The main lesson that Erasmus taught me was to live.
During my school years, I missed out on a lot and I did not want the situation to repeat itself. Ever since I entered university, my main focus was getting everything I could out of the experience.
I moved to the capital where everything was new, scary and stressful. Instead of giving myself some time to adjust, I dived deep into studying. Waking up to go to university, classes, studying until 4 am, sleeping and heading back to the campus was my perfect recipe to get the best grades.
At some point, it was not enough. So I got into the students` union. My schedule was already quite busy, but I was down the path of becoming a productivity addict, so I found a job and joined ESN.
That spring, I had forgotten that normal people had days off. If I was not teaching, I was studying. If not that, I wrote for blogs. Or took extra hours at work. Or signed up for new volunteer projects. Just enjoying a walk or listening to music was not productive. Everything that did not aim at my self-improvement was a stupid waste of time. Eventually, I ended up in hospital, because it was too much to handle for my body.
This did not stop me though. I took on more and more responsibilities. Every time my planner got fuller, I wanted my day to be even busier. I did not remember how being in a comfort zone felt like: I constantly pushed myself to do the things I was afraid of, so there was no comfort zone anymore.
I remembered that one time when the exam period was coming up, I had a huge fight with a client, I still did not feel quite well after the hospital stay, and I was on my way from volunteering at some exhibition. I slept for three hours that day. That being said, I could not bring myself to just stand still in the subway - I felt the urge to read my notes or learn new words, even though I could barely think.
I looked at what my life was. I felt so tired and so miserable, and I started crying and could not stop until I got home and fell asleep. I was so angry with myself and with the trend of being the most efficient, the most productive, the best. After all, who are you and where will you end up if you are not all three?
In the city where everyone runs around, wearing these perfect suits and well-known brands, you are not allowed to walk slowly. It seems unbearable to just be a student when people are studying astrobiology in the subway. It is easy to lose track of “now” in the time of great opportunities. Do not waste your time. Focus on your career. What will you put on your CV?
Then my Erasmus happened. Leipzig seemed so… relaxed? People were smiling and did not try to seem all official and serious like in my country. They did not rush anywhere. They just walked, looking up at the sky.
I did not fit in there, rushing to the class and working during the breaks. I also met two of my favourite people who were surprised by my schedule of getting four hours of sleep. They used to ask me if I slept, and for the first time in a while, I felt guilty not for being unproductive, but for not getting proper rest.
My Erasmus became the time when I could enjoy sipping coffee in the morning without checking messages on Slack or listening to an educational podcast. I learned that life should not be shoved somewhere in between deadlines and application forms. Quite the opposite. You are working to live, not living to work. Selfcare is not only about putting the right products on your face. It is also about getting some candles and doing things that make you laugh.
When I got back, the busy and efficiency-driven atmosphere came back too. With quarantine turning into a productivity contest when people learn four new hobbies and start three classes on Coursera, it is hard to continue living as I did on Erasmus. Sometimes I feel guilty and miserable when I do nothing. Sometimes I get literally sick if I do something wrong, thinking that I am not putting enough effort in. Sometimes, me-time feels more like torture when I look at all the tasks I could be managing.
However, I still get messages from my friends, saying that I am enough and doing enough. I still look at the candles I bought for the first time in Ukraine and cross out all the plans for Sunday. I still put aside everything when I see a beautiful sunset.
Fighting with yourself drowns you. Constantly reminding yourself to slow down is not easy. Yet, in the end, you see the clouds passing by. You feel how caring the wind is when it weaves ocean stories into your hair. You hear the children laughing while seeing the first butterfly in their life.
In the end, it is all worth it.