The French University system as I understand it

Salut!

I made it! I completed my last lecture at SciencePo Bordeaux today! What a strange feeling, the semester passed by so quickly. Feels like I just arrived a month ago but it´s already way more. Now I have two weeks to prepare for the exams and write one essay, seems doable. In this post I´ll talk about the french university system and my experiences with it.

Science Po is a grand ecole, so technically not a university but is very prestigious. As an Erasmus student it felt like a “normal” university, when you see how the program is for the regular students you notice a difference. There is no Bachelor/Master system, the equivalent to both is 5 years. Students have to apply and go to the entry test, I witnessed this last week, so strange to see all these kids and parents at uni. SciencePo does not offer a lot of spots, it´s highly competitive and to get in you have to have outstanding good grades (not that great, if so you would study in Paris). Also something strange: exams on Saturday mornings, I mean WHYYYY?? Students have a large choice of courses and usually do a one year exchange. They have “culture generalle” courses, where they literally learn general knowledge (extremely franco centric, never heard of some people that they constantly talk about, who´s that Gambetta guy again?). All other things seems rather straight forward and students do the same things as any other student does around the world.

Now to my impressions. I´ll have to disappoint you: I´m not impressed SciencePo!

I had rather high expectations. I knew that the French right insanely long exams, have a very strict structure for their essay and that they not the most academic (they don´t really get referencing for example). But overall I thought that I would be kinda challenged here. But no. At this point I actually have to praise Korea University, I learned a lot of things that I can apply in various courses. NEVER thought that I would think this way! In some way te French and Korean system is similar since critical thinking or just “thinking” is nowhere to be found. The professor does this monologue, students transcribe the lecture (WORD FOR WORD) and just reproduce knowledge in the exam. This is not how I imagine university to be and especially when your studying something as much contested (literally everything) you should be able to have some sort of opinion!

I talked to some people, and asked about their opinion concerning the education. The Erasmus students are disappointed and we all agree that our home university is way better. Other regular students praise that SciencePO are very well equipped for their masters and jobs, this is probably true just makes be even more concerned about the french university system (CAN IT GET EVEN WORSE??).

So overall,academically I haven´t received the quality that I had expected.

Now to some positive stuff, you wouldn´t believe it but there are some!

Some of the professors are excellent (!!!). Most of my professors are highly dedicated and really know their stuff. One of my profs did this phd in Somalia, such a rebel (warning: ambiguous for the sake of humor). Others just are hilarious, I always enjoy listening to the jokes of my french lecturer, he comments on everything in a very implicit way. I always have a good time, especially when he mocks French politicians. I attend lectures where I learn things which are relevant, where other points of view are presented and we have discussions. But somehow I feel like this is just in the English Track courses, the French ones are lecture-based oral. I show up to all the lectures, take notes (bullet points) and critically process what was just said. One professor really pushes through his own perceptive but he is very honest about it (“In my opinion…”). He always states that we can argue against him, ähm not happening in the exam, he´s very intimidating. I think of counterarguments in my head instead, practices your debating skills 🙂

Another great things, we only have finals and that´s it. No extra reading only recommended ones (and let´s face it NO one reads those). I have a lot of free time besides lectures to have fun and enjoy France, since I never go to the library as there is no reason to do so. The system requires you to go to the lectures (you should, since some professors don´t do ppts) and then revise for the exams at the end of the semester. Overall a pretty nice student life. No bug research papers that keep you super busy for at least a week like in Malmö. Most of the exams are multiple choice or orals (loves those).

Since I got finals coming up I´ll be studying and being productive (feeling like a real student). Probably gonna study in my room, since the library is under construction and it gets really noisy at some times.

Hope this was interesting. Maybe you´d love the french system, everyone as they please. I don´t however I love Bordeaux, my Erasmus and every day here. Could not have changed a thing looking back. Bordeaux was the right choice and it got me somewhere academically besides from improving my French: I realized that Malmö is awesome and that I will never ever study in France!

Have a great week!

Lena

Bordeaux Life

Salut!

I´ve been rather unmotivated to write something on my blog, apologize for that, however since the semester is coming to an end soon (SAY WHAT?), I feel like it´s time to make a little summary of the last weeks.

Barcelona

Those of you who read my last post, who had I was on Winter  break. After going to Paris, I went to Barcelona, with a short stop in Toulouse. Barcelona was great, definitively a place that you should visit. I stayed at a friends place who´s currently on exchange in Barcelona. I haven´t seen her for a while so it was great to catch-up and just be able to explore the city together. Since, I´m a hardcore tourist, she had to show me the highlights of Barcelona: Sagrada Familia, lots of other Gaudi buildings, the beach and the Monet museum. All the Gaudi things are insanely overpriced, but you absolutely have to go inside the Sagrada Familia. It is simply breathtaking! All the other things are kinda optional, dependent on your budget. A must is going to the Pintxos street, where there are only pintxos (tapas ) bars.For me Barcelona is a city to “live”, since it has a fantastic location (mountains and beach) and offers lots of great opportunities to have fun; whilst Paris is a city for culture and beauty. It was a coincidence that another friend of mine from Malmö was in Barcelona at the same time, we met in the evening. That was really nice. One day I met up with a friend from my exchange in Korea. She studies in Barcelona so introduced us to some very cool non-touristy places. It was great to see her again and also met her friends.

I went to Barcelona by bus, always via Toulouse. I met another friend in Toulouse, she´s on Erasmus there. It is amazing how many of my friends I managed to see in such a short time. Toulouse is a nice city, lots of cool tiny streets and some interesting spots (Bordeaux is way better though!).

After the awesome vacation it was back to uni.

Bordeaux

Spring has arrived in Bordeaux, making the city even more beautiful! Since it is warmer and doesn´t rain all the time I´ve been outside way more than the last months.

I´ve been to Cafe Darwin several times, it´s a hipster cafe in a former factory. Always a highlight. We have at least one picnic a week. Both the lake and the Jardin Public are great spots to have a picnic. Everyone brings wine and snacks and then we just chill and enjoy ourselves.

The fun faire was also in town for a month. I love roller coasters, so I was super excited. I did two rides with my friends. One was really extreme and very long ( the last few seconds were rather painful), with a great view over the city.

I´ve also visited St. Emillion. It is mostly famous for it´s wine and pittoresque center. It is very very small, so I advise you to go there around lunch time, eat something and then walk around. We went with ESN. We first visited a Chateau and saw how the wine was produced and later on walked around the city. It was a very beautiful warm day. If you´re in the area it´s a nice place to visit.

Since the weather is nice it´s way more fun to go to the markets in Bordeaux. There´re so many different ones, you can go to a market everyday. My favorite is the one along the river, which is mostly a food market (ready to eat). Marche de Quais is amazing. Especially the seafood is rather cheap and of a very good quality. Oyster lovers will be amazed. It is kinda touristy but so nice and lots of locals go there as well.

Over ERASMIX (Erasmus association) I got a really cheap ticket for a concert. It was at 11 in the morning and only for an hour. I liked it a lot since it was short and they played pieces from three different composers. I still haven´t managed to go to the Opera, which I definitively have to go before I leave. Just being in this beautiful building must be amazing.

Easter

Easter this year was very different to what I´m used to. It as the first Easter t hat I wasn´t home to celebrate it with my family. In France Easter isn´t really a big thing, the stores are mostly open like usual and I even had to go to university on Friday (never done that in my life). Most of my friends stayed in Bordeaux over Easter. We had picnics and did a lot together. On Easter Sunday I made an Easter egg hunt with my friends, that was so much fun and they really liked the German chocolate. With great company and fantastic weather, I wasn´t that sad that I didn´t spend my Easter at home.

Wine

I still go to the wine tastings every week (they know my name!). With my french class we went to a wine museum. It was interesting but by now I know where the Merlot and the Carbarnet Savignon grows and all of that. One night we were invited to a museum to celebrate the entry of Spain and Portugal to the EU, we obviously had wine from these two countries. It was nice, free wine and food. We had to dress-up and everyone looked super fancy. At first we were all disappointed since the speakers talked so much and we thought we would have a real dinner (sitting at tables, Buffet etc.). But the wine and finger food were really good so that your mood changed quickly.

Sorry that this post is kinda all over the place. I´ll write some more posts which are focused on specific topics, since I´m nearly at the end of my Exchange. I´ll reflect a bit on the university, the city itself and France in general. Hope you like this post anyway and will keep on reading my stuff.

 

Lena

 

 

 

Winter Break- Part 1

Salut!

I´m currently on winter vacation. YES, we have vacation here :). My first destination was Paris. Uhhhh, yes you read correctly: Paris. Even though I was in Paris just two weeks ago my first stop was once again the French capital. I did not plan to go to Paris so soon again, but my buddy from Korea was in town and I took the opportunity to meet her 🙂

Day 1

This time I took the train on Thursday afternoon. I showed up to my classes, got my luggage from home and headed to the train station. The train ride takes only 3 hours (compared to 8 hours a BIG difference). I found a cheap ticket for 35 Euros over the SNCF webpage, so it´s definitely worth checking it out even if you don´t have the SNCF jeune card. The journey was short and comfortable. I arrived in Paris-Montparnasse in the evening and straight away headed to my hostel. I stayed at the same hostel, which was very convenient as I knew where to go and everything. I booked a dorm for 10 people and got a 4-bed room. Felt like a VIP 🙂

After some miscommunication I met up with  Annie (my buddy and friend from Korea for those that can´t remember) to catch up and have dinner. It was extremely weird to see her in Paris, I can only imagine her in the Korean context. Well, it was fantastic to see her again. Even though she was my buddy (forced thing), we ended up being great friends (voluntarily) and we had a lot to talk about. Annie just spent the last 1.5 (!!) months travelling around Europe. She´s probably seen more than most Europeans 😉 Paris was her last stop before heading back to Seoul.

Great start to the vacation!

Day 2

BLUE SKY AND SUNSHINE!! First time ever to have AMAZING weather in Paris. I met up with Annie at the station to take the RER (long distance metro) to Versailles. It is very convenient to take public transportation to Versailles Castle, since it´s cheap and quick. We went early to escape the masses. The entrance was free for me, Annie unfortunately had to pay since she is not a EU citizen (unfair). We headed to the castle and were stunned by it´s vastness! It´s huge!! When I think of Versailles I always think of the Treaty of Versailles for some reason ( History Higher lever heheh). Inside you get an audio guide in various languages (German for me ; Korean for Annie). The audio guide is great since you can walk at your own speed and look around as much as you want. There were some people in the castle but it wasn´t too crowded. The rooms were very impressive. So much gold and decorations! The king really wanted to have an impressive castle.

The garden is also huge, like everything in Versailles Castle. In summer it obviously is nicer, but in winter it also has it´s flair. We also visited Trianon (Grand and Petit), which are super cute little castles.

After spending 4 hours in Versailles we headed back to Paris. We had lunch close to Notre-Dame (for some reason we ended up in a restaurant with 60% Koreans!!) and walked around. We went to a shop (“Merci”) where apparently all Korean tourists go in order to buy a bracelet. Since I was walking around with a Korean, we obviously had to do exactly the same. I don´t think I´ve never seen so many Koreans in one single store !! Hilarious. Annie told me about the Korean hotspots in Paris and I was able to spot many of them around the city. Koreans are very easy to identify for me, since they all have the same style of clothing and hair cut. I had to smile ever time I saw Koreans (awww, lovely people). Another very popular thing to do in Paris if you are Korea is to go to a certain Pharmacy and shop till you drop. I think that this is a bit to extreme but if it makes people happy. I don´t think that Germans (or Europeans in general), google “souvenirs in Paris” and then buy the things that they have been told to buy. Cultural difference I guess. I would buy macaroons and a magnet or something, but I´m not as stylish as Koreans are.

We had dinner in a brasserie. Croque Monsieur (as french as it gets) and some drinks. I was not fully recovered from my cold, so headed back to the hostel afterwards.

We said farewell. Annie´s flight was on Saturday evening and before she wanted to do some more shopping. I had such a great time with her! Can´t wait to see her in summer.

Day 3 and Day 4

The next two days basically were all about Museums.

I visited 6 museums (3 a day). Since museums are free for people under 26, you should absolutely go to Paris whilst being that age! I cannot stress this enough, it will save you sooooo much money!

I love museums! I Love history! I love art!- Paris is a cultural heaven. Unfortunately the tickets for the Opera were so insanely expensive (surprise, not!) so I couldn´t go. However I really went to some great museums.

Musee D´Orsay: the building itself is super interesting and beautiful. The museums mostly has impressionist art ( all famous people are there).

Musee du Moyen Age: I went there simply cause I was in the area and my tour guide said I should go. It is worth it. Very interesting exhibitions about the middle ages. Better than expected.

Centre Pompidou: This museum has my favorite art: Modern Art (Expressionism and Impressionism). The exhibition had it all, only not Franc Marc (my favorite painter) but I can live with that.

Musee Rodin:  I´m not a big fan of statues but Rodin definitely knows his stuff. The museums is in a beautiful village and had a great garden. So even if your not interested you have something to look at.

Musee d´Armee: Basically the war museum. Naja, the usual arms and weapons. I was bored and walked out after 30 minutes. If your interested in the “art” of warfare it might interest you more. Napoleon´s grave is there too.

Orangerie: Once in a lifetime you have to see Monet´s waterlilies! The huge paintings are amazing. The exhibition room was made just for the paintings. The rest of the collection is also worth a visit but the Monets are unbeatable!

Cemetery Pere-Lachaise: Not a museum but lots of history. All famous people are buried there (if you manage to find their graves). Mysterious atmosphere included.

I also did a Seine Boottour, it was soooo worth it. On Monday morning I took the bus back to Bordeaux.

Some tips about Paris:

  1. Download the metro app: saves a lot of time.
  2.  Buy the day card (Saturday or Sunday) for the metro.
  3. Walking a bit more saves you a lot of money
  4.  Do a Seine Cruise, I did that it was AMAZING. Such a great way to explore the city (and to relax your feet).
  5. Get up early! Tourists are lazy so you better be at the museums/sights when they open in order to have some peace. 9/10 is perfect.
  6. If you want to go to a concert, show etc. you have to book several months in advance.
  7. Randomly walk around Paris and explore: there´s so much to see
  8. Don´t be intimidated by the security checks or queues in front of the museums. Mostly only the security check takes a while.

Now I´m back in Bordeaux before heading to Barcelona. This vacation is all about big cities and reunions 🙂

Lena

 

 

 

 

 

 

Paris

Salut!

After being in France for a month, it was time to visit the French capital. I have been to Paris before, but it was for a Model UN conference and we didn´t have enough time to actually see Paris. When I found out that you can go to Paris by bus for 5 Euros I started to plan a week-end trip with my friends. The three of us took the night bus on Thursday and arrived early in the morning, after a 8 hour bus ride.

Day 1

We arrived at 6 AM after a very long bus ride. Since by now I´m rather used to sitting in buses or airplanes for a very long time, I even managed to sleep a bit. The Megabusses stop at Quai de Seine which is right next to the Metro stop Bercy. We were tired but happy to finally have arrived. We took the metro to our hostel, which was right next to the Sacre-Coeur. We got lucky and could check-in straight away and even have some breakfast (the croissants were amazing!). After some food and a lot of coffee we were ready to start sightseeing. My role during the trip was to be the guide, whilst the other two had to make sure that me took breaks and ate frequently, if you have ever traveled with me you´ll know that I am a hard-core tourist and have to see EVERYTHING. I hope that my friends actually enjoyed themselves,they didn´t complain so I guess it wasn´t too bad.

First stop was the Louvre. We first saw it from the back and where like “what building is this?”, then we realize it is THE Louvre (in our defense: we were tired and the Louvre is famous for it´s front side and not it´s back). We were there a few minutes after it opened. As we all are under 25 we had free entry, which is the case in most museums in France, so you better go while your under 25!! We directly went to see the Mona Lisa, it´s not a very impressive picture (really small) but it has something special. Since we were early we actually could look at the picture in peace (okay, with like 10 Chinese tourists). Sightseeing in winter as its benefits 🙂

After the Mona Lisa we had a look at some more paintings. We saw the highlights and also saw the Egyptian exhibition. Not only does the Louvre have some great pieces of art but simply the building is impressive!

After the Louvre, we walked through the Jardin des Tuiliers to the Place de la Concorde. The weather overall was very cloudy but at least it didn´t rain. Overall, we were rather lucky.

We then took the bus to the Eiffel Tower. The first time I saw it I wasn´t very impressed. Seeing it in daylight and having enough time to walk around made a real difference! I was fascinated! It is really impressive after all and I do not understand why I remembered it as being rather small and disappointing the last time. We didn´t go up as we thought it was expensive and the weather wasn´t great anyway. From the Eiffel Tower we walked towards the Arc de Triomphe. On our way we saw many beautiful building (like nearly everywhere in Paris!) and passed by some great shops. A highlight was the Elli Saab store, I´ve never seen the dresses in real life, AMAZING. Unfortunately slightly above what I usually spend on clothes 😉

For lunch we had burgers from Quick (the French McDonalds). As we where on the Champs-Elysees when we got hungry, we didn´t have many options as everything is insanely overpriced. It was our first time at Quick and it was quite nice.

After we had lunch we went to the Arc de Triomphe. After walking around for several hours we were exhausted at went back to our hostel to rest a bit.

In the evening we walked around Montmartre. We passed by the Moulin Rouge and  the bar from the Amelie movie.We found a nice place to have dinner and some wine. In Montmartre prices are fine and you can actually afford eating or drinking something there. After dinner we walked up to the Sacre-Coeur and enjoyed the beautiful view over the city. It was a perfect end to a great first day

Day 2 

After getting a good night of sleep, we had breakfast and continued our sightseeing tour.

We started with the Notre-Dame. Notre-Dame is architecturally way more impressive than Sacre-Ceour and it is definitely a must see. Afterwards we walked to the Sorbonne University. The building is amazing and it was really great to see the place where the French elite is educated at. The Pantheon is just some streets away, so we visited it as well. Voltaire, Rousseau and the Curies are buried there, so it has a lot of history.

Later on we went to the Jardin du Luxembourg. Afterwards we went to the Marche aux puces de Saint-Quen. The market is huge, and you can find a lot of different things there. The first section sells clothes and shoes, whilst further along the street you can buy antiques. I´m not a great fan of antiques or second-hand stores (I hate the smell in these paces) but it is a big thing in Paris and the atmosphere was great.

For lunch we bought some sandwiches and ate them in a park close to the market.

Later on we visited the Centre Pompidou and walked around in the area. We didn´t actually visit the museum as there was a long queue. It was finally sunny and we enjoyed walking around. We went to the Galeries Lafayette, shopping in my opinion belongs to a Paris trip just like visiting the Louvre. From the roof of the Galeries Lafayette you can get a great view over the city (FREE), so we did that. Afterwards M. went to the Centre Pompidou whilst Z. and I went shopping. We managed to spend around 2 hours in the Galeries Lafayette! I was successful and bought some really nice things ( on sale so don´t worry I´m not broke just quite yet). We really enjoyed it and I was happy that we had decided to separate.

In the evening we had Thai food (very Parisian!) and some wine. The next day we took the bus back to our beautiful Bordeaux.

Overall Paris was amazing. Paris has so much to offer, especially for people that love culture. Even if the weather wasn´t that great, we still had a great time and managed to see A LOT. I would definitely advise you to go off-season as there are way less people and the Parisians seems more relaxed and are way friendlier. 

One remark about safety. Paris, just like any other city attracts lots of people and sadly also criminals. However claims that Paris is particular unsafe is an exaggeration. If you follow a few rules you are fine: NEVER buy things from the sellers at the touristic places, as chances are high that you´ll get robbed. Also: many people walked around asking us to sign things, simply answer “Non” (or any other language) if the ask you if you speak English. It is rather annoying but it is the most efficient way. Also, we were unlucky to be tricked at the metro station by a fake metro staff member (they are extremely sneaky and professional). Only buy tickets (for anything) at the official ticket offices! 

One last remark about the atmosphere in Paris after the attacks. It has been some months and Parisians instantaneously after the attacks tried to live their normal lives again. This is very impressive and takes a lot of courage. Police presence in Paris has  always been high, however since the attacks it is common to see heavily armed soldiers. This might be disturbing at first, however you get used to this quickly. 

I already look forward to visit Paris again in order to explore the city a bit more!

 

How to become a local- My first weeks in Bordeaux

Salut!

I have been in Bordeaux for about three weeks, how time flies! So far I´ve been busy adapting to the French university system, getting to know the city more and socializing. Overall, I am very happy here and from now on will share my love for Bordeaux. After always telling how great Korea is; I´ll no concentrate on advertising the beauty of my new home.

University

I have lectures everyday expect Fridays (for strategic reasons). The schedule is the same for every week, makes it easier to plan and know where you have to go, but also makes it very repetitive. I have to take many courses as for most of them you only get 4 credits. You show up to lectures, listen and leave again. Professors hardly interact with students (maybe because some classes are simply too big), course literature is no existing (SAY WHATTT??) and there is just a final exam. Overall not too bad I guess. However I must admit that Erasmus students get extra treatment, we are less busy than the French students that have an exam every Saturday. I question the purpose of this, I mean who even wants to supervise on a Saturday?! Well, as far as I have observed ( social scientist after all) the French student is a interesting phenomena. They copy down everything (WORD BY WORD) what the professors says, as if everything he or she says is relevant. Interestingly, the think its perfectly acceptable to talk (talk not whisper!) during lectures and have no shame doing this right in front of the professor. I don´t want to sound like a nerd, BUT IF YOU MAKE AN EFFORT TO SHOW UP TO CLASS JUST SHUT UP AND PAY ATTENTION (sorry for my language, but there are no other words to describe how I feel about this). I am not the only one who things that way. Us exchange students were shocked to see the lack of discipline and respect of our fellow class mates. Also it seems that the sole purpose of studying is to be able to work for the government. After finishing their degree students have to pass a certain exam and then spend their life working as administrators. Aha, how interesting (get the irony here). If they all study to work for the government I´d rather take administration courses to prepare me for my future career, but well everybody can do as they please.

FYI: SciencePo Bordeaux, belongs to the SciencePo Paris (yeah that one), is ranked high in France, but due to my dear friend L. ( who studies at the REAL SciencePo) I know the difference. I´ll not enter the debate about the SciencePo label and what it means and who´s the best. But just be aware that many universities in France are called “Science Po” and that doesn´t mean it´s as prestigious as the one in Paris.

Bordeaux 1,2,3 or WHAT

The building isn´t particularly beautiful, but certainly will look nice when it´s completely renovated. My university is part of the University of Bordeaux. I still don´t quite understand why they though of such a great system to have several different universities (and calling them like numbers) and then just label it University of Bordeaux. Overall, there are several universities (faculties more or less) that are one the same campus and have the umbrella name of University of Bordeaux. However, Science Po doesn´t do anything with the other universities. You see french bureaucracy and organization is very easy, rational and makes perfectly sense!

Campus Life

On campus there isn´t that much. We have a swimming pool (which is great for me cause I love swimming), sport fields, cafeterias and student housing. Sports is big in France. French students have to take one sport class in order to get their credits. We Erasmus students are free to join classes. I have not done so, as I am very happy with doing my lanes in the 50 meter pool. Some of my friends tried some sports, but have very mixed feelings about it. I think it´s a good thing to offer lots of activities, just sitting in the library or classroom can´t be healthy. That´s basically it. There are some places where you can buy fast food too but not that much. I´ve tried two cafeterias so far (one being right next my dorm) and I think the food is quite decent. You can get a menu for 3.25 Euro. Being in France you always have to eat an entree, main dish and dessert. The best thing about the menu is that you get BREAD. There are three dishes you can chose from and it varies a lot. Nevertheless, you can eat fries every day if you want (Awww France. aren´t you great).

The dorms are rather peaceful. We don´t have a common area of a party room. On my floor there are no tables or chairs in the kitchen. If we would have some I´m pretty sure that people would hang out there more. This week was the first time that I was in the kitchen. It´s not the great but better than nothing. With some friends we cooked onion soup. Okay to be honest, one friend cooked the soup and the rest ate 😉 I like cooking with other people, as it isn´t that boring then. I´m gonna get some things from a girl that will move out soon, so maybe I can cook more frequently. On the weekends at least.

Going Out

When we go out we mostly hang out in bars. I nearly entered a club, but then they told us it was 10 Euros and we walked out again 😉 Not only was the club expensive but also did they check everybody. I am not used to this (my Colombian friends told me that this is completely normal for them). The more security I see; the more unsafe I feel. There are some really nice bars in Bordeaux. Where students and non-students go, it´s a nice mix. I´m looking forward to spring when you can sitt outside and drink wine in front of the Place de la Bourse (the most photographed place in Bordeaux).

I must admit that I chose Bordeaux since the location is so great. You can take a bus to Paris for 5 Euros (7 hours), 45 minutes to the Atlantic Ocean and Spain is also very close. We have winter holidays at the end of February and we are all planning what to do then.

Trips

The Aquitaine region is very interesting and beautiful. So far I´ve been to Lacanau Ocean and Arcachon.

Lacanau is a tiny beach town, where I simply went to see the Atlantic Ocean. You can take a bus for Bordeaux (4.5 Euro both ways!) and spend a day there. Many people were surfing. I just walked around and enjoyed a day at the beach. Beaches in France are simply amazing, since there are no huge hotels and it´s never crowded (you´ll always find a free spot somewhere).

Arcachon is a beach residence, like Biarritz just for average people. I was there last weekend with my friends. The weather was amazing, sunshine and 16 Degrees. Arcachon is not directly at the Ocean but next to a river. It´s very pretty and has some interesting houses (we couldn´t decide if it´s pretty or simply tasteless). We had lunch outside, Moules Frites (mussels and fries, my favorite French dish) and walked around. Unfortunately the bus to the largest Dune in Europe didn´t run on Sundays so we couldn´t go. That was unfortunate but overall it was a perfect day.

Once again I apologize for writing so much. I´ll force myself to structure things more so that the posts are shorter. Thanks for keeping on reading!

P.S.All my pictures are too big, so I can´t upload them. I am sorry about this, but I do not know how to make them fit. 

Lena

 

 

 

 

Bye Seoul, Salut Bordeaux!

Salut!

I haven´t quite processed my semester in Seoul yet and here I am in Bordeaux. Yes, you have read it correctly I´m on another exchange in the beautiful Bordeaux. So a new adventure awaits me here.

I loved Seoul! I still constantly talk about it and definitely will go back. To live in Korea was challenging but mostly very rewarding. I have never lived anywhere where every day is exciting and offers something new. I didn´t change that much, since I´m used to not live in my home country. However, I´ve become a tiny bit Korean. I always to the Asian pose on pictures (my friends make fun of me), sometimes I greet people the Korean way (waving with both hands), I wear more make-up (girls will understand, people just look so flawless in Korea), I can eat super spicy food and most dominantly: I´ve become more patient. People that know me know that patience is not my thing. However, Korea surprisingly taught me to be more patient (Korea or am I just getting old ??). If you live in a city has is always busy and you are surrounded by hyperactive people, the best strategy is to remain calm. Unfortunately, I did not get very far with my Korean, but well. Let´s face it, Korean is DIFFICULT. I got by anyway.

Korea will always have a special place in my heart. I met so many great people, traveled and learned a lot about the country. I would advise anyone to apply for an exchange semester in Korea, whatever university you chose (GO TIGERS, sorry for the bias).it will be a fantastic experience. I was lucky to have people that supported me and guided me through out my semester. I would like to express my gratitude at this point! Without my buddy and the student at Korea University, my experience would not have been as great. I am also grateful that some members of my family visited me. It makes it easier to talk about my experiences if the person your talking to has actually been in Korea.

I could spend ages talking about how great Korea is, but I won´t do so. My blog entries hopefully showed you that I had a really really good time.

But now to the next adventure: FRANCE

I am extremely grateful that Malmö University gives its students the opportunity to have two elective semesters. I decided to do two exchange semesters in two different countries. Everybody should decide according to their preferences. I wanted to go to France, since I have visited it several times and know the language (at least I thought so before that entry exam, but that´s another story). I decided to go to Bordeaux, as I have never been there, the university offered great courses (IN ENGLISH, I´m not suicidal after all) and let´s face it: the location and the wine are very convincing for themselves. I got tips from a dear friend of mine, who studies at SciencePo for one year, always good to know someone.

Getting to Bordeaux from Leipzig (where my parents live) was a bit complicated. So I decided to stop by my grandparents in the South of Germany and fly from Strasbourg. Like this I saw my family and did not have to transfer in Paris. I arrived the day before the introduction day. Most people arrived around the same time.

Housing

I live on campus. The university campus is HUGE, it´s in a town called Pessac which is very close to Bordeaux (tram takes like 20 minutes to the center). My room is very spacious compared to the one in Seoul. The kitchen is shared. People are very nice on my floor and I live super close to university. Student housing is cheap and I was surprised that my room actually is nice. Many people live in Bordeaux as it is way more exciting that living on campus and you can walk home after a night out. I wanted to save money and live with many other students, as I had good experiences with student housing in Korea. Also, there´s a night bus, so no problem at all to get back home.

Uni

SciencePo offers courses in French and English. I decided to take English courses, as I have never attended any courses in French and it´s been a while since I actually spoke french. Most dominantly, the courses in English were more interesting. Nevertheless, I take French classes and one lecture in French. My ultimate goal is to improve my French.

There are not only ERASMUS students but also people from Colombia, Singapore and the U.S (to mention a few). We are a relatively small group of around 40 people or so. Compared to Korea there is no guidance for exchange students. We organized ourselves, created a Facebook group chat and always share any information. There is a student society, which organizes events, but that  only started last week.

I have not managed to identify the French university system yet, but well. I (and everybody else) struggles with the French bureaucracy, you may have heard bad things about it, frankly speaking it´s WORSE. However, when I walk along Bordeaux (GOOGLE IT, if you don´t know what I´m talking about) or simply buy a baguette, I forget all of the trouble. I try to take it as the french, things will sort themselves out eventually. You just have to be patient and persistent.

 

Ohlala, that was a lot again. Sorry for that. Hopefully you´ll keep reading my blog, even though France may not be as exciting as Korea. I aim to make the best of my exchange!

 

Lena

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Facing the Enemy”- A Trip to the DMZ and JSA

Annyeonghaseyo!

Today, a friend of mine and I went went to the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) and the Joint Security Area (JSA). The DMZ is  240km long buffer zone separating North and South Korea. As the two Koreas are technically still at war, this area was created during the armistice agreement. The area is very surreal and full of contracts.

We booked to tour over Koridoor Tour which runs the USO (US army´s social and entertainment organisation), as it was recommended my by travel guide. 

JSA

We get a quick briefing by a soldier when arriving in Camp Bonifas. Our passports were checked several times and we had to follow the instructions of the soldier. Our soldier guide was funny and showed a rather unbiased perception on the situation, which I was very happy about as I had expected an extremely biased US view on the matter. We changed into a designated bus to enter the JSA. The JSA is where the North and South have meeting and discuss important issues (there are A LOT of issues). We were able to see the North Korean buildings and soldiers. The JSA is the only place which you can `enter´ North Korea safely, you literally just walk across the conference room. One side of the table marking the South Korea and the other the North. We were only allowed to take pictures of the North Korean buildings and were prohibited from waiving or staring at the North Korea soldiers. In the conference room there was both an South and North-Korean soldier. Both standing in a very tense Taekwondo position. We were allowed to take selfies with the soldiers, I did not do so, as I thought it was rather inappropriate. The South-Korean soldiers have specific training and are chosen according to their looks. Sadly, the soldier we saw was not that handsome. We were told that the North Korean soldier stood there for 7-8 hours without moving; whilst the South Korean soldier could start to move as soon as the tourists had left.

We saw the two villages of the DMZ, Daesong-dong in the south and Gijeong-dong in the north. I do not understand why you would want to live in the DMZ, however we were told that the South Korean farmers get a lot of benefits from the government. Still, the number paid does compensate for the restrictions and the danger of living in a war zone. The DMZ ironically is the most militarized area in the world and there are land mines every where! No thanks!

We then drove to Dorasan station, which was build by South Korea in order to connect the South and the North. As relations have become more hostile since, the train station is abandoned and not in use. The hope for unification was constantly repeated ( I admit I think it is unlikely and many scholars agree) and the train is a symbol of this.

We had lunch and then went to the Dora Observatory

Dora Observatory

From the Dora Observatory we had a perfect view over North Korea. We saw Gijeong-dong (where no one actually lives, only for propaganda purposes) and the gigantic North-Korean flag. North-Korea made sure to build a taller flag pole than South-Korea (just to point that out). We also saw Kaesong Industry Complex, which is were North Koreans work for South Koreans. North Koreans are exploited, as they ear very little, but way more than in North Korea, so the jobs are very popular among the locals.

Third Infiltration Tunnel

The Third Infiltration Tunnel was built by North Koreans and discovered in 1974. It is 265 meters long and 73 meters deep. It is extremely narrow, and I pumped my head a lot (had my helmet though). The tunnel is, well its a tunnel.However it is interesting to see how much manpower the North Koreans put in building it and  tiny the soldiers must have been (around 1,60 m tops). The implications are evident; malnutrition and lack of technology.

Visiting the DMZ is something everybody coming to Korea should do. It makes you realize how close the “enemy” is to Seoul. It also makes you realize how fragile peach can be, there are many incidences reported in Korean media about North-Korean aggression, seeing the DMZ makes you more aware of this. I personally wanted to go to the DMZ in order to be able to imagine a divided Germany. Even though Germany and Korea are different cases, both countries were/are divided. I cannot imagine how a divided Germany was, even if I know a lot about it. I hoped to understand the concept of a divided country more. Well, going to the DMZ did not help. The DMZ feels unreal. The atmosphere is peaceful and tense at the same time. The presence of the military is intimidating, whilst the beauty of nature is stunning. Close to the DMZ there is a theme park, there are festivals celebrated close to the DMZ, people live in the DMZ. All very confusing situations when you regard that the conflict between the North and South has not be solved.

As a German and a strong believer in democracy, I wish for unification of the two Koreas. (fun fact: Travelling would be some much easier!). However, the chances for unification become smaller and smaller. Korea has been divided for 70 years, hardly any South Koreans has relatives left in the North and the economic costs are high. 

May peace prevail!

Note: I apologize for not adding any pictures, the blog was a problem with the format and I´m not that great with computers.

Last weeks in Seoul

Annyeonghaseyo!

I´ve been rather busy the last couple of weeks. Time is passing by super quickly. I´ll only be in Korea for 10 (!!) more days.Can´t believe it. As the semester is coming to an end, I´ve got lots of group presentations and finals. Nevertheless, I´m still doing lots of fun things in order to use the remaining time effectively.

Japan

I visited Japan in two weeks ago. It was a fantastic trip. I decided to visit Osaka, Nara and Kyoto, as I´m interested in the traditional Japan and had to make a decision between eiter going to Tokyo or Kyoto. Flying to Japan is relatively cheap and very close. It takes 1.5 hours to fly to Osaka.

Osaka is a modern city which is famous for it´s great food. Not only is the food great, but so is the city itself. Here one can experience the “real” Japan and witness what Japanese people are up to in their everyday life. Osaka is a mix of modernity and tradition, like most of Japan. Osaka castle is the main attraction, and really forth a visit.

Next stop was Nara, which is very close to Osaka. Nara is known for having the largest Buddha statue and for it´s semi-wild deer that walk around the city center. Beautiful temples everywhere, Nara is basically a museum! Is stayed at a traditional Japanese house, thankfully I did not have to sleep on the floor. Neither sleeping nor sitting on the floor is very comfortable in my opinion.

Last but certainly not least on my trip was Kyoto. Kyoto is amazing. If you haven´t been there you have not seen Japan. There is such much (not exaggerating here) to see. Getting around with the buses is very convenient and I was able to see the most important sights in a rather short time. Even just walking around Kyoto is interesting as you will always come across a temple of palace of some sort! Kyoto is super crowded with tourists. When I was in Japan autumn was at its peak and the leaves looks so beautiful, therefore everybody was there! Even if the tourists sometimes were annoying (yes, I was one myself), one can escape the masses by getting up early and then being able to experience the true spirit of Kyoto.

Overall, the trip was amazing. I was there for 4 nights and was able to see the most important things. I traveled alone, which was no problem at all. Japanese are super polite and helpful. They will help you even if they don´t speak English, perfect when you cannot read anything on the signs. Travelling in Japan is easier than in Korea, as Japan has been exposed to tourists for a very long time and especially Kyoto is super tourist friendly. Since Korea now is my “normal” everyday-life, Japan did not seem that exotic. One thing that I noticed is that Japanese people are way more polite, love western things and are extremely fashionable. The amount of history and tradition is also very impressive. I definitely want to go back to Japan and visit Tokyo and see Mount Fuji. About money, Japan ist not that expensive as expected. Everything a tourist needs is affordable, so students can travel to Japan without any problems.

Even if Japan is beautiful, please combine your trip with a visit to Korea. We may not have so many palaces and temples here as in Japan (THEY DESTROYED OURS REMEMBER), but I think that Korea is very authentic and more exotic. It simply is very close to my heart.

Temple stay

After seeing so many temples in Japan and starting to run short of time, a friend and I decided to do a temple stay. In Korea it is possible to stay at a temple and experience the life of the monks there. Foreigners (non-Buddhists) do it for the cultural experience and Koreans in order to connect more to their religion and to solve their problems.

The temple was small and in the mountain (fantastic view!). Our guide spoke English and showed us around. There were only two guys and the rest women. The women were divided into two groups; one from for the adults and one room for the students. There were other exchange students at the temple stay as well.

We got told about Buddhism, very informative and without forcing us to convert. Then we had to do 108 prostrations, which was rather tiring and felt more like sport than meditating or praying. We had dinner at 5, really early but made sense when we were told that we had to get um at 4:30 in the morning (reminded me of the time that I was volunteering in hospital). After the prostrations, we had some free time. Later we met for the evening prayer, where everybody had to ring the bell and we did some meditation. Meditation is something that I have never been able to do, instead of thinking of “nothing”, I think about how my legs hurt from sitting in this uncomfortable position or how boring it is to just sit there with your eyes closed. Afterwards we made some bracelets and went to bed early.

Getting up at 4:30 was a slight pain, but doable. We did the morning prayer, it was rather difficult not to fall asleep for some people. Then to our surprise we would go an have some “rest”, we all slept until breakfast. For breakfast we had rice, which I can actually eat without complaint after being in Korea for about 4 months. The monk showed us how to eat and how to clean our bowls. This was rather complicated, as there is a specific ceremony. We had to clean our bowls with water and then drink the water, at first disgusting but Buddhism teaches us that we just think that it is disgusting but actually it is´t (aha).

We then had to clean our room and went for a short hike. The view was really nice and we meditated whilst looking over Seoul. t was quite cold so we didn´t stay to long. After walking back to the temple we had a traditional tea ceremony. We were allowed to ask the monk anything. He was really nice and answered all our questions. I was surprised that monks may have a family and that Buddhism is not against technology (THERE WAS A BEAMER IN THE TEMPLE).

Overall, the temple stay was a very good experience and made me understand Korean culture more. I did not find enlightenment or so, but I felt quite relaxed after the temple stay. If you are interested in Korean culture a temple stay is really good, as you gain insights about Korean Buddhism.

Today, I had my last lecture, Which feels very weird, but at the same time really good, as I can´t wait for university to be over with. At the end of the semester there is always so much to do, that you simply just want a break. Even if I am happy that I just have to write 3 more exams (I have 5 in total by the way) and I look forward to seeing my friends and family back home, I am very sad to leave Korea, as I´ve met great people and experiences so memorable things here.Before going back to Germany, I´ll go to the DMZ (border between Korean and North Korea), visit the opera and ballet and see all my favorite places in Seoul one last time. 

10 more days to go…

Have a great Advent season, as Christmas is basically non-existent in Korea!

Jeju Calling

Annyeonghaseyo!

I´ve haven´t been blogging for a while. I was busy revising for the midterms. Autumn has arrived in Seoul and it is beautiful. There´s a lot going on in Seoul in this season. Last weekend a group of friends and I visited Jeju island. I´ll tell you all about this amazing trip.

Jeju is a Korean island, around 1 hour by flight from Seoul. It is rather small and very popular amongst Koreans,Japanese and Chinese tourists. In summer the beaches are crowded with tourists. We went off season, so we basically had the island for ourselves.

We arrived in the evening and took the bus to our guesthouse in Seogwipo.

Day 1

On our first day we hiked up Korea´s highest mountain, Hallasan (1950 m). Weather was great, not too hot or cold. We had to hurry up as we had to reach the base by 12:30. We walked really fast and arrived one hour before the deadline. Hiking was fun and relaxing, as not as many people were there. It was less exhausting as Bukhasan, as less steep. To get to the peak it is around 9 km. It was cloudy when we were at the the top, but the atmosphere was great. We were above the clouds. When we walked down it was foggy, it was rather spooky: perfect for Halloween ;). We were tired after all that walking. In the evening we went to a sushi buffet, super yummy and visited the market.

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Day 2

Next day: more walkin. The weather was amazing: sunny and warm. We walked along the Olle trail. The trail took us along the coast and to some waterfalls. It was really nice and easy to walk. The view was very impressive. We had a jeju specialty for lunch: Jeju black pork barbeque. It was very good and gave us strength to keep on walking along the 13km trail. Jeju is all about the nature, so walking/hiking is a perfect way to see the natural beauty of the island. In the evening we went to the market. The market offered cheap and tasty fruits and other food. Jeju is famous for its Tandarines, you can see them grow everywhere.

In the evening we went to see the Korean punk band Crazy Nuts at the Jeju Music Festival. We found out about it just a few hours before the concert. It was very interesting and free, even if punk music is not my favorite.

Day 3

We got up really early! We took a taxi to Sunrise Peak in order to watch the sunrise (as the name implies). Unfortunately it was cloudy so the sunrise was not that visible. The atmosphere was great anyway. As we had started our day so early, we had a lot of time. We took the ferry to Udo, a tiny island 3.5km away from Seongsan-ri. We rented bikes and bilked around the whole island. The bike way is 15.9 km long and very nice. I´d advice everyone to either tour the island by bike or borrow a scouter, way quicker and more fun than walking. Udo is very beautiful, has amazing beaches and cool lava cliffs. In summer it is super crowded, when we were there there was hardly anybody. We had lunch and then drove back to our hostel, as it started ti rain and we were really exhausted.

We took a nap and then went for some dinner. We had a really nice last dinner in Jeju.

Overall, Jeju was amazing. It is very different compared to mainland Korea. Jeju has palmtrees. Jeju is interesting for people that enjoy nature and being active. You can also only go for a beach holiday, but Hallasan is something you should absolutely NOT miss. I don´t think that I´ve been this sporty on a trip, It was a great experience and the group was simply amazing. I had such a good time. Jeju is an absolute highlight!

 

Chuseok

Annyeon!

In this post I will talk about Chuseok and what I´ve been up to the last week.

Chuseok, is Korean Thanksgiving (full harvest moon). It is one the most important holidays.Chuseok Day was celebrated on the Sunday 27th of September. Monday and Tuesday were off. So basically a 4 day weekend 😉 Traditionally, people go back to their home towns or visit their grandparents. You eat sweet/differently coloured rice cake (songpyeon). It is a time to spend with your family and to worship your ancestors. Most of my Korean friends, relaxed and ate a lot (sounds like Christmas and Easter to me).

Even though many things are closed on Chuseok, it is a great opportunity to travel. Many places offer special performances or activities for tourists. Chuseok is the only day that Seoul is not crowden. SAs everybody was going home, travelling somewhere by train was not very attractive. I stayed in Seoul, as there is a lot to do here!

We visited Jongmyo Shrine in the morning, hardly anybody was there. Then we went to the Namsangol Hanok Village close to Namsan Park. There were many activities offered just for Chuseok. We watched a Taekwondo performance, it was amazing. As we are in Korea, they even “danced”, did Taekwondo to music 😉 The Traditional villages are always interesting, as there is a lot to see and my can try out some things. We even had our personal tour guide, who showed us around. Afterwards we walked up to Seoul Tower. Namsan Park is a huge and beautiful park in Seoul. I´m always surprised how green Seoul is. Seoul Tower is popular amongst both tourists and locals. Everybody was there. Couples buy locks and hang them at the fence. The view is spectacular. We didn´t go up the tower, as it is rather expensive and many people said that it is not really worth it. You see enough from the mountain itself. We watched the sunset over Seoul. That evening I went clubbing at Itaewon. Koreans don´t really dance. It takes a lot of animation to make them move (girls and boys). Nearly only foreigners go to Itaewon. We took a taxi back, as Seoul does not have night buses.

Next day I visited Deoksu Palace, one of the palaces right in the center of Seoul. It was free admission and there was a free traditional Korean music performance. A mix of jazz and in my opinion, strangely sounding singing. The atmosphere was great!

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Monday, was still a holiday and people started to come back to Seoul. I did some shopping in Gangnam and went to the Hanok village in Seoul. We had REAL italian pizza. I was very happy. Korean pizza is extremely sweet and always contains corn (for whatever reason). The restaurant was very authentic, but as we are still in Korea we got a side dish (pickles).

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On Tuesday we were super active. We hiked up to Bukhansan mountain (836 meters). The weather was amazing and everybody was there. I´ve never hiked with so many people! Hiking is a national sport in Korea. There are extremly many outdoor stores. Especially people over 60 wear outdoor clothes and go hiking every weekend. You always see hikers in the subway! The mountain is inside a national park, very close to Seoul. We took the subway to get there. There are various paths you can walk, but we wanted to hike up to the peak. On our way we saw two temples and the scenery was beautiful. It started getting very steep rather quickly. To the peak it is only 3.6 km or something, but that means UP UP UP. The path was a combination of steps, steps made of rock and literaly “climbing” up the mountain. I´ve done some hiking before, but never was it soooo steep for such a long time. Appropriate shoes and lots of water is a must! The last bit to the peak was super scar. There was only a rope that you could hold on to. This alone was scary, but having lots of people around you made it worse. People were pushing and trying to get up first. When we were finally at the peak, the AMAZING view made us forget the tedious walk up. We had lunch there. In Germany, (Austria and Switzerland too), there´s a place to eat and drink on every hiking route. This is nonexistent in Korea. You bring everything yourself. Many koreans drank rice wine. We didn´t as we were a bit terrified of having to walk back down again.

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Hiking was a very good experience. I plan to do this again. Bukhasan National park has a lot to offer.

Wednesday,I had a free day too. I visited the Hangaram Art Museum, as I did not intend to do lots of walking (if any in fact). I went to the Modigliani and the Chia exhibition. Both were great.

Thursday: I had uni.

Chuseok was really nice, even though I did not leave Seoul, I saw a lot of new places and enjoyed myself a lot. Living is such a huge and vibrant city really is amazing. Deciding what you´re going to do is quite tricky.

Weather, autumn has arrived in Korea. This means that evenings are chilly and it is not as hot during the day. Average temperature so far was 22 Degrees, so still warm compared to Sweden. The leaves are slowly changing their color. 

That was my Chuseok summary. Have a great week!