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May 2014: An Erasmus exchange to the University of Jaén, Spain: My experiences (by Sean Manzi)

I have just returned from a 3 month Erasmus exchange to the University of Jaén in South West Spain. The Erasmus experience was so worthwhile that my supervisors and I thought it important to share a very brief overview of the experience with you.

Preparing for the exchange, finding accommodation and travelling to Jaén

The University offered an Erasmus buddy programme. I signed up to this when I applied and they paired me with an English speaking student from the University of Jaén who had previously completed an Erasmus exchange. My Erasmus buddy Alba helped me with my travel arrangements, finding accommodation and getting to know the city and university. Your buddy will also meet you when you first arrive in Jaén if you are unsure where you are going. 

Accommodation in Jaén was very easy to find. This was facilitated through the Facebook group ‘Erasmus Jaén 2013/2014 accommodation’. This was a closed and monitored group with lots of accommodation choices. Accommodation was on average around €150 per month plus some additional costs for the services. There was a range of accommodation available from very simple to quite luxurious which was reflected in the prices. Not many places in Jaén had central heating and often there was no mains gas so you had to purchase canisters of gas. It can be a bit of a surprise to learn of this but it is all part of the Spanish experience.

Travelling to Jaén was quite easy. I took a coach from Plymouth to Bristol airport then flew from Bristol to Malaga. The train station at Malaga airport is opposite the arrivals terminal and goes to Maria Zambrano station where the coach station is also located. I took the coach from Malaga to Jaén which passes through the stunning Sierra Nevada Mountains. The coach station in Jaén is centrally located and was within 10 minutes’ walk of where I would be staying. I booked all of my travel online and it was very easy to do. The only issue I would highlight is that you may have to spend a lot of time hanging about in airports and coach stations when the arrival and departure times do not quite match up. On the plus side the entire trip is relatively cheap if you are willing to spend time hanging around.

Studying at the University of Jaén

The University of Jaén is a modern and small University. The campus is wonderfully landscaped and the buildings are both dramatic and impressive. There is even an amphitheatre area with a large fountain. It is a very pleasant setting in which to study.

The international relations office was centrally located in the University (building C2). It was only open for four hours a day but the staff were helpful and spoke excellent English. On arrival at the University this would be your first point of contact. They helped me with the Erasmus paper work and knowing how to sign up for classes.

The University offered a selection of courses in English and they are looking to increase this number in the future. Whether you chose to take classes in Spanish or English there was a considerable range of courses to choose from. These included everything from the origins of the universe (yes, they do have an observatory that you can use) to business management, to nursing studies and social care. They also offered language courses from absolute beginner (this was me) to advanced linguistics for those experienced linguists. An important piece of advice whatever your level of study is not to set yourself too many study targets. An Erasmus exchange is best undertaken when your workload is at its lowest because it entails a large amount of upheaval and there is so much for you to see and do. 

The city of Jaén and the Spanish lifestyle

Jaén is a small and wonderful city. It has a population of just over 110,000 which is about half the size of the population of Plymouth. The city is located about 2 and a half hours north of Malaga. There were parks, lots of shops, beautiful plaza’s and buildings in the old part of the city, a stunning cathedral and most impressive of all a castle on a hill overlooking the city.

The lifestyle in Jaén was very relaxed. Most people started their day about 9am then took a second breakfast at 10-11am (just like the Hobbits do). Siesta was very important in Jaén and was from between 1-2pm until 5-6pm. During this time most shops and restaurants were closed with only a few remaining open. Most people returned home for their main meal and a nap. After siesta many people returned to work until 9-10pm. From 9pm onwards the bars and restaurants in the city came alive, everybody tended to go out in the evening to socialise while enjoying a few cervezas and tapas. The food, the drink and the people were fantastic in Jaén; you will easily make friends with students and locals. There was a great rhythm to life in Jaén and it was easy to fall into step with it.

Travelling and sightseeing during the exchange

During my time in Spain I visited a few different cities including Granada, Sevilla and Malaga along with some less well known areas such as Cabo de Gato, Cormona and Carvajal. It was very easy to travel using the buses, trains and car sharing using The Erasmus student network also organised a number of trips to cities within Spain and countries such as Morocco and Portugal. These trips were very reasonably priced and were a great way to get to know other Erasmus students while seeing all of the sights. There is so much to see and do in this beautiful country that you will want to go back again.

A reflection on the overall experience

This was one of the most incredible experiences of my life. I met so many great people who I will be keeping in contact with. The Erasmus students at Jaén were all there for each other and acted as a support network for each other. It can be hard living in another country for the first time especially when you don’t speak the language. I found that if you go with a positive attitude and give yourself over completely to the experience there is nothing you cannot overcome. The entire experience provided me with a fresh perspective on life. I meet so many people from all over the world and learnt so much about different countries and cultures. The world now seems a smaller but more beautiful and vibrant place because of these shared experiences. 

Should you be interested in undertaking an Erasmus exchange, whether to Jaén or another university, I am happy to discuss my experiences further. Please feel free to contact me at: 

Happy Travels!

Sean Manzi is PhD student in the School of Nursing and Midwifery at Plymouth University

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