They say that time flies. This is truer than ever when you’re on your year abroad. Whether you’re walking the sophisticated streets of Paris or trekking along the less trodden paths of rural Chile, there are some common activities that you can do to make the most of your time abroad. After all, when will you be presented with another opportunity like this? So, carpe diem and let’s get started.
1. Make international friends
I wholeheartedly recommend getting to know as many people from the local area as possible, for a number of reasons. Firstly, they know the place like the back of their hand and they can tell you all the best places to go. Secondly, you can (try to) practice the language of the place where you’re living. Thirdly, and perhaps the most useful thing of all, if you just can’t deal with speaking in a foreign language anymore, they can order for you at a restaurant or book tickets for you. What are friends for? Besides, I still keep in contact with most of them now, which is useful for asking for help with assignments (worth bearing in mind). Going to see them also happens to be the perfect excuse to travel. The possibilities are endless.
2. Join a club/society
This can seem very daunting at first, but it’s a great opportunity to try something new and improve your language at the same time. On my year abroad in Germany (at my undergrad uni I was lucky enough to do a year and a half abroad), I took up Swedish for beginners at my local Volkshochschule (adult education centre), and not only did I meet some great people, but now I can say some basic phrases in Swedish.Danke schön, ‘Los geht’s mit Schwedisch A1’! What a textbook that was. Then in Russia there was good old Russky Klub. Singing Soviet classics like Kalinka and Katyusha, drinking tea from a samovar and eating Russian biscuits, playing Mafia with locals. Now, that is cultural immersion at its finest.
When I met with my Italian friend in Venice on my year abroad, she said the best way to explore the city is to get lost in it. I can totally see what she meant and travel is the best way to broaden your horizons. Also, from a purely practical point of view, unless you’re on a remote island, you’re perfectly geographically positioned to explore new parts of the world and to make the most of local student discounts. You can also just wander around, taking in the sights and sounds of your own town or city, soaking up the atmosphere. I encourage you to fully exploit every discount and travel opportunity available to you. After all, you only get one life and it’s actually your duty to live it as fully as possible.
4. Make memories
Go to see that band you’ve always wanted to see, visit that monument that’s always inspired you, try that local delicacy. Your time abroad may be short, but these are memories that'll stay with you forever. I also like to collect tickets and make scrapbooks of my time abroad, which is a great way to look back on all the crazy and exciting times.
5. Accept it for what it is
Finally, as crazy and exciting an experience your year abroad will be, it is important to remember that you will have both good and bad days. And that’s ok. There’s a lot of pressure to make the year abroad the ‘best year of your life’, but, in reality, it’s a mixed bag. Give yourself time to adapt and work out what activities are best for you, then it’ll soon feel a lot more like your second home.
Hannah Klimas, Year Abroad Editor
When you tell people you’re studying abroad in Russia, you tend to get responses along the lines of: ‘wow, aren’t you scared?’, ‘isn’t Russia all grey?’, ‘be careful out there’. Not all that confidence-inspiring. Well, the reality isn’t anywhere near as bleak as you might think, so let me show you the real side of student life in Russia’s Venice of the North.
With your studenchesky bilet, or student ID, you can get into quite a few museums around the city for free. You can even get into the State Hermitage/Winter Palace complex for free with your British student ID, which is well worth it. Did you know that if you spent 8 hours there every day, it’d take you nearly 15 years to see all of its art? Why not get a head start on your year abroad? There are other perks such as getting into the Catherine Palace at Tsarskoye Selo, home to the famous Amber Room, for free every second Sunday of the month, so it’s worth remembering your student ID!
One of the main benefits of Russia is that the pound goes a long way. Back home you may be an impoverished student, but in Russia you’ll be rolling in the roubles. As such, you can afford to eat like a king and it’ll only set you back a few quid. The bizness lanch (yes, this is actually how they say it) is great for those on a budget, as you get 3 courses and a drink for just a couple of quid. Bargain. One of the most popular cuisines in Russia is Georgian food, which includes such delicious dishes as khinkali, a type of dumpling,and khachapuri, which is an eggy-cheesy bread boat of goodness. Trust me, you won’t regret it.
St. Petersburg is a great place to live if you want to see some more of the world, as you have easy access to Finland and the Baltics. You’re also close to Veliky Novgorod and Vyborg if you fancy exploring the real Russia beyond the cosmopolitan bubbles of Moscow and St. Petersburg. The high-speed Sapsan train will also get you from Piter (as the locals call it) to Moscow within 4 hours, so if the capital is calling, it’s not too far away. Whether you’re looking for a day trip or want to go further afield, you’ve got plenty of options.
Russian nightlife is certainly something to look forward to. Of course, the alcohol is cheaper, and shisha is readily available, so you’re already off to a good start. There are also several bars which are popular with foreign students, such as Poison and Killfish, and if you want to go clubbing, Tantsploschadka near the Church on the Spilled Blood is always a good place to go. Karaoke is also a big deal in Russia, so head on down to Dumskaya to belt out a few 90s classics to start your night right. In the summer, just watch out for the bridges opening if you live on one of the islands, so you don’t get stuck on the mainland!
Well, I guess I couldn’t neglect this topic, seeing as it’s the whole reason you’re there. At first, things were a little overwhelming, as Russian universities have this nightmare system of para, 90 minute lessons with no break (that being said, all my Master’s classes at Durham are 2 hours long). At first it’s hard to adapt to these longer classes and everything being taught in Russian, but after a week or so it feels like second nature and you don’t even notice the difference. Yeah, you might make some embarrassing mistakes (word of advice- watch your pronunciation of pisat’, to write…), but it’s all part of the learning process and it’s all good fun.
Hannah Klimas, Year Abroad Editor
As of this Monday, we have now entered one of the best times of year in Russia – Maslenitsa! Why have just one pancake day when you can have a whole week? Now that’s an idea I can get behind. However, this is just one of many exciting Russian festivals which you can enjoy when studying abroad, so let me introduce you to some of Russia’s best-known and best-loved festivals.
Paskha (Easter, April)
Paskha is the Russian version of Easter and, as such, its traditions are a little different to back home. If you didn’t know already, Russia is an Orthodox country, and paskha is usually observed after a period of post, or fasting, during which time many restaurants in Russia serve a special lent menu. Houses are typically cleaned before ‘Clean Thursday’, when Russians dye and decorate eggs – none of that chocolate business here. On Saturday, traditional Easter food is cooked and is usually blessed at church during the evening service. You also get to eat kulich, which is a delicious Easter bread, usually served with icing and tvorog, which is a sort of sweet cream cheese. Would definitely recommend.
Prazdnik Vesny i Truda (Labour Day, 1st May)
Labour Day is a pretty big deal in Russia and usually you don’t just get one day off, but three, which is even better. It’s usually a time when people go away to their dacha or further afield, although I just used the opportunity to explore the more ‘cultural’ side of St. Petersburg (of course, I mean bars). After a taxing 4 day week at uni, you’re definitely in need of a break, so what better excuse to relax than a national holiday.
Den’ Pobedy (Victory Day, 9th May)
Victory Day is arguably the biggest festival of the year in Russia, commemorating the end of the Second World War. You have to start your day early, so as to get a decent spot among your fellow festival-goers. What is there to see? Well, pretty much everything. In St. Petersburg, there was a tank parade and a performance by a military band, followed by a flotilla on the River Neva, plane flyovers, the Immortal Regiment parade (where descendants of the fallen march down the main street of St. Petersburg, Nevsky Prospekt, holding their portraits), and the classic firework display when night descends. It certainly has an atmosphere like no other and the renditions you hear of Katyusha as everyone piles onto the temporarily-pedestrianised Nevsky Prospekt are truly something.
Den’ Goroda Sankt-Peterburg (St. Petersburg City Day, 27th May)
St. Petersburg is a city which prides itself on its history and culture, and this is never more apparent than on its city day at the end of May. Various stalls line the streets and there are a number of events, ranging from parades to boating displays on the River Neva. It may be a relatively young city, but there is certainly a lot to celebrate in the Venice of the North.
Den’ Rossii (Russia Day, 12thJune)
Another big festival is Russia Day, which provides yet another welcome break from the gruelling 4 day week of a study abroad student at St. Petersburg State University. This is another good chance to relax and take in the sights and sounds of the city. It's also a popular time of year to visit Russia’s bustling seaside resorts, such as Sochi.
Hannah Klimas, Year Abroad Editor
It is a familiar running joke: returning year abroad students just won’t shut up about how “even the 3 euro bottle of wine ‘over there’ was far superior to anything here” or how they are sorry, but they “just can’t think of the right word – in Italy we would use a hand gesture”. And, much to the dismay of anyone subjected to this nostalgic babbling, this cliché is quite true. Yet, behind the bravado of these comments, there really is more: a love and longing for a different way of life that they have appreciated and come to see – even temporarily - as their own.
It’s true that Italy may not be the other side of the world, but it can still be surprising how crossing just a few borders can change ways of life and thinking. For me, the real beauty of the year abroad is how this becomes a way of life for you, and not just one to spectate or to dip a toe into, as it is when visiting. Some ways may well be easier to subscribe to than others – it’s true that a life of eating mountains of pasta, strolling along sun-bathed, saffron-coloured streets, and reaching for a glass of Aperol spritz each day at 5pm does not sound particularly taxing (apart from on the waistband). Indeed, one has to be conscious not to become complacent when rushing through the open-air museum that is an Italian city, or inhaling the sweet scent of the magic that is (real) coffee.
Naturally, there are also challenges and disadvantages wherever one goes and we expect to encounter some form of culture shock when moving abroad. But could we, among the comments about wine and weather, also claim to suffer from reverse culture shock on returning home? I certainly think so, even if it only consists of a longing for and a greater appreciation of those times away. Aside from that small issue of the sun, I was surprised by the shock I felt adjusting back to home ways from the Italian mentality (relaxed maybe, but also loving life and spirited), and the unrestrained enthusiasm they have for so much of their culture. And, of course, for those who experience different lifestyles and have a broader outlook on life, any reverse culture shock must be greatly intensified.
To counter this ‘shock’, I would like to think that I have invited friends and family not so acquainted with the Italian lifestyle to join me in celebrating it - if you can count the force-feeding of Aperol; the endless bowls of rock-hard pasta (the more al dente the better), or the insistence that everyone eats ice-cream (obviously incomparable to gelato) in the depths of winter. Even if this may be more fun for me than for the aforementioned friends, what a beautiful thing that behind the flare of the often infuriating comments made by a year-abroad student, there is an excitement to share aspects of another culture; to recognise a love for something different, and to encourage this love in others.
The City of Lights, the City of Love, the City of Over-Priced Alcohol.
A week into Paris prices and you’ll be missing the warm embrace of the £1.90 college pint or £2 VK. How many bars are there in Paris and how can they all charge over €5 for a pint? Have they not heard of a Wetherspoons? A Yates? A college bar? Then again, I imagine a French Wetherspoons would have an art deco ceiling and themed nights like Macaron Mardiand Steak Frites Samedi. And no doubt, they’d still charge €5 for a pint.
You’ll convince yourself that this will make your tolerance weaker and your bank account stronger but instead of £7 formal wine, you’ll spend €20 a bottle to end up in the same position. As they say in France, c’est la vie.
Drinking in Paris is, well, like drinking in the UK: with apéritifs, the mandatory bottle of wine, and digestifs at dinner; it truly is a central part of the cultural experience. Go to any bar after 7 and it is packed with students, businessmen, and drunken messes alike. But navigating Paris on a budget is never easy – not when there are rooftop bars that can (and will) charge €10 for a pint. But this is where I, your resident alcohol-enthusiast, come in. Come drink your way across Paris with me.
Nouvel Institut / Le Viaduc
Their happy hour will be your new best friend. Their drinks won’t be. The one benefit that you can rely on with Paris drinks is that you’re definitely paying for alcohol. With some cocktail bars, you wonder if they’ve even opened a bottle of vodka in their vicinity. Not here. Here after one sip, you’ll turn to your friend to say, “ooh that’s strong”. After two, you’re giggly. You don’t attempt a third.
Locations: 5tharrondissement / 12tharrondissement
Closest Metros: Jussieu / Gare de Lyon
Pricing: €3 pints, €6 cocktails
The margaritas will hit you like a ton of bricks. In the 20-minute wait for a table, you'll naively start drinking. Tequila on an empty stomach is not a good idea, but in this warm, tiny box of a restaurant, it’ll seem like a great one. As you sway over to the counter to order some downright amazing tacos, you’ll confidently claim that you can drink another one and then be confused as to why you fell asleep on the metro home.
Closest Metro: Oberkampf
You say you’ll go for the food, promising yourself that you’ll eat before you drink this time. But you’re just too excited about seeing a pitcher again that you forget any and all idea of this until it’s a little too late. So, you’ll inevitably (and desperately) use the pop-up food stands to “sober” yourself up. But, despite this, the dichotomy between you (drunk on a pitcher of beer) and those who have clearly come from the office, wearing suits and sipping on wine, is stark.
Closest Metro: Gare de Lyon
Joe and Joe
You’re feeling bold and ready to venture out of real Paris into the banlieue. You’ll be proud of yourself for taking an RER for the first time ever and reward yourself thoroughly in this bobo(bourgeois bohême) cocktail bar. Between the beer wall and the aesthetic courtyard, you won’t feel like you’re in Paris anymore – a pleasant escape from its hectic reality. But with the RER train home, as cool as it was, you won’t venture out again.
Closest Metro: Gentilly
Pricing: €6 cocktails (but €6 pints)
And when worse comes to worst, when the Erasmus grant is running out, there’s always Carrefour.
Paris: the city of delicious food and wines, fashion and culture, and the place where I would be spending the first 6 months of my Year Abroad. I arrived in France in July 2019 to start my 6-month internship at a language app company. Before moving, I had always been really excited about my Year Abroad and the opportunity to live in Paris, one of my favourite cities in the world. However, when the time came around, I found the reality of leaving my life in Durham behind quite sad. I had a great group of friends, I really loved college and university life in general, and I knew that when I returned in fourth year, a lot of my friends would have graduated. Therefore, I did struggle in the first month, as I didn’t particularly enjoy my job and I found it difficult to make new friends, as I was working rather than studying. When I first arrived, I barely knew anyone in Paris, and, given the fact I arrived in July when most people arrive in September, I had to force myself to go out and find new people. Language events such as Mundo Lingo (free on Thursdays at La Maizon Bar) and Franglish (Sundays 6-8pm at Chapi Chapo) were really great ways to meet open-minded and friendly people. A lot of people recommended joining a sports team to meet new people, but since I am not particularly sporty, I found that language meet-ups in bars were the best way to meet like-minded people.
After the initial month of feeling sad about leaving Durham, I realised that I wasn’t appreciating this opportunity enough. I was living in such a beautiful and culturally-rich city, with loads of opportunities, people to meet and things to do. Once I pushed myself to meet more people, I made a great group of friends here in Paris. Simply saying yes to opportunities allowed me to meet way more people and do things out of my comfort zone. My love for the language has grown, as has my appreciation for the culture and the way of life here.
Now, regarding cultural misunderstandings/shocks, there are a few things I’ve had to get accustomed to over here. For example, every morning I have to high-five everyone in my office (yes everyone). I’m not sure if this is a start-up thing or a Parisian thing, but saying good morning and fist-bumping is expected here, and I’m not a massive fist-bump girl. Apart from that and the distinct difference in terms of French humour and British sarcasm, I’ve personally felt that I’ve come to fit in quite well. The French do have a reputation of being slightly cold, but most people I’ve met have been very polite and welcoming, pretty much the same as British people. The only thing I really miss is Cadbury’s and a good cup of tea (French milk is just not the same).
I have really felt my ability to be independent, confident and open to new people and experiences improve dramatically and after an initial bump in the road, I am truly enjoying every moment of my new-found life in Paris.
Why did you choose to work/study/teach?
I chose all three options because I wanted to sample all the possibilities! I hoped to gain as wide a range of experiences as possible to allow me to discover what I really enjoy and what I might want to do in the future after I graduate.
I am currently doing a 6-month work placement with Air France at the Charles de Gaulle Airport. This involves teaching English to Air France staff as well as other duties such as working on the reception desk of the employee training centre known as Le Campus, posting on the Yammer English Learner social media page, setting up training programmes and language tests, and translating between French and English.
In February I will start the second half of my year abroad which is a 5-month Erasmus study placement at the University of Florence in Italy.
Was it a difficult decision?
Not particularly. I found it easy to decide to do a work placement in France because it was the option that appealed most to me. I felt that working for a French company would help me to develop a lot of skills and would really immerse me in French culture.
Ideally, I would have liked to have done work placements in both France and Italy but, after doing some research and consulting the relevant DUO page, I realised that there weren’t many paid internship opportunities in Italy besides teaching in schools.
I therefore had some difficulty in choosing whether to do a British Council Teaching Assistantship or an Erasmus study placement in Italy. In the end, the decision was made for me because the teaching assistantship position was too long (9 months if I remember rightly) meaning I could not fit it in alongside my Air France internship. I also felt more attracted to studying at a university and I didn’t really want to be in a school environment teaching children, especially as I don’t think I want to do this in the future.
Do you think you made the right decision?
Yes, I am very happy with my Air France internship. It’s been a valuable and enjoyable experience and the people in Air France have been very kind and welcoming to me. Most of my time is spent planning and delivering lessons which means I am getting a similar experience to British Council teaching assistantship, so I don’t feel as though I am missing out.
I haven’t started my study placement yet so I don’t know if I’ve made the right decision but I hope so!
British Council English Language Assistantship
By Isabella Beaumont
“Kölsch ist die einzige Sprache, die man trinken kann”
All over their country, Germans from different regions take pride in their local traditions and dialects. All things Kölsch are all things that define people from Cologne. Kölsch is the name of their dialect and their local beer, hence the saying above, “Kölsch is the only language that one can drink.”
So here I am in Cologne, or Köln, discovering the idiosyncrasies of Kölsch culture. One of my send-offs was, “Good luck with understanding Kölsch dialect!” Luckily for me, I have only directly been confronted with it once so far, when speaking with my significantly older German landlord. Fortunately, my young German flatmate was able to swoop in and help me out. Older generations seem to have more of an affinity for the Kölsch dialect whereas the students that I am surrounded by at my university, whilst undoubtedly fans of Kölsch beer, may only have notions of it. Kölsch tradition seems to play a small role in their daily lives – that is until Karneval comes around.
Karneval is particular to Cologne and is first celebrated on the 11th November, or Elfter Elfter, and marks the beginning of the Karnevalssession. For young people nowadays, Elfter Elfter is a day of fancy dress, drinking and singing traditional songs such as Kölle Alaaf, understood to mean ‘Nothing beats Cologne.’ It certainly felt strange to partake in this activity as I am so used to the 11th November being marked as the more sombre Remembrance Day. Nonetheless, a year abroad is for ‘cultural immersion’ and, since all my university classes had been cancelled, I got involved and decided to dress up as ‘Remain’ – that was before realising that politically inclined costumes are not really the norm. Most people, it seems, like to dress up as aliens, as mermaids or simply in animal onesies as it is quite cold (a good example of the Germans living up to their stereotype of being practical people).
Fast-forward to February and the celebrations recommence on the Thursday before Lent and last a whole week as opposed to one day. Rosenmontag, the Monday before Ash Wednesday, is the highlight as locals go out in fancy dress. An official committee set up in 1823 organises parades and various shows, yet the tradition of Karneval has been running as far back as the 16th century.
Steeped in history, a big marker of Kölsch tradition is the incredible Cologne Cathedral, or Kölner Dom, which, since 2007, boasts a beautiful stained-glass window by Gerhard Richter. The foundation stone for the cathedral was laid in 1248 and has been a popular subject for German literature, poetry, and art through the ages. For just 2€ (as a student) you can climb the cathedral and have the most wonderful panoramic view of the largest city on the Rhine.
Lastly, with Christmas just around the corner, Cologne’s world-famous Christmas markets, or Weihnachtsmärkte, pop up all over town. With markets erected in nearly every available square of Cologne city centre you are spoilt for choice. Queuing for a warm glass of red (or white) glühwein is a must as you listen to O Tannenbaum being played by an instrumental band on a lavishly decorated stage as people bustle around browsing beautifully handcrafted Christmas gifts. I have a feeling that from now on it will be hard to attend German themed Christmas markets in the UK without constantly comparing them to the truly traditional and beloved Kölsch ones.
By Grace Morales
All Roads Really Do Lead Back to Rome
By William Costley
There is only one way to experience Rome and that is to actually live there. The city centre, whilst beautiful with all its architecture and ruins sprawled out in almost every corner, is contaminated by the vast numbers of American and Asian tourists completely outnumbering the local community. When visiting the Colosseum, you will find yourself badgered by selfie-stick merchants, love birds galore, and swarms of travel groups queuing up to take pictures of old rocks which will, most likely, mean nothing to them after a few weeks. When going on holiday to Rome, this is essentially what you will experience. You can have a pizza in front of the Pantheon, or a scoop of gelato outside the Trevi Fountain, but, after spending only 6 months in the Eternal City, this is far from the true Roman experience.
Since I have moved countries 7 times in my life, I am completely familiar with starting afresh in new places and abandoning an old life you spent two or three years building. That said, this is exactly what your Year Abroad experience will entail. After having to adjust to life at university, you will suddenly find yourself in a completely new location with even more uncertainty than ever before. But relax, everything will be ok. I did my study abroad at Maastricht University in the Netherlands, where I went on a mandatory 6 month exchange. Leaving to Rome was exciting and unnerving as I knew the struggle of being the only British person in a community. I had these fears going in, as it was common in Maastricht for the Spaniards to group together, Germans with other Germans, the Belgians with the Belgians, so it was rational I had these fears in Rome. However, the international teams at these universities are switched on and ready to get you involved. Most students are eager to meet new people from other nationalities and you will be going to so many events together, your friends will feel like family.
The only way to really “experience” a country is to live there. Being in Rome as a resident was a once in a lifetime chance to live in Italy and explore all its wonders. So what is this true experience I keep blabbing on about? Everyone’s experience of their time in Rome is unique, but there are unifying features which people can all agree on. Firstly, you will live in a local neighbourhood. There are parts of Rome you simply don’t see when you stick to the city centre. In the suburbs you are more exposed to Roman life, shops, people and nightlife. Surprisingly, if you venture just two or three subways out of the centre, you will find that there are dramatically fewer English-speakers. I found this refreshing ,but if you suffer with languages, then this is unavoidable, wherever you go. Additionally, I rarely found myself venturing into the historic centre, except for clubbing or the odd tourist visit. Living in Rome, or living anywhere for that matter, allows you to separate yourself from the tourist buzz and engage in the authentic daily activities people get up to. Whether it’s drinking on a packed roundabout until 2am, or eating pizza from your local Nonna, what your Year Abroad will do is expose you to another way of living.
By Giada Lascialfari
Just a few days before leaving, I began preparing my journey playlist. I named it “The road goes ever on” and I tried to fill it with all the reasons why I was coming to England, starting with the English indie-folk music I love so much. At the same time, I packed my brand-new journal that I hoped would summarize my whole experience. Also, I tried (and failed) to leave some space for some English novels which had shaped my idea of England. I hoped that this new period would change my life, that I would quickly fill the journal.
As the plane landed, I saw the countryside below and I honestly felt that I was already falling in love with this strange country. I was certain that the love I felt for this country would only grow once I arrived and that I would never want to return home.. The first shock came as I reached my house. When my housemates opened the door and started introducing themselves, explaining everything about the house, I realised that my language was not even good enough to talk about the vacuum cleaner. I couldn’t understand half of what they said to me, so I mostly just smiled and said “ok” to avoid the embarrassment of not understanding.
After the first week I started to realize that maybe I didn’t understand because I was constantly thinking “what do they think of me?”, “I should know this”, “I should understand this”, “I look like an idiot”. So I started to lower the pressure on myself and after days of “what?”, “sorry”, “I don’t understand” and “I don’t know how to say that”, I gradually passed to “how do you say…?”, “can you repeat?”, “do you know what I mean?”, and started to relax just following the rhythm of this language.
For the first two weeks, I was quite lonely, apart from my half-conversations with my housemates. That period passed like a strange dream. I walked endlessly through Framwellgate Moor, struggled with English street crossings, passed hours in the supermarket trying to bear the presence of all that unhealthy food, and, obviously, I was stunned by Durham Cathedral. But, after exploring the city alone, I began to miss my busy life- doing things and meeting people. Actually, I was blaming myself for not meeting enough people and not travelling enough.
Joining my college, I was thrown into a pleasure island of people from around the world, free food and parties every day. I excitedly joined in with events, but I could never satisfy my thirst for new experiences. That was what I was here for, wasn’t it? To fill the pages of my new journal. At the same time, I was constantly tired and began to feel the need to be alone, overwhelmed by all the events. But I push myself on with a constant fear of missing out on the next experience, the next friend.
As lessons began, this mix of different feelings dissipated and I found a routine. So here I am. The beginning is over. I still try to find a balance between all the events going on, the lectures, the day trips and the unbelievably tiring work of creating a social life from nothing. I now realize that putting constant pressure on myself will never add anything to my experience. Obviously, the indie-folk music in my playlist remains a particular passion of mine. I write in my journal when I can and, unfortunately, I’m not living in an English Victorian novel. But maybe it is when you lower your expectations that you really start to live.