Slice of Advice – Erasmus in Charles University in Prague

The opportunity to undertake an Erasmus in Prague cannot be justified by any amount of words. Situated in the heart of central Europe, the Czech Republic is the ultimate portal to the rest of Europe, that boasts cost and time effective means of travel, and is host to the distinguished Charles University.

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Having arrived in Prague in late September and narrowly missing the mid-autumn sunshine, the city didn’t fail to sweep me away with its quaint and whimsical streets that wind their way among historical architecture from many periods varying from Romanesque style, to Gothic and the Baroque era right up until the Art Noveau style of the late 19th century.

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A welcoming opportunity that Charles University offers to its students, is the chance to be educated in one of their many historical buildings that are peppered across Prague city; the newer buildings and so called minicampuses are situated slightly aside of the centre (Charles University does not have a main campus). The Law Faculty building for example (my host faculty), is steeped in historical significance. Its military occupation of the SS in the first half of 1940s, used it to control the wide surroundings during the May Uprising of the Prague People in 1945.

The practicalities and realities of setting up a new life no matter where you go is daunting to say the least. However a few ‘heads up’ from someone what has been through the ropes of it, might be something of interest to those intent on embarking on the cultural, social and personal voyage that Charles University in Prague promises.

The ‘dormitory life living’ is a simplistic and affordable means of living and undoubtedly the most advantageous economically and for making friends. The shared rooms and ‘walk in wardrobe’ sized kitchen and bathrooms require getting accustomed to, but are always a hub of activity and thriving with young students bursting for adventure and travel on every occasion. Erasmus students in Prague can select between the Hostivař, Trója, Větrník and Hvězda halls of residence in their Erasmus online application. If they do not state any preference, the European Office (main Erasmus Office of Charles University) will place them in one of the above mentioned residences based on their study field, so that students of one host faculty are preferably housed together.

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In terms of the practicalities of setting up a life in a new country, it can be a bit overwhelming. Attaining your ID or ISIC card from Charles University will allow you purchase the student transport pass for the period you require it while studying in Prague, and allow you to safely avoid incurring any fines. When first arriving, keep in mind that if you are travelling by public transport to your accommodation, you are obliged to purchase an extra ticket if you are in possession of large luggage. You may also consider to avail of the taxi service offered outside the airport as it more convenient if you have a lot of baggage (please, beware of taxi drivers offering their services directly to you in the arrival hall and not belonging to the official airport taxi service, to get the fair price and best service).

Setting up a Czech account can be beneficial in terms of saving money on conversion and avoiding transaction costs from your home bank. Some students attained a worldwide bank card which allows you to send and spend money in over 90 countries, receive a good conversion rate and avoid transaction costs. This proved extremely convenient and economical especially for those interested in travelling around Europe to countries outside the Euro-zone during their year abroad. Likewise, purchasing a Czech sim card can also be cost-effective in this regard to avoid roaming charges.

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It is vital to immerse yourself in as many activities the University offers in the first few months. It is the pathway to meeting new people with similar interests and perhaps engaging in some extra-curricular activities that will decorate your résumé a bit more. In my host faculty, Charles University Common Law Society, organised mixers and boat parties at the beginning of term that proved invaluable to easing the transition from being a foreigner to becoming an Erasmus student. Bear in mind that an Erasmus is an international exchange and you will most likely befriend more international students than locals at such events. If you would prefer to meet more Czech students, some societies offer a ‘buddy’ system whereby you are paired with a local Czech student who can familiarise you with the city and introduce to places that rest outside the well carved tourist path. There is also a ‘tandem’ language exchange service offered by several of the international societies, if you would like to learn Czech on one-to-one basis with a Czech student free of charge.

As the weeks fly by, an influx of friends, family and visitors are sure to grace your doorstep. When they arrive, perhaps for the first time to Prague, you are not exploring the city with them as a foreigner but as a local flaunting the city, that has become your home.

Be it immersing them among the hustle and bustle of Charles Bridge and Prague Castle or indulging in the infamous trdelník pastry that are available on every street corner, there isn’t short of something to do in such a vibrant and spirited city. The Zoo and Letná Park with their magnificent views are a must if there is any element of sunshine.

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Perhaps the most challenging aspect of an Erasmus in Prague is being unfamiliar with the Czech language. Unlike other European countries, the level of English that the older generation possess is significantly lower in standard and that’s if they even have any English at all – for most of them Russian was the second language to learn at school before the year 1989. The option to take a module in basic Czech was available to me and it is something I would thoroughly recommend.

Another challenging element of adopting a new life in Prague, is learning how to understand and use the currency with ease. It is hugely inflated in comparison to the Euro or Sterling. However the old saying ‘practice makes perfect’ is the mantra that will help see you through this hurdle.

The winters in Prague can be harsh with the temperature often dropping to an incredible -15° in the winter season for someone coming from Ireland (the locals would laugh and tell you they remember 14 days of -20° and that for them, the extremely hot summer last year was more difficult to endure with temperatures reaching 40° for several weeks in row). However, the arrival of March sees a drastic change in the weather and sitting outside with a cold beer for less than one euro, admiring the scenery that rests on the fringe of the Vltava River becomes a typical element of your daily routine.

Erasmus students take advantage of the warmer part of the year for travelling around. There are many interesting places to go just a few hours away from Prague. Having visited an array of surrounding countries throughout the two semesters, a few places topped the ‘must-see’ charts. Budapest unanimously came out on top, boasting cheap living, roof top thermal baths looking out over the city and edgy bars. It is undeniably an all-rounder for the student traveler. Its wide-planned streets and Art Nouveau architecture contribute to its ironically intimate vibe. Krakow and Berlin both offered alternative European cultures and accommodate the student traveler extensively by their party hostels, ruin bars and pub-crawls.

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Prague is the epitome of a city that accommodates everyone’s interest. Its low cost of living (paired with lower incomes of the locals than what is standard in Western Europe) means that it can offer so much more in terms of experience, travel and embarking upon a fruitful Erasmus of memories and fondness. Should you chose to complete your Erasmus in Charles University in Prague, expect to leave with contacts from all the over the world, a broader international education, empty pockets… but an irrefutable longing to go back.

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Aoife Brady is an Irish International Law student on Erasmus in Charles University. She enjoys observing and reporting on the cultural immersion of Erasmus students and the integration of foreign students studying abroad. She also has a keen interest in travel and is looking to improve her journalistic skills.

Original post appeared in http://iforumeng.cuni.cz/IFORUMENG-591.html

Cinnamon Buns, Snowflakes, Joggers and Beautiful Wooden Houses

Esther Kelliher BCL (International) 3, studying at the University of Oslo, Norway

Oslo – a city filled with cinnamon buns, snowflakes, joggers & beautiful wooden houses.

Oslo is an amazing city to live in and if you study here on your year abroad you are guaranteed to have the best year.  Here are my top tips to help you figure out the basics.

Getting there:  You should be able to find cheap flights on Ryanair to Rygge Airport (for example I was able to get my flight home for only 69 cent!). From there you take an express bus to Oslo – once you arrive at the airport there will be two buses to Oslo city centre waiting outside, so no fear of getting lost. The bus ride will take around an hour. Once you arrive at the bus terminal look for a shop called Seven 11, it’s here that you will be able to buy a travel card (Ruter card).  A monthly pass is 410 NOK and you can use it for all metro lines, trams, buses and a few boats. If you are living in Kringsa or Sogn take Line 6, Westbound.

Accommodation:

There are two main student villages that you can live in: Kringsa or Sogn.  I currently live in Kringsa and love it. The metro is only a two minute walk from my apartment. It’s a 15 minute metro ride to National Theatre where the law faculty is situated. The best part of living at Kringsa is the lake, situated only a five minute walk away, here you can go jogging, swimming, cross country skiing etc. There is also a food store called Kiwi situated in Kringsa village.

ID number:

When you arrive you will have to get an ID number, this will allow you to open a bank account and work. To get an ID number you have to go to the tax office and bring your passport and accommodation contract with you. The remaining form that you have to fill out will be provided for you at the tax office.

University life:

You will be studying modules at Masters level. The standard here is high, but if you keep up with the reading it isn’t too stressful. As a native English speaker you’re automatically at an advantage anyway, you just need to tip away at it throughout the year. It also looks good when you’re applying for internships and traineeships to say you have already studied at Master’s level.

Internet:

You will need to bring a router box with you for internet.

Money:

You will not be able to take out NOK in Ireland, but you will be able to take out NOK at the airport.

Weather:

It’s an amazing experience being in a country where seasons actually exist! Summer here is lovely, bright blues skies and many days are spent by the lake. Snow comes around mid December – mid March. It can drop to -18 degrees so bring lots of woollies with you and a good pair of shoes so you won’t be slipping on the ice!

Social Life:

If you are worried about meeting people here, don’t be. The Buddy Programme held at the start of the year is brilliant – you will be divided into small groups of around 15-20 and there are numerous events and activities organised for you during that week. Also, the majority of the students in your classes will be international students, which makes it a lot easier to meet people in a similar position to you.  I would also recommend taking a Norwegian language class as one of your modules, it is a lot of fun and a great way to meet people. However, you don’t need to worry about the language barrier as everyone here speaks English perfectly.

Few extra tips/notes:

-Oslo is a VERY safe city, which is one of my favourite things about living here.

-Taxis are very expensive – the starting rate is €10.

-Bring a sleeping bag with you for the first couple of nights – you will then be able to go to Ikea and get duvets, pillows etc. once you have settled in. There are two areas in the city in which you will be able to get a free bus out to Ikea.

-If you are looking for a cheap place to buy groceries take the T-bane to Gronland – it is a lot cheaper to shop in this area.

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The Law Faculty

Oslo Boat Trip

Boat trip organised for law students as part of Buddy Week

Oslo Trolltunga Hike

Trolltunga Hike

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Sognvann: (The lake behind Kringsa Student Village)

 

 

Law and French Reunion

by David Keane

The idea came about when John Conway, in a Proustian moment, came across an old photo of our graduation and emailed it to a few from the class. It soon became an idea to all meet up. We were the first cohort of Law and French in UCC, from 1996-2000, so this year is the 15th anniversary of our graduation. We managed to get 12 out of the total class of 16 together in London over the summer, where we had a French-style apéro party in the Keane back garden, followed by dinner in central London. We are currently working in Cork, Dublin, London, Paris, Luxembourg and Nice, mainly around law although some are working with French or in France. The conversation ranged from Paul Ricoeur to legal positivism via hermeneutics… well, maybe not!

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In attendance (from L to R): Jennifer McCarthy; Ruth Niland; John Conway; Donagh Hardiman; Fiona Lee; Tricia Geraghty; Jayne Deasy; Catherine Weeks; David Keane; Aileen O’Riordan; Myles O’Byrne. Aonghus Fitzgibbon joined later.

A semester in Copenhagen

Leah Falvey, a student on the BCL International programme, went to University of Copenhagen for 2012/13.  This was her experience during the first semester there. 

I’ve been living in Copenhagen for three months now and safe to say I’ve absolutely fallen in love with this city. The start of my Erasmus was rocky to say the least. Miscommunication with the International Housing Office and confusion processing my international application coupled with severe student housing difficulties meant that I arrived in Copenhagen on the 3rd of August with nowhere to live. A three week stint in hostels and couch surfing ensued before I ended up in my apartment with a Parisian political sciences student, who I had met on the Danish Language course. Despite a bumpy start and moments of wanting to give up and go home, it’s worked out really well and I’m very happy here. There are serious difficulties for all students looking for housing for the academic year-Danish and International students alike. When you get accepted to the University, send through your application for housing as soon as possible, and don’t be afraid to follow it up with the housing office. Bear in mind that even if you apply on time you might not get a housing offer, so be open minded and look at private housing options!

The Danish language course itself was more intense than I had anticipated-imagine cramming first year of Secondary School French or German into 3 weeks!! However it was a great way of easing into life in Denmark. I met lots of International students and we were able to discover the city and settle in without the pressure of university classes. I don’t think I’ll ever be fluent in Danish, but I have ‘lidt Dansk’ for the important stuff-understanding menus, asking for directions and ordering drinks!! I would highly recommend this course, the extra time to get to know the city and meet people is invaluable, and the Danes appreciate you making a little effort with the language!

Copenhagen is a beautiful city. It’s compact and easy to get around, with all the high street shops in the city centre as well as beautiful parks and gardens dotted around the city. It’s hard to feel homesick living here, and I can’t say that there’s much of a culture shock living in a modern city by the sea! Biking is a way of life here in Copenhagen. It’s the cheapest, easiest and often the fastest way of getting around the city. Luckily the city is very flat and there is a sophisticated system of bike lanes which makes cycling very safe. It is quite daunting in the beginning with all the Danes whizzing by elegantly on their bikes while you rely on cycling skills from when you were about ten years old. You get used to it pretty quickly, hence the phrase ‘it’s like riding a bike’-you never forget!! The one negative about the city is the expense. To give you an idea, a cup of coffee costs around €5 (there’s no Starbucks here either!), you’ll be hard pressed to get a drink in a bar for less than €7 and MacDonald’s is nearly twice as expensive as at home! Grocery shopping can be expensive but there are budget friendly shops such as Lidl, Aldi and Netto. For cheap nights out, each faculty hosts a ‘Friday Bar’ every second week, a night out run on campus by students for students. The Erasmus Student Network also holds cheaper more budget friendly events for international students.

Nyhavn - picturesque area of the city, view from a canal boat

Nyhavn – picturesque area of the city, view from a canal boat

The structure of the academic year is quite different from UCC. You choose three subjects for the Autumn semester and three for Spring semester, with exams at Christmas and Summer. The classes are in seminar as opposed to lecture form. This means you arrive to class with reading prepared ready to discuss the topic. Exams are based on readings as opposed to seminar materials. Oral exams are very popular in the University of Copenhagen system. Classes with an oral exam require you to write a ‘synopsis’-a short research paper on which your oral exam will be partially based – the rest is based on the course readings. This semester I chose Crime and Justice, International Commercial Contracts and Mediation. The classes are small with a limit of 35 per class. Standards are very high as you are in with Masters students as well as other International students. Once you keep on top of readings and attend seminars it’s all very doable!

My Crime and Justice class has brought me on two prison visits to an ‘Open’ and ‘Closed’ prison. It was an amazing experience and really gives you a deeper understanding of the course. It was as a result of these visits that I chose to do my synopsis paper on the Effectiveness of Punishment, which I’m currently researching. Mediation is a very hands-on practical course. As a form of alternative dispute resolution, this course gives a great insight into court alternatives. I’ve just completed a two day training seminar which gave me a chance to act as a Mediator in various types of disputes. It’s a course that is completely different to anything I’ve studied up to now. Mediation requires you to put your legal knowledge aside and think in a new way. It’s not for everyone, but it’s been very insightful for me and certainly something that I would look into pursuing in the future. International Commercial Contracts is a good follow on from the Commercial Law . It’s a popular and competitive class which tends to follow the more traditional lecture style of teaching. This class requires a lot of reading but is very manageable having completed Contract and Commercial Law in UCC.

Amagar Beach in August, 20mins from the city centre

Amagar Beach in August, 20mins from the city centre

This year is also a great opportunity to travel, if you can include it in your budgeting!! So far I’ve been to a few places around Denmark including Helsingor in North Sealand, a scenic seaside holiday area, not unlike Kinsale. On our October Break I went inter-railing to Berlin, Prague (to see other Jennifer, Joe and Gavin), Vienna and Krakow. I’m travelling to Helsinki next weekend with Sarah and Gwen to visit a friend from UCC who is nursing there. Next semester I plan on visiting the girls in Leiden and the Law and German students in Germany.

Copenhagen is a fantastic place to live. I can’t put into words how much I love it here. I can’t recommend it enough to future Law International students-I’m already jealous of those who will be coming here next year!!

A Montana student’s experience in UCC

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During the spring term of 2014, I have had the opportunity to study abroad at the University College Cork (UCC), away from my home school, the University of Montana School of Law (UMSL), located in Missoula, Montana.

One may wonder how someone would come all the way from Missoula to Cork—who doesn’t even have any Irish heritage (that I know of)—and there are a number of reasons for my decision. My decision was influenced by the established partnership between UCC and UMSL, which allowed me to know a few UCC students who had studied at UMSL in past years, a deep cultural connection between Montana and Ireland, due to the number of Irish immigrants who helped shape Montana’s early beginnings as a state, the offering of law courses that focus on the emerging area of law and the Internet, which were not offered at UMSL, and lastly, because I have always wanted to study abroad.

Now as the term is over and I am about to return to Montana, I can honestly say that my decision to study law at UCC has been one of the best decisions I’ve made and the experience has given a feeling of completeness to my academic career. While at UCC I was very impressed by the deep-breadth of knowledge the professors had in the various legal areas, as well as, impressed by the generally small class sizes and approaches that facilitated class discussions. Another bright spot of my time at UCC was the UCC International Student Society, which organized fantastic mixer events and trips for students, facilitating opportunities to make friends and network with other international students.

While I thoroughly enjoyed my time studying on the beautiful UCC campus, I was equally impressed with the hospitality and authenticity of the people of Cork. The wide assortment of good restaurants and pubs seemed endless and I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of exceptional local musical talent in Cork, which seemed to exist everywhere—from the street on a walk to class, to numerous local pubs in the evenings. The combination of classes at UCC, as well as, the fun local Cork atmosphere, all made for a memorable and enlightening experience.

I look forward to maintaining the relationships I have built this term with both UCC professors and fellow students in the future, as in this era of globalization, mutual collaboration on both legal and policy issues is of paramount importance. I hope that the special relationship between UCC and UMSL will continued to grow in the future and that more students at both universities will pursue this exceptional and mutually beneficial opportunity!

Joel Krautter, UMSL

Welcome to UCC Law International Blog

We welcome International students at the Faculty of Law, University College Cork.  Students from all over the world study law at UCC at both undergraduate and postgraduate level and our students (and staff) travel all over the globe on work and study placements.  This blog hopes to capture some of that experience.