Making the decision of studying abroad, leaving home and opening yourself to a new adventure across the sea, (because let’s be honest… relocation is an adventure) can be exciting but scary and challenging all at the same time, mainly because you are not completely sure of what to expect. Yes, your life is about to change completely.
I am from Bolivia, a Spanish speaking country located in the heart of South America. Over the past five years I’ve been lucky enough to work for the South American plastics industry, but at certain point I realized that I wanted to make a twist in my career path and put the things that I love the most together: environment preservation and chemical engineering, and that’s why I decided to come to Newcastle. I chose Newcastle for three reasons:
Firstly, because it is one of the few universities that has my course, MSc. Sustainable Chemical Engineering.
Secondly, the course is only one year. Time efficiency is a main driver when you are coming back to study after working, and you have to quit and leave work-life, and maybe survive with your savings.
The third and final reason was because I wanted to do a masters course in a country where I can practice my second language and have a complete cultural experience that can allow me to not only grow as a professional but as a person.
Before arriving I had a lot of expectations and I was feeling really anxious about everything, because besides all the videos that you can see on YouTube, all the tips that you may receive for other friends studying aboard, unless you’ve been in the country before, you really don’t know what to expect from a different continent, different language, and even different side of driving. But to be honest, once I arrived to the airport everything was easier and people were more friendly than I would ever imagined.
First week, lost in translation?
First thing that changes completely – language. Geordies (as the people of Newcastle are known as) are famous for their strong English accent that may be difficult to fully understand at the beginning, but they are really friendly people, so don’t be afraid to ask twice! On the other hand, we are thousands of students arriving, from all around the world, so get ready because Geordie accent may not be the only one you will have issues understanding. Shops and even food can be very different (sometimes you have to fight with a self-scan machine for the first time in your life), but as I said, there are many others around in the same situation. It can be really funny, but nice at the same, time to see hundreds of newbies on the streets buying pillows, dishes or notebook pads, it makes you feel more relaxed and less alone.
The city and things to do
Newcastle is a charming, small city where everything is compact, so the maximum time to walk from one place to another is 30 minutes. For reference, Americans are used to spending hours and hours stacked on the traffic and it is one of the most stressful issues to deal with. So one of the things that I love the most about living in a city where everything is close, is that you can leave your car dependence and have more productive time for working or enjoying the city.
The city is amazing in terms of culture and landscape. On one hand, you have beautiful theaters, museums or cinemas with different films, good concerts and cultural activities to do every single day. There are also plenty of restaurants, markets and street food markets on Sundays, offering food and products from all around the world, for all the different dietary options (it’s probably one of the best places to be for being veggie). I couldn’t believe that I was able to find some of my favorite South American fruits or grains or dishes on the markets or that I would try South African fruits.
If you are a landscape and nature lover like me, the river is the perfect place to walk, and there are natural parks, beautiful landscapes and a coast just 25 minutes from the center. There are also many amazing cities to explore around like Durham, York or Edinburgh, with beautiful castles, landscapes and architecture so if you have any free weekend, just jump on the train and explore around!
Making New Friends
One of the best parts about living in a new country is obviously making new friends. There are plenty ways of doing it starting in your accommodation, where you can share flat, like in my case with people from India, Azerbaijan and England. University also offers different volunteering opportunities, as the cockle farm, where you can learn about agriculture, plant and harvest your fruits and vegetables. There are hundreds of different societies that organize different activities like the Choir Society or the Latin American Society, where I met other Latin Americans and other international and local students who want to learn about our culture, and practice their Spanish with us.
This may be the scariest and most stressful part of the journey, but the main reason why I am here. Despite the language, the biggest difference studying here compared to my country is time. In general, you have less hours of lectures and more assignments or projects to do. This can be bad if you don’t manage well your time, but it can also enhance plenty of new skills, you become a long-term learner, as you get used to reading, doing your research and trying to always be aware of what the scientific community is working on. Another difference is that there is only one exam week for semester, not 3 as we are used to have, so … is that a good or bad thing for you?