Department of Politics, Languages & International Studies

Student blogs

Many of our students keep a blog during their placement year or year abroad to share their experiences away from Bath. You can view some of their entries here.

View some of our blog entries

Tracht und Pracht - how my apron told the world I was widowed

Lesley Warren - Year abroad

BA (hons) Modern Languages and European Studies (French and German)

Every year, round about the end of September through to the first week of October, Munich, the Bavarian capital, is hit by an internationally-renowned, centuries-old phenomenon which completely changes the city’s character from a pleasantly cultured air to an alcohol-fuelled haze of sea-shantying, swaying, and beer-swilling madness. Locals call this ‘die Wiesn’. Some call it ‘ein Chaos’ and make plans to be out of town for its duration. The rest of the world calls it Oktoberfest. Read more »

From Patagonia to Paris

Imogen Cole - Year abroad

BA (hons) Modern Languages and European Studies (French and Spanish)

Torres del Paine National Park

The inaccessibility of this land is summed up most eloquently by those old Patagonian folk who call a 30 minute ferry ride to the mainland “GOING TO CHILE.” Many consider the country to end in Puerto Montt, the last commercial capital before the remote stretches of Patagonia begin. Writer Lucas Bridges even wrote about Patagonia, ‘In those far-away places, a patient was either dead or better by the time the doctor arrived’… Read more »

Insight of an Intern – House Hunting in London

Cerian Jenkins - Placement year

BSc (hons) Politics with International Relations

To let sign

For the past two weeks of my life I have been immersed in the task of finding a room in London. In a city of over 8,000,000, people (not including Greater London) you’d think that a few of them would have a nice and affordable spare room for rent – apparently this isn’t the case. Read more »

 
See more student blogs

Some of our students in other departements have also been blogging during their placement year. Find out what they have been getting up to. View blogs »

 

Tracht und Pracht- how my apron told the world I was widowed

 
Lesley in her Dirndl

— Lesley in her Dirndl.

 

Every year, round about the end of September through to the first week of October, Munich, the Bavarian capital, is hit by an internationally-renowned, centuries-old phenomenon which completely changes the city’s character from a pleasantly cultured air to an alcohol-fuelled haze of sea-shantying, swaying, beer-swilling madness. Locals call this ‘die Wiesn’. Some call it ‘ein Chaos’ and make plans to be out of town for its duration. The rest of the world calls it Oktoberfest.

It all kicks off with a parade of national costume groups from all over Europe, waving flags, dancing, blowing horns, riding horses- there was even a carpenter carving wooden sculptures on one of the floats. They all walk through the city, up to Theresienwiese, the site of the main festivities. Some lovely old ladies, pitying my shortness, let me stand at the front of the teeming crowds lining the street, opposite the Bayerischer Hof (“I’ve translated for the Hof!” I couldn’t help thinking smugly.) A thrilling addition to the proceedings involved whips… men in scarlet waistcoats stood in formation (everyone cowered) and simultaneously struck the ground with a din like gunshots.

What couldn’t have been clearer was that one integral component of the Bavarian lifestyle is traditional dress: Lederhosen with stockings and waistcoats for men, and Dirndls and perky little hats for the ladies. It isn’t just reserved for Oktoberfest; you genuinely will see people of all ages and nationalities wearing them all year round. Around Oktoberfest time (even up to a month before), seeing someone who isn’t wearing it is unusual. It thus became apparent to me that I, a registered Bavarian citizen, could embrace the ever-growing trend myself. I wasn’t a mere tourist, spending a small fortune for something I wouldn’t wear after this visit. No, I was now a Münchner on paper and in affinity. I took a sneaky trip to C&A, along with about half of the western world, or so it seemed, to take advantage of the sale to pick up a Dirndl.

For those who have not yet had the pleasure of doing the same, let me put it thus: Wearing Tracht is like being allowed to wear fancy dress even though it’s not Halloween and you aren’t five years old. It makes you feel special, but not silly, because everyone else is wearing it too; and the special feeling reflects itself in the little spring in your step, the swish of your skirts. I don’t usually get like this about clothes, much to the benefit of my purse- what with that and being a non-drinker, my boyfriend delights in my relatively low expensiveness. But it was just one of those things- I saw it, heavy blue cotton with a print of faded roses, a dainty puff-sleeved lace blouse under it, laced with bright frills and ribbon, and thought immediately, “That one- if I am actually going to do this- is definitely the one.”

What a mad profusion of colours and fabrics and bijoux. Older women wore more sober colours and prints, but their dresses were the genuine article, passed down to them from their own mothers, down through the generations, and they accessorised them with jaunty little feathered hats and jangling chain belts of charms. Most girls stuck to the traditional checkered pattern, but chose lime green, fuschia pink and sky blue, bearing gingerbread hearts and tiny heart-shaped handbags and heavy glass pendants. Thus musing, and now suitably attired, I braved the crush on the train and did Oktoberfest.
What’s it like? It’s a funfair teeming with all sorts of rides and food stalls, but so much BIGGER. It’s a mad mélange of chair-o-planes, Ferris wheels, rollercoasters, candy floss, Bratwurst, pretzels, candied nuts and neon lights. Oh, and everyone is dressed like something out of a storybook, even the ones vomiting profusely on the grass verge. What makes this fair different is the beer tents, built as solidly as actual houses. I went to the red-and-yellow Hippodrome, where a brass band played before the teeming masses- and of course, every other song was ‘Ein Prosit!’, the cue for swigging and tankard-clashing. Furtively I glanced around. All the Münchners had their apron bows tied at their hips, not at the back. I retied mine accordingly.

In work several days later, I brought the Dirndl out again, and a colleague gave me an amused look. “You’re wearing your bow on the wrong side,” she said.
“Again?!”
She taught me the rules. An uncomfortable thought occurred to me.
“So if you wear it at the back…”
“Oh, whatever you do, don’t do that. It means you’re divorced, or widowed.”
Ah well, we live and learn…

So anyway, if you happen to see someone who looks like they’ve stepped straight out of ‘The Sound of Music’ waltzing around Bath next year, full of the joys of spring, don’t be alarmed, and don’t send for the men in white coats. It’s only me.

Posted: 9 November 2012

From Patagonia to Paris

 
Torres del Paine National Park

— Torres del Paine National Park.

 

The inaccessibility of this land is summed up most eloquently by those old Patagonian folk who call a 30 minute ferry ride to the mainland “GOING TO CHILE.” Many consider the country to end in Puerto Montt, the last commercial capital before the remote stretches of Patagonia begin. Writer Lucas Bridges even wrote about Patagonia, ‘In those far-away places, a patient was either dead or better by the time the doctor arrived’…

Neither of these assertions inspires much confidence. Particularly not in the case of two rather inexperienced, unprepared city dwellers on an expedition into the Patagonian wilderness. An array of jaw-dropping scenery are all there for the next Tom, Dick or Harry to explore; radiant blue glaciers, azure lakes, shimmering icebergs, emerald fairy-tale forests, rickety bridges, alarming ascents, rugged terrain and looming peaks.

Horrendously unprepared for the conditions of this diverse landscape, a 9 day trek in South America’s finest National Park, Torres del Paine, was an emotional, turbulent journey and only left us both pining to return.

Ill-equipped with a ‘tent’, not even worthy for camping in the New Forest, with a waterproof cover the size of a napkin, we became the laughing stock of the parks gauchos and forest dwellers. Pitching our tent in the middle of a campsite, with little protection from wind and rain (but away from the mosquitos) we were swiftly told that we would wake up in the morning to find ourselves floating in the lake…

However such ignorance does have its up sides. As we hiked round the circuit, word had got round about two English girls traipsing gaily along the cliffs and to this effect, one could say, we became almost the Queens of Torres del Paine. With their most honourable intentions in mind, the gauchos and park rangers lured us into their huts with offers of hot coffee, biscuits and unending supplies of chocolate. We were treated to luxury tents when they were going spare, that didn’t leave you attempting to make an island with your clothes to raise yourself above the inch of water seeping into your sleeping bag. We were even whisked off to a secret beach to watch the icebergs float past on one of the parks glacial lakes..

They say you can have four seasons in a day in this region. If the weather is clear panoramas are everywhere. On other occasions side long rain drives itself into your face, a snow storm hides the pathway, and a biting cold weighs on your spirits. Within minutes the sunlight breaks through the clouds, the strong sun rays providing a delightful respite. Gale force winds, at times can be your enemy, driving you off the side of the snowy mountain, at times your friend as it beats away rain clouds and creates a breathtaking rainbow spray off the lake.

Posted: 3 April 2013

Insight of an Intern – House Hunting in London

 
To let sign
 

A bit of a long one today! Hunting for somewhere to live in London can seem daunting and rather overwhelming, but there’s no need to stress about it.

For the past two weeks of my life I have been immersed in the task of finding a room in London. In a city of over 8,000,000, people (not including Greater London) you’d think that a few of them would have a nice and affordable spare room for rent – apparently this isn’t the case.

Sounds Like A Plan

First and foremost, you need to decide on your budget. Before setting your heart on a luxury 6 bedroom penthouse, you’ll need to work out exactly how much you can afford to pay each month to avoid disappointment further down the line – remember to take into account travel expenses, bills (electricity/gas/water/internet/etc) and council tax, as well as any extra costs such as a deposit and expenditure for furnishings. These all add up rather quickly, and you might not have as much money to spend as you thought. Like most interns, I couldn’t afford to live in my own flat, and so I started out by looking for a flatshare.

Once you’ve decided on a budget, the second tip I would give house and room hunters is to narrow down where you’d be happy to live.

This may sound simple (London, duh?) but in reality this city is a sprawling mass, and where you live in it can mean between a 1.5 hour commute via buses, trains and the tube and a 10 minute stroll to work. It can also be the difference between living somewhere you’re happy to go jogging around at 11pm and where you don’t want to leave the house after sunset. If you have friends or family in London, it’s definitely worth asking around to see where people recommend. Do your own research as well – there are numerous guides to London living areas on the net.

Where To Look

Rather naively, I began my hunt by contacting local estate agents. Now, they tend to get a bad rep in this world, but I must say my experiences with them were generally positive. They were eager to find out what I was looking for and to get me booked in for some viewings. However, with my rather limited budget the type of properties they had listed were far out of my price range. Once the estate agents realised this, they oddly seemed to lose interest. Strange that.

I turned instead to my good buddy the internet, as I’d been recommended two particular sites: Gumtree.com and Spareroom.co.uk.

Gumtree.com: Gumtree is a wonderful mishmash of advertisements; whether you’re looking for a new job, to purchase a plethora of junk or, as was the case in my situation, looking for somewhere to live. I started out by browsing ‘rooms to let’ in the areas I had previously decided on, and personally contacting any which caught my eye. This is time consuming, so set aside a couple of hours a day minimum to carry out this task. Changing tactics turned out to be the best solution for me – instead of trawling the advertisements day in day out, I posted my own ‘room wanted’ ad:

Spareroom is certainly more focused, and easier to navigate. Similarly to Gumtree, I started by browsing the ‘rooms to let’ adverts, but quickly ended up posting my own ‘room wanted advert’. I deleted my account after I’d found a place though, so I”m afraid no sneak peek at that one, though it was basically the same as my other ad.

My top tips for posting your ‘room wanted’ ad are:

  • Be clear about what you’re looking for – include location, budget and other details such as furnished/unfurnished or bills included.
  • Include a photo of yourself – prospective housemates want to know who you are, and putting a face to a name really helps with this.
  • Be honest – if you’re not a party animal, don’t say that you’re always up for all-night benders. If you are a party animal, don’t hide it! You want to be in a living situation which suits all involved. Let people know about your quirks and your hobbies!
  • Think twice about including your phone number (especially if you’re female!) – I made the stupid mistake of openly including my phone number, and received some less than savoury calls. Instead, perhaps opt for just email contact.

Responses and Viewings

In my experience, responses start coming in pretty quickly once you list a wanted ad – in fact, at some points I felt a little swamped by the amount of potential viewings I had. To save myself from spending every evening traipsing from place to place, I first went through my list of responders and ruled out any that were too expensive/too far away/too weird. I then contacted those I was interested in, and asked them to tell me a little more about the flat and themselves, then rinsed and repeated the cutting down.

Once I had a final list (though ongoing as replies kept coming in), I started to book viewings. Something I learned from this, and which I cannot stress enough, is to group viewings of places that are in the same area on the same evening. If I’d been doing this from the start, I would have saved myself a heck of a lot of travel and stress.

As well as this, I would always advise letting someone know where you will be going, and ideally taking a friend along with you to each viewing, Not only is this safer, but it means you gain a second opinion on the property and can talk it through afterwards with them. Make sure to buy the friend lunch to say thank you!

Finally, I would say use gut instinct – if you get a bad vibe about the place, or you don’t seem to click with your potential housemates, chances are you’re not going to enjoy living there and are going to be tied to a place for an unhappy duration of time.

Remember that you don’t have to take the first property you see – be picky, be careful and be certain!

Posted: 28 August 2012