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The endless world of what-ifs, by someone going on Erasmus during a global pandemic

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Erasmus stands for having a whole lot of fun and making lifelong memories, while studying abroad with people from different cultural backgrounds, but what happens when there’s a global pandemic?
composition with lights near a head

The world is pretty unpredictable at the moment and decisions are made on a daily basis as everything progresses, so how can we prepare to go on our own to somewhere we’ve never been before, to a language we don’t speak and culture we haven’t embraced yet?

toilet paper, mask, phone and gloves
credit: Roman Grachev

Regardless of whether or not we go abroad, the reality is that studying at any university will come with extra precautions and the constant possibility of classes going online again. With all the usual self-doubts in place and the 2020 sponsored ones, how do we make the decision to go or not to go?

I am one of those people who most of the time puts on a brave face in front of people but more than half the time I’m faking it until I make it, so what happens when everyone leaves and I am left in an endless world of what-ifs where my worries turn into a spiral of anxiety?

What if I do decide to go but I end up not being allowed out of my country or into my host country?

What if I can’t get back?

What if classes go online before it even starts? Would I even go, to begin with?

What if I don’t get along with my roommates? What if having a roommate, especially one you don’t know, becomes a constant source of anxiety and an unwanted marriage of sorts, the kind that makes you ask ‘where were you? Did you use protection?’ everytime they come through the door?

What if I am not creative, skilled or smart enough for the new university?

What if, when I return, my friends have moved on?

What if, when I come back, my family has somehow been altered dynamically or my dog isn’t here anymore? After all, nobody is getting any younger...

What if, what if, what if

I am not worried about the whole masks and alcohol issues all that much, it would be exactly the same if I decided to stay at my local university, but the fear of getting sick in a country where I don’t know my rights by heart nor what the conditions will be does cross my mind somewhat often. And what happens when I am there, with half of my body weight worth of luggage and the need to make all the decisions by myself? Even something as simple as boarding a plane, which I have done in the past, is terrifying me right now. How are airports handling the situation? Do I need to get tested or will there just be a list of symptoms for me to check or uncheck? And if there is testing, does it need to happen here or there? There’s also the possibility that I can’t board off my plane and be in Polish soil without a test that my country won’t have performed on me. I couldn’t even get a plane that took me directly there or transferred my luggage to my second flight. So, I chose to land in a bigger city and catch a train or bus to my destination city, just to avoid any and all possible complications and accidents. Evading it was my way of trying to get there in one piece without losing anything but time, and some patience.

man sitting in hall
credit: Shawn Ang

At home, I study away from my hometown and when I spent my first weekend in the new city by myself, I was honestly feeling a little insecure and alone, but I see my first night in Poland as being a big relief, because it will mean I got to the place that will be my new home safe and sound. Completing the trip will, without a doubt, be my first big challenge of the semester.

Another big question is, what will the rest of the semester be like? How about all the incredible experiences and travelling I am supposed and looking forward to doing? What happens if I am stuck in the same place for the entire time? Everyone who went on Erasmus last semester already experienced that reality, and some still managed to love their situation, but what about those who didn’t? Will I be one of them?

I am absolutely terrified that it won’t pan out the way I hope it will, but thinking that way will only make me suffer from anticipation and not be excited about what’s to come. I need to be smart, even if being smart is absolutely exhausting...

I want all of those spur-of-the-moment trips, all the late-night cooking, the going out, the exploring and having a second or third family to later on reunite with halfway around the world. I want just about what every other mobility student before me had. Is that too much to ask?

My countdown is down to just a matter of weeks until I get to my host country. Until then I need to finish everything I have here, and give everyone a proper COVID-approved goodbye, cry a river, maybe two or even seven, and start packing up to go and leave all my worries and insecurity behind. It all just sounds super mature and grown-up, right? Hey, fake it until you make it, right?

social distancing sign
credit: Dicson

I’m practicing social distancing from my anxiety, wish me luck.

Written by Marta Fonseca