Current History and Spanish student Ellen, explains her experience going on Erasmus in Spain during her degree

In September 2016 I began the adventure of a lifetime. I had the privilege to study for a year in Salamanca in Spain for Erasmus. I study History and Spanish in UCD and when the opportunity arose in November of second year to go on Erasmus I decided after much thought to apply. I had absolutely no idea what to expect from the year. I’m from Dublin and in my 21 years thus far had only ever lived with my rather large family, so the thought of spreading my wings and flying off to Spain for the year seemed quite daunting.

Salamanca is in the province of Castilla y León and is about 200 km away from Madrid. To travel there you have to fly into Madrid’s Barajas airport and either have to take the bus or train to Salamanca. You may be asking yourself is Salamanca worth that long arduous journey. I would argue that yes, it very much is.

students at Pontifical university in Salamanca

Myself and a friend outside the Pontifical university in Salamanca

Salamanca boasts the oldest university in all of Spain and the third oldest in the world. The layout of the university is very different to UCD and something that took me a while to get used to. There is no one campus with USAL (the University of Salamanca) as it is dotted around the entire city and some faculties are located in other cities in the province. I was in the faculty of languages (Facultad de Filología) which was located in Plaza de Anaya and it was directly opposite the famous Cathedral of Salamanca. Hundreds of tourists visit the Cathedral each day and it is a very popular wedding destination in the summer months. The buildings of the university blend in to the unique architecture of the city. A passer-by walking along the streets of the old city would find it hard to differentiate a library from a coffee shop. The only telling sign that it is a university building is the red inscriptions of the names of the faculties painted on the faded orange stoned walls outside.

Facultad de Filología on the left and the Pontifical University in the centre

Facultad de Filología on the left and the Pontifical University in the centre

While in Salamanca I took modules within the department of Spanish language and I studied modules not too dissimilar to that of UCD. I studied Spanish poetry, plays, detective novels, and the origins of castellan Spanish and the different dialects of spoken Spanish in Latin America. I would be lying if I said Erasmus was easy for me in the beginning. The first few weeks were both mentally and physically draining. It was my first time living away from home and I decided to do it in a country that didn’t speak my mother tongue but I have no regrets. What in the beginning seemed virtually impossible became second nature by the end. Lectures became a lot easier to follow and understand and by the end I knew when lecturers were going off on a tangent and discussing their weekend plans, their academic woes or their family. University life in Salamanca was very relaxed and I was fortunately in the department I was in that most of my lectures were very welcoming to Erasmus students and very accommodating in regards to assessment.

Salamanca; Students' New Years,

Nochevieja in Salamanca; Students’ New Years, students come from all over Spain to celebrate it in Salamanca each year.

I went over to Salamanca only knowing of one girl in my Spanish class here in UCD and when I came home in June I had made friends for life from all over the world. It is a very popular Erasmus destination so there is never a dull moment. There are always events and trips and nights out. I quickly discovered while in Salamanca that there is a certain calibre of student who goes on a year abroad. These people are adventurous, courageous, out-going, open to difference and very tolerant. While I worried about making grammatical mistakes and looking like a fool, other people with little to no Spanish were making friends with the locals and teaching in the schools. I realised I could either wallow in my room watching Netflix and thinking about home or I could say yes to every opportunity that came my way. So what if I made mistakes, I was making an effort and my confidence grew immensely while away.

River Tormes in the background

Salamanca’s River Tormes in the background

An issue that I have heard many people talk about when it comes to Erasmus is how to finance it and this was a very large concern of mine prior to going on Erasmus. As you are technically a registered UCD student you have to pay UCD’s annual fees and all I had to pay then when I arrived in Spain was the insurance that they requested from all USAL students which was only about 20 euro. Thanks to Ryanair, flights were never very expensive and now this year ESN (Erasmus Student Network) have partnered up with Ryanair to give students even better deals with flights. I was fortunate that Salamanca is a relatively cheap place and accommodation was only half of what is expected in Dublin. I found it very easy to find jobs teaching English as a foreign language and UCD through the International Office offered me a grant which went a long way with my financing my Erasmus.

Plaza Mayor in Salamanca

In the Plaza Mayor in Salamanca

You may be thinking to yourself that’s all great Ellen but I don’t like nor speak a foreign language and the thought of spending a year in a country that does not speak English is not my cup of tea. Most faculties within UCD offer Erasmus or year abroad programmes and UCD has exchange programmes with ~360 universities that span all corners of the globe. I have friends in UCD who spent their year abroad in America, Canada, England, Australia and in universities in the likes of Amsterdam, Jerusalem and Sweden where there was no pressure for them to study in a foreign language. However, there were opportunities for them to learn the native languages of the country if they wanted to. Erasmus is an incredible learning opportunity that goes way beyond the classroom and for many of us it is our first experience of a different culture and people. Going on Erasmus was one of the best decisions I have ever made because not only did I improve my Spanish but I had to learn how to stand on my own two feet and rely on myself and my own capabilities to get me through the year which is now invaluable as I embark on my adult life.

If you are interested in going on an Erasmus during your studies in UCD check out and for more information.

You can find out more about studying the Arts & Humanities degree in UCD on the MyUCD website here.