Nick‘s blog

Take off

Take off

Tjena, hejsan, hallå! If you are reading this, I have arrived in Stockholm. Whaaaa! Even when writing this entry and looking back at the past two weeks in the capital of Sweden (and arguably Scandinavia too), excitement is all I can feel right now. To be sure, saying goodbye was not easy and of course I had cold feet when I stepped onto the plane. I was after all moving to a country where I had never been to. All by myself! However, as soon as I set foot on Swedish ground, the welcome has been more than warm.

First of all, the amazing people from Stockholm Academic Forum (STAF) picked me and other arriving exchange students up at the airport. In a huge bus which had ‘JUST ARRIVED: INTERNATIONAL STUDENTS’ printed on the side, we got transported to the city centre. As I study at Södertörns Högskola, which is located in a suburb south of Stockholm, I had to take the underground and train to get there and pick up my keys. Luckily, the people from STAF went along up until the central station, so I only needed to jump on the right train. At university, my personal mentor Vera was waiting for me and together with my unconventionally big luggage, we travelled to my new home: a dorm in Lappis, which is a student campus in Northern Central Stockholm

And all I can say is that I very much like it here! The first week consisted mainly of activities organised by ESN, the Erasmus Student Network of Södertörns. We went to IKEA together, – how typically Swedish :-) – had a welcome dinner, and did a competition annex tour in Stockholm to get to know the city better. My team managed to win the competition: one task was to get as many patches on the cheek and we scored an impressive 41 kisses! The chocolate medal is still waiting for me.

The Erasmus students take Fåfängan!

The Erasmus students take Fåfängan!

After the introduction days, the other exchange students and I explored the city further by ourselves. We went for instance to Skinnarviksberget, one of the highest points of Stockholm, and had lunch there with a wonderful view over the skyline. We also swam in a natural lake and saw many Swedish artists performing at a festival in Kungsträdgården. Furthermore, we organised a barbecue at Lappis and mingled with the Swedish students at Södertörns at a beach-themed opening party.

RIX FM Festivalen at Kungsträdgården.

RIX FM Festivalen at Kungsträdgården.

 

Barbecue at Lappis! (photo by Carlos)

Barbecue at Lappis! (photo by Carlos)

I also met up with Charlotte, my Swedish friend in Stockholm, a couple of times already and it is really nice to live in the same city as her again. She showed me around at Hagaparken and we had fika, which is a typically Swedish ‘coffee moment,’ usually accompanied by some sweets. I like practicing Swedish with her and the other Swedish people I have met so far. As the Swedes may seem a bit reserved at first, I noticed that they open up after a little while, and speaking their language definitely helps.

Oh, I almost forgot to talk about the courses I am taking! I have come here to study after all ;-). I am currently enrolled in a course called ‘Media Production: Visual Narratives,’ and in contrast to the political courses I take in the Netherlands, this one is extremely creative. We had a lecture on truth in photography as well as several seminars on how to use Photoshop. By the end of this week, I should have taken a photograph expressing a selection of the words soft, autumn, electric, strong, and edge. Our task is to design two completely different book covers by using the same photograph.

Like the assignment, I feel Stockholm as a city is very inspiring. The biggest city I have lived in before moving here had 120 000 inhabitants. Stockholm, a metropolis comprising about a million, is on the other hand overwhelming. Stockholm is like a whelm and I am ready to dive in.

A bucket list activity: swimming in a natural lake. We made it happen near Vinterviken.

A bucket list activity: swimming in a natural lake. We made it happen near Vinterviken.

Reflection

Reflection

Since the end of my academic year and the beginning of this ‘blogging era,’ I have shared with you my preparations for moving to Stockholm. You also went on holiday with me and saw what I have been up to in general during summer. In contrast to all this, the past two weeks have been remarkably quiet. Hence, I had some time to think things over a bit. As expertise comes with both experience and reflection, I find myself in the perfect position to preach my, eh, ‘wisdom’ and give you three top tips if you are thinking about moving abroad. Tips which I needed to learn the hard way ;-)

Thou shalt start in time

Despite its seeming simplicity, the first one is already a bit tricky. Like the majority of students (hopefully), my brain tends to function a bit oddly. Especially the way it prioritises certain matters above others is rather deceptive. For one thing, I have been browsing the web far too long for irrelevant things. Watch out, Google Maps and Google Street View are not your friends here. It helped me for instance discover that there should be a beach (!!! See top-image Lappis Beach!) about 500 metres from where I will live. Certainly, this is a good thing to be aware of, but it also distracted me from more important matters such as responding to emails of my bank or the Dutch Government.

Thou shalt plan ahead

Starting in time alone will not automatically result in victory. You should also make plans as to what should when be done. In other words: deadlines! Are you making a three-week long road trip in the months prior to departure? Make sure to get the most necessary things organised before you go. Matters deserving absolute priority include application, accommodation, travel documents, and financial matters such as grants and insurances. Alternative things such as packing your suitcase, buying items you will need abroad or – I’ll admit it – virtually wandering through the city you will be moving to can be done later. Also keep in mind that it may take a while until you can expect replies on emails. Creating a checklist including all major deadlines might be a good idea.

I mean it! Paper administration is not fun!

I mean it! Paper administration is not fun!

Thou shalt understand culture

This step is optional, but highly recommended: try to accustom yourself a bit to the culture of the country you are moving to! Start learning the lingua franca so you can make yourself understood. Of course, you do not need to be an expert before you make ‘the big move.’ Languages, for instance, you will mostly pick up whilst living there, but it may be wise to already master some key words and sentences. Yet, culture does not comprise language alone. Charlotte, one of my Swedish friends who also lives in Stockholm, bought me a present when she was visiting the Netherlands:

If this is to represent a Swedish summer, I should brace myself for winter…

If this is to represent a Swedish summer, I should brace myself for winter…

This Handbook for Swedes discusses commonalities and ‘typical’ Swedish customs. Reading through it made me feel amazed and even laugh out loud a couple of times. A regular travel guide may also stir your wanderlust a bit. I am also slowly starting to think about what to pack; the tips of fellow-blogger Denise came in handy here. Thanks Denise! ;-)

I cannot believe it is almost time to bid the Dutch landscape farewell already. Enjoy the last weeks of summer and see you on the other side!

Netherlandsbyebye

 

Travel time

Travel time

A little more than five weeks is – at the time I am writing this – all that stands between today and my departure to Sweden and Stockholm. The past month, it has come to me how much time and effort it actually takes to arrange all requirements for my semester abroad! Of course, I knew I would need to make sure some issues resolved, such as applying at Södertörns Högskola as well as booking flights. However, when I imagined everything was going smoothly, I received various emails from my home and host university, the ERASMUS+ programme, my insurance company, my bank, … . I might have been a bit naïve, but I was truly overwhelmed for a moment! As in nearly every situation, preparation is key, I decided to take things seriously and get work done.

The official student’s guide for moving abroad (note the last point on the list)

The official student’s guide for moving abroad (note the last point on the list)

Despite being at sixes and sevens every now and then, matters eventually got cleared up and I think I am well underway at this moment. Moreover, travel preparations can be very fun too! As I have not been away from home for a consecutive period this long, – many travel dreams are still to be fulfilled – I considered it wise to invest in a proper suitcase. Testing its size by trying to curl up and fit in (surprisingly: it didn’t work), this one should nonetheless get me through five months.

My cocker spaniel Mees has made his point: he wants to come along!

My cocker spaniel Mees has made his point: he wants to come along!

Before my ‘big journey’ to Sweden, however, there are still two small trips to enjoy. One of them lies already behind me: a holiday to Catalonia, Spain with friends! After a serious heat wave in the Netherlands in which various records were broken, we were a bit apprehensive of going to an even warmer country! All jokes aside, it was lovely experiencing the southern European vibes all around us. That’s something else I like about travelling: everywhere you go; not only the architecture, cuisine, and customs, but especially the air seems to feel a little different. We went swimming, sailing, supping, and went on a daytrip to Barcelona. Besides visiting the top attractions such as La Sagrada Família, Gaudí’s Battló house and La Rambla, we explored somewhat quirkier and hidden places as well. Seldom I have felt calmer and more at peace than on that holiday :-)

Many impressions at La Boqueria Market in Barcelona

Many impressions at La Boqueria Market in Barcelona

Catalonia’s independent mind is clearly visible: on Barcelona’s typical balconies there’s nowhere a Spanish flag to be found

Catalonia’s independent mind is clearly visible: on Barcelona’s typical balconies there’s nowhere a Spanish flag to be found

Travel-wise, the rest of the holiday I will go on a short trip with my family and make some daytrips with friends. One of them is to a museum in the north of the Netherlands. They currently expose a collection of North Korean paintings, which I am very curious to see. The sun is out and so am I.

All kinds of preparation

All kinds of preparation

The train made a small, yet clearly noticeable noise. It seemed to follow a certain rhythm when leaving Maastricht behind. Year two of university had ended. As of today the results are published and I feel relieved that I have passed all my courses (!!!) and can start preparing for Sweden as well as enjoying my free time. Similar to a flock of birds, my friends and I spread out again by means of train, car, boat and/or plane in order to get home. Yet, the train I was on did not take me home. Don’t worry; this was not an accident :-). A couple of friends and I decided to usher the weeks of freedom with a trip to Amsterdam. Despite not being planned thoroughly, the trip ended up very cultural: we went to the museum of contemporary art, attended a performance of Keaton Henson in collaboration with the Royal Concert Hall Orchestra (how mesmerising it was!) and had very cultural picnics in the park.

Concert

Keaton leaving the stage in the Royal Concert Hall in Amsterdam

As my own hometown is not too far from Maastricht, I also dropped by to meet some of my friends who were still in town. Being back in Maastricht felt a bit odd – I transported most of my items and clothes back home already so my apartment was quite empty – but simultaneously it was very nice waking up without thinking: ‘When do I have class today?’ or ‘What must I get done?’ So I had for instance lots of lunches and went to the cinema to watch Jurassic World (as one does when one has spare time).

However, realising that a) the main purpose of this blog is to document my preparations for coming to Stockholm and b) writing about food and films isn’t exactly ‘preparation,’ I decided that it was a good time to brush up my Swedish again. With language partner Robin gone and no university obligations left, I have time as well as responsibility on my side now. The main tool I use for keeping up my Swedish is by doing exercises on Duolingo. This is a free platform – sure you’ll recognise the green house owl – which is designed for grasping grammar and extending vocabulary. Of all websites and applications I have used over the past years, this one works best. Its structure is made up out of different categories such as Animals, Communication and Medical. You learn by translating sentences and practicing pronunciation, too. Sometimes, this can lead to very funny translations or obvious truths:

Translation

Really?

Also, since I love reading, I decided to start the original Swedish version of one of my favourite books: The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson. Although my Swedish is not good enough yet to understand every single word without any trouble, I do notice that I am making progress. When my eyes go over each page, for instance, the sentences seem to flow in a kind of rhythm. Small, yet clearly noticeable ;-)

Final papers and a new start!

Final papers and a new start!

Study breaks in the sun

Final papers and a new start!

Some people say ‘the last mile is the longest.’ Working on my final papers in a tropically warm library, I couldn’t agree more with that. Summer has undoubtedly come and I want to enjoy it! But let me first, in the midst of piles of papers and empty coffee cups, wander back to last winter. December 2014, right before Christmas, me and my friends received an e-mail we had all been looking forward to: the placements of our semester abroad. Most of my friends were very pleased to see where they got accepted: Canada, Spain, Finland, Macau, the UK …. And I got placed in Sweden! I was over the moon; somehow I have always been interested in Scandinavia and I love the culture, language and people. For these reasons, I started learning Swedish about one and a half year ago. During the first two years of my bachelor’s studies, I met several people who I started a ‘language exchange’ with: they taught me Swedish; in return I taught them Dutch.

When you realise the holidays are upon you ☺going to miss these people!

When you realise the holidays are upon you ☺going to miss these people!

That’s right, I am Dutch. Studying in Maastricht, a city located in the southernmost point of the Netherlands and close to both Belgium and Germany, I am both close to home and part of a very international community. Maastricht University offers a lot of programmes in English, making me one of the few Dutch people in my track. Most of my friends, in fact, come from Germany, England, Greece, and many other countries. I study Political Culture, which means that I analyse political theories mostly from a philosophical perspective. Currently I am for instance working on papers about humanitarian intervention and the EU border policy. Apart from being a fulltime student, I enjoy music a lot and I do theatre.

When, during all the exam stress, I got an email from Stockholm Academic Forum (STAF) with the question whether I would like to share my journey to and whereabouts in Sweden, I was immediately interested. The upcoming months I will thus document my preparations of coming to Sweden as well as what I am up to being a student at Södertörns Högskola in Stockholm. I am very much looking forward to all of it!