Where did you go to abroad with Erasmus and why?
I studied the binational course German-Italian Studies at University, so going abroad for a year was a required part of my program. So I chose beforehand that I wanted to go to Italy for a year - because I wanted to discover the real culture behind stereotypical images of the country. When I got the chance again to study abroad during my Master's, I went to France because I'd studied French in school but I didn't know how to speak it. I think when you learn a language in a classroom setting, yes, you may know all the grammar, but if you've never immersed yourself in the culture, you can't fluently communicate.
What did you want to gain from the experience of living and studying in a new environment and culture?
Of course, languages weren't my only motivation. I think when you live abroad you get to learn a part of yourself that you didn't know before. By separating yourself from the bubble you grew up in, you're free to act differently and explore new ways of behaving. It was also exciting to meet such a new diverse range of people and to find similarities and connections despite coming from entirely different backgrounds.
How did it feel to make friends in a place where you didn't know anybody? What did the experience teach you about both yourself and the way we mix and interact cross-culturally?
In France, I was in a very mixed environment with people of many nationalities. It was a shock at first to adjust to new behaviors and cultural differences, but with interest, patience and an open mind, it was easy to get past those barriers.
With Erasmus, the process of making friends is made easy because, on the one hand, you have a supporting network of university organizations, such as ESN – Erasmus Student Network. They organize events for Erasmus students to meet up, party together and to explore the new city and country. On the other hand, everybody's new in the country, doesn't speak the language fluently and nobody knows anybody, so your network becomes super close super fast. Everybody supports each other like a surrogate family. Also, I think there's a certain kind of people who go abroad: people who are open, sociable, curious… so you quickly find people you mesh with.
Describe the friendships you made while in the Erasmus network. How are you staying in contact with the people you met?
I made friends from all over the world! With many of them, we still regularly keep in contact via Whatsapp and Facebook to let each other know if we're planning to visit each other's countries. It's easier to stay in touch with Europeans because flights are cheap, so we can plan to meet up somewhat spontaneously. For example, my best friend from the UK just recently booked tickets to visit me in my hometown next month. Also, the lack of time difference means it's is easy to catch-up on the phone and most mobile networks charge you the same to call anybody anywhere in the EU.