A question that was posed a thousand times to me once returning home from exchange in Rouen, France: how was it? I am still looking for the appropriate words, which might shed light on the life-changing experience. Maybe writing things down will help.
So why did I choose to go on exchange? I decided to leave home at 19, having had a girlfriend for 3 years, something that isn’t very common. I thought it would be a great opportunity to learn another language and maybe gain some kind of advantage in the job market. I had dreamt of studying abroad since I started high school and I would not let anything take that away from me.
What I didn’t anticipate is that the Erasmus experience would change me forever.
After travelling through the continent, to 10 different countries in as many months, seeing some of the most beautiful paintings, sculptures, buildings, people and landscapes in the world. I can safely say it was the most enriching thing I could ever have done. I made so many friends who will remain close to my heart forever.
I did learn the language and even another one, since some of my closest friends were Spanish, Mexican and Argentinean. It made me want to travel the world, experience as many cultures as I could, and learn more languages than I thought were possible. However, there is one thing I cannot do. Sum up the life that I lived for 10 months in any way that makes sense or even in a succinct enough way that would interest people.
Would I suggest it to anyone else? Of course, and I would suggest they switch places with me so I could experience it again!
Waking up in a foreign country, somewhere different, surrounded by new friends, whom after only a short time become absolutely everything to you, is an incredible feeling. Studying with people from all walks of life, from every continent in the world really allows you to absorb their cultures and improve the way you live in as many ways as possible.
I went to Cologne for carnival and saw some of the happiest people on the planet whilst dressed as the most ridiculous things. I shared hostels and tiny single beds with people. I ate typical German food and slept for 4 hours a night. It was amazing.
Around 40 people from my Erasmus program in Rouen travelled together to Budapest, Hungary just because we found flights for €15. We rented a whole apartment block and had Palenka shots until we couldn’t stand any more. The sun shone like it never does in Glasgow and we spent 8 hours soaking in the traditional Hungarian bath houses with the locals.
I had seen more places and people than most people of the same age and I am so grateful that I am lucky enough to have experienced it. I now have friends from the 4 corners of the globe whom I have visited or plan on visiting soon.
Some people find it difficult to be away from home, they get homesick; they miss their families and other halves. Relationships do take some strain, understandably. However, the ones that matter flourish. Living away from home made me appreciate how lucky I am to have some of the people around me, like my parents. Moving away also let me feel emotions that I didn’t know were possible. Love, passion, exhilaration.
Living on exchange is a dream, the most colourful, enriching and lucid dream you can ever have. And you’ll never want it to finish.
However, you must wake up at some point. For me, it was a dreich Sunday morning in Glasgow, having to say goodbye to my new(ish) girlfriend at Glasgow International Airport the summer after returning to Scotland. We spent hours locked in silence while both utterly devastated and uncertain whether we would ever see each other again. Tears were hard to control and for me, they still are.
The only negative aspect of life on exchange was coming home. Saying goodbye forever to some of the most amazing people you will ever meet. Saying goodbye to girlfriends/boyfriends who, chances are, you will never see again. Saying goodbye to a city that has broadened your horizon. Saying goodbye to a life of which you had dreamt of for years and will only be allowed to dream of again.
I hope this short story of my exchange finally answers those people who ask, how was it? I don’t think I’ll ever be able to answer it comple
tely. It is something that should be lived in order to understand just how incredible it is. I think I have run out of the appropriate adjectives when speaking to friends or family, but I think they can understand. Just as I hope you can understand. Erasmus was magical.