Global Learning blog

Nachi Athalye is studying on exchange at Bocconi University in Milan, Italy, for Semester 1 of 2017. As a GLObewriter he is sharing his experiences with us every month. View the full list of his posts with the globewriter-nachi tag.

Nachi and friends

Nostalgia creeping in!

For most of the new friends I have made on exchange it is time to say goodbye. This is probably the last week of exams as well as their last week here. There is an atmosphere of mixed emotions as everyone gears up to return to their comfort zones, excited to see family and friends after their little hiatus. On the other hand they leave behind the many people that they have accumulated, a different life they have lived and experiences that are only priceless.

I went on a two day trip with three such friends, up north to explore a bit of the landscape in our state of Lombardy. The experience was simply surreal. We rented a car and drove to the town of Tartano, covering places such as Como, Maggiore and Lugano (in Switzerland), all exquisite lakes. The town of Tartano though was a different story altogether. Getting there was the creepiest of experiences as we drove the car on roads that weren’t meant for vehicles. Narrow winding dirt roads that climbed up a mountain overlooking a death valley consisting of the closest town visible in the form of a few dim lights flickering deep down in the valley. There was not a single soul in the town of Tartano and none of us had 4G access or even power in our phones for that matter. We passed the town of Tartano and reached an area that required us to drive through a forest on a pile of stones and dust in order to reach our secluded hostel, or at least we hoped we would. We knew the hostel was a bit off-the-beaten track but didn’t know exactly how much, turned out it was quite a bit. Some of us began to jokingly reminisce on how great our lives had been and how that didn’t mean we were ready to lose them at the end of this incredible exchange experience, without even being able to say goodbye to our pets back home! A bit more perseverance and we started seeing signs that pointed towards the hostel reaching the place in no time after that. All was not well though as the hostel appeared deserted with no one in sight to receive us. We walked around the four or five small flat square-shaped wooden structures that resembled huts and tried all the doors hoping one would give way and let us in. Fortunately one did and we shot out a few “hellos” to finally be received and shown to our beautiful eight bed dorm which of course was going to be all ours. We chatted into the cold night wrapping ourselves up in blankets while downing some of the alcohol and snacks celebrating our arrival in this cosy and cute little hostel. The key here was that we never stopped and turned back, never gave up but continued to move forward with an explorer’s attitude. Had we decided to turn back our car in the middle of that daunting forest or given up on trying the many doors that the seemingly locked hotel had, we would never have had the opportunity to experience the cosy beauty of the hostel or what was to follow the next morning. Well what followed can only be described pictorially but to sum it up the hostel was tucked in between mountains layered with lush green forests with a tiny river making its way through, originating from the few snow covered Italian Alps visible in the distance. It was absolutely priceless, the view. We climbed up short little mountains and made our way all the way down to the ice-cold glacial river to sip some of the authentic “natural spring water” all in the most pleasant of all weathers. My exchange buddies exclaimed how perfect an end this was to their semester long journey. They shared what they felt on these final days on exchange, namely, a whirlwind of nostalgia and priceless memories. I just knew I was going to have to say an emotional goodbye to them hoping to cross paths with them sometime again in the foreseeable future.

Valleys and forests

That pictorial representation I talked about showcasing the hostel and its surroundings.

Mountain stream

Chillin in the river in the middle of nowhere.

Copenhagen streets

The magnificence of Copenhagen

Colourful mural on a building

Entrance to ‘Freetown Christiania’, an autonomous region in Copenhagen that has piles of Marijuana on sale for consumers

My exchange though wasn’t yet over as I still had a few more exams to wrap up and another 45 odd days to cherish. I chose it this way since I wanted to see it all through, gathering the full extent of the experience until semester two would begin back home. I was almost exhausted of documenting my monthly foray into some more European states but my short trip described up there salvaged it majorly. Regardless, I travelled solo into another 7 nations, namely, the Scandinavian states of Denmark, Norway and Sweden followed by a quick trip through Poland before making my way up north into the Baltic States of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. Scandinavian cities such as Copenhagen and Oslo although quite expensive to live in, can very much inspire someone to write about how to build the perfect city for its citizens.

I would love to explore the seemingly breathtaking Norwegian countryside around the city of Bergen which I was unable to do this time around. Gothenburg and Stockholm, in Sweden, delivered some incredible architectural beauty with the latter especially more adept at that. Among the Scandinavian cities though, the Swedish ones are undoubtedly the liveliest due to their sheer scale, concentration of opportunities, budding tourism and incredible nightlife.

I then headed south to one of the most populous states of the EU, Poland, also known to be the meeting point for Eastern and Western European cultures consequently creating a rich cultural heritage. More popular around Europe is Poland’s place as an airline hub with a miserly 13 Euro flight getting me from Stockholm to the Polish capital of Warsaw. It didn’t fail to impress of course with its old town being one of the most vibrant old towns in all of Europe.

My first foray into the former Soviet Union began with my stay in the second largest Baltic city, Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania. This is where one gets to experience Eastern European culture centred on Eastern Orthodox Christianity and people that wear wedding rings on their right rather than left hands. A visit to the Vilnius Museum of Illusions is a must where David Macdonald an optical illusionist has many of his digital illusions on display along with some more exciting physical illusions inspired by his work.

Brick church

One of the 40 cathedrals in Vilnius Old Town, Eastern Orthodox in this case

Upside-down house illusion

Handstand push-ups on the toilet showcasing my immense physical strength, or maybe just an illusion

Next stop was Riga, the vibrant and rich capital of Latvia, the largest city in the Baltics, gaining that stature mainly due to the influx of a substantial amount of Russian money in the form of Russian tourists and businessmen looking to exploit Latvia’s presence in the EU. I lost count of the number of cruise ships on the Daugava River hosting bright and lavish parties. The nightlife coupled with its architectural attractions definitely makes Riga a city I would like to revisit.

One of the many Russian plate Bentleys and the Former Building of the KGB, Riga

One of the many Russian plate Bentleys and the Former Building of the KGB, Riga

My last stop was Tallinn the small but cute capital of Estonia, which stood out particularly due to its very attractive city centre and old town, primarily due to some beautiful Eastern Orthodox churches. I was alone when I left on this short journey of mine but came back with so many more new people added to my story. I now plan to immerse myself in exam prep for the next couple of weeks or so before embarking on a final journey or two to some more lands that beckon me!

Alexander Nevsky Cathedral

Alexander Nevsky Cathedral in Tallinn Old Town

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Faith Blake is studying on exchange at the University of Sheffield in the UK for Semester 1 of 2017. As a GLObewriter, Faith shares her experiences with us every month. This is her third entry. You can see all of her posts here

St. Georges Church

Sunny day at St. Georges Church (one of the university’s lecture halls).

The last thing you want to do on exchange is study, especially when England is finally starting to warm up. The grey clouds that greeted me when I first arrived have given way to a blue sky and a shining sun.  I want to spend days soaking up the dearly missed golden rays of vitamin D and exploring Sheffield’s many green hills, not sitting down with my eyes glued to my bright laptop screen. But those due dates are not going to cease to exist just because I will it so, and daydreaming about the week when all my school work is completed is not going to write those paragraphs about empathy and narrative. The lecturers at Sheffield University are incredibly helpful. They regularly offer one-on-one support and for a sociology course, the final tutorial was also one-on-one. The final individual tutorial was compulsory which is fortunate as I tend to avoid seeking help and battle out my assignments alone – even if I am struggling.

With assignments piling up but weeks passing by, I am becoming acutely aware my exchange is coming to an end. Between studying, I try to get involved in as many university activities my bank account and time will allow. This includes movies nights with the Horror Society and the Film Unit. I joined the Horror Society at the beginning of the year but haven’t attended many of their events. One event I did attend was a ghost walk around Sheffield; this was where a man from Steel City Ghost Tours took our club around Sheffield’s town centre and spoke about ghost sightings in ancient buildings made in as early as the 1700s. The stories were captivating and entrenched in Sheffield’s history – from the bombings of World War II to the Irish gangs. Our tour guide also had the fitting name of Mr. P Dreadful. The tour was so enjoyable, I attended another of their tours which concentrated on crime and murder in Sheffield. Last Saturday, we watched an old Japanese horror film named Battle Royale, which is a gorier version of The Hunger Games. It’s a club worth replicating at Adelaide University and I may consider launching one when I return. The Film Unit is another society that doesn’t require signing up and shows movies (both old and recently released) in the Student Union’s auditorium – where I had my orientation. The tickets are only three pounds each (bargain!) and so far, I have watched The Edge of Seventeen and this Sunday I will be watching the newest Beauty and the Beast. This is a great weekly event to chill with friends after a long day of studying.

Squirrel in Sheffield's Botanical Gardens

Squirrel in Sheffield’s Botanical Gardens

Another goal of mine before my exchange ends is to explore Sheffield a bit more. I have been keen to travel everywhere and therefore, I’ve neglected to explore my temporary hometown more thoroughly. Being the curious writer I am and the history enthusiast, my first local adventure was Sheffield General Cemetery. Creepy, I know. But I am drawn cemeteries; they have the ability to show history in a different, unique light. A less creepy place I visited was Sheffield’s Botanical Garden. I will never get over the thrill of seeing a squirrel and the Botanical Garden had heaps! Moreover, it was a peaceful place with varying shades of green and fountains. Definitely worth the visit, and the perfect place to read or study. There are a few more places I would like to visit before leaving Sheffield; this includes the Winter Garden in the city centre, the Weston Park Museum, and a library or two. Furthermore, I wish to explore the popular and scenic Peak District National Park.  Fortunately, I will be able to do so this weekend with Sheffield Uni’s Walking Club – another club I joined up at the beginning of the year but failed to attend. However, I need to juggle my goals and aspirations with my assignments and exam prep. Let’s hope I can manage! 

Sheffield General Cemetery

Sheffield General Cemetery

 

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Nachiket Athalye is studying on exchange at Bocconi University in Milan, Italy, for Semester 1 of 2017. As a GLObewriter he is sharing his experiences with us every month. View the full list of his posts with the globewriter-nachi tag.

Red car

An interesting old car

The exchange experience is incredibly valuable in terms of personal development. I cannot emphasise that enough. It teaches you the importance of certain significant things that we tend to overlook in our comfort zones. Family, responsibilities, real friends and money. This experience has taught me to be responsible and pay attention to everything that I do. You need to be responsible with how you spend the limited resources you have at your disposal particularly since you have to undertake every expense yourself. This of course applies to only those individuals that haven’t already been living an entirely independent life. But at the same time it is incredibly difficult to comprehend the huge expenses you have to undertake with literally no income coming in. This further teaches you how important it is to ‘make money’ and you go about looking for opportunities that you can utilise towards making that money. One can utilise such opportunities while on exchange or more conveniently, back home. Furthermore having to juggle between study, social life, travel, financial management and household chores makes you all the more responsible in a general sense.

Exchange has definitely taught me the importance of my closest family and has “filtered” out the friends that really matter to me. Missing family, feeling overwhelmed after talking to them, feeling left out in all the proceedings in your family home, are things every individual on exchange will feel, just like I did, signs which all emphasise their importance. Am sure I would be much more thankful to have the family I have on returning home. In terms of friends phrases such as ‘out of sight, out of mind’ and ‘absence makes the heart grow fonder’ can apply, effectively bringing some closer and filtering out the rest. I guess I definitely know which friends to cherish on my return back home.

 

Jon Snow Knows Nothing Venn Diagram on a mug

I wonder how much I know

Meanwhile, I have continued to travel around Europe trying my best to fill up more passport pages. This time the Easter break gave me the perfect chance to visit another 5 countries, along with one I had already been to, in a matter of 10 odd days. The tally has now reached 18 countries! I zoomed through a big city with tons of never-before-seen architectural beauty, a war-scarred city blanketed by a once-a-year snowfall, a country with non-existent traffic laws, another which isn’t even in the EU but still uses the Euro and a country with one of the most enviable coasts which if not enough also has an entire city declared as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

 

European alcohol

Convenient

I set out with a couple of travel buddies starting with Timisoara, a small town in Romania with the smallest airport I have ever seen. Literally, the only flight that landed was ours and the next batch of passengers waited for the flight to fuel up so they could board it and go elsewhere. Regardless, this small town is a hidden gem in the vast country. Luckily, we had the pleasure of spending some time in the Sunday market that was nestled in the little city centre. We had some Langos, which is a Hungarian deep fried flatbread topped with cheese and cream. Also, I’d rather not go into the huge number of calories we consumed thanks to the enormous number of sweets on display.

 

Langos

Langos

Our next destination was Belgrade, the affluent capital of Serbia, the cornerstone of the now extinct Yugoslavia. One can still see the scars of the Yugoslav wars which resulted in the bombing of Novi Sad, second largest city of Serbia, at the hands of NATO. Of course Serbian leadership, particularly, Slobodan Milosevic, was single-handedly responsible for all the war crimes in the lead up to the bombings, regardless you feel for the Serbian people. The city does not fail to impress though with its prosperity, heritage and architectural magnificence. We stayed in a cute little hostel that claimed itself to be the ‘first capsule hostel of Belgrade’ and I must say my first capsule experience did not disappoint. It made me wonder just how much space I need to fit the most important things I need, a capsule was certainly enough to accommodate it all if only I were to get rid of the unnecessary materialism, hoarding and build-up of excessive memories.

Timisoara Orthodox Cathedral

Timisoara Orthodox Cathedral

Sveti Sava Temple

Sveti Sava Temple

Serbian Parliament

The Serbian Parliament with a sign protesting against NATO’s bombing of Novi Sad in the Yugoslav Wars almost 20 years ago

Capsule Hostel

Belgrade’s First Capsule Hostel

 

Next stop was Sarajevo, capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the city that was once the centre of the Yugoslav wars. In present day, it is an incredible mix of three cultures, to be precise, Bosniaks, Serbians and Croats that represent three beliefs, namely Islam, Eastern Orthodox Christianity and Catholicism respectively. This has yielded three different ways of living with proper physical borders and a president for each province, all within a single country! A chat or two with some locals however revealed that the country is very much united and Bosnians are warm towards each other with no sense of prejudice. We were sort of lucky and unlucky to be in Sarajevo at that particular time as the weather degraded rapidly and it snowed heavily. The snow was quite a bit of an inconvenience that left us stranded in the hostel for a while but at the same time the city was at its best in terms of beauty. Snow-clad mountains all around, streets that served as large patches of white, tree branches trying to balance the snow and occasionally giving up and some more flakes latching onto the incredible architecture all around. Picture perfect!

 

Sarajevo

Sarajevo, picture perfect!

Signs in Sarajevo

No undies, bikinis or guns please

We then moved ahead to Montenegro in an overnight bus to its dull capital, Podgorica. After spending a few hours there we rented a car with the intention to travel via the Albanian coast into Kosovo and return to the Montenegrin coast for a night’s stay in the beautiful town of Budva. The drive could not have been any better with the coast by our side, the sun out and surrounded by the unique Balkan landscape, but for, the terrible single-laned Albanian freeways, crazy drivers and potholes to complement all that. I must say there was some thrill and freedom in that crazy driving that I’ve never experienced before. We made stops all the way down the Albanian coast in small towns such as Shkoder, Shengjin and Durres. We managed to get lost in the last of these due to its confusing vastness brought about by it being an important port city and limited help from Google maps. After about an hour we realised we wouldn’t be able to make it to the disputed territory of Kosovo and hence made our way back to Montenegro. I must mention Shkoder though, which stood out due to its unbelievably beautiful landscape consisting of a fortress surrounded by large blue lakes and a glorious mosque. On our return, Budva, the small but stunning Montenegrin coastal town did not fail to impress either. A shout-out to the hostel that was located on a bit of a hill and provided, arguably, the best view of the town and coast from its terrace.

 

Lake Shkoder and the Durres Coast

A taste of Albania: Lake Shkoder and the Durres Coast

Budva hostel terrace

Sipping tea on the Budva hostel terrace

Our next destination was the Croatian coast overlooking the Adriatic sea. It is packed with natural and architectural beauty which by the way I have realised are the two dominant attractions while travelling. Croatia is definitely a haven for those two forms of beauty that requires ample amount of time for exploration. We covered a few places there, Dubrovnik, Split, Zadar, Supetar and Bol, the first of which definitely won our hearts over. An entire city declared as a UNESCO World Heritage Site which is enclosed within walls as high as 25 metres! Apart from this another major attraction was Fort Lovrijenac, the site where a significant part of the celebrated TV show Game of Thrones was shot. Known as King’s Landing in the show, the fort serves as the seat of the fictional ruling empire as well as the centre of numerous battles. The Croatian coast of course did not fail to disappoint, the coast of Split and the surrounding mini-islands appearing a clear winner. A quick ferry to one of those numerous Croatian mini-islands was a must as we visited the beautiful island of Brac which had attractions such as the Supetar and Zlatni Rat beaches. Zlatni Rat beach, besides its unique beauty, also serves as a major tourist and party attraction during summer, primarily made famous by American celebrities such as Beyonce and Jay Z.

 

Fort Lovrijenac

The exact location where they shot GOT along with the actual frame, they photo-shopped of course.

Walls of Dubrovnik

Walls of Dubrovnik

Overall the trip proved to be a considerable success owing to all the beauty in terms of nature and architecture that we came across, coupled with, the fun moments I had with my travel buddies or should I say new-found friends. On our way back to Milano, the bus came to a halt for a couple of hours as border police discovered three people on the bus, presumably from Bangladesh, that failed to produce passports. Among the three were a youth, a lady and her little son. A number of people on the bus complained due to the delay, for which I suppose the bus company should be blamed. However I felt it important to spare a thought for the three seemingly helpless people that attempted to make their way across the border for a better life. Our inconvenience was nothing compared to the inconveniences that they most probably would be undergoing on a daily basis. On returning, I realised that it was high time that I run through some lecture slides and opened up a few of my textbooks in preparation for my upcoming exams, failing which I would probably need to make a return to Europe sometime next year to complete my exams. Definitely a situation I would like to avoid, or would I really?

Coast of Split

A mandatory selfie with the travel buds and the waters of Split

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Faith Blake is studying on exchange at the University of Sheffield in the UK for Semester 1 of 2017. As a GLObewriter, Faith shares her experiences with us every month. This is her third entry. You can see all of her posts using here.  After spending twenty gruelling hours on a plane to the UK, it […]

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Zoom through Iowa, Chicago, New York, Las Vegas, and Los Angeles with GLObewatcher Laura! Laura Haddad is studying on exchange at Simpson College in Iowa, USA, for Semester 1 of 2017. As a GLObewatcher Laura is documenting her travels and sharing her experiences with us through videos. This is Laura’s second submission. You can start from the […]

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Gina Cameron is studying on exchange at the University of Nottingham in England, for Semester 1 of 2017. As a GLObewriter she is sharing her experiences with us every month. One of the pleasures of the last few weeks has been watching the seasons change. Actually, noticeably change. In Australia it pretty much ranges from […]

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Nachiket Athalye is studying on exchange at Bocconi University in Milan, Italy, for Semester 1 of 2017. As a GLObewriter he is sharing his experiences with us every month. View the full list of his posts with the globewriter-nachi tag. So I’ve decided to fill up all my passport pages to the best of my […]

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Claire Hale is studying at the University of Southampton for Semester 2 of 2016 and Semester 1 of 2017. As a GLObewiter, Claire is sharing her experiences with us every few months. You can start at the very beginning by reading her introduction. My last entry was in December, before three weeks of Christmas break, […]

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10 reasons why you should consider study in Asia Dynamic and modern world cities Living in Shanghai, a city of over 24 million people, was an amazing experience. I loved being in a city where things are constantly happening – from the great nightlife to the ever-growing startup community to never-ending new restaurants and events, […]

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“It felt so surreal to actually be in the city and see all the places I’d dreamed of going.” Claire Nemeth is studying at The University of Guelph in Canada for Semester 1 of 2017. As a GLObewatcher, Claire is documenting her travels and sharing her experiences with us through videos. Get started with Claire’s […]

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