From September 2012 until February 2013, I spend a semester abroad at Cardiff University. For some reason, I never managed to blog or write about it, apart from the occasional private entry in my Cardiff travel journal (which is still unfinished). So in the upcoming weeks, I want to write about my fantastic time in Cardiff, places I’ve visited, things I’ve done, and what to expect when spending an exchange semester at Cardiff University.
Preparation and Anticipation
When I first began to do research for a possible location for my semester abroad, I immediately knew I wanted to go to Cardiff, Wales. There were many reasons why I wanted to go to Cardiff, but the idea to live in a bilingual region was one of them. I guess my own bilingual upbringing is an explanation for my ongoing interest in people living ‘in-between’ cultures. Even back in New Zealand, I was fascinated by the post-colonial history and today’s reality. The fact that Cardiff University is among the best universities in the UK was just an additional plus point.
I can still remember the day when I received my admission for a semester abroad at Cardiff University. I was so excited, you would’ve believed that I’d spend my entire Bachelor’s degree in Cardiff and not just 5 months. The entire process of planning the semester abroad was unusual for me. In general, I’m used to do all the planning either myself or with friends. I’ve only once relied on an organization and it was, to be honest, a waste of money. You’ll read more about this adventure more in the future about my experience at a Language School in New Zealand.
This time, it was not much better. In fact, it was even worse. Most of the organization was done either by my University or Cardiff University and I have to say that my University was disappointing. Important documents were lost, repeatedly. Important facts and data were missing, switched or just wrong. It is a widely known fact at my University that some staff members at our International Office are incompetent. In other words, the planning process was stressful. Thankfully, Cardiff University was competent and kind. Otherwise the entire semester abroad would’ve been a disaster. You have to keep in mind that my goal was to take seminars and lectures in Cardiff and have them accredited at home. So I’m not just nitpicking about minor things. When important documents are lost over and over again by Univ. staff members at home, such as your study confirmation, you start to wonder whether people at Cardiff Univ. even know that you are coming…
I don’t want to discourage anyone from spending a semester abroad, I just want to be honest about the entire process. For me, the enire process – applying for a place abroad until the day I arrived in Cardiff – took an entire year. Everyone who wants to study abroad needs to keep in mind that the application process can be, and probably will be, tedious and stressful.
After the most important things were settled, our own planning began. There were all in all six from my degree that went to Cardiff and a good friend of mine was one of them. The planning of our flight and journey was stress- and problem free. Our departure was just two days after my birthday, so my friend and I decided to have one big celebration with all of our friends.
Upon arrival, we managed to find a place to rent relatively easy. The first few days, we were provided with a dorm room on campus, but were told we need to find our own place to stay until the end of the week. The best way to find a place to stay is through Cardiff Student Letting. The friendly staff at Cardiff Univ. and Cardiff Student Letting will tell you everything you need. We found three more exchange students (two from Germany and one from France) and rented an entire house 10 minutes away from Cardiff University and moved in less than a week after our arrival.
Looking back, my greatest fear before leaving for Cardiff was to find a nice and affordable place to live. In reality, everything was so much easier and stress-free than I anticipated. The quality of apartments can vary, but I highly recommend Cardiff Student Letting. Everyone, including our Landlord, were kind and helpful.
In hindsight, I realized how lucky I was. Cardiff is a great city and Cardiff Univ. is an amazing place to study at. Our home was only five minutes away from Bute Park and 10 min away from Univ. After our arrival in Cardiff, everything went smooth and problem free. Despite all the initial problems, I’d do everything again. It were five amazing months of my life that had a great impact on me.
What to do?
There is not much I can tell when it comes to preparing an exchange semester. The application and planning process will vary from country to country and from University to University. Depending on where you live and where you want to go, time and money play a vital role in the planning process. So my advice is to make an appointment with someone at your University responsible for exchange programs. Things you might need to consider and get information on are the following:
- Where do I want to go to?
- When do I want to go?
- How long does it take to organize a semester abroad? How long in advance do I need to start applying?
- How does the process of applying for a semester abroad work at my University? Do I need to write a letter of motivation?
- Do I need to pay a tuition fee at that University?
- Are there any scholarships or student loans that finance my trip?
- Does that University/ exchange program offer courses that fit into my studies?
- Will all of my chosen seminars be accredited?
- How many credits do I need to take/achieve at my exchange University?
- Do I need to take a language course prior to starting my semester abroad?
- Do I need to plan my arrival myself? Do I need to look for a place to stay at my chosen destination myself?
Most of these questions should be answered by your University. If you decide to go abroad, the application and planning process should begin.
Has anyone spend a semester abroad? Or possibly even at Cardiff University? What were your experiences? Drop a comment down below!