There are one hundred and one things that I was completely oblivious about before I went on Erasmus. For sure, figuring most of it out along the way was all part of the adventure. Some things, however, would have been great to know about or perhaps read about in a handy article in the UCC Express before I left. So here we are.
First of all, when it comes to preparation there are a couple of things that will be at the top of your agenda. Surprisingly, it wasn’t the packing but rather the paperwork that was my greatest enemy. There is a phenomenal amount of it to be done and believe me when I say that procrastination is not your friend here. I learned that one the hard way. Having everything signed off and squared away before you go provides great peace of mind and lessens what can seem like one big daunting move. I made the mistake of not checking up on my rent payments before arriving into my accommodation on moving day and was flatly denied entry by the polite Danish lady at reception. This led to a stressful sixty minutes of me desperately trying to make a payment with all of my worldly possessions blocking up the lobby and my parents thinking I was now homeless. You just don’t need that stress in your life, so as a word from the wise – stay on top of it.
Once you actually arrive, your next step will be settling into your new place. I know not everything will be the same in every city as it was for me when I arrived in Copenhagen, but the task of homeware shopping – now that’s a universal process. It’s also where I entirely lost the run of myself. Let me tell you now that you really don’t need all the things you think you’ll die without such as bed throws and cute decorative ceramics that truly don’t have a purpose. The key thing that I learned is to start off with just buying what you need – a bin, some towels, a laundry basket and of course fairy lights – we’re not heathens after all. Leave the rest of it behind until you find yourself actually needing it. I threw away money on household items I never once used. That’s money you’ll really be needing further down the line for food, fun and travel.
On the subject of travel, this is something that is not essential on an Erasmus. Exploring your new home turf could take up the 6 months all on its own. However, if travel is a viable option for you, I would highly recommend it. The Erasmus Student Network (ESN) organises sensational trips and they make it entirely hassle free to travel to places like Russia, Iceland and Lapland; places that you may never think of going to on your own. Also, since you are going with a large group of Erasmus students it is something that you can join in on alone or with friends. There is an array of different destination packages and all of them are available on their website. This means that you can research ahead of time and maybe start saving your pennies. However, those weeklong holidays aren’t the only way to go. I managed to partake in a trip to Norway on a surprisingly pleasant overnight ferry for €7 return. A little research goes a long way. I know an Erasmus on its own is already a big cost but don’t rule yourself out just because of the price of a package holiday.
When it comes to attending classes and taking exams, I recommend looking at your University’s website. In their book of modules, you’ll be able to see what kind of assessments you’ll be facing because they can run things very differently depending on the college.
Entering a new learning environment is truly very interesting and it is incredibly easy to give it your full attention as the chaos of your normal everyday life – i.e. part time jobs or society commitments – are removed. Everyone around is new just like you and so meeting people is not so bad when everyone is eager (if not bordering on desperate) to make friends.
Home sickness wasn’t really something that I experienced too much while I was away (sorry Mum and Dad!). However, any day that you do have a bit of a tug on your heart, those are the days to spend a tiny bit extra on the groceries and buy yourself the chocolate or the ice-cream that you usually consider for a minute but leave behind. Indulge yourself in a movie in bed or rally the troops to go out and do something fun. In any case, it is nothing more than a momentary feeling and it will go as quickly as it came.
One day without even realising it, you’ll start calling your new place home and truly mean it. New friends that you didn’t know mere months before become the family you can’t imagine living without. You forget that you ever had any worries about moving away. Then, in the blink of an eye the whole thing is over and you’re walking away, waving back at the gang and blinking really fast to avoid hysterics/people on the metro thinking you’ve lost the plot. Coming back to ‘real life’ can be weird since your life has changed an awful lot. You have new friends, unique experiences and a couple more life lessons under your belt. I found that having plans made or trips arranged kept the momentum going and lessened the feeling that life had come to a screeching halt – that this huge adventure I had been looking forward to for so long was over.
I know we all joke about those people that say, “Erasmus changed my life” and maybe that is dramatic, but it was undoubtedly one of the best things I have ever done. If you are someone going abroad this year or considering it in the future, I can only say to you to just do it. No matter what worries or concerns you may have, they are not insurmountable. Once you push through all of that and are sitting on that plane – you’ll never look back.