Rivers Keirstead

Academic exchange | Swansea, Wales

3rd year Arts/Education, Honours in History

Where did you live when you studied abroad? I lived in residence, the Kilvey building.

What was the hardest thing when you arrived in Swansea? I didn’t know anyone and was exhausted from travelling. Most people had arrived before me and were all partying that night to get to know each other better, but I was so tired that I chose to introduce myself for a bit before trying to set up my room and get some sleep. I didn’t have all the bedding I needed so I tried to cuddle up in a thin blanket. I ended up catching the “Freshers Flu” within a few days and decided to splurge and buy some warm blankets. I also had a few minor troubles like connecting to internet and finding my course schedule, but some peers and staff helped me out.

What was the easiest thing when you arrived in Swansea? All of my flat mates were so welcoming! They would invite me out with them almost every night, and we would all eat supper together at blas, the campus restaurant. I soon fell in with a group of people who became great friends, we still keep in touch to this day. Half of my buddies were locals who showed me the ropes, and the other half were international from India, Singapore, and America who spent weekends traveling the UK with me.

What did you find different about studying in a Welsh University? The library was open 24 hours a day! People would bring their blankets or wear their pajamas and camp out there all night to finish last minute assignments or cram for tests. Also, the University was right by the beach! It’s the closet university to a beach in the whole world, and the view was always spectacular from my dorm floor.

Best things about Swansea? Everyone is very kind and friendly, so it is a lot like being home in NB in that respect. Also, the costal views are breathtaking.

What do you find most interesting about Swansea? That the Welsh culture is actually quite distinct from the English if you pay close attention. They have specific sayings like “cwtch” which means to cuddle or a safe place. Also, they have a very distinct accent. One of my close friends was a native to Wales and when she said no it sounded like “Noooaaah.” It was also interesting that not one person in my dorm spoke Welsh even if they were natives to Wales. The language is in decline in many parts of Wales, but there are efforts to keep the Welsh language and culture alive.

Most memorable experience in Swansea? A group of my flat mates, and now friends, went out exploring the beach at night in the middle of a hurricane. The wind was blowing like crazy and sand got everywhere, but I had the time of my life and will never forget that night. We ran, raced, and laughed our way down the beach, wandering further and further. On our way back we had to walk on the road because it was impossible to see on the beach at that point with the high winds and sand. There was a bunch of playground equipment along the road, apparently that is a common thing in Swansea, you could be walking down the sidewalk and all of the sudden come across some monkey bars. Me and my buddies climbed up a set of monkey bars and fooled around and chatted for a while under the stars. We were having such a good time that no one wanted to go back, so we wandered around the University gardens and finally found a bench and laid in a field watching the stars. That is about when we all became best friends, it was a night I’ll never forget.

Funniest thing that happened to you in Swansea? I don’t know if this story is funny, but it’s pretty cool how it turned out. It was one of my last weekends in the UK, near to Christmas, and I had booked a trip through a travel agency to Bath, England, to see the famous Christmas market. I had just started dating my boyfriend and asked if he wanted to go with me. I went to the travel agency front desk to see if there were any extra tickets, but they said they were booked full so he couldn’t come. However, they had recently had a complaint that no one monitored customers on the bus ride. They said they would give me my ticket for free if I checked names off a list as people entered the bus and did roll call before the bus left Bath. So I left the travel agency office with a free trip to Bath and all I had to do was tick names off a list. Best deal for a trip I’ve ever had! I was very glad that I happened to stop into that office at that exact moment in time.

What surprised you most about Swansea? I can’t say that much surprised me because I didn’t go into the exchange with wild expectations, but I can say that I’m surprised how much the city captured my heart. I’ll always have a part of me that belongs to Swansea, and I’ll be back soon.

Food you miss the most and could not get in Wales? There wasn’t a food I missed because I brought some of my homemade maple syrup with me (which I put in almost everything), but I found it odd that they put corn in sandwiches, and corn was even a topping option at subway.

What did you miss about Canada when you studied abroad? Occasionally, I missed my cat, friends, and family back home. I also missed the quiet of the wilderness because everywhere in the UK was civilized. No matter where I went it seemed like nothing was completely untouched and wild. However, there is something magical about the UK, it has another kind of beauty in that everything seems so old, taken care of, and serene.

What do you like most about studying abroad? I liked not having to worry about my grades and instead focus on the experience of being abroad. I spent most of my time throughout the week with my newfound friends, and almost every weekend I would travel to a new and exciting place with fellow exchange students. It was exhilarating to have that sense of freedom, like I could do what I want, explore new places, meet new friends, and not have the usual responsibilities like part-time work or the pressure of maintaining a high GPA. I also loved the party scene in Swansea, it was non-stop action until 4 am, especially on Wednesday (student) nights.

How many other countries did you visit when you were studying abroad? I wanted to use my time abroad to explore the UK. I travelled to Scotland, Ireland, Wales and England. There were so many towns, cities, counties, and national parks I visited that a full list wouldn’t fit here. A few of my highlights were Dublin, Belfast, Edinburgh, Nottingham, Snowdonia, Oxford, Bath, Stonehenge, London, Hereford, Mumbles, Rhossili, and Three Cliffs Bay.

What are your future plans, and has studying abroad made you change your future plans? While abroad I met my boyfriend, an English boy form Hereford, who I have now been dating for over a year. So I might be returning after I graduate to work for a couple of years. In any case, I will definitely be back in the UK this summer, there are still so many places I want to visit over there!

Do you have any advice to future students, who may wish to study abroad? Be open to all possibilities. If you’re a planner than plan, but if not then don’t worry. I didn’t make any plans before I left and that enabled me to jump on travel opportunities as they presented themselves and make plans with fellow exchange students who I met abroad. If you go abroad expecting anything then you’re sure to be pleased with the way things turn out, just make sure to take chances, jump on opportunities, put yourself out there, and be kind and friendly to as many people as possible. If things don’t end up going as you expected, then don’t worry, you are there to enjoy yourself and try something new, it will inevitably have its ups and downs, but in the end I’m sure you’ll be glad you went! My time abroad has led to some of my fondest memories and has led me to make some lifelong friendships. I would highly recommend this program to every student, whether they are a seasoned traveler or have never left the province.

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