I spent three months in the surprisingly warm and sunny Portsmouth in the south coast of England. Who knew there are palm trees in the English seaside? Portsmouth is a coastal city, slightly smaller than Tampere, and the main part of the city is actually located on an island, although I only realised this about halfway through my stay there. People always say that the English weather is horrible but I was actually surprised by how warm it was. Even though Portsmouth is on the south coast, I didn’t expect to have 14 degree temperatures in November. Maybe the weather is horrible in everyone else’s mind, but for a Finn it actually feels very nice?
I study International Business and I specialise in marketing. Unfortunately, there weren’t many marketing courses, or units, as the English call them, on offer at Portsmouth. Since most of the units last a full year there were only a few options for those spending only half a year. Most of the units offered to exchange students are actually shortened versions of the whole year units, so almost all of the other students are exchange students as well, which was nice in a way, because at the beginning of the year everyone was in the same situation. Still, it would have been nice to get to know some of the local students as well. Despite that, I enjoyed most of my studies, and found them in someway relevant or interesting. I also enjoyed working with the other exchange students, and since everyone was foreign, the classes were quite diverse.
In England, or at least in Portsmouth, there are only a few classes every week. I had 5 units, and most of them only had two hours of class every week. One hour lecture for everyone in the unit, and then one hour seminar in smaller groups. I found this to be a quite good way of learning, although it meant that my timetable was quite scattered. Attendance was mandatory for all classes, although no one checked for attendance in the lectures. In the seminars, however, if you miss 3 consecutive lessons, you’d essentially fail the class.
In my free time, I’d hang out in the city. There are three main “city” areas to Portsmouth. There’s Commercial Street, which is right by the University and is the actual city centre, with all the shops and things like that. Then there’s Gunwharf Quays, which is a more fancy, touristy, high end shopping and restaurant area, right by the sea and the harbor. The third one, which I liked best, is Southsea, which is where all the good bars and restaurants are. It’s on the southern side of the city, although almost everything in is within walking distance. Southsea is, in my opinion, the most beautiful area of Portsmouth, and it is the area of Portsmouth that looks the most like a stereotypical English coast city.
Southsea might be my favorite area in the city, but what I really loved doing in Portsmouth, was walking on the seaside. Being a Finn, I’m used to there being water around me all the time, and I’m not going to lie, the sea was a big reason for me when choosing Portsmouth as my exchange destination.
Since Portsmouth isn’t a very big city, I also visited the bigger cities around it, like Brighton, Southampton, and Bornmouth, as well as the absolutely beautiful Isle of Wight. Portsmouth is also only a 90 minute train drive away from London, when the trains are running that is, so I visited London quite a few times. On the last week of my stay, my boyfriend and I flew to Scotland, which was absolutely amazing and quite possibly my favorite part of my stay. We rented a car and drove around the Scottish highlands for a day, and I’m not lying when I say I’ve never seen anything so beautiful. Coming back to Portsmouth was almost a disappointment, since it was so close to Christmas and there was no snow in England, unlike in Scotland.
Compared to Finland, studying in England was quite different. There were fewer classes every week, but that meant you were expected to do more reading at home. Based on some of the teachers’ comments, I was slightly intimidated of the workload, but after receiving my grades, I can happily say that I managed just as well as at TAMK, with pretty much the same amount of work.
The grading of the units was based on an essay, a presentation, or an exam. The exchange students, however, didn’t have any exams, since those take place in January, and the autumn semester ended on the 15th of December. Most of my units were graded based on an essay, which I had never written in TAMK, only reports, so I found this quite challenging, and had to spend a lot of time in the library. This was another difference to TAMK. Students actually hang out in the library a lot, and the library is open 24/7. I liked it though. When doing groupworks, or writing essays, the library was a good place to gather in, since most of the exchange students lived in student housing, so there wasn’t enough room in anyone’s apartment to hang out it. All in all, student life is much more inclusive compared to Finland. There are different clubs for students, for different sports, different ethnicities, different diets, different political orientations etc. There’s even a Quidditch club, which is quite possibly the awesomest and most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard of. Every week is a student night in the city, with different events in different venues. Basically, if you’re a student, your whole life revolves around the university.
Portsmouth to me was quite an ideal destination. I love the city, I had great flatmates and I met amazing people from all around the world. I love the seaside, and the short distance to London. I don’t just miss the people I met there, I also miss the city itself and I’m very happy I chose to go there. It’s one of my favorite places in the world, like a home away from home, and I’m definitely going back there.