Our students have many opportunities to study abroad during their time with us here at Westminster, including the Student Exchange year abroad option! Whilst you can find out more about the programme by visiting our website, it’s also a great idea to get some student perspectives & find out what they thought of the experience. Thanks to our students bloggers you can do just that, and here to share his story with us in interview is undergraduate student, Tommy Chung:
What motivated you to choose the Student Exchange year abroad option and how did you choose which country to visit?
I really wanted to broaden my horizons (personally & professionally) and I wanted to broaden my knowledge in the field of business by studying modules which supplement my degree, such as Change and Innovation Management, Commercial Distribution, Consumer Distribution and more. I also wanted to visit some many wonderful places not only in Spain, such as Granada, Barcelona and Seville (see the photos below), but also other places round Europe, such as Italy and Holland.
I chose Valencia because I had previously visited Barcelona with my family, and I loved the culture and buzz. So, choosing a smaller, but equally as lively city like Barcelona, was a no-brainer! Other reasons why I chose Valencia include great weather, there’s a beach close to the university and they also have a globally known football team too!
Valencia is a great place for students to live and has so much to offer. Many good bars and restaurants have cheap prices, so not eating out almost every night seems ludicrous! There is also a zoo and an amazing aquarium that is a great way to spend the weekend. Also, Valencia has conserved its historic past and also kept up with the modern development of buildings and has new and beautiful buildings that will have you in awe.
Valencia also has many smaller towns and villages outside the main city where visiting museums and going on hikes are a great way to see other parts of the region. There are also a wide variety of clubs, each known for playing different types of music, from Reggae ton and hip hop, to electro and pop songs.
What was your highlight?
There have been countless fantastic events that have happened on my Study Abroad from trips to Ibiza, nights out in Valencia, seeing Lionel Messi at the Mestalla (stadium of Valencia FC), going on a colour run and plenty more. But, the main highlight was when I went to Formentera, the smallest of the Balearic Islands. A small group of friends and I rented scooters and drove around the island, seeing the cliffs at the end of the island and driving up hills, seeing breath-taking views along the way. Having the freedom to cruise along the motorways, or down the countryside roads, or driving parallel to the beach, was a memory that will stay with me for a long time.
Can you tell us what it’s like to study abroad?
Day to day life in Valencia is completely different to London. For the third largest city in Spain, everything is very relaxed. Getting your daily errands done can be very hard. The usual shop opening times are 10am-2pm and then 5pm-9pm, as opposed to 9am-5pm in London. What should take 2 days to complete a list of errands, in London, takes at least a week in Valencia because of varying opening and closing times of different shops. Also, there are many holidays in Valencia. Even the smallest holidays are an excuse for many shops and restaurants to close without prior warning! One day, I returned from a week trip to Italy and I needed to buy some food. However, everything was closed and the streets were practically empty, due to a holiday that I had to google and I couldn’t find anything of any significance to justify the closing of everything!
During March, there is a festival called Fallas – a celebration where monuments are burnt down. At the start of the week, the monuments are built and erected on almost every street. Some are around 2 metres tall, some are over 6 metres tall! By the end of the week, after many all day and all night parties and firework displays, the monuments are burnt down. This festival is like nothing I have ever seen. To see a whole city come together and produce such beautiful monuments and create such a special atmosphere is something I will never forget.
At the University of Valencia, the earliest that lessons start is at 8:30am and the last lesson finishes at 9:30pm. So, late nights in Valencia are not really an option, unless you are a tough cookie! The university is also very different and I did find it challenging at times to communicate with people there. Campuses are spread out across the city of Valencia, just like Westminster and they are all around 10 minute walk away. Instead of calling lessons Lectures and Seminars, it is called Theory and Practical, respectively. Both are an hour and a half long, but they can run to up to 2 hours long. Also, there is a 1 hour break in the timetable to allow time for a siesta. The sports facilities are very good. On my campus there are large football pitches, beach volleyball courts, sports hall, gymnasium, tennis courts and archery arena too!
How has taking a year abroad challenged you?
Living at home with my family for all of my life has meant that I could always rely on a family member to help me out if needed. But living independently abroad meant that I had to learn to take care of myself. Studying abroad has pushed me to travel more and see new and amazing things and places. Before, the idea of travelling to other countries and cities worried me a little. I am not sure why it worried me, except that I had not really travelled much, on my own or with friends. But since studying abroad, most places are very easy to navigate round and the locals are usually very friendly and willing to help.
Can you tell us about the social life at Valencia? Is it easy to find friends and join societies?
Making friends in Valencia is very easy. Everyone is very open and making conversation is a breeze, unless English is not their first language then a compromise is made and a good conversation can still be had! Everybody who is studying abroad is in a new environment and going through the same things you are, so making friends isn’t hard. Making as many friends as possible makes the experience more enjoyable, and also helps you to overcome challenges more easily.
For international students, there is the ESN (Erasmus Student Network) organization set up at the University of Valencia. They set up many events and trips for students to meet many people and also to see many new places for very reasonable prices. With all these events on offer, staying at home is not really an option. I was able to visit some small towns outside Valencia, visit Port Aventura theme park with the tallest rollercoaster in Europe and go to Ibiza.
One event in particular, set up by ESN has been the most important for me. Every Tuesday, there is a student event at a bar called Natura Dub. There is usually something special happening, such as beer pong or being able to try food from different countries. I made over 90% of my friends there and I regularly joke that Natura is our second home.
In general, the Spanish lifestyle is fantastic – it is made for relaxing and partying. As mentioned earlier about the opening times of shops, the day starts nice and early at 8am and close at 10:30pm. The nightlife is also very lively in Valencia. Parties do not start till at least after midnight and do not really peak till 2:30 am. Clubs do not start getting crowded till after 3am and some clubs close at 8am! I remember going to the train station at 8am to go on an ESN trip, and I saw people still leaving the club!
There is no student union or societies at the University of Valencia but because of ESN, I feel it was easier to make friends as an international student.
Did you need to speak Spanish to study at this university?
I went to Valencia not knowing any Spanish. I only knew the phrases, ‘Hi, my name is Tommy,’ and, ‘Where is the Bathroom?’ My lessons are all in English, but there are additional Spanish lessons available in the University’s centre of Languages. My Spanish now is a lot better than it was when I came here and I can say enough that would mean I could live here comfortably!
Have you experienced home-sickness and if so what are your tips for getting through it?
The first day I arrived, my suitcase was still in Madrid airport as my connecting flight to Valencia didn’t have room for it. Most of my things and valuables were in that suitcase – I was incredibly home sick and I really wanted to just fly back home. But, I was able to Skype my family who re-assured me that I would be fine. Throughout the first week I was a little unsure about whether I made the right choice about studying in Valencia for a year, but over time I just fell in love with Valencia and now I don’t want to leave.
The advice I can give is to meet as many new people, go to as many events, see as many new places, as possible. Eventually you forget what you missed at home and you start to enjoy yourself. Regular Skyping with family and friends is very important, as they can offer support and give you the best advice.
Do you have any advice for students thinking of studying abroad?
All I can say is: DO IT!!! Honestly, you will not have a better opportunity to do anything like this again. The experiences you gain here are so invaluable and are something you will never ever experience if you don’t study abroad.
Thank you to Tommy for his insights and for taking the time to share his experiences with us. If you would like to find out more about this study abroad option, why not take a look on the Student Exchange webpage or read these other blogs?
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