Amie Parker: living and working in Spain
Last year Amie Parker was avoiding the bleak British weather in sunny Spain. She was improving her Spanish language skills, enjoying incredible food and seeing new places, but she was also getting some valuable one-to-one research experience at the University of Zaragoza.
In her third-year of her MChem in Chemistry, Amie decided to take part in the Erasmus (European Region Action Scheme for the Mobility of University Students) Programme, which is run through the University of Reading's Erasmus & Study Abroad Office.
“There's an on-going collaboration between the University of Reading and the University of Zaragoza and I heard about the placement through my supervisor for this year.”
Living somewhere isn't the same as a vacation
Amie had travelled with her family before, but moving to Spain for an entire academic year was very different. She was on her own and she had to navigate the logistics and paperwork associated with setting up a home in a new culture with only some basic Spanish.
“In the lab everyone spoke English, but it was far more challenging outside of the University. Even though Zaragoza is the fifth largest city in Spain, English isn't commonly spoken. When I first arrived, it was all very exciting because there was lots to do. And then as the year progressed, there were some things that I missed from home. What helped me a lot was the network of international friends I had through the Erasmus programme.”
During her placement, Amie was fortunate to work one-on-one with her supervisor from Zaragoza.
“I can't say enough good things about her - she really helped me. We have stayed in contact and she continues to update me on the research that I did while I was there. The project has now been continued by a PhD student and there are plans to publish it. I am quite grateful that the research I did was useful and has contributed in some way.”
Support from the chemistry community
Amie found her greatest support came from a PhD student who had gone on the exact placement as an undergraduate student two years before her. When Amie got in touch, she was more than happy to give Amie some pointers.
“She came over to visit friends she had made while she was on her placement and as she had worked in the same lab, she was able to tell me how everything worked. I even stayed in the same flat she had rented! Her help made it all much easier to settle in.”
Returning to Reading
While it is lovely to be away, it's always nice to be home - and with a new appreciation for how much easier things are in a language and culture that you know and understand.
“It took a while to ease back into the British culture again. I got used to siestas! I also miss the food, the friends I made, and definitely the weather.”
When asked whether she would recommend studying abroad to other students, Amie doesn't hesitate in her reply.
“Definitely! It looks very good to have international experience on your CV. Living and working in a different culture shows that you are willing to go outside of your comfort zone. My only advice would be to look very closely before you accept a placement to make sure that it is right for you. If languages aren't your strength or interest, for example, you may want to choose somewhere this will be less of a challenge. If I had taken a placement in Madrid or Barcelona, instead of the smaller city of Zaragoza, there would have been a lot more English spoken. But without a doubt, take the opportunity.”