The Erasmus Program was only 10 months of my life but it has completely changed it forever.”
I wrote this after my Erasmus program for the ESN (Erasmus Student Network) when they asked me to sum up my year abroad in one sentence. After considering what I should submit, I decided on the above quote since it seemed like the most authentic answer.
The Erasmus program gave me the opportunity to live and study in Seville, Spain. Indeed, continues to change my life because it inspired me to travel and make a life for myself abroad. For many of my friends who live abroad, the doors to foreign travel and discovering new cultures were opened by the Erasmus program, which is a European Union-funded organisation that gives students the chance to live and study abroad.
For readers who are unfamiliar with the Erasmus program, it is a student exchange program created by the EU in 1987 that gives students at participating universities and colleges the opportunity to study abroad. In this article, I share my Erasmus adventures, the paths that it has taken me since, and the concerns that I have for British students who may be unable to participate in the program due to Brexit.
Starting Out as an Erasmus Program Student
Toward the end of my second year at university, my classmates and I gathered to make our Erasmus choices. As students of modern languages (in my case Spanish and French), a year abroad was a compulsory part of our degree. We were all given options of different cities and universities in possible European destinations. When I found out I had received Seville in Spain, I was very nervous but extremely excited.
Before my year abroad, I had experienced living away from home. At 17, I moved to Dublin, Ireland from Scotland to study. However, moving to a country where both the language and culture are different is another kettle of fish.
Top Tips for Surviving the Erasmus Program
When I arrived in Seville in August 2016, I realised that the Spanish that I had learnt from a textbook would not help me with conversations in bars with strangers and dealing with my Andalusian landlady!
At first, I felt slightly disheartened that my Spanish level was not high enough. I wanted to instantly connect with Spanish people. However, I persevered. I avoided socialising with other English speakers, which is one piece of advice I would give to any English-speaking traveller living in a foreign country looking to integrate with the locals. I went to language exchanges where I met Spanish-speaking people who wanted to improve their English and help me improve my Spanish.
Additionally, I also tried to travel within Spain as much as possible to explore Spanish history and culture. I attended Feria in Seville, a huge festival in April. People party all week and the women famously dress in flamenco dresses. ESN also organised trips all over Spain and Morocco. This gave me numerous amazing experiences, from seeing the breathtaking mosque in Cordoba, the Alhambra in Granada, gatecrashing a wedding in Tangier, and celebrating Carnaval in Cadiz!
Upon returning to Dublin after my Erasmus program, I certainly felt that I had achieved much more than simply improving my Spanish language skills. I had made lifelong friends, seen incredible places, and fallen in love with Spain. Moreover, I felt that I had grown as a person. The Erasmus program is not all fun and games; It can be scary and lonely at times. There were times when I felt homesick and out of place. However, I learned how to cope with these difficult feelings which made me a stronger individual.
Return to Spain
After my Erasmus, I had every intention of returning to Spain after my studies. However, I completed a Master’s in Literary Translation that was then followed by the pandemic. During this time, I was living back home with my parents in Scotland. I felt unsure of where I wanted my life to go. I was not satisfied with the lifestyle that I was living.
On a whim, I decided to apply to the British Council for an English Language Assistant position in Spain. I ended up moving to Castellon de la Plana for two years working in a primary school. More recently, I settled in Valencia. There, I am currently teaching English at a private academy. I often wonder if I would have moved to Spain if it had not been for my Erasmus year in Seville. It was certainly the Erasmus program that introduced me to Spain and its culture and the prospect of living in a foreign country. Many of my close friends who I met in Spain also started their life abroad as part of the Erasmus program and decided never to leave. That proves that this valuable program really is changing lives!
Erasmus and Post-Brexit Fears
As of January 2020, the United Kingdom is no longer a member state of the European Union. Amongst many changes, this resulted in the withdrawal of the U.K. from the Erasmus program (as it is EU funded). This is a huge blow for many students in U.K. universities and colleges. Students can no longer benefit from the multitude of opportunities that the Erasmus program has to offer.
Numerous friends of mine have relocated to other countries through relationships that they made during their year abroad. Or, they have obtained their dream job through the connections they made through the Erasmus network. Apart from an economic perspective, I feel very personally concerned about the future of U.K. students and young people who wish to study abroad. I wish that my experience is not limited to my generation. Many generations of students to come should be able to participate.
Most of my formative decisions in my twenties were made because of the 10 months I spent in Seville. I doubt I would be living the life I am now if it had not been for my Erasmus experience. If there are any students of languages or indeed, of any degree who have the chance to study abroad, I advise you to seize the opportunity and do it!
by Niamh Moran