Germany, Reutlingen – Hania Trollope – 2008-2009

Travel

The cheapest way to fly is from London Stanstead to Stuttgart airport with Germanwings, but with luggage flying with British Airways from Heathrow works out cheaper. Luckily Stuttgart airport is located to the south of the city centre in Echterdingen near to Reutlingen so a direct bus link the X5 runs direct and takes around 30 minutes. If out of normal hours then taking the S-bahn to Stuttgart Hauptbahnhof then the train is still reasonable.

Accommodation

The halls of residence on campus are all extremely reasonably priced and very sociable; I shared a flat with 14 people and a massive balcony. Studentwerk Reutlingen offers three very halls: Theodor Litthaus has a beach themed bar in the basement and has been recently refurbished, the Wurmhaus next door is smaller and the Adolfreichwein is slightly older. Slightly more expensive, but more stylish is the hall of residence on campus run by Studentwerk Tuebingen, known as the Aquarium due to its circular glass appearance. A very cheap supermarket, Penny Markt, is handily right next to the halls on campus and down the road is a Getraenkemarkt with amazing drinks, but be aware of the Pfand system in Germany, whereby you pay a deposit for every bottle you buy, but get it refunded when you return the bottle for recycling to the shop, so don’t through any bottles away!!

The University

FH Reutlingen’s campus is much smaller than Exeter but there is everything you need. The Mensa is amazing, with delicious cheap food at lunch, although I never worked out what some of the dishes were… Zweiterfruehstuck is definitely recommended as there were some amazing pastries and coffees! Lectures are offered in German and English, but I found the classes taught in both languages are useful to learn to switch between them easily. Lectures do start very early at 7.30 and last an hour and half, so double lectures can seek long, but the lecturer often takes a Rauchenpause. If you have ever learnt any other languages then it is very interesting to take up first year business languages such as French, but it is a bit of a challenge!

The Town

Reutlingen is a very picturesque market town with amazing cafes, bars and nightclubs with electro nights. You can buy a semester student travel card for around €50 which covers use of all buses and trains in the Nectar region, including the X5 bus to and from the airport so it is worth buying this straight away when you arrive as bus fares can add up. Taking the bus to the town centre takes around 5 to 10 minutes, and travelling by train to Tuebingen, the famous university city on the Nectar river, is definitely worth it, around 15 minutes away, with more nightlife as well. Stuttgart’s bars, clubs and shopping centres are a 30 minutes train journey away, and there are lots of beer festivals held here throughout the year, where the university hires a large tent for the students of the university!

Other things…

The Pre-semester semester German course is definitely worth the money and it’s an easy 7.5 ECTS which you will appreciate later. It lasts three weeks with around 5 hours a day of lessons as well a great social program such as trips to the lakes in the Blackforest. Anmeldung and Abmeldiung are boring but important so remember to look at the check list the university gives you when you arrive. Overall my year abroad was definitely the best year of my life, and it was such a great opportunity to improve my German, to make international friends and go travelling. I definitely miss it being back in the UK and hope to go back and live in Germany when I graduate!! One piece of advice I should give, although it sounds obvious, is to make sure you speak as much German as possible, as it is easy to slip into a pattern of speaking English with the international students, so get involved with events held by the student societies and persevere!

Spain, Valencia – Ben Griffiths – 2008-2009

Arriving

I flew from Bristol to Valencia International Airport with Easyjet, if booked in advance; flights are available for as little as £40 return. In order to get into the heart of the city there are two options; the metro and a catching a taxi. The metro system is cheap (€1.40 for a single journey) and very reliable, although the journey does take about an hour. Whereas, a taxi ride takes about twenty minutes or so, but costs around €20.

Accommodation

I arrived in Valencia with accommodation arranged for a week and the daunting task of finding somewhere to live for the coming year. As scary as this sounds, it is really nothing to worry about. There are literally hundreds of lamposts around the city and the campus offering whole flats and rooms to rent to Erasmus students, so there is no need to panic. I ended up sharing a flat in Plaza Honduras, just off Blasco Ibanez with two other guys from Exeter.

I would strongly recommend this area, it was a two-minute walk to the university, a ten-minute bus ride into town and a short tram ride to the beach. It is a very lively area with a lot always going on, it is located very close to a supermarket, coffee shops, cafes, various bars and nightclubs. It seemed to me that the majority of Erasmus students lived here or at the end of Blasco Ibanez, do NOT be persuaded to live in Benimaclet, the journey will simply be too much of a hassle!

Getting Around Valencia

Public transport is excellent in Valencia, there is an extensive network of buses, trams and an undergound metro network which gets you to anywhere you want to go pretty quickly. Bus fares are €1.20 for a single journey, Metro is €1.40 and Trams are also €1.40 (although generally no-one pays).

The University

There are two universities in Valencia; the Universitat de Valencia and the Politecnica. I spent the year studying ADE at the Universitat de Valencia and completed a language course at a school near to the Mestalla football stadium.

In the first semester I elected to take some of my classes in English, studying with other Erasmus students. This was absolutely fine but was nothing in comparison to the second semester, when I decided to throw myself in at the deep end and take some courses in Spanish. As a result I found myself making genuine Spanish friends, after classes on most days we would all have a coffee and a chat – this is what was most beneficial for improving my language.

Free Time

Valencia has a lot to offer in a cultural sense, the old town and ‘Barrio del Carmen’ area needs to be explored and is a perfect way to spend an afternoon, or evening. The set of big white modern-looking constructions is the city of arts and sciences; they include art galleries, science museums, an aquarium and i-Max. There are also regular gigs and concerts located here, most of which are free to the public and an amazing atmosphere!

Due to the fact that I was living with English people, I was conscious to make an effort to speak as much Spanish as possible outside of the flat. I was lucky enough to find a rugby team called ‘Les Abelles’, a team playing in the Spanish premiership. As rugby is only in its infancy out in Spain, I was able to hold my own in a decent team. The most difficult initial barrier was the lack of my ability to communicate freely with the other guys in the team. Luckily they were very patient with me and helped out enormously with my Spanish, in addition they fully included me with all social activities that took place. I still keep in contact with a lot of the guys from Les Abelles and intend to visit them again next year.

Nightlife

When I first signed up for an Erasmus year I didn’t realise how important nightlife is to Erasmus students, even more so than students at Exeter. With this in mind Valencia is the ideal location, there are regular organised Erasmus social events – these are often heavily discounted and subsidised and are a great way to meet other like-minded students.

There is no shortage of bars dotted around the city, some offering three quintos (a bottle of beer) for a euro! In terms of nightclubs; please do not leave Valencia without spending a night on the roof-terrace of Las Animas – the view of the sunrise and then mandatory early-morning swim is just incredible. Also, the roof terrace at Mia (l’umbracle) is without doubt the most breathtaking nightspot that I have ever visited – an absolute must!

Excursions/Travelling

I was quite lucky in that I had the opportunity to travel to places like Alicante, Elche and Castellon with the rugby team. However, during the Easter holidays instead of going home I decided to take a bus to Andalucia. On the way I had the opportunity to spend a little time in Albacete, Murcia and Granada, before heading down to Marbella.

The Erasmus Valencia organization also arrange a trip to Ibiza each year, I didn’t go myself, but heard some incredible stories. So if I had my time again so to speak, I would not hesitate to make the trip.

Las Fallas

Las Fallas week was undoubtedly the best week of the year. The whole of the city basically shuts down and has a weeklong party with literally no sleep. This all culminates in the burning of over 300 giant artistic sculptures, follow by without question, the best firework display that I have ever seen. 

Make sure you go to one of the Mascletas showings at 2pm each day, it it certainly a unique experience! In addition, try and see as many sculptures (falla’s) as manageable and do not miss the grand finale at the Plaza Ayuntamiento, it is amazing.

Overall Impression

Before heading to Valencia I wasn’t really sure exactly what to expect from the year and what I would get out of it. Having spent a year there, I can honestly say that it had been the best year of university so far for me. I had an incredible time in my first two years at Exeter, but the year abroad is something completely different.

I would have absolutely no hesitation in recommending both the Erasmus programme, or the city of Valencia to anyone. I am now in a position of extreme jealously of students embarking upon their year abroad and wish I could go back on a daily basis.

Good Luck, and make the most of your year.

Spain, Valencia – Alena Makhkina and Kate Milano – 2008-2009

Before you go

Picture from Valencia

  • Check the university website, especially the economics site –www.uv.es/economia– we found useful guides for international students, which tell you a bit about accommodation, the city, the university and other general things which you might need.
  • Take as many passport sized photos as you can – you’ll need one for each subject.
  • You don’t really need too many documents- all WE needed was our passports and it’s useful to have several photocopies, which you can do there quite cheaply in the locutorios.
  • The hostels do get booked up so it’s probably best to reserve. We stayed in Red Nest, in the very centre in Calle de la Paz, which you can find & book online. It is a good location but isn’t that near the university – you’ll need to get a bus or metro.
  • Remember to bring a warm jacket and jumpers etc as it did get cold in winter!

When you’ve arrived

  • It’s useful to have a good map – you can pick up free ones from any Tourist Office – there are several in town (centre, Calle La Paz).
  • Getting a Spanish SIM card is a good idea, we went with Yoigo and its very cheap to call within the network (12 cents an hour!)
  • The metro from the airport goes to the city centre and takes about 20 minutes. You need a zone AB ticket, which is €1,90. A taxi to the centre costs about €20. If you plan to use the metro or buses a lot, you can buy a ‘Bono Metro/Bus’ card, which for the metro costs just under €7 for 10 journeys and about €5 for the bus.
  • We didn’t have Spanish bank accounts but we’d advise you to get one, as it makes it easier to pay any bills (like Internet) and avoids charges withdrawing cash. When we went to register there was someone from Santander on the university campus and they spoke English for those who aren’t so confident!
  • We had a few problems with an internet provider called Ono, so we would avoid them next time!!

Looking for a place to live

Picture from Valencia

  • There is an accommodation service just off Calle Blasco Ibanez (called CADE). They did give a list of flats but they were all in the Benimaclet area. It isn’t too far, although remember Business/Economics is on the Tarrongers campus, which is the opposite end of Blasco Ibanez. Believe us it’s a long road, even though on a map it doesn’t look it! There are plenty of flats available nearer the campus.
  • We found our flat via a lamppost- they are very useful! This is a normal thing in Spain, especially for students in the Blasco Ibanez area. Be careful when there’s a few people viewing the same flat, people can be a bit pushy – when we went to see one flat, the room had basically gone as soon as we walked in!
  • Beware of “intermediary guys” who charge commission for helping you to communicate with the actual landlord but don’t always tell you this at the beginning!  It is normal, and the agencies will do the same, but just make sure you know how much this is going to cost. If advertised by the actual landlord you might avoid this extra expense.
  • Timing is different in Spain, the working day starts at around 8.30, with a long lunch break/siesta from around 2-4pm, then back to work 4-10. Therefore it’s quite normal to call or arrange things, like seeing a flat later in the evening. For example, the landlord sometimes collected rent at 11pm!
  • There is often no central heating in the flats and it did get quite cold! We found that the best value for blankets and a cheap duvet was the supermarket Carrefour.

University

  • When you go to register for modules, it is definitely worth signing up for all the modules you want to take in both semesters, maybe even extra ones in case you don’t like them – it is easier to quit the module and there will be few available spaces later in the year.
  • During registration make sure you’re put in the groups that you want. For example check the language- you probably won’t want a subject in Valenciano! Again, there might be no spaces to change modules or groups later.
  • Don’t expect to be told exactly what to do and when, they are quite relaxed and sometimes it takes a while for things to be processed. Timing is not overly strict, so don’t stress yourself out, you’ll have enough of that outside!
  • We’d recommend taking a Spanish course at the Centro d’Idiomas. It’s not a part of the university but you do get a discount. 60 hours there counts for 6 credits. The classes are for Erasmus students, so it’s a good way to meet people.
  • Exams are a bit different- people sometimes ask questions and you can leave once you’ve finished, sometimes there’s not even a teacher!
  • You will need to check the exam timetables on the noticeboards, often there is more than one classroom for the same exam, so make sure you sit with the right group.
  • If you fail you can re-take and your assignments (prácticas) will still count.
  • Most of our subjects (business) had multiple choice as part of the exam, with negative marking.

Picture from Valencia Picture from Valencia Picture from Valencia

Social

  • University life is different. There are sports teams but no societies, so you might not interact with too many Spanish students.
  • There is a separate organisation called Erasmus Valencia (see www.erasmusvalencia.com ), which is free to join and offers trips and socials.
  • There’s a lively nightlife, but to go to clubs you must be prepared to wait until 3am, as it’s empty before then! The drinks in clubs are expensive, although you can buy tickets in advance, which include a drink.
  • There’s a lot to do and see – the old town, cathedral (climb the tower- amazing views and get the size shock at the beginning!), Turia, Bioparc, City of Arts and Sciences, Mestalla football stadium, UGC cinemas with films in original language (English!), shopping centres (El Saler, Nuevo Centro, Aqua), the beach, La Albufera (lagoon)….
  • If you’re into the theatre & performances, Reina Sofia in the City of Arts and Sciences, has amazing student discounts of 35%.
  • Fallas is a week holiday but don’t go home that week! It’s one of the best experiences you’ll have.
  • If you want to know about things going on in and around the city, the tourist information centres provide a lot of free information and leaflets.

Picture from Valencia Picture from Valencia

Have a great time & feel free to contact us if you need any help.

France, EM Normandie – Angela Brown – 2008-2009

Angela in CaenEcole de Management de Normandie (EMN)

Caen is a city located in lower Normandy, roughly about the same size as Exeter. It is a picturesque city with lots of surrounding historic sites, mainly those linked to the Second World War.

It is a private business school rather than a University, there is a larger University situated nearby, and although the focus on contact hours is a bit daunting at first, 9.30 until 6.30 some days, it is a good place to study and have lots of fun as well. The school offers a course in English and in French as well as the opportunity to change half way through the year. I started off on the English course as was a bit nervous about going straight into French. I got to know the other Erasmus students well, but don’t feel like I learnt that much in this first semester as it is an English course for Erasmus and non native English speaking students and so was at a slower pace and similar modules to that of 1st and 2nd year general modules at Exeter. However if you want to ease yourself in slowly this is a good way to go, there is also a 5000 word essay that has to be done in the year and if you start off in English then you can continue this in English despite whether you change to French or not. The English course, named the Euro BA offers both business and tourism options, whereas the French course, named the BME (bachelor management European) only offers the business option. I really enjoyed my time here and think that being able to start off in English and then change to French really helped me to get a firmer grasp of the language, please see module evaluations for more information on the course.

At the Airport

The welcoming committee – help you with a variety of things, they organise an airport pick up (from Charles de Gaulle) if you wish to travel this way, and take you to your chosen residence. They also help you with the notorious paper work side of things such as setting up a French bank account and sort out your CAF (which is money given to you from the French government for studying in France).

Caen is classed as a city, but is not a large one, there are a lot of boutique style little shops as well as a few well known one’s such as H&M. There are a variety of clubs, but are more on the small side, every Thursday is student night where a society of l’ecole sells tickets for a different venue. To get there the tram and bus systems are really good, although this does finish about 12.30 and so can make getting home a slight problem as there is only one Taxi Company and it is about an hour’s walk home. Most of the French students go home at the weekend and so tend not to go out, however those who stay in Caen do as well as other students and locals, and there are many places which you can go in the evening or you can explore the nearby towns of Bayeux and Deauville or the beaches, and of course Paris only being about 2hours away by train.

There are several choices of accommodation, l’ecole helps you by sending you all the information and all you have to do is pick one and pay a deposit. Euro Residence is the cheapest, ranging from unfurnished to furnished apartments from 1 to 3 people, although the quality of the furnishings is not the best it is one of the nearer ones to l’ecole and many Erasmus parties went on here. Apart City and Top Campus are more expensive, mainly single rooms but a couple of shares, Apart City is literally 5 seconds from l’ecole and so a good option for the lazier person. Top Campus is about 10 minutes walk away, situated behind a large man made lake, most of the French students are here, but again mainly single rooms and so not so sociable. For both Euro Residence and Top Campus you need to sort out your own internet (in euro residence some people shared across apartments making it cheaper) and other utility bills. An alternative is the Sphinx Residences, Tempologies, Les Doges and Germes de Ble where I stayed; the sharing rooms are only a bit more expensive than euro residence and include all your bills. The single rooms are about the same price as the Apart City rooms, although these residences are good as you don’t have to sort out your own bills, they are further away about 15minutes from l’ecole, although there is a bus service for those colder days, however this finishes at about 9pm.

There are several ways to get to Caen, the airport pick up as mentioned, there are some cheap flights by Easy Jet although involves a 2hr train/3hr bus ride. The ferry is a good option as takes you into Ouistreham about 30mins away from Caen, and there is a Bus Vert service (the trams and other buses being Twisto) to the city centre, however this does not run for the last ferry of the day (from Portsmouth to Ouistreham) so make sure you time it right. Bus Vert schedules (www.busverts.fr) can be found online as well as Twisto schedules (www.twisto.fr). Of course there is also the Euro Tunnel, but again involves travelling from Paris to Caen.

Group Image

All in all I had a great year, there were some ups and downs of course like any experience but overall I think Caen is a good  place to study if you are a bit wary of going to a larger university, or want a bit more practice with your French before you dive straight in. Although it is in lower Normandy and so has the disadvantage of similarly rubbish weather as the UK.

France, Chambéry – Jeannine Maghoo – 2008-2009

The Town

Chambery is small, quaint, and quite safe. Most supermarkets, restaurants and bars were all within 10-15 minutes walking distance from where I was living (ARPEJ). I preferred this smaller town, as you are more likely to bump into other ERASMUS and friends from University in the street, or in the supermarket. Also, as most of the other ERASMUS were within walking distance and many stayed in the same accommodation as us, we would see a lot more of each other than if you were spread out in a larger city such as Lyon. The town is very busy on weekends, especially when the weather is good and there is quite a bit to do: Chambery has an ice skating rink, indoor swimming pools and stables. In the same area as the pools there is a big hilly park with breathtaking views of the mountains – here we spent quite a few a sunny afternoons and evenings during the summer.

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Getting around

Within Chambery: I walked everywhere but a few students hired bicycles from the Velostation, which is next to the train station (a 5 minute walk from the Elephants Fountain in the centre of town). Rental is quite affordable for the year – you have to give a sizeable deposit but this may just be in the form of a cheque that they don’t cash. Most of us only really used public transport to go to the big hypermarkets which are 15/20 mins away by bus, from the bus station in the centre of town: 1.10 Eur (aller simple) 2.20 Eur return.

Bourget du Lac, is a lake not far chambery centre and an area in which another part of the Univeristy campus is situated. It is a 20 minute bus ride from the centre- we tended to go on warmer days. Cycling to Bourget from Chambery was also very popular.

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Chambery

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Bourget du Lac

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Chambery at 6am –

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Outside of Chambery: The town is well connected by train. You can get to Grenoble, Annecy, Lyon or Geneva for between 6-20 Euros return. Getting connecting trains that take you to the airport in Geneva or Lyon is equally as easy. Coaches are also available to take you from Chambery directly to Lyon or Geneva airport. As you are well placed to travel around Europe – take every opportunity! 

Université de Savoie

The campus (Jacob Balcombette) is pretty in the Summer, similar to Exeter but on a smaller scale. The buildings are older, circa 1970/80s, and also on a hill! Meaning that you’ll have at least 10-15 minutes of induced exercise at least once a day. Luckily I was only a 20 minute walk from Uni, 30 minute if I had a lecture at the top of campus. Although, when I first arrived I had decided that a car would be good investment, and quite necessary if I was to survive   – I managed quite well on foot. I only took the bus to campus twice in 9 months and you may even decide to rent a bicycle for the year. For the winter, I would definitely bring with you/invest in a good pair of winter boots – something that will take you through the rain/ snow/ slush and ice.  

Picture of Université de Savoie Picture of Université de Savoie

Choosing classes

You will have to go to the offices at the top of campus near to building 2. There is a long corridor with information on available classes posted on the notice boards as well as booklets available in the main LEA/LLSH department office, also on this corridor. You can choose classes from across the departments but we were advised to register with the  IMUS  department (building 22-23). As our Erasmus Co-ordinator was part of IMUS, all our exams and results would be processed through IMUS, this meant that our Co-ordinator would be able to deal with them directly. You will have to take 30 credits per month but with classes worth 1-4 credits each. This means that you will have approx. 10 exams each exam session. If you are an Economics student, the campus at Jacob Balcombette offers more Commerce/Business modules than Economics but you might be able to find one or two Economics modules. I would only take this class if you have previously studied Economics – otherwise I would have found it very hard to follow in French.

Picture of Université de Savoie Picture of Université de Savoie Picture of Université de Savoie

Lectures

Lectures were quite daunting – to say the least – at the beginning of the year, but at the same time, it is amazing how quickly we adapted. The first few lectures were tough, I was definitely one of the most panicked as to whether or not I would make it to the second term but looking back from the second semester, it was amazing how quickly and easily we adapted and settled into the lectures – and the French system. The French are quite disorganised when it comes to the admin side of things so BE PREPARED. You might have last minute room changes- this is posted at the top of campus (the corridor by building 2). Quite frustrating when you have an 8am lecture- yes, you will probably have a few 8am lectures but you will get used to it. If you choose your classes carefully then you might be able to have Thursday and Friday free. It’s worth it because then you can use the long weekend to travel. The ERASMUS bubble also helps you along the way, with everyone in the same boat, sharing the same experience, you never have to feel alone or isolated – and seeing everyone else panicking about the challenge ahead was also reassuring. Our classes were quite manageable and when it comes down to Exams, revision was a straightforward memory exercise. As each class will be worth 1-4 credits, you will end up taking on average 10 exams each semester. This depends on whether or not you have “controle continu” (two class tests which will average out to give you a final grade) or as we are accustomed to- a final exam at the end of the semester. Make sure to take an English-French Dictionary & Business Eng-Fr Dictionary with you because you will be allowed to use them in most exams. (For exams from the DRI department, which are especially held for foreign students, you won’t be able to use them).

Food

The canteen food was reasonably priced but we tended to go home for lunch or bring lunch to campus as canteen food was hit and miss.

Accommodation

ARPEJ, Laureades and Foyer des Alpes were the most popular. A lot of ERASMUS stayed at Arpej. This was around 480 Euros per month (depending on room size) but with CAF (housing aid) this went down to around 280 Eur.

Arpej

Picture of Arpej Picture of Arpej Picture of Arpej

Laureades

Picture of Laureades

DO NOT STAY IN HOTEL CURIAL! This is the lodging suggested by the University.  Previous reports warned us of Curial and they were right  – rooms were grubby, depressing and overpriced. Also, the halls on campus aren’t particularly nice, they were often broken into and the walk back to halls after a night out in the town would not be advised.

Foyer des Alpes – cheaper than Arpej, especially with student housing aid; slightly further from University and town centre; there is a shared kitchen per floor.

Picture of LaureadesArpej & Laureades – Studio rooms with kitchenette, nearer to the town centre and Uni, opposite Charlys (one of the main places we used to go in the evening). I lived in Arpej. There is a lavette opposite which is very convenient but yes, you do have to pay to do your laundry. These two accomodations are a few minutes walk from O’Pogues, Opera and RDC and opposite to Charlys. Arpej and Laureades are also around the corner from the most popular restaurants in Chambery: La Savoyard, La Grange, Le 32, and many more. The food is very good and there is quite a variety of cuisine available – Vietnamese, Indian, Italian, Regional French, Mauritian, Tapas (around the corner from O’Cardinals), and plenty of Kebab shops.

Electricity: You will have to pay separately for your electricity; this needs to be connected by EDF. Try and arrange this before you arrive – maybe send them an email/ ask your place of accommodation to arrange this for you. If not, you can visit EDF when you arrive and they will connect it for you –  but you will need to make an appointment and this may take a few days.

Washing: You might also have to pay separately to do your washing at a lavette, as Arpej did not provide washing machines and Laureades only provided one for the whole building.

Nightlife

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There are two main clubs, Opera and RDC, which are next door to each other in Carre Curial. Our main nights out were RDC on a Wednesday & Opera on Thursday (student night) and Saturday. 

Corsaire was a definite favourite with cocktails and salsa every Wednesday.

Opera was also very popular in the first semester. It’s the biggest club (of the two!) in Chambery and tends to be packed with students on a Thursday night.

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(The Beaujolais Nouveau Festival @ O’Pogues) 

There are more Irish pubs in chambery than there are clubs and bars and this is where we started off most of our evenings. Charlys and O’Pogues were the most popular as they are closest to the main student lodgings and are on the same road as Arpej and Laureades.  O’Cardinals was also very popular in the evening with live music from time to time, it has great atmosphere in summer. Charlys also have a live music set on a Wednesday evening.

Skiing/Snowboarding

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This was the main reason that I chose Chambery.

During winter, the university runs ski trips (through their sports department SUAPS), on most weekends to Meribel/Mottaret. For 15Eur you get transport there and back and a ski pass for the day, however you do not have access to all 3 Valleys. It’s still great value for money. You then pay a further 13Eur to rent your ski equipment for the weekend – this you can get from Tigre Blanc in Chambery. When you return from skiing, the shop is usually open so you can return your equipment as soon as you get off of the coach. 

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SUAPS also organizes a weekend ski trip to Courcheval for beginner snowboarders/ skiers.

Picture of Skiing/SnowboardingOther day ski trips to Italy are available but not as often as the Meribel-Mottaret and you must put your name down in advance.

Outside of the university, during the winter, a coach service is available from the centre of town to take you to a nearby piste. The slopes are quite gentle and would be nice to visit once but there isn’t nearly as much variety as you would have in Meribel-Mottaret. 

Sports

The University sports centre (SUAPS) makes available a number of classes during the week from “stretching” (yoga) to break dancing, karate, ballroom and swing dancing. You need to sign up for classes at the beginning of the term as spaces fill up quickly and you will have to pay upfront. There is also a small gym on campus, in the SUAPS building.

France, Chambéry – James Craigen – 2008-2009

Economics w/ European Study Chambéry – Université de Savoie

I have just returned from my fantastic year abroad studying in Chambéry, it has been one of the best years of my life and I wish I could go back and re-live the whole experience again. I don’t think that I’ll ever forget the memories that I have of this great experience and I hope to stay in touch with many of friends that I’ve made from France, European countries, America, Canada and other British universities.

This is my guide to encourage you to choose to spend your Erasmus year in Chambéry and to help you make the most of the opportunities and avoid any unexpected problems.

Before you leave!

Documents

Previous student guides have mentioned the horrors of French bureaucracy but it seems things have improved a fair bit since! The following is a list of documents you should have ready to take to France. I had good quality colour photocopies that passed off for the real thing so I could keep the originals safe in my room. I also emailed myself the scanned copies so they were accessible from a friends computer, campus or a web-cafe if required.

  • Birth Certificate
  • Translated Birth Certificate
  • Passport
  • Passport photos
  • A-Level Certificates
  • EU Health Card
  • Insurance Documents
  • Learning Agreement
  • Exeter and Savoie letters of acceptation onto Erasmus

I didn’t need the birth certificate but others had to present it to CAF to get their rent rebates. I had my birth certificate translated for free by the french consulate in london, all I had to provide was a stamped addressed envelope, the instructions on their website should help.

http://www.institut-francais.org.uk/…./translation-birth

Money

We had a terrible year for the exchange rate with the financial crisis!

You may wish to consider the following options available to have access to money in France.

When you’re in France you should open a bank account, LCL and BNP both offered attractive offers and rewards, I went with LCL because I had free online banking that allowed me to check my funds and gave me an insurance policy for my French accommodation.

To get money from Britain you can do an international bank transfer but this will cost between £8-£20 depending on your bank. It can be cheaper to use one of the methods below which you’ll need anyway before you get your account setup.

  • Nationwide cash card – allows you to withdraw funds from an ATM abroad without bank charges
  • Use a British credit card abroad – I advise you to check your banks rates, for me this was a valid option at the start of the year
  • Get a pre-paid credit card – From Thomas Cook in Britain, you buy euros at their exchange rate to top up the card, it can then be used in ATMs abroad but was subject to a 2 euro charge per transaction
  • Travellers Cheques
  • Cash

Travel to France

I was in the very fortunate position that my Dad was prepared to drive me and my hoards of stuff including kitchen, sports and computer equipment out to my destination. It is possible to travel the distance from the ferry to Chambéry in 9 hours, so depending on your start location in Britain you can make the trip in one day, otherwise stops near Auxerre/Dijon may be suitable. If you wish to take 2 mountain bikes with you to France, like one of my best friends, then this may be your only viable method of transport!

Others flew out from Britain via low cost airlines that connected with Lyon, Geneva, Grenoble or even Chambéry itself. It is important to bare in mind the baggage restrictions and add on the train connection cost. If you fly to Chambéry you’ll need a taxi to town as there are no buses!

Accommodation

You can arrange this before you leave, the Université de Savoie sent me a form to fill in regarding accommodation at the time of their Erasmus acceptance letter offering to arrange this for me. However I sorted accommodation privately via email whilst I was still in Britain.

But don’t panic because many others sorted their residences when they arrived in france, staying in hotels for the first few nights.

You might want to consider the following:

Arpej, also known as Univercity, on Rue de la Republique, it’s opposite Charlys pub and Hotel Curial and right next to Laureades. Other than a few minor problems during my stay everything was ok. Room sizes vary according to cost but all have an en-suite bathroom and basic kitchen area. It is one of the expensive options available, my room cost 450 euros a month which reduced to 285/month once CAF applied. You have to pay electricity on top of this but a wi-fi is included. No bedding, kitchen equipment, microwave, kettle or oven are provided so beware you’ll need to bring or buy this. There is a launderette opposite but costs €4.50/machine

Laureades, very similar to Arpej in terms of room layout and size with en-suite and kitchen. Wi-fi was not included at the time, some paid extra or shared access keys. It had a small laundry machine which was cheaper than the launderette.

Hotel Curial, it is a residence and a hotel and is very large so the standard of cleanliness and problems varies a lot. It is the most strict residence but I know some people who lived their without the problems that previous reports have mentioned. Electricity was included in the rent and the place has a tiny gym room.

Foyer des Alpes, many non British Erasmus stayed here, I think it’s the cheapest residence. It’s about 5-10min further from campus than the places above. Rooms were clean but very small, some rooms have a tiny en-suite and all share a kitchen between 20 people on the corridor. It’s a very lively place and we often went to parties there!

Compte-Vert, it is the far side of town from all the other residences. I think it’s cheaper than the other places by quite a bit. As far as I’m aware you have your own room and share a kitchen with a French student.

When you arrive!

Foreign Language course

I highly recommend that you sign up for this in advance and arrive before term for the FLC Erasmus course. It’s a great way to meet other Erasmus before the pressure of term time, it helps get your French up to speed and there are several information and welcome sessions. Also arriving early will give you plenty of extra time to socialise, get used to Chambéry and sort out your bank account and CAF.

Food

You can stock up from the supermarkets which are a bus ride away. There are two Carrefours, (Chamnord and Bassens), and a Leclerc which are accessible by buses from the Elephants. It only costs €1.10 in each direction. Monoprix is the supermarket in town but you’ll pay a premium for anything there. There is a grocery store near Cafe du Theatre and with that on your right if you carry on to the end of the street and just cross over there is a butchers, both those are cheaper than Monoprix.

There is also a market every Saturday morning, if you walk from the Elephants past the bus stops it will be up ahead on the left. It is the cheapest place to get fruit and vegetables but there are also Savoie cheeses and specialities there.

In addition to this there are two flea markets during the year, about the end of September and the end of April and a Christmas market near the Elephants.

Life in Chambéry

University life

Courses

You’ll need to sort out your own courses and timetable, the lists are up on the notice boards at the top of campus on the covered corridor by building 1 as well as in the iMus and LEA building 23&24 where Dr Tatham’s office is located. It’s a good idea to go to as many classes as you can at the start to get a feel for what you’re capable of following and drop them at a later date if you need to.

Remember that you’ll need to take 60 credits for the year so taking extra in the first term might be a good idea to cover any failed exams! Don’t panic during your first few lectures though, most of the lecturers we had were fantastic and helpful if you just ask, you might get the lecture slides if you take a USB stick. Don’t sit at the back because it’s hard enough understanding the French, make sure you can see the board!

Try and speak to French students if you can, even if its just a hello at first because if you hang around with the Erasmus crowd the rest of the time you won’t speak much French! It’s very useful to catch up missed notes or things you don’t understand and you might get invited to parties or to trips skiing by car.

Exams

Unless you take “Controle Continue” classes which have class tests only then you’ll have plenty of these! Make sure you check the boards to find out the time and place of the exams, and hand in your relevant forms or sign up online to ensure you’re on the register.

Sport

The university SUAPS offer randonnées between September and the snow season on Saturday’s for about 10 euros that include your bus travel and guide. If you’re an active person I recommend that you go on at least one as it’s not so easy to get out to their destinations without a car.

Ski trips are offered by SUAPS, you can sign up in person or online. Most go to Mottaret in the 3 valleys but you only get a Mottaret lift pass, the area is still huge though and it cost only 15 euros including bus travel and your lift pass. You can hire skis in town from Tigre Blanc at the roundabout near campus and the hospital. You could get the skis/boots/poles for 14 euros on a Friday and return them on the Saturday evening, the return bus stopped just along the road from there so you we didn’t have to carry the skis far when we were tired, they have snowboards too.

You can arrange your own ski trips by car or bus from the elephants, some went to local resorts for quite cheap prices but I found the massive area available at Mottaret to be far more worth it for the money and went with SUAPS all the time instead.

The uni also offer a small selection of clubs that you can sign up for on their website or at the desk in the sports hall, the places go quite fast but activities such as climbing, tennis, dance and canoeing are all available.

You can hire bikes from the station, cheap to hire but they want a high deposit, the bikes are roads bikes though in a very trendy turquoise. If you’re looking to make the most of cycling in the mountainous area you’ll want to bring your own or source another hire location. Cycling to Lac du Bourget is almost entirely flat and takes between 1 and 2 hours depending on your pace! You can also get to the lake by bus, people will still swim there in September and then May onwards.

Nightlife

Chambéry doesn’t boast a wide selection of pubs or clubs but there is still plenty of entertainment available. Opera is the main club but you’ll be faced with a 6-10 euro entry charge most nights, it’s a good night out if you’re surrounded by friends though. RDC is the alternative, but the club is tiny. Corsair is an upmarket bar with a dance floor where they have informal salsa classes on a wednesday night, this was quite popular with the Erasmus crowd.

Charlys, O’Pogues, O’Cardinals are all Irish pubs not far from the main residences, bare in mind a pint of beer will set you back €.4.50

Restaurants

Le Sporting, Savoyarde and Le Grange are all good for Savoie specialities and prices vary but aren’t too steep for a main course.

Travel Elsewhere

It’s not far or expensive to get the train to Lyon, Grenoble or Geneva for sightseeing or shopping and definitely worthwhile if you’ve got the SNCF 12-25 discount card and want to make the most of it.

Paris or the south of France are accessible for a weekend or half-term break by train and low-cost flights put most of Europe within reach for cheap fares.

Communication

Most people get a French sim card and a cheap phone or bring an unlocked handset. However unlike in Britain sim cards aren’t handed out free, cost about 15 euros and you need an id card when you go to the shop. Also it’s very important to bare in mind that pay as you go credit expires within a limited amount of time, so don’t put too much money on!

I hope that you too have a fantastic year in Chambéry and enjoy the opportunity like I have to meet new people, gain independence and overcome the challenge of living abroad and speaking a foreign language.

Belgium, Brussels – Adji Sjadzali – 2008-2009

When going to Brussels, This is the most important thing to know:

Jacque BrelJacque Brel is God,

Maybe not for me, but it seems so for the people of Brussels. If you don’t know who he is you should definitely wiki or google him, better yet, find him in youtube. “Why?” I hear you ask. Because if Brussels can be symbolized by a single entity or even personified by its finest son, then you should not look beyond Jacque Brel. The more I spent my time in Brussels the more I understood that Brel was Brussels as much as Brussels was Brel.

It’s as if the city’s peak achievement is Jacque Brel and nothing distinctively Bruxellois has, nor will ever reach, Jacque Brel’s achievements. Often times I felt that the city could only look back at the glories of the past, failing to come up with something new and fresh. It doesn’t help that the city, especially in the centre, lacks the aesthetic qualities that you would expect from a multilingual international city. The sights of poorly maintained old buildings are common and signs of rejuvenation efforts are few and sporadic.

There are, however, some good news. While the city has its aesthetics and identity challenges, it is home to some of the most creative people in Europe. Where some cities are defined by their topography, architecture, or their streets, I have found that Brussels in particular is best understood by knowing its people. During your time in Brussels you will have plenty of chances to meet its people and all you need is patience. You might feel discouraged at first by signs of disorder and economic disparity in the city. But if you hold on to your dear life and get to know the city and its people a little bit more, there are precious experiences waiting for you just around the corner.

Let us now get down to the details.

Hogeschool Universiteit Brussel (HUB)

The product of a recent faculty merge, HUB at the time of my arrival was officially starting its first year as a university. As I was explained previously by those who went to Brussels for ERASMUS before me, the university’s main campus has moved from its previous location in Koningsstraat (under the name of VLEKHO) to Stormstraat. Inevitably, the merge resulted in the glitch of the administration. Luckily enough for all of us ERASMUS students, our time not knowing which classes we were registered to did not last longer than the first two weeks.

As you start your year there, do remember that they are a new institute. It should not surprise you that a lot of the lecturers are very young compared to what you would find in other well‐established universities such as our own. Most of these lecturers are full‐time academics but you might find with some of the modules made available to you that the lecturer is only a part‐time staff. If this is the case you will have to pay a particular attention to the module as from my experience these lecturers, while involved in the practice of the very lessons they teach, do not always have the ability to transfer the knowledge effectively.

It was rather interesting to know that instead of having six or seven modules each year, like I did in Exeter, I started the year with seven modules for each semester. It sounds daunting but you will be glad to know that a lot of the modules do not cover the materials as deep as you would expect. You will eventually get used to the rhythm of the timetable, dense as it seems.

Perhaps the only thing outside of the academic approach that does take time to get used to is the campus lifestyle that is very different than the one we have here in Exeter university. If in Exeter you feel as if life and all its splendour constellates around the university and its people, in HUB you will find that the campus serves mainly as classes and you should explore the city for activities instead. Exeter is a student city whereas HUB is a university in the middle of Brussels.

Accomodation

Generally speaking they are easy to find and are relatively cheap. Finding a cheap accommodation in the middle of the city might sound tempting but be careful! There is a curious thing about housing in Brussels where a lot of the houses close to the centre of the city are home to low‐income people. While they themselves obviously are not the source of inconvenience, the quality of the accommodation might be substandard. As a benchmark, if you find an accommodation within the area code of Bruxelles 1000 for around €300, then you should expect a standard Lafrowda room.

A lot of students chose to live just outside of the centre, coming in to the university every morning by using the metro. If I was to go to Brussels again to study, this is definitely what I would choose to do. Areas such as Schuman, Merode and Ixelles, for example, are only a few metro stops away from the university and provide accommodation that are better for the price. The university itself does offer some help with accommodation but as it were they were very limited and often times the students would have to find one themselves. A popular agency that should definitely be considered is Quartier Latin, which you can check here:

http://www.qlb.irisnet.be/ql/EN/1.htm

They are endorsed by all the Dutch‐speaking universities in the city and will be the connection with which the university will try to house you should you ask the university for their help. Quartier Latin owns their own accommodations around the city and they also act as an agent for landlords to find students in need of accommodation. I personally was staying in one of their accommodation located in Rue d’Anderlecht in the southern part of the pentagonal ring‐road and would not recommend this option. When I first came into my room I was surprised to see spider webs in corners, dust gathering on top of the mattress – which was dumped uncharacteristically over my bed – all of which are signs that, firstly, the previous owner didn’t take the time to clean the room properly for the next occupant, and secondly, that Quartier Latin do not care about the latter. I will, however, encourage you to contact them regarding the rooms that they advertise that are not run by them. Most landlords are nice and negotiable (regarding details of the room, not price) and some landlords will even pick you up straight from the airport/train station you arrived in. In any cases, I would urge anyone going to find accommodation in the city to first do some RESEARCH. Go there and make sure you know what your room and the location it is in are like. For most of you crossing international borders is so easy. UTILISE THAT PRIVILIGE so that you will not end up in a semi ghetto as I did.

One final option is to find an accommodation in a different city altogether. A lot of the local students come from another big city and so it is a real possibility to live in a completely different city and come everyday to Brussels. I would recommend living in Antwerp or Ghent if this option interest. Both are great cities, much nicer than Brussels in my most honest opinion and are less than an hour away by train. Antwerp and Ghent is a city that is not mentioned as often as Brussels but they are more cultural and as far as I can see there are perhaps much more interesting shops in these two cities compared to Brussels. As you can expect, accommodations in these cities are cheaper but then you also need to get yourself the monthly pass for the train.

Food & Drinks

If you like to eat, Brussels is a great city to be in. They are sensualist by tradition and it really shows in their food and drinks.

Finding decent meals throughout the day in Brussels is pretty easy. Sandwiches are staple to the diet of students and are ubiquitous, available in and around the campus. You will see that a lot of the price tags are the same to those you find in London but of course they run on a different currency.

The main artery of the city lies in Rue de Boucher and is widely known as L’Ilot‐Sacré. It is basically a cute stretch of cobbled street with its famous constellation of restaurants serving seafood as their specialty. These restaurants are catered for tourists and as such you should be ready to pay a lot. But for experience sake, you should put aside €30 for at least once during your time in Brussels. Among the many restaurants, the best one to go to is called Chez Leon and you should definitely experience the moules frites.

Small bites around the town can be interesting, too. Behind the Bourse, not far from the Grand Place, there is a small shop for frites in rue Tabora. I can vow that they have the best frites in town. If you find a better place, you should let me know! Fresh waffles are also nice especially during the winter when it is cold. As you explore the city you will become aware of the difference between the waffles of Liege and Brussels. If you are having financial difficulties, you can always get yourself a filling portion of kebabs for less than €5. When it comes to chocolates… well if there were ever going to be a chocolate nation, Brussels will definitely be the capital. I do not need to say anymore on this matter. Just try to find Pierre Marcolini in the Sablon area. I do need to warn you; pleasure does come at a price. (Go ahead and spoil yourself… every so often)

Buying food for the house is easy and there are a lot of good deals to be had. Delhaize and GB, the two main supermarkets, are obvious destinations. If you shop weekly, however, the Gare du Midi market and the market in Clémenceau are great and economic places to find produces from meats to vegetables and basic household equipments. If you decide to go to Clémenceau, make sure to follow the smell of roast chicken which will lead you the a semi trailer selling different kinds of roasted meats. They are a must!

It would be inappropriate for me to carry on and not mention the rich heritage of Belgian beers. Yet, on the other hand, the best way to discover them is by exploring yourself. The city is home to a plethora of places to chill and have a pint. DELIRIUM, located in a small cul‐de‐sac inside L’Ilot Sacré, is probably the first choice for newcomers, being the pub that famously serves in excess of 2000 different brands of beer. About five minutes away, there is a nice area called Place St. Gery and it has a lot of different kinds of bars to choose.

If you worship black gold then I’m afraid the news is not good for you, my friend. There is a general lack of knowledge when it comes to making espresso based coffees in this city and more often than not you will find yourself disappointed with the cup of coffee you’ve just ordered. It took me perhaps the first half of my stay in Brussels to finally find a decent place where coffee is served properly. My go‐to café is located not far from St. Gery and is called CAFÉ MOKA. It is really small and run by no more than two baristas at most, but the coffees there are properly treated.

Transports and Travelling

Getting around in the city is very easy and the transport network coverage is very good. The Metro system is simple as it only has a few lines. Make sure you get the limited yearly student pass at the beginning of the year as it will save you a lot of money. The university will give you more information on this when you get there.

Travelling to other cities is very easy and since the country is very small it doesn’t take to long to go to even the farthest city from Brussels. If you plan to travel within the country a lot you should buy the go‐pass ticket. It costs €50 and will take you anywhere in the country for 10 journeys.

Some cities that you have to visit include Ghent, Bruges, Antwerp, Namur, Dinant, and Leuven. You will find that the Southern part of the country is not as cute as the Northern. Ghent and Antwerp are great cities for shopping (I was told by my female friends) although both offer great cultural experience. Bruges, known as the Venice of the north, is a beautiful tourist city that is not at all pretentious and is definitely worth a visit during the warmer days. Namur and Liege are both south of Brussels and are the cradle of the Wallonia culture. There are many other historical cities not far from Brussels and they are certainly worth a visit on the weekends.

Safety

Brussels is a safe city. But just like any other cities in the world there are places that are best avoided. The areas around Gare du Nord, for example, might not be the best place to hang out and you will be able to tell from the atmosphere of the area. In the city centre pick‐pockets targeting tourists are in operation but from my experience they are very obvious and are easily prevented. If someone approaches you and invades your personal space all you have to do is pull out of the situation and walk into the crowd. It is not difficult at all to avoid these things. Of course, it is also a good idea to have another friend with you when walking at night.

Enjoy Yourselves in Brussels

There are lots of things to do in Brussels and make sure you make the most of your time. The most important thing is to regularly go out of the city centre and explore the areas outside of the ring road and get some fresh air. Brussels is the greenest capital in Europe, which means that there are a lot gardens to visit and relax in. The best one to go to is arguably the Tervuren park on the east side of the city.

During the winter when the colour green is rather shy the city try to find its best source of warmth; its people. You will find a lot of interesting festivals and market during the night where people would gather and have fun. There is no reason for you to miss this and there are always some sorts of activities regardless of your choices in life.

Get out there and enjoy the city!

Adji Sjadzali

Photos

The Grand Palace

The Grand Palace

Christmas Market close to Place St. Catherine

Christmas Market close to Place St. Catherine

Me with family in front of HUB

Me with family in front of HUB

One of the city’s many comic strips

One of the city’s many comic strips

The city’s most famous son

The city’s most famous son

Raving in the Grand Place

Raving in the Grand Place

An Erasmus student who couldn’t find accommodation.

An Erasmus student who couldn’t find accommodation.

Cool places to hang out at are in abundance, spread around the whole city…

brussels_adji_sjadzali_cool_place1brussels_adji_sjadzali_cool_place2

Other Cities

brussels_adji_sjadzali_bruge2

Bruge

Bruge: Venice of the North

Bruge: Venice of the North

Ghent

Ghent

Ghent

Ghent

Liege: Probably the world’s tallest flight of stairs

Liege: Probably the world’s tallest flight of stairsbrussels_adji_sjadzali_liege2

Sweden, Lund – Andrew Toy – 2007-2008

Getting There

Getting to Lund is neither problematic nor expensive with today’s extensive budget airline operators. I normally flew with Easyjet from London Stansted to Copenhagen (wait for it…), although I did once fly with Ryanair from London Stansted to Malmo. This operation was suspended whilst I was there, although rumours have been flying around that it was operating once again. Neither is particularly less expensive nor well run than the other (lets face it, they’re both budget airlines), although for some reason I would favour the Easyjet experience. Once you arrive into Copenhagen (a very nice airport), signposts will direct you towards the train links to Sweden and Malmo. The train to Lund goes through Malmo, and Copenhagen to Lund takes around 45 minutes. This will be your first experience of the efficiently run Swedish public transport system. Get used to it, as the buses and trains are of a standard I have yet experienced elsewhere; always on time, clean, and with a very helpful on board destination scroll, it proves a welcome novelty when first used. If you are planning on using the buses around Lund for any period of time, I would recommend buying a bus pass (Skanetraffiken) from the main train station. Even if you are not planning on using the public system intensively, it is worth buying a student discount card, as this makes domestic travel (to Stockholm, for instance) far cheaper.

Arrival

Upon arrival you will have to make your way to the AF building to register (a lengthy but necessary procedure) and to collect your accommodation keys. The easiest way to do this is to grab hold of a ‘welcome team’ member (during my year they were parading in bright red polo shirts with ‘welcome team’ printed on the back, so fairly easy to spot), or to simply follow everyone else with large suitcases and wearing a slightly nervous gait. If you get lost, then at least it would have been all of you together and you will have a talking point with strangers and something to laugh at when you are old and grey. The registration process is a good way to practice your socialising skills, as it involves a lot of waiting in line, often a complicated seating system, and plenty of nervous chat. You will be expected to answer the same question over to different individuals (name, where are you from, what are you studying etc), though remember they have probably had to answer these before too and small talk in a second language is never easy, so be patient.

Accommodation

Accommodation is normally found through the university IHO (International Housing Office), though please, please be warned. During my time there was a scandal over the IHO charging international students too much (more than the Swedish students in the same accommodation block who also get the summer months included whereas international students do not); it may be worth making friends with a Swede early on and try to subtly drop into the conversation rents and find out whether the resolution has been settled. As well as this, you will find the IHO is only open a few hours every day, so if you have issues with them you will have to check opening times. Once (if) you do manage to see them though, they are very helpful and nice.

In the first semester I lived in ‘Greenhouse’ (don’t), and in the second semester Vildanden (do). Greenhouse, as lovely as the setting was, was in the middle of nowhere (or as close as you can come in city limits), and can put a bit of a downer on the first week or so as town (for lectures, shopping etc) is a trek and the nearest supermarket is a 10 minute jaunt away. Everything is not lost, however, as after the first week you will find that as you are all in the same situation you shall become cohesive, and the experience of living out at Greenhouse shall come into its own. You will become fairly close to the others who live in Greenhouse (about 40 in total), and find the atmosphere one scarcely replicated in other accommodation. For the second semester I moved to Vildanden, much closer to town and the luxury of a supermarket across the road (with a second, slightly better quality within walking distance). The accommodation here was pleasant, with en suite but a fairly ropey kitchen (though I understand most of Vildanden is having new kitchens fitted over the summer period).

Lectures

Lectures in Lund are impressive; most have relatively small class sizes (the largest course, numbers wise, I was involved in must have had around 50 students). The year is split into two Semesters, with each semester split into two ‘demi-semesters’; courses will last either a demi- or full semester, and tend to be fairly intensive. Most courses will have around 8-10 hours of lectures a week with additional reading, although they have the advantage of being over in 6 (or 12) weeks. Exams are normally taken at the end of each course (after a short period off for revision) and are a refreshingly relaxed affair. A minor picnic is standard, and some bring full baskets of fruit and drink to scoff and quaff.

Scandinavian Area Studies (SAS courses) are courses designed specifically for international students; all lectures are in English (as are the other courses you will be taking, of which there is a wide choice), and there seems to be a relaxed feel as there is less emphasis on exams and more on gaining a ‘general subject knowledge’. Some courses I found especially interesting (Swedish Social Policy if you have just taken, or are planning to take, ESP is well worth a look), with others’ educational credibility questionable, though no less worthy. It will be up to you if and how many of these courses you wish to take, perhaps proportional to have much work you are prepared to do. Courses in the Economics department are very well run, and you will find the lecturers very approachable if there are any problems.

Life

Lund nightlife will not set the world alight. The equation for a night out is fairly staple, in that you will tend to have a few drinks pre-, then head to a student ‘nation’ (one of which you will have to join on arrival, though it doesn’t matter which one as once you are a member of one you have access to all) where the drinks are fairly cheap by Exeter standards, or phenomenally cheap by Swedish standards. Nations vary in quality and size, but are never that much larger than, say, Riva, and offer a variety of music to suit all tastes. However, as with all evening activities, it is not where you go but whom you are with; as this is likely to be a mixture of European nationalities roughly the same age and with the same interests as you, you will all bring something to the table and will find are bound for a few crackers. One experienced not to be missed is a Swedish ‘sittning’; this involves a three-course meal interspersed by schnapps and singing, followed by dancing and probably some more singing. The evening will end with singing.

A great way not only to meet Swedes but to get a free sittning is to work in one of the nation kitchens (again, this does not have to be ‘your’ nation but may be any of them), as each Friday a ‘thank you sittning’ is provided for all those who have worked at the nation during the previous week. A less formal affair, but paralleled singing.

General

First up, get hold of a bike. You don’t have to do this straight away, as many bikes’ prices are hiked during the two-week period where international students have arrived but Swedish students have not (the Swedes are canny operators). It may be worth waiting for a few weeks and getting to know the famed bus network a little. Once you have found one you like at a reasonable price (I would say around 1000-2000 SEK condition dependant), get a lock. As everyone has a bike in Lund, if yours breaks then individuals are on the lookout to replace it, and non-locked bikes are generally considered ‘fair game’, as I found to my expense.

Secondly, if you want to travel around Sweden, booking early makes everything a lot cheaper. Although you have to be fairly specific fairly early (one ticket will get you a seat on one train; if you miss this one, you won’t be able to be use it on a later train), if you can plan that far ahead it is, economically, definitely worth it.

Finally, the year will be what you make it. It is easy to sit back and simply ‘participate’ for the year, as Lund is a quiet place with apparently not much happening, and before you know it the year will be over. But if you dig around and get involved in as many activities as possible, the year will be one you will not forget in a hurry.

Spain, Valencia – Abigail Johnson – 2007-2008

My year abroad in Valencia has been without a doubt the best of my life. If you’re reading this because you’re considering taking a year abroad then hopefully I can persuade you to go for it! If you’re reading this because you are headed for Valencia during your third year, I cannot begin to tell you just how excited you should be feeling! I will try to write down the things that I feel will be of most use to you.

Arriving / Accommodation

The majority of Erasmus students arrive in early to mid-September and stay in a hostel for a few nights whilst looking for accommodation. Your first port of call should be the town centre where you can buy a Spanish SIM card and a map. It’s worth investing in a good map with a street directory in the back as this will help you a lot with your flat hunt (I got mine from El Corte Ingles). Try to get your phone unlocked before you come out, but if this isn’t possible you can get it done relatively easily here in one of the “loquotorios” (internet café to you and me) or you can buy a simple pay as you go phone for about 30 euros. There are numerous networks but my friends and I have all ended up buying Yoigo cards, as calls between us are 0.12 euros flat rate. Phone calls are quite expensive here. Once you are settled in your hostel begin the flat hunt immediately! It will be tough and on more than one occasion I overheard the words, “I just want to go home”, but stay positive, arrange as many viewings as you can and you will find somewhere. Boys, I’m afraid you will find it harder than us girls so be prepared to stay a week or so in a hostel. This is no bad thing, I met lots of people in my hostel doing exactly the same as me; in fact, it’s a great way to make friends during the first few nights. The best places to look are on lampposts etc along Blasco Ibanez, Primado Reig, and Tarrongers campus; this may sound confusing now but after a day of walking around Valencia it will become clear. www.loquo.com is also good for shared apartments. You can look for places in the city centre but its more expensive and harder to get to lectures. The areas closer to the beach are also a definite no go, it’s dangerous and I would avoid living there at all costs. Remember that Spaniards have a different daily routine and its perfectly acceptable to make a phone call and arrange a flat viewing at, say, 10 pm, between 2pm and 4/5pm everything will grind to a halt, so take a break! Rent can be anywhere between 150 euros and 350, depending on how nice the flat is and what bills are included. In general you can live somewhere perfectly acceptable for 200 including bills. Don’t expect a contract. In general Spaniards rent an entire flat and then sublet, totally illegal but it’s overlooked, and it works. Don’t worry about not getting deposits back etc, I don’t know of anyone who hasn’t as long as they’ve given a reasonable amount of notice before leaving. You ought to bear in mind that it’s easier to move from flat to flat than it is to find one in the first place, so even if you’re not 100 percent sure of your decision, if the flat is ok and it’s offered to you, take it. Roughly half of the people I know, myself included, have moved flat at one point or another. Some people came out in July or august to find flats but in general this included signing a ten month contract, renting the entire flat and finding others to live with yourself. It can be a good option but keep in mind you cannot move and the responsibility of rent and bills is yours if the person you sub-let to ups and leaves. Others found flats through agencies, and I’ve heard both good and bad things but don’t know sufficient to tell you about it.

Registration / Modules / Exams

Once you’ve found a flat the next thing to do is tell the university that you’ve arrived. You’ll need to go to “rectorat” on the Blasco Ibanez campus and they will give you an Erasmus pack with module booklets, maps, language school information etc. Go early in the morning to avoid major queues, often the international office get fed up and by mid afternoon just shut. You’ll also be informed of when and where your department meeting is; this is normally on the first day of the semester and you’ll be designated a time and place to register. Don’t expect to gain much from this meeting, there is such a great number of Erasmus students in Valencia that the staff don’t have time to sort out everyone individually. Working out a timetable will be the next major task. Being Erasmus you can take any module you want, there are generally no restrictions. Each module often has several groups so attempt to go to all of them to see which you prefer. The method of teaching / coursework / type of exam is entirely down to the individual teacher so do have a chat with them. You will come across some teachers that are extremely helpful and others who just don’t care, so pick carefully. Once you’ve chosen you’ll then need to register and after that there are a few dates when you can go and change your modules should you wish to. You can buy all the lecture notes and past exam papers from “reprografia” and most of these are available on “aula virtual” too; this will all become clear when you get here. Don’t compare your workload to that of students from other universities; I found very few people who had to take the same amount of credits/pass exams. Exams are not the same as in the UK. It is perfectly acceptable to turn up late, take a coffee break midway or ask the teacher a question! They are not too tough in terms of the level of difficulty, but the volume of work tends to be very large for each module as the terms here are much longer.

Language

My Spanish was virtually non-existent when I arrived. A few hours a week in the FLC will not prepare you for what is to come, but don’t worry, everyone is in the same boat! Take advantage of the discounted language course on offer by the “Centro de idiomas”. It’s a good way to make friends, keep your grammar up to scratch and can be done for credit (the easiest module you can take). If you are here for both semesters get your name on the list for the second semester as early as possible as there are limited places. Moving in with a Spaniard is one of the best ways to improve your Spanish. It is very easy to get by here only speaking in English as most of the other Erasmus students speak very good English and are just as keen to practise it, as they are Spanish. One of my housemates is an English friend that I met out here but we make a concerted effort to speak Spanish whilst we are in our flat. “intercambios” are another good way to improve. You can sign up for one in the language school or find one on www.loquo.com. I would recommend you try to arrange one while you are still in Exeter too, this was something nobody told me and I wish they had!

Transport

Transport is no problem whatsoever. A lot of students have a bike, which is a good way to get around. You buy one relatively cheaply from the market by the Mestalla in the early hours of Sunday morning (totally illegal but it’s overlooked). The only problem is that bikes do get stolen often; you can however normally buy it back from the market again! Metros are relatively cheap but do stop at about 11pm, taxis are extremely cheap and the buses are frequent, but really I’ve found that everywhere is within walking distance. Metro is the best way of getting to and from the airport and by far the cheapest.

Social life

Any worries you have about making friends are soon dispelled. Between the two universities in Valencia there are 95 thousand students and a large proportion of them are Erasmus. Seven months in and I’m still making new friends, although admittedly not many of these are Spanish. University is more of an extension of college for the Spaniards; they don’t move away and so tend to stick in their cliques. Having said that they are friendly and helpful if you ask anything. The majority of my friends are Erasmus, met through classes or flatmates or randomly even; everyone is in the same boat as you and wants to meet as many people as possible. Going out can be expensive, there are lots of big clubs and its anywhere between 10 and 15 euros to get in (usually with a free drink) or even up to 20 for somewhere like pacha. Drinks are normally 5-7 euros so a bit on the pricey side; they are however strong so you don’t need many. During the week there are a lot of Erasmus nights that are free and bars offering deals, so you can go out on a budget. “Botellon” (drinking in the street out of plastic bottles) is a favourite among the students and I’ve been to some with thousands of people, it’s a good way to go out and chat a bit of Spanish (and yes, you’ve guessed it, totally illegal but it’s overlooked). Valencia has a lot to offer with the Turia, the beach, the old town in the centre, The City of Arts and Sciences, The Bullring, The Mestalla and of course, Las Fallas. Fallas is one of the highlights of the year. Each “barrio” spends months making a giant papier mache figure to enter into a competition and at the end of the five days they are stuffed with fireworks and burnt. There are parades and “mascleta” during the day, fireworks and huge street parties at night. The atmosphere is brilliant and you can expect to spend a week without sleep, dodging fireworks, eating “churros”, dancing in the street and generally having a fantastic time. The university doesn’t have much to offer in the way of societies except for sports. “Erasmus Valencia” is a good society to join, although nothing to do with the university it organises trips, international events and offers discounts for entry to some clubs.

I think I have covered everything and all that is left to say is have an amazing time! I cannot recommend a year abroad enough; if you make the most of your time away and take every opportunity that comes your way it will be the best experience of your life. Living in another country may seem daunting at first but you will soon forget any concerns and being able to communicate in another language gives a real sense of achievement. I can totally assure you that going to Valencia is the right choice to make and with only two months left here, the thought that you have it all to come leaves me full of envy.

Spain, Cantabria – Yvonne Leith – 2007-2008

Travelling

There are a couple of options to choose from when travelling to Santander.  Ryanair flies from London Stansted to Santander which is normally quite cheap.  The airport is about 15 minutes away from the city centre but there is a bus every half hour.  There is also a ferry from Plymouth to Santander which is more expensive and takes about a day but has the benefit that you can carry as much weight as you want/can. 

Santander doesn´t fly to many other airports in the UK, though it did fly to Liverpool last year so that might change again. 

Accomodation

I sorted out my accomodation through the Universidad de Cantabria.  They sent forms to fill in sometime in May and they gave the option of living in halls of residence or privately owned shared flats.  I chose the flat option and four days before I came out I was sent an email with the phone number and address of a land lady and I had to ring her to arrange my arrival with her.  If the ORI don´t get in touch with you after you´ve sent them your arrival date the best thing to do is to keep emailing or even ring as it can take them a while to get round to things.  It´s quite easy to change flats out here so if you´re not happy with the one you´ve been given so it´s not something to worry about before you come. 

The flats usually cost around €170 – €240.  Location isn´t massively important as Santander is pretty small.  The buses are pretty good and pretty cheap though it is possible to walk most places. 

University

The University is based on one incredibly long road (Avenida de los Castros) with the different faculties housed in different buildings.  The international relations office (ORI) is in the Economics building.  The university is very relaxed and things can take awhile to get done.  Don´t worry about choosing modules for the first few weeks as you don´t have to finalise your choices immediately.  Most economics lectures are scheduled to be two hours long but they generally start fifteen minutes late, have a break in the middle and end early. 

Lectures here are more like school classes than university lectures.  For example, the lecturers will often set work to be done in the next ten minutes and then ask for answers.  Some lecturers speak quite quickly and can be hard to follow, particularly in dictation and it can be helpful to photocopy notes of the Spanish students.  Also if you need to ask the lecturers questions it´s much better to do it in person as they can take about six weeks to respond to emails. 

Other

Santander is pretty small but the nightlife is pretty decent and it´s very easy to stay out til 5 or 6 in the morning.   There aren´t many shops but Bilbao is only an hour and a half away and the shopping there is good.  The nightlife there is also pretty good and they also get some good bands playing there – we saw Bloc Party. 

We also did quite a lot of travelling and went to several places like Zaragoza, Santiago and Cordoba.