MSc EF Experience: Studies under COVID-19 conditions

Hello! I am Lauma and in my last blog post, I have decided to address how COVID-19 influenced my studies.

I know that the past year has been complicated for everyone and most people including me do not want to hear the words pandemic and COVID-19 ever again. However, the hard truth is that it still here and we do not know when it is going away. Therefore, I thought it might be important for new students to get a glimpse of how the international study program has been like in the current conditions, especially the modifications COVID-19 has made.

The hardest hit for all of us, I think was when the field course was canceled. UEF and consortium came up with a solution, instead of moving everything to self-studies, as an addition to it, they wanted to organize small field trips in the spring of 2021 for us. The idea was really good and interesting, unfortunately, the COVID-19 situation did not improve and our small trips were not possible either. Nevertheless, to get a glimpse of the forest conditions in other countries we needed to make a field assignment, where we visited a forest or park (depending on COVID-19 limitations) and explained it. After all, it was really nice to see where my colleagues and friends were and what they were doing. Some of us even made videos, it was really nice to virtually visit carbon measurement plots near Freiburg, parks in Nancy and Vienna, and see harvesting operations in Romania. These are only some of the topic examples, of assignments my colleagues made. It was my first time filming and editing a video, if I am completely honest, there were times when I cursed it, but in the end, I loved, the process and the result (if you want to see it, check out our Facebook page).

An important part of our studies is an internship. In our case, it took place in the first summer of the pandemic, traveling and moving between countries in most cases were possible but very complicated, and therefore, some plans had to be modified. For example, some of my classmates had to change from a face-to-face internship to the completely remote one, or the first month was remote and the second was presential. Some people had to find a new internship option, however, the university helped with all of the necessary changes. In my case, I wanted to have a practical experience in Spain, therefore, it was not possible to move it online. I am very thankful to my supervisor who still accepted me in those conditions. Apart from slight changes in the dates, for me, everything went as planned.

Furthermore, in my opinion, one of the most important questions is the question, how moving online influenced study quality. When the pandemic started, I was very concerned about it. At the very beginning, I think it was hard for both, students and professors. However, with time passing and experience developing things got so much better. Most of the online studies I experienced at the University of Lleida and I can say that they know how to handle things. I enjoyed studying here and education-wise I do not think I have lost anything. Of course, I missed face-to-face interaction, leaving my house, and not needing to cook for myself three times a day but otherwise, my education did not suffer. It was even possible for us to participate in some field trips, which I think for forestry students are crucial. I always learn things better through practical experience and, therefore, I appreciate our coordinators trying to help us to have it as much as possible. More about my internship and second-year experience can be found in my previous blog posts.

Finally, I want to address something that was concerning for many of us. Thesis. For me it was a complicated topic even before COVID-19, I was worried about picking a topic already in my first year in Joensuu, what if something more interesting comes up and then I was worried, what if I end up without a topic. Therefore, when the pandemic was added to this equation I was extremely worried. However, it was not as bad as I imagined. For me, it is quite hard to approach professors I have never met or talked to face-to-face, and before asking to be my supervisors I like to get to know them a bit. COVID-19 made things more complicated exactly from this point of view. I had decided to do my thesis at the University of Lleida and from the very beginning, it was hard to get a grasp of possible topics and professors. Regardless, all of that I had support and I managed to find an interesting topic and good supervisors, who are willing to help me whenever I need it. In addition, there is also something good that COVID-19 has brought – flexibility. We have learned to do things remotely, therefore, for writing my thesis I was able to move back to Barcelona, some of my friends even moved back to Finland. Currently, we can be wherever we feel most comfortable.

I hope this post helped to get a glimpse of my studies in the international program under COVID-19 conditions. I have attached some pictures to show you how beautiful Spain is and that I am not completely missing out on seeing it. In case, you have any questions, feel free to contact me on my personal email: lauma.elza@gmail.com

MSc EF Expierence: Studies at the University of Lleida

Hello! I am Lauma Elza Miezīte MSc European Forestry second-year student from Latvia and now is the time for me to tell you about my studies at my second-year university – the University of Lleida (UdL).

I remember the time when I had to make a decision about which will be my second-year university, I was confused, worried, and not sure what would be the best option. Now I can say that I am happy with my choice, University of Lleida has met my expectations, I am happy and thankful for the chance to be here.

This study year started with the hope of face-to-face classes and fieldtrips. However, we managed to have only some field trips and some classes before things were moved online. I am not the biggest fan of online classes, therefore, from the very beginning I was worried, how is it going to be? Right now, I can say that the University of Lleida knows how to move online and still keep things good and interesting. Of course, I missed seeing my professors and colleagues to have this usual type of communication but I think in the end we all had to adapt to current conditions.

 

One of the main reasons why I choose UdL was their diversity of courses; I felt that I can really adjust my courses to my interests. My background is not in forestry but in environmental science; therefore I was thrilled that I could choose some courses that were related not only pure forestry but also to environmental science. In UdL teaching approach is very individual. I felt that professors cared about us and tried to explain everything in the best way and I felt comfortable asking questions. I think here I have experienced the freest communication with professors. I enjoyed that most of my courses had a practical approach. I learn things better through practical assignments. In the last semester, I had various great practical assignments, starting from analyzing land-use changes near a city in Kazakhstan, learning to plan a drone flight to modelling forest dynamics and many more. I really enjoyed the last one because it usually had a quite free approach, the professor gave us a model and main guidelines but we could choose what exactly we want to do. For example, what forest management to apply and when. The Autumn semester was very intense, but worth it, at least for me. I learned a lot, changed my perspective on things; and in addition, my interests changed a bit too.

Thankfully, before the Covid-19 situation worsened we were able to participate in a few field trips. The first one was to the Pyrenees mountains. This was my first in those mountains, I was really impressed and enjoyed what I saw. We also went on some trips to familiarize ourselves with traditional landscapes and how they are changing. One of the reasons why I came to study in Spain was curiosity, I wanted to get familiar with completely different landscapes that I am used to. One of our trips was a bike trip, in addition to great landscapes I really enjoyed seeing local goods on our way. For example, I had never before seen olive and almond trees with fruits. A funny moment was when we discovered Strawberry trees (yes, you heard me right… it is called a Strawberry tree) and their fruits. I tried them for the first time in my life and absolutely loved them. We might have gotten a bit stuck near those trees and at one point professor started to wonder where were we.

Apart from my studies, I wanted to talk about my life in Lleida. When I moved to Lleida I had already lived in Catalonia (Spain) for 3 months, therefore, things were not completely new to me. I was familiar with some local culture and lifestyle. However, I get to experience new climatic conditions. I am coming from a country with proper winter, this was going to be my first year without it. At first, till maybe mid-November I was completely enjoying it. No need for winter jackets and big boots seemed perfect. But then Christmas time came, seeing Christmas lights in trees with leaves just felt wrong and I ended up missing winter. Never before I thought, I would say that.

In addition, I still had some problems with language, but with help of my friends and some support from the university, I could manage everything. In university, I also took a basic Spanish language course, and now I can proudly say that I can survive daily life situations with my knowledge. Finding an apartment in Lleida was a bit more difficult than in Barcelona. I would definitely recommend to start looking at least 2 months before. If in Barcelona it took me 3 or 4 days in Lleida it was around 2 weeks. Some of my friends from the program had some problems and had to find a room in a few days, it was possible but quite hard and standards had to be lowered.

To sum up, I can say that so far I have had a great experience in Spain and the University of Lleida. I have enjoyed my time here and learned a lot. Of course, not everything was fun and easy. For university, we had to work quite a lot and with the Covid-19 situation, things were quite complicated. There were moments when we were not allowed to leave Lleida, sometimes I struggled missing my friends, family, or just somebody to speak in my language. Once in a while I missed the landscapes I am used to. However, in the end, I think it is part of what studying abroad means. Overall, I am really happy with this master’s program and how it has changed my life.

I hope this post helped to get a glimpse of my studies at the University of Lleida. I have attached some pictures of nature and us. If you have any questions, feel free to contact me on my personal email: lauma.elza@gmail.com. 🙂

 

MScEF Experience: Internship and life in Barcelona

Hello! I am Lauma Elza Miezīte MSc European Forestry second-year student from Latvia. I am currently studying at my second-year university – the University of Lleida in Spain. This time I wanted to share with you my experience with moving to Spain and my internship there. Ever since the Covid-19 pandemic started everything has been very complicated and confusing. Initially, my internship in Diputació de Barcelona was supposed to start at the beginning of June. However, Covid-19 made its alterations.

I traveled to Spain at the beginning of June. I did 14-day quarantine and then on the 17th of June, I was ready to start my internship. My applied period supervisor was Jorge Jürgens Mestre. I am incredibly thankful to him for agreeing to supervise me during this time. This was my first time in Spain and I knew nothing about Mediterranean forestry, therefore, at the very beginning, I was a bit worried about how working in the new ecosystem is going to be like. However, my supervisor was very welcoming and helpful; we started my internship with field visits. He explained to me basic concepts that would be important for me to know, for example, climatic conditions, forest history, and main threats. In addition, I learned about forest management here.

I really appreciated that I had an opportunity to work both in an office and on the field. My fieldwork mostly included forest inventory, site visits (e.g. assessment of site conditions before and after thinning), and meetings. My main project during this time was restoration for the wetland site. I really appreciate this opportunity to earn experience in the directions I have not worked before.

I would also like to share my experience about moving to Barcelona and living there. This was my first time in Spain, therefore, culture and everything was entirely new to me. In addition, I had no Spanish knowledge. This led to many shocking, fun, and a bit frustrating moments. Firstly, I was surprised how easy apartment finding in Barcelona was for me. It took me only four days search in Facebook groups. I faced some problems at first because I was only looking for a place for 2.5 months and I did not speak in Spanish. However, I manage to find an apartment in a great location – very centric and 15 minutes from my office. In addition, I had amazing flatmates. I am very thankful to them for the great welcoming and for helping me out so many times. They are also one of the reasons I know Barcelona so well now. I tried to see and visited as much as possible in the city and its surroundings taking all the necessary precautions. Barcelona is a wonderful city, and I feel that even after three months of living in it, there is so much more to see. It may sound a bit crazy, I spent only 3 months living there but it felt like home.

Living abroad is very beneficial, mind-opening, and fun. You get to see many different places, meet new people, however, sometimes it can be challenging. I really loved living in Barcelona, yet the first few weeks were a bit tough. Before going I was warned that it is hard to survive with only English, however, I think I fully understood what I got myself into only once I arrived in Barcelona. First few weeks I avoided going somewhere/doing something that required speaking. Nevertheless, it pushed me to learn the language and not to be scared to practice. At the end of the summer all everyday necessities I was able to do on my own. In addition, Spanish culture is very different from Latvian there are still things that surprise me and need to get used to. For example, siesta (nap) time. This means that almost everything between 14 and 17 is closed. Finally, the food is quite different. I think the first time I went shopping, I spent nearly an hour and in the end bought almost nothing. For instance, I spent quite a lot of time looking for the fridge with milk to find out that in shops they do not keep milk in the fridge. In addition, I got familiar with Spanish cuisine and I really like their food.

To sum up, I got an amazing experience last summer. I got an internship I really enjoyed; I learned so many things there. When I arrived at the University of Lleida and started to study, I felt that many concepts were easier for me to grab because of the knowledge I gained in my internship. I had real examples in my mind. I had my struggles but I think it was all worth it. Good things usually do not come very easy; you have to work for them.

I hope this post helped to get a glimpse of life in Barcelona and the MSc European Forestry internship. I have attached some pictures of nature and us having a nice time. If you have any questions, feel free to contact me on my personal email: lauma.elza@gmail.com. 🙂

MSc EF more than studies: an internation expierence. By Lauma Elza Miezīte

Hello! I am Lauma Elza Miezīte MSc European Forestry second-year student from Latvia. I am currently studying at my second-year university – the University of Lleida. I will share the experience I had in this program from the very beginning.

When I was planning to apply for this program, my worries were not only about studies but also about life outside the university.  I was worried about many different aspects. How will be the people from my program? Are we going to be friends? How is my apartment going to be? Will I get along with my flat mates? How is it going to be staying away from home for this long period of time? Will I like my studies? These are only some of the questions that were circling around my head. In this post, I want to share my experience mostly outside the university in Finland.

Before coming to Finland and my first month in Finland

Before going to Finland, my biggest worries were about the apartment. I received my offer at the end of June. At first, I was not very happy about it. It was in Karjamaentie, which is far from the University and there were five rooms in it. Now I can say it could not turned out better. The apartment itself was very nice and cozy. Almost half of the people from the master program were living in that area. I can only thank Elli and the apartment location for friendships that started with common dinners and crying on each other’s sofa.

I am a shy person and making friends is not an easy task, so I was worried about that aspect as well. Now I can say that the people I met in this program are just amazing. Everyone was open-minded, eager to get to know each other and start a new chapter in their lives. In addition, it was very nice that program coordinator organized get to know each other trip and dinners. It was a very nice experience with two days of getting familiar with Finland and each other.

 

Daily life in Finland

Finland is an amazing country. Living for almost a year there I had a great experience with beautiful nature and serenity you feel within its beautiful surroundings. Whenever I felt a bit down or I needed to think things through I could go for a relaxing walk in Joensuu’s forests.

In addition, Finland is a very safe country. I never felt unsafe on a street or anywhere else. My home country is not very far from there, I had no problems to adjust to culture or food. Comparing to my first weeks in Spain, in Finland everything was very easy for me. However, I cannot say that it was as easy for all the people in the program. Some of my friends coming from ‘’warmer’’ countries were struggling with how “cold” Finnish people seemed to them at first. For me, it is normal to keep distance, my own space and not to kiss and hug when I meet people for the first time. However, for them it was quite hard to get used to it.

One more aspect I have to mention is daylight hours. Basically, in wintertime there is no sun and daylight lasts for five to six hours. Even though it can get a bit hard and depressing, with friends around you everything is bearable.

Daily life in Finland was very nice, including (with) bike rides to university, walks in the forest, and get together dinners. One more thing that it is important to mention, in my opinion, is the financial side. In theory, Finland is always listed as one of the most expensive countries in Europe. However, I did not find a huge difference in prices between Latvia and Finland. Yes, some things were more expensive, but at the end of the month my spending’s were quite similar to the ones in Latvia, which was definitely under those 1000 euros.

International experience: benefits and struggles

In Finland, I spent only 10 months, but this time has changed me. I have been worried how will I adapt to such an international environment, but it was easier than I thought. This was the most international environment I have ever been in and it opened my perspective. I enjoyed meeting people from different countries and with different stories. The stories and experiences of different people I met made me look at the world differently. The key I found to good communication is understanding, respecting, and listening. We came from so different countries, different backgrounds, and values but managed to get along. Now I can happily say that I have friends in many different countries and one great advantage of that is when the Covid-19 crisis end I can go and visit them.

However, there were also some difficult moments. In my experience, good time outweighed my struggles; however, it is something that should be taken in account. Sometimes it was hard to be away from my friends and family in Latvia. I missed them. Sometimes when I knew that they were struggling, I felt helpless. In addition, sometimes I missed my culture, language, and food (Finnish food is quite similar but definitely not the same). I have found it a bit hard sometimes to go a long period of time without having somebody to talk to in my native language face to face. While I was in Finland this was not an issue as I had a colleague from Latvia, but now in Spain, I am struggling with this. There was so much I could learn from my peers in the program. For example, my background is in environmental science not forestry, therefore, sometimes I felt I was behind others but my friends always helped me to understand.

To sum up, I would like to say that I find my first-year experience in Finland and UEF great. I would not trade it for anything. There were some tough moments, but I think that’s life. I know how cliché this sounds but life is more beautiful outside the comfort zone, as I can justify it with my own experience. I had many doubts and fears before applying and before accepting the program. Sometimes I was changing my mind three times a day. Now, I feel extremely lucky and thankful for this experience. I have met people and learned things I would not have if I had stayed in my home country. I am also incredibly grateful for my family and friends back at home and their support.

I hope this post helped to get a glimpse of life in Finland and MSc European Forestry. I have attached some pictures of nature and us having a nice time. If you have any questions, feel free to contact me on my personal email: lauma.elza@gmail.com. 🙂