May 26, 2016
After 10 months of living in France, I have just returned home and therefore my Erasmus year is over. It was one of the best, yet most challenging experiences of my life and one I will never forget. Mainly for nostalgic purposes, here are my thoughts on my whole Erasmus experience.

Since starting to learn French in high school I have always wanted to go on a year abroad. Long before I knew what I wanted to study at University, I just knew that I wanted to go on a year abroad during my degree. Because of that, looking back, I think I had too many expectations and set myself up for disappointment. When people think about Erasmus, or a year abroad, it is immediately associated with happy, fun times drinking wine by a European river and not having any responsibilities - essentially a year-long holiday. And although there were plenty of those wine-drinking-river times, the reality is vastly different from this idealistic view of Erasmus. In reality, those wine-drinking-river times were to cheer myself up after a long, horrific day at University; those wine-drinking-river times were shadowed by one of my friends getting attacked, or pick-pocketed, or generally harassed on the journey home; those wine-drinking-river times had to be stopped early because of an early 8am lecture the next morning. Erasmus is difficult - very difficult - and shouldn't be underestimated. 

Think about the concept of Erasmus: you are generally late-teens, early 20's, moving to a totally new country and leaving behind your settled life, to somewhere that speaks a totally different language, has a thousand different customs and cultures to your home country, where you know either a couple other people or no one, where you are not only living in a different language but also studying in it too, where you are an outsider and easily identifiable as being foreign. It's scary, it's terrifying and it's really, really difficult. My first semester is tainted by memories of horrific university administration, terrible luck, difficult classes and general fuck-ups in the academic aspect of Erasmus. When you are preparing to go on Erasmus, especially if you are going to France, Spain, Italy etc, everyone will laugh and joke that the administration is horrible and terrible and a nightmare and to expect the worst. Yet, as much as you prepare yourself, you'll always be unprepared for how it can affect you. Little things like a lecture being cancelled without you knowing, yet the whole class receiving an e-mail, can make you go home and spend the evening crying. You're far away from home and you feel helpless with the situation. 

My main issue was my expectations of my Erasmus. Before leaving, I had been told by people before me that your language skills improve greatly, that you must endeavour to make native friends and not get stuck with all Erasmus friends, that you should read books and watch tv in the language of the country. It was because of these expectations that I was inevitably disappointed. The reality is that my language has improved slightly, but not greatly. I made no true native French friends and after a long day of lectures in French, the last thing I wanted to do was read/watch more French language material. The expectations are so engrained that I ignored the amazing group of International friends I had made, I ignored the fact I could sit through hours upon hours of lectures in total French and understand them and although my French language skills hadn't greatly improved, my confidence in speaking the language had and that is half the battle. 

Many people will read this blogpost and think I am spoiled and privileged because I am complaining about getting the chance to live in a foreign country for a year but that's not my point. Despite all these nightmares, despite how difficult they were at the time, despite the consequences of them I wouldn't change anything. I will never regret my year abroad. It was the best year of my life and I would urge anyone else to do one if they can. When you have a bad day at University and go home to cry, you're reminded that you're not the only one. There are hundreds of exchange students in your position. When you're down you can go to a social event and meet people from all different countries and make lifelong friendships. People you only met the week before soon become your closest friends. You go travelling to new places with a random mix of people who soon become your support group. Despite all the stress of everything at University going wrong, you forget about that when you're travelling the world with an amazing group of people. 

The one thing I will take away from my Erasmus experience is the people I met. Not just my friends, but the one-time encounters with people at Erasmus events, people I met and later drifted from, everyone. One of my fondest memories is the first Erasmus event I attended called the 'International Boat Party'. It was a club night based on a boat. At the door, everyone was given a paper sailor's hat and told to write your name and country of origin on the hat to wear throughout the night. At one point in the night I stopped in the middle of the party and took a moment to look around. "Italy. Spain. Germany. South Korea. China. Australia. Latvia. USA. Ireland." There were people at the party from almost every country I could think of, I had already met people from countries all over the world. The memory sums up the nature of Erasmus and Exchange in my eyes - although we're from all different countries around the world, we're all the same. That night I also met most of my closest friends from Erasmus, it was one of my favourite nights of the whole year. 

I don't know if this blogpost even has a flow, or makes sense. It may sound like I hated my time but I didn't.. by any means. I loved it. It was bloody difficult, I felt like giving up many times, but I have met some of my best friends, become more confident in myself and gained so many experiences that i'll take with me for the rest of my life. If you're going on Erasmus in the future, my advice to you is to not go into it with any expectations. Be prepared for the worst, but don't set yourself goals or expectations as you're just setting yourself up for disappointment. You'll have a great time no matter what happens - just be open to opportunities and meet as many people as you can. 

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