I came for food, weather and ocean!
Name: Sabina Smeliova
Course: BSc Psychology and Business
Placement Position: Erasmus Student
Location: Católica Lisbon School of Business & Economics, Portugal
Post #6: Final blog
I’m approaching the end of my Erasmus exchange, and my anticipation about final year is growing. In a couple of weeks I will have my final exams, and then I will wait until August for my grade. Therefore, I think this is the perfect time to reflect on my overall experience and think about the most important questions:
Was it the way I had imagined?
I don’t have an answer to this question, because I didn’t have any sort of expectations. I only knew facts; that there is an ocean and it should definitely be much sunnier than Brum. All the rest was out of the projection. In the end, I was surrounded by highly motivated people from many European countries, I had fun and challenging assignments to work on and overall the experience was fantastic. I cannot say that all study placement experiences would be that amazing, so I believe that the most important tip would be:
Don’t get overly excited before going abroad.
It can be hard and weird, but also fun to explore cultural differences. I think I had so much fun because I did not have many expectations about the people I would be around.
Any country would have its own surprises for sure, so if you are ready to adapt and change your usual way of living, then international placement (whether it is study or work) should be your choice.
I think I should include that, though it was great, not everything always went smoothly. I think I mentioned it before, that to feel better in a new country, you should always do research on the culture and know at least the basics of the language. Still with this knowledge, many people will spot you as a foreigner straight away and treat you differently. I haven’t really figured out a solution for that. No matter how many layers of tan I have, I still look different, and trying to speak Portuguese makes it even worse. Maybe because my level of Portuguese is insulting…? (Frankly speaking, it is not even a question.)
Now I cannot really imagine myself having a different placement, and definitely have no regrets about my choice. I feel so comfortable that sometimes dreaming on the beach I imagine spending a considerable part of my life here.
So here I am on my second Erasmus term in Catolica, and I must admit that there were surprising differences between the first and second term.
First of all, where are all the Erasmus students? Where are the crowds of people at uni talking about past nights out that were really making it hard to go through the corridors? Well, apparently Erasmus is much more popular in the beginning of the year. Many people from other universities have this experience on their final year, which means they don’t stay for the second term. This explains the changed demographics in Catolica and leads to the conclusion that:
- If you want to have fun non-stop and get the best fun memories, you should go on Erasmus in Autumn
- If you want to have a calmer, more academic achievement focused experience, with much less cultural diversity, Spring is better for you.
I barely see international students now, apart from the masters (that are mostly German and looking very concerned), and I would say that this is a good thing at this point. Coming here to Lisbon is for me a life changing experience. Of course, the first thing you may notice in my blog is that I came to Portugal for the ocean, weather and food, but to be honest it is much more. For me it is a time to think about priorities in my career, and try out other areas that might be interesting. Therefore, one of the goals was to pick as diverse a range of modules as possible, and I also avoided modules related to those that I have in my Aston study plan.
The major advantage of study placement is the diversity of experience that you get, which YOU are very much in control of.
What I mean by that is the fact that, to a big extent, on work placement you are limited to one area that you have chosen initially. For example, you can’t just go to your placement coordinator and say “I am so sorry, I think I don’t enjoy HR anymore. I would like to go into Marketing for now.” Here you have at least 5 modules in one term, and you are able to choose what you want to focus on now.
So, if you are not sure what you can cope with for more than 12 months yet (just like me), I strongly suggest not to panic (I did and it’s not fun). Consider studying abroad, picking the modules that look fun to you (even though you may not be sure how to apply them in future) and enjoy each moment.
I have passed the half-way point of my journey. The moment between two semesters feels weird, because everything is going to change very soon, and many things will happen again. I will choose my new modules again, get a “starter pack” again, see many new faces again…but I will be much more comfortable doing these things this time around. Until then…exams AGAIN!! As I mentioned before, they happen all the time here. I had Mid-terms in Autumn, and End-terms started before Christmas (these are on-going and continuing to stress us out). But don’t worry; the ocean has not disappeared, as I check on it regularly. Still looks great, sunsets 10/10.
I think Christmas for many Erasmus students is unique, especially for those that never lived far from their parents and friends. It is the moment when they start to truly appreciate the feeling of home. I remember it from my first couple years at Aston, and now it is fun to see the same emotions on other people’s faces. Some students stay here for Christmas, but it should not feel like a tragedy. Trust me, there will always be other students that also stay, so you can spend this day together! This makes getting to know as many people as you can at the beginning of placement is very important! Moreover, this experience can be great if you have creative ideas on what to do. Check out the places you want to visit, search for local traditions and dishes, remember your own heritage and share it with others. It might become an unforgettable experience for you and others.
This year for Christmas I went to Lithuania, but came back to Portugal as soon as possible. You get used to the comfortable weather very quickly and don’t ask me how cold the winter season is in Lithuania. My New Year’s Eve was in Portugal and it was worth it. Each country, even each city, celebrates it in its own way…and so it is with Lisbon. There were fireworks, a party in every part of the city centre and a lot of people from around the world that created the mood of the night. The next day almost everything was closed, and the city looked very different again. Now everything is back on the regular track and I am very much waiting for warmer weather to come…as well as (obviously) new people and modules and studying hard.
It is now my 6th month in Portugal and a 3rd month of studying in Catolica, and it is the perfect time to say that Placement (at least study) is something very exciting.
In August I had to choose my modules for the 1st term, which gave me an opportunity to study things that my current Aston degree does not include. I had a long list of modules that were related to Business, Politics, Economics, Finance and Language (in my case Portuguese). The fact that I can study mostly whatever I want is incredible and I think that it is one of the biggest advantages of study abroad placement.
Overall, my current impression of studying here is that there is a lot of group work. A LOT compared to Aston. Almost every one of my modules includes a group assignment and therefore you constantly need to be engaged in group activities. Many modules also include weekly homework, so it is not all fun and games. And yeah, Aston Replay I remember like a luxury of the old days…
At some point after 3 months of great weather, food and ocean, I realised that I’ve come to the top Portuguese business school and it really feels that they work a lot to be number one. By the way, did I mention Midterms…? Yes, in the end of October we already had exams, and yes, we will have exams before Christmas as well.
Sounds like I’m whining, but, in reality, this system motivates me to study and requires a lot of effort. I feel like it will mentally prepare me very well for the final year in Aston.
Good time-management skills are great to have in my situation, as simultaneously my goals in Portugal are to keep up with my studies and also explore as much as I can. I am secretly glad that the weather now becomes colder, and beach season is closed for this year, so I’ll stop spending most of my time there, feeling guilty about procrastination. Now I just sit at home eating, staring at the rain outside feeling guilty about procrastination!
Fun Fact! Guess how many days of the year are suitable for surfing in Portugal?
Portuguese say 364, because why would anyone surf on Christmas Eve? Heard it on my first day at university, and now I have a goal to check if it is true.
Now, in November the water is not much colder than in summer. So, hello surfing wetsuit, keep me warm, and allow me to get those unforgettable memories! By the way, remember that physical exercise is very beneficial for your brain activity and successful studies (I also use this reason to avoid procrastination guilt and do something else very actively).
Placement in a nice location can be very distracting as you can see from my blogs, and there are many friends that want to visit you at the time you are here, so stay strong and try to remember that it is not a holiday! Otherwise, you will not be very happy about your final grades.
International placement is a choice for the brave and curious. Not only the work/study environment changes but all aspects of your life. For me, I guess it was easier because I moved from Lithuania to study at Aston and already had experience of getting used to a new culture, language etc. The most important thing I learnt from this was that there is no need to worry at all when something does not happen as planned.
Be prepared. Do the research about the place you are moving to – knowledge is always power. In my case I thought I was prepared enough, and my accommodation was also booked on a trustworthy website (as I thought), but it didn’t go well.
When I arrived in the place, it didn’t look like the pictures at all. The flatmates that met me straight away told me to leave the place as it is impossible to stay there for a year. I am not going to share the details, but sanitary standards were horribly low and I left it in an hour or so. At this point I was alone in a foreign country with two huge suitcases and no plan at all. Booking in advance without checking the flat was a childish mistake. My advice after this experience is if you are not sure 1000% about the accommodation provider, then stay in a student hostel or hotel for few days and check out the accommodation without rushing. This is what I did too after all. I stayed in a very nice and cheap student hostel, where Portuguese staff helped me to find a room and even avoid the additional fees. So don’t worry if something is not okay, and always ask local people for advice – they know better how things work in their country. For example, when I was trying to contact landlords to book a meeting, they would not answer the calls or texts and I did not understand why. I asked hostel staff, and turned out that these days were holiday, and Portuguese take their days off very seriously and are not willing to do anything other than relax.
Eventually I found myself living in a basement with three Portuguese guys, lol. Sounds weird, I know, but don’t worry, Lisbon has a lot of hills and at first it is strange to enter the building, go downstairs and still have a yard on the other side of the flat.
I think that living with local people is a must when you move to a new country. You get a true experience of how they live here, get used to the language much faster…but it can be annoying. Yes, horribly annoying asking questions all the time…especially when their culture is so different to yours. There are details that can be hard to understand. For example, why would a person that just met you for the first time approach to kiss you? Why two times? Why always starting from the left? At some point a group of French students gave me a nickname ‘no contact’ as I was too awkward to kiss and avoided it by any means.
Anyway, don’t worry if you look or sound funny, don’t understand something or can’t pronounce new words. You are learning something new and having a unique experience. In my case, coming a few months before the course start was a good move, because now I am not as confused and overwhelmed as other exchange students and I am able to concentrate on my studies more, which I’ll remind you was the key thing I came for (Obviously not travelling, partying and beaching, surfing, diving, hiking…).
My name is Sabina and I am currently starting my Placement year, which I chose to be an Erasmus year in Católica Lisbon School of Business & Economics in Portugal. I hope that my experience will be helpful for other students. Even though I technically have not started to study yet, I already have a long list of tips and suggestions!
To begin with, I started to look for a placement in December. I was applying, applying, applying… Frankly speaking, I did not know what I was looking for. Some applications were more successful, some less, but every time deep inside I felt that this is not what I need and want now. Placement search can be challenging, not only because it is a competition among a huge number of students, but for many the problem is to decide what career direction they want to move. The right placement experience can be hugely beneficial after graduating. There are so many opportunities, and what you have to do is to think what excites you the most. What is your dream job? Do you like to work in teams or alone? What work environment and people around you do you prefer? Imagine your ideal day at work (obviously within reasonable limits…I mean, placement won’t be PJ party 24/7! Or maybe it will if you’re lucky enough…just keep looking).
So, at that point I went almost to every placement workshop, and honestly got even more stressed and confused. I was seeing people around that looked confident and felt like they definitely know what is happening and what to do. There were also those that have not even started to think about placement. On the other side, me and my friends started to get used to regular facetime mental breakdowns. Eventually, I became pickier and more focused on international opportunities. I liked the idea of going to a different country for a year. For Erasmus applications you have to choose three universities. I chose Lisbon, Barcelona and Bilbao. Some suspect that my most important criteria wasn’t the quality of teaching, but ocean, great weather and the best food. I won’t deny it, but do not confirm. I also thought that while studying I will try to get work experience as well.
I felt very optimistic and the application process was quite easy – a short cover letter, some questionnaires. I was also getting a lot of support from the Careers and Placement office. The last stage was an interview. The most important thing is to provide an argument why you have to be chosen for your first-choice university (mine was Lisbon) and if you have enough financial support. I only realised this when the interviewer started to note my answers. My argument to go to Portugal was that I have already been to Spain on vacation, lol. We talked about culture and I mentioned that I started to study the Portuguese language (at that moment I downloaded Duolingo, so all legit). As you see it worked, and I was lucky that this year most of the candidates chose Madrid, and I don’t think there was a lot of competition for my place. Anyway, my arguments were solid!
I still was hoping to find a job there, because I wanted to move-in in Summer and enjoy the weather and ocean. I wasn’t really applying anywhere and at the same time in March I went on a trip to Copenhagen, Denmark. While being there I met a person from Lisbon that was running a tour agency. And guess what? Yes, a few weeks afterwards I got the job. At that point, I knew it was my destiny. I checked exam timetables, bought tickets for the soonest available dates and a huge suitcase (by the way, cheapest are in B&M, and look at upper shelves). I also booked accommodation, which was the biggest trouble. When I arrived…I think this deserves a separate story…