I was lucky enough to go on Erasmus in my second year of university at the age of 19. It was an incredible experience that I knew I wanted to have ever since I knew it was a thing. I made friends for life, I learned things about myself, about others, about how the world works and about how other countries work. I came back a changed person. It’s been four years since I packed my bags and went to Spain. It’s also been four years since I wrote an article about it. And I did it again. Sort of. I did a European Solidarity Corps last year in Poland. It’s different than Erasmus, but I had the same vibe doing it. But what if, five years ago, I had decided not to go on Erasmus? What if I had never studied abroad?
Let’s start by painting a picture. It’s summer of 2016. I just turned 18 and I got an e-mail saying that I got into the university that I wanted and the degree I wanted. I cried in my room and my dad hugged me, telling me “of course you were going to get in, you had amazing grades”. First week of classes: I’m very nervous, but excited. I really like languages, this is great. I’m going to meet so many new people, make so many new friends. I’m living the time of my life.
Around October, I got an e-mail from the university talking about the Erasmus+ programme. In this reality, where I don’t go abroad, I just ignore it. Why would I go on Erasmus? It’s expensive. I have all of my new friends here. I’m starting to build something here. Something great. Why would I destroy that by going abroad? I have time to explore the world. I also did not know anyone that had gone on Erasmus. No one from my major had gone on Erasmus before, so I would be the first one. Why would I want to pave the way? So I ignore it. What actually happened was, I wanted to go as soon as possible, but the coordinator said that I could only go on my second year because I needed to have a minimum number of ECTS.
It’s now summer of 2017. The year I joined ESN. If I hadn’t applied to go on Erasmus, I most likely wouldn’t have joined ESN. I feel that I joined because I wanted to start my Erasmus experience earlier, but if I wasn’t going, why would I want to do that? So, no volunteering for me. I would simply focus on studying.
In January 2018, instead of packing my bags to go to Spain, I would be studying for my exams and getting ready for a new semester. Same old, same old. Repeat what I had done the previous year. Simple. Effective. I would’ve kept all the friends I had. I would’ve hung out with the same people, in the same places. I would’ve never dyed my hair. Would’ve never gotten a tattoo. Would’ve never improved my Spanish. Would’ve never had a road trip to go to a concert. Just the same things, all over again.
In terms of short-term impact, maybe it was a good idea to not go on Erasmus. It saved me money. Traveling to a different country is expensive, even with a scholarship. It saved me time. The paperwork is a chaotic mess. It allowed me to strengthen my friendships. So maybe not studying abroad is a good idea. But, with the power of hindsight, maybe I wouldn’t be the person I am today.
I wouldn’t have joined ESN. And I’ve learned things with ESN that I wouldn’t otherwise have learned. I’ve met my closest friends in this association. It has allowed me to grow as a person.
I wouldn’t have known that my major isn’t what I actually want to do. I graduated, but if it wasn’t for studying abroad, I wouldn’t know that I would be stuck doing something that I don’t like. I would be trapped in the vicious cycle of working a 9-to-5 that just gives me money but no joy.
It allowed me to stand up for myself and for the things I believe in. Whether it’s simple things like “today, I don’t feel good” or more complex things like feminism or LGBTQ+ rights.
It helped me meet people that don’t think the same way as I do. It helped me meet people from different backgrounds that have different life perspectives. It helped me understand that I was seeing the world in a bubble, that we all see the world differently, and we just have to understand each other’s bubbles.
Later on, it allowed me to be able to drop everything and go volunteer in Poland because I knew that going abroad was beneficial.
But what if I had never gone on Erasmus? I would probably be a completely different person. Not probably. I know I would be a completely different person. And it’s only been four years. I wonder if ten years in the future, I’ll still think the same way.
Going abroad is always incredible, that’s why we like to travel when we have holidays. But studying abroad? Immersing yourself in a different culture for weeks and months at a time? Talking and living with people from different cultures? Having to learn a different language simply because you want food? That’s different. The cliché that Erasmus changes your life has some truth in it.
If I had a time machine to go back in time, I would use it to tell my “past me” to go on Erasmus. I wouldn’t stop my “past me” because it was one of the best decisions I have ever made.