Even though travel has become a luxury with the Covid-19 restrictions in place, international study placements are still going ahead! In these times that are more uncertain than usual, students might find it easier to pick a placement based on their peers’ experiences.
There is a myriad of factors to consider when applying for Erasmus or Study Abroad – which university to go to, its location, the general cost of living in that area, travel expenses, etc. Honestly, students just want to know what their experiences are going to be like. Therefore, Oxygen.ie has collected a series of testimonials from various Irish students who have completed a placement abroad in the last year.
For the record, Erasmus placements specifically send third-level students to foreign institutions in Europe for one academic year. This is the preferred programme for Ireland since students are allocated grants to help support their living costs. It also makes travel and communication less complicated when your home university and host university operate in the same continent. Study Abroad tends to send its applicants abroad to and outside of Europe, depending on the students’ individual choices. Contrary to misconceptions, students do not have to study a language to qualify for international study placements. Most courses would allow you to take a term or two to go abroad, experience other cultures and meet new people.
Research shows that Bilbao, Spain is a popular destination for Erasmus students. Considering its proximity to Barcelona, it’s an ideal place to relax and later venture into the city to have some fun. Students from Ireland definitely agree!
“For my Erasmus, I went to Spain because that’s the language I’m studying at Maynooth. I went to the north of Spain to a city called Bilbao, in the Basque country. It’s about two hours from France which I loved because it was like getting the best of both worlds from both countries. I really enjoyed my time there – the main benefits of Erasmus for me was getting immersed in a different culture. I’d never lived abroad before even though I travel quite a lot but living in Spain was a totally different experience. It really broadened my perspective on a lot of different things. I met so many people from so many different countries. I also improved my language skills which was the main reason I chose Spain. Unfortunately, we had to leave early due to the pandemic, like many other Erasmus students. However, my Spanish has improved immensely – when I first got there, I could barely say ‘hola’ and now I can hold quite a long conversation in Spanish. To me, it was a big achievement.” Shannon Cassidy, Marketing & Spanish
However, students have the option to stay in other regions of Spain and those who have say that their experiences were fantastic, and they wouldn’t change a thing. For those who want to immerse themselves in traditional Spanish culture, Oviedo is the place for you.
“My Erasmus studies brought me to the beautiful city of Oviedo in the province of Asturias in Northern Spain. From the moment I arrived I fell in love with the city’s beauty, people, culture and history. Woody Allen once described Oviedo as “it’s like it doesn’t belong to this world, as if it did not exist, Oviedo is like a fairy tale” and I would have to agree. Oviedo is an extremely historical city and it is home to many important sites such as the UNESCO protected San Salvador Cathedral which is the starting point for the Camino Primitivo along the world-famous Camino de Santiago. It also is home to one of the oldest universities in Spain the University of Oviedo and it was wonderful to have the opportunity to study in a place which held so much history. Oviedo is an extremely traditional Spanish city and surprisingly most people don’t speak English, and everything closes for siesta from 2-5. This was a great way for me to practice and approve my Spanish language skills, because I had no option but to speak Spanish. One of my favourite traditions form Oviedo is their festivals. It is a must to visit Oviedo during their San Mateo festival which takes place in September every year. This festival took place my very first week in Oviedo and it’s an experience I will never forget. Every day for two weeks there was live music, barbecues, parades, fireworks and traditional Asturian dancing, it was a great way to get to experience local Asturian culture and get to know the locals. Oviedo is known as Spain’s natural paradise and I fell in love with its nature as soon as I arrived. Its surrounded by beautiful green hills, mountains and beaches. There are so many outdoor activities you can do whether that’s hiking, surfing or mountain biking there is something for everyone. Oviedo is also the perfect location if you want to explore what the rest of Spain has to offer. It is located close to cities such as Bilbao, Santiago de Compostela and there are daily buses and trains to Madrid. I am very lucky to have had the opportunity to travel all around Spain and Portugal during my Erasmus. Overall, I loved my time in Oviedo and I think it is an excellent city for Erasmus students who want a traditional Spanish experience.” Rachel Connolly, International Business & Spanish
France is another wildly popular location for Erasmus. No doubt attracted by the exquisite cuisine and fashion, students love the ambiance of French nightlife and the bustle of the cities.
“I’ve been studying in France since September. I studied Political Science in first semester in Sciences Po Strasbourg and then Business in second semester in EM Strasbourg. When I arrived over at the end of August it was crazy how open France was compared to Ireland. I had about two months of in person class in first semester. Sciences Po treat Erasmus students so well and really put emphasis on getting us to meet each other and French students. When things did shut down I already had a nice group of friends and much of my social bubble live in my accommodation. I didn’t think I would go home due to COVID but I was able to do so safely by getting a test here, quarantining at home and getting one after 5 days. The tests here are free for any reason which is great as I have been a contact of a possible close contact more than once and it is nice to be able to be cautious. It’s hard to imagine Erasmus w/out COVID. I feel I have been able to do so much as it is. Compared to Ireland it was a-lot more open most of the year. I had several fully in person classes second term. I actually joined the GAA team here, which consists of a majority of French and German 30+yr olds, it is such great craic and was a great way to keep fit. Student living here is so much cheaper with my accommodation being under 300 and the French government offering subsidies on food, museums, transport. It has convinced me that if I choose to do a masters after I will definitely do it abroad. I’m hoping to stay here into summer and do some travelling and strengthen my linguistic skills.” Grace Filan, Political Science & Business
Helsinki in Finland is one of the more unusual locations for Irish students going on Erasmus, but it is an amazing choice for your placement.
The cold weather is not a deal breaker for choosing this location. In fact, it can be a bonus when the snowfall leads to cross-country skiing, husky sledding, and snowmobiling in the north of Lapland! Timetravels.fi website offers trips and activity bundles to Erasmus students at reduced rates, ensuring that they make the most of their time in the Nordics. These trips typically include a five-day excursion to Lapland, a cruise to St. Petersburg in Russia (Visa included), and other amazing opportunities.
“Erasmus has been a real blessing for me this year in an even more important way than usual, because it allowed me to live a sort of normal life even while living in a pandemic… I could still use public transport, go shopping, go to bars and restaurants, and get coffee with people when everyone at home was under lockdown. “My favourite things about my particular Erasmus experience were to do with learning about a completely different culture of people and traditions, and also meeting so many new people in an international context. The saunas, the northern lights, the reindeer, the snow, Santa’s village – it was all pretty magical around winter time.” Mackenzie Ellwood, Political Science
“It’s such an unusual choice for an Erasmus placement, but it’s definitely a memorable and rewarding experience. I had personally never been to Finland beforehand and never would have thought to visit the city myself. A journalism assignment sent me on a three-day trip to Tallinn, Estonia with other classmates and we had the best time! The nightlife in Helsinki is really fun – for me and other students, it meant bar hopping and karaoke in city centre. My favourite time was around Christmas when my friends and I visited the markets and travelled to Lapland for a week. It was amazing – it involved a lot of exploring the snowy countryside during the day and night. Aurora hunting quickly became a nightly thing for us! I’d go back again, one hundred percent.” Ruth Cawley, Media and Business
Both students agreed that Helsinki was an incredible experience for them both. The only disappointment was when their trips were affected by the spread of coronavirus.
The Netherlands was another beautiful, yet somewhat unusual, choice for international study placement. However, students have loved travelling to obscure, but wonderful locations.
“I went on Erasmus to Brussels. I spent a so much time wandering around that strange but beautiful city. I think it gets a bad rap because it is intrinsically linked with the European Union. But there is so much more to it: Great bars, fascinating museums. I also went on loads of day trips to these picturesque Belgian towns like Bruges, Ghent, Mons, Leuven and others, where I preceded to walk around each and every one of them, making sure to visit every pub I saw on the way. I did similar in Cologne, and in much of the Netherlands My trip during my Erasmus was the long December weekend I spend in Paris with friends from Scotland and Greece. We got an early morning bus, after an hour’s sleep. Basically, just having a quick nap after a house party and then getting up and going again. There was a metro strike going on in Paris when we arrived, and the bus drivers had joined them in solidarity so there was virtually no public transport available. We had to walk everywhere – bar one uber we were lucky to book- and it was the best thing that could have happened because we saw so much. From the remains of Notre Dame and the Andy Warhol’s that hung in the George Pompidou Centre to cool pieces of street graffiti and smashed up bus stops from when the strikes had become riotous the day before we arrived. We went for a drink on a boat on the Seine, and some very hipster bars. Then also did some very stereotypical things like eating escargot and wandering up and down the Champs-Elysées.” Tommy Gilsenan, Media & English
The USA can be considered one of the more expensive placements and is located the farthest from Ireland. Some people prefer the educational variety from the United States and there are many opportunities to travel across North America or even to Canada. Here is a testimonial from a student who was recently placed in Chicago:
“Chicago is a beautiful city: it doesn’t give off the feel of being too big or crowded, but still impressive with skyscrapers towering over and taking over the skyline. Then, there is Lake Michigan: a simply amazing sight, with multiple beaches dotted along the Chicago coast. Loyola itself is an incredible campus: situated about 20 minutes on the tram North of Downtown it has dedicated academic resources, excellent sports facilities, it really is a top-notch university. Like home, there just about every club/ society you can think of here so mixing with new people I found super interesting. For anyone interested on the legal side of things, there is a very competitive Mock Trial and Moot Court programs here which again you can stick on the CV. But in all honesty, there is so much you can do at LUC: to anyone thinking about studying abroad and especially if you’re looking at the US- I would 10/10 recommend Loyola University Chicago. ” David Rattigan, Law & Business
We’ve learned the hard way that international travel is a luxury. Therefore, it seems inconceivable that a student would forego any opportunity to live in another country, learn its language, meet new people and go out with friends as much as possible. Your twenties are supposed to be risky, fun-loving and unpredictable. Arguably, most of these locations are chosen for students depending on the languages they opted to study at third level. We have covered different places, their attractions, some difficulties students faced while staying there, and some advice on living expenses. Hopefully, these testimonials help more students figure out which country/city is the best option for them. The very best of luck to everyone!