By Elizabeth Morris
Semester 1: Coimbra
Rio Mondego, Coimbra
I was, to be perfectly honest, a little (a lot) disappointed to have been given Coimbra as the location for the first semester of my Erasmus year abroad. My first choice was Porto, but as I originally was hoping to get an internship in Brazil, when that fell through I was left with Coimbra. However, it turned out to be a brilliant experience and I’m so glad that things worked out as they did. Coimbra is an amazing place and já estou com saudades!
Before I left for Portugal, I booked a bed in a hostel close to the centre of the city. I would really recommend doing the same; it means you can look around the city and get to know it whilst viewing rooms in person, hopefully ending up with somewhere you know you’ll feel comfortable with and like your flatmates. Adverts for rooms are done a little differently in Coimbra… it’s completely normal to find them on bins, street lamps, notice boards and windows of houses. So, keep an eye out!
Wearing the traditional capes of a Tuna band in Coimbra
The University in Coimbra has a few strange student traditions. One of them is praxe, where freshers are made to do various things that I can only partly relate to our ‘initiations’ into sports teams. It was not unusual to walk through campus and see groups of students in pyjamas, or blindfolded, or bowing to the ground whilst all their friends watched on and laughed. Another tradition are the long black capes that they wear. They reminded me of Harry Potter and I was actually spot on: rumour has it J. K. Rowling used to live or work in Portugal and said the capes that students wear inspired the Hogwarts uniforms! But it’s not just a cape… Oh no! Students wear black trousers/skirts and tights with a white shirt, black waistcoat (for boys), black tie, black blazer and black shoes underneath the enormous capes. I have absolutely no idea how they used to cope with all that in the warmer months, but lots of students wore it all to classes, and also out at night in clubs (that part I REALLY didn’t understand).
On Campus at POLO I, Coimbra
At first, I found the accent, and the language in general, hard to get to grips with. I did an intensive 3 week language course before the uni term began and then had regular Portuguese language lessons (specifically for Erasmus students) which both really helped my Portuguese and boosted my confidence with the language. I learnt to be patient with myself and not put too much pressure on myself; with having studied Spanish right through school I was a lot more confident (and competent!) with my Spanish than my Portuguese and unfairly expected myself to automatically be at the same level in both languages. 2 years of learning Portuguese vs. 10 years of learning Spanish is a huge difference and I gradually came to realise that – but 5 months in Portugal was a decent amount of time to really improve my Portuguese. It’s complete immersion and I was constantly surrounded by the language in every day life, even if I spoke English with other Erasmus students!
Quiema das Fitas, Coimbra
There are two student festivals in Coimbra that are a must. The first is Latada (or Festa de Latas) to welcome new students and the second is Queima das Fitas to say goodbye to students that are leaving. For both festivals, they set up huge tents next to Rio do Mondego and play tonnes of live music. It’s an incredible atmosphere and you cannot miss it!
Social life in Coimbra is GREAT. It is a huge Erasmus location and the Erasmus organisation is really good. There are regular events like days out, nights out, weekends away right through the semester and it’s a great way to get to know people. Good places to head to on a night out would be What’s Up Doc, NB or TWIIT (all near Praça da República) or Cabido Bar in Se Velha.
Views from the Alfama area of Lisbon, Portugal
There are so many places to visit in and around Coimbra. If I could give you one piece of advice, it would be to TRAVEL. Take every opportunity that comes your way to see as much as the city, and the country (it’s really not that big!) as possible. Sintra, Aveiro, Lisbon, Portugal, Figueira da Foz and the Algarve are all places that you should aim to tick off your list, if you can. For places closer to Coimbra, I have a lot of recommendations for you! There’s the Praia Fluvial de Palheiros e Zorro, the Jardim Botânico, the Quinta das Lágrimas park, the various places to relax along the Rio Mondego, the Praça da República, the Parque de Santa Cruz – Jardim de Sereia, the Praça 8 de Maio, the Igreja e Mosterio da Santa Cruz, the Rua Ferreira Borges, the Escadas Monumentais, the Queibra Costas steps and last but not least, the Penedo da Saudade. That should keep you going for a while!
Jardim Botânico, Coimbra
Studying at the University of Coimbra was a very rewarding experience. It was the first semester of my year abroad and a great way to start. I learnt that patience is key; adjusting to a different culture was hard at first but you do get used to it with time – I promise! Eventually, with time and insisting that locals spoke to me in Portuguese (and not English like they seemed to like the idea of!), my Portuguese did improve. I also learnt a lot about other cultures: there are so many people from so many different places that go to Coimbra for Erasmus that it really was an eye opening experience for me. Another big lesson for me was that I actually do quite like my own company at times, and that’s more than okay! I’ve always been the sort of person to want to be surrounded by a big group of friends or family, but exploring the city on my own was really refreshing.
Semester 2: Palma
Catedral de Santa María and the Parque del Mar, Palma de Mallorca
Palma had always been one of my top pics for Erasmus locations. There was just something about living on an island with beautiful scenery that I really liked the idea of, and it certainly did not disappoint!
Once again, I booked a hostel in the city centre before I left for Palma so I could search i person for accommodation when I arrived. It took a while to find a flat that I liked, but in the end I found myself somewhere that I was really happy with – a good location, a nice room and living with other Spanish students. My flatmates did all speak Mallorquín, but I found myself able to understand what they were saying and join in their conversations responding in Castilian Spanish – something I see as an advantage for communicating in places where they use the regional dialect in the future. They did all speak to me individually in Castilian Spanish which was also great practice.
On campus at la Universidad de las Islas Baleares
The University is set on a very pretty campus a short ride from the city centre via public transport. The students were generally very welcoming and familiar faces from my classes would wave and say hi if they saw me around campus. I once again attended a separate language course which was separate from the University. I found it very useful, and was a more relaxed, but still educational environment, for learning Spanish aside from just meeting up with locals to ‘tomar algo’ and chat!
Post work-out with Connect Lingus, Palma
The social life in Palma is once again pretty good; the Erasmus network organise day trips and weekends away (for example I went to Ibiza for four nights!). Another great, and free, organisation is Connect Lingus, who organise open air workouts, yoga sessions, language exchange evenings, excursions on the weekends and beach volleyball afternoons for Spanish and international people to all enjoy together – so it’s a great way to practice the language and perhaps find someone who you can keep up your other languages with, too! The Ruta Martiana happens every Tuesday where you can get a caña and a tapas in various bars for just €2.50! Santa Catalina is a great area with lots of bars (such as Up and Down, and Bar Cuba) and restaurants (Naan, Gin Burger). Nightlife is good too; the main clubs are along the Paseo Marítimo and include BLVD, Nuevo Victoria Club, Titos and Pacha.
With friends in BLVD on the Paseo Marítimo (a favourite amongst Erasmus students!) in Palma
With regards to traveling, I would say the exact same thing that I said when writing about Coimbra: travel as much as possible!! For beaches, there are Ca’n Pere Antoni, Ses Illetes, Playa de Alcudia and Es Carbó. Other places to visit are Sóller (I’d recommend going on the ferrocarril), Valledemossa, Deia, Alcudia, Puerto Pollensa, Cueves del Drach, the Cap d’Formentor, the Cap d’Formentor, Sierra da Tramontana, the Catedral de Santa María and the Parque del Mar, the Casco Viejo, the Paseo del Borne and finally the Castillo de Bellver.
Beautiful views whilst on a morning run along the beach path for Ca’n Pere Antoni, Palma
Palma is the most beautiful place I’ve ever lived in. It is so diverse with so many different landscapes, be it beaches, rural areas, inner city hustle and bustle… Having a good command of Spanish obviously helped the experience, but I got to know so many Erasmus students who didn’t speak a word of Spanish before arriving but left having had an equally amazing experience (and with a good knowledge of Spanish!). I learnt that lots of Germans go to Palma and it actually made me want to start learning German, but I think for now I need to focus on the languages I already study before complicating things further! I found that it was much easier to practice my Spanish in Palma than it was to practice Portuguese in Coimbra; less people speak English at a high level in Palma and so locals seemed to be impressed that I was learning their language and wanted to hear me speak it and then help me to improve (hence the practice). It is a tourist city so you will hear some English, but persevere with the Spanish, prove you can do it and there’ll be no stopping you!
Views from the top of the Castillo Bellver, Palma
After spending two semesters studying abroad, I have so much more confidence in myself. It is an experience I am keen to repeat and I feel very envious of other students who are currently on, or about to embark on, their own journeys studying away from Sheffield. Having finished studying abroad, I am feeling very nostalgic and would go back in a flash! If you’re reading this and are unsure whether to do an Erasmus period abroad or Study Abroad, I say go and do it, enjoy it, make the most of it and reap the benefits. Good luck!