Semester 1 at HKUST (Hong Kong) by Megan Clapperton

I’ve been living in Hong Kong now for almost 5 whole months and thus far it has been without a doubt the best experience of my life. I’ve been immersed into local culture, rented my first apartment, made a lot of new friends and experienced uni life in a very different way from back home.

The Beginning.
Arriving in Hong Kong after a very long 16 hour travel day was overwhelming to say the least! I am in a rather unique situation you see, my partner (Dougie) joined me for this study abroad experience by getting ‘employed’ by a recruitment agency here. This meant that we had to arrive before the other exchange students, get him to job interviews and start looking for an off campus apartment. We arrived at 11am on the 20th of August (Monday), booked into our hostel in Causeway Bay and immediately went apartment hunting. The next 3 days were spent being VERY jet-lagged, VERY sweaty, viewing 10 apartments a day and getting lost a lot but by day 3 we had a lease signed for a studio apartment in Mong Kok which is the most densely populated place in the whole world!

On the Thursday we took a Visa run to Macau in order to validate both of our visas. Macau for me wasn’t really an enjoyable place as I am not a gambler and the place is founded on gambling. However, it is undeniable that the architecture is beautiful – massive towering buildings laden with gold and marble in the city and in the outskirts there is a heavy Portuguese influence and it feels like you’re in Spain.

University life.
When Uni began we were all split into our schools (HASS, Business, Science and Engineering) and we got to know who we would be spending the next semester with. Of course, a lot of friend groups had already formed and I found it kind of hard to make friends at the beginning due to this, but it was because of my choice to live off Campus which I do not regret in the slightest. Once classes began I made my close friend group (Femke and Meg) who integrated me into their circle of friends and I’m so thankful to have such a close group of friends at Uni who will be staying the full year like me!

Classes, exams, and grading here are a lot different from back at good ol’ Strathclyde, well, for Physics anyway. A bell curve grading system is used here which basically means that you need to do well relative to the other class members in order to pass the course. But the good thing is that for my courses the final grade included continuous assessment and was not 100% final exam, in fact, one of my classes didn’t even have a final exam at all! I began the semester taking 3 classes: Quantum Physics II, Particle Physics and the Universe and Introduction to Stellar Astrophysics as well as doing my PH450 Project as required by Strathclyde in 4th year Physics. Due to taking more credits than required back home – I eventually had to drop astrophysics due to feeling very overwhelmed and stressed with the workload that was on my shoulders – I didn’t have any free time which isn’t ideal for studying abroad! But thankfully dropping that course helped lessen the pressure and allow me to enjoy the being abroad part of the study abroad.

Hong Kong
Hong Kong is a haven for explorers, with some of the most beautiful hikes and scenery I have ever seen. I have spent a lot of time exploring this beautiful country: taking a glass bottom cable cart over Hong Kong’s highest peak to see the big Buddha, kayaking in the beautiful bays of Sai Kung, relaxing on island beaches and exploring Nordic Christmas markets at Stanley in 30 degree heat.

The food here is also unbelievably good. Say goodbye to Greggs sausage rolls and say hello to Char Sui Bao’s: the most delightful thing I have ever had the pleasure to eat. Pineapple buns and bubble tea will become your new favourite foods. Dim Sum and Hotpot replace KFC and Nandos. The taste experience here is ridiculous.

If you’re into nightlife you’ll learn to love Wan Chai Wednesdays and LKF at the weekend. With Happy Hour beers being more expensive than a nice bar in the merchant city back home though your wallet will hate you… Unless you’re a lady, then you may enjoy one of the many ‘Ladies nights’ that Hong Kong has to offer where women can get free drinks all night at various places from dive bars to rooftop terraces, they have one for everyone.

Overall, despite a few downs, Hong Kong has been the best experience of my life and has way more ups than downs. I’ve met an amazing group of local and international friends for life, given my taste buds the best time of their lives and opened up my mind with challenging but engaging classes with amazing lecturers. I would be gutted if I was going home soon and am so thankful I got the offer to stay for the whole year!

Megan Clapperton

Erasmus exchange to Münster, Germany

My Erasmus exchange was to Münster in Germany. I worked for six months on my fifth year MPhys project in the Nonlinear Photonics group of Prof. Dr Cornelia Denz.

Optical tweezers subgroup in Denz workgroup, in my first week with the group

Lambertikirche in city centre

Münster Rathaus (town hall) in historic city centre

Münster is a beautiful historic city with more bicycles than people. I was kindly loaned a bike from someone in the work group which made settling in to this culture very different to Glasgow considerably easier. During the summer months, I spent a long time cycling around the city and getting lost.

 

Aasee, lake in cycling distance to my flat

The Erasmus network in Münster is very active, which allowed me to make friends quite easily and naturally, everyone is in the same boat and eager to make friends. I met some amazing people with different backgrounds, academic interests and languages and was sad to leave them at the end of my exchange.

Halloween with friends I met through Erasmus society

Weihnachtsmarkt (Christmas market)

Christmas time in Münster is typically German and traditional. The Weihnachtsmarkten are beautiful places to wander around or huddle with friends and a Gluhwein. This time makes up a fair chunk of my good memories of Münster.

While culture shock is something that is natural, I don’t believe there is a massive difference between Germany and Scotland other than the language. A pitfall that I fell into was getting too comfortable with the fact that I worked in English and made English speaking friends, and my opportunities to practice German fell to the side. We are incredibly lucky to have happened to be born into the most widely spoken language, particularly in science, but I believe I would have had a better experience had I branched out of this comfort zone earlier on in my exchange. Most people that you meet are kind and allow you to practice your bad German.

Me and Parashqevi, who went on Erasmus from Strathclyde the year before me, at the Erasmus international dinner

Homesickness is just one of the inevitabilities, particularly when, like me, the furthest you have lived from home is about 10 miles. It is not something you can prepare yourself for. Mine didn’t really go away as I wasn’t away for long enough, but when I got more comfortable in Münster and made some friends, it was easy to forget about. It was also helpful that I took full advantage of how easy it is to travel in mainland Europe and visited some friends in Stuttgart and Amsterdam.

Festival in Stuttgart with some friends from home, Anna was studying in Stuttgart

Studying or working abroad is something I would highly recommend. I am now a more confident scientist, for a few reasons. The lab group that I did my fourth-year project with I also did a few summer projects with, and so became very comfortable in the group. Münster, at least at first, was the exact opposite. After a few weeks, I realised that again the only great difference was the language. Looking on my experience now I wish I had been a little more confident in the first few weeks, as I became the “shy English girl” rather than myself. However, everyone in the workgroup was lovely and welcoming and I was invited along to work and non-work-related events. The all-inclusive nature of the group allowed me to hear about the many areas on nonlinear physics that everyone was working on and hear about new interesting areas of research.

I would suggest to anyone going abroad to be fully aware of the requirements of living elsewhere. For example, in Germany you are required to register where you are living with the city and to pay a semester fee which acts as a travel pass (non-negotiable but entirely worthwhile). It is a little stressful to sort these things out when you are unaware and in the country. I would also suggest Facebook groups as a means of securing accommodation particularly in densely student populated areas like Münster. I let a room from a student who was going on Erasmus herself, and it turned out to be simpler and more suitable than applying for student housing or looking through websites like wg-gesucht.

Also, and this may seem obvious to you, I can’t emphasise enough how important language skills are. I spoke ‘conversational’ German before I left, which you soon realise isn’t enough to have any meaningful conversation. It can feel very isolating to be in a group of people who are chatting away and you are struggling to keep up.

Shannan Foylan 

Amsterdam with friends Rachael and Anna from Strathclyde

 

 

My Erasmus experience

Hi again!

Last time I sent an update I had yet to start the first semester of my exchange, and as I am writing this I am sending through the final documents to conclude my Erasmus experience. I will try to sum up everything shortly, however it was a long year and I am guessing it will be a long post.

To my knowledge, I was the first to attempt to spend one whole year at another institution, which meant that there would be a few obstacles in the way. Germany has a very strict and diverse system of rewarding credits and distributing classes. Some classes I missed the deadlines, some were a bit challenging and I will admit that at times it got tough. However, there is a light at the end of every tunnel. I feel very lucky to have had the support of everyone at Strathclyde, in particular of Dr. Papoff, whom I cannot thank enough. You just need to remind yourself that everyone is here to help you as long as you do your best as well.

 

 

 

 

 

Probably the most exciting and rewarding part of this experience is my new found passion in Materials Physics. One of the main reasons I wanted to study abroad was to experience life at another institution and learn about new aspects of physics. Classes like Solid State or Nuclear Physics were very much the same as what I had learned at Strathclyde, but this new subject was like therapy. I could sit in that lecture for hours. This year has definitely rekindled my passion for Physics and I cannot wait to be back for fifth year.

The second most exciting thing about studying Physics in Germany, is the amount of hands-on experimental work you get to do. In addition to my project, I attended three experimental classes. The practical exercises were particularly exciting because you had the opportunity to conduct experiments inside the actual research labs and we were taught to use a large variety of methods and instruments. If it wasn’t for the reports you had to write afterwards, these experimental exercises were as fun as a day in a Disneyland for physicists.

Now let’s talk a bit about the social aspect. I will be completely honest here and say  that even though Germans are extremely nice people, they do take some “time to thaw”. However, there is much to learn from them. Everyone I met was into sports, spoke perfect English (and more languages) and had other impressive skills. Being constantly surrounded by such impressive yet friendly people, I got the courage to push out of my comfort zone considerably. In that regard I can say this year has changed me completely as a person (for the much better), and I suppose that is what Erasmus does to you.

In addition to this, I lived at the heart of student life, a huge collection of student housing. Germans really like to party, and they sure know how to throw one. There is ALWAYS something going on in Muenster, that the fear of missing out is a thing. Muenster has a strategic location, making it very easy to travel to almost all main large German cities in the north for free using your student card and countries like the Netherlands and Denmark. I decided to take it a bit further and awarded myself a trip to Grand Canaria with my friends after the first semester. Did I mention the amount of holidays we had?

However, after trying to keep up with all of it I decided that studying Physics is a full time commitment and retired to my office. Sometimes you just have to admit you can’t have it all in life. What you can have, is all the new amazing people I met. People like my flatmate Steffan, who made the best morning coffee with our philosophical rants, my new lab partners, in particular Drazen, who taught me his amazing work ethic, Kristina, who played amazing music, Joana, my “papi”, Marta, the always smiling girl from Spain, and many others.  (I miss you all terribly already if you’re reading this)

So you see in the end, from someone who has now lived in 6 cities (not counting anything less than 3 months stay), I can only tell you this: everywhere I’ve been, I have seen streets, cars, buildings, parks etc. Some of them were not that pretty and some of them were beautiful. However the human mind learns to notice these things only for a short while. What really stays with you in the end is the people you met, the experiences you shared with them and how they made you feel. After every experience you come out as a new, more complete person. So I shall leave you with the famous lyrics from Smash Mouth’s hit, “All Star”:

“You never know if you don’t go,  

You never shine if you don’t glow.”Paraskevi Pandazi

My ERASMUS adventure so far..

Hallo! My name is Parashqevi Pandazi and I am a fourth year MPhys student. Today, October 19th has been one month since the start of my ERASMUS and it has been nothing short of exciting and challenging.

Let me take you to the beginning. If you’re thinking of doing an exchange, you need to research your options very well. Everyone loves an organized student, but even then it is normal to feel lost sometimes. The key point is to never give up. Fast forward to June and suddenly you have a learning agreement and all of this is really happening, so you get yourself a house and start packing.

fa6c9989-aaf4-4770-80fe-b281a8df6a3aOn the 19th of September I officially embarked on my ERASMUS adventure. My room was not free until the first of October, but luckily I found out that one of my friends was currently studying here in Muenster and she was very kind to offer me a bed for the time that I was homeless. Lesson here kids, always keep in touch with old friends!

683bc61d-ac04-42c6-9996-05fafb148184Since that day, everyone that I have met here has been more than lovely. The University of Muenster has more than 50.000 students and Muenster is a very beautiful city. Since it is the bike capital of Germany, you can go everywhere by bike, and if you cycle along the Promenade you will feel like you’re in a beautiful French village. Did I mention the university owns a palace?

The university has a very active ERASMUS support team and they organize events to help you to get to know other ERASMUS students and locals. You are even assigned a buddy, should you need some expert advice. Lesson: There is no party like an ERASMUS party.14470397_10205467947458291_8864736234430521223_n

14801204_10209173158584927_1237387225_nBeing the travel addict that I am, I could not miss the last three days of the Oktoberfest in Munich, So after two year I took up on a friends offer and went to visit her in Munich for a week. Needles to say, it was unforgettable. Unfortunately I couldn’t find a Dirndl (traditional Bavarian costume) that fits.

Upon return, I have moved into my own place. I share with three lovely German students and we alternate between German and English so that we can practice learning languages. Everyone has been very helpful. We live in a city area that is full of students. I have never seen so many students living in one place, it’s a lovely community.

This has also been my first week of lessons. The Sciences campus is massive and I’m looking forward to experiencing learning in another university. Needles to say that I was a bit anxious in the beginning. I found out I had many clashing classes in my timetable and they do things very differently here in comparison to Strathclyde. I panicked for a bit, but then I just went to see my supervisor and she fixed everything. Lesson here, as long as you ask, nothing is unfixable.

The other students are very alike your peers at Strathy. I even meet someone today who did his ERASMUS at Strathy. They were very approachable, friendly and supportive and I can’t wait for the rest of the year. I have even caught myself wishing I could stay here longer than a year. I hope I still feel the same nine months form now.

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn said:

“Own only what you can always carry with you: know languages, know countries, know people. Let your memory be your travel bag.”

It is never too late or too early to start packing your travel bag. As someone who left home at 16, I know that leaving the comfort of your parents home is hard, but think about all the beautiful things right outside your comfort zone. So fill that application even if you’re not yet too sure, and you have until May to work up your courage. Until next time!

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The best year of my life!

Well, it is nearly time. It is nearly time for what is most likely going to be the best year at university I’ll have and has so far been the best year of my life. Since my last blog which was a loooong time ago (sorry about that) I feel like so much has changed. As if I’ve moved onto another chapter.

During my time here in Singapore I’ve been lucky enough to find myself in a great circle of friends as well as to be graced with some very close friends. It will be sad when we all have to go back but I do think I’ll see some people again.

My first semester was probably not the best academically and I think I made quite a mistake by not having anything to work on but my final year project because the consequences of that was that it was hard to get started (the term you ‘use it or lose it’ applies a bit here) in my second semester so I’ll just consider that is a hard lesson I’ve learnt. My second semester with my project, my computational physics class and my quantum electronics class shocked me and has really proven challenging (in a good way) and I have felt motivated by the people around me. Both the professors are supportive, with one professor teaching their quantum electronics in a socratic way so to encourage better understanding of the material and even though I’m not particularly great at computational physics, I enjoy it a lot despite the frustrations. My project is also coming along okay I feel, I always enjoy the looks I get when I tell people I’m studying physics but my project is on the house price distribution in England to learn more about housing markets in general and more specifically housing bubbles. It has been interesting doing physics what some others might deem as unorthodox but Econophysics, which uses the statistical mechanics all physicists learn, has proven fruitful so far. Both my project professor and the postgrad are a pleasure to work and discuss things with and I even got invited to my postgrads wedding which was a unique opportunity to experience Chinese culture and it really turned out to be a fantastic night.

Moving on from the academics and onto the travelling… well it has been quite something and I felt maybe even a bit transformed by the month long travelling in December where I went to Malaysia, Myanmar, Thailand and finally Cambodia where I enjoyed my birthday on a beautiful island. Travelling with just one friend rather than a group was probably one of the best things about our travels, if we had travelled with a group instead I don’t think I’d have met nowhere as many interesting people. The friends we met along with the experiences we had the fortune to have really did make that month pretty surreal.

Alan Ross April 2016

With all that said, I haven’t even really spoke much about my time here in Singapore and some of my other travelling experiences which have been just as good in their own ways but with only 3 weeks to go till my last exam I better get back to studying and writing up my project.

Oh and I’d just like to reinforce what I said in my last blog, if you have the opportunity to study abroad, please just do yourself a favour and go for it!

Alan Ross April 2016 (2)

Alan Ross, April 2016

My International Exchange in Singapore

Hi there, my name’s Alan Ross and I’m a 4th year MPhys student. The beginning of this trip started when I decided in 2nd year that I really wanted to go and experience Asia. That decision has taken me all the way to Hot and Humid Singapore where I have now been living for just over a month, with 8 more months to go, and I’m having a really great time.

To start off, I had no nerves about going to Singapore until maybe the last 2 weeks when the sheer idea and enormity of being away from home for 9 months hit me (I’d always stayed in my parent’s house before then).

Anyway, despite having a bad case of nerves, I pulled through, realising it was just normal to feel that way and soon enough I was on the 16 hour flight to Singapore via Dubai where it felt oh so surreal.

I arrived a few days before my Dorm Room was available and stayed for 3 nights in a hotel in Chinatown, which allowed me a few days to acclimatise and take in my new surroundings!

Then it was off to my humble dorm room on campus, which I may add feels like it’s surrounded by a jungle.

View of my Halls from the Physics Dept.

At first things were pretty hard and I did have some negative feelings about being over here but it really didn’t take long before I started to settle in and enjoy this totally different world and lifestyle.

It has been easy enough to make friends with the diverse and huge group of international students (900+) and also the locals who are very friendly. The only language barrier you’ll have is when Singaporeans speak Singlish to other Singaporeans as opposed to English (the administrative language) where Singlish is a mix of different languages/dialects such as English, Mandarin/Hokkien and Malay.

Academically, things are quite different, the structure and the content they teach is pretty different such as the grading being based on a bell-curve where you’re compared to other students, having different focusses like Econophysics and the 4th year project taking a full year to do.

The staff at Nanyang are very friendly and are always happy to talk to you, while the staff back at Strathclyde have also been nothing but helpful, supportive and accommodating too.

The campus is much bigger than Strathclyde’s where it will certainly take you more than an hour to walk around it at a brisk pace. It contains numerous canteens with all sorts of food, great sports facilities (there’s a gym at each student hall, as well as a 50m outside pool and a 8-lane 400m running track), and a lot of other impressive looking buildings including the Physics building itself.

Overall I feel Singapore is a great option when considering to go on an international exchange. You get to experience something totally different from what you’d get in the West while still having some Western influence. Also Singapore has a lot to boast about, from how multicultural it is, to how safe, clean and efficient it is to finally the great and cheap food you can get from its famous hawker centres. One of the other good things about going to Singapore is that there are also loads of great travel opportunities.

I’d wholeheartedly recommend anyone else interested in going to study abroad to come here!

Alan Ross, September 2015