Parties till dawn, drinking, everlasting holidays – the picture of the Erasmus students is often not favourable. Why? And does it have to be this way? I will try to show a different picture of Erasmus students as well as explain how to become one of them.
First, if one wants to participate in the Erasmus exchange, one needs to decide a few months earlier as recruitment can start even in March (it depends of the university). The interested student must consider, what country will be the perfect destination and most attractive for him, choose the university and report desire of participating. There is a limit of places at each university, so to certain cities only a part of the students will be able to go. If one knows, that his marks are not excellent, it is better to think about some plan B “just in case”. It is also useful to pay attention on language in which lessons will be held. No one wants to find themselves in classes in language, They do not understand and I know stories like this have happened before.
For me Slovenia was the first choice. Like many of my friends, I love the nature of this country, especially the Alps, which are the best attraction for me. I cannot feast my eyes with the view of white peaks, that are visible even from the centre of the city when the sky is clear. I also know people who came here because they were with Slovenians on Erasmus in their country.
Ok, so one has chosen the university and he knows there is a place for him. Next, there is a lot of papers to fulfil.The most time-consuming is the Learning Agreement, where one declares which subjects he wants to take abroad. It requires hours spent on looking for subjects with similar syllabuses to this at one’s university. I, for example, have some subjects from Master degree even though I am on Bachelor. It was the only way to find suitable subjects. What’s more, every Erasmus student has a chance to get the scholarship. The money comes from the EU and it is supposed to help students compensate cost they must endure abroad. Its amount depends on the country one is going to. All this bureaucracy takes a lot of time and energy. There always comes time, when one has had enough of running through rooms, trying to satisfy everyone and keeping deadlines. Nevertheless, the effort will be highly replayed after all, so one should never give up!
After this long, tiring process ones gets info: he got in! Home university has accepted his participating, the receiving institution sent an Acceptance Letter and even scholarship was granted. There is nothing else left but to pack and go for the one of the biggest adventures of their life!
Or maybe something else is still left. If one gets the place in the dormitory there is nothing to worry about. However, in another case I highly recommend starting to look for a flat before arriving. It helps to avoid the situations I have observed this year, when there was a huge amount of people looking for some accommodation for a quite long time, without any place to stay at night and desperate to find anything. As far as I know all of them have finally got something but often very expensive.
It must be considered that in a lot of cities local students start looking for accommodation few months earlier and there is no much left in October and even if, all rooms are expensive or in really bad condition or even both. Although even looking on internet site gives opportunity to see apartments live, while staying in hotels or pensions during the time of searching may be very expensive.
All right, everything is completed, accommodation is found. If it is necessary one should get resident permit after arrival and after that there is a chance to start exploring the city and the country, and making new friends.
New environment, new culture, new language. All of it might be disorientating and awake fear. There is a lot of surprises one cannot predict before. But among them one can also find big advantages of his new surroundings.
I was very positively surprised by Ljubljana. It is much smaller than I have expected, and it has very good network of bicycle paths. One can buy a bike for a very small amount of money and moving through the city is no longer a problem. After studying in Warsaw which has over 2 million of citizens I feel relieved to be able to go anywhere by bike or just walk. However, for students from south a huge surprise is also snow in November. Even though they had known, that they are going to a colder country, idea of snow so early never crossed their minds. Therefore, they have to learn fast how to protect themselves against freeze.
If a problem occurs during one’s staying, help can be found in the International Office and students’ organizations, there are always some on each university, but the biggest courage and support is found in the company of other international students. All of them are in the same, new situation and it connects them more than anything else, even though they are very different. That is how most amazing, intercultural friendships begin.
What also occurs as a problem for many students is living in dormitories. For me it is also a new experience, but I see nothing special about it – it is also very popular in Poland. Nevertheless, some of my friends were very surprised to find out, how many dormitories are there here – for instance in Greece, it is much more popular to rent a flat. My colleague from Belgium pointed out that living with someone else is the hardest thing she had to cope with so far during Erasmus; living with someone else in the same room does not exist in her country as she said.
In Erasmus student’s life there is always a moment of depression, time when one misses his home, family, beloved pets. There is perceptible longing for known places and language, safety which is given by understanding everyone and anywhere. What is more I think all of us miss food, which is a bit different in every country. In this time each of us has his own method of coping with it. It is good to call family or friends, loose yourself in a book or just go to the party to forget for few minutes and wait out for the moment of weakness to pass. Fortunately, these are only short moments.
When the weather is nice, a lot of opportunities open along for Erasmus students. Country, which one does not know, means a lot of places to visit. Again, with help come students’ organizations which always have few propositions for each weekend. However, if one prefers spending time independently, it is very popular for a few friends to gather together and rent a car. Every weekend dozens of cars leave Ljubljana in different directions – among others: Alps, seashore, Zagreb and Venice.
Among all these attractions one must also find time to study. Erasmus students often have individual classes, which I personally like. It motivates me to be more effective as I know my effort will be noticed, but it demands a lot of self-discipline, so not everyone share the same feelings. It is also a matter of chance how much involved lecturers will be and how much time and attention they will be able to devote.
At the end I want to point out how much work and courage is needed to go on Erasmus. For many it is the first time when they must face the problems on their own, and in addition surrounded by a foreign language. It teaches discipline and responsibility. What is more it opens minds and teaches tolerance for other culture. It is a great experience and I highly recommend it to everyone!
Olga Zofia Boejszo
Warsaw University of Technology