First of all, let me introduce the meaning of the term “buddy”. A buddy, or mentor or tutor - the term might differ according to the country and university - is a local student that gets matched with an incoming exchange student and helps them with the bureaucracy, accommodation and generally is the person that supports them to adapt in the new city. The communication usually starts before the arrival, so the buddy can actually be the emergency contact on all occasions.
Sometimes, it is not necessary to be an ESN volunteer to grab this opportunity, as open calls are published on social media. Although in case it is, you now have one reason to consider joining the Erasmus Student Network.
After introducing you to the “buddy-culture”, I assume you have two main questions either as a local, a volunteer or as an incoming. Why should I become a buddy, or why should I get a buddy?
As a local, my friends who are not ESN volunteers often wonder how it is possible that I actually enjoy it and don’t consider it “a task”. Yet, the answer is very simple. Volunteering is directly linked with altruism and a sense of fulfilment when helping others. Imagine heading into the unknown and having someone to watch your steps. Being the person that keeps doubt and fear away, you only receive gratitude.
The assignment of the buddies might be coincidental, or by choice, based on factors such as the country or the faculty. By having a buddy, you instantly connect to the Erasmus group and unlock the door to several experiences. Sometimes, as it happened in my case, you get to rediscover your own city in a different way, learn new things, and fall in love with it all over again. Via the buddy friendship, you earn your place in a warm home far away or even better you get a new travel buddy; moreover, your love for exploring is something you have in common. The buddy relationship is also a strong determining on the incoming student’s decision to later become a buddy or join ESN, and trust me there is no greater feeling than knowing that you inspired another person.
On the other side of the story, incoming students sometimes ignore their assigned buddies. However, having a buddy won't take away from the experience of exploring your Erasmus life in your own. As already mentioned above, you have someone to consult in advance, someone that, more often than not, is a native speaker and can help you out. Your Erasmus destination aims at becoming your second home, so having the opportunity to return and relive moments with a friend is priceless.
Of course, not all people match with each other and it’s not obligatory to become friends with your buddy if you don’t feel like it. Although, if you never try, you’ll never know!
Below, you can read some unique buddy-friendship stories from around the globe. Fasten your seatbelt, and enjoy your journey among people that are still living in the same city, people that have been apart for a long time and people whose bond is proof that the interaction with your buddy is about more than the Erasmus experience.
Q: What motivated you to sign up to be a buddy? What were your expectations for your relationship with the exchange students you were matched with and how did it turn out to be?
A: When I arrived in Turku for my MSc, I had such an awful buddy, it felt like a nightmare. This fact, combined with my will to help incoming students have a way better experience so that they would get to like Turku as much as I do, motivated me to apply. I expected it to be like in my buddy group during my exchange in Oulu, where we had an incredible group-bonding. Even though it didn't exactly go like that, I managed to bond with some of them, and even travel a bit with one of them.
Q: What were your thoughts when you were informed you've been assigned to a buddy?
A: I thought the adaptation period would be easier, as someone would be helping me along the way. I felt less scared about being in a completely new country because somehow this new person was now a friendly face to trust.
2. Tomaš and Vedrana, Pardubice, Czech Republic, 2016
Q: As a local student, what is it that makes the friendship with an Erasmus student special?
A: I think that friendship with an Erasmus student is like when you are in any kind of relationship. There is no special moment when you say, "now we are best friends". It will happen over time, after all the small things we share together.
Q: What was the process of your buddy-friendship before, during and after your exchange?
A: As I was preparing to set off to the land of the unknown, the Czech Republic, I received an email with the contact information of my ESN Pardubice buddy, Tomaš!. We first met at the train station on a cold and foggy day. He waited for me, led me to register at the dormitory and helped me with my suitcase. He did not say much whilst I was too talkative. Me, my roommate Ilknur and him, became a trio that no event could go without. After returning to my home country I joined ESN, became a buddy as well and made AMAZING friendships.. Life unfolds in a strange way. About a week ago, Tomaš invited me to his wedding. A new chapter begins for him, and I will be right there to support him on his new path.
Elisavet from ESN IHU & Sabrine from Tunisia were buddies during the Winter Semester 2017-2018
Q: How do you manage to keep your buddy-friendship alive after so long? Why is the buddy-bond special for you?
A: Elisavet: When Sabrine finally arrived, I firstly made sure that she had all the necessary help with arranging her accommodation and learning her way around the city. We immediately bonded and, in that moment, I knew that our friendship was bound to last longer than her 3-month internship in Greece. During those three months, we created amazing memories together. Before her departure, right around Christmas, I gave her a polaroid photo of Thessaloniki's coastline and made her promise that she would come back! After she left, we continued our friendship online, thanks to social media. For the past two years, she has been just a message away and we regularly text each other to catch up. Our buddy bond is special because Sabrine is special to me. She has this incredibly positive energy that manages to make me smile whenever we talk. She's so sweet, considerate and always makes me feel better if I happen to be having a bad day. Also, I think that our mutual love for Thessaloniki, where we met and instantly bonded, strengthens our bond. Even though she now lives thousands of kilometres away, I know that someday we will see each other again and it'll be just like the old times!
Sabrine: I met Elisavet through the events organised by ESN and I thought “who would be a better buddy than her?”. She is an incredible person who is always there to help when you need anything with directions, translations or recommendations. Meeting up with Elisavet for coffee, for tours around the city and going shopping has made us close friends. We manage to keep our buddy friendship alive through social media where we always exchange text messages to give each other updates and to catch up almost three years after I returned home. I guess our buddy bond is special thanks to Elisavet. She is naturally a friendly person and she is so great with people. She is a very welcoming and a fun person to hang out with and the fact that she is sociable makes any person want to stay in touch with her. She surely made my stay in Thessaloniki a lot easier providing constant support and guidance. I’m keeping an eye on her and I am proud of her incredible accomplishments. I am grateful for her presence in my life when I was on Erasmus and still thankful for keeping the friendship alive even though we live far from each other.
These stories constitute just a small percentage of friendships or sometimes even love stories, that have the chance to begin every new semester and go on for a lifetime. Buddies may not see each other very often or talk every day, but they will always share memories. Buddies prove that not being an Erasmus student and having different responsibilities isn’t a limitation for creating a bond. As an ESNer, I confess that sometimes we face difficulty signing up for a new buddy, after a really strong bond. Que sera, sera.