Why did you decide to study abroad?
The opportunity was presented to me for a student with a biotechnology background to do research with a research group specifically with my supervisor, Manuel de Molina. We're looking at ergonomic traits of interest in zucchini and we're studying those different ergonomic traits to see what certain sequences of DNA were involved with the certain traits, so that sounded very interesting to me, that's coming from a biotechnology background. There's a lot of work with snips, so single nucleotide polymorphisms and different bacterias within the rises here of vegetables, so I figured this was just an addition to what I've researched in the past.
Is Almería a good place to learn about Agriculture?
Yes, I believe because of Almería's climate, they had a huge amount of greenhouses and greenhouse operation scoring. Because of that, they had a very in-depth system in order to study and maximize output of their crops, so Almería University itself had a lot of resources to help put money into and increase the output yield of agriculture.
Why did you choose Almería?
To be honest, it was one of the only options given to me. However, researching more into the university itself, they had quite a lot of work being done with Agriculture, the planet is going to be a big problem. Being able to be part of a team, that's looking for a solution to increase profile to figure out why certain crops turn the colour, turn or have a certain taste, that was very interesting to me.
What did you expect from UAL that turned out to be different from reality?
What I expected the university to be like I was similar to a university in Canada, where you got a large number of subjects you're studying. However, when I got there it was very focused, the team that I joined was very defined in their role in the research that they were doing, they were using a certain platform for zucchini and all of our studies were based around that. I've enjoyed the fact that all the students were very diverse and multicultural and understand various languages. If you go back and forth between Spanish and English, which made my experience a little easier, not being too fluent in Spanish, speaking English with everybody definitely helped my experience better at the university.
Would you recommend other students to study abroad?
100%, if any students are given the opportunity to study abroad, they should take it not only from an academic point of view, but also a personal growth point of view. Being able to see what another city or country is like, what their culture is like and how they interact with each other is a huge and growing opportunity. I would recommend 10 out of 10 times for somebody to take an international mobility scholarship. I would also recommend anybody going to Almería, the city itself is beautiful. The university is beautifully located just outside of town, you have beaches all along, you're close to the airport as well. If you do want to take the opportunity and go and see some other parts of Spain. Then the culture itself within Almería is very interactive, filled a lot of different restaurants you can go to, and the food is amazing, being so close to the sea, you have a really vast choice of different seafood's available to you. There's a lot of cultural events that happen within the city, parades, music festivals, dances at night on the street.
How much money did you get through your Erasmus+ grant? Was it enough?
Yes, I had enough funding from the mobility program to live comfortably. I covered most of my expenses that I had that I otherwise would have been able to cover on my own.
Did you take classes in English or Spanish? Was it hard to get used to the language? How long did it take you?
I was a little bit of a special case, because I was studying my master's program, I fulfilled all the class requirements for my Master's program, I didn't take any classes while I was there. I was strictly doing research for the research team, mainly conducting research like some projects at that time. Like all countries, different cities have different accents, learning the accent and how they drop certain letters at the end of words was a little bit of a learning curve, trying to understand certain things they're saying, it took a couple of months but I did pick up on how they accentuated certain words, how they dropped certain vowels or sounds within words. By the time I left, I was able to understand people and have a basic conversation with the people on the streets. So the accent is more just something you get used to and the more you speak with someone, the more you learn about what they're saying and trying to say.
Were there any exams? Which were your favorite/least favorite projects? How did the professor evaluate your research or project?
Because there's no classes, there's no exams. However, the project I did there were four sub-projects to it. At the end of each of my research projects, I presented a paper to my supervisor, outlining what I did and found. So once I presented that report, my supervisor judged me on it. Out of the four subprojects I had and there was very lab-intensive one, so a lot of laboratory procedures. My most favourite one was once we synthesized the DNA from the samples that we attracted the DNA from in which we got a sequence, I then was able to analyze those DNA sequences and figure out which traits from which single nucleotide polymorphisms were responsible for certain traits. Say a taste in the zucchini, it was interesting to compare those pace sequences across different samples, so samples that were cooled at four degrees and left at room, temperature samples that were prepared and packaged for the store.
If you could change something, what would you do differently before your study abroad experience?
Honestly, I wouldn't change anything. I did the approach, I had how I would like to think. I was very organized but at the same time was kind of going in with a very open mind, not knowing exactly what to expect. I think having your expectations low allows you to take in more of what the city has to offer with the school and house. If you go in expecting a certain way and it doesn't meet that expectation, you might not be satisfied, so I went in with a really open mind. If I were to go abroad again or recommend anyone who abroad again, I'd say have an open mind, don't confine yourself to what you think the expectation of the program or just what the city might be like.
Was it hard to find accommodation? Any advice for future students?
I reached out to my supervisor and asked him. I didn't go through the Erasmus portal, however, the supporters did provide me with options for schooling being in the situation I was in. I was coming in a little later than most students, so I figured I'd look for accommodation on my own access to the internet and different accommodation websites. I was able to find a landlord in the heart of the city and I lucked out went into a house with a few other master students from all around the world and thoroughly enjoyed my time with them. I have three other friends now that I keep in contact with every few months, living in different parts of the world, Spain, Colombia and Chile. My roommates were awesome in the location because the town is so small. I would recommend living downtown either in Zapillo or in the heart of Almería from La Rambla.
What did you think of the atmosphere at your home university?
It is a very prestigious university, they're ranked in the top 10 universities in Canada. They are very research-intensive and also heavy in engineering and the life sciences. The atmosphere there is various and studious, so people work really hard as well to balance that. There's a lot of different clubs activities, recreational life activities for you to balance your time studying and to enjoy your life as a student and enjoy Hamilton, Ontario and what Hamilton, Ontario has to offer. The atmosphere through all universities, you can find similarities in terms of people working hard and enjoying their life. McMaster is a very good balance between that, hence why I decided to do my master's after doing my undergrad there. I'd recommend if you have the opportunity to come to McMaster for a semester, come in the summer if you don't like snow, but if you like snow, there's a lot of things that are offered as well in the winter.
Which places in your home city/province would you recommend?
McMaster is one of the top universities, their programs are very well thought out and organized, very applicable to the current industries that are booming, so I'd recommend McMaster University. The University of Toronto is also very prestigious, and the Western University in London, Ontario. Then the Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario is another very good university, and the University of Ottawa is another one that I would recommend. These are all different cities in Ontario.
What would you recommend to do at your hometown?
Hamilton's very unique in the sense that they have a very bio-diverse wildlife management company that owns all the property around the University of Nebraska, the Royal Botanical Garden. The wildlife management company that takes care of all wildlife, animals, species as well. Surrounding the Turfgrass university is an inlet from lake Ontario, lovely trails to walk around, you can canoe through there, you can fish. There's a boardwalk to walk down to the lake as well. I would highly recommend people to explore this area and then when done exploring that, move into town up to some of the older streets where you have a lot of the independent cafes, shops and eateries which explore the culture in Hamilton without going too far into Hamilton. There's a lot Hamilton has to offer in terms of culture and life, you just have to explore a little bit to get to it, spend time outdoors and visit the local shops.
How do you think this experience has changed you?
It definitely helped me grow personally. It has opened my eyes to new perspectives on different cultures, the way different people live and also helped me realize at the end of the day, everybody's human. People live very similarly all around the world, they interact with each other very similarly. There's just different cultural norms, being more aware of the cultural norms and the way different cultures interact with each other and socialize, that has definitely opened my eyes as to how different countries interact with each other, how they enjoy their time together, how they celebrate big occasions together, that definitely was an eye-opener. I had a lot of fun go to class or the lab on Friday and then leave at lunch with a backpack to the airport and just go to a different city every weekend. So personal growth opened my eyes to the new cultures, different experiences, the way people interact, and it made me realize having the opportunity to travel is something you should always take, something that I will always take just to experience a new city, a new way of life.
In which way are your hometown and Almería different?
My hometown is the town of Hamilton where I studied is double the size of Almería, it's not as secluded as Almería. So we're only 40 kilometres away from the capital of Ontario which is Toronto, we're only 45 kilometres away. Whereas Almería seemed very secluded compared to Hamilton, we were about an hour and a half drive to Granada or two hours drive to Malaga. Hamilton itself is considered the large city in Ontario, so that brought about the differences of the culture. Almería was very culturally rich, they had their own way of doing business, interacting with each other, whereas Hamilton they do have their own way of doing business, however, that's amplified on a larger scale because you're so close to large cities.
What would you recommend to UAL students preparing to spend one semester or year at your University (housing, fun things to do, cultural shocks to be expected, etc.)?
I'd recommend depending on what program they're in, just make sure they understand their material very thoroughly because when it comes to learning, similar or different material in Spanish, there may be some confusion, so make sure you understand your material and background in depth before you leave Almería. Having housing set up, make sure you know a meeting point where you can meet a contact, don't just show up and hope you can figure it out once you get there, plan out a route and where you're being dropped off and where your home is or a meeting point is for a contact at the university that way your transition from one city to another goes very smoothly. But don't over plan, you don't want to be confined to a plan that you wrote and then you miss certain buildings, attractions that are going on because you don't want to deviate from that. That's a loose plan of where you're going to live and just someone you're going to meet. Hamilton itself is very diverse, so there's always going to be an option no matter where the students come from, what ethnic background or country they come from. There are quite a few options in terms of international cuisine, clubs that cater to international students and they do a very good job of making students feel welcome to the town, giving students the opportunity to see different parts of the town and to interact with students that are from their country and Hamilton as well.
Are you currently employed? Do you think your time abroad (or, specifically in Almería) helped you find a job?
Yes, I currently work for a chemicals company, now I'm working as a lab tech for a disinfectant company in Oakville, Ontario. So they use a patented formula with hydrogen peroxide (accelerated hydrogen peroxide) and it's used as a general disinfectant, so ready to use disinfectant or as a concentrate, in various life sciences applications, hospitals veterinary care, farm animal care, the marijuana industry and general large institutions. For example, universities and community centres use our products as well. With the pandemic going on, it's a perfect time for this company, business is booming, so production is ramped up and we're trying to get into different markets right now to increase the reach of our product. My time in Almería didn't specifically help me find the job here, however, it did help me build on my personal skills I used and gave me a new perspective as to how people interact and relate to people, so my personal skills grew a lot.