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Interview: Studying Abroad in Edinburgh

Written by: Julia Megret and Emily de Boer

Hi guys! This is the first post on a new series where we will be interviewing linguistics students on their study abroad experiences, views on different minors, and internship experiences. We hope this provides some insights for future students when the time comes for them to decide what they want to do in their third year. In this post, we interviewed Leda, a third-year Bachelor’s student that went on exchange to the University of Edinburgh during the first semester.

Where did you go and why?

Leda: I went to the University of Edinburgh, mainly for 3 reasons: the semester dates fit, the UK is leaving the Erasmus program because of Brexit and it was the last year to go to the UK without paying fees, and I really wanted to experience that. I wouldn’t have been able to afford to study in the UK otherwise. Also because it is one of the best universities in the world for linguistics, I thought, “Yeah, let’s try this out [laughs]”.

Application process

Leda: The application process was quite straightforward from the UvA part. You just need to apply with transcripts, a motivation letter, and a list of courses you would like to take. What was a bit complicated was the bureaucracy, because we need to take statistics and speech processing, so I also had only a few universities where I could do that, and Edinburgh was one of those. But Monique actually strongly discouraged me to apply because there would be too many people and it would be too competitive or something, I don’t know. Anyways, the UvA selected me for Edinburgh, and then I had to apply in Edinburgh, and that took a very long time [laugh] to get an answer. I got my answer during Linguistic Theories, so it was mid-June or something. And they selected me too. But it was really stressful because if you need to move to another country in September and didn’t know whether you have to until June, and you also had to figure out your visa and stuff, that can be a bit stressful. And also, they didn’t update their list of courses for the next academic year until mid-August, and I really needed to confirm that I could take statistics and speech processing to get the credits recognized at UvA, and that was really, really, REALLY complicated. In the end, they did publish the list, and I could still take statistics and speech processing, even though they were different courses than the ones I have chosen, it was okay. And finding housing was the worst, I think even worse than Amsterdam, so you can imagine. But in the end, I managed to get the room from somebody who dropped out [laughs] like one week before the start of university, so I did find a room through student housing, but it was together with first-year students so it was not great, but it was something.

What courses did you take? Were they related to Linguistics?

Leda: Well, I took statistics and speech processing. Speech processing was like computer programming for speech and language processing, which was a lot of work, very few explanations, and very complicated mathematics. I spent most of my time crying over mathematics basically. And well yes, they were related to linguistics [laughs], 'cause then I took statistics for linguistics and read Old English. So, like, transcribing manuscripts, reading manuscripts, translating manuscripts from Old English, and studying the grammatical structures, and so on.

What did you think of the University?

Leda: The university was not what I had expected. Definitely not like the UvA, and we basically did no research [laughs]. And we were just doing homework and assignments, like in school basically. You’d get something to study and you do the homework and something. It was not really intellectually challenging, but it was academically challenging. They were really strict with the grades, you’d get an A with 70 percent, which was really weird [laughs]. And you pass with 40 percent, which means that basically, you’re always in the middle. You’re never really like great [laughs].

The university was very complicated from a bureaucratic point of view, and I was not expecting that. I mean, all these problems with them being late and not publishing the list of courses, and now I risk not being able to write my thesis this year cause they are late on releasing the transcripts because they didn’t receive the grades from the professors on time. I did my exams in December and it’s the end of February and I got my last grade last week. So that was a bit complicated.

What surprised you during your time there?

Leda: I did really like the fact that they have a lot of support for disability, chronic illnesses, and mental illness. That was really great so I was able to get support for my chronic illness and that was really nice. I got extra time for my assignments, exams, and all these things. I got support from the university doctor and the university psychologist, which was really nice.

Would you recommend linguistics students to go there to study abroad?

Leda: I honestly would not recommend other linguistics students to go on exchange, simply because it’s too much bureaucratic waste of time for what you actually get, which is three and a half months away. And it’s really stressful getting the grades and then going back to Amsterdam and looking for housing in Amsterdam again. That’s also something you need to consider. But what I do advise, definitely to do is to just get out of linguistics for a bit, like maybe do a minor at another university or something in the Netherlands. Cause you do get a feeling of how good the UvA is [laughs], like I never expected I would ever say that, but the standards are pretty high at the UvA. And I really, really, really like it here, better than I did in Edinburgh, like the university itself. Cause for the rest of the city, Edinburgh was really amazing and I met wonderful people there and I had really the best time of my life socially let’s say [laughs]. That’s from a personal point of view but from a strictly university point of view, I was not impressed [laughs]. I learned a lot, but it was more like learning knowledge, not really acquiring skills or doing research, or doing anything interesting.

Thank you Leda for accepting our interview and sharing your experience on your exchange!

Photo by Leda

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