I went to Krakow, Poland and I studied Sociology and Intercultural Communications at a small private university called Tischner European University. I was a bit apprehensive to go to Poland at first, because I was the only one from my university going there. However, as soon as I got there, met my Polish flatmates and the other 15 Erasmus students at my university, I loved it! We immediately got on with each other, spending all our time together exploring Krakow, but also going further afield, travelling around Poland as far as the Belarusian and Lithuanian border. We also made a trip to Ukraine. My favourite place in Krakow would have to be Alchemia, which is a pub/coffee shop/underground cinema/gig venue, located in the Jewish quarter. This place has no electric lights, it’s lit by candle light at night and it has a really great atmosphere. I wouldn’t recommend packing too much, as you would most likely buy many things there. Prices may have changed now, but when I went, everything seemed very cheap there and I didn’t even manage to spend all my grant money!
There was a distinct lack of university support in finding housing and a notable difference between taught Arabic and the colloquial language. My social life in Damascus mostly involved other foreign students as there were only one or two night clubs, men have a café culture and there are cheap restaurants everywhere, so going out for food with friends is the easiest option – but not the most sociable one when it comes to meeting new people! There were very cheap travel opportunities by bus to Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey and the rest of Syria.
When I first arrived, most of the people from my home university have been there for five months already, so they had already done a lot of travelling and bonding together. I did however meet a lot of new people from other parts of the world. I really enjoyed the academic side of the stay, as the university offered various classes to do with linguistics, plus the teaching was of a very high standard. They approached every person individually, which is something you don’t get in most universities. The most difficult thing about Russia is that you constantly have to fight against their bureaucracy. If you accidently forgot your student ID at university, the doorman will make you pay to get it back; if you need to go to the library, you have to get at least 3 letters from your university stating you are a student there; if you want to travel, you have to register with police everywhere you go etc. If you can overlook that, Russia and Moscow specifically are fascinating, with a lot of interesting people. I would also recommend travelling to St Petersburg for a few days. Overall, I enjoyed my stay there, despite a few initial hiccups, which are to be expected on a year abroad.
Despite what people may know about sushi, when I got to Fukuoka I realised that my biggest problems would be gastronomic. I was studying Japanese, and had very little knowledge about Japanese food, so when I found that I did not know what any food was, I struggled to find food that I liked, or knew how to describe. The social life was brilliant though - what a city! I stayed in a dormitory with 100 people, so I made quick friends there. Nearby there are restaurants, game places, bars, etc. and in the city centre there is even more choice. I went to Tokyo, Hiroshima (twice), Kumamoto, Oita and Kagoshima.
I wanted to be somewhere in the developing world on my year abroad and I got an interesting job in Beira, working for a British NGO. It has to be said that Beira is not what you'd call scenic. From the sprawling slums to the Soviet-era blocks of flats, many parts of the city look as though they are slowly dying. Yet even amidst the urban decay, there is a unique Mozambican spirit that brings Beira to life - I felt really welcome in this country and more safe than I had expected. Golden sandy beaches are undoubtedly the highlight of any stay, and with the exception of the white-supremacist Bique’s, the bars that line the beach are a superb starting-point to an evening out. Ponta Gêa is the best place to reside, followed by the affluent Macuti. It’s important to note that unless you opt for the resorts around Tofu, you meet all that many expats. Almost everyone speaks Portuguese, but hardly anyone knows English. So it’s a good idea to get a steady job placement with the appropriate support, should you need it. While the country remains stable and peaceful, street crime is an issue. Don’t expect mod-cons either. Hot water and television are fairly hit-or-miss in Mozambique. But don’t let this put you off. The rough-and-ready feel becomes part of the appeal.
What? One month intensive Arabic language course at the Institut Bourguiba in Tunis, Tunisia.
When? July - August 2008
Find out what to pack, what to leave behind and where to go while you're there on your year abroad...
Landing in a far flung country like Russia for the first time is incredibly daunting to say the least! After the initial panic on the first evening (cue tearful calls home and feeling very alone), a friend and I decided to use the time we had until university started to explore and get to know the city. It’s great to arrive a few days before, just to get to grips with the layout of the town and check out a few hotspots! This initial venturing proved truly invaluable as we were then treated as the experts of St. Petersburg – having read the guidebook cover to cover also didn't hurt! I had an amazing four months in the end and met a brilliant group of people with whom I shared many cultural experiences, bizarre treks trough the Russian wilderness (I still swear I saw a bear) and many, many laughs at the vast array of mullets on display.
Tokyo, Japan - beautiful, peaceful, collegiate, metropolitan, suburb
Living in a homestay with an elderly, conservatively-minded couple for 10 months was a trial at times, but ultimately a good experience as my language and cultural experience improved immensely. I really enjoyed my stay there, although I did face a bit of a problem when a change in teaching took place half-way through the course, which badly affected my study at the International Christian University. There's loads to do and see in Tokyo, so you'll never be bored and with the great transport system, you can get around easily and efficiently, even if you want to go further afield from the town centre.