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

Erasmus Experience in Muenster

My Erasmus placement was in Muenster, Germany. I was working on my 5th year Physics project within the Institute of Applied Physics, WWU.

First Reaction

Two of my brothers and I have now experienced living and studying abroad in the Erasmus exchange program, all in different countries and for different degrees/years. The one thing we had in common was the nerves with first travelling abroad. This feeling everybody experiences and it can be a factor for some people to not participate in the exchange.

My advice is to ignore these nerves and 100 percent get involved. Everybody who experiences Erasmus feels this and this makes the group of students you meet the most open group of people I have ever met.

Erasmus program and people

It may be different in other countries/cities yet the Erasmus program in Muenster was amazing. There were over a thousand students and the level of advice and time they put in for every student was incredible. I was assigned a buddy who was studying for his masters in Biology and he was extremely helpful in getting me set up in the new environment and showed me great places for food and drink.

The diversity is huge, people from all over Europe and the world and everybody is just as friendly as the next. I now have contacts everywhere including New York and have a whole new group of friends with which I’m planning to visit over the next few years.

University

The people working in the University were extremely open and helpful, inviting me to activities within and apart from the university. I was set up with a supervisor and a Physics student at the same level as me, this helped me gain a huge amount of experience working and developing my skills.

Overall

The experience has been my favourite part of university so far and I would go back in a heartbeat. I have already travelled to Muenster for a weekend last month to see the group again and am planning to do the same this summer. My advice is to apply straight away to get a spot in the program.

John McPhillimy

Semester abroad in Nice, France

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Me (middle) and some Erasmus friends

My name is Roseanne Clement, and I am currently in my 5th year of the MPhys course at Strathclyde. This semester I am participating in a semester abroad as part of the Erasmus scheme with the University of Nice Sophia Antipolis in France. I am working with the the Labatoire Physique de la Matière Condensée (LPMC), which is headed by both the University and the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS).

I have been attending the University since the start of September, which means I have been able to enjoy the sunshine for a month or so now, although with the warm weather also brings the dreaded mosquitoes! However, with views such as these at the beach, it is worth a few bites.

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Promenade des Anglais in Nice

Going by my surname, and the fact that I am studying in France, you might think that I can speak French – but all I knew before coming were the basics of bonjour, merci and the names of a few animals. To study at the University, it is recommended that you have at least a good competency with the language as most of the courses are taught in French. Thankfully, due to the nature of the 5th year of the MPhys course, I am not doing any classes this semester – only a project, and with a supervisor who speaks English.

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Place Masséna in Nice

I am glad to say that I am now getting along with a mix of French and English, which makes things a little easier in certain situations. I am also taking advantage of the free French classes which are available to Erasmus students of all levels, which is especially useful for a beginner like me.

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ESN group on a night out in Nice

As for the social side of my stay here, I have to say that I am thoroughly enjoying myself. At first, it was incredibly hard to communicate with others who did not know English, or understand my attempt at French. However, I quickly became involved in the Erasmus Student Network (ESN), which boasts students from a large number of countries and therefore a vast amount of languages, so everyone is in the same boat. ESN is run by a group of students who organise events in order for the international students to experience the French lifestyle and they also assist in activities such as opening a French bank account. Last weekend, the ESN organised several party buses to take over 150 international students to go to Monaco for a night out. In just over a month I will be getting to travel to Paris to visit some of the cities many sites, including Disneyland!

Nice is a great place to travel around and explore as the public transport system is very well done. A tram operates through the centre of the city, and there is also the vélo bleu (blue bike) service, which is the same idea as the bikes that have been implemented in Glasgow. Nice is an absolutely beautiful city, and I would urge anyone who has not been, to visit or even do a semester abroad here.

Studying in the Arctic

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Driving a snow-scooter

A little follow up on my trip to Svalbard, now that I’m back home at Strathclyde with great memories of almost 6 weeks studying in the Arctic – no snow, midnight sun, polar bread, wearing hiking boots outside and socks inside every day anymore… I had a truly great time at the world’s northernmost university – the University Centre in Svalbard (UNIS) where I attended a course on ‘Light climate and primary productivity in the Arctic’ as part of my PhD. I’m a PhD student in the Marine Optics and Remote Sensing Group at Strathclyde (http://bcp.phys.strath.ac.uk/marine/). My PhD project is about the improvement of optical sensors and methods to measure the oceans’ optical properties. Basically: I work with sensors that (just like the human eye) can tell from the colour of the water, what’s in it – e.g. if it’s green-ish it contains a lot of algae. The course in Svalbard gave me an inside on how light is linked to biological processes, such as photosynthesis and growth, in the ocean.

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Macroalgae sampling on Blomstrandoya

The entire course was quite intense (lectures, lab work, reports, revision, exam) but I learnt a lot and met many other students also interested in marine research. The highlight of the course was a week of lab work in Ny-Alesund, a research base at 79 N with research stations from over 6 different nations. We used the facilities (including the free cantina!!) there to conduct our experiments and to collect algae samples.

What is UNIS and how can you go there yourself? UNIS is based in Longyearbyen, the largest town on Svalbard with approx. 2,000 residents. Longyearbyen is located at 78 N where from mid-April to October the sun doesn’t go down, and over winter it completely dark.

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Biology students having an Arctic after midnight bath in Ny-Alesund. Water temperature around +2C

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The student accommodation in Nybyen just after midnight end of April

UNIS is specialised on Arctic studies and offers courses in Geophysics, Geology, Biology and Technology.

Bachelor courses last an entire semester and you can take 2 at the time whereas Master/PhD courses are taught in blocks of 4 to 6 weeks. All courses include some practical/field work and are open to students enrolled in a degree at any international institution of higher education (check: http://www.unis.no). The atmosphere at UNIS is very friendly and cosy – for

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Shooting as part of the safety training

example, everyone takes their boots off when entering a building (uni, hospital etc.) and people run around in socks all day. Norwegians are very good in English and all courses are taught in English as well. Everyone is keen to meet new people, see as much as possible of the island and make the most of their stay there. Svalbard is also famous for its polar bears. This means you have to carry a riffle when you leave the settlement. Training and riffles are provided by the university.

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On the flight from Longyearbyen to Ny-Alesund

Money matters… The tuition fees are very low (£50 for my course) and the only other cost is a contribution to excursions, £20 per day.

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Inside the ice cave under the glacier

Svalbard is tax free which means it is much cheaper than in the rest of Norway but still more slightly expensive than in the UK. The student accommodation is less than £400 a month and is located in Nybyen the old houses of the miners. 6 of the barrack have been converted into student accommodation. It’s roughly a 30 mins walk down the valley to get to uni but therefore it’s perfect for any hike up the surrounding mountains, deeper into the valley.

Although I didn’t see a polar bear in 6 weeks of living in the Arctic it was an incredible experience and I can highly recommend a visit to Svalbard to everyone.

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On top of Sarkofagen

Summer School in Utrecht

My name is Liviu Chirondojan (that’s me with my sister), Liviuand I am a fourth year student at the University of Strathclyde. It has been two years since I have moved to Glasgow and I do not regret my decision in any way. The classes here are very well organised and the staff are always helpful.

Less than a month ago I was in the Netherlands for a summer school in Theoretical Physics. The course took place in the campus of the University of Utrecht, very close to the city centre.

The summer school at Utrecht covers more than 100 different subjects, and is an ideal place to meet students from all around the world, with academic interests ranging from linguistics to sub-atomic particle physics.

The city of Utrecht is absolutely charming, being one of the greenest cities of Europe. I believe that the car to bike ratio is well under 1 to 100. Every person in the city seems to prefer the bicycle over any other mean of transportation. The omnipresent bike lanes are much wider than the sidewalk, and some streets are only for bicycles and buses.

The city also has an extended water canals network, looking like a Dutch version of Venice. Some of the pubs and restaurants are right next to the canals, offering a spectacular view.

The theoretical physics course was quite challenging. It felt like a two-week boot camp, with classes starting at 9.00 am and ending at 5.30 pm. The lecturers covered various topics of Electrodynamics, Quantum Physics, Computational Physics and Statistical Physics.

There were also four talks given by the scientists working for the Spinoza Institute of Theoretical Physics. One of them was given by Gerard ‘t Hooft, Nobel prize winner in physics. They offered me a good understanding of the current trends in modern day theoretical physics.

During these two weeks I made some new interesting friends. I was also visited by students that I initially met at the University of Strathclyde, while they were on an Erasmus exchange programme.AmsterdamThe summer school at Utrecht was a very enjoyable and useful experience. I am now looking forward to start my fourth year at the University of Strathclyde.

Studies during first semester

While there were a range of events happening in the last months, from a reception with the University President, a night market on campus with lots of food  and music, Homecoming weekend (which seems to involve a lot of drinking and a football game) to ice skating and several Christmas parties, including a fancy dinner with performances, I want to finally write a bit about my classes and actual studying at McMaster.

Interestingly, the university seems to automatically register exchange students as 3rd year students, even though I, for instance, am in my fourth year right now. However, this is not a problem, as one can choose courses from basically all levels, as long as the course prerequisites are fulfilled.

Although I had chosen courses already before my arrival in Hamilton, once there I still had to work on my curriculum in order to receive waivers for the online registration of all my classes.

For a Chinese course I wanted to take (and probably other non-beginner language courses), for example, I needed to take a placement test which, although sounding serious, was simply to determine whether I would fit better in the beginners or the intermediate course. For another two courses from a different programme (Engineering Physics) I had to convince my study advisor that I had the prerequisites which, unfortunately, only worked out for one of the two classes.

So in the end I only took four instead of five courses for the first semester: Intermediate Mandarin, Lasers and Optoelectronics (my Engineering Physics course), Soft Condensed Matter (a Biophysics course) and a research project on theoretical aspects of quantum physics. In order to choose the latter, I had to contact McMaster physics staff and find a supervisor before my arrival.

With my four courses I have been well within the full time study load and busy enough. Nonetheless, the number of courses other students take varies a lot from 5-7 classes per semester for Engineering students to around 4-5 courses for exchange as well as, at least in physics, fourth-year students who do a final project.

Regarding the individual courses, my Chinese class was a straight-forward language class with regular quizzes, hand-in homeworks and marks for class participation. I had two tests and a final exam with a speaking component for each. As McMaster offers a wide range of languages (e.g. Japanese, Greek, Hebrew, native American languages), I would assume most of their courses are based on a similar concept, although I know that at least beginner French courses are aimed at less practical aspects focusing mostly on a writing-only university-specific computer program.

For my physics and engineering physics classes, it was a bit different and more work, since I had three assignments / three class tests plus an oral presentation and an exam at the end of the semester in each class. Nonetheless, these classes were very interesting and organized rather practically. In my Biophysics course for example, we did quite a few experiments in class as well as at home (as part of the assignments), while at the same time also going through all the mathematical aspects in detail. The Engineering Physics class, on the other hand, was more focused on the concepts than calculations.

With exams the university is relatively strict as, for example, only a specific calculator model is allowed and, especially in larger exams where not only the lecturer invigilates, any unnecessary items (water bottles, calculator lids, etc.) have to be placed under the table.

Nonetheless, my first semester went well and I am now – after a brief, but amazing winter break – already a few days into the second semester, this time with rather theoretical courses, such as 4th year quantum mechanics, general relativity and stellar evolution.

Finally, as a little extra, some pictures of Hamilton in the autumn and winter seasons (which includes the hockey season):