At this time of year, many students within the European Union will be starting what promises to be the best year of their lives. The ERASMUS programme, an international student exchange within the EU, enables students from Europe to experience other cultures, countries, and best of all, learn another language!
|Le Pont d'Avignon, my old French stomping ground.|
On a personal note, it was five years ago today that I started my ERASMUS year and like many, I was scared, apprehensive, and, above all, excited. I had initially been told that I would be spending my year in France living the typical Parisian lifestyle in the capital. Much to my chagrin, this was later changed to Avignon, a place I had never heard of and much farther away from northern France, where I had spent almost every family holiday.
Before even leaving the UK, I made a stupid error whereby I booked a flight for a Tuesday, thinking it was Monday. I showed up at the airport with a plane ticket for the following day, meaning I had to spend another £200 on a flight to Paris, and the best part of €100 on a train from Paris to Avignon. Thanks to arriving four hours late to the University, I missed the opening hours of the student accommodation office and was left to find a hotel when I should have been staying in the accommodation.
Though scared, nervous, and possessing a very poor level of spoken French, I showed up to the orientation meeting with all my belongings in tow. It quickly became apparent that every other ERASMUS student was scared and just as in need of meeting some new people.
Like anyone, it took some time to adjust, but by Christmas I had already met a wonderful group of people who would remain lifelong friends, learnt an incredible amount about French culture, and improved dramatically in French. The worries and apprehension I felt at the start were just a distant and somewhat ridiculous memory.
Needless to say, it was a wonderful experience. The remaining months through the spring and into the summer were just as incredible as the first few months, and though it was difficult to leave and many tears were shed, I wouldn't have had it any other way.
So for those about to embark on this journey, it should be noted that you are not the first people in the world to do this. People do survive and share an experience not just with those who are in the same town, city, or village, but with everyone who has ever spent a year abroad, ERASMUS or otherwise. You are incredibly lucky to have this opportunity and once you're finished with it, you'll do nothing but annoy your friends back home with all the stories that you can't bring yourself to stop telling.
You should take this time to stop worrying and start enjoying yourself. Just don't forget about the languages you can learn! It can be all too easy to stay within your comfort zone and speak in your mother tongue with others from the same country. Grab the opportunity with both hands!
Have you been on an ERASMUS year or will you be going soon? Tell us about your experiences in the comments below and please, keep it clean!