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.

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