Vacations while abroad!

I am very fortunate to study in a location where travel is accessible and affordable. I am even luckier to have a great group of friends to travel with. A couple of our trips before our final departure were to Alicante, Spain and Hyères, France & the Porquerolles Island.

Alicante, Spain was likely my favorite trip we took. We flew out very late on a Friday and arrived to our AirBnB around 2 am. The following morning we set out for the beach where I took my first swim in the Mediterranean! When the night came to a close, we headed back to play games. The following morning we packed up for a day in the town before heading back to Aix. We visited the markets and the beach. It was a beautiful town.

The following weekend we hopped on a train to the peninsula of Hyères. The weather wasn’t the best, however our AirBnB was amazing and we had so much fun. On Saturday the weather cleared up so we headed to the Porquerolles Island by ferry. On the island we rented bikes and rode around stopping at different beaches along the way! To end the night we went on a walk by the beach to reflect on our four months together and how lucky we are to have friends like one another to cherish for a lifetime.


Challenging Courses Abroad

Hejhej! Today, I had two scientific reports and a poster design for a poster presentation due in the one course I am currently taking. In honor of celebrating these large projects getting finished, I thought it was time that I dedicated a solid amount of fun writing to the class. This period, I am taking an intense course called Applied Ecotoxicology. It is a full-time 15 credit hour course (out of the total 30 ECTS I take during the semester), which is an equivalent of 12 DU credits. While I took the same level of studying last semester, taking two courses at a time that are each 50% is somehow substantially less work that one 100% class. I think that professors know that they own you during the 100% run courses, so they can take up all of your time knowing you don’t have other coursework that will clash. It may have also felt substantially more time consuming because, as I found out during the second week of the course, the class is designed for masters students. The biology department coordinator had actually recommended that I take this course instead of another course I had signed up for next period (which I am still going to do because I couldn’t find anything else to get into) based on the previous classes I’d taken, and the website made it seem like both bachelors and masters students were welcome to join the class. While this was true, I am the only student out of the 15 in the class who is not currently pursuing my masters. Majority of the students are actually in the environmental engineering program despite the course being offered in the biology department. One of the girls who I have gotten closest to in the class, Eir, is the only student at LU pursuing a masters in Ecotoxicology, and this is one of the required classes in her course sequence. 

I am actually really grateful to this class, even though I complain about the amount of work and higher level of expectations and pressure then I experienced last semester. Not only is the class geared towards a higher knowledge base, which pushes me academically, it is also set up to help the students gain skills for both their masters thesis and future careers within the environmental field. This has included various seminars discussing beneficial academic skills (such as how to design posters for conferences and how to create a great elevator pitch for scientific research), two group projects focused on teaching students both how to think as a real researcher and how to write in a thesis, and multiple study visits around Skåne to companies and groups where ecotoxicology is used in everyday work. I may have felt very inadequate and embarrassed by my lower knowledge/academic level during certain moments in the course, but I know that it has expanded my abilities as a student and prepared me for pursuing my masters degree back home. 

This course was also great beyond the academics. I spent most of the day every day of the week with the 14 other students in the class. I finally broke through the ‘exchange student’ barrier I found while taking other courses because in this class, I am not just an exchange student. I am just as real and as permanent as the rest of the students. And even though the course is taught in English, all but four students in the class are Swedish. Even though the Swedes are still very hard to get to know, I had lunch most days with some of them and even made a genuine friend. I know that sounds silly to read, but it is a big accomplishment to make a friend with a Swede in my class. Almost every other Swede I have befriended has some sort of international connection (whether that is being half-Swedish, first generation, or having spent a substantial amount of time abroad), making them more open to befriending international students. Making a friend in this class was a totally different ballgame.

The class isn’t quite finished, but we are now entering the wrap-up phase. Both of our group projects were due today. One of the projects was conducting an Environmental Risk Assessment for the pharmaceutical fluoxetine entering the effluent of Källby waste water treatment plant (located just south of Lund). My other group project was also dealing with fluoxetine and specifically its impact on Crustaceans. This was just a literature search, but was still very difficult. My partner and I chose to examine the research looking into behavioral endpoints for fluoxetine ecotoxilogical studies, as these endpoints tend to better reflect environmentally relevant concentrations of pharmaceuticals than ones using traditional endpoints (such as mortality or growth). We submitted the report today as well, then have a seminar about presentation techniques tomorrow before spending Monday and Tuesday preparing a 30 minute presentation for our findings. 

I feel as though this course has allowed me to grow a lot as a student in a very different environment than I am used to. It was also a low-stress environment due to both the Swedish belief in work-life balance (I only had to study two weekends this whole period and we had coffee breaks every hour of class) and because I don’t technically need the course to transfer back to DU. I was nervous going into the course, but coming out of it, I have no regrets. It has enabled me to get a real student experience in Sweden and feel like I am still gaining academic skills while I am abroad. On top of this, it has allowed me meet new people and create an actual schedule during my time here. Taking a real student course is definitely going to be one of my top recommendations for students studying abroad. Okej, I am done writing today and am going to go enjoy being done with these stressful projects. Hejdå!