Study Astrophysics abroad

Why Aber Is the Place for You

Studying abroad was not something I was seriously considering doing until I decided to pursue a career in astrophysics. The selection in my home country was rather slim, and in attempt to expand the horizon of possibilities I ventured to an academic fair hosted by Across the Pond in Oslo. Next thing I knew I had my heart set on a small, remote Welsh town that I previously had never even heard of!

Now, over a year after completing my BSc in Astrophysics at Aberystwyth University, I’ve had time to reflect on my past experiences and would like to share them with other students who are on the fence regarding where to study. 

A warm welcome

On the very first day, the physics department was having a welcome party (with free pizza!) in the lobby of the physics building. I remember being astonished at the female representation – I could spot at least as many young women as I could men, something I was not at all expecting as I walked in the door. People were cheerful and friendly, and I felt quickly at ease. That very first day I met one of my very best friends whom I’m still in daily contact with today.

Friendly and lively

Aberystwyth is a small town located on the west coast of Wales. Over half of its population is made up of students, making for a lively community with a vibrant night life. One of the most popular night clubs is called Pier and is located, as you may have guessed, on a pier! Within the same building you may also find a bowling alley, arcade hall, and pool tables. The town also has a cinema, and even an axe throwing place should you be in that kind of mood.

Many of the students originate from England, but Aberystwyth attracts many international students, too – I made friends from all over the world, including people living a mere hour away from my own hometown in Norway. This way, I found a piece of home in Aber, whilst simultaneously learning all about Welsh culture, the overall British culture, and the cultures of my fellow international students.  

… but beware of the weather

Real talk. One thing I was (stupidly) not prepared for, as someone who has grown up far away from the coast, was the severity and strength of the Welsh weather. The first day of lectures, some girls I had become acquainted with asked if I wanted to share a taxi up to the uni because it was raining a little. I scoffed and told them I was Norwegian; I could handle it. And I could. Until the winter storms arrived. I lived on the 4th floor on the seafront yet got sea spray on my window … enough said about that. (Don’t worry, there is a bus running between the University and the town centre during term. I was just stubborn enough that I only got on it once.)

A delight for your eyes

However, you can’t speak of Aber without mentioning the beauty and serenity of its location. Tightly hugged by dramatic cliffs, kissed by the waves of the open ocean, and every-so-often bathed in the most beautiful sunset light, Aber is a delight for your eyes all year round. I’m not exaggerating when I say this was one of the biggest selling points for me. Still, I cannot fathom the number of stunning sunsets I’ve witnessed, both from the window of my accommodation and whilst out on evening walks with friends (there will be many of those when you live in Aber, since everything is walking distance). It’s the sort of imagery that will be etched in your retinas forever, and that you’ll always find yourself dreaming of going back to.

Another big part of the Aber culture are the beach bonfires. When the weather is nice enough, the students migrate towards the beach, wood and tinder in their hands, and light many a bonfire on the pebbles by the foot of Constitution hill. This activity offers a cosy break from the hassles of everyday student life.

What to consider when choosing your accommodation

The University offers student accommodation both by the campus and in town, separated by about 2-3 kilometres. I spent all three years of my time in Aber located in the town centre, meaning every day was a 20-minute uphill walk towards the University buildings on top of the Penglais hill. Most days, I enjoyed the bit of fresh air and exercise in the mornings (though sometimes, I was running late, and this turned into a morning jog – those days, not so much!) If you don’t mind the extra trek in the morning, I’d recommend staying in town, so that you’re close to the beach and local shops, as well as the pubs and night clubs for those who like to go out on the weekends. This offers a very different (and superior, I’d argue) experience from choosing to stay near the University.

Getting used to the English language

In the first couple of weeks, it took a bit of effort and energy to adjust to the English language as the primary way to communicate socially and academically. I quickly learned I did not at all know how to ‘speak maths’ in English, or the typical words used for describing physics equations and systems – but this did not cause me any significant problems, and after two weeks, it was something I was completely accustomed with.

Socially, the main lingual challenges I faced came to casual phrases used for small talk, as well as British slang words that they certainly do not teach you in school. For instance, I furrowed my brows at an invitation to ‘prinks’ at a course mate’s flat as I had no idea what that entailed (pre-drinks... It means pre-drinks). Another friend said she felt like a mug, and my response was, why in the world do you feel like a cup? One time, I even wrongfully mistook the name of a bakery chain as some random slang word. While it may sound intimidating, any British illiteracy will cause nothing but funny misunderstandings – just turn to Urban dictionary in times of need.

The Welsh language is of course also heavily present in the small town. I only learnt a few words and sentences due to its complexity. The ones that stuck are diolch (thank you), bore da (welcome) and cwtch (cuddle).

Places to see in Wales

Aberystwyth is in the middle of Wales, meaning either end of Wales can be reached by car in a mere 2-2.5 hours (so definitely befriend someone with a car, or bring your own!) The town itself is small so you’ll quickly find yourself wanting to explore other places, too. Some places to visit are Gower, Tenby, Portmeirion, and the ‘sunken forest’ in Borth, a 2000-year-old forest since buried by sand and now visible during low tide. The latter is an amazingly picturesque 2-hour hike from the edge of town that is well worth enduring. Unfortunately for Aber, Borth and the Ynyslas got all the nicest sand, so it’s also a good place to go swimming in the summer for a more tropical feeling – but if you don’t mind pebbles, the beaches in Aber are wonderful for that, too.

To summarise – if you would like to be part of a closely connected community, in picturesque and tranquil surroundings, Aber is the place for you.

- Silje Kristine

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