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International Programs

United Kingdom: Swansea Student Experience

Exchange Rates
As of 08/09/2010
U.K. (Pounds)
1 USD = 0.63
1 GBP = 1.59 USD


Swansea, Wales, sits along beautiful seaside coastline and offers both small town charm and metropolitan conveniences. Shops, cafes, and pubs can be found in the busy town centre or nestled quietly among neighborhoods. With several parks, Swansea possesses beautiful landscapes and is surrounded by many sites of natural beauty. Swansea University situated comfortably in Singleton Park faces Swansea Bay. The university is compact, "divided" into two sections with Science and the Arts at each end of the campus for roughly 9,000 students. Because the campus is small, you're always running into people you know. Be forewarned that the large majority of students in Britain are 18-22 years old. This can cause adjustment difficulties for adult students. There are older students here though, so don't worry. You will also meet lots of international students as well. It is a great experience meeting people from other countries. They're often friendly and ready to find some common ground with you. Remember other foreign students are new to the University, just like you, and are ready to make friends too.


Your first 10 days in Swansea are a whirlwind of information and learning. You meet so many people both in registering for your classes and those that live around you. You will learn to read the bus timetable after staring at it for what seems like hours. You will go shopping which is an experience in itself. Foods, clothes, toiletries and candies are almost all different here and trying out new things is half the fun. The most important thing to do is simply walk around. Learn where things are, explore and you will enjoy yourself.


Academic life differs from the CSU in several ways. Most courses last all year long and you take 5-7 year-long courses to receive full credit. The length of classes depends on your department, (for example politics), classes last for only a semester. In addition to the weekly lectures you attend seminars or tutorials usually every two weeks. Seminars, groups of five to six students (sometimes 15-20, too), discuss assigned topics by the lecturer. Short papers can be required as preparation. One or two students usually dominate the discussion. Tutorials, usually five to six students, focus on specific subjects of interest to the student. In-depth discourse on the lectures may be conducted during tutorials. Everyone must prepare for those. A lot of reading is required and it is important to keep up so you won't be "swamped" at the end of the year. The coursework includes essays and seminar preparation. Tutorials are a nice addition to lectures because it gives you a chance to become more personally familiar with your professors. Professors advocate group discussion and discourage nonparticipation. You won’t always be told when tutorials/seminars are so it is a good idea to check in with your department on occasion and read the notice boards. Swansea University uses Blackboard, which will have all your class information, course documents, seminar information, and more.

Students studying Politics are not required to take exams at the end of the year. First year English has exams (i.e. theories and masters). They are assessed solely by essays. Be forewarned, English/Politics course students are required to turn in approximately four essays at the beginning of the Lent and summer terms and this can prove to be a hindrance to vacation plans. At the end of the year, there are exams in each course which are three hours long comprising of three to four essay questions. The essays are similar to term papers at home and need little documentation. They are usually three to six pages long; one per term in each course and two in the Lent term depending on one's courses. Essays for seminars are two per year per each seminar and 2,500 words. Some tutorials require 2,000 word essays as well. For students studying Psychology only one essay will be assigned for each course. Most professors are very specific about the format of your essay. Also, the Psychology department has strict guidelines for turning in essays and you will need a cover sheet for each one which is available in the general office.   There are plenty of computers on campus, at the main library and even in the 'Impressions' Cafe'. The computers use 3.5 hard discs. You can buy some at the library. Word Processing facilities are available and the University uses IBM equipment. Be prepared to wait a while to use them especially during midday. If you use the ones in the library sign up for one ahead of time. You'll have priority. There are also computers available at the Education Library, just above the student village. It is a quiet, serene place and there is hardly ever a wait.

British education emphasizes "independent" study, so tutors will help you along but are not particularly responsible for your progress. Expect much more personal contact with your instructors. English and Politics majors have little reason to stay during this period. Lectures are only 50 minutes long. Classes fill up so go to registration early and have alternative courses in mind. Classes do fill up fast but many students this year did not have to "crash" classes. The smaller English classes may provide more of a problem than the larger lectures. If an English student, expect a lot more research than at home. It gets overwhelming.

Before you leave your home campus, be sure to go over the university catalogue with your home advisor. Make a copy of your requirements for your major. Select those classes that best fit your requirements for your individual course of study, but also go over acceptable alternatives. Put this in writing and bring both your home university catalogue and the visiting university catalogue that will be sent to you. That way, you can make appropriate alternative selections if classes do fill up. Also, bring phone numbers and e-mail addresses of your home advisor, financial aid office and any other professors that you have a good relationship with. They can be an invaluable support system if you ever feel unsure about the direction and/or progress of your studies. Most of all--enjoy! The classes are enriching.

There are a natural sciences library and a general library. It can be difficult to get books for certain subjects especially when everyone in the course is doing the same topic. However, you may reserve a book and you should get it within a few days to a week. Each hall is equipped with a computer room although printers are scarce. The computers use the hard discs (3.5) so it would be good to bring 1 or 2 with you. Bring a flashdrive to save work and take to the library to print. The library staff is extremely helpful so don't be worried about asking questions. Also if you are living in the Hendrefoelan Student Village, try looking for books at the Miner’s library. It has a smaller selection, but is rarely used and easy to find books that may be checked out at the main library.

The educational experience is extremely challenging but also thoroughly enriching. Expect to do a lot of studying on your own-not at the request of your professors. It's important to be self-motivated and organized. Start your essays early; because it is easy to get caught off guard and then you're left rushing to write them before winter break or exams in the spring. Also if you start them early, most professors will go over them with you during office hours.

Teaching at Swansea is in a transition stage moving away from courses which are traditionally taught over the year to modules which are run on a semester/term basis. Under the modular system you take three modules per semester/term, up to six over the year. Students here are required to take 120 modules, that's equal to 66 credits back home.


Accommodation is available during term time only in halls, but all year round at the student village. The Christmas and Easter holidays each last for 1 month. Storage space is available (not necessary in the Village as you lock up your rooms). There are three residence halls on campus and three off-campus providing a variety of living accommodations and locales. In the catered halls, meals are expensive and not gourmet food. You can usually cook some of your meals as there are kitchens on even-numbered floors. Be forewarned that items are frequently stolen from the kitchen refrigerators. Don't bring household goods with you for they take up too much room in your suitcases. They can be purchased here at a moderate cost. You will also likely meet somebody who is willing to share. Some of the residence halls (dorms) have curfews and require you to dress for dinner. Living in Hendrefoilan Student Village is a nice experience. You live in a house with 10-12 students, both men and women. This situation can be quite noisy and dirty with only 2 bathrooms and 1 kitchen. The bus runs from Hendrefoilan Village every 15 minutes Monday-Friday to the University. In the Woodside Flats 6-7 students share 1 kitchen and 1 1/2 bathrooms. Everyone in the village has their own room. Be warned that most of the students are freshers, but in saying this, they are all nice and good for a laugh or two. There is a student pub in the village which is a great way to meet new people and socialize with mates as well! Do be aware that in Hendrefoilan, at least, doing laundry can be an adventure. There are 10 washers and 8 dryers for approximately 1700 students. Your best bet is to go at 8:30 in the morning, when the laundrette opens, and forget doing laundry on Sunday! There is also a student shop where you can get snacks or other small necessities such as bread or milk. It is reasonably priced and comes in handy if you can't get to town. You can also walk (about 15 minutes) to a small town called Killay, where they have some food stores, pubs and a drug store. You do have the option to request to live in "The Designated Quiet Area".

If there are housing problems in the student village (broken radiators or shower problems) you have to report them to the office, sometimes they take a while, so be persistent. Also if you live in the student village, buy the bus pass its cheaper than paying everyday and more convenient.

Living at Clyne Halls is nice. It's surrounded by Clyne Park and Gardens and Clyne Woods. It's a 30 minute walk from campus, but it's good exercise everyday! You can get a single room or share with 1 or 2 other people. Most of the students who live in residence halls are freshers (freshman) and some second year. It's easy to meet lots of people and make friends.

Take into account that the housing facilities for students in Swansea are not what we're used to in most parts of California. Beck Halls has one washer and dryer (new) for 7 students. One last comment, the students in the dorms are younger and can be rowdy (they are 18-19 - same as CSU).

Housing at Swansea is much cheaper then in California, it’s a good idea to pay 3 times during the year then all at once, because you might get a better exchange rate at different times.


Before departure it is wise to change a small amount of money into British currency, about 150-200£, it may be a few days before you can conveniently change money. Go to American Express at home-it's very cheap. If you have US dollars you can exchange them at the Post Office for free and the best rate. They have several different currencies available also. The banks are pretty much the same as at home. No problems exist in depositing international drafts in pounds or cashing traveler's checks. If you get personal checks, banks charge you a higher service charge. It is recommended that you use money orders or similar bank drafts in sterling. Discuss alternative means to transfer funds with your home bank before you get here and bring documentation of your bank in the U.S.--some banks need to verify that you have an account in the United States. Open an account with a British bank in the first week of your arrival. They can transfer any information to any branch in the States upon request. Check guarantee cards are easier to obtain (covering up to £50) in the UK and cash machines (ATM) adorn many offices for further convenience. Ready cash, for immediate expenses, is advisable if a bank is unavailable. Most of the banks offer the same services, but there is a Lloyds Bank on the campus with an ATM machine as well as tellers. This is very convenient. If you have a debit card, particularly a VISA one, it can be used at ATM machines here to withdraw money from your checking account back home without any extra charges. A representative of a Bank will usually go to your "orientation meeting". If any bank requires a personalized letter, the American studies representatives can assist you. Also, when getting money, consider getting large amounts so as not to add up the fees that they charge should you retrieve smaller amounts of money. Don’t forget to tell your home bank you will be out of the country and traveling. It is also a good idea to put a parent or guardian on your account as a contact in case they need to verify purchases.

The cost of living is a bit more expensive. Rent is far less than in California. Everything except small items such as candy, etc. is about 1 1/2 - 2 times the cost. Expect to spend about £200 per month for food, laundry, and living expenses; £30 to join clubs (one-time fee), £325 one-year bus pass. Remember, take into account the fluctuating exchange rate when figuring out your finances before coming over. Always assume the higher exchange rate as you have to take into consideration the fees for changing your money to £. Everyone spends their money differently--but if you stick to a budget, it all works out.


Plan on walking or riding a bike to save on fares. In comfortable, waterproof walking shoes you can get around quickly and easily. When you first get here, you may want to buy a small map of Swansea at the bookstore. Buses run from the university to town about every five to ten minutes. They are inexpensive, reliable, and convenient. Hendrefolian buses run about every 15 minutes during the week and hourly on the weekends. Bus passes can be purchased from the University Travel Shop. You can get bus passes for each term which are a good deal since you will take the bus a lot if it is raining. You may want to purchase a bus pass for the full year at £325. This saves money and is terribly convenient, plus you can use it over the holiday breaks and travel throughout Swansea. The public transportation system here is good; it just takes some getting used to. Everyone uses the bus system. Rarely do students have cars. Taxi's are also relatively inexpensive when you get three other people to share one.

Going to London on the bus (four hours) is £20 to £30 if you have a Coach card (the train costs about £25-35 if you have a rail card. Traveling on Fridays is more expensive). It is strongly recommended that you get both a Coach card (£10) and a Rail card (£25)-it will save you a lot of money (about 30%). Traveling by bus or train is pretty cheap and they have excellent service. When walking, remember pedestrians don't have the right of way-keep your eyes open.


The university has a Refectory (cafeteria), Coffee Bar, and two pubs, only one is open during the day. A post office, barber, bookshop, art gallery, laundromat, a small 7-11 type shop, and bank are on campus. Mail is delivered twice a day which is nice. It usually takes about 4-6 days to receive a letter, unless it is during holiday season, when they tend to take longer, packages take a bit longer. There is a travel agency which is convenient; they make reservations for most of your traveling needs. Special discounts are available. There is also a theater for plays, movies, concerts, and guest speakers.

Private phones have recently been installed in the Halls and Student Village. Besides personal phones, there is one pay phone in each block and scattered throughout the village. Take advantage of the 8-hour time difference between California and the U.K., and try calling home late at night or early in the morning to avoid a queue for the phones! You will need a "phone card" to operate most pay phones. "Phone cards" can be purchased from any post office or British Telephone store. A phone card is good to have just in case you don't have any spare change and can you save a bit of money. If you have a phone card from AT&T, Sprint, or MCI you should be able to use it to call home also, but not from your room. You need to purchase special prepaid calling cards here to call from your room. Do not rely on this, though. Prepaid phone cards from the U.S. do not always work! It is cheaper if you have your parents call you back. Be sure to make use of your e-mail account, which is free and will save you money on phone calls. You can make calls over the internet as well, which is free. Most people have Skype which can also be used to call landlines and cell phones from your computer at a very low cost. It’s a good idea to get a UK mobile or SIM card and get a pay as you go plan, to call friends. You can use American mobiles just make sure to have it unlocked before trying to use a new SIM card.


Swansea University is very activity oriented. There are innumerable clubs and sporting clubs to partake in. There is something going on somewhere every night of the week in a pub or club. Keep in mind that many student activities revolve around alcohol. This can take some getting used to. But there is always another option to alcohol. People won't look at you differently if you're not drinking--so have a soda. Most bars and pubs close early, around 11:00 p.m., with the exception of clubs, which are usually open until 2:00 a.m.

The Leisure Center is a ten-minute bus ride away from school (Get a "Leisure Card", because it will save you money each time). It includes hot tubs, a waterslide, wave pool, an excellent gym, badminton courts, and much more. There are loads of clubs from surfing to cave-exploring to badminton and many team sports. There is also the Sports Center, which has a pool, squash courts, and weight rooms. A special mid-day price is offered for limited services or you can become a member. The university sponsors many clubs (societies) in a wide variety of sports and group activities and will keep you occupied all year. Expect to spend anywhere from £3-£15 to join each club. It may seem like a lot at first, but it pays off. Take advantage of the many inexpensive trips to sights in England, you'll be glad you did. Joining a society is a great way to meet people. The hiking club offers special deals and plans trips throughout Wales.

For local sights, Swansea is located right "down the street" from one of the most gorgeous coastlines around, the Gower. It's a 30-minute bus ride (on top of a double decker!) and there's a lot to see. Pennard Castle (Norman) is one of many castles around South Wales. Cardiff is also only a one-hour bus trip costing about £4 to £8 day return. It's great to go shopping there for a change and there are quite a few sights to see such as Cardiff Castle and the Maritime Museum. There are also great performances at the "New Theatre" like Shakespeare and various musicals. Even if you buy the inexpensive seats in the back (£8), you still have a great view.


Expect to be teased about your "accent" because believe it or not, Californians do have accents. Don't worry, everyone will understand you, but you may experience difficulty with some English and Welsh dialects. In a short time, you will become accustomed to the speech, jargon, and expressions of the U.K. Don't go out of your way to fit in; the locals are friendly, so relax and be yourself. People are really friendly towards people from California here and you can strike up a conversation simply by opening your mouth and talking. Learning the slang is great fun too. Keep in mind that many people do not have positive images of America and Americans. However there are many people here who will come to your defense and are eager to learn about where you’re from. You may have to go out of your way to show that you are not a walking stereotype from a movie. Try not to become defensive about misconceptions--politely inform people. To that end, don't be a stereotype. Keep an open mind and shut up about how great everything is in America. You may find out you learn more about your own culture and national identity than you do at home.


Bring sweaters, jeans, sweatshirts, gloves, and a good, waterproof coat. But not too much! You'll find that you can wear the same things over again. It is cold, chilly, and wet, so keeping warm is foremost. There are nice days, too, so bring T-shirts and yes, even shorts. After all, Swansea is near some of the best beaches in Britain. It's also important to bring some "dress-up" clothes. Most of the nightclubs require (except on "student night") that "smart" dress be worn which basically means no jeans or sneakers (trainers). However, there is at least one "student night" every day of the week so you won't find yourself in "smart" clothes too often. Clyne Hall does have a formal ball once a year. You will also need sturdy boots or shoes for lots of walking. When packing, rolling your clothes does save room. We suggest a waterproof backpack so your books, etc. don't get wet. You should bring a bathrobe, slippers and thongs (to use in showers here or when traveling; you don't want to catch athletes foot, etc.); a small battery operated travel alarm clock which you can also use on vacations.

Don't bring too much. You'll find the dress is very casual and practical. Try not to bring "dry clean only" things. You'll find you want to spend you money on better things.

Many students get sick (i.e. the flu) within their first couple of weeks here due to various germs they are not used to being exposed to...so bring your favorite cold medicine and Vitamin C. Contac is available here but no Chloraseptic, Alka Seltzer Plus Cold Medicine, Thera-Flu, NyQuil or Aleve. It's a good thing to get one to help protect you against the usual winter flu epidemic. Also no need to bring Advil, cough medicine or Q-tips. Most of these things are available. Don't weigh your suitcase with these things. Most local drug stores and "chemists"/pharmacists carry anything you need. People are very helpful. You just need to ask. Sometimes American brands are available but at a more expensive price, find a cheaper local equivalent.

When you travel, it's a good idea to bring Pepto-Bismol, etc. Adjustments to unfamiliar food and water can cause problems.

You can rent things such as squash racquets at the Sports Centre for a minimal charge. Also, there are sales where you can pick things up such as tennis racquets for £15.

DON'T BRING HAIRDRYERS, ETC.!!! Even with adapters, they don't work! Some radios/stereos also do not work with adapters. Stereos can be purchased for as little as £29.00.

If you bring a walkman, bring batteries because they are expensive here. Don't buy an adapter! Wait until you get here. The Swansea Market place in town can help you with most American/British conversion equipment.

  • A money belt
  • Pictures of family and friends
  • A few small decorations for your room, to make it like home (or wait until you get here and decorate your room with the 'local" things).
  • First Aid Kit
  • Bring vitamins and take them!
  • Don't bring notebooks or notebook paper, paper size is different and it will take up too much space
  • A coat with a hood. It is often windy; when it rains the strong wind won't allow you to use your umbrella. It will get turned inside out or be difficult to close.
  • A bathing suit, goggles
  • Ziplock bags
  • Thumbtacks to pin things on your notice board (bulletin board), foldup scissors (in the Village they do not allow tacks on your walls. You can find "bluetack" here or bring some from home for those first few pictures you want on your walls.
  • Laundry bag
  • Pocket calculator (for figuring our expenses and currency conversions)
  • In the village they provide a pillow, fitted sheet, duvet and duvet cover for £25. . You need to bring your own towels. The linens are not great so if you can wait to go into town, you can buy cheaper and better quality stuff.
  • A world map; you'll find your geography will improve over here! (you can purchase here).
  • A journal and discipline yourself to write in it often. You will appreciate it later!

It is good to use airmail paper/stationary. You can buy some at home or at any bookshop or student shop on campus. You can save lots of money using them.


The people at the American Studies office are really helpful so don't worry about adjusting to life here. If you have a question, they are there to help you. Go see them because they're very helpful!

Remember, Swansea is in Wales, and the Welsh are proud of their heritage and you will be fascinated, (not to mention confused) by the language.

Take the opportunity to travel around whenever you can, because time goes much faster here than if you were at your home university. This is your year, so make the most of it!

Relax and have fun! You might be really homesick in the beginning but it will pass. It's up to you to make the most of your experience here so take advantage of every opportunity.

Getting out helps the homesickness, the busier you are the less you notice.

Bring gloves and a warm hat that stays on your head in case the gales decide to eat your umbrella.

Everyone will want your picture at Swansea! It's a good idea to bring about 5 passport-size photos, which you will use for registration, halls of residence, joining societies (clubs), etc. There are photograph machines on campus as well. (Recommend bringing a couple and taking the rest on campus. They are about £2 for 2 pictures (at home they're usually $8 for one!!). You can color copy them-10 pictures for 65 pence.

Britain is 8 hours ahead of California. They have daylight savings time about the same time.

It might seem strange and different at first, but everyone is usually really friendly. Don't be afraid to ask questions. There is always something to do or see that the time will fly, and you'll think a year isn't long enough. Feel free to invite people over, cook a meal. Many international students are interested in the cultural differences (i.e Mexican food, Chinese).

"Business hours" here can de disconcerting. Most businesses are open from 9:00-5:00, with a long lunch break. The student store at the Village is open from 8:30 a.m. - 9:00 p.m. This can take some getting used to. In the beginning you may want to spend lots of time with other program students or Americans, but don't be afraid to forge friendships with non-Americans.

If you focus on the things Swansea doesn't have you'll never be happy. Remember you're leaving California to find something new and different--otherwise why leave California? Besides, there is so much culture to experience.

Remember, all changes take time to get used to and we go through several stages in the process. Just keep in mind that California and "home" will always be there--so why not make Swansea a home away from home.

Food is slightly different here. If you have favorite foods, consider bringing small portions with you (i.e. CHEEZITS, macaroni & cheese, peanut butter, any other American foods). Bring different sized clothing as your weight will fluctuate, with new eating/drinking habits.

This is the time to step out of your comfort zone and get to know people. Don’t be afraid to start talking to someone on the bus, for example, as you may forge a new friendship that way. People are very friendly and outgoing here.