When I first was erasmus I didnt know exactly what that meant or how would it be. After 4 years I have had enough "lessons" about this and got many conclusions. Good and bad, as I guess in every experience in life that lasts for more than few days.
I have learnt a lot in my experience in Estonia (many people even adviced me to start writing a kind of book, and it wasnt joking!), not just about studies and different ways of teaching (that were also quite interesting, in spite of what many close friends thought or might think), but also about life, human relationships, about cultures, and also about myself. The shock with all those things at the same time was so strong that I have had a long period time for recovering, assimilating, thinking and finally learning.
When you are Erasmus, there is not just the fact that you are going to study abroad. There is a plenty of new things that strike on you in many ways. Some people choose the easiest way, and dont care too much, avoiding any kind of thinking and therefore also learning, some others just seem to not to care about the new chance and challenging situation and they spoil quite a lot their time, though they might tell you -and in fact they believe- they squeezed to the maximum their experience (but maybe just doing the same things they do in their usual lifes more times or more extremely), others try to live at the maximum they can, forcing even situations that might finish as fake moments of fun, seems they accept the future fact that there will be nothing else than the day-by-day fun, and they are just living like that happily, and others try to get involved in the new culture and situation in a natural way, not forcing a personality they are not to be accepted, not caring too much if something goes wrong but without playing down the importance to the new relationships in the usual life, school, in the new culture they are discovering...
All these types of people are very different (and there must be more), and I met every kind. And many times you find out that so different ways of living this potential challenge called erasmus, may involve different, unexpected, misleading behaviours, interpretations or reactions.
Even that here in the Universidade de Vigo was not the same at all, I also assimilated and, more than learning, I kind of settled conclusions. Today I feel like sharing some of them. So this is what I learnt about erasmus in these 4 last years and that might be useful for future Erasmus people, though it's just a point of view, my point of view (of course this is valid just for people who really want to get involved and live in a highest grade their life as Erasmus; if you are going to spend all days yearning for the booze and the nightlife, there is no need for you to read anything of this):
- First, you are going to a place that you've probably never stayed. Get information about the customs and traditions, at least the main ones and learn a bit about general issues of the country you are going to spend your Erasmus time (usual wheather, social stuff, languages, a bit of history even,...).
- Try to learn the basic words of the regional language, local people use to appreciate a lot those little things. Just a "hello", "thanks", "my name is", might mean a smile in the face of the local ones that are talking to you. Even that you were speaking all time in english. Would be great that with time you could share some more words in the local language.
- Try to be humble and respectful and even dont talk too much at first, better listen when speaking to local people (I always remember a teacher that once told us "if you talk a lot, you will listen few, and listening is the base for learning (...)"). It's quite hateful when a foreigner comes and he/she thinks he is more "advanced", "clever", "modern". If you behave in that arrogant way in a place you are new, that tells few about you to everyone, and you will probably leave a bad impression (though I know this is a personal issue, but I believe so).
- You are going to meet many people that are in the same situation as you are: coming probably alone, and meeting each others at the same time. This might be a start for making new friends, from different countries, different cultures... Do not waste it going and talking always with the people of your own country, just because it's easier to talk with them or you feel basicly closer to them. There is a great chance to learn and make interesting friends that in other way you would never met. I personally dont get the point of making ghettos abroad, unless you are in a kind of danger or I dont know. This also depends on each one, but as I told to one spanish Erasmus that was doing like that in Estonia: "there are lots of spanish people in Spain, dont meet just them always, there are many interesting people". He didnt care at all about my advice, and later told me that "he didnt want to meet estonian people cause he wont see them again, and he would like to meet all the posible spanish, cause he "understands" better the way of being of people of his country". Stupid, cause then "dont go out of your country to make an erasmus, go to another university of your own country", I think.
- As I told, you are going to meet many people, and you will become very friend with some of them probably. Dont trust 100%. There are many people that goes there "living the day", having "friends of the moment" (what I told at the beginning), afterwards, when they are going back to their respective countries, they wont care about your problems in many cases. But they might contact you in the future to visit you in your respective town and country (...). I have had a terrible case talking about this, and couldnt believe it. People that I shared living, partying or chatting almost everyday, totally left me when we were already in our respective countries and I most needed advices, and moral supporting. Seems that this didnt stop them to write me later that "they would like to visit me and my town, and therefore we could talk again as in old times". As someone said once when"at the very end, if you have some problem, the only ones that will worry and care about you will be your family", I can tell you that "your real friends are the ones that after many years and quarrels are still your friends, they will care about your problems before the ones that you are meeting for some few -though intense, but few- time".
Many people live their erasmus time on their way, as I told, they can be the friendliest, kindest and talkative people there, just dont trust they might be the same once they are back to their usual lifes. One very dear person to me in my erasmus told me once "I am a different person in the erasmus than now in my country, here I have my own life and own problems, that was just like another kind of world".
- Do not start relationships. It just wont work.
- Do not fear to make activities by your own or joining local people, even that they are not involved in university. It is probably even more interesting and you might really get even better friends than the ones that are Erasmus.
- Do not stuck doing the same. This is your year, you have the chance of making lots of things and most of them are stuff that you won't/can't do in your country. I have had a period that I just was waking up very late, going to school, and boozing/partying. Later I realized that there was much more world, I changed it, and it was much more interesting, I lived it on another level.
- Do not trust italian guys (I was recalling them when writing the 3rd point) , in general. My Erasmus friends in Estonia, my local estonian friends, my friends in the Vigo's Erasmus and students, me personally, and even my friends that met italians in some other way that is not Erasmus, agree. I have had too bad experiences with them -again in general-, I can talk good about 2 (I can say even the names, Ricardo and Alessandro, maybe Andrea as well but he is half portuguese) about 20 italian males I met in Estonia, and none or maybe just one that I met in 3 years in the help for Erasmus in Vigo-. The list of reasons is too big and they dont deserve my writings. Sorry if you are italian and you are reading this, but it's my point of view, we have been lots of times embarrased or angry about their behaviour anywhere.
- If you have a tutor, show a bit of gratitude with him/her. It's a voluntary job, he/she is spending his/her time to help you and not getting paid or anything similar. When I became tutor, I thought about how lost and confused I arrived to my destination and how helpful was to me that there was one person that was waiting my arrival to take me to a hostel at night in a town I knew nothing. That was so comforting, that I almost spilled tears when I saw my tutor in the airport (aitäh Eveliina if you read this). This is the main reason I became also tutor, they gave me that chance and I imagined how awful the newcomers might feel alone and lost in a new place. When I mean gratitude, I dont mean buying anything, sometimes a sincere "thanks" is enough. I still remember the polish girl that I helped in the autumn semester'09; taking her to univ, helping with bus cards, university, banks, phone, taking her to bars and pubs that I thought she would like to take also her erasmus friends (sometimes even places that are not so known between tourists, tho later Erasmus turn those places touristic -Bar Brasil-, cause I guess they like them and call others to go), and she never thanked me for anything or even told me the day she left. She even came back here months later and didnt call me. That shows quite few from her part to me. The next erasmus student I had was a normal person, but at that time I was already a bit upset with this Erasmus help, and was one of the main reasons of my fast leaving without thinking too much this year. Seems many younger people are not that aware or appreciate others' efforts or are grateful at all... I am realizing about that not just in this Erasmus world, but in general. I already see it in the ones 5-6-7 years younger than me.
- In relation to the University of Vigo, I've also learnt that there are loads of lacks in relation to the help to Erasmus and the International Relations Office. They are given a good budget from the University, and they are doing quite few activities (I'd say quite nothing), and the visits and trips are just crap if I compare the activities I had in a "relatively" average university as the TTU. Finally I can say that Tallinn beats almost in every and even in an overwhealming way to the University of Vigo (organisation, trips, dedication, work, treatment...). I talked many times about this in this blog, but once again I will say that I feel envy of the estonian organisation for students and also for tutors, cause they had vote in the decisions and they did more than just taking students from the station and taking them from flat to flat (as they just order us as tutors from the International Relations Office of Uvigo). I have never been invited also to show opinion about trips or work for them or even join students in their visits to museums or those short stupid trips of 6 hours to close towns where they "release" students to visit "what they want" and walk around like headless chicken (all trips I had were for days and with organized activities).
- If you are coming to the University of Vigo, know that many teachers dont know A WORD of english, so, it's better you learn at least the basic spanish. I have done even homeworks for friends that otherwise would fail the subject, and the reason was just that the teacher wanted everyone, erasmus or not, to write and talk in spanish in his classes (obviously cause he had no idea about other language). So, besides, I also found out that passing subjects is quite more difficult in this university apart from language issues. Many teachers dont care you are foreigner or not and they are asking quite the same level for everyone, and it is not easy. The average of years spent in university in Vigo -and I'd say Spain in general- is much higher than in the average of european universities as far as I've been told and seen. Though of course that doesnt mean we leave university much wiser, in fact we are one of the worst countries in relation to superior studies in Europe.
- I personally learnt to appreciatte more my own culture and see that many times those others you think they are much more developed, modern, pollited, kind, whatever, are not really like that and every culture has its lacks. Many times the shock is higher when you think that "x" culture is richer. Anyway I found their own good things in each one, and except that nationality I told before, I met good people in each, and sometimes, that they think or act differently than you doesnt mean necessarily that they act badly. Right now I value my own culture, the galician, my own language, and my own people much more than before.