Tuesday, 16 February, 2016 - 10:12

What to expect when you’re exchanging

How can I, in the best possible way, sum up five months of an Erasmus exchange?

What is there left to say? It isn’t easy, but I’ll give it a go…

It all began in January 2015. I was about to head off to my Erasmus destination, my new home for the next five months, Granada, Spain. This was the moment I had been dreaming about for years but as it turned out I wasn’t feeling at all excited. I was getting cold feet and I seriously began to re-think my decision. I thought that working as a buddy at my home university, and all the time I’d spend volunteering for ESN had prepared me for this. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

I was ready to leave Granada after my first weekend. On Friday night, I arrived late night to an empty apartment since my roommates had decided to go on vacation. Even worse, they had left me with no toilet paper and I really needed to go to use bathroom... Just a minor detail like that became the drop that spilled my cup now that I was out of my comfort zone. It all just became too overwhelming. The weekend didn’t get any better. The thought of actually having to spend the next five months there seemed unbearable. Why couldn’t I just learn to settle with what I already had? As we say in my home country, Sweden, “Borta bra men hemma bäst”, meaning more or less “There is no place like home”.

June 2015, five months later, I had stayed. Those five months that seemed impossible had now passed but it turned out that I was not ready to leave. Thinking about my first day in Spain made me laugh at this point. After all those tapas evenings and hanging out at plazas, I had fallen in love with Granada, Andalusia and the Spaniards. So what actually happened during those five months of being in another country, in many cases, all on your own?

Rewinding… The first thing that occurs is that you realise that it’s not going to be easy. Just listening and speaking requires a lot more effort in a new language that isn’t yours. You have all these cultural differences that sometimes make you feel stupid and may make you feel like a child again: Pointing at things around you asking “What is that? What about that? Why do they do that?” You then reach the point where you start conquering the obstacles and understanding how to handle situations like when somebody in an office hands you a sheet, telling you it’s the most important paper you have, and yet, at the end of a long and confusing explanation, you still have no clue what to do with that piece of paper. This is where you start changing. “I can do this, on my own and I am actually enjoying it”. After this, there is no stopping you.

During my Erasmus exchange I learned how to control a new language as well as how to let go of control. 

At my home university, it is not common to participate in class, nor to raise your hand or to ask questions. I did all of these for the first time in Spain. I felt so proud of myself. Before my Erasmus exchange, I used to plan things with 5-10 minutes precision. “No, I’m fully booked next Wednesday, but a week after that on Thursday, I could maybe squeeze you into that six minute hole I have between meeting A and meeting B”. Then, when in Spain, you realise that you haven’t updated your calendar for weeks, and you actually start relaxing and taking a more spontaneous approach to everything. That is when you see the change.

During my Erasmus exchange I learned how to control a new language as well as how to let go of control. I gained new friends that I now can’t see myself living without and gained countless experiences (and probably some extra kilos as well because of all the tortilla de patatas I ate during exam weeks). All of this comes down to one thing. In the end, this Erasmus exchange was really about finding myself. Every single person I met and every word I spoke during my 138 days of exchange changed me. Now it is impossible to take these pieces out. This is what it’s all about though; (ex) changing yourself. I just couldn’t get enough and now, you can find me in South America! You know what they say… Once you go abroad, going home will definitely seem remarkably odd! (Ok, I totally made that one up).

by Jasmine Malla

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