Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Visiting Copenhagen and London!

I think that this is a great time to stress that stepping out of my comfort zone and seizing the opportunity to study in England was an excellent decision. I can already tell that this is going to be a trip of a lifetime. As I've only been in Europe for about two weeks, I've already been exposed to so much culture.  
I went to Copenhagen, Denmark last weekend to visit a friend that is studying abroad there and it was an amazing experience. London was my connecting destination between Newcastle, England and Copenhagen, Denmark. I took the opportunity to explore London for the day. I can honestly say that if I wasn't by myself, I wouldn't have met so many cool people. I learned so much about London, traveling, and navigating. I just had a wonderful time talking to other people about their experiences and listening to their advice. Also, it is so easy to travel in Europe!
In front of Westminster Abbey. I went on a tour inside, and it was amazing! Such history in this building.

Standing in front of Big Ben, and you can also see the London Eye. The buildings in this area are so beautiful.

Walking across the London Bridge was surreal. The views were magnificent.
Denmark was pretty cold, but not much worse than Potsdam weather. The cold weather in Potsdam has prepared me for the worst. The buildings were so beautiful, and much different than buildings in England. Denmark looked like a "toy city". The buildings were very colorful and all right next to each other; one after another. The people were very friendly and although I can't speak a lick of Danish, most of them spoke fluent English. The cost of living there is expensive, so even a cup of coffee cost me around $7. I really liked that people biked and walked to get everywhere. There was specific bike lanes on all of the roads! What a beautiful place to be.
Beautiful walkway of trees in Copenhagen. I was on my way to the Statens Museum for Kunst.

View of some typical Copenhagen buildings, all next to each other.

I love this street, it had such colorful houses. It almost didn't look real.

I had a lot of fun this weekend traveling to Copenhagen and visiting London. I look forward to more trips in the future. I am enjoying myself in Newcastle in the meantime. I am really enjoying my stay so far.

My roommates and I have a lot of fun together.
As the British say, Cheers!

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Snow & Cold: A Bonding Experience

Hej Hej! (the general Swedish greeting, pronounced "hey hey.")

So here I am after the first full week in Sweden of what I consider a great way to start five months in Scandinavia. In my last post I talked about having a hard time getting accustomed to the culture, and I still am, but because of my experiences this week my attitude has completely changed. Why the complete turnaround in attitude?

Well, the beginning of the week cued the onset of classes, something I've been looking forward to. My one engineering class for this quarter is going to be very interesting; Aircraft Engine Systems. The only other class for the quarter, then, in Swedish for Beginners (or Swedish I). I'm not going to lie, I was a little nervous about the class. I hadn't started learning another language since taking Spanish in high school, over six years ago, and so I thought it may be a challenge compared to my usual curriculum of engineering and math classes. Ten minutes into the lecture and those feelings were sapped away. The instructor made the class very inclusive with both her and the other students. Unlike Spanish in high school, this language class was, dare I say, fun and enjoyable. But the best facet of this class is the fact that everyone in the class is an exchange student. It's culturally intriguing when the instructor asks the class to repeat phrases to practice diction. Everyone, including myself, is attempting to speak Swedish, and since there is such a difference in culture found throughout the class, you hear dialects upon dialects, some French here, a little Spanish there, perhaps some Korean, and the list goes on. It's truly cultural nirvana.

Perhaps now you're wondering why I chose the title of this entry. It's because of everyone I've met in these past seven days and the events that proved to be the catalysts for these social epiphanies, with most of the activities outside. As I write this, there were so many events that I have to jog my memory from the schedule that is buried in all my paperwork. Bare with me for a moment...

Ok, here we are. So, on Tuesday we had the information session that kick started the orientation events. There we played name games and such to break the ice within our respective groups we were broken into. In my group I came to realize that I was the most western exchange student (geographically speaking), although there was one girl from Montreal (not too far from Clarkson, eh).

In my engineering class I met Thomas from Germany. We hit it off immediately because of our common thread of both being exchange students in such a predominantly Swedish class. I'm beyond thankful for meeting him since he was a segway to meeting several other students from Germany. One of them being Julian, whom I met when I went to the exchange students' hockey practice at the town arena. Julian and I hit it off immediately, and for the rest of the week we have perused the sporting goods store for hockey equipment, attended orientation events together, and have just hung out getting to know each other and our cultures. Jack from Singapore (home country of China) was also at hockey practice that Tuesday night. He has been a huge help and support since I met him early on upon arrical. The hockey practice, although I did not practice since I hadn't purchased equipment in time, was a great experience meeting everyone. I feel bad since I have such a hard time remembering everyone's names but I learned one thing while I was watching everyone practice and play; whether you're playing at Clarkson or Luleå, there is a common hockey culture wherever you travel to. In that regard, for the first time while being here, there wasn't an ounce of culture shock or homesickness. It was a huge relief and eye opener to the potential of what I will experience in Sweden, and who I'll experience it with.

On Wednesday I attended a campus tour, in which I now fully understand this campus is completely different than Clarkson's. Afterwards, I accompanied the rest of the exchange students to fika. This is where I met some friends from Mexico, including Ulises, whom I connected with before arriving in Luleå via Facebook. It was a pleasant coincidence to randomly sit beside him and connect in person rather than through social media.

Thursday I was on my butt a lot, literally. The orientation team, LURC (Luleå University Reception Committee), and the Phösare (Swedish welcoming party/helpers) gathered the exchange students on the local ski training hill for snow sliding. We used saucers (the plastic disks one usually purchases for sledding) to go steaming down the hill on our backsides. It was a blast! Unfortunately I forgot to take my GoPro camera, so no pictures or videos (sorry). Afterwards we were provided a BBQ and hot beverages (the latter being a necessity).

Friday was a fantastic time in the city. LURC took us through the town and down onto the harbor ice (as I mentioned in my previous post, picture below). We ended the tour at City Hall where we met the mayor, Karl Petersen.  We went to the roof of the building to look out over the city, which is the tallest point in Luleå. I didn't take my camera that day because I didn't want it to get too cold while being outside for a couple hours in near zero (Fahrenheit) temperatures. However, I did manage a few shots with my phone's camera (I apologize in advance for the quality).

Saturday was the capstone to the orientation week with the Welcome dinner. There I met several more people from France, Finland, and finally a student (doctorate) from Ohio! The dinner was fantastic, although the portions were small and didn't seem enough to fill my American appetite. Nonetheless, the food, every course, was exceptionally delicious. The first course was toast skagen, followed by elk roast and potato gratin (yes, you read that right, elk), and finally a scrumptious blueberry pie with custard. The elk was not what I expected but I absolutely loved it! That's something I never thought I would say. If you're wondering, it was a very mild meat, tender, and wasn't gamey at all.

These weren't the only things I did this past week, but these were the highlights and this post is more than long enough. Besides, I know why you're all here... for the pictures. Enjoy!

Ice road prepared on the harbor. Everyone pictured here is an exchange student.

The city center (centrum).

Panorama of the entire city.

And last, but not least, you're truly atop City Hall.

If you have any questions, like what you see, or have any suggestions for Swedish adventures, don't hesitate to leave a comment. I love hearing from back home. Thanks for reading!

- Jonathan

Saturday, January 26, 2013

The Kiwi Experience

Kia ora from New Zealand!

I am on day 4 of the Kiwi Experience, which is a bus tour around the country. I don’t start school until March 4th, so for the next month I will be travelling all over New Zealand doing crazy activities and staying in hostels every night.

So far we have done Cathedral Cove, Hot Water Beach, hiked through old mining caves, black water rafting, luge, and today I went skydiving!

I seriously cant believe that I just jumped out of a plane 12,000 feet in the air, I am so scared of heights. It was awesome though!

I have done so much in the past four days, it would take me pages to write everything so I will just show you some pictures instead :)


 We went to Hot Water Beach at midnight because that's when the low tide was the night we were there. We went there and dug holes in the sand and there was boiling hot water in certain spots and we made little pools like mini hot tubs on the beach.
 It was a 40 minute walk down to Cathedral Cove beach but it was definitely worth it!
 This is also at Cathedral Cove before we walked down to the beach.
 These geysers were in Rotorua and they made the whole town smell like sulfur.
 This is me with some of the people on the bus before we went black water rafting at Waitomo. We all got wetsuits and tubes and went into these huge underground caves and played in the freezing water and checked out the glow worms on the ceiling.
This is right before I went skydiving today! I jumped out of that tiny pink plane in the background 12000 feet in the air.
 Barefoot skydiving is the way to go!
This is where we did luging, we took chairlifts up to the top of a mountain and raced eachother down. I lost every time..]

Monday, January 21, 2013

New Zealand bound tomorrow!

Tomorrow, my best friend at Clarkson turns 21 AND I am going to New Zealand!! What a great day. I have been in Hawaii for the past 3 weeks and I can't imagine it getting any better than this.
Once I get to NZ, I am going on a bus tour of 20 different cities called the Kiwi Experience so I will have a lot to write about!
Here are some photos of my Hawaii trip. See you in New Zealand :)

Sunday, January 20, 2013

My First Few Days: In Pictures

So it's been a slow start getting accustomed to everything. The culture, yes, is different, but it is a Western society nonetheless. There are several parallels between the US and Sweden. In the end, the small differences add up to influence the symptoms of culture shock. One thing that also amazes me is that the shock is not only initialized by what's different, but what's the same. Let me explain. While shopping at the supermarket (and, by the way, so far, shopping for food is more of a scavenger hunt game for me, especially when trying to find less common items) some products catch my eye. For example, I never would expect to see Uncle Ben's rice on the shelf. Or Hellman products for that matter. While we're on the topic of food and the like, I wanted to mention my observation of the bottle of ginger ale I purchased. For clarification here in Sweden, the bottle is labeled as "American Ginger Ale." I never realized that ginger ale was an American product or came in an "American-style" variety.

Anyway, the true purpose of this post is to provide some pictures of the town and my walk to/from campus. One thing to keep in mind: these pictures seem to be dark even though they were taken at mid-afternoon. Currently the daylight hours span about five hours, with sunrise around nine and sunset at about two-thirty. Each day, this area is gaining about six additional minutes of daylight per day. Eventually, come May, it will be a twenty-four hour day.

So here are a few pictures, all captioned of course. Enjoy! -Jonathan

Luleå's main shopping district.

The harbor surrounding the town. "Roads" are currently being prepared around the town on the ice 
for cyclists, ice skaters, and pedestrians. There is an island just away from the town. 
During this season, the inhabitants of the island will drive their
vehicles across the ice into town.

The trail leading back from campus to my flat. All of the trees here in the north are frosted.

Also along the trail, the residential communities here are either of the apartment 
or small house varieties. All of these communities, including mine where my 
flat is located, are connected by these trails. Students and families alike 
live in these areas. 

Although this appears to be a lake, this is in fact one of the many inlets that feed into the 
mainland. Just like the harbor, everything is iced over. The thickness of the ice I am unsure 
of, however, people bike, walk, and ride their snowmobiles on it constantly (here in 
Sweden, snowmobiles are called "snow scooters").

 Further down the trail some more scenic views of the snow-covered trees.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Arrived in England...finally!

I have been looking forward to this trip for months, and it is hard to believe that I am currently typing this from my apartment in Newcastle, England. I did not know exactly what to expect, other than the culture being much different from what I am used to in the United States. I cannot stress how fortunate I am to have this opportunity. It is such an experience being able to observe how people live here.

So far, I feel like I've learned so much and I've only been in England since Monday, January 14th. I have three other roommates that I'm living with. Two are from Spain and one is from France; they are such friendly people. It is such an advantage living with them because we are all experiencing this foreign atmosphere together. Also, I can help them with their English.

It is very easy to meet people here, and everyone is helpful and friendly; just like at Clarkson. During orientation, I met exchange students from all over the world. It has been such a pleasure meeting people from various backgrounds and cultures. It is nice knowing that there are many people in a similar situation. Therefore, as these peers are so different in their backgrounds, they are experiencing the same unfamiliarity.

There were some instances upon my arrival where I felt the pressure of being completely on my own in a new country. However, this tension is eased very quickly upon adapting to the environment and overcoming the minor obstacles. Overcoming these obstacles is such an empowering feeling simply because you are doing it on your own in another country.

On a daily basis, it is so easy to forget that there are so many other cultures that exist with completely different ways of living. This experience is already opening my eyes to how differently we live compared to others. Sometimes we should all take a minute to recognize that the world is so much bigger than what we see on a daily basis.

I am so looking forward to this experience in England, and in Europe in general. I have just settled into my lovely apartment, and am just beginning my journey.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The Beginnings of a Scandinavian Adventure: Next Stop, Sweden!

Location: Pittsburgh, PA
As I write this portion of my pilot entry, I'm looking out over Pittsburgh Intl's tarmac awaiting my first connecting flight to Newark. Moving through security went well, as well as snagging some Swedish currency at Travelex, but I had, and still have, a pit in my stomach. Don't get me wrong; this is a very exciting adventure. I'm thrilled for this opportunity, but leaving my parents behind at security, knowing that I'm not returning to Clarkson with my friends right now (several of whom are graduating this semester), and bracing myself for a couple weeks of culture shock is a bit unnerving. I feel, though, that once I'm over the Atlantic my emotions will take a turn for the better, maybe even enough for a few moments of shuteye. The plan is to meet up with two other exchange students in Stockholm, both of which have the same flight to Luleå. I'm looking forward to not being alone walking up the jetway and through the concourse at the host city.

I'm also thinking about how the other students' here on this blog, Emily and Lauren, are taking to their own adventures. Emily, whom I am an acquaintance, is already in England. I'm unsure of Lauren's current status. Of course I wish them the very best.

It's about time to board.

Location: Somewhere Between Canada and Greenland
Well I would have to say that I had the first Swedish exper.... Ouch, Ouch, OUCH! Sorry about that, the woman in front of me decided to abruptly put her seat back and jam my laptop into my abdomen. Anyway, as I was saying, I've already had my first Swedish experience on this flight. To start off, I had dinner, which wasn't too bad, although I wasn't quite sure what you call a salad that has a full slab of raw fish on top of it. But like I said, it wasn't too bad on my highly Americanized palette. Then, to accompany my desert I had a cup of coffee. Now I read before leaving for my trip that Swedes do indulge heavily in coffee, and the brew I had was no exception. I'll put it to you this way for comparison sake: it made Starbucks' dark roast look (and taste) like a heavily sugared light roast. Nonetheless, after the first few sips I enjoyed it.

I mentioned earlier that I felt that things would improve for me emotionally, replacing fear of the unknown with adventurous excitement. I am slowly feeling better as the flight grows longer (although my abdomen may still be a little sore).

On a completely unrelated note: I've never seen so many blonde passengers in an airplane before (both male and female alike). I can definitely tell this flight is going to Sweden.

Location: (Finally) In Luleå
I'm settled into my room and am already making plans with my assigned "buddy" tomorrow to explore the town and see what all is available to me. The entire area here is what I expected to be like in terms of aesthesis and resources. One big difference I've come across today is how mobile phones are managed. In the US we are almost completely forced into a contract. Here, on the other hand, from my research today, most phones are sold "unlocked" and you pay-as-you-go. The phones tend to be more expensive but because I'm not locked into a contract for my short duration I don't have to worry about cancellation fees. With that being said, I'm definitely getting a phone for local calling purposes.

The weather coming through Luleå was comparable to the weather predominant in the North Country: snowy and cold. At least I won't have to get accustomed to the cold seeing as I've acclimated myself while at Clarkson for three years.

I haven't gotten any pictures yet. I've been too busy settling in today. After those three flights I needed some space. But tomorrow I'm planning on taking my camera out and about. In the next couple of days I'll report back on what I've found so far.

Wish me luck!