I recently celebrated my 4th Erasmus anniversary. By ‘celebrated’ I mean I sat on the couch, ate all the chocolate I had in my apartment, and looked at photos from my Erasmus which is now officially four years old. The photos include places, people and moments that I remember fondly, and as my mind explored the memories, a new realisation dawned on me. For the past four years, most of the big decisions I made in my life were somehow connected to these photographs.
I looked at pictures taken in a small city I’d never even heard of before my trip to my Erasmus country, and I remembered that at that moment, I had decided that I wanted to explore more of the countries that are so close to me and yet I knew nothing about. Could this have been the root of my later decision to go on a second Erasmus? To engage myself in Erasmus communities in my home country and interact with international students? Could this be why it became so easy for me to pack a suitcase and move across the continent and start a new life?
I began to trace all the steps I took in the past four years that brought me to where I am now. From deciding I wanted to take any opportunity where I could to travel more, all the way to realising that I wanted to live in different countries in the world.
Up until my first Erasmus experience, I felt like I could see myself living in a big city in my own country - and it truly seemed like a safe choice. I knew the language, I knew the culture, and the cities are big enough to provide me with the lifestyle I envisioned for my future. But all it took was a single trip abroad, on my own, to realise that there is so much more to the world and that I wanted to explore it.
This might seem like a single decision that does not necessarily have much to do with any subsequent decisions I made, like what kind of studies I wanted to pursue after my first degree, what kind of people I choose to surround myself with, or what kind of hobbies I take up in my free time. However, as soon as I took a step back and looked at the bigger picture, I came to the realisation that had I not applied for that first Erasmus, my life would be completely different now.
Because of that Erasmus, I decided to engage with the local community of international students in my city when I returned from abroad. Because of that community, I surrounded myself with new friends who had similar passions and a similar mindset to mine. Because of those new friends, I felt encouraged to take on different roles as a volunteer within ESN. And it’s because of those roles that I was able to develop new skills and make decisions about my future, including my subsequent studies and employment.
I’m currently living abroad, pursuing a master’s degree and planning my next steps after that. Is it a perfect life? Certainly not. Am I always fully confident in my decisions? No, I can’t claim to be. But I’m very happy with the experiences I have had so far, and while every new path I go down seems like its own, unique journey, I can always look back and thank my Erasmus experience for teaching me to take risks, to be bolder, and to travel more, even if I don’t speak the language of the place I’m visiting.
Before I went on my own Erasmus, I’d always heard about the benefits of the exchange programme, but people used vague words that didn’t truly help me to understand. What does it mean when they say Erasmus makes people more open-minded? What does it look like when you get in touch with other cultures? How does that benefit me in the long run? I can now say that, while I did realise that Erasmus was a life-changing experience while I was living it, it took a few years for me to really be able to recognise the long-term benefits and the mark it left on me - one that will always accompany every single one of my decisions, whether I realise it or not.