Exchange Edition: The UK Experience

This month, we'll be featuring stories from UBC students who had a recent Study Abroad experience every week as our Campus Celebrities. Look out for this section every week for travelling advice, personal stories and helpful insight into what having an exchange experience is all about! Go Global deadlines to apply for exchange next year are November 28th, 2013 and January 17th, 2014. We hope we'll help you make a decision if you're considering going on exchange!

Astrid Tentorio is a fourth-year English Major student at UBC and a Her Campus Staff Writer. She returned to campus this semester after going on exchange in January to Cardiff University, Wales!

Where Should I Go?

Third year at university usually comes with the million-dollar question - “should I go on exchange?”

Ever since high school, I had always planned on taking a semester off to go to Europe and since the end of my second year at UBC, I was determined to make it happen. This is my little story of my six months abroad during the second semester of my third year at UBC.

There are so many options on the Study Abroad website, that it's daunting to look though all of them and make a choice! However, I knew that my dream was to go to Europe, so I managed to narrow down my options to two places: France or England.

After much thought, I settled on Cardiff, Wales as my best option, where I would continue studying for my English degree and take courses within their Journalism department, which I was really drawn to. I ended up choosing the UK over France because Cardiff was the closest I could get to London (one of my favorite European cities!) and especially because I wouldn’t have been able to follow a class in French anyhow - so off I went!

Cardiff University - Main Building

Take-Off and Landing

I spent the next six months on exchange in Wales. Here are a few facts about the country!

United Kingdom: Made up of four countries: Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and England

Capital city of Wales: Cardif

National language: Welsh (looks something like “croeso i caerdydd”) - but don't worry, everyone speaks English too!

I was excited to embark in a whole new adventure in a place that was pretty much unknown to me. It was definitely exciting but I really had no idea what to expect.

In fact, to be completely honest, at the very last minute before I got on the place to Cardiff, I freaked out. For some reason, I felt unprepared and just not ready to leave - the Cardiff University Study Abroad program hadn’t been very efficient, and I felt like I barely knew where I would sleep, not to mention what classes I would take! However, despite it all, I took the flight and away I went, against all fears and doubts.

But alas, the very worst thing that could happen, happened. I had a layover in Amsterdam on my way to Cardiff from Milan (which is where I began my journey), but due to last winter’s intense snowy weather, my first flight was delayed, making me miss my second flight to Cardiff. I was then put on the next night flight to Cardiff, and just my luck - that flight got cancelled! Apparently, it never snowed in Cardiff - but there was a snowstorm the day I was supposed to arrive and the Cardiff airport was closed. I had to stay a night in Amsterdam and catch the flight to Cardiff the next day, and although my overnight experience turned out to be pretty great at a 4-star hotel, my hassle getting to Cardiff was anything but ordinary!

Cardiff Castle

Culture Shock

After I finally arrived, soon enough I had figured out my accommodation, classes, and my way around campus and the city. There were definitely some very big differences from what I was used to!

Size: Our UBC campus is HUGE - Cardiff University consisted in only a couple different buildings next to the city centre.

Accomodation: Their student accommodations could definitely have been better – we are very lucky here at UBC!

Academics:  No midterms! Grades usually consist of are assignments and an 80% final exam or final paper.

Language and lingo: Even though people spoke English, they used totally different words for certain things that I'm used to calling something else - classes were called “modules,” apartments were “flats,” roommates were “flat mates"... You get the point. The hardest thing to get used to was "You ok?" - I kept thinking they were insinuating that I wasn't alright, but in fact, it was just their way of saying, "Hi, how are you?" or "what's up?"!

How To Be A Tourist In Wales

Cardiff was pretty small, but it had its own special charm. It had a very English feeling, with small town houses along the road and “arcades” in the city centre filled with shops, antiques stores, and café's. Although Cardiff was a smaller city than what I expected for a capital city, there are a couple of must-see spots that are worth mentioning!

First, there’s the Cardiff castle, a big castle right in the middle of the city that is now owned by the people of Cardiff. Second, is Cardiff Bay. Long ago, this used to be the main docklands for the coal industry that was flourishing in Cardiff. Today, it’s a seaside area filled with restaurants, pubs, movie theaters, and a 5-star hotel. I used to go there for the best Welsh cakes in town at the Fabulous Welsh Cakes shop! (I miss them!) Third, I would recommend a visit to the Millennium Stadium, home to both the Wales national rugby and football teams. I didn’t know much about rugby when I left Canada, but after being there I have to say that watching a game at this stadium is a must! Lastly, I would recommend checking out all the wonderful farmer’s markets they put up on the weekends! This is one thing I loved doing on weekend mornings - if you love fresh veggies and fruits, or even French bread or homemade baked goods, this is for you. Some of them become huge festivals – they’re definitely worth a visit (or two!)

Fun fact: For any Doctor Who fans out there, Cardiff is where they film it and where they have the “Doctor Who Experience.” During my time abroad I was also able to witness the shooting of "Sherlock Holmes" at my university - I guess UBC and Cardiff U had something in common after all!

Inside the Millennium Stadium

Day Trip to Tenby, Wales

Stratford-Upon-Avon, England - Shakespeare's House

On the next page: What it's like to have the "European" experience, photos and my final reflections