Studying at a University Abroad
What Should You Expect?
All of our partner universities have been hand-picked to allow you to have an interesting and enriching academic experience. Some of the universities may be bigger and more bureaucratic than Bangor and others may be more flexible and more relaxed. Don’t forget that adapting to the culture of studying abroad is all part of your Year Abroad experience! Remember that while the first few weeks may be difficult and you may come up against some challenges, these can generally be overcome with an open mind and a positive attitude.
The Academic Year
Terms will vary from country to country and from university to university, but generally most mainland European universities have a two-semester system with an exam session at the end of each teaching period. Term/semester dates will be made available by your host university, but YA coordinators may be able to give you approximate dates based on past experiences.
Remember, it is expected that you will spend most of the time between the two semesters abroad. While you are entitled to return home for a short break during seasonal holidays and in the event of family celebrations or crises, you should inform your Year Abroad Coordinator, the International Office at Bangor and your personal tutor if you have to interrupt your studies abroad in any way.
Germany and Austria
Universities in Germany and Austria generally have two semesters. Normally the Wintersemester runs from mid-October to mid-February (with a short break for Christmas) and the Sommersemester runs from the beginning of April until the end of July. You may have exams scheduled outside of teaching term, so make sure you check your dates carefully. You will find the information for term dates if you search the site for “Termine” or “Lehr- Prüfungstätigkeit”; the semester holidays are called the “vorlesungsfreie Zeit”.
In general, the academic year begins at the end of September and finishes in June. There are two semesters, called ‘Cuatrimestres’. The first term begins in the last week of September and ends in the third week of January. The second semester begins in late January-early February and ends in June. Examinations for the first semester term are usually held in January, and the second term examinations are held throughout June. Each university follows a slightly different academic calendar – this information is usually provided with your application form.
There are two holiday periods during the academic year: the Christmas break and the Easter break, which covers one week in March or April. There are also puentes, which are bank holidays on Tuesdays or Thursdays which make weekends last four days rather than two. Each city and region has its local holidays.
France, Switzerland and Martinique
Universities in France, Switzerland and Martinique generally conform to a two-semester system of organization. As a département d’outre-mer, you can expect that Martinique will follow French bureaucratic procedures for organization of its curriculum.
The date for registration can vary widely from country to country, and the best way to ensure that you have the appropriate registration dates is via the e-mail which you will receive from your host university. Most universities (although not all) now have online registration – make sure you check your host university website regularly for updates.
Examinations for the first semester tend to take place in the period after the Christmas break. If you go to your host university’s website and carry out a search for ‘calendrier’ you will generally find the semester and examination dates for that institution.
The date for registration can vary widely from university to university within Italy as the beginning of the academic year varies from mid/late September to late October. The best way to ensure that you have the appropriate registration dates is via the e-mail which you will receive from your host university. Most universities (although not all) now have online registration – make sure you check your host university website regularly for updates.
Some universities offer preparatory language courses before the start of the semester – make sure that you only sign up to these if they are free. However, you will need to register for other courses too. The average module is worth anything from 1 cfu (credito formativo universitario) to 9 cfu or more. In some institutions some language modules (the so-called lettorati) carry no credits but Italian students need to register for them and pass them. These courses are open also to Erasmus students. Examinations for the first semester term are usually held in January, and the second term examinations are held throughout June and/or July. Each university follows a slightly different academic calendar – this information is usually provided with your application form.
These can seem frustrating and complicated, particularly as they may be different from the system at Bangor and different from procedures at other universities which you may be familiar with. Do read all of the information sent to you by the partner university carefully and make sure you follow their instructions by the deadlines they assign you. Don’t be afraid to ask local staff or students for help. Do participate in (free) orientation programmes offered by the university because these will often help you with this first administrative hurdle; they also often include tours of the campus and the library and they are a good way of getting to know other new students.
Style of Teaching
In some universities, lecture halls will be full to the brim and it may be necessary to arrive early to secure a seat, while in others you may be privileged enough to have small classes. The emphasis may be on learning and studying texts rather than putting forward your own ideas or you may be expected to participate even more actively than you have done in the past. While this may initially feel uncomfortable, the knowledge gained during your studies abroad will help you to deepen your subject knowledge and develop your language competence, so it is important to try to adapt.
Remember that your relationship to your lecturers may not be as informal and personable as it is in Bangor; you should expect to address academic staff by their titles and use the polite form of address unless they instruct you otherwise. Generally, academic staff will only see students outside class by appointment or during their office hours.
Students are expected to choose courses that combine to a worth of at least 25 ECTS credits per semester.
While Joint Honours students should take courses in both subjects and Triplists should take specialised language classes in all languages, your priority should be the language and culture of the country you are studying in. You will have to pass at least 7.5 ECTS credits (the equivalent of 15 Bangor credits) per semester in order to be able to progress to final year. If you do not pass 7.5 ECTS credits per semester, you will have to complete a re-sit at Bangor. For students on a work placement or a British Council Assistantship, you will have to complete a Portfolio comprising several exercises, worth 15 Bangor credits per semester.
You should discuss your provisional course choices with your YA Coordinator before you prepare your Learning Agreement. Before you go to see the YA Coordinator, you should get as much course information as you can from your host university’s website and/or the documentation they have sent you. Please note that many universities publish their course information later than at Bangor. In some cases, particularly in Italy and Spain, courses may not be finalised until the beginning of term. This is why your Learning Agreement is provisional until you arrive at the host university when you will be able to make changes.
Tip: Try looking at the course information for the relevant semester of the previous year to draft your provisional course list.
Germany and Austria
During your German-language placement, it is important to attend ‘regular’ content classes (in Germanistik or Kulturwissenschaft) alongside specialist German classes for non-native speakers (more info on this below). When looking for a list of courses, check the relevant university website; generally you will find the “Vorlesungsverzeichnis” (list of taught courses) under “Studium”.
Try to attend Proseminare (directed at students in years 1–2 of their studies; generally assessed through a Referat and a Hausarbeit; sometimes through a Klausur) and Vorlesungen. These lectures do not necessarily need to be listed on your Learning Agreement (if you have already fulfilled your credit obligation) and they may be a particularly useful way of honing your audio-comprehension skills and brushing up on your subject knowledge, particularly in cases where there are introductory courses such as “Einführung in die Literaturwissenschaft” (a core module for students beginning their studies in Germany which covers all of the basics of literary analysis). Hauptseminare are for students who are more advanced in their studies and they are usually assessed by a Hausarbeit of ca 5000 words; the subject matter is generally more complex and assignments are assessed more rigorously.
N.B. In order to be awarded a Schein for your course, you must complete all of the necessary assessments (this may be an oral presentation and discussion of a topic and a Hausarbeit or a Klausur). Make sure you know (1) how your courses will be assessed and (2) when they will be assessed from the beginning of the course.
Students are advised to enrol in specialist language classes in order to actively improve their language competence. These classes are often listed as DaF or they may be available to foreign students through the Sprachenzentrum (check your university website carefully to see how these classes are run at your university; some German-English translation courses may be run through English as a foreign language). The language classes are generally open to all foreign students and registration usually takes place on a set day before the beginning of term (if you have to sign up in person, it is worth arriving early to queue; if registration is done online, make sure you have a good internet connection and all of the necessary documents to hand so you can complete the process promptly). As these classes are very popular, it is advisable to inform yourself in advance what classes are available (check website and the Vorlesungsverzeichnis) and how you should register for them.
Please note, you may need to pre-register for some of your content courses. Once you have been awarded your placement, it is advisable to start checking the Vorlesungsverzeichnis as soon as possible so you can see what courses are running in the upcoming semester (this course list may also be available on the faculty website). Generally, the lecturer’s e-mail address is listed. If you are interested in attending, you should register your interest in the course as soon as you can (through email or by calling in during their Sprechstunden) as sometimes there will be a limit on numbers.
Go to the website of the host university and look for ‘Grados’ or ‘Estudios de Grado’ (Degrees). Then go to ‘Grado en Estudios Hispánicos’ (Degree in Hispanic Studies) and look for ‘Plan de Estudios’ (this is the list of modules for all years). Although you could choose any of the modules offered in this list, you are advised to choose only modules from level 1 and 2.
In most classes you will have to take notes (these are sometimes called ‘Clase Expositiva’ = Lectures). You are usually told to supplement them with extra reading from a bibliography, although some lecturers are happy with their own notes. Some subjects will also offer ‘Clases Interactivas’ = Seminars. Lectures and Seminars can be from one to two hours.
Most universities also offer ‘Cursos de Español para Extranjeros’ or ‘para Estudiantes Erasmus’. They are often free but in some cases you might have to pay a small fee. These courses are very useful. If you’re interested you should ask about them at the ‘Orientation Week’.
In general, Spanish lecturers often do not deal directly with students. If you have questions or problems, it is up to you to arrange a meeting with the lecturer by setting up an appointment during their ‘Tutorías’ = Office Hours.
France, Belgium, Switzerland and Martinique
When choosing courses for your French-language placement it is important to remember that some of the French-language and certainly the ‘content’ courses will come under the heading of ‘Lettres’ (and not ‘Langues’ as you might expect). ‘Langues’ is generally a rubric reserved for languages foreign to French speakers. Some universities offer preparatory language courses before the start of the semester – make sure that you only sign up to these if they are free or only cost a nominal amount. Typically, you should expect to do français langue étrangère (FLE), as well as other languages/subjects you study. Even if you are only studying French, you are expected to sign up for other courses alongside FLE, as this will ensure that you study with French students.
When choosing your courses, you should look for the rubric ‘Formation’ and beneath this tab you will find the various ‘orientations’ or disciplinary categories available in the University. Languages are generally found under ‘Arts, Lettres, Langues’ or some variation of this appellation. You should take your time looking at the entire page because it can take a number of stages before you arrive at the full list of accredited courses. Once you’ve chosen the discipline you will most likely come to the level of study, under which you should choose ‘licence’ (i.e. NOT licence professionnelle). There may be a number of different ‘parcours’ or pathways for you to choose from and as a Erasmus student you can combine courses from across these parcours if necessary. Sometimes the course list will be hidden behind click down arrows or available as a pdf to download. The important thing being to take your time and explore rather than immediately contacting your YA tutor; it is important that you become familiar with your host university’s website as well as with French terminology for academic categories.
Be aware that while Bangor University does not currently require its students to take examinations while abroad, the lecturers at your French-speaking university may require you to complete assessments before they will give you an attestation de présence (Certificate of attendance). The latter is a crucial document for you to bring back to Bangor, so it is wise for you to ask each of your lecturers whether they wish for you to take examinations. If they do, you are required to comply with their wishes or else change to a different module where examinations are not required. Generally your assessments will be graded out of 20, and you will receive a ‘mention’ rather than a percentage grade. Mention AB (assez bien) is a pass and the equivalent to 12–13/20. Mention B (bien) is between 14 and 15 out of 20 and Mention TB (très bien) is 16 and above.
In order to select your courses you need to consult the webpage of your host institution. Webpages of Italian universities can a bit confusing but usually the list of modules available in any given year can be found in the section offerta didattica. Although some universities have a version of their website in English, the Italian version is usually more accurate and up to date. Sometimes it is difficult to understand whether a module is going to be available or not so be prepared to change your learning agreement once you get to Italy. Timetable clashes can also be a problem so you need to be flexible. Please remember enrolling on a course does not mean that you are automatically registered for your exams. You cannot sit an exam unless you have registered for it so ask your tutor or the Segreteria what is the correct procedure you need to follow.
On arrival, you may find that your chosen courses are not running or they are no longer available or they clash with other modules. This is not a major problem, but it can be time-consuming to make changes and you will need to be flexible in your choices. If this does happen, follow your host university’s procedures for choosing new courses and get in touch with your YA Coordinator to discuss your substitutions and ensure you have the right credit balance.
While the Learning Agreement is important for Erasmus, it may not complete your course registration. Please remember to comply with the course registration proceedings at your host university. This information may be available on the university website or it may be forwarded to you by the host university; in some cases, you may only receive information on arrival after your initial registration. Do not be afraid to ask local students and staff for help.
Student Learning Experience
In the beginning, you may find it difficult to adapt to the new learning lifestyle at your host university. You may also find that your marks are not what you are used to or that you are having problems adjusting to the new learning rhythm. This is a normal part of studying abroad and students usually find that this settles down after a few weeks. If you have specific concerns, do contact your YA Coordinator or your academic coordinator at the host university (if you have been assigned one) for advice.
A good tip is to try to get to know other students in your classes, as they may be able to help you understand local systems.
Do your best to undertake all the classes and assessments necessary to complete the requirements for your courses. Courses may be assessed by different methods and it is important to find out what the specific requirements for your courses are at the beginning of term so you can prepare yourself adequately.
If you find that you have failed one or two exams, please notify your YA Coordinator and, if possible, re-sit the exam (or see if there is another supplementary assignment that you can complete in order to receive the credits for the course).
Please remember to check that you have completed the necessary procedures to obtain your marks before you leave the host university.
Remember to request a transcript prior to departure. The procedure for this will differ from country to country and from university to university, but you will generally be expected to submit documentation that you have completed your courses (eg. Scheine or Libretto). Make sure you inform yourself about the procedure in place at your host university and follow it carefully. It is your responsibility to ensure that the transcript is correct and that the International Exchanges team receive it by the designated deadline.
Tips to Make the Most of Your Studies:
- Make sure you do all the necessary reading before class. Try to read extra material to build up your vocab range on particular topics. Course reading lists and bibliographies should be helpful here, as they will allow you to familiarise yourself with and deepen your understanding of all areas of the course. In the beginning, pre-formulate some of your questions before class if necessary.
- Make sure you ask questions and participate in class discussions. This may feel uncomfortable initially, but once you do it a few times, it will become second nature!
- Look out for readings of writers at the university or at local bookshops and for other cultural events or visits from politicians etc.