Having read so much about the impact Erasmus has had on people, I started looking into the stories of how they decided to do it in the first place. Continuing my quest, I interviewed some more people, who followed different paths but all ended up on Erasmus!
Ceyhun - Turkey - Erasmus in Wroclaw, Poland
The first interviewee is one of my closest friends I made during my own exchange. I was curious to know what led him to Wroclaw and how he decided he wanted to go abroad with Erasmus.
We arranged a Skype-call and soon enough, we’re waving at each other through a camera. The conversation flows naturally, like it always happens with an old friend. He tells me about the first time he heard about Erasmus. He recalls chatting with a friend about how exciting living and studying abroad seems. His friend mentioned a programme which allows the opportunity to study in a different country for a few months, while providing a scholarship - Erasmus. That was it.
Knowing him to be a social person, his answer to my next question does not surprise me: his biggest fear before going on Erasmus was that he might end up alone. He tells me that what helped him deal with that fear, was knowing that ESN events are a good way to meet other Erasmus students and socialise. There’s a big smile on his face as he admits he had no problems making friends after all.
I ask him my last question. “What would you say to someone considering applying for Erasmus?” He fixes his glasses on his nose. “I’d say just do it. Go with the flow. You’ll forget about all your fears the moment you step foot in your Erasmus city, because you might be going on your own, but you’re certainly not alone”.
Markella - Greece - Erasmus in Lund, Sweden and Porto, Portugal
Markella’s story resembles my own - at least in the beginning. Just like me, she doesn’t remember how she found out about Erasmus - she just always knew she wanted to do it. She remembers writing essays in middle school about wishing to go on Erasmus, travel and live abroad.
Being an ESNer before her Erasmus, Markella had already gotten a glimpse of hat Erasmus was like, through being involved in her local Erasmus community. She considers her experience in ESN as both a pro and a con for her Erasmus, stating she felt like it might have taken away some of her enthusiasm, though at the same time it was good practice. Markella had already heavily interacted with international students, which made the transition to her Erasmus life smooth and easy. “After all,'' she says, “when you’re on your own Erasmus, it’s easy to forget you’re an ESNer and just enjoy Erasmus life to its fullest”.
Markella’s expectations were high. She says: “I sought for something different to my own country. I’ve always been interested in Scandinavia, so as soon as I got into University, I started checking out my options and found Lund. I was so excited to see Sweden!”.
Markella’s first Erasmus left a mark on her. Not long after that, she left for Porto, Portugal, for her second Erasmus, seeking a brand new experience. She describes her time in Porto as focused on her internship more than on the typical Erasmus life. Since her return from Porto, there is a fresh desire for adventure, and hope to explore her own city with a brand new perspective.
When asked about her fears, her answer is “I don’t do fear!” Markella states she was a bit concerned about socialising, but living and travelling alone in a foreign country was never an issue for her. I can see a spark in her eyes as she gives her piece of advice to future outgoing students: “There is no need to convince someone over the positive aspects of Erasmus - that’s pretty much a given. What needs to be said, is that everything that scares you about it, like being lonely or not speaking the language, are the things that will make you stronger, help you grow and learn. You’ll be thankful for those things after it’s all over.”
Hongbo - China, student in Estonia - Erasmus in Helsinki, Finland
This interview was particularly interesting for me, as it brought a whole new perspective to the narrative. This Skype-call is the first time I see or talk to Hongbo. He was introduced to me for the purposes of this interview by a mutual friend.
Hongbo moved to Estonia from China, in order to attend university there. “In China, we don’t have anything like the EU, to fund exchange programmes,'' he says, describing how different such programmes are where he comes from.
Hongbo tells me it was his Colombian roommate in Estonia who first talked to him about Erasmus, and later, the incoming Erasmus students he met in Tallinn, who gave him the opportunity to get a taste of the Erasmus life, first hand. Inspired by their stories and experiences, he started doing some research on it.
Coming to Europe all the way from China, to attend university, Hongbo had his priorities straight: even when searching for an Erasmus opportunity, his studies came first. He originally considered Finland for his full time studies, so after finding an agreement with a university in Helsinki, it all became clear. The reputation of the university, the great education system and the fact that it was still very close to Tallinn, meant he could fulfil his dream of going on Erasmus while keeping track of his academic progress.
When I ask him about his fears before departing, he talks about his desire to balance the classic “Erasmus life” and his hopes to focus on his studies.
I ask him what he’d say to people considering to apply for Erasmus. He describes it as a luxury. “People should just go for it!”, he says. “It’s a rare and great opportunity and they should appreciate it!”. He also makes a point to talk about how, at least partially, the point of Erasmus is European integration. “It brings people together, it helps avoid conflicts, it helps people realise what they have in common and forget about their differences. If Erasmus took place worldwide the way it does in Europe… imagine the impact it would have!”
In a time when the future of Europe heavily depends on its youth, there is nothing better than seeing young people from different parts of Europe - and beyond - uniting in the name of Erasmus: the exchange programme that changes lives.