Wednesday, 31 October 2018

Learning Disabilities and Dyslexia Month


Today is the last day of October, which is Learning Disabilities and Dyslexia month. There's so many different days and months dedicated to various causes and sometimes it can feel a bit tedious. However, I think it’s a good opportunity to bring up important topics that rarely come up in everyday conversations.

In 2014, at the age of 21, I was diagnosed with specific learning difficulties of a dyslexic nature revolving around weaknesses in working memory and the ability to process visual symbols effectively. I was also diagnosed with visual stress/Irlen syndrome. Irlen syndrome is a perceptual processing disorder. It is not an optical problem. It is a problem with the brain’s ability to process visual information. I have glasses with tinted lenses for this, but I don’t often wear them outside the house because they look a bit like sunglasses and I don’t want to explain my situation to everyone (using Windows 10’s ‘Night Light’ setting whilst wearing my ‘normal’ glasses isn’t as good but still works ok as an alternative!).

I had pretty much always thought that I was slower than most others at school, but I didn't really tell anybody. My grades weren’t always the best considering how much work I put in. I ended up in the ‘special’ class for maths at primary school and the ‘lower’ class for modern foreign languages (!!!) and maths at secondary school (from what I can remember, I don’t particularly enjoy reliving my school days). Somehow, I ended up in the ‘higher’ classes for English literature and language, and managed to work my way up to the ‘higher’ class for German. I remember really wanting to be allowed to use a fountain pen at primary school, but I wasn’t allowed because the teacher said that my handwriting was too bad because I was lazy. Apparently, the teacher thought that shouting at me and repeating the same things over and over would change that. It's interesting because nowadays some people actually compliment my handwriting! Someone once said to me that they’re surprised that I have dyslexia because I have nice handwriting (after lots of practice, and it’s only nice when I have the time and patience!).

I thought that maybe I was slower because of my low-income background. The further I got through education, the more I realised that that probably wasn’t the case. I did some research and realised that I had a lot of the symptoms of dyslexia. These vary from person to person and aren’t necessarily associated with having nice handwriting. Dyslexia causes problems in reading whereas dysgraphia (written expression disorder) causes problems in writing. Dyslexia is a neurological and often genetic condition, and some of my family members also have dyslexia.

In 2014, I finally decided to get a diagnostic assessment whilst studying my Bachelor’s degree at the University of Chester. Sometimes we do seem to overdiagnose and want a diagnosis for everything. However, I think that diagnoses can help us to better understand certain situations and know how to deal with them. I’m grateful for this because many countries aren’t very effective in diagnosing and understanding disabilities. Being entitled to 25% extra time in exams after my diagnosis made a big difference. I had previously not done very well in exams due to running out of time. It was just unfortunate that I had to sit in a different part of the exam hall away from my friends with a big red card laid on my table.

After my diagnosis at the University of Chester, I had a support tutor who taught me different techniques to manage my dyslexia, and I was given a laptop with support software installed on it. I’ll never forget when someone said to me “I want a free laptop too. I wish I had dyslexia.” Likewise, when I was at college, someone once said to me that one good aspect about their parents’ divorce was that they then started to receive Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA) that they could use to go shopping. Oh, the ignorance of the privileged. EMA was a weekly £10, £20, or £30 grant depending on students’ annual household income. My EMA covered the cost of my weekly bus fare to college and back. My awful part-time job at Subway paid for everything else. Unsurprisingly, the EMA scheme in England was cancelled in 2010 as part of a programme of budget cuts.

Not long after my diagnosis, I had my first negative experience. One of my lecturers was notorious for upsetting students and even making some cry. The lecturer disregarded my diagnosis and literally told me that I was “too stupid to be at university”. I refused to let the lecturer get any satisfaction from making me cry… I waited until afterwards! I once met a student doing the same degree but who started one year after me. She said that she realised who I am because this lecturer had used my essay as an example of bad work in one class, and had said that I had forgotten everything after returning from my year abroad in Spain (that comment in itself narrowed the options down to about four people). For whatever reason, the lecturer didn’t think to ask my permission to use my work, didn’t make it anonymous, and didn’t consider that I did talk to students in other classes and I would find out.

There were many complaints made about this lecturer, but they never seemed to be taken seriously, and the lecturer is still there. I do find constructive criticism to be useful, but I didn’t really consider this lecturer’s criticism to be very constructive. I think that maybe these kinds of people end up becoming teachers because they like to exploit their power over students. Maybe anyone who makes negative comments (based on academic ability, race, religion, sexuality, size, weight, etc.) think that they motivate others, perhaps they think they’re just funny jokes, maybe they’re insecure about themselves and (unintentionally) take out their frustrations on others, or perhaps they just get a kick out of making others feel bad about themselves (but I don’t want to believe that about people). I can’t think of any other reason why they would say such negative comments. I don’t find negative comments motivating and I don’t know anybody who does. I try not to let negative comments about any aspect of my life get me down, and I try not to let numbers define me, whether they’re my grades or my weight. However, I can be stubborn, and maybe I like to prove nasty people wrong (although I don’t want to validate their making negative comments in an attempt to ‘motivate’ others), which is admittedly maybe a very small part of the reason why I decided to progress to a Master’s degree. Yet, “too stupid to be at university” still resounds in my head. I think it’s really important that educators at all levels (not just early education) are informed about learning disabilities so that students don’t have to face such ignorance.

As soon as I presented my diagnostic assessment report to the University of Tampere (nervously and expecting the worst based on my previous experience), I was surprised to find that I was immediately granted extra time in exams without any problems. However, not long after that, I found out that the general exam time is around four hours. That has been enough for me in most cases. Generally, the Finnish education system seems a lot freer and a lot less stressful than the British education system. Perhaps the attitudes of lecturers (and sometimes also students) at British universities are affected by the increase in university tuition fees. Almost anyone can get a degree as long as mummy and daddy can pay up or you take out a loan of around £30,000.

I don’t often talk about my dyslexia partly because of feeling that I’m better at writing than speaking (you can’t backspace speech!) and often feeling socially anxious, but mostly because of my previous negative experiences as well as common myths about dyslexia. Especially when meeting someone for the first time or getting to know someone, talking about having dyslexia (or other aspects of my life such as my sexuality) doesn’t always feel worth the risk of opening up Pandora’s box of prejudices and not having enough time to explain. Some people also seem to perceive talking about such issues as a sob stories or excuses. They think that those who speak about such issues are self-obsessed and victimise themselves. However, if we act like the world is a utopia and never talk about our own struggles or those of others (however small they might seem in a global context), how is anything ever going to change or progress? According to a white paper released by the International Dyslexia Association (IDA) during this Learning Disabilities and Dyslexia Awareness month, “seventy percent of parents, educators, and school administrators incorrectly linked learning disabilities with mental retardation and the majority of the public believe the home environment and laziness are among the causes of learning disabilities”.

Most writing tends to be done on computers nowadays, so I think my struggles aren’t too noticeable, mostly thanks to spellchecker (my saviour!). I love writing and I’ve even been complimented on my writing skills! The hardest part of writing for me is proofreading. I do notice the difference when I don’t have access to spellchecking (and grammar checking) software or I write by hand. Perhaps this is also partly generational since we don’t write by hand as much as we used to. Many schools are trying to limit the use of phones, which I can totally understand because children need to be able to focus and learn social interaction. However, phones can also be used as a learning tool. When there’s an abbreviation on a lecturer’s presentation slides, I often wonder (depending on the situation) whether would be socially acceptable to take out my phone and search for its meaning.

I’m not saying that I’m perfect and I probably also sometimes write long sentences and paragraphs that some people might find difficult to understand. Probably spending so much time in academia has inevitably influenced me in that sense. However, I at least try to minimise my use of jargon, I try to expand abbreviations, and I try not to make assumptions about other people’s knowledge. I guess I do this because of my personal experience of having sat through complex lectures without even having any basic knowledge of the issue being discussed. Sometimes it feels like some academics are speaking another language even when they’re speaking my own mother tongue.

I’ve previously been criticised for not reading enough. As a native English speaker, I also often end up being asked to proofread texts. I enjoy reading, but it takes a lot to motivate myself to do so because I find it very frustrating. It’s not so bad with fiction, but academic articles tend to drive me insane. It takes a long time for me to understand the meaning of the really long sentences and paragraphs, jargon, and complex vocabulary (that I sometimes have to look up in the dictionary multiple times before remembering the meaning). I also often lose my place and have to reread a paragraph several times before I can make proper sense of it. The worst is that sinking feeling when a lecturer sets 100 pages of weekly ‘compulsory reading’. I don’t think it’s just students with learning disabilities who struggle with this! Lecturers seem to sometimes forget that we also have other courses, part-time jobs, and hobbies, etc.

Sometimes I question why I ended up being interested in languages. I remember when someone in one of my Finnish grammar classes once said, “Imagine trying to learn this if you had dyslexia.” but the teacher moved on before I could respond. I have to read, write, and use a word or grammar case many, many times before I can remember it (in my mother tongue as well as in other languages).

I also sometimes question why I ended up in academia. I recently (tried to) read a sentence in an academic context that was 100 words long! Punctuation is there for a reason – part of which is to indicate where to take a breath when reading aloud. I tried reading 100 words aloud without taking a breath and it didn’t go well. I made it to about 50 words.

Don’t even get me started about referencing. Many lecturers ask their students to reference clearly, yet fail to do so in their own presentation slides. This has many a time sent me on a wild goose chase around the internet.

I’ve previously been unsuccessful when applying for jobs or internships that have involved writing or maths tests that I’ve failed. I’ve sometimes felt like a misfit when I worked in catering and retail, and I also often feel like a misfit in academia. I’m not from a privileged/elite/academic background, and my writing style tends to be journalistic, biased, and emotional. I think that opinions and emotions are the foundation of human experiences and therefore the societies in which we live. I struggle to ignore them or put them aside. I don’t believe that it’s possible for something to be totally unbiased, either. The sad truth is that people like us don’t usually end up in academia. We get made to feel like crap and then pushed away before we’ve barely even started. On the other hand, I think and hope that struggling with our sense of belonging is normal and something that almost everyone struggles with.

Some academics seem to question why their publications aren’t more widely read. I think that maybe it’s because they are mostly only accessible to the privileged and elite (yes, I’m obsessed with those words). Specifically, those with a university library account who have some background knowledge of the topic and a wide range of vocabulary, and who can make sense of long and complex sentences and paragraphs. I sometimes struggle to feel motivated to write my Master’s thesis because, like my Bachelor’s dissertation, it will probably just end up gathering dust on a shelf having only ever been read by myself and my supervisor. Academics also seem to wonder how to make their publications more accessible. I personally find it easier to listen to the radio or podcasts than read articles (for example, when catching up with the news through BBC World Service). I wish that more academic audiobooks would also be available.

Some people might read this and think that I’m a total idiot, but I try not to care. People are probably going to find some way to criticise us whatever we do, so we may as well just do what we enjoy and what’s important for us. I guess writing about dyslexia is worth the risk of people thinking that I’m an idiot if it helps us to start conversations or get to know other people who have similar struggles.




Monday, 30 July 2018

Summer course ‘The European System of Human Rights Protection’


On 2nd May, I was informed that I had been accepted by the Summer Course Commission to take part in the Summer course ‘The European System of Human Rights Protection’ 9th – 20th July at the Europa-Universität Viadrina in Frankfurt (Oder) (Germany) and Słubice (Poland). The summer course took place in the city of Frankfurt (Oder) not Frankfurt am Main. Frankfurt (Oder) is located about 100 km eastwards from Berlin. The published webpages include all the relevant information concerning the course. Further information is available for applicants once they are accepted into the course. The application deadline was 30th April. All non-Viadrina students had to fill in the online application and upload following documents: curriculum vitae (max. one page); recommendation from a university teacher (preferably in public international law) (I provided two); proof of competence in English; and letter of motivation (max. one page). Each participant has to be able to follow the lectures in English and active participation is required in seminar discussions. The Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) or similar tests are not required but if a participant has results of these they will, of course, be accepted. The application should otherwise provide evidence of the level of English language knowledge, e.g. courses abroad, university degrees, supporting letters from language teachers, etc. We had to follow closely the instructions which are contained on the online application. Scholarships provided by the DAAD (the German Academic Exchange Service) were available. Viadrina and Erasmus students just had to apply within the regular application form provided as both a Word and pdf document and send it to jursok@europa-uni.de.  In case there are problems with printing or download of the documents, participants can contact the administrator. They prefer to send the application form via electronic mail. In case a participant experiences difficulties with this, they should indicate it in their email.

The summer course celebrated its 20th anniversary in 2018. This gives them the experience and a special knowledge of what a summer course on European Human Rights should be about. In a nutshell, what they offered us during our two weeks in Frankfurt (Oder) and Słubice is to be part of a dynamic university in the heart of Europe; experience internationality by studying in Germany and living in Poland; highly qualified teaching staff; experienced and highly motivated organisational staff being at our service from our arrival until our last day, helping us out; to get to know interesting people from all over the world and get connected for much longer than just the duration of the summer course; to take part in their free time activities; and many more. We could also use the opportunity to ask them via email or former participants via Facebook. We could join them on Facebook for the latest information through their Facebook profile page, and get in touch with the future and former other participants through their Facebook discussion group. For reasons of privacy, they cannot provide the email addresses of the other participants or other such information. Their staff regularly check the Facebook pages. Therefore, we could use this opportunity to ask our questions. We could check their profile for some news about the university, the students, and the cities of Frankfurt (Oder) and Słubice as well.

This summer course dealt in detail specifically and exclusively with the European System for the protection of human rights. Although there are numerous summer courses and other special study programs within Europe on human rights protection, this course concentrates on an integrated treatment of the various European systems and of specifically European issues of human rights protection, that is, with important matters relevant to over forty European countries with diverse political, economic and social systems. The subject matter, therefore, includes human rights protection under the regimes of the Council of Europe (the European Convention on Human Rights and the European Social Charter), the European Community, the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (Helsinki Accords), as well as that on the universal level of public international law to the extent it is relevant. The treatment of the substantive regimes and their specific rights catalogues will be set against the background of a consideration of the philosophical, historical, political, economic and sociological aspects of human rights, and include practical institutional matters such as complaint procedures as well as developments such as in the area of ‘New Rights’. Practical and contemporary issues, such as the protection of human rights in situations of war or civil disorder will also be addressed.

This course is especially designed for advanced undergraduate students or recent graduates in order to provide students from all countries of both Western and Eastern Europe with an opportunity to expand their knowledge of human rights law and policy within the transnational European context. Nevertheless, they try to make sure that each year's group has a diverse background. They strongly believe that this allows every participant to learn from each other and will be the source of qualitative discussions. For that reason, professionals and participants from international organisations or non-governmental organisations (NGOs) are also welcome. They also give participants from other regions than Europe the opportunity to obtain an overview on this topic. Every application is evaluated individually. As minimum criteria, they expect from their future participants that they have a good working knowledge of English, are at an advanced stage of their studies, and have at least a basic understanding of public international law.

This comprehensive course was organised and presented by a dedicated group of experienced experts and teachers from universities in eleven European countries, coordinated by the Viadrina European University Frankfurt (Oder) (Europa-Universität Viadrina, Große Scharrnstraße 59, 15230 Frankfurt (Oder), Germany). The other participants were the Universities of Poznan (Adam Mickiewicz University) (Poland), Barcelona (Pompeu Fabra University) (Spain), Rotterdam (Erasmus University) (the Netherlands), Aberystwyth, Milton Keynes (Open University), Lancester (Law School) (United Kingdom), Bochum (Ruhr University) (Germany), Maribor, Kranj (School of Government and European Studies) (Slovenia), Szeged (Hungary), Vienna and Salzburg (Paris-Lodron University) (Austria). Partner institutions of the summer course were the German Red Cross (Berlin, Germany), International Association of Lawyers Against Nuclear Arms (IALANA) (Berlin, Germany), the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for Human Rights (Vienna, Austria), and TRENDS think tank (an organisation that studies a particular subject and provides information, ideas, and advice) (Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates (UAE)). The teaching staff came from the different partner universities and each faculty member enjoys a high reputation in his respective field. Prof. Dr. Carmen Thiele, Prof. Gerard C. Rowe, and Dr. Robert Frau were from their faculty in Frankfurt (Oder). We also benefited from the knowledge of the teaching staff from their partner universities and institutions: Prof. Ryszard Piotrowicz (Aberystwyth), Prof. Dr. Jernej Letnar Černič (Kranj), Prof. Pablo Pareja Alcaraz (Barcelona), Moritz Birk, LL.M. (Vienna), Dr. Agata Fijalkowski (Lancaster University Law School), Dr. Marton Sulyok (Szeged), Prof. Dr. Hans-Joachim Heintze (Ruhr University of Bochum), Dr. Therese Comodini Cachia (Malta), Dr. Richard Burchill (Abu Dhabi), Dr. Aniko Szalai (Szeged), Prof. Dr. Zdzisław Kędzia (Poznań), Dr. Therese Comodini Cachia (Malta), Prof. Dr. Zwaak (Utrecht), Dr. Ulrike Brandl (Salzburg), and Katja Schöberl, LL.M. (Berlin).

Held in English, the summer course combined lecture and discussion approaches. Lectures had a maximum number of 50 participants, while discussion groups were limited to 20 participants. Participants were expected to be actively involved, including the reading of materials set in advance for each session. Materials especially prepared for this course were provided free of charge. We were also able to download the materials from their online section. Certain additional reading materials were available for purchase. Furthermore, at the end of the course, a moot court (a mock court at which law students argue imaginary cases for practice) was organised. This allowed us to practice our skills in relation to a real case study. Our benefits included acquiring 10 ECTS credits and a certificate of participation that was issued at the end of the summer course.

I confirmed my position via email before the deadline on 8th May. Afterwards, participants received an official acceptance letter with further information and an official written invitation letter from the university to present to the German embassy/consulate in their respective countries with a visa application for those who needed a visa. All documents provided by them were sent via email as pdf files. I had to bring with me an official signed letter from my university (on letterhead with stamp and signature) stating the full amount of any financial assistance for attendance which has been or will be given to me. Basically, I just needed to confirm that I am not receiving any financial support from the University of Tampere to attend this summer course. I received this both as a hard copy and as a pdf file via email. I thought hard copy would be best as they say that it needs to be an official signed letter on letterhead with stamp and signature. I was also told to bring this letter with me and hand it to them upon arrival.

All participants also received a brief document with all the relevant information on travel, accommodation, and the first day. They recommended that it might be useful to print this document (or download it to our mobile devices) in order to even have a look at it during our journeys.

There are no rigid criteria for granting the scholarship. Nevertheless, some brief indication of your personal and family financial circumstances allow them to assess your financial need. The scholarship will cover only tuition, accommodation, and meals. In special cases, some assistance with travel expenses is provided. However, it is strongly recommended to apply to local sources in the first place (e.g. Soros Foundation/ Open Society Foundations scholarship programmes). The scholarships are intended for undergraduate students, not for members of NGOs or other similar institutions. The Commission selected me for a scholarship which includes the participation enrolment fee (€490 (£430.12)) and a grant for travel costs in the amount of €175 (£153.61). I got travel expenses up to this amount after submitting the original tickets to the Summer Course Commission after arriving in Frankfurt (Oder). The fee included full tuition costs, accommodation for full period of the programme (13 nights’ accommodation) in the student hostel, all meals (breakfast (in Słubice), lunch, and dinner (at the Mensa university cafeteria)) Monday - Friday on the lecture days throughout both weeks of the programme, and a free-time programme. I had to cover my meals on the weekends and during my leisure time.

Accommodation (Administracja Domów Studenckich, Ul. Piłsudskiego 14, 69 – 100 Słubice, Poland) in modern student apartments with quite simple conditions (containing either single or twin bedrooms with their own kitchen and bathroom) was provided for each participant 8th July – 21st July. The cost for the accommodation is included in the fees. They were single or twin-share bedrooms (mostly twin, so be had to be prepared to have a roommate) in apartments for 3-5 people with a kitchen and bathroom in every apartment. There was a 24/7 reception; tennis court and gym in the area; car park (partly supervised); green area, offering the possibility of getting together; post office, supermarkets (open from 08:00 to 21:00), and bars within walking distance. Furthermore, there is a small night shop (for beverages and some snacks), as well as a petrol station, which are open during the night. The local currency in Poland is złoty (PLN), and only the supermarket and the gas station accept the euro currency and credit cards. There was no Wi-Fi/internet access in the dorms at the student hostel, although we could use the Wi-Fi at the university area. Fresh bed linen was provided at the beginning of our stay but was not changed during the two weeks. Furthermore, we needed to bring your own towels. There was be no room service at our accommodation, so we had to make sure that we kept your apartment clean and brought out the garbage, etc. The course lectures are held in Germany, but accommodation is located in Słubice, Poland (across the Oder River from Frankfurt, in walking distance). We had to cross the border several times each day. Therefore, some participants are, depending on nationality, required to hold multiple entry visas for both Germany and Poland that (must be obtained before arrival!) or their nationality must allow this automatically. A Schengen visa (category C) for both Germany and Poland is required. For details how to obtain a Schengen visa, participants should ask the embassy of Germany in their respective country. When applying for the visa, participants must make clear to the embassy/consulate that they need a multiple-entry visa. Detailed information can be obtained from Auswärtiges Amt (Ministry of Foreign Affairs - Germany). It is participants’ responsibility to make sure of this before coming to the summer course.  In case a participant does not hold the required visa, the course organisers are unable to provide them with different accommodation. In the event of this, they have to cover the additional costs for accommodation themselves.

The purpose of the summer course is not only to provide knowledge in the field of human rights protection, but also to promote intercultural contacts between participants. Their accommodation policy is that participants from different countries and regions share rooms in the student hostel. Participants from the same country or region should not share rooms. Room allocation is decided before the arrival of participants. They cannot respond to any special requests concerning the room allocations.

I was advised that it would be best if I arrive one day early at the accommodation on 8th July after 15:00 because the programme started on the 9th July at 08:30. Unfortunately, I had a flight booked from the UK to Finland 7th July 19:35- 8th July 00:30. I thought I may as well just sleep at the airport then! I asked whether there was a washing machine at the accommodation due to my concerns about being in the UK for 2 weeks before the summer school and I'm wasn’t sure if I could pack enough clothes for a whole month. When I received the, I found out from the brief document with all the relevant information that washing machines are available at the accommodation, and we could buy tokens at the reception. I was also concerned about the dress code. I was told that they do not have a dress code, although the participants sometimes dress up for the moot court on the last day.

I booked return flights from Helsinki to Berlin (Tegel) 8th July 16:10 - 17:05 and 21st July 17:45 - 20:35. This cost €169.32 (£148.78). As I was coming directly from the UK, I thought that I would need to check in a suitcase, which cost €20 (£17.57) per flight. The total price was then €209.32 (£183.92). Therefore, unfortunately, the grant didn’t cover this as well as the additional trains and buses. If we had any comments or issues, we didn’t need to hesitate to contact them by email. They were happy to help us out with travel information, questions, or specific problems.

They’re at the heart of Europe, that's why all roads lead to Frankfurt (Oder) and Słubice. You can check their information by choosing your way of travelling on the left or the university website.

For general flight information, see the Berlin Airports’ website, or search for your connection from Berlin to Frankfurt (Oder). Before leaving Berlin Tegel Airport (TXL), guide yourself to the BVG ticket counter next to the exit of the terminals A and B. There, you can buy a ticket allowing you to travel from Berlin to Frankfurt (Oder). Leaving the Tegel Airport, use the bus ‘TXL’, which departs from platform 2. Check this overview to see the location of the ticket counter and the platform. The bus ‘TXL’ will take you to the main train station in Berlin (Berlin Hauptbahnhof). Leave the bus at the stop called ‘Washingtonplatz / Hauptbahnhof’. The ride should take about 20 minutes (up to 40 at peak hours). At the Hauptbahnhof, guide yourself to the upper platforms. The trains to Frankfurt (Oder) usually depart from platform 11 or 12. You should take the RegionalExpress 1 (RE 1) towards Frankfurt (Oder) or Eisenhüttenstadt. The trains depart every 30 minutes and the journey time will be about 1 hour and 20 minutes. Make sure that you leave the train at the (main) train station of Frankfurt (Oder), not at the stop ‘Frankfurt (Oder)-Rosengarten’. Once you arrive at the train station in Frankfurt (Oder), check their information on the bus connection to the accommodation in Słubice, Poland.

Leaving the Berlin Schönefeld Airport (SXF), guide yourself to the train station (about 3 minutes’ walk). In the underpass inside the train station, you will find ticket machines. Buy a single ticket from Berlin Schönefeld to Frankfurt (Oder). Then, guide yourself to the platforms, where the regional trains depart. Use the RegionalExpress 7 (RE 7) towards ‘Dessau’ or ‘Bad Belzig’, or RegionalBahn 14 (RB 14) towards ‘Nauen’. Leave the train at the eastern train station (Berlin ‘Ostbahnhof). The journey takes about 25 minutes. At the Ostbahnhof, you have to change trains. You should take the Regional Express 1 (RE1), towards Frankfurt (Oder) or Eisenhüttenstadt. The trains depart every 30 minutes and the journey time will be about 1 hour and 20 minutes. Make sure that you leave the train at the (main) train station of Frankfurt (Oder), not at the stop ‘Frankfurt (Oder)-Rosengarten’. Once you arrive at the train station in Frankfurt (Oder), check their information on the bus connection to the accommodation in Słubice, Poland.

Especially if you are coming from other continents, you may not arrive at one of the airports in Berlin, but at other another airport hub in Germany, such as Frankfurt (Main) (FRA), Munich (MUC) or Cologne-Bonn (CGN). Unless you have a connection flight to Berlin, you should use the train for further travel, and continue your journey via Berlin. Therefore, please check the information available here.

If you plan to come by train from western, southern, or northern Europe, your way will probably lead via Berlin. The German capital is very well connected with every major city in Germany, such as Cologne, Hamburg, Munich, Stuttgart, etc. There are (direct) train connections from other European capitals as well, such as Copenhagen (via Hamburg), Amsterdam, Brussels (via Cologne), Zurich, Prague, or Budapest. You will have to travel to the main station in Berlin, the Berlin Hauptbahnhof. Check your journey details by consulting the website of the German railway company Deutsche Bahn (an English version is available). When travelling by train, you should consider using either the Intercity-Express (the fastest high-class trains running between the biggest cities) or the Intercity / Eurocity categories. Local trains such as RegionalExpress and RegionalBahn are quite comfortable as well, but your journey will take a relatively long time and you will have to change trains quite often. Using the trains in Germany is relatively expensive. However, there is an early bird fare, which means the earlier you book, the more money you will save. For that reason, if you are searching for a connection from bigger German cities, also check flights with so-called cheap airlines. Using first class is not necessary at all. At the Hauptbahnhof, please guide yourself to the upper platforms. The trains to Frankfurt (Oder) are usually departing from platform 11 or 12. You should take the RegionalExpress 1 (RE 1), towards Frankfurt (Oder) or Eisenhüttenstadt. The trains depart every 30 minutes and the journey time will be about 1 hour and 20 minutes. Please make sure that you leave the train at the (main) train station of Frankfurt (Oder), not at the stop ‘Frankfurt (Oder)-Rosengarten’.

If you are travelling via the Polish cities of Warsaw, Poznan, or Gdansk, you might use the Berlin-Gdansk-Express or the Berlin-Warsaw-Express which stops in Frankfurt (Oder). In this case, there is no need to travel via Berlin. Once you arrive at the train station in Frankfurt (Oder), check their information on the bus connection to the accommodation in Słubice, Poland.

If you are travelling to Berlin using long-distance coaches, you will probably arrive at the central bus station (Zentraler Omnibusbahnhof), located next to the international fairground. Guide yourself to the metro (subway) station ‘Kaiserdamm’, about 5 minutes’ walk from the bus station. Inside the station, you will find a ticket machine, where you should buy a single ticket AB. Use this map for your orientation. Use the metro U2 in the direction of ‘Pankow’ and get off the train at the station ‘Zoologischer Garten’. At the station, guide yourself to the platforms, where the regional trains are departing (at the upper level of the station). For your orientation, a map is available here. You should buy a ticket to Frankfurt (Oder) beforehand, ticket machines and counters are located in the hall of the station's main building. You should take the RegionalExpress 1 (RE 1), towards Frankfurt (Oder) or Eisenhüttenstadt. The trains depart every 30 minutes and the journey time will be about 1 hour 30 minutes. Make sure that you leave the train at the (main) train station of Frankfurt (Oder), not at the stop ‘Frankfurt (Oder)-Rosengarten’. Once you arrived at the train station in Frankfurt (Oder), check their information on the bus connection to the accommodation in Słubice, Poland.

Especially if you are travelling from destinations in Poland, you may travel directly to the city of Słubice. Ask for a ticket to the bus station there called ‘Dworzec Autobusowy Słubice’ or ‘Dworzec PKS Słubice’ (shortly ‘D.A. Słubice’). Check out the connections on the website of the Polish bus company. There are daily connections from Poznan and Wroclaw. Once you arrived in Słubice, it is only a few metres to the student hostel. In fact, you need to turn into the Pilsudskiego street just across the bus station, next to a supermarket called ‘Piotr i Pawel’. The student hostel is located on the left side.

Since December 2012, there has been a bus connection from the train station in Frankfurt (Oder) to Słubice. Upon arrival at the train station in Frankfurt (Oder), the buses to Słubice depart every hour from the bus terminal in front of the train station. Watch out for the bus no. 983, towards Słubice, ‘Plac Bohaterów’. When you are coming from Berlin, you probably purchased a ticket to ‘Frankfurt (Oder) AB’, which means that your journey to Słubice is included. Otherwise, please purchase an additional ticket to Słubice, which costs €1.60 (£1.41) one-way. You may buy it from the ticket machine inside the bus. The bus departs every hour from 05:35 until 21.35, and it is connected to the trains arriving from Berlin every hour on the minute 25. Please check the schedule and the flyer (in German and Polish only). Leave the bus at the final stop, called ‘Plac Bohaterów’. Guide yourself to the right, then turn into the first street on the left, called ‘Pilsudskiego’. On your right, you will already see the area of the student hostels, your accommodation. The entrance is about 200 meters down the street. If you would like to use the public transport in Frankfurt (Oder) during the following days you will need to buy a ticket from the ticket machine on the bus, and you should have the exact change at hand.

If you missed the last bus, you can always take a taxi. Use the yellow ones at the taxi stand located at the left from the train station’s exit. The taxi drivers mostly understand English, otherwise just show them the address of the student hostel. The journey will take about 7 – 10 minutes and set you back by about a maximum of €10 (£8.79).

Frankfurt (Oder) and Słubice are easily accessible via motorway no. 12 (A 12). Coming from western, southern, or northern Europe, your way will go via Berlin, e.g. from southern Germany via motorway no. 9 (A 9, from Munich, France, Switzerland, Austria), via motorway no. 2 (A 2, from Cologne, Belgium, the Netherlands) or the motorway no. 24 (from Hamburg, Denmark, Sweden). Around Berlin, follow the signs towards the ‘Berlin Ring’ (motorway no. 10 or A 10) and then to Frankfurt (Oder) and Warsaw (motorway no. 12, A 12). Get off the motorway at the exit no.9 and follow the roads no. 87 / 112 to the city centre (signs ‘Zentrum’, ‘Europa-Universität’ or ‘Słubice’). Coming from Eastern Europe, use the Polish motorway no. 2 (A 2) connecting Warsaw and Poznan with Frankfurt (Oder) and Słubice. In the area of the accommodation, a (partly supervised) car park is at your disposition.

The emergency contact information for police and ambulance in Germany is 112 or 110, and 112 or 997 in Poland. Their office phone number is +49 335 5534 2412 and email address is sekretariat-thiele@europa-uni.de. The summer course team’s email is ursok@europa-uni.de.

Course materials were provided on the university’s Moodle learning platform. Due to the environmental policy of the university, they didn’t provide printed materials. If we wanted to, we were free to print the materials at home and bring them with us.

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On 8th July, I arrived in Berlin on the AY1437 from Helsinki at 16:10 to Berlin at 17:05. I realised how much easier it is to arrive somewhere in the Schengen Area (an area comprising 26 European states that have officially abolished passport and all other types of border control at their mutual borders) when I didn’t have to go through border control! I couldn’t find the ‘BVG ticket counter’, so went to the tourist information desk instead. They said that the ‘BVG ticket counter’ no longer exists, which led me to assume that the instructions provided were out of date and needed to be updated. However, I was able to buy a ticket. It was €10 for a single and €20 for a return, so it wasn’t any cheaper to buy a return. However, I decided to buy a return ticket for 21st since I already had my flight booked then, and I also wanted to have the receipt for both tickets for the travel reimbursement. It seemed that the ticket was open and could be used at any time on the day. The customer assistant directed me outside and to the left, where I could take the bus ‘TXL’ to what was actually called S+U Zoologischer Garten (‘Zoologischer Garten’ according to the instructions). I went inside the station but couldn’t find the right information from the screen, so I asked for help at the customer service point. The customer assistant told me that the train wasn’t running right now, which confused and worried me. It would have been useful if she had explained more. However, she did print out a sheet with all the information for the rail replacement services. I shared this information with other people on the Facebook group in the hope that it might minimise the stress of someone else. I had to take a train to Ostbahnhof, another bus to Erkner, another train to Frankfurt (Oder), and another bus to Słubice. I didn’t want to follow the instructions and wait until 19:01 to get the train when I could see another that looked the same coming. However, I then panicked when I couldn’t see whether it was going to Ostbahnhof, and I asked someone on the train who didn’t really seem willing to help and said they didn’t know. I got off at a random station and then realised that it actually was going in the right direction, so I got back on another train. I guess it stops at a lot of places, but it might be easier for tourists if they were all listed on the information board. When I arrived at Ostbahnhof, I used the wrong exit and had to circle the train station (which is fairly big) until I eventually found the bus stop. There I got talking to a man called Sheriff and his two friends, who helped me with directions and my suitcase. We then took the bus to Erkner and changed to the train to Frankfurt (Oder).  I had to wait until 21:47 to catch the last bus 983 to Dworzec Autobusowy (not ‘Plac Bohaterów’ as the instructions said). Even though the accommodation was that far away, I didn’t want to walk with my heavy suitcase and risk getting lost. I felt like everyone with a suitcase might be going to the summer school, but I didn’t want to risk asking. On the bus, I decided to talk to a man because he was also speaking English to others when he was asking help when trying to buy a bus ticket. He was also going to the summer school and he was called Elmurod and was from Uzbekistan. I told him that he didn’t need to buy a bus ticket because it’s included in the train ticket (according to the instructions). Unfortunately, he had already bought the ticket, which was €1.70 (€1.60 according to the instructions). We finally arrived at to Dworzec Autobusowy at 22:03. Even though the accommodation was nearby, we were a little confused and asked some locals for directions (Elmurod speaks many languages, including Polish).

There were some struggles at the accommodation reception because not all the receptionists spoke English or German. I found out that I was sharing a flat with a girl called Carolina from Peru. I was also surprised that I had my own bedroom. There were three single rooms and one shared room in the flat, so we waited for three others to arrive later that night or the next day. They were Kristina from Germany, Madina from Uzbekistan, and Tuana from Turkey.

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We met on Monday morning (July 9th) at 07:00 in front of our accommodation building. The student assistants took us to the Collegium Polonicum (1km and 15-minute walk away), where we had breakfast. Breakfast consisted of some bread, vegetables, butter, cheese, meat, milk, cereal, and sometimes yoghurt. The staff there also didn’t seem to speak any languages other than Polish. The first day we were given a platter, which I didn’t take because I’m vegan and they all had either dairy or meat or both. Luckily, it was a buffet breakfast after that. Later on, we crossed the border and went to the university (another 1km and 15-minute walk away). I was late on a few days, often because I waited for my flatmates, which I now realise was probably a mistake. The university provides a room for prayer in the basement of the main building. It is open during the opening hours of the university. One of the student assistants or the receptionist at the main building can be asked if in need of assistance.


The bridge between Frankfurt (Oder) in Germany
(where the summer course was) and Słubice in Poland
(where our accommodation was). There is no border control
thanks to Germany and Poland being members of the Schengen
Area (an area comprising 26 European states that have officially
abolished passport and all other types of border control
at their mutual borders).


Registration was 08:30-09:00, and the course was opened 08:45 by Carmen Thiele and Gerard Rowe. They announced that there are participants in the course from 34 different countries. They said that human rights help change and economic development by providing a framework for political and social stability. Some of the many challenges that human rights face are globalisation, market liberalisation, reliance on free markets, technological change, climate change and major environmental harm that is predicted to lead to 900 million refugees (in comparison, the current figures are ‘trivial’, oceans being polluted by plastic, terrorism, and wars such as those about water. They also emphasised that human rights threats around the world come from private organisations as well as states.




The first lecture was ‘Overview of regimes and institutions’ by Hans-Joachim Heintze from 09:15-10:45. All 70 participants were in one room for the lectures, which was a little crowded and hot, and it was especially difficult to hear when sitting at the back.  The second lecture was ‘Freedom of expression’ by Agata Fijalkowski from 11:00-12:30. Lunch was 12:30-14:00. After lunch, we were split into two groups for two seminars conducted by the lecturers, each 14:00-15:30 and 15:45-17.15. I was in Group 2. I think the intention was also to split up the nationalities, but people still seemed to manage to stick to their groups based on language, gender, studies, work, or age.

We were given a library tour 17:30-18:30, which was interesting, although I’m not really sure why, since I didn’t use the library whilst I was there, and most of us were really tired after recently arriving. We then had the official reception and dinner 18:30-20.00.

At these kind of events, it does feel a little frustrating to repeatedly ask and respond to ‘What’s your name?’ ‘Where are you from?’, ‘Do you study or work?’, and also to explain that I don’t study law, or why I wasn’t eating the same as everyone else. I don’t mean to be horrible, but I’m surprised that many people managed to get into the course considering their language skills because I sometimes had to repeat myself several times, or there were misunderstandings. I said that I’m from the UK studying in Finland, and someone managed to understand that I’m a Finn studying in the UK. I do try to be understanding, though, because I’ve studied French, German, Spanish, and Finnish, and it isn’t easy. Sometimes I feel like maybe people avoid me because I’m a native speaker, and perhaps they’re afraid that I’ll judge them or that they won’t understand because I speak too quickly. I don’t mind slowing down and speaking in a simple way as long as people actually listen and don’t say something or ask a question later that suggests that they weren’t paying any attention. It was also difficult to talk to some people even if I wanted to since they tended to stick in groups according to nationality, language, gender, studies, work, or age. I was frequently trying to avoid the ‘Russian-speaking’, ‘Turkish-speaking’, and ‘UK university’ tables, and sadly, I didn’t get to talk to many of these people or learn their names as a result. Yet, those who I never even spoke to once decided to send me requests on Facebook and/or Instagram! There was one really awkward conversation where someone mentioned how they don’t feel guilty about eating venison, and someone else said that their family jokes about how they imagine the animal’s sad face on the plate. Even though I almost felt physically sick and almost left the table, I want to respect other people’s opinions, and I decided not to share my opinion unless asked.

Even though the university menu had a vegan logo on it, there didn’t seem to be many vegan options. Usually, I just check to see what the meal looks like, and whether I think it contains cheese, milk, or eggs. There were a couple of times where I ate some vegetables and they tasted a bit odd. I thought that maybe they’d been cooked in butter, and they tasted odd because I haven’t eaten butter in over two years now. I couldn’t be bothered to ask the kitchen every time, especially as not everyone understands the difference between vegetarianism and veganism, my German isn’t what it was used to be, and the staff didn’t seem to speak much English. This was surprising, as the university was called a ‘European’ university. The meals weren’t labelled with the ingredients, just simply what kind(s) of meat they contained, or whether they were vegetarian. This also seemed to be a problem for Muslims, who need Halal meat, and most of them seemed to resort to eating vegetarian meals for those two weeks. I resorted to the salad bar most days, and occasionally had pasta and potatoes if they weren’t covered in butter or cheese. There were even several very exciting days where tofu was actually served! There was also a small platter of fruit at every dinner, which I thought might be for those who couldn’t eat the desserts due to their dietary requirements. However, usually after I’d queued, there was barely any fruit left because people had taken huge bowls full of fruit as well as the other options. The other options seemed to be mousse or yoghurt desserts. People also sometimes mixed the serving cutlery, so I had to try and find vegetables that weren’t covered in butter or cheese. I took huge portions of salad but still felt hungry, probably due to a lack of protein. During the last week I got bored of having the same thing every day, and so I brought my own tofu and hummus to some meals, even though I could tell that people probably thought that I was weird. Sometimes I just said that I was vegetarian because I couldn’t be bothered to explain what vegan is over and over again. I also think that I made myself a bit ill at one point by doing this because it was pretty hot, and the food was in my bag and out of the fridge all day. I’m also conscious that people may be surprised when I say I’m vegan because I’m overweight. I think that this is actually a consequence of unhealthy eating when I was younger and not having lost the weight yet, as well as my mental health struggles. It seems odd that being vegan is one of the best things someone can do to help the environment, yet some places make it so difficult. Therefore, if someone really cares about what others think and want to fit in, I feel that it’s unlikely that they will consider trying veganism.

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On Tuesday 10th July, the lectures were ‘Right to liberty and security’ by Moritz Birk and ‘Economic, social, and cultural rights’ by Zdzisław Kędzia. We were supposed to have a ‘welcome activity’ 17:30-18:30 before dinner consisting of a guided tour around Frankfurt (Oder), but the tour guide didn’t show up, so the student assistants tried to do that instead.


Frankfurt (Oder) town hall


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On Wednesday 11th July, the lectures were ‘Prohibition of slavery and forced labour’ by Richard Burchill and ‘Freedom of religion’ by Robert Frau. 12:30-12:45, we were given information about ‘Preparation Moot Court’ by Maria Vodita and Shimels Belete (Europa-Universität Viadrina Frankfurt (Oder)).

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On Thursday 12th July, the lectures were ‘Migration and refugees’ by Ulrike Brandl and ‘Relationship between human rights protection and international humanitarian law’ by Désirée Bychara (German Red Cross). 12:30-12:45, we were given information about the university’s Master’s degree in International Human Rights and Humanitarian Law. This sounded very interesting but is also very expensive. I again felt grateful to be studying in Finland and not paying tuition fees.

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On Friday 13th July, the lectures were ‘Prohibition of discrimination’ by Gerard Rowe and ‘Individual application to The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR)’ by Marton Sulyok. 12:30-12:45, we had a group photo by Heide Fest.

I really enjoyed the lecture about because it was interactive. After one of the participants had asked me ‘What does discrimination mean?’(!!!), Gerard started by explaining and defining discrimination, and asking ‘Who thinks that they have experienced discrimination?’, and I put my hand up. He asked each person to explain their situation in two sentences, which was challenging. It was interesting to hear the stories from a black girl who people avoided on the train, and a mixed-race girl from the UK who was told to ‘go back to her country’. I think people didn’t really understand my point so well because I had such a limited time to explain it. What I wanted to say was that in Finland, it’s possible to apply for a study grant from Kela (Kansaneläkelaitos, The Social Insurance Institution) on the basis of moving to Finland for family ties, including to be with a spouse. At first, I couldn’t get a study grant because we are a same-sex couple, so the authorities automatically considered us as no more than friends. We had to provide proof our relationship, which was rejected, so we sent multiple appeals, but to no avail. However, they did consider us as a couple when they wanted to include Maria’s income in my housing grant application so that I would get less. It was very contradictory and hypocritical. Instead, I had to work 18 hours per week in order to get the study grant. It wasn’t necessary for me to work that much and earn that much money, but it was all or nothing. My studies have suffered as a result, and is probably part of the reason why I haven’t graduated on time. Now that gender-neutral marriage has been legalised, I am recognised as Maria’s partner, and therefore an applicant in a similar situation to mine could get the grant A man and a woman who aren’t a couple, but share a flat, may have the opposite experience, in which the authorities assume that they are a couple and therefore want to cut their funds, so they had to prove that they aren't together. This can also work in the favour of a same-sex couple who live together and both already receive study grants, because they can just let authorities believe that they aren’t together in order receive a bigger grant. This is pretty annoying for people in a situation like me, as we see someone getting extra grant whilst we can't get any. If they were a man and a woman, the authorities would probably assume that they're together and try to minimise their housing grants. During this course, I realised that I could have perhaps taken this to the European course of Human Rights before the legalisation of equal marriage, since the decision had already been to the highest national level. The Court may only deal with the matter after all domestic remedies have been exhausted. However, the Court may only deal with the matter within a period of six months from the date on which the final decision was taken.

Gerard also mentioned stereotypes, and I put my hand up again. I spoke about how frustrating it is when people make assumptions based on my gender and appearance, for example, by asking me ‘Do you have a boyfriend or husband?’. I said that you can’t always judge someone’s sexuality based on appearance. I also said that, on the other hand, I don’t want my sexuality to be the first thing that people know about me because I’ve seen how people judge me based on that, or change their behaviour towards me, or I even change my behaviour towards them. If a girl finds out that I’m into girls, occasionally, I notice the change in their behaviour, even though just because someone is attracted to a certain gender doesn’t mean that they’re attracted to every person of that gender! Therefore, when I know that someone knows, I try to be extra careful about where I look and what I say in case it gets misinterpreted. I, probably along with the majority of the rest of the LGBTQ+ community, want to be treated as ‘normal’ people, but also be acknowledged.
It seems that me bringing up this issue might have had some effect, though, as one participant said that he had been in a conversation in which it was discussed whether it’s ok to ask someone if they’re gay. I don’t think directly asking someone that question is always the best option, but rather creating a gender-neutral environment without prejudices and stereotypes in which people feel free to express their sexuality if they wish. I also spoke about how it’s easier to speak about my partner in a neutral way in Finnish because the word ‘hän’ means both ‘he’ and ‘she’, whereas it’s not so easy to speak in a neutral way in English

I don’t know if this bothers any other gay people, but I get sick of correcting people, and sometimes I just can’t be bothered. Sometimes I feel like I should make myself more masculine so that I fit the stereotypes and I don’t have to keep correcting people! I wish someone would ask ‘Do you have a partner?’ or ‘Do you have a boyfriend or girlfriend?’, but nobody ever does. Clearly not everyone was listening in that lecture, because, to my frustration, people still asked me afterwards if I have a boyfriend or husband. Someone also mentioned ‘LGBD’ issues, which suggested that they didn’t really know what they’re talking about.  I tried to be understanding that it really depends on culture, and these issues are probably even more difficult to understand for people who come from cultures in which the LGBTQ+ community is repressed and/or criminalised. It’s just frustrating that people who are allegedly interested in human rights seem to lack understanding on an issue that is extremely relevant to human rights nowadays. It doesn’t take much time to read or watch videos about it online! With such people it’s just easier for me to say I’m gay then try to explain bisexuality. However, there was one girl called Lucie (Yi-Ching) from Taiwan who was refreshingly informed about LGBTQ+ issues, and who is active in campaigning for same-sex marriage and LGBTQ+ rights in Taiwan.

I do understand that some of the best researchers have limited skills when it comes to delivering presentations or conducting classes, and this can be frustrating. However, the problem with paying for education is that it perhaps encourages students’ attitudes that are paying for a service, that it’s the lecturers’ job to entertain them, and that they don’t need to work to get their qualifications. Perhaps part of the problem is also the development of technology. This can be both advantageous and disadvantageous in learning environments. However, in this case, I was frustrated that people were often using their phones during lectures, and people sometimes even had headphones in! It did feel a little patronising when we asked to put phones away during lectures (often repeatedly by one certain lecturer), especially as I do actually often use my phone for learning purposes, but it feels awkward to do so as people might judge me and think that I’m just texting or something. People also had their laptops out and weren’t asked to put them away, even though they were pretty much doing the same thing as those using their phones were. Technology is an addiction, and it’s sad that many people prefer to live in a virtual world rather than the real one, especially in a situation like this where we had the opportunity to hear about the experiences of people from all over the world. I don’t understand the obsession to constantly update social media. If you’re travelling, it’s ok to let it be for a while and then just update it later. Even during some of the social events, some people still seemed to be glued to their phones. Sadly, whilst this often comes across as disinterest, I personally usually interpret this as a lack of social skills and confidence. Of course, I’m not perfect and there were a few moments where I was feeling sleepy or I checked my phone, but generally I tried to get enough sleep and leave my phone in my bag, especially during the lectures. Some nights it was difficult to sleep because of the parties people had. I did take advantage of the cheap Polish vodka and join in with a few of the parties. My best memory was when we had about 30 people crammed in one kitchen and we played telephone charades. For the game, four people go into a separate room whilst everybody else makes up a story. Then the first person comes out of the room, is told the story, and acts it out the second person who comes out of the room. Then the second person acts it out to the third, and the third acts it out to forth. The fourth person has to explain what they think the story is. By the end the stories were completely different – it was hilarious! I was surprised when security came around midnight clicking what sounded like tasers in their pockets!


A festival that promotes cooperation
between the twin cities of Frankfurt
(Oder) in Germany and Slubice in
Poland. It is funded by the European
Regional Development Fund (ERDF).


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On Saturday 14th July, we met at 08:30 in front of the accommodation. On Friday, we had picked up some packed lunches from Collegium Polonicum. I gave my ham roll, cheese roll, and chocolate wafer bar to my flatmates. I then kept the fruit and water, and bought some bread, hummus, and tofu to make my own vegan breakfast. We split into groups of 5 for the cheaper group train ticket. For some reason I was put in charge of the group ticket. Participants from Bangladesh, Poland, Taiwan, and Uganda were in my group. We walked for about 40 minutes to the train station in Frankfurt (Oder), where the train left at 9:57. We arrived at Berlin Friedrichstraße station at 11:44 due to the rail replacement services. From there, we had a boat tour at 12:45 around Berlin and came back to Friedrichstraße station at 13:45. The route included Museumsinsel (Museum Island), Berliner Dom (Berlin Cathedral), Nikolaiviertel (Nicholas' Quarter), the Reichstag (Parliament Building), Regierungsviertel (the Government District), Berliner Hauptbahnhof (Berlin Central Station), Kanzleramt (the German Chancellery), Haus der Kulturen der Welt (House of World Cultures), and Tiergarten (a park, in which there is Berlin Zoo), and then we returned to our starting point. I saw an advertisement for 'Goodbye UK – and Thank You for the Music' and searched online because I was curious what it was about. I found out the following: “In 2018, Wassermusik (Water music) takes Brexit as an opportunity to pay homage to the extraordinary musical creativity that made the United Kingdom the world’s leading pop nation, alongside the US, in terms of music as well as thought, fashion, style and other concepts. Entitled 'Goodbye UK – and Thank You for the Music', the festival traces the 'Britishness' of pop music and investigates its mode of action. The programme not only focuses on some particularly British-sounding artists of the past six decades of music history, but above all non-British musicians who say goodbye to the United Kingdom, some more, some less gratefully. Another thematic strand concerns the history of immigration, largely unknown in Germany, which brought musicians in droves to the post-war UK without whom British pop music would probably not sound as we learned to love it.


River Spree


 Berliner Dom (Berlin Cathedral)


Berliner Fernsehturm
(Berlin Television Tower)






The Reichstag (Parliament Building)


It was nice to see the city whilst relaxing on a boat and drinking a beer from the bar. I don’t really like beer but it’s so cheap there compared to Finland and I couldn’t find cider anywhere, so I ordered beer with syrup from the menu. The weather was really hot and sunny, and it was really nice that there was a breeze from the boat. I was surprised when even the people from hot countries were complaining, but they explained that where they’re from, people don’t usually spend so much time outside in the heat. Afterwards, walked along the ‘Reichstagsufer’ (a street on the south bank of the River Spree) to get to the famous Reichstag. We had some free time 14:00-15:20, so we went to see the Brandenburger Tor (Brandenburg Gate) and to look for somewhere to eat. Someone suggested that we eat at a doner kebab place even though I said I don’t eat meat (I couldn’t be bothered to explain veganism). I just didn’t want to split up because of the group ticket. After queuing for about 10 minutes, I realised that there were no vegan options, so I gave the ticket to someone else in my group, hurried off on my own to find somewhere else that had vegan options and get back to the Reichstag on time. I used the HappyCow phone app and found a restaurant called Mishba near Berlin Friedrichstraße station, where I bought a vegan burrito. I rushed back to the Reichstag and I arrived just in time for the guided tour at 15:30, so I hungrily ate my tasty burrito in the queue for the guided tour. We saw the plenary chamber, where the distribution of seats was explained to us by our tour guide. We also saw Soviet graffiti. "One of the most evocative—and controversial—bits of scar tissue from World War II is found in the Bundestag itself, the home of Germany’s parliament, where some of the walls are still covered with graffiti left over from the Soviet takeover. The Soviet vandals’ fingerprints on the Reichstag were largely forgotten about in the post-war period when shabby repair work covered up the interior damage with panelling. And that’s the way it stayed for half a century, until the reunified German nation set about restoring their capitol building for a post-Cold War future. In 1995, British Architect Norman Foster ripped out the panelling and was amazed to discover the text inscribed on the stone underneath. Foster was profoundly affected by the time machine-like power of the letters and he modified the architectural plans in order to preserve them." We then had an audio guide on the roof terrace and dome. Hereafter, we were free to explore Berlin ourselves! I like to read and listen to almost everything, so the others in my group had finished before I had even started. I thought about going off on my own and meeting the others later because I wanted to find a vegan restaurant, but they wanted to stick together and kindly waited for me, so I rushed through the rest. We walked to Hauptbahnhof and took a train to Alexanderplatz because Nazmun from Bangladesh wanted to buy a new phone as she had lost hers, and Maria from Poland went with her. However, she found that they were all too expensive. Whilst we were waiting Anagha from India, Lucie (Yi-Ching) from Taiwan, and I went to yet another nearby doner kebab place where I had a falafel wrap. Lucie was searching online for good bars to go to, and we went into this gay bar called ‘Besenkammer’, which seemed really small and dodgy, so we ended up just buying some drinks from a supermarket and just drinking and talking at Alexanderplatz. There we also met one of the student assistants called Margarita, who went back with us to Frankfurt (Oder). We left at around 21:00, but didn’t get back until about 02:00 because of missing some trains, and the rail replacement services not providing enough buses or letting us sit on the floor of the bus (there was a big queue when we met up with some of the other participants). We ended up waiting for about an hour at Ostbahnhof, where I was eating fries from McDonald’s and still drinking. I also lent my jacket to a participant from Georgia who was really cold and forgot to get it back until a few days later. Luckily, it didn’t rain much.


Brandenburger Tor (Brandenburg Gate)


The Reichstag (Parliament Building)








Soviet graffiti










 




Berliner Fernsehturm
(Berlin Television Tower)


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On Sunday 15th July, I woke up around 09:00! After a shower and washing my hair, I went out to try and find a supermarket where I could get some food for breakfast. However, everywhere seemed to be closed, both in Germany and in Poland, and I didn’t want to go to one of the several cafes that were open, as I thought that it would be unlikely that they have any vegan options. Whilst I’ve had some bad experiences with false information regarding opening hours on Google Maps, I saw that the only places that Google Maps said were open were at the train station. Therefore, I went to the train station and found a doner kebab place selling falafels, so once again, I had those with salad and chips for brunch. The others left the accommodation at 11:00 and just about made it to the train station in time for the train leaving at 11:50 going to Lake Helenesee. There were six others from Australia, Germany, Poland, Russia, Spain, and Ukraine. We again bought a 5-person group ticket for €1.50 each because two people already had tickets. It is situated approximately 8 kilometres in the south of Frankfurt (Oder). It was formed after the flooding of a former open-pit mining which started in 1958. It was quite a long walk from the train station through the forest and along the road to the lake (about 2.5km) because the outer gates of the area were closed, perhaps due to preparations for Helene Beach Festival (26.-29.07.2018). A day ticket cost €2 for adults and €1 concessions for students, children, trainees, and those with the ‘Frankfurt pass’. After a quick Google search, I was expecting it to be just a lake, but there was also a campsite, beach, bars, and restaurants. We had a drink at one of the restaurants and some people ate, but I didn’t because once again, there were no vegan options except friends, and I wasn’t hungry after my brunch. I had a vodka slush puppy, although, unfortunately, it wasn’t very slushy! We then went to the beach and some of us (mostly the guys!) going for a swim. There were platforms that you could sit on in the lake, and luckily someone had tied a rope to the side so that it was easier to climb up onto it. I think I got a bit sunburnt from that. More participants from the Netherlands, the Philippines, Poland, and Russia joined us later. In the evening, we drank, ate, and watched the FIFA World Cup Finland between France and Croatia. One restaurant even had ‘vegan burger’ on the menu!!! Most people seemed to be supporting Croatia, perhaps because there was one participant at the course from Croatia and none from France. Whilst waiting for the bus, we discovered a beautiful field of sunflowers. We took the 984 bus back to Frankfurt (Oder), leaving at 19:42 from ‘  Frankfurt (Oder), EuroCamp’, and arriving at ‘Zentrum’ a 20:20. During the bus ride, we played a fun game where we had to say a city or country and the following person had to think of another starting with the last letter of the previous place. We then took another bus a couple of stops to ‘Frankfurt (Oder) An der Alten Universität’, which is closer to the bridge that crosses over to Poland (Stadtbrücke/Most Graniczny). After we got back, the others went for pizza in Poland, but I was still full from my burger, so I went straight back to the accommodation.


Helenesee










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On Monday 16th July, the lectures were ‘Freedom of assembly and association’ by Jernej Letnar Černič and ‘Universal Periodic Review (UPR) and Europe’ by Pablo Pareja Alcaraz. Before lunch, we went to collect the travel reimbursement money. I didn’t really understand the logic of the university’s system of awarding scholarships. It seemed that the further away someone came from, the more they received, which seems logical at first. However, Ryanair doesn’t fly from Helsinki, so I flew with Finnair (which would have cost the same as EasyJet after all of its extra charges), and the flight itself including suitcases cost a little more than the €175 travel reimbursement money that I had been assigned. Therefore, I didn’t receive travel reimbursement for the entire flight, and it didn’t cover the cost of the trains and buses to and from the airport. Some people received more money than their travel cost. For example, one person had almost €200 extra because he had come from further away, but travelled with Ryanair. We were given the travel reimbursement money in cash. I was very nervous to carry around that amount of cash, so I put it in the most hidden part of my suitcase that I could think of. Perhaps the cost of bank transfers to so many countries would have been too expensive for the university.

At most other conferences I’ve been to, the exact amounts (up to a certain amount) for the travel reimbursement were given via bank transfer (and might also cover earlier/later return flights if one participant wants to travel before/after the conference, as long as evidence that there is no difference in price is provided). These were usually sent after the conference had ended and each participant’s attendance at every session had been confirmed. I know for a fact that some participants didn’t participate in the full programme. I thought that this was pretty ungrateful and took advantage of the university, especially by those who received a scholarship. I think going to courses and conferences abroad is a good reason to travel, but I don’t think it means that you can expect for someone else to pay for your travel and then not fully participate in the programme that you applied for. I wonder how the others managed to finance their participation. Their parents, most likely. Someone hadn’t booked their return flights and couldn’t use the cash to pay for them. She was brought to me for help, but I decided that I didn’t really want to empty my bank account and carry around €500 in cash as an alternative. Some of the participants were really young, just followed others like sheep, and didn’t know when they were crossing the border or which country they were in. I’m surprised how dependent and unprepared some of the youth seem to be nowadays. A Facebook Messenger group was also set up, in which some of the participants complained about various elements of the course, such as the teachers. I found this very immature. I was even more appalled by this when I discovered that most of the teachers were volunteers, and just had their travel costs reimbursed. Some participants mentioned how rich they were going to be after getting the travel reimbursement, which I also thought was a bit insensitive. I felt like maybe I was one of very few people who was grateful to be there, perhaps because I come from a non-educated and low-income background.

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On Tuesday 17th July, the lectures were ‘Right to private and family life’ by Therese Comodini Cachia and ‘Prohibition of torture’ by Susanne Schuster (Berlin School of Economics and Law) and Sofie Halben (National Agency for the Prevention of Torture, Germany). 14:30-18:00 there was then a Symposium (a conference or meeting to discuss a particular subject) about ‘Current Challenges for European Human Rights Protection’, which included a Keynote lecture by Judge Krzysztof Wojtyczek from the European Court of Human Rights and a panel discussion with Krzysztof Wojtyczek, Comodini Cachia, Leo Zwaak, Pablo Pareja Alcaraz, Aniko Szalai (a former participant of the summer course), and Letnar Černič. There was an official reception 18:30-20:00.

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On Wednesday 18th July, the lectures were ‘Right to life’ by Leo Zwaak and ‘Right to fair trial’ by Aniko Szalai.

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On Thursday 19th July, the lecture was ‘Self-determination and minorities’ by Carmen Thiele. We then had the rest of the day for ‘Preparation Moot Court’, guided by Maria Vodita and Shimels Belete. Each of the two groups were given a case and then split into three sub-groups: judges, applicants, and government. We were given feedback forms to fill in, but I might have liked to have received this earlier, because I couldn’t remember all the details from the previous week anymore!

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On Friday 20th July, Moot Court (Group 1) was guided by Shimels Belete 09.15-10:45. Moot Court (Group 2) was guided by Maria Vodita 11:00-12:30. We got feedback that our performance wasn’t up to the standards of previous years, but I thought that we did well since we were only given one day to prepare. I think we could have started earlier. I was especially proud of myself for speaking first, since I was one of the few students who wasn’t studying law (I have done one course entitled ‘United Nations and Human Rights’). Certificates were presented by Carmen Thiele during the closing lunch 12:30-14:00. Everyone seemed to be emotional, and people who barely spoke to or acknowledged me over the weeks gave me emotional goodbye speeches. Everyone was talking about how they were going to keep in touch, and it just felt a bit fake. Out of all the conferences I’ve been to, I could probably count on one hand the number people I’ve had an actual (online) conversation with or met afterwards. I enjoyed my time and I learnt a lot, but I was ready to leave!

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On Saturday 21st July, I was supposed to wake meet up with others at 08:30 to catch the bus from Dworzec Autobusowy at 09:04. However, I hadn’t woken up early enough, and I still needed to pack and take the rubbish out. Therefore, I took the next bus at 10:04, which arrived at the Frankfurt (Oder) station at 10:17. I realised afterwards that the following stop ‘Plac Bohaterów’ might have been closer to the accommodation, but I didn’t want to take any risks when the bus goes once per hour, especially as I knew Dworzec Autobusowy was based on my arrival experience. I tried to separate the rubbish into recycling. There were many bins in the accommodation yard for paper, cardboard, glass (but no metal?!), bio-waste, even plastic, and general waste. Unfortunately, most people seemed to have shoved everything in the general waste, and the bio-waste bins looked empty. In Germany, like Finland, you can receive a receipt with money to collect/spend when you return empties to supermarkets, but unfortunately, this wasn’t the case in Poland, otherwise I would have made quite a bit of money. However, I did get some money when I dragged a bag of bottles back to Berlin. I took the RE1 train that departed at 10:32 and arrived at 11:39, this time it was thankfully a direct train with no rail replacement services!!!!

I asked if there was luggage storage at the information point. I left my suitcase at Ostbahnhof, which cost €2.50 for a large short-term luggage locker up to 2 hours, and €2.50 for every hour after that, so therefore it cost me €5. I saw one locker that had a €60 fee showing on the screen! I wondered if someone would bother coming back and paying that much to get their luggage out! There, I met an American called Joey LaFata who was touring Europe to take photos of places from famous films. Apparently, those lockers had been in one film, but I can’t remember which one! I wanted to head to Schivelbeiner Straβe, where there is a vegan supermarket and café called ‘Veganz’, a vegan clothes shop called ‘DearGoods’, and a vegan shoe shop called ‘avesu’, all on one street! I asked for help and directions at the information point. At the customer assistant’s advice, I took the RE7 leaving at 11:57 to ‘Ostkreuz’ (although, unfortunately, this was delayed by about 15 minutes, and I couldn’t seem to find the S-Bahn), and then the Ringbahn S 42 to ‘S+U Schönhauser Allee’. At Veganz, I had a vegan iced chai drink and nougat cake, and then I just browsed DearGoods and avesu, but they were pretty expensive. I then looked for somewhere where I could have a big meal before my flight. I used the HappyCow phone app to find a restaurant, although, unfortunately, the information there is not always up to date, so some of the places it led me to (including a vegan ‘butcher’ that I was excited about) were closed either permanently or temporarily. I ended up having a vegan 'chicken' Asian fusion noodle dish at a place called ‘gate 57’. However, this place only took cash (which is surprising nowadays), so I was a bit delayed in my plan to get back to Ostbahnhof at 15:00 because I had to go searching for a cash point (and I left my camera behind to ensure that I wouldn’t just run off). By this point, I was panicking that I might not make it to the airport on time. Leaving at 15:00 instead of 14:30, I hurriedly took the same route back to Ostbahnhof via S+U Schönhauser Allee and Ostkreuz. I got my suitcase and again asked for the fastest route to the airport at the information point. I felt a bit stupid, as I’m pretty sure the RE1 went past Ostkreuz in the morning, and maybe I could have stored my luggage there. I guess in some situations it’s better to have a plan than be spontaneous! I managed to arrive at Berlin Tegel Airport about an hour before my flight, which was enough time for me to remove some drinks from my suitcase because it was so heavy (although maybe I could have gotten away with it because the queue was going so slowly so the staff were rushing), quickly drink down my water bottle because there was nowhere to empty it in the security queue, and then run to the toilet! I caught the flight AY1438 that left Berlin at 17:45 and arrived in Helsinki at 20:35. I didn’t book any transport back to Tampere because I wasn’t sure how long it would take to get off the plane and collect my baggage. I often seem to be one of the last ones left on the plane because I often sit neat the back. I managed to get through the airport quickly (thanks again to the Schengen Area) and catch the bus leaving the airport at 21:20 and arriving back in Tampere at 23:50. It was around the same price as the train because I didn’t book in advance, and in this case, the bus took around the same amount of time as the train, but I didn’t have to change buses, whereas I would have had to change trains. I think the bus also arrived a little early in Tampere, as I managed to get a bus from the city centre back home before midnight. A night fare of €3 in addition to the normal €3 fare is charged in all zone areas between 00:00- 04:40.


 




Vegan iced chai drink and nougat cake at Veganz




Vegan 'chicken' Asian fusion noodle dish at 'gate 57'