It has been discussed since 2016, but now, it’s official. By the end of 2020, the United Kingdom will leave the European Union. Even if some saw this retreat as an advantage, a lot of people were sad to learn about this decision. Among them are ancient students who had the great opportunity to study abroad thanks to the Erasmus program. Thanks to this program, thousands of European students can leave their home country for six months or a whole academic year, to study in a foreign country. It is a unique life experience which lasts for a lifetime. For me, the adventure started in May 2018, when I was accepted for a one-year Erasmus in Aberystwyth, a charming town in Wales.
Aberystwyth and its University
Let’s be honest; if you never heard of Aberystwyth before, you probably read its name thinking “How do you pronounce this word?”
The town of Aberystwyth is located in the Mid and West Wales, in the community of Ceredigion. If you are tired of great cities like London, Aberystwyth is the perfect location to go to. Quite isolated, the town is nevertheless a little paradise, trapped between mountains and the sea. The popularity of Aberystwyth (also nicknamed “Aber”) can be due to its university. Considered as one of the best universities in the UK, Aberystwyth University welcomes 9000 students every year. Then, the population of the town reaches 12 000 inhabitants.
The Day I Arrived in Aberystwyth
We all know this moment of stress when you leave your home for a new country. Believe me, when it’s for a whole academic year, all alone, it can be much worse. I traveled from the South of France to Birmingham, where I was welcomed by the International Airport Pick-Up Service of Aberystwyth. Many other students were there; they came from Spain, the USA, Malasia, Japan, Australia and from so much more destinations. The adventure truly began at that moment, meeting with all the students at the airport.
Among the Pick-Up Service were members of the Erasmus Society of Aber. Then, we rushed outside to the bus which would take us to Aberystwyth. Then, the Erasmus team gave us an envelopment that contained the key to our apartment. The euphoria was extreme (because when I saw this key, I also saw the weeks of papers and administration I had gone through to be here). Then, we had a little snack to rest from the trip, and also got used to drivers never leaving the left side of the road. Then, we reached Aber. It was time for us to settle in your new home. Most of the time, local students are already settled. It can be a warm and helpful welcome if you already feel a little bit homesick.
Arriving on a Friday (a rainy and stormy Friday), I couldn’t do much instead of unpacking my things and staying in my room. We were three in the house I had been assigned in. To learn more about each other and not staying all on our own, we ordered pizza and spent the night playing card games.
Aberystwyth University’s Integration Week
My first weekend in Aber was a little bit hard. I was all alone, in a new country, with nobody to spend time with. I even remember calling my mom and dad two times a day for a bit of reassurance. But after this strange weekend, the Integration Week started and that’s when the fun began.
This week is the perfect event to start your life as an official student in Aberystwyth. After dealing with some administration, it’s time for more joyful activities like making new friends and discovering the campus. And believe me, you’ll need time if you want to discover the whole campus. With its numerous departments, sports areas and labs, you will be wondering between the buildings and nature while discovering the campus for at least 2 hours.
The integration week officially begins in the Art Center of the University. Here, we met everyone from the Erasmus Office, who are very present and benevolent for every student. It was also a great occasion to reunite with foreign students. We were 30 French students and only next evening, we’ve created a Facebook group to discover the town together.
Then, we headed to the Students’ Union, to get more information about our foreign student condition. The Students’ Union was the “place to be” on campus. It was here that every social events and parties happened. During the integration week, all foreign students are welcomed here. It is the first official occasion to meet everyone. Then, we are invited to a pizza and quiz night. There is always an occasion to socialize while finding marks in this new environment. For instance, I met most of my Erasmus friends during a folkloric Welsh dance show at the Students’ Union (I was invited to join and I fell on my backside…twice…)
Clubs and Societies of the University
The best part of the Students’ Union is that it’s here where you can register for all the Sport Clubs and Societies. In the middle of the integration week, all the clubs and societies of Aber reunites for a fair. All students can discover each society so later, they can register as a new member. For me, it was the best part of the week as, coming from France, there are no clubs or societies in French public universities. Depending on our academic schedule, we were free to register in every club we wanted. There are numerous clubs and societies so you feel close to a community who have the same interests as you.
The clubs of Aberystwyth University include sports like pole dance (with the Aerial Fitness Club: tried and worth it), rugby, dance (like couples dances with the Dance Sport Club), cheerleading, weightlifitng, horse riding, surf and expeditions.
Concerning societies, you can find the Aerospace or Marine soceity, the Art or Education society, the Erasmus or K-Pop society, or even the Cocktail or Yoga society. And guess what; for dog lovers, the university even has a society called Aber Dogs.
Discover all the Aberystwyth Sport Clubs and Societies right here
Around the University
The Art Center
The Art Center is one of the best spots on the campus. This was literally where I passed most of my time. It is located in the middle of the campus, like the Students Union and the University’s library. It is here that main cultural events happened. The Art Center is ideal if you live close to university and if you want to go for a good movie night with some friends. It has its own cinema room, with a program for everyone, from kids to students and adults. It also has a theater room, presenting Shakespeare’s classics and more modern pieces. For example, while I was staying in Aber, actor Ian McKellen came for a show to celebrate his 80th birthday. Unfortunately, I couldn’t make it but it was an amazing night (I still hate myself for missing it). The Art Center also comes with a small exhibition room and a bookstore, very useful when students need specific books for their classes. You can also go to the gift shop and the Center’s cafeteria; the food here is to die for.
If you even have the energy to, you can volunteer to welcome the public in the cinema or theater rooms. It gives you the occasion to see shows for free.
The University’s Sports Club
If there was one criticism to make about being a student in Aberystwyth, is that you no longer have any excuses to be lazy and not going to the gym. The Aberystwyth Sport Centre, few steps down from the Art Center is free for students who live in one of the University’s accommodations.
The Sport Centre proposed numerous activities with coaches, but also facilities to exercise on your own in the weights room. There is also a weights room for women who want to train without being disturbed. Others rooms include a cardio room with numerous machines (I discovered and tried a machine which simulated stairs climbing; I died 5 minutes after the beginning), a dance room and a swimming area. Also, the Sport Club proposes special services, like getting your own personal coach to reach your physical goals. I told you: no more excuses!
The National Library of Wales
I discovered the library on the first days which followed my arrival in Aberystwyth. The National Library of Wales is probably one of the most beautiful libraries I ever saw in my life. Located beneath the university’s sport club, the National Library is the biggest in Wales, with more than 6 million books and the biggest collections of archives in the country.
As the British government tends to create a unity within its countries, Welsh language and culture can be threatened. Only one third of Wales’ population speaks Welsh. Therefore, the National Library has a special role in the conservation of Welsh culture.
When Homesickness Is Too Hard To Handle
Yes, the arrival was difficult but two weeks later, I was living in paradise. The weather changed and we had two weeks of blue sky and sun. My Facebook group with my French fellas had grown bigger and we were all acquainted and supportive with each other.
But sometimes, it’s not enough. I remember one day, I’ve spent the morning having a brunch with my French fellow citizens. Then, we all went back to our accommodations. Later during the night (and I mean very late), I got a phone call from a friend who was not feeling good at all. With three otherfriends, we rushed to her house and tried to comfort her, until she declared she wanted to go back home in France. We ended up calling the Student Support Services for extra help. They did everything they could to comfort her and we left her place around 5am. Unfortunately, she left a week later.
It is a fact that arriving in a new place can be difficult, scary and stressing. But Aberystwyth University is here for its students and pays great attention to their physical and mental well-bein. This is what makes Aber the best in student experience.
Going Down Town!
Being an Erasmus student is an amazing experience. Being an Erasmus student in Aberystwyth is even better. Even though my first choices were cities like Edinburgh or Dublin, Aberystwyth turned out to be the best place. Its only description as a Welsh coastal city was enough for me to drop everything that I knew to go there.
In Aberystwyth, I rediscovered the charms of a seaside resort, where everybody is enjoying a tranquil life. Aberystwyth is an isolated town; the closest towns with more inhabitants can be between 70 to 100 miles away. But no worries, the town has good transport links, especially with trains, buses and taxis.
If you had the chance to get an accommodation through the University’s services, you’d be staying on heights. For me, I was staying at Pentre Jane Morgan, the “Students’ Village” of the campus. It was 5 minutes away from University and very close to the forest. Accomodations close to sea and handled by the University are also available for sea lovers.
Living on heights implied to go down to town. After going down the hill where the campus was, you reach the town center of Aberystwyth where all the shops and cultural interests are.
The Old College
Near the coast, there is a huge building, giving Hogwarts vibes. This building is The Old College. It is a complementary building of Aberystwyth University. It was built in 1795 by John Nash. In 1872, the building is sold back to the former University of Wales, becoming a college for higher education. The Old College was damaged by fire in 1885 and is now a cultural symbol. It was the main campus of Aberystwyth University until the 1960s, when teaching moved to the Penglais Campus.
Another beautiful spot in Aber is the Promenade. It goes from the Constitution Hill to the War Memorial, close to Aberystwyth Castle. You never get tired of a good walk on the Promenade.
The Constitution Hill
When you speak of Aberystwyth, you usually find two main hills; the one that takes you to the University, Penglais Hill, and the one known as the Constitution Hill.
When you take a walk on the promenade, you can see the hill if you walk towards the North. It’s the perfect spot to have a view of all Aberystwyth and, believe me, it worth the climb. But if you don’t feel like doing some hiking, the Cliff Railway can take you up in no time. Once on top of the hill, you can see all Cardigan Bay. It is so enchanting that you could want to never go back down. And a surprise awaits those who reach the top; on the other side of the Hill (also called “Consti”) is the Clarach Bay.
Stop! Yeah I’m stopping you right now. The Aberystwyth Castle is not a big stone construction where you could spot brave knights (unfortunately). But its history is still incredible. The Aberystwyth Castle is located next to the Old College and dates from the 13th century. It was built by the English to keep Welshes away (very useful obviously). During a national riot in 1404, the castle was taken by the Welsh and taken back again by the English four years later. It will be destroyed in 1649 by Oliver Cromwell.
The castle used to look like this before 1649:
But today, what remains of the castle are only ruins:
Even if the castle is nothing but ruins today, it is still a great place for a little walk. Also, social events happen at the castle: you can arrange some great photo shootings or come with your friends to see a movie screening in the ruins (when I lived in Aber, the integration week included a screening of The Greatest Showman at Aberystwyth Castle. It was one of my best memories there).
The Vale of Rheidol Railway
Close to the train station, you may spot one day a train looking like it came from the 20th century. Well, it is. This train is part of the Vale of Rheidol Railway, a great historical heritage in Wales. This steam train goes from Aberystwyth to Devil’s Bridge, a 19km journey. It is an original way to discover Aber and its surroundings. A trip to remember.
Restaurants and Pubs
Don’t you even dare to change my mind: Aberystwyth is food’s heaven! Even though Aber is a small town, it has numerous restaurants and pubs where you could spend the whole night.
Sophie’s is more a kind of brunch restaurant, and very popular in Aberystwyth. If you truly desire to go there to eat something after a long night of partying, you should make sure there still have places for you and your friends. And that’s even worse on the weekends.
Sophie’s has the best breakfasts and lunches in town. Eco friendly and vegan, Sophie’s has a range of delicious food. From luxurious sandwiches and burgers to eggs, bacon, pancakes and avocado toasts, Sophie’s is a reference. You can’t leave Aberystwyth without going to Sophie’s (at least for its curly fries). And of course, don’t forget to try one of their special milkshakes.
The White Horse is known as a pub in Aber. But it is also a traditional restaurant you can drop by for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Here, you can try some pies and traditional welsh meals. Most of the time, the White Horse is the chosen pub to watch a rugby game and share a good beer with friends.
The Wetherspoons is another restaurant like the White Horse. Located next to the train station, it is as great as the White Horse for the food, but is even better for the pub. The ambience can be thrilling during the evening. Also, another great discovery in Wetherspoons; if you are on a diet, the menu presents all the meals, including the calories. You can eat without feeling guilty.
Baravin stands in two words : the Welsh word “bara”, meaning bread, and the French word “vin” for wine. I am French, they’re Welsh; it was love at first sight. Baravin is close to the promenade. This restaurant offers a wide variety of beers at the bar and, without exaggeration, the best cocktails and pizzas of the town. The menu also proposes numerous dishes like meats, fishes, pasta and many more. In other words, don’t visit Aberystwyth without getting yourself a fresh glass of wine (at least) at Baravin.
Rummers and Bar 46
Rummers is a typical pub in Aberystwyth, close to the Rheidol river. With Bar 46, it is one of the most popular bars in town. It has the atmosphere of a little traditional pub, but is still the best spot to party all night.
Bar 46 has a junkier ambience. All students gathered there for a good drink and some wild dances before heading to another bar. An unmissable in Aber.
A Unique Experience You Want To Live Again And Again
It was indeed hard to hear that the United Kingdom will no longer be part of Europe for these unique cultural exchanges through Erasmus. And most of the time, during this kind of retreat, the economic side can be more important than the cultural and educational matters. Hopefully, it seems like the British government is currently working on new programs in order to welcome students from Europe.
You can’t imagine the benefits of a year abroad in a town like Aberystwyth; it radically changed me, for the better. As being an Erasmus student doesn’t only imply a “study hard, party harder” way of life. It is a life changing experience, opening your mind on foreign cultures and making you discover new things, taking you out from your comfort zone. It is also your chance to travel all around a country, to discover all the cities and towns and maybe, as a young student, to find the place you want to live in and build your life.