An Unforgettable Semester Abroad in Swansea, Wales
Swansea was more than a university; the people, their kindness & hospitality, the breath-taking landscapes and the very unique spirit of Wales was unforgettable
By Josefine Schaefer, University of Applied Science, Cologne.
When I opted for a semester abroad, my home university’s choice of partner schools in the UK was not exactly broad: Apart from London, there was one uni in the South of England, in Southampton, and one in a small place called Swansea, in Wales. I figured: Going abroad is always great, why bother fighting for the highly competitive spots in England, when I can have a great time elsewhere? I couldn’t have been more right 🙂
For the moment my feet touched the ground till the minute I had to leave, I had an amazing time in Wales. If I could, I would have done my whole degree there – but it was not only university life, that I loved, it was mostly the people, their kindness and hospitality, the breath-taking landscapes and the very unique spirit of Wales.
One thing that I just could not get used to – in a good way, of course – was the peoples friendliness. Not that my folks are not kind, back home – just not that kind. Everybody in Wales seemed to go out of their way to help you with what ever it is you need. Whether you got lost wondering the city or can’t figure out the funny British coins, everybody, from the shop assistant to the postman, seemed to be a tad more friendly than people in continental Europe.
Another thing that fascinated me, was the great deal everybody seemed to make about going to uni. There were countless events for freshers and international students to welcome and inform us, societies and clubs one could join, covering any possible interest group from wind surfing to Harry Potter fans; during the first 2 weeks, older students gave campus tours, advising talks and of course, every night there was a different party – all organized by the university and its students union.
This may sound strange to some, but I was not really familiar with the fact that some unis have, apart from the usual faculty buildings and library, a supermarket, a bar, a theater and even a club on campus, most of which run by and for students. All we do in uni back home, is study – after class we usually get out of there quickly. If you lived on campus in Swansea, you sometimes didn’t have a reason to leave the university’s grounds for days, you could, of course, but if you didn’t want to, there was everything you could ask for right in front of you – a pretty convenient concept we should definitely adapt in Germany!
Imagine waking up every morning knowing the sea is only a two minute walk from where you live – and if you stretch a little, you might even see it from your bedroom window. Amazing, huh? Ok, ok,most time of the year it’s not exactly cozy and you might want to put nightly skinny-dipping adventures off till summer, but still – it’s the ocean! And it’s right there!
From the campus to the sea its only a 5 minute walk as well, from most tall buildings you can see it during class – not very helpful while trying to focus, if you ask me! Now, Swansea Uni is planning a new campus to be finished by 2015, even closer to the sea.
While the Welsh might not be as famous for their cuisine as the Italian or the French are, I really began to enjoy British food traditions such as cream tea and scones or their delicious pasties. Swansea has a great indoor market where you can get fresh foods and try some of the local specialties. I know it looks a bit odd, but if you get a chance try laver bread – it doesn’t taste as bad as it looks 😉 For those of you who don’t know, laver bread isn’t really a bread at all but an edible seaweed found off the coast of Wales. It’s washed well, chopped and cooked for hours.
Apart from the fact that I mainly came to Swansea to improve my English skills, I was also more than curious about Welsh. Apparently, more than 700.000 people speak it – an unbelievably high number considering how hard it is to learn! 😀 Everywhere you go, street signs and explanations are bilingual – but Welsh is nothing, at least not for me, you pick up on easily. There is no obvious connection to English whatsoever, nor to any other language. I did a ‘Welsh for beginners’ course in uni to get an idea of it – its a beautiful language, but I am pretty sure I will never master it.
Wales is stunning. If you leave the cities, soon you will find yourself surrounded by beautiful nature: kilometers-long, wide beaches, craggy coastal cliffs, green meadows, waterfalls, mountains and valleys; most of which looks exactly like its taken from a fairy tale. Wales is great for outdoor activities, such as hiking or cycling, national parks and numerous coastal paths provide endless opportunities to explore. If you walk long enough, you are almost guaranteed to stumble upon a ruin of a castle or meet a goblin. The best part: most of the time, you got all the beautiful nature only to yourself.
Before departing for Swansea I prepared myself for weeks of rain. I know its a stereotype but I somehow expected it to be uncomfortably cold and rainy most of the time. Well, it wasn’t. It’s not Spain, of course – sometimes it rains, its windy and dark – but because we were so close to the sea, temperatures never dropped below zero and apart from 2 lousy weeks in November, it didn’t rain much at all.