I have now been back at home for a whole month! I can't believe how time has flown since January when I was unbelievably worried/excited to be going abroad for a semester. Since I have been home I've been working two jobs, one as a cleaner and one as a waitress...so overall not quite as glamorous (or exciting) as living in Spain with my friends and going to the pool every day.
1. Discovering new places
Whether it's enjoying the neighbourhood just next door or exploring a new country, travelling whilst on Erasmus is one of the highlights. One of the best things I did was was go to Portugal for a spontaneous trip away, despite the lack of sleep! In most cities there are organisations who will help you to settle in, and they also organise trips most weekends. Some people I know travel every single weekend, some prefer to make the most of the city where they're living...but discovering new places is eye-opening in any form.
|My fave spot in Madrid, Templo De Debod|
|Amazing views in Porto|
From Germany to Wisconsin and Switzerland to Spain, I met people from all over the world during Erasmus. I have loved learning new things from each of them- I have made a friend who lives in the mountains, one who lives by the beach, one who lives in New York City. I find it amazing that such different lives are all connected through Erasmus.
|My lovely Spanish friend Elvira|
|My amazing housemates!|
|Trekking up Lisbon's hills with Rachel my English roomie and travel buddy, and Bailey from the US|
Although I spoke a bit of Spanish before I came to Spain, I can honestly say that there is no better practice than living in the country where the language is spoken. It just isn't the same as speaking it in class (usually with a teacher who isn't native to the country either)...but living in the country and speaking the language every day (even if it's just asking for directions or asking someone how their day was), is the best practice you can get. Also, making friends who speak the language you want to learn is a massive one. Learning grammar is useful, of course, but learning to speak like a native Spaniard is much more helpful in my opinion. For example I didn't know before I came to Spain that Spanish people say 'a ver' (let's see) ALL the time, just as English people say 'like' mid-sentence.
|My German friend Jasmin taught me some fab German sayings!|
4. Learning to be independent
If moving to a different country with nowhere to live when you get there doesn't make you independent, I don't know what will. Of course, there is the option to find somewhere to live before you arrive, but this can be difficult and it is hard to know who to trust- especially when you're communicating with people who speak a different language! I would personally recommend booking somewhere before you arrive to avoid the total panic/stress when you get to your destination. You just need to be absolutely doubly sure that it is legit (which is difficult of course). Some people I know visited the country before they started studying, with a parent or friend, to book a room, (obviously this isn't possible for everyone) but whichever option you decide to go for, it will teach you a good few life lessons along the way.
|Happy days after we found our perfect flat|
5. Organising your life
Erasmus forced me to become organised. From packing to paperwork and phone contracts, there are so many little things which you don't think about. There is so much to do before you arrive that you have to be totally on top of it all in order to avoid unnecessary stress. Ask anyone who knows me and they will assure you that I am not exactly an organised person...but Erasmus has certainly changed that.
6. It's liberating
At first, I found it quite daunting that I didn't know anyone in Madrid except from the 3 girls I went with. But after a few weeks it becomes exciting, and even liberating. Walking around the streets of Moncloa, where I lived, and knowing that I wouldn't see anyone from home was quite refreshing.
|Another one of my favourite places, Retiro Park|
|The famous archway welcoming people in to Moncloa (going here for the sunset after a day at Uni was amazing)|
7. Learning about yourself/a new culture
I feel like I have learnt a lot about myself on Erasmus, as weird as that sounds. When I asked my friend and housemate Rachel what she had learnt, she said "I have learnt that I can only take so much tomato pesto"...not quite what I was expecting, but very true nonetheless. Other things I have learnt: I can't cope with heat over 35 degrees, I shouldn't drink wine from Aldi, waking up early and thinking "it's fine, I can have a siesta later" is a great comfort, Aldi's waffles in Spain are the best thing to ever exist, Spanish people don't like it when you stroke their dogs, Madrid is full of green birds, paying by card is an urban myth and McDonald's is way better in Spain (go for the McPollo burger, you won't regret it.)
|One of the many parakeets which call Madrid home (it took a lot of patience to get this picture)|
8. Learning to be tolerant
You'll meet a lot of different people on Erasmus, so obviously, you aren't going to be best friends with all of them- or even get on with all of them. But just as it is when you move in to halls in First year, you have to learn to be even more tolerant and accepting of other people's cultures/what they want to achieve from Erasmus. At the end of the day, learning to cope with all kinds of people is something you have to get used to in any job, so in a way I'm glad that I have experienced it early on...
9. Opens new doors
Not only does Erasmus open up your mind to new things, but it also opens up new doors for more *serious* things. According to Erasmus, 64% of employers value international experience in an employee. Some studies also suggest that students who have studied abroad earn more than those who haven't (if this doesn't persuade you I don't know what will...)
10. New perspective
After studying abroad for 5 months, I now know what the rest of the world think about the English summed up in one sentence: they like our accents but think we are stupid for voting to leave the EU. If I had an Aldi waffle for every time I had to explain that only HALF of Britain voted to leave, I would be one happy person. It's actually really embarrassing studying in another country when your country will soon leave the organisation which made the whole journey possible. When I visited Granada, I was sat with a group of people from the US, Portugal, Italy and the UK talking about world politics, and the Italian turned to Rachel and I and said "I think it's time for you to leave since you aren't anything to do with us anymore". He said it jokingly (ish), but I really hope that people don't have that impression of us as the country who want to be isolated from the rest of the world.
|Lovin life in beautiful Granada|
11. Taste of a new culture
From patatas bravas to croquetas and berenjenas (fried aubergine in honey) I looooved eating Spanish food. My favourite restaurant, Rosi La Loca, saw me there so many times that they started to recognise me...Although I missed roast dinners, baked beans and garlic bread a LOT, I certainly miss Spain's cuisine.
|Amazing cakes in Madrid's San Miguel market|
|It isn't Spanish food...but Portugal's cod pies were incredible|
|Hands down the BEST thing I ate in Spain|
|Can't say no to a good old burrito|
12. Getting over fears/personal barriers
Homesickness was a massive barrier stopping me from coming to Spain. When I went on a school trip only half an hour away from home when I was about 13, I cried for the whole time as I just wanted to be back in lovely old Derby (my poor friend who had to deal with me for the whole time can vouch for that). At University in Sheffield I am only half an hour away from home, which means that I can go as much as I want...so the idea of being a 5 hour round trip away from my family, friends and my boyfriend filled me with dread. But, I knew I wanted to travel, and I also knew that I would never have another opportunity like this one. And 6 months later, here I am...a lot stronger than before, and a million times more independent. Of course, there were sad days when I missed my dogs (and my family), but you've just got to keep in mind that this is only for such a short amount of time, and believe me, it'll go so fast so enjoy it while you can.
13. Once in a lifetime
Give me a chance before you call me a cliche queen...but studying abroad was honestly the best experience of my life, and if you're tempted I would really encourage you to take up the opportunity while you can. 5 months, or even 12 months abroad really isn't that long in the grand scheme of things, but you can learn such a great deal which will stay with you for life. Although I may have missed out on things back at home I still have a whole year left at Uni to do all of the things which I felt like I missed out on. So go for it! The world is your oyster so travel whilst you're young and most of all, enjoy it. *cliche queen out*
|Canoeing at Buitrago with my friend Alex as the model!|
|Mine and Rachel's last day in Madrid together (a bit of an emotional one)|
|Travelling the North of Spain during our last week of Erasmus!|
If you have any questions about studying abroad please don't hesitate to get in touch with me!