Charlotte Watson is studying French and German Joint Honours at Bangor University in Wales. She spent the first semester of her year abroad studying in Toulouse, France, and the second semester studying in Passau, Germany. Here are her top ten survival tips for Erasmus students...
1. Planning and organisation are key
Erasmus paperwork can build up very quickly and not keeping on top of it can mean a lot of last minute stress, panic-searching for long lost forms and problems with your application. Working out what you need to do on arrival beforehand is also useful so you don’t find yourself walking round aimlessly and receiving e-mails from Erasmus co-ordinators chasing up documents!
An exhausted word in the Erasmus student’s vocabulary is Skype and there’s no denying its brilliance. This blessing of technology has allowed me to keep up with or catch-up on everything that has been happening at home and assure my friends and family that I am indeed still very much alive. I have spent hours being coached through homesickness via video link and although text, e-mail and phone calls all help, there’s nothing like seeing a loved one’s face.
3. Home comforts
From something as small as a grainy photo of your dog or as much as a collage of everyone you know and love, homely touches will help your room feel far less clinical and will help keep homesickness at bay! Bringing over a few of your favourite treats or having them sent over, in the knowledge that you can’t buy them where you’re situated, can bring a huge amount of comfort. That very British constitution of looking forward to having a cup of tea when you get in still stands when you’re abroad!
The less outgoing and confident Erasmus student might find it difficult to put themselves out there but going to anything and everything, starting up a conversation with anyone who will talk to you or even so much as lending something to a neighbour will help you find friends thick and fast! Don’t hide away in your room, especially in the first few weeks when people are finding their feet. You will have some of the best experiences and nights out of your life with the weird and wonderful people you meet on Erasmus!
5. Finding things to do
Of course, you are there to study but your time abroad will be filled with far more memories if you line up a few experiences! Travel, join a sports club and/or attend as many cultural events in your area as possible and before you know it, you’ll have day trips, festivals and mad weekends to talk about until you’re grey and old.
6. Look after yourself
There will be copious amounts of alcohol, wholesome square meals can tend to become less of a priority and you will more than likely develop a sleeping pattern that no longer resembles a pattern. One of the things that changed the most about my day-to-day life on Erasmus was routine. Attend as many events as you can, experience as much as possible and fight tiredness whenever your body will allow; however, there’s something to be said for staying in with your friends a few nights a week, cooking dinner together, watching a film and getting your 8 hours of sleep!
7. Stop comparing!
Okay, so you might only be able to get fries in restaurants instead of chips, people’s manners and mannerisms might be different to what you’re used to and certain things might be more expensive than they are in Tesco but you’re not in your home country anymore! Embrace the things your host country does do well and accept the way the people are; you might learn something and if anything, this philosophy has made me into a much more patient person.
8. Tomorrow’s another day
The moment will come, however brief, where you will find yourself alone with something on your mind and all you want to do is go home. Perhaps it’s been a bit of a boring Sunday, the weather’s rubbish and you’re longing for your Mum’s roast dinner. Maybe, you’ve missed out on your best friend’s birthday so you’re feeling both guilty and out of the loop. In my case, I felt I’d abandoned my family to have one big holiday leaving them to do things I should be helping them with. However, things will get better and remember, it’s a year abroad, it’s not forever.
9. Keeping up with what’s going on at home
The internet is all you need to keep up-to-date with all the latest news, episodes of your favourite programmes or songs that everyone’s listening to (with all likelihood being that they’ll be big at home about a month before they come to the clubs of the country you’re in!) so there’s no need to feel too detached while you’re away.
10. Love thy neighbour!
Whether you’re in halls or a private flat, it always helps to keep your neighbours sweet. I found my French and German flatmates to be far more studious than my previous British counterparts so keeping the noise to a reasonable level and cleaning up after yourself definitely helps to keep them on side.