These used to be my Dreams…and I already made it!

My name is Huy Sambath. I am currently undertaking a 6-month undergraduate exchange at the University of Minho, Portugal, under the Erasmus Mundus Swap and Transfer Project sponsored by the European Union. With passion and a fixed goal in mind, over the past 5 months I have been enriched with tons of experience, academically, professionally and culturally.

This is my very first time studying abroad for this length of time, and in a western land rich in culture, history, architecture, tradition and developments. To my surprise, EU classrooms are not so different from those at UC; teachers use slide presentations, give lectures, and students ask questions. However, the EU classroom is a bit more interactive and dynamic. The workload is not that heavy, but requires intensive reading

and research in the library. In terms of school regulations, students are
given more freedom to behave freely in the class, such as coming late to class, doing research, finishing assignments, and so on, while attendance is still compulsory. The school environment is big and natural, fully equipped with other facilities for students such as a sport center, library, football pitch, and the like. With the usual temperature of 17 degrees Celsius during my stay, I have found studying here very enjoyable.

Despite those good things, I have also encountered some challenges whilst studying in this completely new learning environment. Since my friend and I are the first two international students admitted to this department, some courses are not yet available in English. Hence, I have to take classes lectured in Portuguese, while struggling to take a Portuguese course to complement my studies. However, I am constantly supervised by lecturers; and they always give reading material in English to compensate. I am also exempted from some forms of activities or assessments which require Portuguese proficiency. As a matter of fact, food has also posed problems for me during my stay here. People here eat bread and coffee most of the time. Cheese and ham are very common and can be found in every bakery and canteen. Because I do not really like cheese, I prefer to cook my own dishes most of the time. Adapting to a new learning culture is also a concern. The relationship between teachers and students is quite casual and friend-like, so it is awkward for me as an Asian who was taught to have high respect for seniority when communicating with them. Professors here, for instance, would shake my hand, invite me for a drink and sit with me to discuss general topics.

Regarding what I love about living here, Portuguese people are some of the best people I have ever met. They are kind, helpful, very friendly, and easy-going. They always smile, offer help and pay respect to everyone they meet. For my first day here, I was surprised when a middle-aged man smiled and opened the door for me while I was hurrying to class and carrying a lot of things. Furthermore, the environment here is absolutely wonderful with very fresh air, orderly traffic, and nice temperatures. Security is never a problem. Means of transportation such as buses, trains and the Metro are fast, cost effective and safe. Moreover, the standard of living here is very affordable. Despite being an EU country, I can still find a 0.5 Euro cup of cof-fee, 13 Euro quality shirt, and 4 Euro per kilogram of chicken meat. The last thing I like about living here is the opportunity to travel economically around Europe. Flights are cheap, and sometimes you could even book a 5 Euro ticket to fly from Portugal to Spain. Such convenience has enabled me to travel to 7 other countries during my stay, namely France, Spain, Italy, Hungary, Switzerland, the Netherlands, and Germany.

I feel so fortunate to be here experiencing a new, independent life with an exotic view of nature, an-cient architecture, diverse culture, modern infrastructure and western development, not only in Portugal, but in other EU countries as well. I climbed to the very top of the Eiffel Tower in Paris, France. I stood in front of the Coliseum in Rome, Italy. I visited the real Madrid FC’s Santiago Bernabeu Stadium in Spain. I have even flown on a total of more than 20 flights. These things used to be my dreams, but now I can proudly say I have accomplished them.