Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Tschüss Saarbrücken

It has been exactly a week since I moved out of my flat in Saarbrücken and finished my final semester.
My 'year abroad' is now technically over (even though I am not yet back in the UK!) 
This year I've met people who I know and hope will be in my life for a long time (MacNeil, I'm looking at you), travelled a lot and had tons of amazing experiences, but I have also dealt with some challenging and difficult moments which I know will stick with me.
The final fortnight was hard both emotionally and physically, there were some negative things which I wish could have been avoided, however you just have to learn to deal with them and move on, and remember the positives, which is what I'm trying to do.
The real goodbyes were hard to do and the easy goodbyes were in the end, not so easy.
Saarbrücken has given me a lot; however cheesy it sounds, independence, culture, trust in myself, friendships, language and sunshine, not to mention the all-important washing machine technics and sink unblocking skills.

I hope to write a more detailed post soon, whether privately or publicly, reflecting on the year, but for now, whilst it still hasn't sunk in that I've really left and it's actually all over, I'm going to enjoy some Italian (sunshine??) thunderstorms and eat lots of pasta...
Happy summer!

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Less thinking, more saying, next time.

I've been up and down and over and across the last few weeks (speaking physically). I'm back in Germany again now though, planning my dissertation and just organising life admin.
There have also been lots of things playing about on my mind lately, so many things in the news which sadden me or just make me think about how life goes on around us all in such different ways, and I wonder about how I can process or think about them, usually so distinctly separated, and then where I stand on writing about certain topics on this blog.
I really believe there are times in life where it feels like everything bad in the world is happening all at once, as well as times where you want to think about all the issues, where your head seems it might pop with the questions that don't have answers, and where you want to do something, to make an acknowledgement and to confront them, in whatever small way that might be, but what can you do really?
Sign a petition here, post a controversial comment on twitter there, send some brazen letters, read a controversial book, sprout statistics to everyone around you, write a blog post?
Does that make a difference though?

I think it can, but today here is where I'm going to finish, and leave some links of interest:

An exhibition I saw last year at the Folkwang Museum in Essen, it showed a lot about the power of social media in contemporary conflict.

'Artefact' by Cyprien Gaillard, this is a clip of a longer video installation which was filmed in Iraq, and set to 'Babylon' which was also one of the songs used as a form of sound torture in Abu Ghraib. I saw the full feature at the ZKM in Karlsruhe and is worth watching in person if you can find it.

Susan Crile is an artist who creates moving and delicate images of prisoners and torturers in Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib (amongst dealing also with other issues).

This TED talk by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is worth watching.

Speaking of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, I finished this collection of short stories yesterday, and I really recommend them.

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Hi Heidelberg

Heidelberger Schloss/Heidelberg Castle
This weekend I went on another little excursion, this time to hot hot Heidelberg, I'm talking 34ºC melt!
The old city has very little industry (minus a printing house), instead it prefers to pride itself and therefore flourish predominantly as an academic city; a metropolis of intellect, traditional architecture and learning (sounds a little pompous eh? Really though it's quite charming). The university is the oldest in Germany and just from ambling through the streets I felt a little brainer... perfect for those of us in need of an inspiration boost for paper writing...!
I spent the time daydreaming of myself as a 19th century poet, cheesily grinning as I strolled along, encouraging thoughts of leaves of paper (grass?!), shady places to sit with my imaginary feather nibs and runny ink, letting the city be my muse... Haha, shhh Ailish, I'm getting ahead of myself, because you know what? It's also just as good to let go of those crazy imaginations and simply enjoy a good beer...! A jug-like glass of 'Vetter', supposedly one of the strongest beers in the world... ("Das nach Stammwürze stärkste Bier der Welt!") at 33% alcohol content back in the day, was enough to tipple me into a post-lunch (obatzdabrot - a dedicated post!) balance of giddiness and sleepiness. However, don't worry, for us tame 21st century clients it's a mere 7%, and when mixed with lemonade as a Radler, is very refreshing on a warm afternoon.
So, now you can take a stroll through Heidelberg via my camera if you like... It's better in real life though, go one day!

The Holy Spirit Church/ Heiliggeistkirche

Some abandoned Radishes
Gernot Rumpf mice on The "Old Bridge"
A golden stags head in Apotheken Museum

Towards the main square
My chum Sarah and I enjoying Vetter bier!
The view from the Schloss

Have a great Wednesday everyone!

Friday, 30 May 2014

Endlich Metz

This past Saturday I went on a day trip to Metz. That is, I should say, after running along the platform with one minute to spare and dramatically watching the 7am train pull away before we had time to leap on! Frustrating as that was, we saw the positive side and passed the two hours for the next train reminiscing about our warm beds and indulging in strong coffee and pastries -pretending we were already in France. When we finally arrived we had a really lovely day filled with bouts of on-off sunshine, ice cream, boat rides, french accents, culture and sore feet!
I'll just let the photos speak, my last few posts have been a bit word-heavy so all I'll say is that it was a really beautiful city and I can recommend a visit if you are nearby! We wandered the old city streets, puzzled our way through the intriguing maze that is Musée de La Cour d'Or, popped in & quickly out again of a few shops (€£$), visited the Centre Pompidou to be flashed at (and be impressed by) and stared towards the skies in the Cathedral of the city, 'Saint-Étienne de Metz'. Only an hour on the train, just try and catch yours if you can help it...

Cathédrale Saint-Étienne de Metz
Centre Pomidou

Sunday, 25 May 2014

Glacée in Metz

This weekend I went on a day trip to Metz, there is a post coming shortly, but I thought I'd do a 'Vienna' and give you a sneak peek... Enjoy, I love making silly gifs! Happy week everyone!

 photo output_3ElH7S_zps5943b76d.gif

Friday, 23 May 2014

Moving Twice

Is there anyone from Germany reading this blog?
If yes, you have an iPhone, you like to keep active, and you enjoy doing a little something for charity, then I suggest you check out the app: 'MovingTwice'.

The idea is essentially a running app, but with a charitable twist! For every meter you run/jog/walk/rolly-polly based on your GPS signals, a sponsor will donate to a charity that you've selected. 
This is an idea I wholeheartedly stand behind; the app is free to download and is a small social enterprise set up by students in Germany and Switzerland. However, due to its functionality and ethos, it is growing quickly! At the moment the app is unfortunately only available in Germany and is also just for iPhone users, but watch this space, Android and UK versions will be coming very soon!
I would hope of course that the days of marathon slogging and intense training for charity are not gone, the money fundraised for these events is often remarkable, but with this app there can now also be an alternative for those who don't wish to (or medically cannot) put their bodies through such rigorous training, but who still want to raise a little money for charity through keeping fit.
It is also of course a great app for students who tend to be penny-pinching at the best of times and cannot always afford to give money to charity on a regular basis, even if they want to, but now that walk to Uni? That stroll through town to get some much needed choco-fuel? All that counts!

Supporting and sharing small businesses (especially ones created by fellow students which have a charitable component) is important to me and I hope you can perhaps also enjoy this app!

For more information you can check out their website here:

Or, to go straight to download MovingTwice from the app store, click here:

via. MovingTwice
Disclaimer: I was not paid or sponsored to write this post, all opinions are my own!

Monday, 19 May 2014

To Fee or Not To Fee?

Student fee rise protests via. Pinterest 

If you read my last mammoth post, you would know that in York we pay a grand £9000 per year in student fees. Here in Germany the fees vary by university but usually they are very little, if not completely free. I pay only for a 'semester ticket' which costs about 50€ and covers all my travel within the region, every bus, tram, train, and also acts as my library card/copy card/id card etc. Therefore, with a difference of around 10,900€ per year, (yes I did just convert my Pounds to Euros and do a little maths! haha) you would think there would be a big difference in the teaching, the facilities, the opportunities, the prospects, the motivation... right?
Well, speaking frankly, I have not found that to be the case at all.
Today I am going to do a little comparison, speaking from my own experiences. I feel I should also add that this is just my opinion, the outcome will no doubt vary dramatically according to other people and other universities. It's a long one today, if you're not interested, sorry! (If however, you'd be interested in a brief Harry Potter anecdote, scroll on down...)

For me this is something that is hard to find many differences between! At York, most students I know take their studies very seriously, you pay so much money to be there, you're gonna bloody well make the most of it, especially when you begin to calculate how much is coming out of your pocket per lecture (anyone else hate how that is always a thought?). In Germany, despite there being little to no fees, I have still had a similar experience in terms of student motivation. I wonder if we had no fees in the UK whether that would still be the case? I hope so. There are always exceptions in both places though of course, however, essentially most students seem to be motivated to get a good education, otherwise you just wouldn't do it; university is not compulsory!

In the UK the Bachelor/Masters system is nothing new, employers look for graduates of Bachelor degrees without necessarily expecting them to also have a Masters. Though, granted, it is now also becoming favoured to have both in the UK since the competition for graduate jobs is rapidly rising. In Germany however, the Bachelor/Master system is relatively new, the previous Diplom (which also consisted of being in education longer) was only completely faded out by 2010. Therefore, for many Germans the idea of not doing a Masters seems very odd. From lots (but not all) people I have spoken to here, when they ask me what I'll be doing for my Masters and I tell them I am not considering doing one, they respond with surprise and ask why I would do a Bachelor in the first place then? -yes someone has asked me this!- For them, a Bachelor sans Masters equates to not much! Though I do also think this mind-set is changing a bit, definitely not all students have this view, but a fair number still do as well as a chunk of the older generation!

York is lucky to be a well respected institution in the UK and has therefore been awarded with various grants to update their facilities, notably, amongst others, in the departments for Film, Theatre, TV and Computer Science, with top of the range modern equipment. However, as far as I can gather, this money does not come from the £9000 per student, per year fees, it comes from generous donors and university awards. So where exactly does our money go? Well I have a few suggestions, because in terms of general facilities, there are some differences which I am happy to say are better in the UK, and thankfully so, since otherwise I think I'd be completely horrified at how much I'm paying for my education when I could get it 'just as good' in Germany (or elsewhere in Europe for that matter).

  • 24/7 375 days a year the library is open - this is a biggie! 10-5 Mon/Fri just doesn't cut it for me! As well as there being larger book choices + availability.
  • No cancelled classes/modules without make up and/or valid reasoning. I've had a good number of classes cancelled at very last minute without being made up here or with a reason. As well as one class being completely cancelled 5 weeks into the semester (leaving me short of credits) - if you're paying, that just cannot happen - there would be mass uproar.
  • Student services are better funded and well organised, thus more opportunities for students to get involved in extra-curricular activities such as sports etc.
  • Technology and study spaces: these are unparalleled in my view. At least in York, it seems there has been a lot of funding gone into making university a place where every student can access somewhere to study that fits their lifestyle. Whether that be in a loud or 'studious buzz' group study space with plenty of interactive boards and sofas at your disposal, or an individual silent 'pod' on a quiet lake, alone and away from distractions. 

This is the big one, and also the make and break comparison I think. The teaching in SB is wonderful and I've had some really fascinating, engaging and frankly very up-to date courses whilst I've been here. This is no different to York in that sense and since at the end of the day this is what you pay for; your education, I do wonder whether studying in the UK is worth the money. However, I would ultimately have to say yes due to the unfaltering experience and expertise of the professors, but because I'm also being completely honest here, - and I did also choose to study in the UK so I also don't want to undermine that decision, it was the right one for me - but the difference is not that great in my experience.

Moving onto something less 'academic', in Britain there is a stereotype that students will spend a good percentage of their university days drunk. This is just that though, a stereotype, and is by no means true of every student - myself included! However, there are sadly not that many students who haven't enjoyed a bit of late night partying, triple vodkas, hair holding and stair tripping, during 'Freshers' Week' especially. Maybe I haven't experienced a side like this in Germany because I haven't come here as a first year, but really I feel it is less of an issue. That's not to say students here don't drink, get drunk, or have wild parties (!) they just seem to have less of a afternoon/everyday binging mentality.

So, there we have it, my 'brief' take on some differences between the British and German university systems. I hope that doesn't seem to damning of either one, both have been and continue to be a blast! I also feel I should apologise for the two Harry Potter references in simultaneous posts!

(Here's the little anecdote: picture this: very first seminar of a 'serious' "From Medieval to Modernity" [or something like that]' module in my first year at uni, the professor asks a question about a villainous medieval character in a 'canonical text' and asks us if there is any other character that we feel could be relatable to said character... me: hand shoots up [gotta make a good impression at the beginning of the year, right?] Out of my mouth pops the -in my eyes- most relatable of relatable names, 'Snape?'... followed to be fair, by -again in my eyes- a solid reasoning. Both comments however, were met with disapproval (professor) and sniggers (classmates), oh, Ailish, what are you, a literature student? No? Yes. Have the Harry Potter books become amongst the most influential of our generation? Yes. Ugh! And so it goes, the 'right' answer I can't even remember now...)