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  • "a lifetime friendship"

  • "this is the once-in-a-lifetime-snow in Plymouth"

  • "my friends and classmates from Slovakia came to visit"

  • "I even found an Asian place to eat!"

  • "we made lots of trips out in nature"

  • "climbing has become my new hobby"

Posted 10.08.18

Bratislava to Plymouth: in conversation with Erasmus student Hoa Nguyen Thi

By Sarah Packer

Hoa with the friends she made during her time in Plymouth.

We chat to Academy of Fine Arts and Design student Hoa Nguyen Thi about her experience on our BA (Hons) Photography degree through the Erasmus+ programme.

(The Erasmus+ programme enables higher education students to study in a European partner university for between three and twelve months as part of their degree course.)

Hi Hoa, can you tell us a bit about yourself and how you got into photography?
Well, my parents emigrated to Slovakia about 30 years ago and I was born there afterwards. It’s a small, but a nice country in the middle of Europe. Though brought up in a strict rational notion, I decided to try out studying the arts which I did after a one-year-long battle with International Relations.

Nevertheless, it seems like a good thing, I had the time to realize what I truly desired. So now I’m at the Academy of Fine Arts and Design in Bratislava, about to roam into the fourth year of Photography and New Media.  

Four years may sound like a lot, but it takes time to define your ‘photographic style’. I personally think that everything is constantly changing and evolving in your life, and so does your thinking -  and with it, the work you do.

From the 'manifesto' series on cultural identity © Hoa Nguyen Thi

So what made you want to apply for the Erasmus placement here at the college?
I’ve always had tight relations with the UK. We made lots of trips (from high school) to the UK, my sister lives here, but most of all, I was very much determined to study by the sea. I also wanted a place like my university is - not too big, cozy and a friendly place – Plymouth College of Art seemed like a great choice.

“I was able to create some amazing works that I am really proud of. Which was really  important in the process of establishing myself as an artist.”

And what was your experience of studying here?
The college is great! I really enjoyed how everything worked here. The ERC [Equipment Resource Centre], library, even my student account, it was all in one place, quite easy and quickly accessible. The modern building amazed me from the very first moment with all the friendly faces.

I was very glad for the darkrooms in the photography department. I hadn’t used black and white photography much before, but the facilities made the whole process easier and I actually found it very pleasing. My relationship with B&W photography is now somewhat recovered!

I can’t talk about my experience without mentioning the people I met at Plymouth College of Art, I made some very good acquaintances and really great friends. I also found the photography tutors and teachers really helpful, as well as other staff in the printing department which I collaborated with. And yes, collaborations among departments across the college are possible - also super easy and fun!

A self portrait from Hoa's 'manifesto' series on cultural identity © Hoa Nguyen Thi

What are the differences between studying at Plymouth College of Art and at your home university?
I have to say, the biggest difference was the ‘learning style’. If you come from a small country from central Europe, like I do, you may have had a different type of learning style. I am used to lots of one-on-one consultations with the professors, lots of discussions and very broad topics, probably because my college focuses on fine art as well, which is not necessarily good or bad, more of an observation from my side.

At Plymouth College of Art, we had lectures on very important issues, like diversity and equality in photography and photography permissions, but also visits from interesting lecturers and successful artists and graduates. This gave me a great advantage – I got to develop myself on a whole level as a person as well as an artist with an individual mindset. I managed to gain the confidence that I now am very glad for. If I was to be a freelance artist now, I wouldn’t be as lost as I was before I came to Plymouth.

"I met some really nice fellow Erasmus students who I hung out with a few days a week. I also made some lifetime friends in my photography class who I hope to keep in touch with. The college is a place full of talented students and to get to know them was an enriching experience.”

How has your placement at the college influenced your work?
An Erasmus stay is usually a time when you’re most alone in a brand new place, around unfamiliar people with a drop of cultural shock, but I think for me, it played an important role in my personal development.

It also may be because of the work I did at the college regarding my identity, but I really, really did grow as a person. I gained my confidence and today, I even see my work as valuable. And that may be the first step towards being an artist. And so, I feel like I was at the right place, at the right time.

The talks I had with the course team are highly appreciated, the discussions and lectures gave me so much. I feel like the moment I stepped out of the UK, I felt very sad and missed everything about it, but at the same time, I knew this place left a great mark on me.

Film photos that Hoa took of Plymouth.

What did you think of Plymouth?
Oh, lo-ve-ly! I mean, it’s not a ‘big city life’, but it’s the hidden charm that reveals itself as you live there for a while. That moment, as you start walking towards the Hoe and you see bit by bit of its magical beauty; the streets by the sea; the nights you just go for a nice walk. But then again, you could live actively here too! With my Erasmus pals, we went for a nice climb at the Climbing Hangar every week, I could go for a run to Devil’s Point and find another piece of the sea, or discover new places to eat. There’s a lot to do if you look for it.  

Also, Devon and next to it, Cornwall, are the most stunning parts of the UK. You can get anywhere by bus and train and get some views you may never get to see again. Plymouth is called Britain’s Ocean City and you can feel it.

St Ives © Hoa Nguyen Thi

What advice would you give to anyone considering doing an Erasmus placement?
If you choose Plymouth, I’d recommend spring semester. It’s lovely to see the nice change from the last remains of snow to waking up spring and then massive heat neatly mended by the ocean’s wind.

Do not hesitate and try new things: experiment, meet the people even if you’re an introvert, fail, and try again, because when you come back, you’ll never be able to do it again. Not the same. It’s like a moment in photography, it is now and gone in a while. So live it! 

See more of Hoa’s work on her website. Follow her on Instagram: @kvetnguye

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