Author: Dave Hartley

Heidelberg University

Heidelberg is a small town dominated by the University with many associated Research Institutes. Despite the picturesque setting and ancient buildings it’s incredibly international and you are as likely to hear other languages spoken in the street as you are German. Due to its prestige and research excellence, it’s always been a popular destination for Life Science students. Read what one of them wrote of in her feedback form.

Local Information: I didn’t have term/semester dates I could ask for any holidays I wished for within reason. Germany has a strang system of public holidays depending on where you are in the country.

Homelessness in Madrid

Every student we send abroad has a different story to tell but all of them learn and benefit from the experience. Our students aren’t spending a year on holiday and this cultural report from a student who spent his year in Madrid is testament to the effect their environment can have on them.

Every morning I make the short walk from my flat on the edges of Malasaña to Sol, in order to catch the train to university. My journey on foot takes me along Gran Vía and through the heart of Madrid’s shopping district. It is an affluent part of the city yet as I pass the still-closed shop fronts and the early-morning cafés, my eyes are drawn to the many doorways containing blanketed figures or the cardboard mattresses of early risers.

Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm

Stockholm is a fascinating city built on many islands. I admire the Swedes greatly and am greatly impressed by their determination to live in Stockholm in a Mediterranean lifestyle despite the wholly inappropriate climate. Everywhere you see cafés with seating outside with groups of people under heating and blankets cheerfully ignoring the cold and the dark. Here’s some feedback from one of our students on life in Stockholm.

Local Information: The academic year starts in august and summer is July. In winter the days get very short but then get very long in the summer.

National holidays are called red days and the day before is a pink day.

Universidad Autonoma de Madrid (UAM)

Madrid, despite being the capital of Spain, is a relatively small but very lively city with lots to see and do. We have an exchange agreement with the UAM (Universidad Autónoma de Madrid) which is situated on the edge of the city on a huge, modern campus. It took me as long to walk from the train station on one side of the campus to the Centro de Biologia Molecular on the other side, as it did to get from the centre of Madrid to Cantoblanco. Naturally, I had a brilliant dinner including squid balls cooked in ink at a great restaurant near the Opera.

How France views wealth: culture, economy and government

To many observers, France would seem to be having a crisis of confidence. A deeply unpopular president and a weak economy, high taxes and high youth unemployment would suggest a challenge to the belief of French superiority in a proud and great nation. One of our students spent a year split between Lyon (where she studied at the ENS Lyon) and Paris (where she did research at the Pasteur Institute). Her cultural report describes the difficult relationship between the French ideals of liberty, equality and fraternity and the Western drive to wealth. No images in her report, but here’s a photo I took of some French dudes in Lille.

Montpellier SupAgro

Montpellier is a beautiful city full of contrasting styles, old and new. We have an exchange agreement with SupAgro, one of the Grande Écoles of France, so this destination will appeal to those students interested in plant biology and agriculture, as well as those seeking Mediterranean lifestyles! Montpellier has a large student population and a small centre, so this contributes to a vibrant atmosphere. Here’s what a student said about her time there from her debriefing form:

Local Information: 3rd September 2013-30th June 2013. Main holidays from 20th December 2012 to 10th January 2013.

Travel: Easyjet/Ryanair flights from London, much harder from other places as Montpellier is not really a central destination.

Latte Pappor – On the Parental Leave and the Public Space

One of the nice things about being the Placement Co-Ordinator for Research Abroad students is reading cultural reports written by Imperial students to reflect some aspect of the local culture that has struck them. Here’s one that fits into the very frequent category of “I did not know that”. It’s written by Justine Courty who did her placement at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm and I thought it was rather good.

“Can I see your ticket please?” asks the man at the entrance, toddler in one arm and barcode scanner in the other.

After this 8am Creative Morning lecture among Stockholm’s hipster crowd, I head to the climbing wall for half an hour of exercise before work.

Universite Paul Sabatier, Toulouse

One of the exchange agreements that we have is with the Université Paul Sabatier in Toulouse. This year we don’t have any students visiting “la ville rose” but last year we had two. Toulouse has a very high student population and so it’s quite lively. When I visited our students last March, I was impressed by the beautiful city centre and I had a really good dinner at a restaurant near the train station, as you can see from the picture. The University is quite like Imperial as a campus (i.e. modern and functional) and the research projects that our students worked on were topical and interesting.

Pushing The Boundaries – Life Sciences beyond the sea

When I was finishing my PhD in London it was natural to expect that the next phase of my career would take me abroad. That might be showing up my age now, but back then I had no hesitation in writing to PIs in Berkeley, Boulder, Harvard and Yale in the U.S. I was lucky enough to be accepted and having won an EMBO fellowship, for the next five years I lived in Connecticut and worked at Yale. Living and working in a different culture was a fantastic experience and fortunately, our undergraduates have a much easier path to this opportunity than I did back then.