International Students

International Student Stories #1 - From Bucharest to Leeds

International Student Stories #1 - From Bucharest to Leeds

High School in Romania

I studied at the best high school in the country, St. Sava National College in Bucharest. I hated it. If in secondary school I was a rather obedient student, in high school I rebelled.

At the time the Romanian educational system was built upon the rubble of communism, you’d stand up when the teacher enters the class and respectfully greet him/her, but mixed with the most crude capitalist values, such as bribing the Chemistry teacher with expensive perfume just before exam times.

Most of my high school years I spent in the cinemas, music theatres, cafes etc. I volunteered for music, film and art festivals, environmental projects etc. Bucharest had plenty of culture to offer to a bored teenager.

Making the Decision To Study in UK

However, I had to get out of it. I couldn't live with my parents anymore and I totally disliked the Romanian educational system.

In an elitist high school such as mine it was fashionable that students would study abroad; especially after Romania entered the EU. It all became a rather easy procedure and I was able to arrange it all myself.

I chose to study in the UK simply because English was my best second language, I had already passed my CAE exam (which was mandatory for applying), and because I loved the Beatles.

I enrolled myself to five courses that had as little to do with science as possible, since after eight years of being force fed Maths, Chemistry and Physics, I was brain dead. So, this is how I ended up studying Creative Advertising at Leeds College of Art.

Somewhere in August 2010 I flew from Bucharest to London with two oversized suitcases, then took a National Express bus to Leeds, from where I took a taxi to Mary Morris International Accommodation and settled in my 9m2 room.

Living in Leeds as an International Student

I loved Leeds.

Ok, the ‘drunk rabbits’ were a cultural shock, but other than that the city was charming. ‘Drunk rabbits’ is the name a Dutch housemate gave to English students dressed up in ridiculous costumes like rabbits, (sexy) Disney characters, old people etc. doing pub crawls, falling drunk around 5pm (international students would only start drinking after dinner, around 9-10pm). When I first arrived in Leeds, it was already autumn cold; I was wearing a thick jacket and a scarf. I soon noticed though, that for the English ladies, the summer is a state of mind, not just a season, mini-skirts can stand the strong wind and high heels sandals can tackle the snow.

I was creeped out the first few times that old men approached me to ask ‘Are you alright love?’ or ‘Can I help you love’, but soon realised it’s an absolutely normal Yorkshire thing that everybody calls everybody ‘love’.

I was lucky enough to live in an accommodation full of international students (about 150 in total); living abroad, alone, far from my homeland was suddenly exciting instead of scary, because you were not the only one. We cooked together, we had parties together, we laughed and chatted all day, went to the pub or walked to uni together.

Uni life itself was socially a little more challenging, since I was the only international student in my class (in the entire course actually). I remember one day when I was walking back home from uni together with an English classmate, we saw some ponies/ horses in the park. I exclaimed something like ‘How cute’, then my classmate asks ‘Are there any horses in Romania?’. I was asked lots of ridiculous questions by classmates: ‘What language do you speak in Romania, French?’, ‘Is Transylvania a country?’, ‘Is there electricity in Romania?’ etc. (no joking).

Studying At Leeds College Of Art

I thought the teachers to be amazing. You could casually approach them on a first name basis, and they gave full support and helpful advice. Same for the classes, both theory and practice, I fully enjoyed them and missed none.

Around Christmas and Easter time the art college took all the international students (about 20 in the whole school) for a dinner out. This was a very nice and thoughtful initiative, which I very much appreciated.

In the second year of my studies I moved to a smaller, quieter accommodation, a pretty house with 13 students. Also, a Marry Morris property for international students. I enjoyed this too, it was closer to uni, the forest was close, and we had baby foxes living in our basement.

I also made a lot of friends in the art school, both English and international, through the Leeds Active Arts initiative. This was a project started by students from Visual Communication, which brought art students together to help the community through crafts, art and design.

In the third year I went on the Erasmus exchange programme, I went for one semester in the Netherlands, in Breda, to do Graphic Design at AKV St. Joost Art College. I happily returned to the UK though to finish my final project and my thesis, as I thought the English were a lot more cheerful and friendlier than the Dutch.

Since Graduating From Leeds College of Art

A year later after I graduated from Leeds College of Art, I went on to do my MA in Multimedia Design at KASK Academy in Gent, Belgium, where I still live in a tiny house, together with my Dutch partner, our cheerful cocker spaniel and a fat cat.

After finishing my MA, I started a small business designing and making things from recycled glass and wood, which I am still busy with today. (See my business instagram here: Het Glas Dorp)

Though life in Belgium has treated me well for the past four years, I hope someday to return to live in the UK, where I can drink my black tea with milk and nobody will think I’m weird.

Written by
Bianca Apostol

Studied BA in Creative Advertising at Leeds College of Art (now the Leeds Arts University) in 2010 and graduated in 2013.