Placement blogs

Faculty of Humanities & Social Sciences' students share their placement and year abroad experiences.

Topic: Politics, Languages & International Studies

Year Abroad VIII – final thoughts

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📥  2016-17, Politics, Languages & International Studies

 

Siena, Italy                                                                                        June, 2017

Ciao!

Today marks a month until I leave Siena, where I have been doing my Erasmus study exchange for five months as part of my Year Abroad. I’m getting all the feels. I don’t want to leave. And I’m thinking of all the things this year has taught me. Here are some of them.

The Year Abroad is more about improving yourself than improving a language.

I feel like there is a lot of pressure on the Year Abroad and returning with close-to-native language skills when the reality is a lot different. Not just because each one of us is doing different activities or spending it in different locations, but because achieving native levels just by immersion is very hard, even if you try to be as active and engaged as you can. If you’ve never spoken the language before, it is easy to track the progress: being able to order at a restaurant or sort out paperwork feels like a milestone. But when you are a language student and have been learning the language for a couple of years, improving in a way that is noticeable is hard. I personally don’t find my French to be much better than when I left the UK. I have definitely improved in listening and reading comprehension and have expanded my vocabulary, but not as much as I thought I would. So don’t put a lot of pressure on yourself and just have fun with it. Don’t be afraid to talk and make mistakes, but also don’t centre on having to improve continuously. The Year Abroad and life are more than that.

Siena will now have a special place in my heart.

Siena will now have a special place in my heart.

The best things I’ve gained this year are more confidence in myself and greater independence.

More than the language side of things, I feel like my greatest achievement this year has been to discard my shyness and put myself out there. I had to do that when I first moved to England for university and that already felt like a massive milestone. This year I’ve had to do it twice, in completely different countries and I’m proud of myself for doing it (introverts, do you feel me?). I’ve learnt to make mistakes without being embarrassed about it because that is how you best learn in this life. I’ve learnt that there’s nothing to lose by approaching new people, the worst that might happen is that they won’t be interested, but you will have given it a shot and have no regrets about what could have happened. If you don’t try, you’ll never win! I really encourage you to try to socialize as much as possible as, if I’ve realized something (more like, completely confirmed) this year is that it’s not about the place you are in - ok, it does make a difference if you are in a big city than a little isolated town but hear me out-, it’s about the people you meet along the way.

Fécamp was such a lovely place to experience France.

Fécamp was such a lovely place to experience France (also, I cooked paella for the first time!).

It’s the people you meet during this adventure that will shape your experience of the Year Abroad.

Clearly, the place you end up in will have a lot to do in creating a good or bad experience of the Year Abroad. If you are a very active and outgoing person and end up in a town in the middle of nowhere, it might not be the best experience. However, at the end of the day, it’s up to you to make new friends and meet new people (in and around the area), but also to choose who you want to become closer with.

Shout-out to Manu, Gillian, Moni and Liam!

Shout-out to Manu, Gill, Moni and Liam!

In France I was in a little coastal town in Normandy and my fondest memories will always be of those I met, be at the school or elsewhere. Parties at the Mill, funny classroom anecdotes, long evening dinners and exploring the town with the other two stagiaires.

Thank-you everybody for making my Erasmus a great one!

Thank-you everybody for making my Erasmus a great one!

In Siena this is even more relevant as most of my friends are other Erasmus students who, like me, are only here for a limited amount of time. My image of Siena is an image in which I’m enjoying the city with all those people I’ve met over the past five months, and that is an image that belongs in this exact moment and will not repeat itself, which leads to my next point.

Ancora degli amici a Siena.

Ancora degli amici a Siena.

Enjoy every moment and grab each opportunity.

The Year Abroad is all about new experiences and learning first hand, so it’s up to you to challenge yourself. Make a list or just head out of the door and explore. Try new foods, new hobbies, go to new places, talk to strangers, get out of your comfort zone. The Year Abroad is an amazing opportunity to push your boundaries – you get to live abroad and meet a lot of new people and you’ll learn to adapt to different lifestyles, so try to make the most of it. You don’t have to become a party animal if you’re the type who enjoys staying in for a chill night, but don’t miss out on events that attract your interest. I ended up joining the student newspaper here in Siena because I saw a recruiting event on Facebook. At first I wasn’t sure because I didn’t really want to show up on my own, but I pulled it together and went anyway and I’ve met a lot of cool people through it and improved my Italian!

I've joined a student newspaper, acted in a French short film and given an improv speech in Italian!

I've joined a student newspaper, acted in a French short film and given an improv speech in Italian!

That being said, you’re allowed to say you’re not having or didn’t have a great Year Abroad.

Hopefully this will not be the case, because it would be a pity, but everybody feels down and questions what they are doing with their lives at some point. Battling homesickness and culture shock is hard and sometimes (especially with the British Council Assistantship), you have no control over where you will end up. Maybe the idea you had of your host country doesn’t live up to your expectations, maybe you don’t really feel like you fit in. And it’s ok. You can ask for support if you need it, but honestly try to battle through. It’s also about being counteractive, especially in cities full of people or small towns. Perhaps it will only be a phase and it will get better, but you have to battle through in order to find out.

And, lastly, you will learn to value your own country.

I only started truly valuing the good aspects of Spain when I moved to England to start my degree. Things like the warmer approach of people in everyday life, the food I can find in the supermarket or the amount of daylight and sun we get throughout the year in comparison to the United Kingdom. Here in Italy I have learnt to value British education even further; oral exams seem like such an inefficient way to go about examinations when a two hour exam would save us all the hassle and long hours of wait for our turn. A lot of my British friends have told me innumerable times how they now appreciate the UK in ways they didn’t before: politeness, the punctuality of transport and efficiency of bureaucracy, just to name a bunch. You never know what you have until you lose it, right?

Thank-you again!

Thank-you again!

All in all, the Year Abroad is an opportunity to grow and have fun before the stress of final year and I hope to have captured that in my blog posts. Hopefully you will also fall in love with the countries that host you and perhaps you will be back after you graduate.

Year Abroad, you have been a great eye and mind-opening experience, you have taught me many things about life and myself and have pushed my boundaries, you’ve been a blast and I am proud to know I’ve made the most of it. Hope all of those embarking on their own adventure do too.

Peace out.

Zoe

 

Ma staje pazziann?

📥  Politics, Languages & International Studies

This means “are you kidding me” in Neapolitan, and crossed my mind today when my phone charger and laptop broke in the same day, then I burnt my thumb on the oven. To be honest I just laugh about these things now, if that is the worst that happens today then I’ll take it!

I’m looking forward to booking my flights home to England sadly, as much I am trying to keep this city in my good books. Too much has happened for me to totally love it here but it could be so so so much worse and I am well aware of that! The thing I dislike most is the loneliness, because I love talking to anyone and everyone and making friends, and that was my favourite thing about Aix but I can’t do that here. However, it makes me appreciate the friends I do have and all my amazing friends and family back home and in other places this year, they are all amazing and have helped me through some bumpy journeys this semester!

 

Non male che sia andato bene

📥  Politics, Languages & International Studies

This is a phrase that means something along the lines of “all’ well that ends well”. I learned it today when my landlord came over after not speaking to me out of sheer awkwardness for the last two months. He apologized for what he’d done at least, but then tried to get an extra months rent out of us that we are not supposed to pay, inexplicably for the month after we will leave. My housemate Georgia dealt with him like a pro, and stood her ground beautifully.

I think we are both learning lessons here in Naples that I couldn’t have learnt in Aix even though I had a better time. Georgia has discovered a sassy side brought on by the all the little bits of rubbish we have to deal with from people here every day. I still have the soft, naive outlook that I give everyone the benefit of the doubt and look on my time here with optimism, but I am learning to deal with the more serious things that have gone wrong here, and for me it has put everything outside of Naples into perspective. I am so, so grateful for my time in Aix, and my little trips to other places in Italy, and when I meet someone who is genuine and kind without an ulterior motive here, I appreciate it more than I ever could have. And I still think it is better than I’m honest about my time here for the benefit of future students.

 

Siena!

📥  Politics, Languages & International Studies

Today I woke up in Siena after staying with Emilia who is doing her Erasmus semester there. And what a beautiful city!!!!!!

It reminds me a lot of Aix. It is tiny, but I like that, because there is a real sense of community both among the locals with the contrada festivities and the students, who are everywhere. You are free to sit where you like in the day, and go out at night safely. The buildings are beautiful and the nature is stunning and the food was amazing!

I met a few others from Bath while I was there (big up Chris, Zoe and Megan!) and it was sooooo nice to see them, I’ve really missed my class in Bath and I love how you can just wander round in Siena and bump into people because of its size. There was no sense of danger anywhere and it was just so picturesque and beautiful. I would love to go back one day! Thank you everyone I saw there for making it so great!

siena1 siena2 siena3 siena4 siena5

 

 

Year Abroad VII – tips on travelling around Italy

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📥  2016-17, Politics, Languages & International Studies

 

Siena, Italy                                                                                        May, 2017

Ciao! When I decided to do an Erasmus study exchange in Italy as the second half of my Year Abroad, one thing was clear: I wanted to travel as much as I could. In a country like Italy in which every region is so different from the neighbouring one, it is amazing to be able to go and explore new areas, as there is such diversity. But, how to do this on a student budget? Here are my tips for travelling around.

Choose the right time

First of all, the ideal Erasmus situation is having a timetable in which you have a long weekend. That is, you have either Mondays or Fridays free and so end up with a three-day-long weekend. This would give you more time to travel, but is not always possible. In my case, I don’t have a long weekend, but I can catch up on my Friday lessons easily so I can miss a Friday once in a while… Try to find the timetables for each module when choosing your units, but don’t fret if you can’t do a long weekend – you will find the time to travel anyway!

In addition to that, the time of the year also affects the prices of the tickets. I’ve been in Italy since the end of January and back when it was still winter it used to rain a lot, which is not ideal when you plan on walking around new cities. I’d say the best time to travel is probably late-March to early May: the weather is a lot nicer but the ‘tourist’ season isn’t full-blown yet. Now, you will always find tourists in Italy, no matter the time of the year as it is non-seasonal tourism, but in order to avoid the masses and extortionate prices definitely avoid travelling in late Spring-Summer.

Travelling during the official holidays can also be tricky. First, because obviously everybody travels then so there is a ridiculous rise in prices during that period, but also because it can be hard to nail down the actual dates. In Siena’s case, our Easter holidays were actually only four days long and were followed by a few school days before a pause in the lessons during the April appello or exam period. In theory, the lessons would be on during those days in between, but in reality, a lot of the teachers cancelled their classes and so we actually had around a week and a half of holidays if you were not planning on sitting any exams in that appello period. I’d suggest trying to speak to local students in years 2 or above, as they have more experience of the system, so you have a clear idea of the dates and can book your holidays in advance and save money (whether it be travelling around Italy or going back home).

Transport

There are many ways to travel around Italy, but choosing the right one will depend on the distance you are trying to cover and the time you have available.

For example, if I wanted to visit the Tuscan towns around Siena, the ideal thing would be to have a car. Car Rental companies are incredibly expensive for rookie drivers, so unless you are a big group in which all chip in or you know a local person with a car, this is an option available but hard to realize. You can also travel by bus, which is very cheap, but at least in this part of Italy the public transport connections are poorly structured, with journeys taking a couple of hours to cover only a few kilometres and very limited timetables.

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If you are planning on visiting places in nearby regions, try the coaches or pullman services which are very popular. They are generally cheaper than trains and sometimes even take less time! I’ve been using FlixBus quite a lot, which covers a huge range of different cities. From Siena, I’ve been able to go to Bologna and Perugia using FlixBus and spending around 20 euros both ways. Another coach service that seems to be popular here is Baltour, but I haven’t used that one yet. It’s just a matter of looking into routes and prices! And, of course, booking in advance!

Another option is to use Blablacar. I personally can’t review this service as I’ve never used it, but I’ve heard good things about it. However, use your common sense – it might not the best option if you are travelling on your own, as it involves a car share with strangers.

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A pricier option is taking the train. However, high speed trains are worth it if you are planning to go somewhere that is far away – they are quicker than coaches. Trenitalia works quite well in my opinion, but delays and trains being cancelled is not something unheard of, so beware if you are going somewhere that requires a couple of changes along the way. Another alternative is to fly to your destination. If you are in Siena you will know that your closest airports are in Florence or Pisa though, requiring you to take the train or bus in order to reach it anyway. So, unless you actually have a few days to spare, I wouldn’t choose to go anywhere too far away – it is worth staying somewhere nearer and having more time to explore!

Accommodation

In terms of finding where to stay, hotels are clearly an option but not the most budget-friendly. If you are travelling in a small group, look into youth hostels – they can be a fun experience if you are not too fussed about sharing rooms with strangers and you can meet all sorts of people.

However, my favourite option is Airbnb. I’ve used this platform a few times now and I find it the most convenient for me as it gives me the option of finding a private room within a flat – sort of like a hotel – but cheaper. I always look for an Airbnb with access to a kitchen, so I can have breakfast before heading out or cook dinner and save a few euros. If you’ve never tried Airbnb, it’s definitely worth a shot! All the experiences I’ve had so far have been great and you can find real gems out there.

This particular Airbnb in Bologna had an amazing library!

This particular Airbnb in Bologna had an amazing library!

Of course, if you know someone in the area, they might be able to host you for a few nights too – that would be the ideal situation as you would also know a local to suggest things to do!

Travel companions

In my opinion, the ideal group would either be a couple (2 people) or a larger group of 4. Of course, the amount of people travelling will not only influence your options for travel and accommodation, but will also make it harder or easier to decide what you will be doing each day. I wouldn’t try to put together a group with more than five members because, unless you are in the same mind-set and financial situation, it will probably be hard to get organized and make decisions on what to do, where to eat… My travel buddy in Italy is Megan, a course mate from Bath who is also doing her exchange here. You will probably end up travelling with somebody foreign, because not a lot of Italians seem to have the time or interest in travelling as much as you plan to over your Year Abroad, which is understandable. We make a good team because we both have similar interests and expectations about travelling in Italy. Also, she is the foodie who does the research on local food to try and where to go, whilst I do the cultural research on sightseeing itineraries and museums – great combo!

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To sum it up, think about whom you want to travel with and the pros and cons of your group size. Of course, solo travelling is also an option and, by all means, I would encourage everybody to travel on their own at least once in their life, but use your common sense and be safe about it.

Extra tips

A couple of extra trips I have about travelling around Italy:

·         Write a bucket-list. Usually it will not be a very realistic bucket list (at least mine isn’t), as you will probably jot down way too many places for the amount of time you really have. However, it will give you an idea of where you want to go, if you can join different destinations that are close together (for instance, I went to Bologna for a weekend and spent one of the days in Parma) and ticking off places is always satisfying!

·         State Museums or Musei Statali are generally free-of-charge on the first Sunday of each month, so make the most of it. For instance, the Uffizi Gallery in Florence is free, but the queue is massive so set aside some time!

·         Always ask for student discounts – use your Italian badge or student ID to get discounts at most museums. I’ve found that, in general, there are fewer discounts than in the UK, but it’s always worth a shot!

·         Do your research – look online before your trip and make a list of places you want to visit or recommendations for places to eat. There are so many blogs online written by locals that can give you a great insight into the place you’ll be visiting. Alternatively, don’t be afraid to ask your hosts or if you know anybody from the area (which is likely, since at University you will encounter so many studenti fuorisede) on their personal suggestions! It’s the students who know where to get the best apericena in town!

·         Make a rough plan of what you will be doing each day, particularly if you are only going away for the weekend. This way you will use your time efficiently and make the most of your stay.

·         Finally, and in contrast with the previous point, don’t be afraid to improvise! The best stories usually begin with a change of plans!

Look out for local food - the panpepato in Pisa is so yummy!

Look out for local food - the panpepato in Pisa is so yummy!

Hope you’ve found this post useful. Travelling is one of the best opportunities the Year Abroad offers you, so try to make the most of it! Happy exploring!

Alla prossima!

Zoe

 

 

Firenze !

📥  Politics, Languages & International Studies

Today I went to Florence! I was so excited! I saw Emilia again and had dinner with a lady that I stayed with when I studied in Florence for a month a couple of years ago. It was soooooo lovely being back, I have missed it and will definitely return before I leave Italy. Throughout the whole of dinner the lady was asking me why on earth I chose Naples for Erasmus and telling me how dangerous it was and how silly I am… whoops. But Florence was as gorgeous as ever, and I managed to see all the main bits before I left on a train for Siena that night with Emilia.

florence1 florence2 florence3 florence4 florence5

 

Prenotarci

📥  Politics, Languages & International Studies

Today we battled out the task of signing up to our exams (prenotarci agli esami). This is another example of Naples organization, so I will put in bullet points to counteract the lack of clarity in what I will be writing.

Our teachers told us to sign up for Segrepass, a website used to sign up for exams
We need a special code for this site, so we go to an office to get our Codici Fiscale (fiscal codes) so prove we are staying in Italy
We successfully sign on. However, we are told by the site to go the Segreteria Studente since we aren’t real students of the Uni
We go. It is shut. The website lied.
Next day, we try again and skip a lesson for it. We queue. First we are told off for not bringing our passports. Then we are sent to a different office in a different building in the city.
At this office, we wait again. Luckily we see the man we need and grab him. He then laughs and tells us we just need our teachers to write our names down as Erasmus students don’t use Segrepass. DOH
We email our teachers. They both reply with one word answers. We are successfully signed up.
Here it seems you have to go from A to H to Z to J to R, just to get to B.

 

A Placement in London: The Pros and Cons

📥  2016-17, Politics, Languages & International Studies, Uncategorized

Before another post updating about life at NBCU, I thought I’d write a piece on what it’s like to be a POLIS placement student in London. I had always figured that I would live in London at some point in my life; I grew up in Reading (30 mins away from Paddington by train) and my sister has lived in the city for a number of years. All of my media work experience has also been in the city, albeit only for sporadic weeks at a time.

My first work experience when I was 16 - has anything really changed?

My first work experience when I was 16 - has anything really changed?

For me, a huge pro of London life came before I had even moved. I found searching for a flat incredibly easy in comparison to Bath, setting aside a day to look at suitable apartments and finding our perfect place by lunchtime. Now, I have to caveat this by saying that my flatmate (a friend from school, who I’d already agreed to live with a year before even getting my placement) was quite keen on living in Clapham; the issue of where to live in such a huge city was fairly immediately resolved. However, I definitely recommend looking in the Clapham area to any prospective Londoners as there’s a thriving young-professional community and it’s relatively affordable. I live literally opposite the Clapham North tube station, which definitely helps with any morning laziness. There was hardly a shortage of two-bedroom houses and flats in the area, which is immensely useful for anyone to find a place at short notice.

Featuring scenic views of the tube station.

Featuring scenic views of the tube station.

On the subject of the tube, there’s a bit of a mixed blessing when it comes to transport in London. On the one hand, it’s (usually) quick and frequent, meaning that darting from one end of London to the other isn’t too much hassle. However, it can be unbelievably unpleasant. I take the Northern line every single day (fun fact – the Northern line goes to the most Southern tube station in London) and, subsequently, I spend far too much of my time pressed up against a stranger in the tube equivalent of sardines. There’s also the case of heat; on the two or so days of summer that London actually has, I’ve been so hot on the tube that my makeup has melted by the time I’ve gotten to work. This is an aspect of London life that I’ve simply had to put up with, but I know it isn’t for everyone.

How my housemate feels about getting the tube all the time.

How my housemate feels about getting the tube all the time.

Of course, it’s also expensive. Everything is eye-wateringly expensive. Coming back to Bath makes everything feel cheap – the complete opposite of when I first moved to University.The extent of which this hits you will ultimately depend on how much you are paid. Without going into details, I have friends who are in other ends of the country who are paid less but are still able to save money overall. Admittedly, I have made a decision to enjoy London life as much as possible which, unfortunately for me, does come at a cost. Still, generally speaking, unless you’re on a banking placement, it’s a lot harder to save money if you’re living here.

And viva London! Nights with glitter and free signs being one of the things I spend my hard-earned money on.

And viva London! Nights with glitter and free signs being one of the things I spend my hard-earned money on.

However, there’s so much going on in the city that it makes shelling out money on events easy but worth it. Some personal highlights of the year have included attending an interactive Great Gatsby performance, going to a Secret Cinema event in black tie, playing ping pong in a UV bar and much, much more. Furthermore, as there are so many other POLIS students on placement in London, I am able to attend these events with a similar friendship group to what I had at university. Whilst this isn’t to say that I haven’t met people here, it certainly makes moving to a new city easier when you’ve got a lot of familiar faces on call.  If you’re even slightly interested in the arts, London will always have something new and quirky to offer you.

 

Fresh out of the 1920s.

Fresh out of the 1920s.

Whilst this is just a small overview on a big city, I hope it’s been informative!

 

Dettati

📥  Politics, Languages & International Studies

Part of our French exam is Dettati, or Dictées in French, or Dictations in English, where the teacher reads a paragraph or two from a book and we write down what she says. This is actually harder than it seems, and our exam is coming up so fingers crossed for that!

 

Servizi aeroportuali

📥  Politics, Languages & International Studies

This means luggage handling, and I had such a classic Naples experience on my flight to and from Madrid I had to write about it (luckily no more emergency landings thank goodness!).

On the way there, someone's luggage fell off the little car thing they brought it over the road on, and people noticed but they just left it there... some poor tourist must have arrived with no baggage!

On the way back, the pilot landed and said that they were just sorting out the staircase on the door of the plane, opened the door and the staff at Naples airport had put the staircase about 5 feet away from the door of the plane. The woman next to me rolled her eyes and said "Napoli..." and I have never felt more spiritually close to a stranger in my life. Haha...