Elina is a fourth-year student from Latvia, who is currently working as an intern at the Latvian National Desk at Eurojust. For the whole of her third year, she went on exchange to Northumbria University Law School, located in Newcastle upon Tyne in the United Kingdom.
1) What kind of courses did you take?
In the UK, studies are divided into semesters, not quarters, and as far as quantity goes, they take fewer courses than we do. However, those few subjects are very in-depth and take more time. I took two year-long courses: International Law and Environmental Law, and four semester-long courses: Jurisprudence and English Legal System in Semester 1 and American Law and Animal Law in Semester 2.
2) What were your professors/teachers like?
While perhaps less international than our faculty, I found the quality of the lectures and seminars to be quite good. I can especially highlight the Jurisprudence professor for Semester 1 (I cannot vouch for the one who taught the subject in Semester 2), and the two American Law professors. They were deeply knowledgeable about the subject, and so excited about what they were teaching that it made the students more interested as well. Especially the American Law professors: they were so enthusiastic about teaching us this subject that they even organised a 2 week study trip to the USA, which included Washington DC, Virginia and North Carolina, during which we visited the US Capitol, Virginia State Capitol, both federal and state courts, several local law firms, Virginia State and Richmond Universities, various historical buildings, including the houses of Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, as well as the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Nation reservation. It was the first year they were organising it, but it was such a success I am sure they will repeat it.
3) How did you find it different to HHS?
Northumbria is different from HHS mainly because it is the kind of university you see in films: big campus, huge sports facilities and numerous university sports teams, and as many societies to get involved in as you could possibly imagine. They offer nearly anything, from salsa dancing to law, from LGBT+ to rock music. The sports facilities are also great: they have a good gym with their own pool, and you can try nearly all the sports you can think of and even join the university team. I had always wanted to try fencing, and found myself enjoying it immensely. There is also a big library, which is open 24/7 and the centre of all student life – Student Union. Every day, so many things were happening that if you were a person with a wide variety of interests you would have to prioritise, as it would not be possible to do it all. Due to all the societies and sports opportunities, it was so much easier to meet and befriend students from other fields of study than it is here. In fact, I did not spend much time with my fellow law students at all; compared to the amount of time I spent getting involved in the various events that put you in direct contact with other students. Unless, of course, you happen to both study law and also be interested in, for example, the hiking society or debate society.
Talking about the study process, it is quite hard to compare our law programme with the one in Northumbria, because I think it all depends on what you expect and want from a law school. Personally, after two years and eight exam weeks in total, I felt tired of the exams, and so in picking my exchange courses, I considered not only what I am interested in but also which subjects offered only coursework, or only exam or both. At the end of the year, thinking over which I preferred, I concluded that both have their advantages and disadvantages: coursework allows you to gather all the information and write it out in your own time; however, the stress is dragged out for weeks. Exams are stressful, because you can never be sure what exactly will come up, but at least the stress is short-lived. Each student should think over what evaluation method they prefer and move on from there, also keeping in mind the subjects they are interested in, because in the end, the most important thing is to be interested in what you are doing, and the rest will come. The one thing in which the British study year differs from ours quite noticeably is the length, however: if you have no re-sits you are done in mid to late May already. But the study structure is quite similar: for each subject, there are two lectures per week, which can be in an auditorium with 100 students or with only 10, depending on the subject, and a seminar every two weeks in groups of about 12 people, to ensure individual participation in discussions.
4) What was the atmosphere of the university like?
The atmosphere was very pleasant, mainly because of all the things I have already mentioned: every day, there were so many things to do and so many people to meet you could barely find the time to rest and had to plan your schedule diligently to find the time to study. Luckily, everything was in more or less the same place, with the university library being right next to the Student Union and the sports facilities, so you could pop over for a short study session between fencing practice and FemSoc meeting. Perhaps it is due to the old credo ‘smile and the world smiles with you’, but I found my experience and the people I encountered to be mainly positive. The English are said to be nicer and more polite the more up north you go – or at least that’s what they say in the north. Still, in my case, I found it to be true.
5) What was your first impression of the city, as a student?
The day I arrived, I went on a long walk, getting to know my path to university and how the city centre looked like, as well as the riverside and a bit of Gateshead. The city centre is full of beautiful Victorian era buildings, and the bridges across Tyne are one of the most recognisable sights of the city. Newcastle is not awfully big, so I was pleased to find that nearly everything you would need was within walking distance. The first time I saw Northumbria ,I became even more excited to study there than I was before. It is a big campus, and I was blown away by all the extracurricular opportunities offered to students.
6) What did you like doing most in the city? Where are the best places to go?
Newcastle is perhaps the most famous for its nightlife, and for the party enthusiasts, there are definitely endless options. If you walk through the centre on a Friday or Saturday night (and on a smaller scale on every other night of the week too), it seems like most of the city’s inhabitants are out partying. Of course, there are other ways to entertain yourself: there are several cinemas in the city; Empire offers the latest blockbusters, while in Tyneside Cinema you can find a more indie scene. At Tyneside, there is also a very nice café. Another lovely place to sit and relax is the Quilliam Brothers’ Teahouse near Newcastle University. There are regular concerts and shows in Newcastle, large-scale at Metro Radio Arena and smaller ones at the O2 Academy, and crossing the Millennium Bridge, you can easily reach the Sage Gateshead, a large and beautiful music hall. Of course, football games and other sports events are common, too.
Newcastle Library is a good study place, if you get tired of the large but often packed university library, and it also hosts a variety of public events. The Literary and Philosophical Society of Newcastle is well-hidden but worth visiting. Entrance is free and you can walk among and browse the impressive catalogue of books and enjoy the beauty of the library. There are also many parks in and around the city, and the North Sea is only a short metro ride away.
7) How was it to find housing?
Finding good housing was slightly difficult, because I did not want to live in student accommodation. I was lucky not to be the only one from our Law programme to go to Newcastle, so a fellow student, Marina, and I decided to live together. After an extensive online search, we found something that seemed good enough and not far from the university. We took a risk in signing the contract before seeing the place in real life, but we were lucky – the house was not perfect, but it also was not a complete wreck. We were renting it together with two other people who were doing their Master degrees at Newcastle University. Overall, I had a fairly decent experience with looking for and getting private housing, but if you want to live in university accommodation, I have heard that is not so bad. It, of course, varies in price and quality, but I have visited an apartment in the cheapest building they offered, and it seemed fine, even though the rooms were very small and the kitchen and bathrooms were shared between quite a few people.
8) How was public transport?
I did not take the public transport often, because I lived 15 minutes away from university and 25 minutes away from the city centre. Newcastle is not too big of a city; nearly everything is reachable by foot. However, I believe public transport in Newcastle to be fairly good. There are regular buses throughout the city and to Gateshead across the river Tyne, and there are several metro lines too. You could reach the seaside in 30 minutes by metro, and Durham in 10 minutes by train. Scotland is also very close by, and it takes an hour and a half by train to go to Edinburgh.
9) Were there are problems/disadvantages that you faced?
It seems as if I cannot praise Northumbria enough, and as if everything was perfect. That is far from true, but it has been a while since I was there, and I mainly enjoyed my stay there, so of course I am bound to mostly remember the good things. University administration was a bit chaotic, but I have come to realise that it is to be expected in large organisations, especially educational institutions. I would advise future exchange students not to leave anything to the last minute, because you can never know who will be away on that day or how many people you will be sent to until you reach the one you really need. Another thing, not really a problem but which saddened me slightly, was that the variety of subjects offered to exchange students was less than those offered to full-time Northumbria law students. The options still were plenty; however, I had wanted to study Gender, Sexuality and Law, but was told that it was not on offer for me.
10) Would you recommend the experience to other students?
I definitely would recommend Northumbria University as an exchange opportunity. It is in Europe, so no long flights or large bank accounts are necessary; the weather will not be a problem for those who are familiar with the Dutch rain and wind; the city is in a great location for those interested to do some exploration and sightseeing of both England and Scotland; and the subjects offered are varied and interesting enough for nearly every taste. Newcastle is a very student-friendly city and there are plenty of activities to do outside university too, and a mix of people to meet from all over the world. Whether for a year or only a semester, you would not regret this experience, and the friends and connections it would bring you.