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Going abroad during your bachelor: Astronomy courses in Greece

19 February 2018

Astronomy bachelor´s student Thijs Stockmans spent his minor at the Greek island of Crete for five months, enabled by the Erasmus+ Programme. Read all about his experience abroad.


By Thijs Stockmans

Erasmus+ programme

Why would you like to go abroad? For me it was simple: curiosity. I was curious to living completely independent, surrounded by a completely new environment. Luckily, I could combine this with the continuation of my academic career through the Erasmus+ programme. This European Union programme enables students to spent time abroad within Europe through exchange agreements, covering the recognition of activities abroad for study progress.

The University of Crete - the white building in the background is the Physics department.
The University of Crete - the white building in the background is the Physics department.

University of Crete

I oriented myself by talking with both the Astronomy and Physics study advisors, the coordinator of the International Office of the Faculty of Science and my close friends and family. I learned that the responsibility of going abroad was fully on me, but that everyone was willing to help a great deal. I went through the list of universities covered by the agreements of the Faculty of Science with my own list of requirements in mind: English classes of interest, not too close, not too expensive. From those I chose the one which looked most appealing and arrived at the University of Crete.

Course list

Based on the courses on offer at the University of Crete and in close consideration with the Astronomy study advisor, I put together a list of courses to follow abroad. This step was important, as the courses had to be agreed upon by the Astronomy Board of Examiners in order to be accepted for my Astronomy bachelor's programme. My list included the following courses:

  • Astrophysics III (similar to the Leiden Astronomy bachelor's course Radiative Processes)
  • Techniques of LASER spectrometry
  • From quarks to the universe (overview course on physics and a bit on astronomy)
  • Gravity and Cosmology
  • Molecular Biophysics

Roommates

Arranging all aspects for my adventure abroad took some effort. Then I prepared to leave. I packed my bags and went on the plane three weeks before the start of the courses. The Erasmus Student Network helped me to arrange a house in Crete's capital Heraklion and one of their members even picked me up from the airport. When she left me, I was where I had worked for: in an unknown city, surrounded by strangers. On my first day I wandered through the city and got lost. However, this changed with the arrival of my roommates. They showed me around and helped me find my way. This is how my five month adventure started, eventually ending with lots of friends from all around the world and memories never to be forgotten.

Courses in Greek

The university presented some more bureaucratic challenges to overcome. For example, the courses of my choice turned out to be given in Greek or not given at all. I asked the professors of all courses whether they could teach in English and added an extra course to my list. All professors were very approachable and willing to cooperate. Three of the four professors were happy to teach their course in English. However, one was forced to do it in Greek after the first lecture on request of the Greek students. This meant that I could follow classes for three courses and had English books to study for the rest. Whenever needed, I could rely on the help of the professor. As a result, I have completed 30 EC in my own field at a univeristy abroad without any delay in my bachelor's programme.

A hike towards Skinakas Observatory with Ida Psiloritis (Mount Ida) in the background.
A hike towards Skinakas Observatory with Ida Psiloritis (Mount Ida) in the background.

Warm winters

Studying abroad is not only about study. At least every weekend I rented a car with different people and discovered the island. It rarely rains and the sun shines bright even in January, resulting in a winter temperature of around 20 degrees Celsius. In September, the temperature is around 27 degrees and the tourists are slowly leaving, making it a perfect time to discover the beaches. From December, the mountains will be snowed over, resulting in stunning views.

Sightseeing

Any outdoor activity you can imagine can be done in Crete. I hiked a great deal, but also did some rock-climbing, canyoning and snorkeling. There is a lot of history with the 3000 year old civilisation of the Minoans. When you're fed up with Crete, the breathtaking island of Santorini or vibrant city of Athens are within reach. Life is extremely versatile, cheap and fun. However, I had to lend more money since the Erasmus+ grant alone wasn't enough to live from, but with the help of DUO I managed to arrange this without huge debts.

Greek people

The people in Greece are generally relaxed and easy to talk to - unless in a car, then they are very dangerous. When you go to a restaurant, the prices are very low compared to The Netherlands and you'll always get complimentary raki (a local drink) and dessert. Good conversations are easy, especially when you try some of your best Greek. The people have their flaws (who doesn’t), but are also proud enough to acknowledge and embrace them.

Valuable experience

Spending part of your studies abroad through the Erasmus+ programme will make sure that you get into contact with people from around the world. I got to know people from India to Malaysia, from Spain to Lithuania and from Sweden to Jordan. I tripled my Spanish vocabulary and learned how to cook Indian food. By far the best memories I took home are with the new people I met. Although I've now fallen in a bit of a cliché, I see the truth in it. This was a true enrichment of mind and soul, which I recommend for everyone.

Balos beach in the west of Crete. Very touristic in Summer, but deserted from October
Balos beach in the west of Crete. Very touristic in Summer, but deserted from October

Inspired?

Participation in the Erasmus+ programme allows you to go abroad as part of your studies. If you are inspired by the story of Thijs, please make sure to read all details on studying abroad during your Astronomy bachelor's programme.

Studying abroad during your Astronomy bachelor's

Share your experience

Are you an Astronomy bachelor's student and do you want to share your experience abroad? Contact the Astronomy PR Coordinator at pr-education@strw.leidenuniv.nl. In your message, shortly describe the relation of your experience abroad with the Astronomy bachelor's programme.

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