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Erasmus in Portsmouth, tips and tricks

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Let's continue our tour of European cities with all the tips provided by people who spent their Erasmus year there. After Budapest, here you have a unique report of Portsmouth, the little seaside village in the UK. Our host this week is Antoine aka Antuan, co-author of Babelyon blog.

Finding a place to stay: the uni helps you but life is expensive

I arrived in Portsmouth one week before the term start, with my backpack as only friend. I was helped from the very beginning by the university: free minibus transfer from the train station to the temporary accommodation in a seaside campus, private room at a fair price (about

£15 a night), house-hunting day with free phone and buses to the city centre, advice on housing contracts, etc. Everything was organised and planned by the foreign students department. The only thing I had to take care of was making friends, which was easy since most EU students opted for the Uni temporary accommodation offer.

Nevertheless, even helped by the Uni, finding a nice place to stay in Portsmouth isn't hassle-free. It depends where you want to live.

Portsmouth being an island city, it is densely populated. The City Centre where the main campus is located isn't very attractive.

Portsmouth is the home of the Royal Navy (see original marines in the above picture) and, hence, suffered heavy bombings during WWII. Although some historic buildings remain, much of the centre is "a product of myopic and uninspired postwar development" as the Lonely Planet puts it.

Therefore many students choose to live in the nearby chill-out seaside resort of Southsea. I myself ended up in a gorgeous three-storey Victorian house a short walk from the seafront. Nonetheless I was probably the luckiest of my friends. Virtually all of them lived in terraced houses in and around Albert Road, Southsea.

Continental Europeans must know that living in the UK is costly. As a means of comparison, I paid more or less the same for my shared room in Portsmouth (a middle-sized city) as for my flat in Lyon (France second-biggest city).

Portsmouth University: beware of the Chinese box

I studied two years at Portsmouth University (BSc and MSc). I'm overall happy with the education provided. A great variety of subjects was available. In France I struggled (and failed) to find a Internet degree which wasn't IT only whereas in Portsmouth I could choose between e-learning, creative technologies, e-commerce, etc. But beware of the all-powerful finance department! They seem to have forgotten that their "clients" are students and not senior executive managers.

Make sure that the degree you're interested in is attended by British students. This may sound awkward but some degrees are marketed for the foreign market (tuition fees for non-EU students are three times higher) and directly sold abroad by Portsmouth Uni overseas offices.

Unfortunately for many of these degrees, derogatively nicknamed 'Chinese box', the teaching is not up to the standard it should be.

Places: jogging, beers & the Isle of Wight

1. As Portsmouth is so compact, one often wants to escape. My fave destination is the Isle of Wight, a 10min hovercraft ride from Southsea.

Once on the island, head to the village of Seaview, follow a seaside footpath southwards into the woods and you'll find yourself in one of the most beautiful beaches I know.

2. If you like jogging, the seafront is the perfect spot. Unlike Brighton's, Portsmouth beaches are separated from the city by a vast green space, Southsea Common. So while running you'll enjoy the view on the Isle of Wight without being annoyed by the traffic.

3. On a sunny day, get yourself a beer and watch the ships going in and out the harbour from Old Portsmouth walls.

Partying: don't tell people too early!

There are many places where to go out in Portsmouth. Forget Gunwharfs quays, a former Navy site turned commercial precinct, it is way too chainy. Give Guildhall walk in the City Centre a try. You'll find out that the best pub around is the Registry.

In Southsea, the seafront is lined with clubs. My favourite is the raucous Chaos on South Parade pier. About 10min from there, Albert Road is good fun: great pubs (Festings), bars (One-eyed dog, Wine vaults), curries and music for gig-goers (Wedgewood rooms).

However EU students prefer the cheaper and more international house parties. When organising one, remember this: don't tell people too early. Word of mouth is very efficient amongst foreign students. For the first party we threw, we told about 20 people a week in advance. Hundred came!

My feeling: a brilliant Erasmus village

Portsmouth might not be pretty but it is a brilliant Erasmus city.

You'll learn to love Southsea: the seafront, the pubs and above all the student life. In Portsmouth no need to take the tube to meet your new friends. A student village within the town!

Pictures by Antoine