Portsmouth graduate Rachel Slattery shares her memories of studying, including her year abroad in the 1990s

4 min read

After a lively time in her BSc (Hons) Spanish and Latin Studies course, Rachel Slattery has words of wisdom for her nephew, a student at Portsmouth:

“I always tell Joe he doesn’t know how to do it properly. We used to go out all the time and have fun. Students today study, go to the gym and drink coffee. A whole different world.” 

Fresher life in the 90s

It was just a lot of fun. I had wanted to spread my wings and leave home and couldn’t wait to start making a life of my own. My parents are wonderful, but I was very independent.

The first day was a mixture of excitement and nervousness. Mum, Dad and little brother drove me down from Grimsby and helped me unpack. They set off about tea-time and I sat there on my own and thought, “This is weird. I don’t know what to do now”.

Then someone came in and said, “We’re all meeting downstairs.” We were all in the same boat, a bit nervous, but everyone bonded really quickly. We started chatting and ended up on a pub crawl!

I lived in halls at the YMCA, in Old Portsmouth, right on the seafront. It is now luxury flats. The students had four or five floors, but we had to share bathrooms. It wasn’t the nicest place, but we bonded well because of that.

We ate our breakfast and dinner in a canteen. Breakfast was a fry up – which was nice after a night out! Several times people set off the fire alarm trying to make cheese toasties.

What I loved most was everyone spoke to everyone. My door was always on the latch, with people popping in and out – it was a real community.

I had to change rooms three times as there was damp rot, but it turned out well as I got a room opposite the sea. I used to watch the ferries go past, and when the Royal Yacht Britannia sailed by, hordes of people crowded outside while we sat in my room with a birds eye view. 

Party time 

I did like to party. Monday we used to go to Friscos because it was 50p a drink. Tuesday, I might have done some studying. Wednesday was always the Student Union because it was sports night. Thursday we went to Route 66 in Southsea. Friday and Saturday nights out were too expensive, so it was house parties or the Union. And of course, Ken’s Kebabs or Speedy Pizza after. Sunday we had a lie-in and chilled.

The friends I made at Portsmouth are still my closest. It was a wonderful time and a wonderful place
Rachel Slattery , BSc (Hons) Spanish and Latin Studies

Living abroad 

I belonged to the Latin American Society. We used to salsa on Thursday, which was great fun. One of my friends was Columbian and some of his friends played in a South American band, so we used to go and watch them.

Part of my course was a year abroad, which was amazing. I spent the first six months in Granada, in Spain. A great place to live. We used to go to lectures in the morning and then in the afternoon, when the locals were having a siesta, I would explore the old streets. Such a beautiful city.

I spent the second half of the year in Xalapa, Mexico, where the jalapeno pepper comes from. It was absolutely stunning, a truly beautiful place. We lived in a pool house in the back of someone's garden. It had a little roof terrace and cost next to nothing. 

We had special classes for students from foriegn countries. We would all go out in big groups of foreign and local students to do activities, then go back for a house party. 

I was paired with a local guy called Mario. His mum helped women in the countryside to read and write. One day she invited me to go with her. A truck pulled up. Mario, his mum and I jumped in. His mum went in the front and we sat in the back with a goat. The village was in the midst of the forest and they lived a very basic life, but it was beautiful with cascading waterfalls. It was a completely different experience. Very special. 

Portsmouth revisited

I feel lucky to have lived in such an interesting place – historic and beautiful. I studied in Park Building and always used to think what a lovely building it is. When I came back a couple of weeks ago there was an Open Day taking place and I took a look around.

The memories came flooding back. All the good times. It was 25 years since I first stepped foot in there but somehow it seemed the same: the floors, the brown and green tiles on the wall… although the computers were modern!