Follow Deike's journey of studying abroad in her monthly blog posts.
September - Getting ready
Only a few days left until my studies in the United Kingdom are going to start and I am getting more and more excited. I have been accepted at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and plan on obtaining a postgraduate Master’s degree in Public Health. Over the last couple of years, I have been working in different hospital settings around the world and getting back to university still feels a little surreal.
Fortunately, being an EU citizen makes it relatively easy to move to London. I do not need to worry about getting a visa or what kind of health insurance I require. Organising accommodation in London though has not been that simple. In the end I took a room in a shared house offered by the university. I am a little at unease about not having seen it myself but thinking about all the strange places I lived in before, I should be fine. In general, accommodation in London is very expensive and it is tricky to find a balance between not living too far out and being able to afford the room. I hope I found that balance as I plan on cycling to university every day – even though I heard warnings that this might be dangerous in London. Some things are left to organise on site (e.g. buying a bike, finding a safe cycling route, SIM card, Oyster card, bank account, …) and by experience I know that there is probably something I forgot or did not even think about.
But despite all organisational efforts, I am really looking forward to studying and gaining new skills, meeting people from all over the world and experience such a great metropolitan city as London. I will keep you posted how everything turns out!
October - First impressions, Darth Vader and sore muscles
Incredibly, it has been a month already since I started studying at LSHTM and time is flying by. So much is happening every day that it feels as if I’ve been in London for much longer.
First things first: My flatmates, that I didn’t know before moving in, turned out to be very nice and we get along splendidly. We are a pretty international bunch from Guyana, Canada, Spain and Germany, and all study at LSHTM together. Not accustomed to life in Britain, we support each other in our daily little struggles to set up bank accounts, contact gas and electricity companies or simply find out when the rubbish bins are being emptied.
With Virginia, my Spanish flatmate, I cycle to school every day. It is an experience in itself, riding in a group of up to 25 cyclists between buses, overtaking lorries and trying to avoid getting too close to cars. In parts, the cycle lanes in London are excellent, but large sections are not yet well developed. At first, we were bewildered by the face masks of many of the other cyclist. Learning about the air pollution levels in London though, we soon decided to wear a mask as well and are now hardly recognizable, resembling two Darth Vaders on bicycles.
University life and the studies themselves are incredibly interesting. The subjects cover a very broad area of health related subjects and shine a new light unto aspects I came across in my life. The students as well as the teachers come from all over the world and have a very diverse background. Furthermore, every day there are several extracurricular talks and activities that at times make it hard to decide which one to choose.
Apart from studying, I try to take advantage of living in such a vibrant city and discover London and its surroundings. I got a membership at a local bouldering gym and enthusiastically joined the parkrun initiative – a 5 km run every Saturday in most of the parks of the city. It is a great way to do sport and get to know British people.
Looking into other possibilities for runs in London, I stumbled across the ‘Cancer Research UK Tough 10’, a 10 km run in Epping Forest in the north of London. This is a charity run to gather donations to support cancer research. I signed up and joined the fundraising activities connected with the run. Although not easy at first, I was able to raise almost 165 Pounds to support this good cause. I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who supported me, especially the British Council Germany who generously contributed the biggest amount to this! The run itself was a great experience and even though walking was rather painful for a couple of days afterwards, I am sure to sign up to the next ‘Tough 10’.
All in all, I had a great first month in London and look forward to what is about to come!
November - Discovering Great Britain
Time is still passing by quickly and I can hardly believe that November is almost gone.
I finally managed to discover a little more of Britain. I joined the University of London Mountaineering Club (ULMC) and went on one of their trips to the Peak District a couple of hours North of London. It is an idyllic area with rolling hills, small towns and meadows dotted with sheep and horses.
Our weekend trip started on Friday and we headed North with two mini vans. As some of the ULMC members got to our cottage a little earlier, to our delight we were greeted with cake and hot tea. The cottage itself was a little rustic, but had a special charm with its several fireplaces, antique sofas and old climbing and caving paraphernalia.
On Saturday, we woke up to a perfectly blue sky and spend the whole day climbing in the amazing surroundings of Peak District. It was quite cold though – as you can probably tell from the uncountable layers of clothing that I wear in the picture. We ended the day by cooking together in our cottage and I learned a little bit about typical British food. Especially the warm ‘Sticky Toffee Pudding’, which is basically a sugar explosion, brought a smile to everyone’s face.
Sunday morning was rather windy and rainy, so we stayed in for a long British breakfast and went on a hike later on, before we had to head back to London.
Even though it was just a short trip, it was nice to get out of London for a little while to enjoy nature, fresh air and some outdoor sports. I hope to discover more of Britain over the next couple of month.
For now, Christmas is approaching rapidly and I am looking forward to a break with some climbing in Spain and celebrating Christmas together with my family!
December - Christmas time
December in London has been a great experience with all the inner-city Christmas decorations and Christmas parties including Christmas crackers, Christmas jumpers and British Christmas treats. Coming from a country with a strong pre-Christmas tradition, other German students and I tried to promote those customs and brought German chocolates and cookies to university throughout December, much to the joy of our fellow students.
On the other hand, December also was the time to complete progress tests, so a lot of time was spent in the beautiful LSHTM library and at my desk at home. Nevertheless, I enjoyed realising how much I learned in such a short period of time and how much I can already implement this knowledge.
After the last day of study in mid-December, I flew to Mallorca for a week of climbing with my boyfriend. Unfortunately, we chose an extremely rainy week but merrily kept climbing anyway. All in all, it was a great holiday and it was good to get out of the big city for a while.
For Christmas, I went home to Germany. The atmosphere after the terror attack in Berlin was tense and you could see and feel changes especially in the city centres. I spent Christmas together with my family and we enjoyed some quiet and relaxing time with lots of cooking, baking and talking.
Tomorrow, I am heading to Munich to celebrate New Year’s Eve there. It is hard to believe that one of the most eventful years of my life is already over. I am looking forward to what 2017 is going to bring!
I wish you all a Happy New Year!
January - Culture and politics
Over the last month, friends and family came to visit me in London and I used the opportunity to explore more of this exciting city. On our list were the Natural History Museum with its exhibition ‘Wildlife Photographer of the year’ as well as the British Museum - which I wanted to go to for months as it is just opposite of LSHTM. We also visited less known sites of London like ‘Little Venice’, which got the name from its many canals and boats. Furthermore, we explored the unique shops and restaurants of my home district, Brixton. A special delight was going to the beautiful Gielgud theatre as well as seeing the ‘Cirque du soleil’ in the Royal Albert Hall. London has so much to offer and you could spend all your time just exploring.
Apart from these cultural experiences, my month was dominated by recent political events. The current emphasis on nationalism in so many countries around the world is something I cannot comprehend: I do not judge people by their nationality, determined by a line on a map, but by their values and actions. Studying at LSHTM together with fellow international students makes me realize more than ever, that the solutions to major problems like pollution and climate change, poverty, terrorism and inequity, lie in international collaboration, not in isolation.
After the inauguration of Donald Trump, I joined the ‘Women’s march on London’ to protest any restrictions of human rights. One of my favourite posters of the march cited the famous British Harry Potter books: “We are only as strong as we are united, as weak as we are divided.”. I do not want a world divided by hate where fellow humans are judged and receive support not according to their needs, but their passports.
February - Snowdonia
A few days back, I joined the mountaineering club on another weekend trip. We met up on Friday evening, packed our van with every possibly needed kind of equipment, and drove towards Snowdonia National Park in Wales. Around midnight, we finally arrived in our cosy hut in Ogwen Valley and gladly crawled into our sleeping bags.
Saturday morning greeted us with plenty of fog but as we were so excited to be outdoors, no one was complaining. We split up into smaller groups that day, so everyone could follow their interests: hiking, scrambling, climbing or mountain-biking. Together with Alex, I went on a scrambling trip up Treyfan, one of the popular mountains in Ogwen Valley. Scrambling is defined as ‘a walk up steep terrain involving the use of one’s hand’. It lies somewhere between hiking, hillwalking, mountaineering and rock climbing. As it was a very misty and windy day, it felt kind of adventurous and exposed to scramble along mountain ridges without being able to see how high up we were. On our way back, we got slightly lost in the mist, but by luck and some limited orientation skills we safely made it back to our hut. In the evening, we all enjoyed a fabulous meal together before we fell into bed after an exhausting day.
Despite having sore leg muscles, I joined part of the group to conquer Mount Snowdon the following day. The weather was foggy again but we enjoyed ourselves anyway. To our surprise, the summit was rather crowded as many other hikers decided to take an easier route up the other side of the mountain. After descending, it was already time to pack up again and make our way back to London.
Discovering Britain’s national parks is a fantastic way to get to know the country. I am looking forward to the next trips to the Lake District and Cornwall!
March - A bit of everything
I went a little overboard last month and planned a lot of things, so between family, friends, university and sports events, March turned out to be a bit stressful.
At the beginning of the month, I flew to Germany for my sister’s birthday and had a nice weekend with family and friends in Northern Germany. In return, in the middle of March my siblings came over to celebrate my birthday. We had a great weekend, dipping into British culture, and enjoying the St. Patrick’s Day festivities and the parade – which strangely had a lot of South American dancers in it. In addition, some of my fellow students amazed me with a small surprise birthday celebration. The LSHTM community is just incredible!
It was very good to have this time off, as apart from another 10k race to kick of British Science Week and a climbing competition, the rest of the month was largely dominated by preparing university assignments. I ended up handing in my last assignments just before I boarded a plane to Montreal to visit my boyfriend, and slept through the whole flight.
Now, I am in Canada for 3 weeks, and look forward to exploring the still kind of wintery surroundings. After this, I am heading to Sicily with the University of London Mountaineering Club for a week of climbing. At the end of April, I am back in London and am looking forward to seeing the city in spring.
April - Travelling the world
The last few weeks seem to have gone by in a heartbeat. I had a great time staying in Montreal with Kris and getting to know the city. Spring was just around the corner and the weather surprised us with everything from snow to temperatures of 20°C. So, we enjoyed days in the sun as well as snowshoe hiking in the surrounding mountains a couple of hours away from the city. Montreal is known for its culinary scene, and we tried out several of its hot spots. My Canadian favourite was ‘taffy on snow’ - maple syrup and snow on a stick - which you have to eat quickly if you do not want to end up with a sugar coating.
From Canada, I continued on to Sicily for a climbing holiday with the University of London Mountaineering Club. Almost every day brought us cloudless, sunny skies, and we had a great time trying out the different climbing areas around San Vito lo Capo. However, I took one scary fall on a multi pitch route that reminded me of how careful you have to be whenever you climb.
I've only been back in London for a few days and already immersed in the last term of my studies. It is unbelievable how fast this exiting experience has gone by. It feels like I just came to London and I cannot believe that it is almost time to leave again. My final exams will be in June and then I am heading to Canada to write my Master’s thesis. Until then, I'll try to make the most of my last weeks in London!
May - Nearing the end
This month, I dedicated most of my time to studying – either working on my last assignments or preparing for the upcoming exams. However, I managed to find some time to squeeze in other activities and take advantage of this last period in the UK.
At the beginning of May, my friend David and I went climbing on the beautiful peninsula of Portland in the South of England. The landscape is dominated by steep cliffs and surprisingly turquoise ocean – a perfect setting for spectacular climbing, even though the approach to the start of some climbs was adventurous.
In the middle of May, my whole family came to visit and I enjoyed exploring parts of London I have not been to yet. I especially liked the Portobello Road Market, a street market with all kinds of second-hand clothes and antiques. Another favourite was visiting Greenwich – not just because of the Greenwich Meridian but also because of the spectacular view you have of London.
At the end of the month, I joined ULMC on probably the last of my climbing trips with them. We had a great time in the Peak District where we stayed at a hut that was partly carved out of the rock. As always, everyone was very helpful and friendly – I am so glad, I found this club that gave me all these opportunities to explore the UK.
For the next few weeks, I have to focus on studying for my final exams. I cannot believe that there is only one more month in London left…
June - Exams and farewells
June was all about exams. Apart from revision sessions, we did not have lectures anymore and were left to prepare one year worth of Public Health knowledge on our own. Even though this was a very stressful time, it was rewarding to realise how much we have learned during our studies. Overall, I feel like taking the step towards Public Health was the right decision. My views on many aspects of medicine have changed considerably and I feel like I have a more holistic view now than a year ago.
After completing the exams and enjoying the farewell celebrations at university, I was happy to escape on a short holiday to Germany to meet family, friends and old colleagues, and enjoy some much-needed time relaxing in the beautiful landscape of Bavaria.
Currently, I am back in London working on my Master’s thesis, applying for jobs and preparing to move to Montreal soon. Other students are already leaving and this last stretch of time feels like a long, protracted farewell party.
Even though there are aspects of London that I did not enjoy such as the huge population, and the air and noise pollution, the experience I had in this city was transformative and something I would not want to miss. I incredibly enjoyed receiving a world-class education in the stimulating environment of LSHTM. However, the best thing was the international community and the friends I made from all over the world. This is what I am going to miss the most.
I want to use this opportunity to sincerely thank everyone who helped me to get to this point: the British Council Germany, my friends and family, and all colleagues from the Medical School Hanover!