“I’m not going back”. Out of all the thoughts I had when I was about to leave for my exchange, this was the most prominent one. Once I understood the luck I had to be in a study environment that granted me access to so many opportunities abroad, I knew what I really wanted out of this exchange was an opportunity to find a new home, away from my birthplace.
It is usually not your plan, when you go on Erasmus, to turn your temporary residence into a permanent one. For some of us, however, it was clear from the start that leaving the place where we grew up was most likely permanent, or at least that is how we planned it to be.
Of course, my story is not that of everyone who moved away for studies. In fact, it’s usually quite the opposite – a temporary break from the typical framework you’ve been used to so far. You take this chance to move towards new horizons, meet new people, discover a different environment… but you do not plan to stay there indefinitely. After all, the place you’ve left was basically your entire life: family, friends, studies and more… all the elements that compose your life and that you are eager to come back to, enriched with your newly acquired experiences.
Yet here I was, ready to leave, confident in my decision that abroad was the place where I wanted to be. I wasn’t sure of the “how”, the “where” or even the “when”, but I was sure that it was what I wanted.
Being part of this category of people, I’m well aware our motivations are not always clear to the ones we leave behind. But the main idea I’d really like to dissipate here is the fact I am leaving because I don’t like my home country anymore. That is not true; I love my home country – it made me the person I am now. Even if I were to disagree with the way it is governed, or about the social situation, I would still be leaving behind a huge part of my life in the form of the people and places I know.
But, in this case, why leave?
The story of the person who left their home country for good is a highly individual one – yet, what I want to try to do in the following lines is, via my own testimony, try and capture the feeling some of us have had during this life-changing decision.
The main reason to leave my country was maybe the simplest, yet most evident one: I have lived there already. I know it. Or rather, I don’t know it by heart and I will always learn something new about it… but I know it enough. Its culture, its language(s), its habits, its politics (just kidding, nobody understands that) - I am familiar with it. It’s nothing to be ashamed of, obviously, and I have much respect for those who decided to stay because they like that feeling of familiarity.
I, however, chose not to go down that path. Instead, it felt to me I could achieve more by being away from home, not only because I can discover more, but because I can share more as well.
Also, in case you’re wondering, I am not ignoring the whole socio-economic framework that comes into play in making that decision. Of course, we all have a way of rationalizing our departure. Perhaps we’re looking for a place where we feel we’ll have better opportunities. Perhaps we feel more attuned to the values of the place we’re going to. But, as I said, for the most part, we do not leave out of frustration, but out of a need for a new horizon. It is not a matter of leaving as much as it is a matter of going, discovering and searching. And, in case you’ve found what you have been looking for, staying.
But where does this urge to travel and discover comes from? What makes me want to stay where I landed?
Again, the answers are many, and it is not of my pretension to list them exhaustively. But for me, I would say that one of the main benefits of traveling is the ability to break stereotypes completely about the places I wanted to go to. Most of us have a picture of where we want to go before moving abroad, but as it happens this idea is often formed through clichés and false premises that we’ve heard without ever verifying. As a result, when you are in the country itself, you start to identify the truth from the exaggeration regarding what you might have heard of it. You might be even more enthusiastic about it, or you might be completely rebuked – but at least, you learn and you understand.
Also, against any feeling of latent homesickness, there is the comforting thought that, even if you leave your home, you’ll never find yourself completely away from it. You always find chunks of your own culture disseminated abroad, as many countries had an influence on one another, especially thanks to the ease of traveling and sharing that arose in the recent years. As such, you are never completely isolated from your own culture. Plus, as an international student, you get access to what can be qualified as “international life”. In other words, the realization there’s a whole world of internationals like you (be it that they call themselves expats, international or simply Erasmus), that are more than eager to meet and exchange with new people like you.
In the end, I’m not sure why it was always clear to me that I had to leave, nor why I chose to stay where I am now. For all the reasons I listed above, and many others I have yet to discover, surely. But one thing is for certain – I don’t regret a second of it.