To Study Abroad



Not so long ago I encountered a post at http://www.vistawide.com/studyabroad, which gave 10 reasons to study abroad. It may be useful for those who are still in doubt about going abroad or not.


1. Study abroad is the optimal way to learn a language. There is no better and more effective way to learn a language than to be immersed in a culture that speaks the language you are learning. You're surrounded by the language on a daily basis and are seeing and hearing it in the proper cultural context. Language learning happens most quickly under these circumstances.


2. Study abroad provides the opportunity to travel. Weekends and academic breaks allow you to venture out and explore your surroundings - both your immediate and more distant surroundings. Since studying abroad often puts you on a completely different continent, you are much closer to places you might otherwise not have had the opportunity to visit. Some more structured study abroad programs even have field trips planned in or around the curriculum.


3. Study abroad allows you get to know another culture first-hand. Cultural differences are more than just differences in language, food, appearances, and personal habits. A person's culture reflects very deep perceptions, beliefs, and values that influence his or her way of life and the way that s/he views the world. Students who experience cultural differences personally can come to truly understand where other cultures are coming from.


4. Study abroad will help you develop skills and give you experiences a classroom setting will never provide. Being immersed in an entirely new cultural setting is scary at first, but it's also exciting. It's an opportunity to discover new strengths and abilities, conquer new challenges, and solve new problems. You will encounter situations that are wholly unfamiliar to you and will learn to adapt and respond in effective ways.

5. Study abroad affords you the opportunity to make friends around the world. While abroad, you will meet not only natives to the culture in which you are studying, but also other international students who are as far from home as yourself.

6. Study abroad helps you to learn about yourself. Students who study abroad return home with new ideas and perspectives about themselves and their own culture. The experience abroad often challenges them to reconsider their own beliefs and values. The experience may perhaps strengthen those values or it may cause students to alter or abandon them and embrace new concepts and perceptions. The encounter with other cultures enables students to see their own culture through new eyes.

7. Study abroad expands your worldview. In comparison with citizens of most other countries, Americans tend to be uninformed about the world beyond the nation's boundaries. Students who study abroad return home with an informed and much less biased perspective toward other cultures and peoples.

8. Study abroad gives you the opportunity to break out of your academic routine. Study abroad is likely to be much unlike what you are used to doing as a student. You may become familiar with an entirely new academic system and you will have the chance to take courses not offered on your home campus. It's also a great opportunity to break out the monotony of the routine you follow semester after semester.

9. Study abroad enhances employment opportunities. Did you know that only 4% of U.S. undergraduates ever study abroad? Yet, the world continues to become more globalized, American countries are increasingly investing dollars abroad, and companies from countries around the world continue to invest in the international market. Through an employer's seyes, a student who has studied abroad is self-motivated, independent, willing to embrace challenges, and able to cope with diverse problems and situations. Your experience living and studying in a foreign country, negotiating another culture, and acquiring another language will all set you apart from the majority of other job applicants.

10. Study abroad can enhance the value of your degree. While abroad, you can take courses you would never have had the opportunity to take on your home campus. In addition, study abroad gives your language skills such a boost that it is normally quite easy to add a minor in a language or even a second major without having to take many more additional courses after the return to your home campus.

p.s. Do not hesitate to comment about posts and ask questions if any.