Lingo Map- School and College Life: My University Experience in Portugal

I can’t believe how quickly my time here has gone! In 10 days, I will be back in the UK and my entire year abroad will be over! I have friends who have already gone home, and it’s scary how fast my time here is ending! Of course, I’m looking forward to seeing my family of course, but I know that I will miss my Erasmus friends so much! Counting down the days at university, I realise that I only have to go in for three more days! To sum it up I’d say that it’s been an “experience”. This experience has been very different to my experience of university in the UK, and actually felt more like what my high school felt like.

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My last Portuguese language class was spent in the centre of Braga doing a cultural quiz

Firstly, I think that organisation in mainland Europe is quite different to UK organization. I was not prepared for this. Anyone who knows me will know that I am a very organised person, obsessed with lists and deadlines, so UMinho was a bit of a shock for me. We were given a very short amount of time to organise our modules (with which we were given no guidance, which was partly my UK university’s fault and partly my Portuguese university’s fault). In the end, I picked 5 subjects that weren’t particularly suitable for me, and persevered, which is what year abroad is about. I had to try new things and this was definitely the way to broaden my understanding of the Portuguese language, culture and history.

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Me and my friend from Cardiff university on a trip to Lisbon at Belém tower

The second thing that struck me when I got here was the fact that the lectures at university are quite different to how they are in the UK. For starters, in Portugal you can just get up and walk out halfway through a lecture (?!) without asking the teacher’s permission. My friends assure me that this is because they are paying to be in the university, so surely they have the right to do that. But does this give them the right to talk through the lectures? I think this is a lack of respect, and it happens in all of my lectures, but most Portuguese students still think this isn’t ok to do. Maybe it’s just my course mates, I don’t know, but it’s something that over the past 4 months I haven’t been able to get used to.

The majority of high school students finish their 12 years of free and compulsory education (starting from the age of 6, not 4 like in the UK) and then go on to university, as they just want to get a degree. This is understandable, because they have a wide range of courses for all areas of study, and the fees for university are much lower than what English students like me have to pay. I think that if university education were cheaper in the UK, a higher percentage of students would go to university. In addition to the fact that degrees are more affordable in Portugal, they have an excellent education system here; one of the best in Europe. This means that their students are well prepared for higher education, but it doesn’t mean that university is any easier for them. Lots of people fail years at university and have to repeat. The proportion of those who pass in Portugal is lower than in the UK, and the same goes for in the high schools as well. Because education in Portugal is harder, it means that in the end, Portuguese students are much more prepared for the outside world than your average British student. I think though, from my experience, studying and working abroad whilst doing your degree in your home university, like I have done, can prepare you so much for everything, and really open your eyes to things that you wouldn’t see otherwise.

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At the university on my first day

At high school in Portugal, you don’t have to choose options like we do with our GCSEs. Here, languages are obligatory all through the equivalent of high school, then many students study languages within their degrees as well. I think this is good, as it prepares students for later life and gives them more employability skills. In fact, if you don’t know another language, it is really a disadvantage. I think this is good, and hope that the British system changes so that all students all over the country have to study a language until the age of 18, because it makes you more culturally aware and is an excellent skill to include on your CV.

Like in the UK, there are state and private schools here in Portugal, but state schools here can’t be religious. Because of the secularisation of church and state, you can’t have a public school that is religious, which is not the case in the UK. Here some universities are catholic, and the catholic universities, although they are private, are some of the best in the country. Other than this though, the best education is received through state schools, and people who attend private universities are disregarded slightly when it comes to applying for a job.

On the other hand, universities are different in the UK and in Portugal because the vast majority of students tend to stay in their hometowns and not travel in order to go to a better university or live away from their parents. This means that all of my classmates are from in and around Braga or Guimarães (the city where my university has another campus), and many people end up going to university with people from their high schools, something that is alien to me – a girl who studies an 8 hour megabus journey away from where I grew up.

Considering that university is harder in Portugal and that many Portuguese students don’t pass their exams, I got a bit scared when it came to my first exam. We all sat down in the classroom, ready for a 2-hour long exam that I guess could have been on philosophy (?), and I was the last one to leave. Some of the students left after 20 minutes, and I knew that they couldn’t have passed it. When I left the classroom I felt ok, like I didn’t think that I had failed, which is something at least. In Portugal, grades go from 0-20, and a pass mark is 9.5, so that was all I was hoping for (considering that philosophy is not my area of expertise by any stretch of the imagination). However, last week when I got the results back I was delighted to see that I had got a 14, the highest mark in the class! The next day I had another exam, and I’m still waiting for the results for that, but hopefully I will have done well in that too! Next week I have an exam and a presentation, and the nerves are definitely kicking in, especially because I need to find time to balance seeing my friends, organizing stuff for my departure, visiting as many places as I can and revising for my exams! I’m sure I’ll be able to manage it though!

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Visiting Lisbon for the weekend

Now it’s definitely time for me to continue reading up on the first Portuguese constitution, so I must go!

Até a próxima!

Molly

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