Three years ago I took the decision to go abroad on an Erasmus Program. I did not care about the destination, I just wanted to have an experience like that.
I didn’t know anyone who had gone on an Erasmus Program before I did. That meant that at that time I didn’t have any reference about how it would be to live in another country. Nevertheless, there was something telling me that I should go and live abroad for some months.
I chose my destination with the following in mind:
- The stay should be less than one year. (At this time I thought that one year would be too much as it was my first time living away from home).
- My studies would have to be in English. The destination should be an English-speaking country, although I didn’t care if English wouldn’t be the official language. That’s why I didn’t choose for example Italy, Portugal or France.
- It should be a destination that not many people chose. For that reason I didn’t choose England.
These ones were the destinations that I finally chose:
A few months later, and after a long wait, I was told that I was given Warsaw as the destination. What I knew of that city and the country was less than nothing. I remember I didn’t know where Poland was on the map. But I was really exited of being able to have a very different experience to what I was used. From that point, 5 long months of endless paperwork began.
I lived in Warsaw for 6 months. It was from the last week of August 2013 to the 28th of February 2014. That was the first time I fell in love with a city. I absolutely recommend this experience to everyone. Not just because you’re living away from home and you don’t have to give explanations to anyone, but because everything you can learn.
- You learn not to be afraid. You know how to cope with whatever situation. You can manage all the paperwork and the discussions with the universities because of the validation subjects. You’re not afraid any more if you take the wrong bus or you miss the stop at 4 o’clock in the morning. And you also learn not to be afraid when a police man wants to give you a fine because you didn’t buy a transport ticket, you had been drinking on the street or you had passed through a road where you shouldn’t have. You’re not going to be afraid any more.
- You learn to not be ashamed. Nobody knows you and nobody will judge you, and if they do … what? You won’t understand them. Then you start speaking other languages, and you don’t mind if you don’t know how to do it well, because this is the way to learn. You also get to know many, many people because you don’t care about what they can think about you, so you can be yourself. Then you also dance and sing on the street.
- You learn how to do everything by yourself. Your mother won’t be there to take care of you when you’ll be sick. She won’t be there for you when you’ll need to sew a button, a hole in your trousers or when you have to iron. Your grandmother won’t be there to cook you nice food. For that reason, you learn how to iron, how to cook, you also learn to be organized and you become a handyman/woman. And finally you understand when your mum told you “Don’t step on my freshly scrubbed floor!”
- You learn how to go around. You must take planes, buses, taxis, cars, trains and all kind of transport, so you won’t look like a novice traveller any more. You’ll learn the whole map of the public transport from your new city as if it was the back of your hand. You’ll also learn how to deal with the train station an airport employees. You’re now an expert! And you learn that trying to find a flat is not an easy task.
- You learn that your truth is not absolute. You realize that there are other cultures and ways to do the things really different as what we’re used to in our own countries. The university doesn’t work as you thought, not everybody has lunch at 2 o’clock in the afternoon and have dinner at 9 in the evening. There are more ideologies than the ones you thought and you learn to respect all of them.
- You learn how to be independent. You realize that you can manage by yourself and that makes you happy. You don’t need anyone’s help because you can speak English (or the language of the country you’ve been). You make the purchase, you clean the house, you go to the college, you “study”, you go out and travel all at the same time. You’ve become independent and you’d hardly noticed.
- You learn. You learn new languages and you improve the ones that you already knew. You lean the history of the place where you’ve been living. You learn lots of interesting things about the people you meet. You just learn.
- You realize that there are many people in the same situation as you, eager to learn and live new experiences. They are also trying to learn how to survive in a new country. Thanks to them you learn that your home will be where you are and you won’t feel alone any more, even if you’re living thousands of kilometres from home. You spend all the time with them and they become your family. They’re there to help you when you move, when you lose your wallet, when you need to do lots of paperwork. They’re there to help you when you don’t know how to iron a shirt, when you want to go ice-skating, when you go out, when you have a bad day and when you need to go to IKEA. They’re always there for you and they’re still there when the Erasmus ends.
You come back being someone else, you’ve changed and this change is for the better.
The Erasmus does not end here. Three years later you still keep in touch with many of the people with whom you’ve shared a few months. They’re still your family and they become an essential part of your life. This Erasmus gives you much more than you can imagine. It makes you grow old as a person and this is an experience that everyone should have.
For all those who still don’t know what to do:
DON’T think that you’re missing a year (or half a year) just because you can’t validate all the subjects that you want. Even if you do the minimum of the subjects that you must, the experience is worthwhile.
DON’T let fear become your friend, it’s the worst thing you can do. Probably you’ll meet someone who has lived this experience and you wish you had done it.
DON’T be lazy. The paperwork sometimes is infinite and you don’t want to do it. Also, the universities don’t help you a lot with all of this. But when you come back and it’s all finished, you would do it again and again, because it’s worth it.
HELP: My university was the University Autonomus of Barcelona and my host university was Collegium Civitas from Warsaw. If anyone is interested in going there or you need some helps with the paperwork, just contact me here.