Oxford and I have known each other for some time, although it took me some time to get some meaningful attention from it. Oxford has hosted me at least 5 times already until now: for the University open day, interviews for PPE, Model United Nations and two conferences at the Said Business School (SBS). Now that I have started studying for my DPhil, I get to experience this magic place every day for much of the next few years. What a privilege. Below are some pictures I took back when I used to visit Oxford starting in 2013. Those times were the start of a hopefully fruitful but certainly passionate relationship that ironically I have now picked up again mostly for the research and not so much for the university. Although of course it is an amazing place for research and somehow the two go hand in hand.
Some background on Oxford:
I like a few things about Oxford. First, nature here is beautiful. Second, the buildings and spires really do inspire at least if you feel like me and can only marvel at the history and meaning of the place. The beauty of is breathtaking. Third, compared to London everything is much closer together, even more so when you have a bike. Fourth, more than in any other place I know everyone I meet is nice, mostly down to earth and interesting. Fifth, it places great emphasis on sports. There are also a few things I “dislike”. Firstly, it is rather small. For example, there is no real supermarket in the centre except for a few small convenience stores. Secondly, I think I will learn to “dislike” that it gives you so much cool stuff to do while not stretching the usual 24h/d to more. Makes FOMO (fear of missing out) seem real.
I am going rowing for the first time today because that is what you do here apparently. Makes sense since it needs lots of willpower so lets see how it goes. However, I also try to remind myself that the metric for success here is not so much how much I love my time here. That is a given it seems so far. Instead, I should strive to use this incredible chance to make a difference. I really hope that will go well, fingers crossed.
The Tinbergen Institute and the University of Amsterdam co-hosted this one-week workshop. Artur Schram and Jeroen van de Ven hosted our group of roughly 25 PhD students.
After some introductory lectures we got to design and run our own experiments in groups of 5. My group ran an experiment on how secrecy affects difficulty choices. Given that we ran it on the other participants the results won’t really be insightful beyond our group. However, within our group subjects chose more difficult tasks if their results were to be made public than when they were kept secret. Maybe this is because PhD students tend to be rather motivated.
It was also nice to live in Amsterdam for a week. It is incredibly expensive and the only reason why I managed was my hostel: Hans Brinker is amazingly cheap at just 150/week including breakfast. It was just 20 minutes from uni by foot and so I walked through the canals each morning.
4 days in Warwick hosted by Warwick Business School. It seemed like many of the European academics in this relatively new and thus field were present. In addition, the organisers had managed to invite Carol Graham (Brookings), Matthew Adler (Duke) and Ashley Whillans (Harvard) from the US. The group of attendants was made up of industry practitioners as well as PhD students. It felt much like a conference.
The topics of the conference varied. Besides some general introduction to the study of wellbeing, most of the them were based on the expertise of the invited academics.
More info can be found here on Warwick’s website.
The extra-curricular activities mainly consisted of a trip to Shakespeare’s hometown Stratford-upon-Avon, a few pictures below.
Returning to Seoul after last years short trip I set out to get deeper into its culture and language. The latter I tried to achieve by self-studying for a couple of weeks and then taking a language course at Ewha Womens University. I managed to make some progress in that time. The Korean letters are very intuitive to understand so that I could read and write after just a few days. This makes life much easier than when learning Chinese. Although grammar is also relatively simple as you don’t have to conjugate verbs, endings convey meaning and are thus plentiful and not very easy to learn. In addition, vocabulary is more difficult to learn than with a European language. I often thought many words sound extremely similar.
Culturally I was introduced to one of the most important cultural institutions in Korea: the PC room. Gaming is not even limited to boys but also very popular among girls. It is very common and there is some fierce competition. Numbers suggest that Korean gamers play twice as much as gamers from other countries. Just to illustrate gaming’s importance; a Korean girl on a TV show said she wouldn’t date guys who don’t have pretty good gaming skills (she said platinum on LoL). Maybe the popularity of gaming is explained by how wide-spread technology is. I have never seen as many grandmas with huge smartphones like in Korea. It is also the country with the best internet coverage apparently. Other cultural phenomena from Korea include K-pop and the successful Korean film industry.
In addition, I also ventured outside of Seoul for some time. First, we went to Sokcho, a coastal town on the Eastern side of Korea. Life is a lot slower here and industries like fishing and tourism provide most of the jobs in the region I think. Second, we went to the a weekend home in the mountains surrounding Seoul. One of the nicest days we had was in a valley where we swam in a mountain river.
Korea is rather hot during the summer. It helped a great deal to have a hand-held fan. We also went swimming a lot and after each session I would keep my wet towel on my head to keep cool.
Korean society is rather hierarchical, not individualistic and very paternalistic. Not very nice adjectives for a society from a young person’s perspective. The only explanation I could come up with is historical: society has been like this for centuries, which is illustrated by the hierarchical Korean language. Maybe confucianism and other asian philosophies are part of the explanation. Some of the implications are listed below.
First, parents and elderly feel entitled to rather unnatural respect from everyone younger, or so it seems to me as a European. Unnatural among others in the sense that youth is not entitled to their own oppinion in some cases. Second, public life is very different from private life. People try to keep up a fassade of harmony and good manners in public. This involves all kinds of things you can imagine from not showing affection in public to being very artificial around strangers. I think one of the consequences of this is the crave for plastic surgery. This crave explains that Seoul is the worldwide capital of plastic surgeries. Almost half of all girls and some boys have undergone at least some form of surgery. Third, boys are still somehow seen as the bread-winners, more so than girls. This comes with perks but also with responsibility. Certainly more of what we would think of as a traditional ideal of the family.
Despite this, I feel that democracy is impressively alive. Maybe I am biased by passing through the center of Seoul a lot, but the number of demonstrations I have seen indicate a high level of political activism. The recent impeachment of president Park is an example of a long list of political changes in which citizens participated actively. In addition, society is undergoing a whole range of changes more towards a liberal society. The rather large pride festival in Seoul is one indication for this. All in all, a very impressive country.
Pisa’s flair is impressive. I had never been to Tuscany before and all that makes it really does appeal to me. The weather is nice, life seems to be very relaxed, the buildings are old, beautiful and colorful and so on. Pisa is also really convenient to reach as the airport is only 20 min by foot from the city center.
Florence more than Pisa adds to this its incredible role in history during the Rennaissance. Mare del Pisa (Pisa’s beachtown) on the other hand is what I think of as a typical Italian beach town. Enough said, I think the pics speak for themselves.
Letter I wrote in response to a question on accomodation at UCL.
Good to hear you are considering UCL. Happy to help with any questions you have.
Regarding accomodation: important choice so good that you are considering it now. It can make a great deal of your university experience. Maybe good to ask different people who have experienced the different modes/kinds of accomodation. I am not sure whether it is so much about reputation, I haven’t felt like there is a reputation race between accomodations. Not in the university sense. But I guess you mean something different with reputation.
For your first year I guess you are looking at halls primarily. I’m boring in that regard because I ended up at International Students House (https://ish.org.uk/) after missing the UCL deadline and stayed there all 3 years. It’s not as fancy compared to the nicer (and also more expensive options) but I stayed at ISH all this time because 1) It is 10 min from UCL 2) It is cheap 3) It is right next to Regents Park 4) It was a great educational experience (It is a charity trying to be more than just a place to stay. So there are events going on and people from all around the world) 5) I was able to work here as a Resident Advisor and thus make some extra money and have a great time 6) The people here are incredible.
My take on the regions around UCL:
Bloomsbury – nice and close, Camden – hip and close, anything else I wouldn’t know.
Broadly you are looking at the following types of accomodation (all comments without guarantee, I only ever applied/visited and never lived there):
1. University halls:
– Standard choice
– Fair enough experience
– Might end up rather far away from UCL
– There are intercollegiate halls you might like in case you are still in time for the deadline
2. Private halls:
– For richer students usually
– Be careful what you are getting yourself into, I heard of rich kids chilling and smoking all day for some
3. Charity halls:
– I know of two, ISH and Netherhall House (http://www.netherhallhouse.org.uk/)
– Netherhall is great for studying but a little weird in being religious, men only and rather far away
4. Getting your own flat:
– Rather unusual for first year
Some thoughts on making this choice: Like I said, it is important and it will shape who you are, depending on your choices maybe even more than UCL. Maybe the best approach is to try and envision the concrete day to day life your choice would imply as well as possible. Everything, as realistic as possible. Things that will matter to you in this are:
– How you get to UCL (it’s great to fall out of bed and into UCL)
– How you get your food (catered or cooking yourself)
– Who you’ll be with there (maybe useful to live with coursemates)
– and others depending on your preferences
In the end it is not a be all end all decision. You will have time to set yourself on a different path for 2nd and 3rd year. Some move out to their own flat in second year.
I was at my old high school in 2017 to talk about my experience of going abroad and summarized the main points that came up during our discussion below. I gratefully acknowledge the support of the German Academic Exchange Service and the Student Forum of the Toennissteiner Kreis. The material I used for the presentation can be accessed on this website (German). https://schuelerkolleg-international.de/schulerdialog/
If you are considering going abroad, in many ways there are no limits to where you can go: You can almost go anywhere in terms of location but also when it comes to the best universities around the world. This is conditional on putting some effort into organising and other external conditions. Besides, it is crucial to have someone supporting you financially etc.. Whether you have your parents, mentors or others supporting you, they need to be willing to invest the time and ressources it takes to get you through your time abroad.
Questions the students had:
Am I too young to go study abroad?
A friend of mine in London was 15 when she started studying at King’s College London. She managed absolutely fine. I myself just got 18 when I went abroad and my classmates who weren’t yet 18 were all doing fine. It comes with some practical difficulties but nothing too big to be overcome.
Can I afford studying abroad?
I wasn’t too sure about this one either when I started. However, I have now graduated and looking bad I must say it was easier than I thought. First, there are a range of scholarships to access. Over the years I have received funding from the government, scholarship foundations and my university. Second, if you need to you can really make life cheaper than everyone says. For example, in my first year I lived in a triple room close to uni, which saved rent and transport costs. Third, you need someone or something who can provide you with the basic income and emergency funding. There are lots of options here from parents to loans.
Is it worth it?
If you don’t know the answer to that yet, just think through what it means to you. It’s worth it for so many reasons but not for everyone.
California in Summer
This autumn, I spent a few weeks living right next to the University of Berkeley opposite San Francisco. I had been looking for an opportunity to return to the US after I had been once when I was 16. I lived in an AirBnB and flew AirBerlin, which turned out to be a problem because they cancelled my initial flight back because their leasing firm took away their planes early after the company had gone into insolvency earlier. After 1.5 hours on the phone calling all kinds of numbers, I managed to get booked onto another flight.
What hit me right when I arrived at San Francisco Airport was the fog. It was early in the evening, but it was already almost completely dark because everything was covered in fog. Besides, I was surprised by the many homeless roaming around in Berkeley that sit at almost every second corner (or certainly at many). What is also interesting is how many Asian-Americans there are in Berkeley. Students with a link to Asia make up almost half of the student body.
Moreover, I spent some time visiting the campus of UC Berkeley that was quite impressive in a range of ways. I had been fascinated by American universities like Berkeley before I came for a number of reasons. First, they seem to be quite big and campus like and not spread throughout the city like UCL in London. Berkeley for example is nicely organised around a bell tower in the middle with a picturesque and park-like campus. Second, their buildings are rather big in size and seem to be modern and state of the art, at least in the case of good universities like Berkeley. Third, I had heard a lot about fraternities and sororities and their houses and so it was interesting to see them – in Berkeley most of them are placed along a street right next to Uni. I guess what would come closest to these organisations in Europe would be societies and student clubs that own their own housing and have long and weird initiation procedure called “rushes”. What I also found is houses are very open and all students live in small houses. Plus, more of the students have their own car.
While in Berkeley, there were some very special moments like the following among others. First, running down at the bay where I joined the local group of alumni of my Russian alma mater for an alumni run.
Second, several evenings when I had the chance to see the sunset while returning home. The sun is particularly full in California and palm trees and the sea make it even more impressive.
Third, we went to a lake to swim in the national park that is right next to Berkeley.
I also saw some other places beyond Berkeley. Although I lived in Berkeley for most of the time, I sat the TOEFL during my time there and thus explored Oakland a little bit that lies between Berkeley and San Francisco. Besides, I went to San Francisco a couple of times for varying reasons and went into the suburbs to eat a “blooming onion” at a restaurant.
Trier claims to be the oldest city in Germany. It has certainly been around for a long time and is home to the University of Trier that is the convenor of a Chinese course that I was invited to by the German National Academic Sciences foundation. It forms part of the selection process for a China scholarship that is awarded based on the outcome of the language course and a selection interview. Trier is a beautiful and not to big city that is mainly famous for two things: it’s Roman history and being the birthplace of Karl Marx. The latter explains why there are many Chinese tourists roaming around in the city. Another reason for a visit is its’ wine making history that was particularly strong in the suburb that I stayed in. The local “wine fest” that took place on the day I arrived supposedly attracts a million visitors, which is quite respectable for a suburb with just over 100 inhabitants.
Studying at a German university
This was my first time studying at a German university. We were at the department for China studies and thus being taught by the Chinese teachers that normally teach students of China Studies. The university has a real campus that was planned all at once in the 80s meaning that everything is similarly looking (whether nice or not is up to you). I found it to be quite nicely integrated into nature and I certainly enjoyed having more space than at UCL where being in London’s centre means a chronic shortage of teaching and learning spaces. Plus, the mensa (cafeteria) offered nice food for a change that included exotic stuff like a wok stand and a burrito place with a bbq corner right next to it.
Learning half a year worth of Chinese in 3 weeks
We had lessons from 9 until 4:30 every day except for Sunday for the whole three weeks, which meant quite a lot of work outside of the classroom. There was of course a lunch break as well. I was assigned the course for people with prior knowledge, which meant I (with 3 weeks prior course experience) was together with students with courses worth 1 year of university level Chinese study. This would have been fine, but I was not prepared for the complexities of trying to learn a lot of characters in such a short time. There were roughly 40 new characters to learn every day, each of which represents a sequence of strokes that are luckily somehow following a pattern and even logical sometimes. Nonetheless, I had great difficulties with writing them on request. Plus, while I was quite good at Spanish after 4 weeks of intensive learning in the summer of 2014, this time my skills hadn’t increased nearly as much. The main factor in this as I understood was that one must learn how to read every sign one sign at a time, which is extremely time consuming. The language itself is very basic and the grammar is a dream after trying to learn Russian for the last few years where you have six cases (adjective, dative etc.). Chinese doesn’t have cases and so everything is just a logical addition of words. 我在大学学习汉语 for example means literally I at university study Chinese. You neither have to conjugate the verb depending on gender etc. nor do you have to worry about plural. Just add 们 (men) after any person and it makes it plural. I could go on for hours about how great Chinese is. Another example is weekdays that work the following way: Monday is Week 1, Tuesday is Week 2 and so on. Numbers are also used for months in a similar fashion.
In the future, I will try to be more consistent with my language and above all character praxis. Thus, I hope to gradually increase my knowledge of characters, which I see as the main challenge when learning Chinese. The grammar and talking seems to be manageable. Below you can find some pictures of the city, the university and my dorm.