Can you tell us something about yourself? What do you study? Where did you spend your exchange stay?
My name is Charlie, and I am a student of Political Science and International Relations at the Faculty of Social Sciences. For my Erasmus semester, I decided to go to Lisbon, Portugal, to study at FCSH, Universidade NOVA de Lisboa.
What made you choose Universidade NOVA de Lisboa?
I chose NOVA because some of my classmates and friends also spent their exchange stays there and all of them were happy with the university. And to be completely honest, my main goal was to live close to the sea or ocean in a country where I could use English so Portugal and Lisbon in particular was my number one choice.
Students going to Spain, Portugal sometimes struggle with the lack of courses held in English. Was it also your case? If so, how did you deal with that?
Sadly, that was also an issue I had to deal with. The Political Studies Department at FCSH NOVA is not sufficiently prepared to receive Erasmus students that do not speak Portuguese but luckily, the department staff is very helpful! The Erasmus coordinator from my department sent us all an email with “English-friendly courses” in which the professors would allow us to take the exams in English or which were sometimes taught both in English and Portuguese. There are also some courses offered to the entire faculty that are designed to be taught in English and I highly recommend taking one or two of those!
What courses did you take and were you satisfied with your choice?
I chose to take one of the faculty-wide courses, Great Britain in the 20th Century, because it worked well with my thesis topic, and I was overall satisfied with it. I also took two courses from the Political Studies Department, Political Systems and Political Sociology, both of which I did not have to attend during the week because they were in Portuguese, so I only had to pass the final exam in English and write a paper. I will admit that it was difficult because I had to study for them by myself so I didn’t learn as much as I would have liked. My last course though, Portuguese A1, was amazing, the professor was incredibly understanding and patient with us but still taught us a lot, I definitely recommend taking Portuguese – it makes day-to-day life easier and more enjoyable!
Does the academic approach differ from the academic approach at FSV UK?
It really does. For instance, almost all the exams were designed in essay form. When taking the exam, we received two or three questions and were asked to write about 4-6 pages in 2 hours using our knowledge of the theories presented to us. One more difference is also that every class is held twice a week and each one is 100 minutes long which gives the professors much more time to go through the material.
What about the university facilities?
FCSH is currently housed in two buildings, each of which has its own cafeteria (the main meal costs about 2-3 euros), library and some study rooms as well. Both of the buildings are also parts of a larger campus where students can spend time in between lessons outside, something I am not used to from Pekařská or Jinonice so this was a welcome change!
How long prior to your departure to Lisbon did you have to secure your accommodation? Was it difficult to find one? If you chose private accommodation, how did you make sure it was not a scam?
Finding accommodation was one of the hardest parts of the entire process. I recommend finding something as soon as you are nominated, I started looking at the start of the summer and most of the good rooms were already booked. University dorms were long gone so I opted for renting a private room. I got lucky in the end but for a while, it looked hopeless. I know many students even came to Lisbon and had to stay in hostels for the first few weeks before finding something permanent. I had a video call with my landlord, they showed me the whole apartment, we signed a contract and exchanged ID pictures to make sure neither of us is getting scammed.
Every Erasmus student is entitled to a scholarship. Is the sum given enough or did you spend a lot of your savings?
I received 600 euros per month which, at first, sounds like a lot but most of it went towards rent. Day-to-day life expenses in Lisbon are comparable to Prague but of course as an Erasmus student who wants to enjoy their stay to the fullest you spend a bit more. I was privileged to have some financial support from my family but I also had to spend some of my savings.
Tell us something regarding your first days. Any acclimatization problem – culture shock?
Before Erasmus, I had already done one 10-month-long exchange in high school in Germany, so I was lucky enough to be ready for the shock of the new environment. Lisbon is very multicultural, you can almost always use English to communicate and in my experience, the Portuguese are welcoming and kind, so I had no big issues with acclimatization. If anything, the 30-degree heat from September to October was the biggest of my adjustment problems. Luckily, I also found a friend group on the first orientation day, and we stuck together until the very end, they made everything much easier, and I owe a lot to them.
Would you share with us your favourite memory/experience?
About a week after my arrival our friend group met up by the Tejo river with a view of the bridge for the sunset. We had a little picnic and I think we talked until the last metro was leaving, that was probably the first time I felt like this was really my life. After that, there were numerous trips to beaches and miradouros, to Porto and Algarve and dinner parties, but also study groups in the library or coffee shops.
Would you recommend the destination to other students?
Yes! Portugal is a gorgeous country and Lisbon offers everything you might need or want.
We feel that when students return from their study exchange, they are different (more mature, independent, confident). What about you, is there any added value you can see?
I think I went on Erasmus just wanting to be my most authentic self and, in many ways, I achieved that. I came back a little more mature and understanding of what is important to me. I don’t think I came back as a completely different person though, which many of my friends have said they felt like.
Last but not least, you are in your final year of your Bachelor studies. So, what is next in plan?
That is a very tricky question! First, I have to finish my Bachelor’s thesis which I am writing right now and pass my state exams. I am not sure what comes next but I want to continue studying so I applied to Master’s programs from several Charles University faculties, still unsure in which direction I want to continue. If everything works out, I would love to do another Erasmus during my further studies!