The University of Reading was my fourth university in fours years. After the first year in Prague, studying philosophy of art in the historical centre of Prague in a class of 20 people, I moved to France, to study at the University of Nantes. In the first year, we were 900 students taking the degree in English on the old campus of concrete where we had to fight for our places as only 50% of students got into the second year. For the second year, I transferred to Toulouse, where the level of English was very demanding, and during the second semester the university had been closed due to the university strike for four months. I therefore had plenty of time to prepare for my Erasmus in Reading. I had been looking forward to it more than I could admit, because I knew how easily things could go wrong. But this time, I was more than lucky.
The University of Reading received me with open arms. From the beginning, everything went so smoothly; the administration, the settling down, the accommodation. I instantly fell in love with the beautiful green campus. I felt very cosy in the St George’s Hall, where I had a chance to share the flat with another Spanish Erasmus student, and students from Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, and the UK. I think this was the first time I actually went through the cultural shock of how people can perceive reality differently. On the other hand, we were all students with shared the devotion to our studies and struggles of everyday university life. We spent some amazing times together cooking, celebrating birthdays, or visiting some of the many restaurants in Reading. After two years in France where I always felt like a foreigner because of my Czech accent, on the University of Reading campus I felt at ease thanks to its international and welcoming ambience.
I was surprised by the low number of contact hours. I was used to 20 to 25 hours per week whereas in England it was only 9 in my case. But I grew to appreciate it, because it allowed me to study the specific topics while spending long hours in my favourite Library@URS building, which does not close apart from Saturday night. As my degree does not exist in England my modules were spread across four departments within second and third year . I found it extraordinary. Some of them were easy, and some of them almost impossible i.e. a 3rd year politics module when I have no background in political studies. But I think that this is exactly what an experience of living abroad should consist of and I am grateful for it.
I had also a lot of free time and that was my favourite part about my year in Reading. There were so many options! I chose boxing. I actually had the idea to pick up boxing before leaving for Reading, and I found out about the boxing society before my departure. I cannot easily describe how much I enjoyed and appreciated it. Maybe because boxing has this aggressive side, the atmosphere in the gym was very calm, friendly and concentrated. The society made a real effort for girls to feel welcomed in the gym and the president of the society, Vincent,and other members of the society, who trained us, were patient and kind. I believe that my enthusiasm was seen as I was rewarded as one of four most improved boxers.
I also decided to try apply for a job on campus, because I always liked the job of barista and I thought of it as of a great opportunity to meet a lot of different people and gain confidence with my English. Which is why I felt very lucky when I got the job. The process was so easy! I applied through Campus Jobs which was linked with my University account, went for an interview and after four induction sessions I happened to work on a Friday afternoon alone in the Library@URS building cafe. It had a great effect on my sense of belonging. This is the reason why the smell of the freshly blended coffee is definitely one of the strongest memories of my Erasmus year. I was again so lucky with the team of supervisor (thank you Renata and Jason for being so nice and patient with us!) and coworkers.
I chose Reading for its accessibility, as I needed to be able to fly to France and the Czech Republic often. It was magical to go to a concert to London and to come back on the same night to my own bed. I loved the visits to Oxford. But apart from one trip to Edinburgh I did not really travel around and it feels right. Because I felt, after a long time, at home. I believe that the University of Reading is an amazing place to stay and live. The everyday life it has so much to offer. One can leave a party at 2 a.m. in the Students‘ Union and come back at 11 a.m. for a farmers market for fresh vegetables which is literally spread on the dancefloor. You can spend hours in nature, while still being on the campus. Get a first for your hard work. Or become a boxer. And barista. And get to meet so many extraordinary people from all over the world. In the end, and I am so much grateful to my university in Toulouse for sending me to Reading.
Thank you Reading for being my one and only.