Written by: Paulina Wyrwas
Going on an Erasmus exchange is an amazing experience. Make sure that you make the most out of this period and that, looking back, you won’t have a single regret!
When we leave to study abroad, we leave with some expectations - an image of all the things that are going to happen and everything we are going to achieve. Some assume they will perfect their language skills while others dream of unbelievably absorbing classes with engaged professors, interesting lectures and fancy laboratories. Others expect to focus more on the social side of Erasmus; they hope to make lifelong friendships with people from all over the world, engage in discussions about art, global politics and the environment, or to have the time of their lives by going out six nights in a week and dancing till sunrise. Finally, there are those who wish to travel and become citizens of the world. It all seems perfect in theory, but then life happens. It is very likely that after you arrive at your new home, not everything will be as you planned. What to do then? Going on an exchange is an amazing privilege and a once in a lifetime opportunity - and there is more than one way to benefit from it. So how do you not get stuck on expectations, and how do you make the most of what you are given?
There is one crucial thing to realise- there are plenty of ways to experience certain things in life. If things don’t go as you initially planned, try to let go of the image you’ve had in your head, assess the situation and figure out the way to make it even better! You might have, for instance, gone abroad hoping to have fun at crazy parties, however, it turned out that you don’t like the music at any of the clubs and that people among the “popular crowd” are simply not your cup of tea. Maybe you wanted to pick up a new language but the classes are not interesting at all and the teacher seems to hate you? It happens. It doesn’t mean that the time you are going to spend on an exchange will go to waste. This is YOUR time, a time for discovery and self-development - all you need to do is work a bit in order to make the experience your own.
Make friends with someone you would normally never talk to
Erasmus gives you endless opportunities for meeting new, exciting people. You will come across many students from distinct backgrounds, with various experiences, who have other perspectives on life and beliefs different from your own. It does not mean that you cannot be friends. Or at least try to exchange views on some topics - it will broaden your horizons for sure, and might let you see some issues in a completely different light.
Explore your surroundings
You expected to travel a lot during your exchange period, but heavily overestimated your budget or the amount of free time at the university? No worries! You don’t need to go far to become an explorer. Rent a bike or hop on a train and visit all of the neighbourhood, admire the diversity, the climate, nature. Pay a visit to local markets and boutiques, visit all the museums and galleries - there is plenty to see, so use the fact that you already ARE abroad. There is no need to go any further.
Focus on your studies
Don’t forget that Erasmus is an amazing chance to learn, and that also includes the things you learn at the university. Focus on your classes, work hard on the assignments, spend some time in the library. If you picked a class that you are not particularly interested in, try to exchange it for another one. Don’t forget that there is a wide spectrum of classes and you don’t have to stay stuck with your initial choice (of course, remember to check if it is OK with your home university first). Use the fact that you can study in a different education system, maybe you will pick up a useful habit, or a study technique?
Focus on yourself
You are far away from your family, friends, from all the influences and everything that is familiar. It is time to reinvent yourself. To see who you are on your own, as an independent human being. This part is particularly scary. Being abroad pulls you out of your comfort zone, which is the best way you can grow as a person. Try a lot of new things, say yes to every opportunity - cooking lessons, bike trips, art expositions. You can even go a step further and go bungee jumping or parachuting - why not? If the opportunity presents itself, take it and regret nothing. Another aspect of focusing on yourself is taking care of your body - try to eat as healthy as you possibly can, kick the sugar addiction or love for greasy fast food goodbye! Exercise - by going on morning runs or practising yoga - whatever works for you. When you keep your body in a good condition, the mind will follow.
Write a journal
Finally - document your journey. Write in a journal, or start a blog. You can write about anything and everything - all the frustrations, feelings of homesickness, little successes and big achievements. In a couple of years, it is going to be an amazing memento, but it will also allow you to see how far you have come. It will be a reflection of your progress - from who you used to be and how the experience has changed and shaped you. And without a doubt, it will change you - and you are the only one who decides how.