domingo, 11 de mayo de 2008

Erasmus Report

I copy pasted my Erasmus report for Industrial Design.
Figured I should at least have one post that was relevant to fellow students coming to Valencia. If you don´t study design or you´re not planning to come to Valencia, this will probably bore the fuck out of you. The funnier blog entries are at the back of the archive. I´m just fulfilling my duty.

Choosing to go to Valencia on Erasmus is an easy choice to make.
The agreements between our faculty and theirs is very good, so it´s practically only a matter of saying Yes.
However, information is hard to get by. The international office either doesn´t know or doesn´t bother to tell you what you need to do in preparing your exchange. Talk a lot with other students, for someone is bound to know something more than you. I don´t exactly remember all it took to get there. Know that administration is something you´ll have to deal with a lot, both before and once you´re there. Nothing is insolvable, it just requires a lot of time, patience and paperwork. You´ll be told it´s part of the Erasmus experience, but that´s only because they haven´t done anything about it yet. Valencia requires no portfolio. However, you´ll have to register yourself and the classes you want to take on thist website:
Don´t expect too much from the mentor that they will assign to you. I only met mine once, and by the time I did, I already knew more than her about how to find a room (I already had one) and how the classes worked.

The smartest decision I have ever made on erasmus, was to take the 2-weeks intensive language class in Gandia before starting the year in Valencia. Most of my closest friends here, even after a year, I have met in Gandia. It is the easiest way to immediately meet people. Not to mention learning a good deal of spanish. And, an easy way to find a place to stay in Valencia while taking the class in Gandia. The intensive class costs 170euros, and a shared flat there (with 3 other erasmus students) costs 180 euros for two weeks. It is an excellent way to start the year; class in the morning, beach in the afternoon and party at night. Definitely a good deal. The international office in Gandia is very helpful, much more than the other offices you´ll bump in to.

I my opinion, the courses offered by the faculty of industrial design in Valencia are not worth it. It might be something for you if you´re in your second year of bachelor, but don´t expect the level to be any higher. The problem with ETSID (IDE faculty) is that they are a technical university, so don´t expect very creative and conceptual design. At the same time, their level is much lower than in Delft. Which means you´re stuck with classes that are similar to Delft, but on a very basic level.
The classes I´ve tried out at ETSID are the following:

Grafismo (semester A)
This class still uses Macromedia´s Freehand. This program is on its way to extinction ever since Adobe bought Macromedia, and is replacing Freehand by the now much more potent Illustrator CS3. The teaching goes very slow, starting with a long introduction into Freehand, I didn´t stick around long enough to see where it goes, because it coincided with another class I ended up taking. The teacher seemed good enough, just the level of the class, like most others, that was low. Understand that most of the classes you´ll be taking are electives, which means even no one takes them very seriously to begin with.

Diseno de sistemas expositivos (semester B)
This comes down to Exposition Design. It sounded very cool at first. Each week, you go to another museum and analyze it. But again, the class is given at such a basic level, that even an interesting field like exposition design becomes boring and a waste of time. The teachers don´t ask much from the students, the students don´t bother to do much either, and the project only kicks into gears in the last two months, leaving you with little time to design anything worth putting in your portfolio.

There are few other classes at ETSID that are worth mentioning. Most students I know either took Habitat or Diseno for Occio (Design for leisure). From talking to other students, I got the same impression as ever: The classes are given at a very low level, with little commitment from the teachers to get anything seriously done with it. My general experience tells me that the whole design faculty of valencia is equivalent to our second bachelor year. So, if you are in already in your master, you might want to reconsider your choice.

However, Valencia has a lot to offer, but it´s not going to be easy. Most of the classes that are worth it are actually being given at the faculty of Bellas Artes (Fine Arts). Except for Photography, which is given at both faculties, but I know little about this class, except that it is very popular and not too demanding. The classes at Bellas Artes are given on a yearly basis (as opposed to semesters, in ETSID) but most teachers will give you the credits for one semester is you only stay as long.

The classes I took at Bellas Artes are the following

There are a few graphic design classses at Bellas Artes that are interesting. If I had to recommend only one, it would be Autoedicion. The teacher is very good, demands the best out of every student, gives great feedback and knows her stuff. The only detail is that they still use Quark Xpress instead of InDesign, but this should change by 2008, from what the teacher told me. I have had an excellent time there and found it very learnful. However, this class is extremely popular. Which means that Spanish students from Bellas Artes get priority. Then, Spanish students from Seneca (an internal spanish exchange program) get priority. Then, the Erasmus students from Bellas Artes. And finally, at the bottom of the pyramid, is us, IDE students on erasmus. It´s a class worth fighting for, but it won´t be easy. I ultimately managed to convince the teacher to let me be in her class, even though I wasnt´t on the list. She was so busy that she could only give me feedback during her after-class visiting hours. But, if you´re serious about learning graphic design, this is th place to be, hands down.

Fundaments of animation (fundamentos de animacion)
You´ll probably read in most other reports, that Animation is a great class. And it´s true. Don´t get confused by the name of the class. There is one that is given in Spanish, and another one that is given in English. Besides these two classes, there is Animacion and Animation, which are the second level, if you will. I strongly recommend the english class called fundaments of animation. Maria, the teacher, is very nice and accepting of students, even if you are not on the list. She is a passionate teacher. Classes involve exercices to introduce animation (such as bouncing balls) but evolve quite fast into more advanced matters such as walking cycles. All of the exercices are usually done by hand drawing. Most classes will involve some theory, some time to work on the exercices and also watching a looooot of animation videos. It´s a time consuming class, but it´s surely worth it. Probably the coolest class there is to take in Valencia. Even if you don´t like drawing a lot, or if you´re not that good at it, like I am. It´s completely different from drawing classes at IO. Very fun indeed. It´s also a great class to meet other erasmus students.

Escultura Digital - Diseno asistido por ordenador
This class is basically about learning 3D Studio Max, which the teacher is an expert of. The year starts with taking some tutorials from the help file fo the program, and then each student can work on whatever project he wants. Most people design a character which they end up animating and rendering. Others model architectural scenes and render those. I spent quite some time trying to import solidworks files to 3D Studio Max and render them from there, which doesn´t always work nicely. I have to say that 3D Studio Max is quite a counterintuitive program. It seems to be one of the industry standards, but I really don´t like it. Luckily, the teacher is very nice. You are allowed to choose any other 3D program you want. Some went for Maya, or Blender, it´s all good. I would by far recommend learning Maya, which seems to be way more intuitive, and more similar to Solidworks in interface. The teacher tends to mumble a bit, but he´s very nice and will repeat everything if needed.

Instalaciones Interactivas y Redes
nobody had told me about this class, and I discovered it almost by accident. This class is the closest thing to Design for Interaction I found. Basically, you learn to use Flash in order to make interactive instalations or websites. It does involve some programmation as you learn to use ActionScript, but only in basic ways. It´s a good class to be introduced to Flash. The teacher is really good and motivating. It´s the only class where I felt like on the cutting edge of what´s being done today in interactive art. Not because of the equipment available, but because the teacher encourages you to try something new. There´s a real sense of experimentalism in this class, which I liked a lot. The teacher was a bit hard to understand at first, but it´s worth it.

I did not take this class, but I heard a lot of good about it. The teacher seems to be a kind of guru that knows everything about every program, like After Effects, Premiere, Final Cut Pro etc. I wish I had known about this class before, because I would surely have taken it. It seems After Effects is definitely a kick ass program. This class is also great for meeting erasmus students.

A general advice about taking classes at Bellas Artes:
It will not be easy. They are overloaded with erasmus students, and usually, there are only 5 places available for erasmus students per class. Classes like Escultura Digital and Instalaciones Interactivas seem to be not too popular, but other classes might be hard to get into if you´re not from Bellas Artes. Don´t expect the international office at Bellas Artes to even want to talk to you. They are VERY mean when they discover you´re not from Bellas Artes. However, you can alway talk to the teacher. Since you don´t have to bring back so many credits, you can afford to take classes even without receiving credits for it. Some classes at Bellas Artes are surely worth it. My advice is to take a class such as escultura digital for the credits, and that should alread be enough. For the rest, make the best out of the chance to take radically different classes from one of Spain´s best Fine Arts Universities.

I got the Erasmus grand of approx. 200 euro´s a month, which was no problem at all.
You get 80% of it at the beginning of the year, and hopefully the 20 other percents when I give in this report.
Spain isn´t particularly cheaper or more expensive. You do go out more, which generally makes you spend more money, but eating out is cheaper than in Delft. You can eat at a tapas bar and spend little more than 10 euros. Transportation is cheap as well, if you buy the 10-trips tickets. I found it hard to find a student job here, especially in the beginning when my spanish wasn´t great yet. The best place to look for a job are internet cafes (called Locutorios) which pay very little but are usually looking for someone. I did hear-see erasmus students working for bars. Either as a bartender, or distributing tickets for free drinks or free entrances. Ask the popular erasmus bars about a job, they should have something.

Finding a place to sleep in valencia is not too hard. It does help a lot if you speak some spanish. The best place to find a place to sleep is by checking either of these two websites:
Valencia - Loquo
Or the UPV´s own website

Don´t waste your time going in the streets looking at signs on lampposts, it´s time consuming and by the time you read a particular sign, a 100 other students or so will have done the same. it´s easier to regularly check the website and call early on recent ads.
Prices of flats have risen lately, so expect to pay about 250 euros (all costs included) on a small room.
Some areas, like Benimaclet, are cheaper. It´s a matter of luck as well.
The best areas to live in are: Around Plaza Xuquer, in the Carmen, Benimaclet, and in the sidestreets of Blasco Ibanez, nearer to the city centre than the beach. Although it sounds great, it´s really a bad idea to live near the beach. Not only are the neighbourhoods there generally bad, but they are also far from everything. Most of the nightlife is concentrated around Blasco Ibanez and El Carmen (in the city centre). There is an excellent tram connection to the beach, so even if you live in say, Benimaclet, reaching the beach is a piece of cake. Actually, the best palce to live in is somewhere in between the city centre and the university. I personally lived on Plaza Xuquer for 210 euros all included, and I consider myself very lucky to live there. My piece of advice: don´t be too picky about your room. If it´s affordable, in a good location, and your housemates look ok, take it. I lost a room by thinking I could find better, and by the time I had made up my mind, it was already hired. You can find a room within 3 days of intensive search, but it´s more a question of adjusting your standards than really finding the room.

In Spain they speak Spanish. Don´t expect to count on your english for long. it will only take you so far. The sooner you speak spanish, the better. And the better you talk Spanish, the sooner you´ll get everything there is to get out of your experience abroad. I strongly recommend taking a spanish class at TBM before arriving. It´s also a good idea to take that intensive spanish class, and to continue to invest in your spanish throughout the year. The culture in Spain is a bit different from Holland. People don´t really take siesta´s like you imagine, but shops do close between 14.00 and 17.00 (except for supermarkets and chainstores). People eat very late at night, easily 23.00 o´clock, but you get used to that. The nightlife also start later. I don´t find it hard to get used to the spanish way of life. Administration tends to run a bit slower, but it´s nothing dramatic. You´ll find that people are warmer here, the relationship between teacher and student is closer at Bellas Artes and strangers will be more inclined to talk to each other. The hardest thing will probably be to penentrate the spanish student community somehow. That´s why I recommend moving in with spanish students that you would get along with. Don´t wait too long to speak to other students in class and invite them along on your nights out. They´re as curious about the erasmus students as you are about spanish. You´ll inevitably make good friends with erasmus students, but don´t give up on the spanish students. I can consider a few spanish students good friends now, and it´s a great achievement.

Valencia is a great city to spend your erasmus free time. As a student city, it rocks. There is not shortage of bars, cafes nightclubs, cheap restaurants, alternative cinemas and flamenco performances. Although you´ll quickly get to know the typical erasmus hangouts, here are a few gems I collected:
Bohemian cafe near Plaza Xuquer for the coolest drinks menu
El Kiosko behind La Lonja for the cheapest, most local tapas you´ll ever find in the Carmen
Black Note Club on mondays for cool impro jam sessions of blues on calle Polo y Peyrolon
The IVAM museum has great modern art exhibitions that are regularly renewed
1000 Montaditos for a cool snack in town on plaza de la reina
Bodega Fila on Calle Manuel Candela for cheap tapas with lots of erasmus students, full every night already at 8
The Albatros and Babel cinemas that do NOT dub their (european) movies in spanish
The Kibbutz hairdresser on calle Bolseria in ther carmen for kick-ass haircuts
El Tucan on Calle Polo y Peyrolon gives salsa classes on tuesdays at eleven

Valencia is perfectly located to travel around Spain. At only a few hours from Madrid and Barcelona, it´s easy to visit around. The cheapest way to reach anything in Spain is with buscompanies, but trains are not too much more expensive either. Expect to pay 20 euros to reach Madrid by bus. Make use of the bigger holidays to rent a car and visit Andalusia with a bunch of friends. RyanAir flies really really cheap to Porto, Portugal, so that´s definitely a good idea. But you don´t have to look that far for interesting places to visit. Small villages around Valencia such as Sagunt are definitely worth a visit. Not to mention to nicer beaches out of town, like El Saler, easily reachable by yellow bus. There is also Albufeira, the beautiful natural park the size of Valencia.

There are a few good websites for erasmus students in valencia: is full of information hosts a pdf version of a little city guide called Agenda Urbana that tells you what happens each month in Valencia. It´s free and available in printed form at the canteen of Bellas Artes. for the alternative cinemas is the blog I kept during my time in spain will tell you which budget companies fly around europe

That´s it.
My conclusion is this:
Valencia is an amazing city, definitely a good choice for going on Erasmus.
It may not be as famous as Barcelona or Madrid, but it´s just perfect, not too big (pollution and crime) and not too small (there´s plenty to do and see here). It has nice beaches, the best weather of Spain (only 60 days of clouds, sunshine every day), easy to go around by public transportation or bike. The best way to buy a bike is to go behind the football stadium on saturday night at 3am. Don´t pay more than 50euros on a bike, and don´t buy the ones that look all new but weigh a ton. Be aware that you will learn nothing of value at ETSID if you have done more than two years of design in Delft, but fight your way into Bellas Artes classes. Invest in your spanish, it will make everything easier. Follow this advice and you won´t regret it, Valencia kicks ass. I recommend coming for a whole year, one semester is too short to make real friends, to really speak spanish and to get anything valuable out of your time here.

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