Study abroad: It’s fun to expect the unexpected

Adapting to a new country can present pleasant surprises

Jenny Kelly, aged 26, isn’t quite sure what to expect from the voluntary term she’s planning this autumn at Barcelona’s Universidad Autonoma, but she’s already preparing. “I’m taking a beginner’s course in Spanish, so that should help, though of course the language there is actually Catalan,” she says. “And I play a lot of tennis so I’m hoping for sunshine!”

For Jenny, as for most British students who venture abroad, it’s the unexpected that is the attraction. She comes from Dungannon, Co. Tyrone, and studies English at Roehampton University, south-west London.

“We were offered Australia or the US but I wanted to experience a different culture,” she says. She will travel under the Erasmus exchange scheme, which is funded by the European Union and run by the British Council.

Alexandra Geca, 22, from London, is in her last year at Manchester University, studying German and linguistics. She spent her Erasmus year in Innsbruck, Austria. The surprise, she says, was to find that the Austrians were very conservative.

“They’re proud of their mountains and loyal to their local area. It was a big change from London, where people move about all the time.

“The crime rate is very low and so is the drug use. Instead they’re active. Every weekend is spent skiing or doing some kind of snow sports, or hiking in the summer. You eat an awful lot of pork and potatoes, but the exercise makes up for it.”

These cultural contrasts, together with the friendships formed, are what students remember from their years abroad. But cultures can differ enormously, not only between countries but within them – and even within cities.

“A student in Florence might well be exposed to more Americans than Italians, whereas studying at La Sapienza in Rome would be a deep immersion in Italian culture and language,” says Nunzio Quacquarelli, whose organisation QS produces the Best Student Cities guide.

Even within Paris – the city rated best for students in his survey – there are big differences, he says, so careful research is vital. Other topranked continental cities include Vienna, Zurich, Berlin and Dublin.

Saskia Leech spent a year of her Cambridge language degree at Marburg University, near Frankfurt. “Even though Marburg has a similar number of students to Cambridge, it felt vast and amorphous – there was no nice, cosy college atmosphere,” she says. “There was one massive university with a canteen which served schnitzel the size of your face.”

She found the workload lighter than at Cambridge, and that German students had a more grown-up attitude to drinking. “I got the impression they’d got all the binge-drinking thing out of their systems on school trips when they were 14,” says Saskia.

Spain is also popular for British Erasmus students. Philip Morrison, who works at TopUniversities.com, studied at Granada University. He says the most striking cultural difference for a British student is the Spanish timetable.

“Shops, bars and restaurants open and close later and the afternoon siesta is so widely observed that my local police station closed between 2 and 5pm. Bars might not open until midnight and clubs usually open their doors between 3 and 7am.”

With tuition fees at an all-time high in the UK, many students are now considering an entire degree course abroad. Lorcan Murray, aged 24, from Ulverston, Cumbria, did his degree in Galway. “I chose it over Aberdeen or Glasgow because of the flexibility of the course, and because it was considerably cheaper than the UK.”

Opting to specialise in history and French, he then did an Erasmus year at Strasbourg, and is now a firstyear Masters student of European Studies at Maastricht University in the Netherlands. The course is taught in English.

“Maastricht had a good reputation and its proximity to Brussels made it a good option for European studies,” he says. “The hardest part is finding accommodation. I’m in a university guest house and it’s not cheap.”

Chris Dove has had ample opportunities to compare attitudes to learning, having run the British Council both at Budapest and at Barcelona, where he’s now based.

“What always struck me about Hungarian students was their rigid discipline,” he says. “From the silent queues that formed outside schools to the exquisite perfection of the assignments university students would turn in. They adored academic rigour above anything else.

“The attitude of Spanish students to their degree courses, even when it is a vocational choice, is overpoweringly influenced by the need to pass rather than the thirst for learning.”

But outside the class, young Spaniards, he says, are generally gregarious and enthusiastic.

Employers value Erasmus students for a variety of reasons, Dove finds. “They speak foreign languages, they have some experience of living and working with people from other cultures, they think for themselves and they are accustomed to solving day-to-day problems and getting on with the job.”

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
football
News
Tangerine Dream Edgar Froese
people
News
Rob Lowe
peopleRob Lowe hits out at Obama's snub of Benjamin Netanyahu
News
Davies (let) says: 'Everybody thought we were having an affair. It was never true!'
people'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
Arts and Entertainment
Over their 20 years, the band has built a community of dedicated followers the world over
music
News
Staff assemble outside the old City Road offices in London
mediaThe stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century at Britain's youngest paper
Life and Style
The Oliver twins, Philip and Andrew, at work creating the 'Dizzy' arcade-adventure games in 1988
techDocumentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Arts and Entertainment
Krall says: 'My hero player-singer is Elton John I used to listen to him as a child, every single record
music
Arts and Entertainment
The Wu-Tang Clan will sell only one copy of their album Once Upon A Time In Shaolin
musicWu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own only copies of their latest albums
News
i100
Environment
Number so freshwater mussels in Cumbria have plummeted from up to three million in the 20th century to 500,000
environment
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Student

Ashdown Group: Junior Developer - Cirencester - £29,000

£25000 - £29000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: The Ashdown Group have be...

Ashdown Group: Graduate Data Analyst - Essex - £25,000

£23500 - £25000 per annum + Training: Ashdown Group: Graduate Data analyst/Sys...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Account Manager

£16000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Graduate Account Manager is r...

Guru Careers: Graduate Account Manager / Sales Executive

£18k + Uncapped Commission (£60k Y1 OTE): Guru Careers: A Graduate Account Man...

Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project
Diana Krall: The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai

Diana Krall interview

The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai
Pinstriped for action: A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter

Pinstriped for action

A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter
Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: 'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'

Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: How we met

'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef serves up his favourite Japanese dishes

Bill Granger's Japanese recipes

Stock up on mirin, soy and miso and you have the makings of everyday Japanese cuisine
Michael Calvin: How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us

Michael Calvin's Last Word

How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us