Hello freshers, welcome to Southampton! Ahead of you are 3+ years of funtimes, friendmaking, liver destroying and desperate scrambling in the Hartley Library.
I joined Southampton as a first year history student with a plan in mind to do a semester abroad in Mexico. I wanted to do this for two reasons: one because I wanted to go to Mexico (duh!) and study pre-hispanic history, second one being I wanted to consolidate my Spanish. Going to uni with this mind set made me determined to see it though. The moment a ‘study abroad’ meeting was advertised in the faculty, I was ready. I eventually ended up going to Seville, Spain (another really good place to study pre-hispanic America) because Mexico posed too many complications, but getting myself there was not an easy or quick process – it took a lot of harassing of faculty members. Because of this, a lot of the people who had initially shown interest in doing time abroad, just couldn’t be bothered or lost interest in pursing it. In my view this was a massive shame.
I had a really great time in Spain as part of the Erasmus uni exchange programme. With the Erasmus programme there are hundreds of opportunities to study in Europe – literally anywhere. On top of that you get a grant (yes that’s free monies), and student finance pay you back for your travel costs, so don’t forget to keep receipts. I had an amazing 4 months abroad, mostly paid for by my student loan which I received as usual. I ate tapas, drank a lot of red wine, went to Morocco, and travelled a lot round the south of Spain. I managed to save most of my Erasmus grant which I then used to put towards a trip around Mexico (I finally got there!) and Guatemala the following summer.
So that’s the first part: my semester in Spain, but I’ve just come back from a year abroad in China. How did I wangle that I hear you ask? Well, I’ll tell you. As the keen fresher that I was I wandered along to the ‘Curriculum Innovation Fair’ in my first year, I was looking for a module to help upkeep my Spanish. As it turns out the language modules offered are for beginners, so I nonchalantly picked up a French and a Chinese leaflet with a vague idea of starting one of them. When module-pickin’ came round, I spontaneously decided to start Chinese. This would become one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I loved learning the language and began wanting to travel to China as a way to improve my language skills. As usual, I wanted to do it with minimum expenditure to myself. I approached the Confucius Institute at Uni (which I only found out existed because I was learning Mandarin) and asked about scholarship opportunities. I was informed of a year-long scholarship offered by the Chinese government. I applied, I got the scholarship (it’s really not at prestigious as it sounds, they give out lots of scholarships), suspended my course and booked a one-way ticket to China. The scholarship pays for tuition, accommodation, medical insurance and gave me a monthly stipend.
This has been a life-changing year for me. I have a decent level of mandarin, I’ve travelled extensively around China, I’ve made incredible friends from all over the world, and I’ve been immersed in and forced to adapt to a completely different culture and way of life. It has been an invaluable life experience. I’ve finished my time studying Chinese at Xiamen University, and I’m writing this from Shanghai where I’m undertaking a two-month internship. After this it’s Mongolia for 10 days then finally home. Basically my message is: take advantage of study abroad opportunities, there is more money out there for you than you think, and once you get over the bureaucratic barriers, you’re set for a defining experience.