And, in an instant, the sun sets on my life as an Erasmus student and I am once again just a languages student from Edinburgh university looking for summer jobs and attending twenty-first birthday parties, knowing that it will be impossible to recapture exactly the buzzing feeling I had all year that I was on some great adventure free from all the constraints of decent society, learning about language and culture and European life just by breathing in my surroundings. That euphoric sensation of achieving something just by existing in another culture already feels like a vivid dream.
I wish I could say that my unequivocal praise of the experience is representative of every single student that participates in the programme, but sadly there are people who do not enjoy which leads me to the conclusion that there are certain types of people more suited to Erasmus than others. I loved it and honestly think this year will have a huge influence on the direction my life takes from hereon out, although it is worth remembering that I am am something of a dreamy idealist who floats through situations looking for the deep symbolic meaning behind everything – not everyone will attach such importance to a year spent attending parties and taking the piss out of the quirks of every society we come across while secretly loving them – for some people it was just good banter.
It is impossible to give tips as to how best to enjoy the experience but there are definitely some things which might stunt people from fully benefiting from the programme. The first one is being inflexible and trying to force the culture and people to bend to fit your way of life: that does not work. People are easy to get along with, all intelligent people have some kind of common ground over which they can bond and going into en exchange hoping to find the proverbial Chandler and Phoebe sitting in ‘Central Perk’ waiting for you is a fantasy, there will be awkward introductions but essentially it is very easy to make friends because everyone is in the same situation – this said I got lucky in both France and Spain to end up with two fantastic groups of friends but I feel like even out with these groups it was possible to find decent chat with the vast majority of people.
The same warning about flexibility goes with living and social situations and university courses; my flat in Spain had problems ranging from smelling like warm rubbish every time the bins were collected outside, to the television only working when the scarp-plug was wedged in with a book, and in France our courtyard was patrolled by Satan’s own mongrel who left turd-mines everywhere for us unsuspecting civilians to step on (had they been real mines I would not exactly have been that guy from the ‘Hurt-Locker’) – but we gritted our teeth as a flat and got on with it.
Socially there is no sense in having any anxiety about people or activities: just do it. If it is not good then do not do it again, any embarrassment is completely unnecessary if you take into consideration that most witnesses will never see you again. It is safe in this knowledge that I can continue to sleep at night.
In terms of uni work, if you are prudent and pick sensible classes and then turn up to most of them that is all the professors ask; even the meanest of teachers appreciates the difficulty of doing a subject in a second language and will be accommodating. I have seen examples of people either picking ridiculously difficult subject and having to spend all year in the library under the misapprehension that we have to be anywhere near as good as the home students, or picking subjects which seem ridiculously easy, never going to class and then failing the exam (unfortunately this seems to be a foible for which British students are notorious.) Do not let work dominate your life but do not forget that you are still a student: simples, right?
The best way of learning a language is by being open and mixing with as many of the indigenous as possible, for example by doing extra-curricular activities or getting involved in student union stuff. I easily learned more French and Spanish on the rugby pitch or in the pub than I did in the classroom unless I want to make the topic of conversation something cheerful like a rape scene in a Vargas Llosa novel. As well as learning important skills the feeling of being able to communicate with someone my own age without seeming like either a weirdo or a degenerate was typical of the euphoric buzzing I described at the start.
In any case I feel like any advice I give is completely redundant because the success of my year abroad was based on having no expectations whatsoever – so I could not possibly have been disappointed. So my one Erasmus commandment after 33 blogs of infinite wisdom: just turn up, assess your situation and then lean into it – that is what I did and I would not change a single moment*.
(*that I was sober enough to remember…)
And so, in the words of Sir Bobby Robson, ‘this may not be goodbye, but it’s certainly farewell’. I would like to finish by saying thank you to everybody I have encountered since last September who, more than the places, the studying, the food, the booze, the road-trips and the pleasure of being able to prattle on about myself every single week, made this an indescribably awesome year. I would also like to thank everybody who read, commented on or even resisted the temptation to remove me from your facebook friends as a direct result of this blog. For those who enjoyed it, I shall return in a non-Erasmus related guise very soon so eyes peeled.
Until then I leave you with one last douchy quotation…because I can.
‘Don’t be dismayed at goodbyes. A farewell is necessary before you can meet again. And meeting again, after moments or lifetime, is certain for those who are friends.’ ~Richard Bach