By Eloise Porter (fourth year student studying French, Spanish and Russian) who spent a year abroad in Spain and Russia as part of the Erasmus Study Abroad Programme .
It’s an experience like spending a year abroad that makes you realise just how quickly a year can go by. Never has ‘time flies . . .’ been so apt a phrase.
I spent the first half of my year in the majestic and ancient Santiago de Compostela, Galicia, historic site of worship and pilgrimage.
Galicia itself was fascinating. Home to a reluctantly dying language and fierce nationalism, the Galician people and government continue to rebuff the ever-mounting pressure to become fully westernised. Shops even get paid to have their signs and information written in Gallego.
After adjusting to the meal times (dinner could start as late as midnight), pace of life (siestas everyday) and traditions (lots of free tapas), I soon realised that life in Spain was going to be just about manageable.
After having taken full advantage of the Spanish sunshine, it was time for the weather to show its true Galician colours: grey, grey and greyer. How had I managed to choose the most statistically rainy place in Spain without knowing it? You know the weather’s bad when a Brit is surprised by the amount of rain.
Studying at the university meant that I met Spaniards of my own age, which was, of course, a huge benefit. Erasmus students (like myself) were everywhere, which meant two things. On a positive note, I met an eclectic mix of people, all of whom shared the common aim of soaking up a different culture and, mainly, enjoying themselves. On the flip side, it meant that speaking Spanish was a daily struggle which took some real commitment.
In fear of stating the obvious, Russia was an entirely different experience. Since my return, a lot of people have asked me a whole range of questions, but I still haven’t managed to find the right words to describe it. But let me give it a go.
Let me start by saying, that although I spent four months living in St Petersburg, I still don’t feel qualified to say that I have truly experienced Russia. Life in the tiny European pocket of the biggest country on the planet surely cannot represent all the tiny Siberian villages, the dachas and the troubled Caucasus.
The Russia that I saw was a place of contradiction. At times I felt like Anastasia, twirling round in the snow, going to the ballet and visiting the Winter Palace. Then, strolling through the sparkling metro station that looked more like a palace than a stop for public transport, a very drunk gentleman would stumble into your path, reality would smack you in the face and the scowling faces drown you once more.
Life back in St Andrews has felt more natural than I’d imagined. The weeks preceding my return were spent in apprehension, but a year of adventures and the discovery of new cultures has made me all the more appreciative of what I have here. Although St Andrews is ever changing, the feel of the town stays the same. It is still as friendly and as warm as ever, and that’s the best homecoming I could hope for.
Study abroad is, above all, an academic experience that allows our students to discover a different learning environment and to develop new academic passions, but it also has obvious benefits for students in terms of personal development, life skills and employability.
The ‘St Andrews Students Abroad’ project seeks to establish a scholarship fund, which will assist undergraduate students in Arts, Divinity and Science with the costs of participating in the increasing number of exchange and study abroad programmes available across the University. For more information or to support this project, please visit our website.