Before Exchange Studies
The idea of applying for an Erasmus Exchange student was not clear to me at the beginning of my studies. I was confused of travelling since I knew that I was doing my internship abroad for summer 2017 and was wondering if I should travel again. Although, I realized that I need more water hydraulic and structure courses my master’s Degree but was not sure if I must go for exchange to achieve that goal. I discussed with my mentor in Aalto School of Engineering and he highly recommended me to travel for exchange to acquire more hydraulics course if I am looking in that direction for my future. Also, when I found lot of my friends travelling for exchange, I talked to myself, “Let’s do it”. When I made my mind to go, there was another big obstacle, where should I go? The choice of destination didn’t happen as easily as I expected. Then I came to a solution, let’s skip winter in Finland and travel to south Europe, where everything is wild, crazy and perfect weather. I was interested in Delft University, Netherlands although it was not south but I couldn’t make it due to some technical issues. So, I decided to search for university in Portugal, Italy and Spain. I got good impression with Institute of Superior Tecnico, IST, Lisbon with history of 150 years with best Engineering reputation school in Portugal and around Europe.
Before applying I wrote an email where courses are offered in English or in Portuguese since my Portuguese was zero. I got the reply next day from IST, mentioning that all the courses from Hydraulics and Water management for second cycle are taught in English. So, I set my mind, let’s do it. The application process went smoothly, I already knew what courses I will be taking there. Everything was clearly mentioned in university website. Although the application process was slow, but it was mentioned that it would take few months. We knew I was receiving information about all the document in website. So, I had no other option then to wait after I launched my application. Application process was online, and no paper work was necessary. I had my impression that everything in southern Europe countries would go with speed of tortoise, but I was wrong.
During summer, I was doing my internship in Rural Communities in Nepal. It was difficult to have access to internet in mountain where I was working. I was travelling to city every weekend. And first thing that I did when I had access to internet was, I did not open my Facebook, I always open IST exchange application portal to see if I am going to Lisbon or not. It was always intense for me waiting the application to be approved. I do remember, I was travelling in public buses full of people, chickens and loud local songs. It was so loud that I could barely hear myself if I was speaking. Luckily, I had my cellphone in vibration mode, I felt vibration on phone, I checked it to see who called or texted me. I was receiving lot of text since I was responsible for some work in my internship and it was not going super well. When I checked my phone, I found an email. Opened it and found that your application has be approved for Erasmus, Welcome to IST and see you in few months. It was the happiest moment for me. Since I am non-European Citizen, I had visa from Finland, but I was asked to apply for visa to Portugal separately. So, I tried to look for the process of applying it. I received an email from IST, International Affair that I could write an email to counselor section of Portugal in Helsinki to book an appointment. I received all necessary document from IST via email for my visa application. I wrote an email to counselor and received email in few hours with checklist of document that I had to present him during my visit to consular office. Everything went smoot for visa application. I applied it after I was back from Nepal, it took me 5 days to receive my visa. It was valid for 6 months.
I have started looking for the apartment. It was not complicated to find one since, I received email from IST to apply certain housing company but there was always a question how much I want to pay. I sent bunch of email to email lists to all the housing company mentioned by IST. Although some of them were expensive but did not had any option, not to apply since it was already late. If you don’t time for search, I would recommend using this website for the apartment www.anjaf.pt www.portalemprego.eu. I was lucky with the apartment, I received for above mentioned residence because who booked the apartment cancelled his Erasmus. I must mention the apartment where I stayed, was one of the best apartment for student studying in IST. The apartment was in Rato, Rato is itself a metro station, close to Barrio Aalto, parks and walking distance to any sightseeing location. The apartment has balcony and roof top barbeque place, garden with oranges and lemon. We went there during the might for hunting orange and lemon. The price of accommodation was quite reasonable, and the housing would charge you only the days you stay there. So, it was flexible to start in middle of month and leave middle of month. But you must just give them notice a month early. And you will have 9 cool flat mates whom you can depend and party with throughout your Erasmus period.
About Lisbon and IST
I arrived Lisbon on 15th of September, 4 days after the orientation weeks started. I was there on Friday so had to start exploring the city on weekend. I was completely new to the city and was wondering how to start. After I arrived on Friday, I went to my accommodation and the manager of apartment was waiting for me to handover the keys. I left briefcase at apartment and went to university for registration. Everything went smooth that day. There was welcome party, so joined it and visited around the university
and try to find my classes since they were starting at 8 am in morning next week on Monday.
Figure 1 Welcome to Erasmus Student from University
First weekend was best since I hang out with my flat mates and class mates, we had 9 Erasmus people in the house. So, you can imagine it was always loud and party going on in the house. We travelled and walked around the city, took some sea food to get real flavor of Lisbon. I was amazed with number of Erasmus student visiting Portugal. The city is crowded with Erasmus and tourist from around the world. In short about Lisbon, Lisbon is the capital city of Portugal same size as Helsinki but with 10 time more the population of Helsinki. It is also one of the oldest cities in world and the oldest capital city in the Western Europe. I would say Lisbon is city with happy and social people compared to Helsinki. Lisbon is good place to hang around and for Erasmus people as there is always something happing by school or some event organizers. The place is less expensive that you cannot resist yourself going out for party every night.
Studying in Lisbon is different than in Finland. Lectures can be active, and passive depending upon professor. Some of the lecture I took were really focused and some of them were not organized properly. Although I had all lectures in English, but my professor was having tough time explaining it in English. Although teacher knew that the courses are offered for Erasmus, the study material was mixed with Portuguese and English. But in general, I would say all the lectures I had in IST, I enjoyed it. At the end of lecture, I was offered Dinner by a professor which was unexpected. It was fantastic opportunity to offered dinner from professor. All the lectures were provided by full time teachers, we did not have visiting lecturer in any classes. All the professor had hand on experience on real engineering problem. They gave lectures from the real-life practice in field. This really help me to learn the topics from university.
Food in the campus was awesome. Maybe I am saying it since I am fish lover. It is expensive with comparison to food in Aalto University. There were cafés where you can buy beer in university from 10 am in morning. I was quite surprised about that. It was relaxed environment in the university since there was a park where you could take sun bath after the classes. Students were either using library or café for studying. You could see people buzzing around the café and it was always amazing to see it. Bakery item from university café are always good breakfast.
About the classes and study room in IST, classes were not insulated properly so, some time it was cold inside the classes. Study room were enough, but the computer classes were not enough of all people. If you make plan to study in school, I recommend always taking your laptop with you. Also, you must pay for printing in university. All the assignment should be handed in as hardcopy to professor, so lot of printing. In general internet connection throughout the campus was good. I never had any it problems with internet connection in university. You can get all the software free of cost in university. Professor would only use the software that could be freely available to students.
I took 6 courses from Hydraulic and water resources engineering. I admit that all the courses were challenging and there was lot of assignment to do in every classes. But I learned a lot from there. I still remember those days when I was in library struggling for solving practical problems. Portuguese students are more hard working than us. They were helpful to us. So, I would recommend working with Portuguese student in any group assignment. If I compare IST with Aalto, I like the IST form practical assignment but not in research point of view. So, if you want to have Erasmus party experience and good study it is right place. Trust me, you must put lot of effort during you school hours. Exams are not as easy as in Aalto. Professor believe in number not in explanation. This was only one think I did not like about the university. All the courses were graded with practical assignment and theoretical examination. So, you cannot skip any practical assignment. And when you work in group, you will always have a responsibility. If you work with Portuguese student and don’t work in group, they really get pissed up.
Portugal is of course an obvious choice for anyone who is interested in surfing. Portugal is the number one surfing paradise in Europe. I did not quite realize how big the surfing culture is in Portugal before I got to experience it myself. There are many great and long sunny beaches with good waves also in middle of
Figure 2 Watching sunset is awesome
December. Anyway, I went only twice for surfing, and I enjoyed it lot. Also watching of sunset is always amazing.
There is always some event taking place from ESN Lisbon or Erasmus Life Lisbon. Walking around the city is always innovative idea to hangout and see novel places. Even if you walk same street twice you will notice something different next day. There are many touristic destinations. I don’t think it is innovative idea me explaining here all destination, but there are amazing view points from sunset, restaurants. From my experience I would love to say that
making some Italian friend in Portugal and it will help lot to enjoy.
Figure 3 A rocky beach nest to Ocean, Lagos
Travelling to different cities on weekend is always a good option. I recommend travelling around Porto, Lisbon, Faro, Sintra and other beautiful cities. I hiked a lot in rural part in Portugal. All the village have good bus connections. So, you must know how and where to take bus. People speak English everywhere, so it won’t be so difficult to survive in Portugal. Spain is also another option for travelling from Portugal. Since RYAN AIRLINES is making good connections between island in Atlantic and around Europe. I recommend travelling to Azores and Madeira Island. Those places are heaven.
During free time, there is always lot of stuff to do but you will find yourself in confusion, what should I do. I admit that 1 semester is not enough to see whole country.
Overall, I had most beautiful time of my life in Portugal. Coolest memory that comes to mind is my amazing flat mates, food, and Barrio Aalto. Lisbon is best place for exchange students to party and work hard if you are into it. The international student community was so big, I am friends with many students from around the world. It was amazing to see; how southern European culture makes you fall love into it.
The language was not barrier during my Erasmus. Although I was supposed to take language courses, but I did not. I was hanging out with international student most of my time, so I did not learn so much of Portuguese. Since I could present and order coffee in café, I managed everywhere. So, I would say, don’t stress yourself before going to Portugal if you don’t speak any Portuguese. But I admit that life and time went very easy but would been better if I had higher level of Portuguese language.
Student life in Portugal is different compared to Finland. No student was working at same time when they were studying in Portugal. But in general, I was happy with all the support received from Aalto and IST University. And I highly recommend the Institute of Super Tecnico for study of water hydraulic design courses.