My Erasmus programme just ended and I feel the need to express some of the life lessons that I’ve learned along the way, in these 4 and a half months. I am writing this in hope that someone will be encouraged to apply for this programme after reading it.
First of all, I was an exchange student in Gent, Belgium at the Artevelde University College with other 30-something students from around the world (partly Europe). I still remember the first day in Gent like it was yesterday: I arrived with all of my luggages in this unknown place thinking “One day these streets will feel familiar.“. And boy, I was so right. Because yes, Gent became my home and strangers became my friends.
So, let’s get back to those 5 life lessons…
The first lesson is that you are 100% responsible for your own person.
During my stay in Gent, I learned what every teenager/young adult needs to learn sooner or later: I am responsible for my own person. What does this mean? Well, from daily or monthly stuff that I haven’t fully encountered before, like cooking for myself, washing the dishes, doing the laundry, paying the rent to more in depth actions such as taking care of myself, and being responsible for my attitude & happiness all the time. As a student abroad, I have to admit that you can feel lonely sometimes, no matter how many people are around you. Also, you will probably miss home or certain people from your life from time to time, which is totally normal and OK.
The idea is not to let this feelings become your attitude towards the experience that you are living and to remember that you are in charge of your overall experience. Nobody owes you anything, and if you want to have an awesome Erasmus experience, well, you have to do some work too and be open to the things around you.
The second lesson is that is not about what you see, is who you see it with.
During my Erasmus programme, I also managed to travel to a lot of places, a thing I only dreamed about: Belgium (Gent, Bruges, Antwerp, Bruxelles, Blankenbergen, Ostende, De Haan, Liege, Leuven, Dinant), France (Paris, Lille), The Netherlands (Rotterdam, Kinderdijk, Amsterdam, The Hague, Maastricht), Luxembourg, Germany (Koln, Berlin). Knowing how passionate I am about travelling, a friend of mine told me that I must be so happy to travel this much. Truth to be told I was, but the main thing that I’ve learned is that is not about what you see, is who you see with. Of course you can travel anytime in your life if you have money or if you raise them, but the fact that I shared this experience of travelling with people of different nationalities was honestly the most priceless thing ever.
The third lesson is that there is so much more to the world that you don’t know.
The stories I have heard from people from all over the world reminded me there is so much more to it that I really don’t know about. Sometimes, we tend to forget that when we stay in our “bubble”, used to the things in our country or on our continent, we sort of think that everywhere is similar to our micro-world.
A story that really stunned me was one of a South-Korean colleague. Asked about her opinion about Europe until now, she said that she really likes it, especially because of the smaller buildings that make it more possible to see the sky. Apparently, the tall buildings and skyscrapers from South Korea take away the beautiful view of the sky, a fact I never even took in consideration until now. Of course, there were many more stories and traditions unfamiliar with me: from German NYE traditions (“Bleigießen“) to French sweet habits (“le goûter“) or to Chinese natural remedies (warm water).
The fourth lesson is that we are actually all just the same, humans looking to be happy.
The most valuable lesson that I will carry with me from now on is that behind nationalities, races, upbringings, perspectives upon life, we are all the same, just humans looking to be happy, looking for a purpose in life, humans with fears, dreams, and hopes. Furthermore, I never thought that it’s possible to relate this much to people from another corner of the planet, from music genres to jokes and even ideologies about life.
I was so lucky to be a part of an awesome Erasmus squad formed of Moldovian, American, German and French friends and I will always treasure my precious memories with them – the talks, the parties, the smiles and laughter, the trips, the tears and hugs, the food and drinks we shared during the 4 and a half months. You taught me that there is no language for friendship.
The fifth lesson is that in the end all we have is memories. Period.
The last lesson, and more of a reminder, is that in the end all we really have is memories. I remember when I was watching the fireworks on NYE in Gent with my friends of all nationalities coming from such different places, and with a bunch of strangers on a bridge. There were fireworks all around us on the sky, still not as many as my hopes for the new year. I couldn’t help but think to myself: “What if I never decided to come here and never lived this amazing experience? What if I chose the easy way, staying in my comfort zone? What if I spent the money on things?“, while my eyes became teary and a big smile appeared on my face.
I also felt this at the Eiffel Tower in Paris. When we got there, we didn’t even know when the tower starts to sparkle, so we just waited and hoped. It was 12 AM, the tower started to sparkle and all I could hear was a big “AWWWW” from the whole crowd waiting at the Trocadero. Man, that was beautiful! I smiled like a kid, for a couple of minutes everybody was smiling. It was like the time stopped for a while for us to be happy, I swear that’s how I felt.
There are so many more memories from my Erasmus experience that I could write here, but this is not about me, it’s about YOU. If you doubt going on an Erasmus programme or you are scared, I am assuring you it’s so worth it, and it’s time to get out of the “bubble”, and make your own memories for life. In the end that’s all we got.
“I don’t know where I’m going from here, but I know it won’t be boring.”
Kisses to my sugar plums <3