Exchange in the Historic City of Lisbon, Portugal

My main highlights during my exchange semester were: the history and architecture, the amount of cultural activities available in the city and being pushed out of my comfort zone and immersed in the Portuguese culture.

Campus

The Universidade Catolica Portuguesa campus is located approximately 30 minutes by underground metro from Lisbon’s city centre. This is a very easy commute once you have a monthly transport card set up. The campus is near a Hospital and other universities so it feels safe to walk around, even when you finish study later at night. I had a very positive experience with Universidade Catolica Portuguesa. They were highly organised making it easy to find most information out by myself online. There were good contacts in person if required as well. They had a student association which helped with queries and organised welcome events and social activities particularly for international students. I was the only Australian and amongst very few native English speakers in my cohort. This was not a problem at all though and I ended up proof-reading a few students’ assignments and resumes to help out.

 

Language Barrier

Overall, most people in Lisbon speak English well and were very friendly. Approximately half of the Catolica University cohort were international students. Mainly from European countries such as France, Italy, Germany and Netherlands which meant they often spoke between themselves in their own languages. But as all business masters courses were taught in English, they were also very comfortable in speaking English and appreciated having a native English speaker in their group assignments. I completed the Portuguese Language Crash Course at Catolica which ran for 6 hours per week for 5 weeks. Personally, I found this course unstructured and difficult to follow. It also took a lot of time during the first few weeks when I was trying to find housing etc. For people that learn languages easily, this course would be great but for others, I would recommend going to a privately-run language school.

 

Accommodation

I stayed in a hostel for my initial arrival in Lisbon and used a student housing agency called InLife (inlifeportugal.com) to find permanent housing. This worked well for me as you can book in for a housing tour on your desired date. During the tour, you are shown 3 apartments and if you would like one then you can sign a contract on the spot. This was convenient but my apartment turned out to be premium price rates compared to other students. I did have to stay in a hostel for approximately 6 weeks until the house was ready though which was difficult during summer peak holiday season. For noting that many other students had issues pre-booking with Uniplaces (uniplaces.com). For example, being unhappy with the other housemates, contracts being difficult to exit from, the apartments looking different to the photos online and requiring to pay a lot upfront without seeing the apartment.

 

Culture

Lisbon is a very creative city with lots of start-ups moving to Lisbon (the new Berlin), and as a result there are always plenty of cultural activities happening. For example designer markets, music festivals, dance lessons, seminars on start-up culture. The history of the city and coloured tiles were a major highlight for me. The city centre is easy to walk around. It is very hilly but most restaurants, cafes, bars are very easy to reach by metro, walking or by a cheap uber ride. There are a lot of affordable events on and other key European experiences include surfing, going to the Football, having an espresso and pastry at bakeries or joining along the activities running in the city squares.

Spring time in Kyoto, Japan

Chen Lang (Joyce) Yu

Bachelor of Design (Architectural Studies) (Honours)

 Host university: Ritsumeikan University in Kyoto, Japan

So it’s a bit of a childhood dream to go on exchange in Japan and study Japanese. Using the elective credits that I had with my architectural course, I was grateful to have been given the opportunity to go to Ritsumeikan University in Kyoto, Japan. Kyoto is pretty much on every tourist’s list to visit if they came to Japan, the city is scattered with temples, shrines, museums and historical places that reminisce of a time when Kyoto was the country’s imperial capital. Living here only served to reinforce that. There are endless little niches of culture, old and new, traditional and modern, living side by side each other and it’s quite incredible.

Heian Jingu Shrine

The beautiful Kamogawa that runs through the heart of Kyoto’s city centre

I applied to Ritsumeikan University for the SKP (Study in Kyoto) program that they offer for international students, specifically the IJL (Intensive Japanese Learning track). Coming here in late March, I was able to catch the cherry blossom season and it was quite spectacular. Unfortunately, these flowers don’t last long, about a week or two at most, so during this time we made the most going around places and enjoying the flower viewing (or Hanami).

Cherry blossom trees out in front of the university dorm

For the semester, I undertook Japanese lessons every day and each week there would be so much language content to be learned – grammar, vocabulary, pronunciation etc. I must admit, it was somewhat stressful, but at the same time I have learned a lot. Going from almost no Japanese language experience to being able to hold simple conversation with local Japanese students, the progress was slow but rewarding.

Luckily, Ritsumeikan University offers dormitory housing for international students, which saved me the hassle of looking for my own accommodation. By far the dorm life was one of the most rewarding experiences for me and my stay in Kyoto. I was able to meet and make friends with people from all over the world who also shared my enthusiasm for studying Japanese and learning its culture. These people have become some lifelong friends that I hope to be able to visit them in their part of the world.

Wonderful people from wonderful places around the world