When you study languages at university, it’s certain that you’ll have an ERASMUS year. This will be the best year of your university experience – speaking the language you study in a country you like without the pressure of passing exams. What’s not to love?
And with the UK holding an upcoming referendum on the EU, these could be the last years that it’s so easy to do. Although the first few weeks can be tough, the year can be anything you want it to be, and you soon gain a whole new perspective on university and the languages you’re studying. Without wanting to sound pretentious, it really can be life changing.
What to be aware of
Before we move onto the numerous benefits, I should give a word of caution. The first month can be hell. You’ll be in a country that has different rules on most things, and it can be a culture shock. Even though you’re still in Europe, it’s incredible how drastically the rules and attitudes that govern British society can change on the continent. Not only that, but it’s unlikely that you’ll hit your peak levels of fluency straight away – it will come, but don’t expect to be embraced into the community instantly. This is still a gradual process, and you have to regard it as that.
Getting past the awkward phase
All that said, this can be an incredible experience once you get past the awkward phase. European universities have an incredible ERASMUS student network, so your opportunities for meeting people is extraordinary. I can now say that I know people from every corner of the planet, and count some of them amongst my closest friends. You’ll also get a feel for what true independence feels like, as you can’t even rely on regular trips from the parents to refill your fridge and get the laundry done.
Don’t worry about money
If you’re short on funds, don’t worry. The program is partially funded by generous grants from the EU and British Council as well as the usual loans from Student Finance, meaning that income doesn’t restrict you at all. That extra income is great, because you’re going to be travelling a lot. It’s not mandatory, but when are you going to have it so easy again? Travel in mainland Europe is so cheap compared to the UK that it’s almost criminal not to. Not only that, but there will be friends from home in most of the cities you visit, meaning a local to show you around and potential free accommodation. In short, one of the best ways to do student travelling.
In amongst all of this, you might occasionally find yourself studying. It’s more important than it sounds, as it’s likely to be the longest you’ll be able to practice listening and writing in your target language for an uninterrupted period of time. Even though you might not want to initially, this can speed up the integration process and really help your fluency. It’s really the best way to meet the natives, which is a big part of the year. Even though you don’t have to pass exams, it can help to do well in them – after all, you might end up back in your ERASMUS country after university, and those results are likely to matter to them.
This will really be one of the best things you do. Some students may complain, but I believe that the only obstacle to enjoying your year abroad is you. If you go into it with a bad mindset, then it’s bound to affect how you see everything. It’s rarely going to be perfect: you could end up with a horrible landlord or stuck in the middle of nowhere. But these choices can be largely avoided. And if you make the best of it, then you won’t even remember it when you look back on the year – you’ll only remember the good bits, and that’s what matters most.
What was the best part of your ERASMUS year? Let us know in the comments below!
Photo: Horia Varlan / Flickr
Warwick Editor for Career Camels and Deputy Comment Editor for The Boar.