Rowan McCaffery

Rowan McCaffery, a student at Swansea University, was able to study abroad in China, thanks to Erasmus+ International Credit Mobility funding

In 2015 the Erasmus+ programme extended the opportunities to study abroad to countries beyond Europe through International Credit Mobility. When Swansea University successfully applied to take part in this new scheme it changed the life of one of its students. Despite never having travelled abroad on her own or lived away from home before, Rowan McCaffery, from Llanelli (pictured), made the brave decision to travel to Zhuhai in South China to study international journalism through Erasmus+.

Support to move and live abroad

Rowan spent a semester in one of Swansea’s partner universities in China, United International College (UIC), a fairly small university of 5,000 students.

"I was really unsure about leaving home for that amount of time," Rowan said, stressing that she had never lived in university halls, let alone in China.

However, with funding provided through Erasmus+ and the full support of Swansea’s International team, Rowan was able to fulfil a dream and study abroad.

I’d always wanted to travel but as a low-income student I would have had to work for a long time to make it happen, so the funding really helped.

Rowan was able to cover her travel costs and live comfortably while she studied. As China is a lot cheaper than the UK, the Erasmus+ funding not only helped her to buy necessities like food, dormitory supplies and textbooks but also to travel to nearby cities and even spend a month in South Korea after her semester in China finished – something she had never thought she’d be able to do.

A global outlook

Rowan’s horizons were also expanded academically. She studied media courses, along with Chinese and Korean language, and found it very interesting to be taught by teachers from different countries, which added different perspectives and views on her subjects.

The main benefit I found from studying in an international college was the variety of people I was taught by; their different opinions on media made it a lot more interesting.

Support network

The Chinese have a reputation for being very studious, so Rowan was a little worried about the workload but says it was refreshing to be around people who were so motivated to study. It made her want to work harder. She formed a strong bond with her fellow exchange students  from Kent, Minnesota and South Korea, who she describes as her ‘second family’. She also made many friends among the local students who became her support system in this very unfamiliar country.

“Everyone knew the small group of nine exchange students which meant I was able to make a lot of friends within the local student body. I quickly realised that there isn’t much of a culture gap between the youth of China and the UK and we would help each other with university work and language skills. The Chinese are very friendly, even though there was a language barrier with locals outside of the university, everyone I met was helpful and kind.”

Expanding horizons

Rowan felt very comfortable in the coastal city of Zhuhai and found it easy to navigate, with lots to do outside class. Her trips to bigger cities nearby, like Guangzhou, showed her the real city life in China, and Hong Kong, where China meets the West. As a student of journalism, Rowan was naturally interested in different cultures but having now experienced a culture as different as China’s, she believes she has become more adaptable and confident. It has also kick-started an interest in languages and back home she is learning Chinese with the help of friends made in Zhuhai and exchange students based in her home university in Swansea.

ICM at Swansea University

Swansea University has ICM partnerships with universities in the USA, Canada, Hong Kong and New Zealand as well as China. The link they have with UIC is fairly new, so Rowan’s cohort was the first to study there.

Leah Hewitt, Exchange and Study Abroad Officer, said: “Student Mobility is a key part of Swansea University’s internationalisation strategy. ICM funding has been instrumental in allowing many of our students to take part in international opportunities that they would have struggled to participate in otherwise, as finance is a frequent barrier to participation.

"ICM allows them to broaden their horizons and approach their courses from a different angle. This experience of immersing themselves in another culture helps our students to grow as individuals and to see the world from a multicultural perspective.

"If students are able to participate in these opportunities abroad then their experience can help shape the mindset of others and encourage them to take up similar opportunities that are available.”

ICM also facilitates incoming exchange students to come to Swansea who bring diversity to the Welsh lecture hall, sharing a variety of different ideas and viewpoints which helps to enhance learning for all and enables their home students to think more globally.   

The Erasmus+ effect

Rowan sums it up: “The biggest impact my time abroad has had on me is my confidence. I found confidence in travelling alone, immersing myself in completely unfamiliar situations and solving problems. This has allowed me to work harder after coming back home, finding it easier to make friends and talk to people. I also have a better work ethic and a more positive outlook on life.”

Rowan enjoyed her experience so much that she has applied to do an internship at UIC after her graduation and is counting down the days until she can go back to Asia. Not bad for the girl who was still living at home in Llanelli!

If it wasn’t for Erasmus+ funding, I would not have been able to take part in a semester abroad. I hope other students who are from a low income background realise that they can have these experiences too, thanks to Erasmus+.

Want to find out how far Erasmus+ can take you? Discover more about International Credit Mobility!