Field trips across Europe, yes? MSc EF got you!

 

I know, I know. During the past months, we all have been occupied by our classes, deadlines, and other commitments. I must say, stress and pressure were over the top of our heads, especially for batch ’20-’22, as we’re close to finishing this cool programme (with flying colors, I hope!).

Oh and by the way, we had a few breaks in between months! >:D

(read on to know…)

In the beginning of the year, we all thought that the pandemic will give us “2020 feels” again because of lockdowns, curfews, and travel restrictions, and of course, the increasing number of cases, and slow rate of vaccination across the globe. But luckily, around February this year, “corona vee” and vaccinations against it have been doing well . Hence, the consortium gave us a greenlight for our “supposedly month-long fieldtrip” across the different partner universities here in Europe.

 

I know the previous blog posts have written about the trip but yeah, the European Forestry is one programme you should consider if you are a jetsetter and nature-lover. What sounds better than being able to explore the forests in Europe, right? Well, the programme offers that. We have a month-long field trip to the forests of Europe, and is scheduled at the end of our first year in the programme. Usually, in May, before everyone goes to the applied period.

 

With Corona-Vee still happening, our trip wasn’t month-long. It was modified into a 3-day trip on different dates stretching from February-March-April in each countries, namely Spain, France, Germany, Romania, and Austria, where we have our partner universities in. Believe me, it was the best news in the middle of our agonies. Imagine having separated from your friends in the programme, then having a chance to see them again feels overwhelming in a good way. Reunion! See picture below 😀

 

Barcelona!

 

Don’t get me wrong, going to this trip doesn’t only allow you to travel but allows you to connect with people in the sector, gives you an actual picture of what they had taught in our courses, and lastly, learn things you thought you didn’t need. I wouldn’t spoil you with the details, eh. 😉

 

Here are some pictures from Spain and France in February <3

This 10-day trip with the guys is one for the books. Learning about the forests in the Mediterranean region, the management, the different ecosystems, were just very interesting. Although, our France trip was tricky because we thought the cold wouldn’t bother us anyway like Elsa. Hahaha!

Now here’s another gallery for our Freiburg trip in March. 🙂

We were so lucky to have sunny days in Freiburg. This trip is as awesome as the previous one because we were able to explore the forest ecology laboratory, and it is super cool. Not to mention, we were able to talk to a famous forest owner (Mr. Spiecker)! Ahh, Freiburg was amazing, we enjoyed the sun, and the cherry trees blossom! You would definitely wanna go back!

Despite our trips being stretched in 3 different months with 3 days in each country, I would say it was just perfect for us and still very lucky as it was able to happen. Everyone seeing each other in different places from time to time is just the best feeling because you get to reunite, and take a break, and I think that’s beautiful. <3

Anyways! Our upcoming trip for Romania-Austria will happen later this month so stay tuned! 😀

Photo credits to me — Fellice Catelo hehehe

And, if you have any inquiries or anything, you can email me at fcatelo@uef.fi!

Volunteer and make your stay more fun

Once you’re a MSc EF student you get the huge room of opportunities to be involved in what you’re interested in. And that’s about volunteering, about how I joined ESN Joensuu (Erasmus Student Network) as a vice and local representative. ESN Joensuu is more about the international club of the Student Union of UEF (ISYY). Except for my studies, I joined there to help to organize events that bring together exchange and Finnish students.

Here’re some pics I took at those events:

        

While volunteering, one gets the benefits like free tickets, discounts for products and services from partners. Actively performing members obtain the possibilities to be the group leaders to Lapland, Lofoten trips free of charge. In events that I attended are the daily trip to Koli national park, a cultural cruise to Stockholm PoBS (Pirates of Baltic Sea).

Some more pics from Finland:

Volunteering is something that I network with and have the power chance to impact and share my contribution at the organizational level. What’s more, once you volunteer at clubs/events, believe me, you’ll have double the experience of your stay in Finland.

Yours sincerely, Dastan. Joensuu, Finland.

 

 

Semester Break is Finally Here! 

After a long period of studying, finally, we could have a 2-week semester break. Since we live in Brasov, we do not have to worry about where to go during the holidays because there are many beautiful places nearby! We would like to share with you a glimpse of our semester break activities. 

Hiking Mount Tampa 

Mount Tampa is where the BRASOV sign is situated. However, do not settle only for the sign. We can hike a bit more to get a view of the Carpathian Mountains. Mt. Tampa itself is in the southern part of the Eastern Carpathians and Brasov is the city that surrounds the mountain. In the 1950s, Brasov was named Stalin City (Orasul Stalin), and the trees in Tampa were all chopped down so that the name of the former dictator appeared on the hillside facing the old town. However, now the forest has recovered and become a nature reserve area.  

We started to walk from the old center. It took us about 5 minutes of walking to reach the foot of Mt. Tampa. The hiking trails were well marked, and they were less than 3 km long. It took us around 30-40 minutes to reach the BRASOV sign and 5 more minutes to tackle the peak of Tampa. The paths are rocky and slippery (it can be muddy during the summer). From the top of Mount Tampa, we can enjoy the magnificent view of Brasov. For those who are lazy to hike, don’t worry, you can still enjoy the view with minimum effort by taking the cable car. 

Finding Count Dracula 

Moving away from Brasov, we drove 25 km to the southwest to start our new journey. We decided to visit the famous Dracula’s Castle. Its original name is actually Bran Castle. Laying on a rocky foundation near the riverbed, this medieval castle looks so majestic. The castle was built between 1377 and 1388 and has been functioning as a bulwark, custom house, royal residence, and museum since then until now.   

Why do people believe it is Dracula’s castle? Well, Dracula is actually a fictional character made by Bram Stroker. He made the Dracula character after a real person, Vlad Tepes (The Impaler). Vlad is a sadistic prince of Wallachia, who liked to behead, boil, burn and skin his enemies alive. However, neither Bram nor Vlad have ever visited Bran Castle. Some people believe that Vlad was kept there as a prisoner for several months before later he was moved to the prison near Budapest. So, in the end, we did not find Dracula (at least not any living one :p). 

Can’t Get Enough of Castle. 

Moving to Romania’s western region, we continued our journey to the most spectacular Gothic-style castle in Romania, Corvin Castle. The castle was built in the 14th century, and many called it one of the seven wonders of Romania. The structure of the building is very unique because it has many tall and narrow turrets. Corvin Castle has more than 40 chambers and 2 large areas which are Knight’s Hall (for the feast) and Diet Hall (used for ceremonies). The walls of the halls were beautifully decorated with marbles which we can still see today.  

Corvin Castle was the home of John Hunyadi (commonly known as Iancu de Hunedoara). He was the man who is famous for stopping the Ottoman Empire from conquering Belgrade and advancing towards Western Europe. Additionally, the castle houses many prisons where war hostages were kept. There is a legend about the three Turkish men who were being kept at the prison and dug nearly 20-25 meters into stone until they finally reached the water. They were told if they could find the water, then they would be released. But in fact, they were beheaded right after finding the water. We can still find the fountain which was dug in stone by them today.  

Nowadays, many movies set Corvin Castle as their shooting location, such as The Nun and Underworld. You can also rent the castle to hold your private occasion if you like (such as a wedding :p).

That’s it for this post and we hope you enjoy reading it as much as we enjoyed our short semester break.

See you in another post! 

 

Things I’ve Learnt About Traveling Whilst Studying

These are some of the tips I have figured out along the way, either by myself or with help/advice from others. It may be daunting to embark on a worldwide travel, and simultaneously start on the academic journey of a master’s degree. Well, if this is intimidating you, keep in mind: you’re not the first person to accomplish this mission, there is always help and friendship along the way. If you’ve come across this blog, hopefully this post can provide some useful info about how to balance your travel and studying life.

1. Studying is your friend:
Academics is a really good way to see the world. Once you enter the network of international students, there are always more doorways opening for you. Each university has internship positions, more projects, and more research for you to join – assuming you apply yourself. With education, you get more opportunities for more education, more exploration, and – with that – more places to visit!

2. Forget Paper:
With all the moving around that we do during the Erasmus Mundus mobility programme, it can be tricky to figure out how to store all the papers! Find a way to store your notes/textbooks digitally, I use an iPad with an Apple Pencil (all purchased cheaper secondhand on Apple flipping websites), and the app OneNote allows you to load pdf documents and make notes on them. This way you can also keep record of all the notes you’ve made in the past.

3. If you need help, ask for it:
Whether this help is necessary for finding accommodation, finding a lecture hall, or just finding your calm after an exam period – there is always someone there for you. In an academic institution, this is because the university/school would like to support their students in any manner possible. And the best way for “them” (whoever they might be) to even know how they can help you, is if you communicate it. Don’t be shy to send that email to your coordinator and share your experience with them. There’s no such thing as a silly problem, and chances are, there are others who are having the same stress as you are.

4. I hope you like SIM cards:
Each country has their own laws and regulations regarding the purchase and use of SIM cards for cellular devices. You are going to want to be connected in whatever country you spend a bit of time in, and so that means being able to locate stores that sell these little cards that can keep you online. It’s always best to ask a local person which phone company they are using, and whether there are “pay-as-you-go” options, that means you don’t have to sign up for a long-term contract.

5. Remember your Roots
Once you are out of your comfort zone, in a world unfamiliar, you will come across many manners of being and differences in culture that are completely new to you. In some ways you will be forced to grow and expand your mindset about the world and all the different kinds of people in it. This is extremely fruitful for character development, and I believe traveling (and people seeing other walks of life) has potential to make the world a more tolerant, empathetic place. However, when you’re moving around a lot, you might sometimes feel a little overwhelmed and somewhat confused about where you fit into the bigger scheme of things. If everyone and everything around you is different, it’s easy to feel like a stranger. For this reason, I suggest putting in extra effort to connect with your roots, and appreciate them all the more. Whether that’s the music, the cuisine, the colours, the language, etc. – whatever it is that you really love about home, try to make time for it. In the long run, this will become a warm connection to home.
As they say:

“You don’t know where you’re going unless you know where you’re coming from”
-Anon


Finally, Brașov!

Bună ziua! Ce faci?

We know that you have all been waiting for this post! The time has finally come! Get ready to meet Brașov, an enchanting place filled with culture, charm, and history. Surrounded by the Carpathian Mountains, the city makes you feel like you are living inside a bowl. Hiking up the Tâmpa Mountain, you will get a breathtaking panoramic view of the city, which I bet you will never get sick of. Resplendent with Gothic, Baroque, and Renaissance architecture, Brașov is one of the most beautiful places in Romania. How cool is that?

Braşov as seen from Tâmpa Mountain

Brașov is par excellence a place of multiculturalism. The city was founded in 1211 by Teutonic Knights and settled by Saxons in the 13th century, becoming one of Transylvania’s seven walled “citadels” (Siebenbürgen). Three suburbs were found outside the Citadel’s walls. One suburb was inhabited by Romanians, another by Hungarians, and the third was populated by Saxon peasants, as the humanist and reformer Johannes Honterus noted in the middle of the twentieth century. As Brașov was located at the intersection of trade routes linking the Ottoman Empire with Western Europe, the Saxons attained considerable wealth and exercised strong political influence in the region. Interestingly, Brașov also has a German name: “Kronstadt” or Crown City. Click here to check out more information about the history of Brașov.

The Old Townhall Square (Piața Sfatului) and The Black Church (Biserica Neagra) are Braşov’s main attractions. Both are found in the Old Town. Piața Sfatului is colorfully painted and filled with Baroque structures, while the Black Church is Romania’s largest Gothic structure. Other parts of the city can easily be explored with public transportation, which, by the way, is known for its punctuality. 

The city is pretty amazing and you are all longing to come and check it out. We get it! But, let us now turn to the university where we are studying, the Transilvania University of Brașov. The main building of the Faculty of Silviculture and Forest Engineering is situated in the Old Town, near the Black Church. Nearly 150 years old, the building is surrounded by 80 different tree species.

In this academic year, the rector of the university has mandated that all classes be conducted in person. This decision brought us joy because we would then be able to meet and interact with all the professors and classmates. We have just finished the long 2-week exam period and begun our so deserved short break. 

We hope you enjoyed it.

La revedere!

 

Autumn Semester in Lleida

The autumn semester for this 2nd year is a fresh new start because we transferred to a different university after UEF. Now, 6 of us from the program chose the University of Lleida to pursue spatial and ecological modelling. I wouldn’t make this a long post as I only want to share some pictures and experiences!

Spain is a country rich in culture and history, and the Mediterranean environment is highly visible – laid-back and chill. Spending our second year here is quite comfortable and affordable, with/without student discounts. Lleida is a city that I didn’t expect to be, in a good way. It is not as busy as Barcelona, or as quiet as Joensuu (although it can be sometimes). It is a comfortable place and almost everyone know each other. Sometimes, I feel like I am in the Philippines! Well at first, it was a bit difficult to adjust because of the language barrier. So, my first and foremost advice is to learn Spanish if you’re planning to choose Lleida as your second year university. But no worries, because as we head on, it became easy and steady (we also gained some friends!).

The first few months of classes were great as we did most of lectures in presential form of teaching and it was easier to communicate. We felt like college/university students again because of this. In addition, the presential lectures were more effective than ever because of student-teacher engagement and interaction. The courses are interesting, and helpful as you discover what you want for your master’s thesis. Our professors are very nice and accommodating. Although, it is also quite true when our seniors told us that second year-autumn semester is the busiest semester we could have within the duration of the programme. Towards November, deadlines are coming, and we keep beating the red light. But it was a great experience, especially with our exposure from the tropics to Nordic ecosystems to Mediterranean ones, what a total shift! Lots of skills were being gained.

Of course, besides fieldtrips and good food, I think I liked the part where the 6 of us share our moments of both stress and glory in achieving different milestones. Going out for beers and food is my favorite part of the weeks we have been spending here. Meeting new people has also been a part of our lives here as we have met some students from the other programs of forestry.

Enjoying the sun 🙂

It’s a birthday dinner for Solo!

Christmas dinner with some friends from the previous batch of the programme!

International dinner with other forestry people

To conclude, the autumn semester is truly busy, yet it is the bridge to discovering what you really want to do. Having good friends is a very big bonus as we had spent Christmas and New Year’s together!

Stay tuned for more stories! <3

WE SAW FLAMINGOS, OKAY!

And if you want to ask some things, don’t hesitate! (fcatelo@uef.fi)

Student life at UEF: how is it living and studying in Joensuu?

Arrived at the beginning of August, completely a new chapter of life started in Finland. If you ask me in short, how is it studying and living in Finland, my answer is very balanced and nature-based. Studying outside of home country is not only about the difference of educational approaches, but also experiencing the very Finnish way of a lifestyle (fitting sauna to your weekly schedule, biking a lot, making lingonberry jam on weekends and many more).

Let’s run through each month from August to December to see how gradually we explored and enjoyed our stay in Joensuu.

August: ARRIVAL, SETTING-UP, NEW FRIENDS

 

September: BEGINNING OF COURSES, SHORT TRIP TO HELSINKI, TALLINN, KOLI NATIONAL PARK, SMOKED SAUNA

   

 

October: GETTING DEEPER TO STUDIES, PARTIES, WEEK-END TRIP TO STOCKHOLM, HIKING

November: NEW COURSES, OUTDOOR ACTIVITIES, TURKU&TAMPERE TRIP

December: EXAMS, GLÖGGI MEETINGS, WALKING ON THE FROZEN PYHÄSELKÄ LAKE, AND LEARNING KARELIAN PASTY

What’s a Three-Week Learning Block?

What’s the Difference?

In South Africa the university semesters run in much the same manner as those in Finland, where you choose your set of semester modules; and complete them all simultaneously over the course of the semester period. At the University of Freiburg, this is not the case. Here we do modules that run for 3-weeks each, and during that time you do only that one module. This allows you to focus all your attention on only one topic at a time, as opposed to switching your attention between various topics throughout the day or week.

It’s New, but it Works

At first I was confused about this method of teaching, because I was not used to it, and in general I have only come across the “usual” method of teaching in my academic career. Once I got to Freiburg im Breisgau and started my studies, I realised very quickly that this way really works for me! Throughout my studies, I have found it somewhat challenging to flick between several modules, and would consequently have to make a break between doing the work of different modules in any given day, and I did not realise there is an alternative. Now, instead of having to flick my attention between subjects, and in that way lose time, I can focus on one particular subject and give it all my attention. This allows more in-depth attention into the subject, which can lead to more mindful learning and broader understanding. 

Microlearning

The concept of learning in shorter bursts over time is one that has come about in recent years especially. There seems to be a trend of people leaning towards learning that goes with having shorter attention spans, as opposed to the type of learning we did the past – which relied on periods of 40-60 minutes of focused concentration. Some say this is due to the exponential increase in technology over the last years, and along with it, increased usage of social media platforms. These platforms are thought to influence in us users a predisposed capacity for short bursts of attention, by providing constant and consistently short bursts of media to consume – with endless (and somewhat mindless) scrolling. Thus, the attention span of the newer generations are supposedly much shorter than that of, say, the “Baby Boomer” generation. Be this as it may, the structure of academic courses have not been drastically altered to cater for this subtle change in generational attentiveness. According to various resources, shorter spurts of learning are more efficient in the retention of new knowledge (https://blog.gutenberg-technology.com/en/microlearning-how-short-bursts-of-learning-enable-knowledge-retention) For this reason, the three-week learning blocks in the University of Freiburg make a lot of sense, and this method is arguably better catered to the evolution of attention spans over successive generations. 

Freiburg First Impressions: What a Great City

I’m from South Africa, and here I find myself studying in a beautiful, understated German city. Freiburg I’m Breisgau was actually not one of my first choices of universities at which to do my masters. When the time came to select which university we wanted to go to for our Master’s thesis, I was certain that I wanted to choose Spain. However, circumstances led to me eventually choosing the Albert-Ludwigs University of Freiburg instead, even though I had never set foot in the city of Freiburg im Breisgau. What I did not know then was just how amazing this little city is, and how lucky I am to have ended up here!

Historic and Beautiful
Historic and Beautiful

The city itself is defined in Germany as a ”mini-city”, meaning it’s population is just larger than a town, and yet smaller than a major city (e.g. Frankfurt, Berlin, Hamburg). Situated in Baden-Wurttemberg state, in southwestern Germany. It is picturesquely situated on the western slopes of the Black Forest, where the Dreisam River flows into the Rhine valley. Much like the rest of Germany, much of the infrastructure and historical buildings in the city were destroyed during destructive bombing campaigns of World War II, but the city retains many beautiful historic buildings – either restored or rebuilt in the old style that existed before.

Fairytale Christmas Lights
Fairytale Christmas Lights

For any person walking through the Alstadt (Old Town), this brings a sense of whimsical nostalgia for the past, as the smells of breweries and freshly baked Black Forest Cake mingle in the air, mixed with the sounds of the inner-city trams and live musicians busking in the streets. Freiburg im Breisgau is a place where the old meets the new, where age-old tradition meets new-age innovation. The city is known for its proximity to the Black Forest, which spans across an area of just over 6000 square kilometres. Known for its dense, evergreen forests and picturesque villages, it is often associated with the Brothers Grimm fairy tales. It’s renowned for its spas and the cuckoo clocks produced in the region since the 1700s. Bordering with the eastern region of France, and the northern region of Switzerland, there is, therefore, an abundance of delicious local foods available – cheese, chocolate, wine, beer, bratwurst, and freshly baked bread. On the other hand, Freiburg itself is simply over- flowing with culture and colour – both international and local. With restaurants and cute stores dotted all around the city, some options for international dining include Japanese, Chinese, Indian, Turkish, French, Thai, American, and Vietnamese restaurants (this is all polished up with plenty of vegetarian, vegan and gluten free options).

Clean and Quaint
Clean and Quaint Cobblestone Streets

 

Freiburg is known as one of the most environmentally conscious ”Green” cities in the world, having earned the title ”The Green City”. There are projects running on every urban sector – be it waste management, sustainable energy use in housing, green electricity, reaching Carbon neutrality goals, environmental education, etc. There are more bicycles in this city as there are people, less cars than any other German city, and of course the iconic tram lines that can take a person anywhere you need to go with almost zero Carbon emissions.

For nature lovers such as myself (and probably all students studying International Forestry) there are many places you can go and immerse yourself in dense green areas, with at least 20 different hiking trail options, mountain bike trails, and in the winter months, several skiing or snowboarding routes to choose from. The forest is extremely nearby and accessible to all, and in some forests there are areas for making fires and enjoying a nice barbecue with friends/family. On a cloudless day, it’s possible to take a short walk up the nearby hill (Schlossberg) and get a beautiful view of the city glowing orange under a setting sun, alternatively you can take a long walk along the footpath of the Dreisam, or ride your bicycle. Whatever your preference, there is something for you to enjoy!

As far as social life goes, Freiburg im Breisgau is a mixing pot international residence (students and professionals alike), such as myself and my fellow Erasmus Mundus colleagues who have just moved here. We have realised in our first few months here that there is no shortage of nationalities to come across at any given event, get-together or class; as I have easily befriended students from Japan, France, Mexico, Syria, Palestine, USA, Indonesia, Nigeria, and of course Germany too. Everyone seems to have an open mind, and ready to expand their social circles into broader global horizons. Therefore, this city feels constantly at the brink of international expansion, research and development in the climate sector, and student networking on a global scale.

The biggest problem with living in Freiburg, if I must mention one, is the very scarce accommodation. There seems to be much less housing available than there are students! Whether or not this is actually the case, I am not sure, but it is what I have heard much about in my time here, and experienced first hand. The general cost of a room in a shared apartment (what the German-speaking people refer to as ”WG-haus”) is anywhere from €350 – €1000 / month, depending on size and location. This seems to be the price paid for the popularity of a small old city with a top University. This aspect is dealt with very easily, however, especially if you are an Erasmus international student – for which there are specific housing options organised by the University’s International Office. In my case, I decided to try find my own private accommodation, by downloading a very useful app: WG-Gesucht, which basically performs the same function as Airbnb, except for renting rooms on a more permanent basis. The app connects flat-sharers with flat-seekers in various German cities, and allows you to see pictures, prices, and specifications of available rooms/apartments, as well as contact the potential future-roommates to arrange a meeting (either in-person or online). I managed to find a wonderful, spacious and affordable room in Freiburg, right in the city centre. So really there is nothing to fear when it comes to housing scarcity, as there is always something for those who are willing to make the effort to search!

I can highly recommend choosing Freiburg im Breisgau as your next university, and apparently I am not the only one, as the Lonely Planet has just recently nominated this city as one of the top three must-visit cities in the world! See here: ”Lonely Planet names Freiburg top travel destination for 2022”, Freiburg is recommended just after Auckland (NZ) and Taipei (Taiwan). I look forward to exploring more of this city, and sharing this experience with my fellow students.

Friends Never Say Goodbye

I’ve got to admit that all those happy memories I’ve had with those lovely people I met in France suddenly popped up when I was watching Friends the Reunion the other day. Thanks to them, I’ve enjoyed my study year in France to the fullest.

 Picnic time

It’s still hard to believe that almost one year has gone since my arrival here, as I still remember the day when I showed up at the Nancy train station with my heavy luggages. I had no idea at the time of what the coming year would be like. However, time has proved that it has been absolutely amazing! Not only have it helped me start my future career in academia, but also it connected me with friends coming from various backgrounds. Many of them helped enrich my French cultural experience from a particularly local perspective.

 Playing Mahjong

For example, we organised French cheese and wine tasting event and I’d highly recommend this experience to future EF students. We often played different board games over shared dinners. Sometimes, we had weekend retreats into the the Vosges Mountains. Last weekend, it was my very pleasure to be invited to a friend’s hometown in the Alps. Of course, the list goes on. We live, laugh and we love – simplicity brings the happiest moments!

 Unforgettable time in the Alps

 Look, it’s Mount Blanc!

 “Come closer next time ;)”, says Mount Blanc

Like all the good things, it’s sad when coming to an end… Yet I know there would be more trips on which we can go together soon, mais ne partez sans moi!