Brian Weir, director of student experience, says: "Our welcome starts months before they get on a plane – and what we do isn’t just about the practical stuff, such as visas or travel arrangements.
We put them in contact with other students, so they’ll know some people before they get on a plane. And we have initiatives like the Find-a-Friend scheme: this allows students to tell us about their ideal flatmates, so the student experience team can work out who would live well together."
The conservatoire, based in a landmark modern building next to Cardiff Castle that has become one of Cardiff’s leading cultural venues, is friendly and cosmopolitan. From the student body of 850, around 180 are from outside the United Kingdom, with close to 50 nations represented.
The college scours the world to attract the most promising talent, regularly holding auditions at cities throughout Asia and North America; and there’s a steady flow of visiting artists and teachers from around the globe.
Brian Weir, Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama
I think that the richness of Welsh culture and what we're able to offer to the world is something very distinctive, and something that deserves to be celebrated."
Welcoming the world
As well as being a place of learning, the College is itself a hub for world-class cultural events. Its Steinway International Piano Series attracts top international performers, and it has hosted the prestigious World Stage Design festival. The World Harp Congress, based at RWCMD in 2020, represents the first European staging of the event for 12 years.
Isaac Shieh, is the vice-president of the Students' Union with responsibility for international students, and has first-hand experience of arriving in Wales from the other side of the world. A New Zealander born in Hong Kong, he lived in Australia before coming to Wales to begin a Masters in historical horn instruments. It’s a niche subject, and RWCMD is the only conservatoire in the UK with the specialist expertise to teach it. He says: "Because I came to the college for a specific teacher, I hadn’t done any homework on what Cardiff is like – but I immediately felt very welcome here. Cardiff is a city that really takes newcomers to its heart."
Having a specific international representative in the Students' Union is essential, says Union president Lloyd Pearce."It's also important to create spaces and run events that cater for a diverse student body," he says. "We try to make everything as inclusive as possible, so we can engage with those students who come from different cultures."
What's more, the cultural exchange is very much a two-way street at RWCMD. Overseas students have the chance to share their own knowledge and cultural backgrounds at an International Culture week. It's become established as one of the artistic highlights of the College year, introducing everyone to art forms such as traditional Chinese opera, Indian classical flute pieces and Syrian qanun music that are little known outside their country of origin.
Isaac adds: "I'm very proud of the fact that all our students are getting this understanding of different cultures, and not just because it reflects on modern society. The industry is very globalised now – you only have to look at the make-up of orchestras, with so many different nationalities. These experiences will be important when students go out to the world of work."
A cultural capital
Being at the heart of the city helps international students connect with Wales' wider artistic community. There's no shortage of fine performance spaces within easy reach, such as the Wales Millennium Centre, St David’s Hall and the New Theatre. Cardiff is home to the Welsh National Opera and the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, and its many smaller venues – from Café Jazz and Clwb Ifor Bach to Chapter Arts Centre and the Sherman Theatre – mean there’s a chance to catch every sort of creative endeavour.
"The pace of cultural life is less frantic here than in London," says Isaac, "but that’s an advantage. You want to have the kind of learning experience where you’re exposed to world-class performances, but also have time to learn and absorb."
Brian Weir says: "Music can speak across nations in a way that many other subjects may not be able to, and Cardiff has always been an outward facing city – it was a great big port exporting across the world. I think our ability to embrace other cultures is embedded into the psyche of the city itself. But I think, as well, that the richness of Welsh culture and what we are able to offer to the world is something very distinctive, and something that deserves to be celebrated. As the College goes out to the world, so the world is coming to us."