Humanities & Social Sciences placements

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

Argentine Activism

📥  Uncategorized

No matter how far away from your homeland you may be there is a sense of cultural memory and belonging, one that has the power to transcend borders. Scores of expats call Buenos Aires home, but the yanquis in particular are present in droves. In times of uncertainty we always have a choice although it may not seem clear. We can give in and be paralysed by the prospect of the unknown, or we can unite. Nearly 200 people united outside the U.S. embassy on the 21st January as part of the Women’s March on Washington, which was a march taking place across the world.

Despite the name being ‘Women’s March on Washington’ and the majority being women or Americans or both, there was still an inspiring mix of people; men, women, transgenders, people of all ethnicities, and all backgrounds united against a hateful figure who incites divisions. It was a very powerful event to be present at as people spoke so earnestly to complete strangers about their personal experiences with sexism and harassment, and with such a strong belief in change. It really made me believe that together, united, at that march and across the world there was a latent hope, and there would be a time that change could be enacted if such a drive for it exists.



This march invoked the activist warrior in me so it seems and in March I attended another march, though on a much bigger scale. In a previous post I’d written about gender relations in Mexico and the phenomenon of femicidio and how patriarchy or the machista society is very prominent in day to day life. This is perhaps a problem that I found was amplified in Buenos Aires, which given the European cultural traits which have otherwise permeated the city, ostensibly seems surprising. Cat-calls are far too common place, from dawn till dusk, or even a ‘linda’ and maintained eye contact. It bothered me so much I started to reply, or question them, and eventually I began to cat call men back. Those who I probed on their actions told me that it was a ‘cultural thing’ and that Argentine women ‘liked it’. But the women I spoke to certainly didn’t, and I even asked women passing by who agreed with me; still this wasn’t convincing. For the most part they stubbornly clung to their belief that it was their right to tell a woman how beautiful they thought they were.

The President of Argentina Mauricio Macri once commented that all women secretly love a good cat-call; if that is the leader of the country is it any wonder that men really don't see a problem with it? (N.B. see any parallels with Trump...?)

Taking this all into account it is then no surprise that International Women’s Day on March 8th drew thousands and quite literally stopped traffic. Every branch of feminist organisation in existence was out on the streets, with all their friends and family in tow. Police adorned every corner, and colour and banners filled the streets. 'que no me digas guapa'; 'don't call me pretty', 'mujer bonita es la que lucha'; 'a pretty woman is the one who fights', and of course the classic which I had heard in Mexico 'ni una menos, viva nos queremos'; 'not one (woman) less, we want us alive'. It was amazing, encouraging, and yet so disheartening. The fact that this was a visible demonstration of the angst and upset that women feel every day and yet some men, aware that these events and problems exist, still don't see the link or problem with everyday sexism such as cat-calling is problematic. But there remains hope.



📥  Politics, Languages & International Studies

Before I leave to go to England for Easter for a week,  I thought I should take the opportunity to post a photo of where I live! This is Chiaia, an absolute dream compared to the run down (still beautiful) and dangerous landscapes of the city center.




📥  Politics, Languages & International Studies

I probably knew words like this already from Bath (at least I should), but I thought I’d write how interesting it is studying French from an Italian’s perspective. Affinché means pour que or afin que in French (“in order that” in English). Our classes are interesting because most of them place a huge focus on pronunciation, something that has come very naturally to English students, and they work the language out very mathematically, with very specific rules of pronunciation that I have never seen before. In England we seem to just pick it up as we go along, which seems like a more natural way of learning. Also, in Italian they have to be reminded that you can’t put the article before a noun (e.g. gateau le, it has to be le gateau) because in Italian you can do this. But English people have never had to question it. Interesting!



📥  Politics, Languages & International Studies

This means meatballs, and I have developed a new love of making them! I make them every week from reduced hamburger meat, and they are super low cost and really nice. (Boring post but potentially the most exciting thing to happen all day!)



📥  Politics, Languages & International Studies

One thing I really should mention about Naples is that the university has not been as supportive as we thought. I honestly think they are just not used to having Erasmus students, let alone language-studying ones. All the courses they originally signed off for us last year they have cancelled which meant we had to panic and find enough credits to make up the semester. The Italian course they run has been canceled, which was really annoying since it is compulsory for us to study it. There was a time we thought we’d be forced to study (and unfortunately inevitably fail) a course like Architecture since that was the closest we could find, but luckily we have found a medieval history course and a French course worth a hefty 12 credits each. They’re not ideal but by far our best options that fit with the orario (timetable) we are putting together. My housemate is paying for an extra Italian class but I am being brave and a bit stupid by saving myself €100 and learning it by myself.



📥  Politics, Languages & International Studies

This means rechargeable or “top up”, and I learnt this word when buying myself a SIM card for my time here. A tip for future students? Go to TIM and they will give you a SIM card for 10€ that is also only 10€ a month for a lot of data and enough texts and calls. This is incredible compared to the €30 a month I was having to spending at Orange in France for the same deal.



📥  Politics, Languages & International Studies

Binario means platform, and that is a fairly boring word but I didn’t know it before. Living in beautiful Chiaia means we are a 1hr journey away from Uni whether we take the metro or walk. We usually take the metro and buy tickets religiously every day even though we never see people checking them. In Naples it is a much better option than walking or taking the crazily crowded bus and as long as you have your bag all zipped up you will have no problems at all.



📥  Politics, Languages & International Studies

Ciliega means cherry, as we learnt today when buying fruit and veg from a little market near our house.

Later, the landlord came round again with a plumber called Giuseppe to sort the toilet flushing problem and we had a chat with him. At one point, he called me straight out to the bathroom very suddenly, and I ran there to see what was happening. He and the plumber were falling about laughing because they had realised the plumber looked like Mario, and he actually did, he was wearing a red shirt, dungarees and hat.

Anyway, our landlord has said he’ll help us meet people and we’re going to meet him for drinks on Monday night. I still have no clue what is going on with the university and what or when we study, but we will find out soon!



📥  Politics, Languages & International Studies

Sirena means mermaid, and my landlord has been explaining to me the story of Naples and this is how I learnt it.

Naples was originally named after mermaids, when the Greeks came and founded in hundreds of years ago. It has since been under Spanish, Arabic, French and finally Italian influence, and this is where the absolutely crazy local dialect of Napolitano (neapolitan) comes from, which doesn’t sound anything like Italian at all.

Italy wasn’t a unified country until the 1800s so Naples was the biggest city by far of its region. Being a port, it was a rich city with a lot of money invested in churches, architecture and jobs, and it must have been beautiful. When Italy became unified, the capital city was changed to Rome, and all the investments in Naples ceased. The mafia had always been (and still is) a huge presence in Naples, and had control of everything, but let it go to rot. In World War 2, the city was heavily bombed and some buildings still haven’t recovered. It is easy to see the botched job of a damaged first floor that has been “fixed” by the addition of a second floor, to distract from the damaged aesthetic beneath it. Naples was also one of the first cities to be liberated by the Allies towards the end of World War 2, at the end of Mussolini’s fascist regime, and they welcomed the British and Americans with open arms. The Germans soon came and fought, and the city was yet again ruined. Since then, the messy politics of Italy continues to ignore the South and concentrate on the rich, clean, vastly more popular Northern cities such as Rome, Milan and Venice. This has left Naples one of the poorest cities in Europe, with a distinctly South American feel in parts of the city, crime and unemployment at a high and rubbish piled up in the streets since waste is one of the sectors controlled by the mafia.


Year Abroad IV – moving to Siena, Italy

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📥  2016-17, Politics, Languages & International Studies

Siena, Italy                                                    March, 2017

Buongiorno a tutti! Long time, no see. I have now started the second part of my Year Abroad – my study exchange in Siena, Italy.

Why Siena?

I decided I wanted to do a study exchange rather than a work placement in Italy because I wanted to try out both options. I felt quite confident with my Italian before coming to Italy but I thought spending the spring and summer months as a student in this beautiful country would be the dream – good weather, amazing food and a lot of young people.



The University of Bath has study partnerships with five different Italian universities: Naples, Rome, Trento, Parma and Siena. When applying for a place, we had to shortlist the destinations to three, so I took it to the Internet and final years’ experience (pro tip – you should totally ask year abroad returners about their experiences, they will be happy to help you out retelling their [hopefully] amazing time abroad from a student’s point of view!) to narrow the list down to three. First of all, I was looking at the size of the destination. I did not want to go to Rome because, as a capital city, I deemed it too large and probably quite expensive for only six months. Remember, I come from a tiny island, Tenerife, and Bath isn’t what you’d describe as a big city either… Naples was a similar case. It seems to be renowned for not being the safest city in Italy which threw me off. In contrast, the location and fact that it is the only coastal place in the list was very appealing, but the cons outnumbered the pros. Then I looked at connections. Trento was soon discarded because I could not even find how to easily arrive there. I’ve been told it’s beautiful and picturesque, but I’m planning on travelling around the country so having good travel connections was very important. And then I was left with two options: Siena or Parma. Both cities quite student-y and of similar size; connections seemed to be equal too, so my choice came down to the region they were in. Eventually I went for Siena because of its history: a very ‘Italian’ looking city with lots of narrow alleys and a wall surrounding the historic centre.

Siena is a medieval town, Florence’s life-long enemy and UNESCO Wold Heritage Site just like Bath (cannot stay away from beautiful cities apparently), in the Italian region of Tuscany. It’s mostly famous for Il Palio, a horse race between the contradas or neighbourhoods of the Old City, held twice a year in the Piazza del Campo. There are two different Universities and it is a very touristy city with masses of tourists arriving each day (even now in the winter), which reminds me greatly of Bath. Inside the city walls, all the buildings have that typical Tuscan look: tall windows and red bricks, along with the laundry hanging to dry under the window sills. I must say I have fallen in love with this (extremely hilly) place and I’m quite happy with my choice.

I'm in love with the style of the houses!

I'm in love with the style of the houses!

My arrival & finding accommodation

I moved to Italy late January, since I was yet to find somewhere to live and had signed up for an intensive Italian course in February to pick up my Italian again, and will stay here until July. The trip to get to Siena was long but went fine. I was quite worried I’d lose my suitcase during the short layover at the airport in Madrid, but I was lucky and my luggage got here just fine. It was a long journey - two flights and a couple of buses and taxi ride-, but I feel like I’ve mastered travelling by now. I had to fly from Tenerife to Madrid and from there to Florence. To arrive in Siena from Florence there are two options: a bus or a train journey with change in Empoli, so I went for the easier bus option – make sure you get the one along the autostrada or highway, shorter and less curvy!



I’d booked an Airbnb near the Duomo for the first two weeks while I looked for a flat; perfect location a minute from the Piazza and very comfortable since I had the apartment basically all to myself! I would recommend doing this when moving to a new place: find an Airbnb or hotel for a week at least while you look for long-term accommodation once you’ve arrived. Things look so much different in person and this way you’ll avoid scams (I was sadly victim of one before arriving, so please don’t make the same mistake and make sure you look at the place in person before paying anything). I must say, it was hard to find a flat. Since I’d arrived so early the first semester Erasmus students were still around with exams, so their places were not available yet. In addition, a lot of landlords do not seem to like Erasmus students because of the short-term contracts, which limited the options. It has been even worse for male students, as most adds I saw were for female student and camera doppia which means a room-share. I was looking for a central apartment where I could have a single room and I had been doing research from home, sending tonnes of messages to book viewings with little luck. I used webs like uniaffiti, easystanza and housinganywhere. Eventually I managed to get a viewing that was really promising and that ended up being my actual flat. I live in the centre, in the Contrada del Drago, and I couldn’t be happier! Siena is quite small so you can walk everywhere. I’d recommend looking for a place within the walls, because everything happens inside the historical centre, but if you end up outside it’s not much of a big deal either. Also, make sure you actively look for a place; not only messaging online but talking to everybody you meet in the street as I know of people who got lucky because they met someone who knew of an available room. And, above all, don’t give up!

Taking an intensive language course

Concerning the language course I took, I have mixed feelings. Before arriving here we were offered a mostly subsidised Italian language course (75euro) by the Universtà degli Studi: either intensive in February or ordinary between March and April. I went for the February one since I had the time and it would allow me to sort out accommodation before the start of the semester in March.

If you’re going on a study exchange, I’d recommend doing a language course if available just to make sure you’ll be able to follow the lectures. While I was in France I barely got to speak any Italian so my skills had become rusty from being out of use since June. I do think doing the course has eased me back into speaking Italian confidently and has definitely tuned my ear.

However, I found the quality of the course at the Università degli Stranieri (the course is in the other University; my exchange is with the Università degli Studi), to be quite disappointing. We had to do a language level placement test at the start, after which I was placed in C1 level. I was accurately placed since the OLS test results also classed me as C1. However, I don’t know if it was because of the higher level or the timing, the group I was assigned was a mix of international students out of which I was the only Erasmus, contrary to first semester students’ experience. Also, I believe we (the other Bath students and I) were put into ordinary lessons not the intensive course we’d signed up to. Anyhow, we had four and a half hours of Italian lessons a day for three weeks. In my class we did a lot of reading and debating, but not much grammar. I found some of the topics interesting, such as language and dialects in Italy or the economy. However, I do not feel like it was worth the money or the time overall. A week would’ve been enough for me. Everybody was really nice and I met quite a few people in the course, which was great, but if I were to condense the new things I learnt over the course, they’d come up to an hour and a half, maybe two hours-worth of lessons… I did the end test a couple of days ago and all it involved was writing a ‘for and against’ essay (250 words minimum) about social networks and we were given two hours and a half and a dictionary. Talk about challenging… Either this was really easy, or Bath is really demanding.

Overall, it will depend on who offers the language course. Here in Siena it could definitely improve. For lower levels like A2 or B1 I imagine it will be a lot more useful since you’ll be taught actual grammar along cultural topics. For higher levels like me, the experience might vary. I do nonetheless recommend searching for a short course before starting, particularly if you haven’t been able to practice the language during your other half of Year Abroad.

Day trip to Florence.

Day trip to Florence.

Despite the unsatisfactory experience of the course, I’ve really enjoyed the time I’ve spent in Siena thus far. The place is smaller than I anticipated, but now that the lectures have started life has got busier.  I’ve been using my time to run errands and sort out most of the paperwork, as well as exploring the city and surrounding area. I feel like I’ve got a grasp on the situation by now thanks to that extra time. Since I had to change modules and send Erasmus paperwork, I’m glad I arrived earlier and have had plenty of time to sort it out before getting caught up in lectures and module work. I must say the Italian system is nothing like the English one. We’ve had to chase down quite a few people to get the papers signed – it has been quite an adventure – and I expect this is the usual process in this country. My piece of advice? Be patient but persistent, and don’t stress out.

I will be writing another blog entry on the Erasmus paperwork and Welcome Week in Siena because the whole process definitely deserves one on its own, so keep your eyes peeled!

Ci vediamo presto!


Day trip to San Gimignano.

Day trip to San Gimignano.