by Kristina Belikova (Colors of life)
5 months I was living in foreign country, 90% of the words I said were in English, I was meeting people from all over the World, writing never ending papers, partying all nights, reading hundred pages a day, travelling, cooking with friends, drinking the best beer in the World, organizing crowded parties, experiencing new cultures and growing in a personal and professional way. I was having the time of my life! Guess, how is this period of life called? Yes, it is E-RAS-MUS!
5 months, 7 countries visited, 30 credits earned, hundreds of kilometers biked, uncountable amount of amazing people met,1 unforgettable experience lived – this is the result of my Erasmus. Not too big, not too small, but definitely amazing, stunning and awesome! So, let me tell you the story, which is must read for those, who are still in doubting if doing Erasmus or not!
Omg, I have to study!
Formally Erasmus is a student exchange program, giving opportunity to study for one semester or longer in a university abroad with the scholarship for all study period. For my Erasmus I’ve chosen town called Maastricht in the Limburg province of the Netherlands. It has a large university, which mostly drives the life of whole town. University is presented as modern and international – “Leading in learning” – is the slogan (although people like to rephrase it for leading in Germans ). University is very young (it was established in 1976), although very well ranked in Europe.
Studies at university didn’t require a lot of attendance. I had classes just 2-3 times a week for a few hours, however some part of lovely free time that I’ve got had to be spent in the library, reading hundreds of pages and writing assignments. When you are Erasmus student in Maastricht university (or as I’ve heard in Netherlands generally), you have to study.
Yes, a big surprise! But actually, I loved the fact, that I had to take all this study pressure, because at the end it really feels like I’ve learned something and my brain is still functioning! What was really joyful about the studies is the freedom that is given to students. You are free to choose everything regarding your studies, starting with the selection of courses, finishing with the selection of topics you will work on or the dates of exams (here it is possible to unsubscribe from exam and take it later, if you don’t feel ready). As Dutch students say, people should be able to plan their time according to their needs and university has to provide this opportunity, because students are adults. So, as a student here you can fully manage your study program and moderate it as it seems the best for you – professors are flexible and in most cases very open to the ideas of students. After 3 years at Vilnius University, I felt like escaping from communist regime, such a breath of fresh air J However nothing is perfect, neither are these studies. Although there were many aspects, that were lovely, sometimes studies seemed to be too theoretical and just didn’t make sense (most probably because of my extremely practical studies back home).
Maastricht University is advertised as international with 43% foreign students, although a large part of international students are Germans. Even though you still have a chance to meet people from all over the World, because university is quite popular to come for exchange from Asia, US and Canada. In this mixture of cultures, you can choose who you want to get to know. I had friends from really various places in the World, as South Korea, Hong-Kong, Canada, Bulgaria, Germany, Hungary, Chile, Italy etc. As an exchange student you mostly live in this exchange people community, which is extremely fun and of course international. People are keen to promote and share their cultures. We had kind of a tradition of organizing “international nights”, where people from certain country would cook their traditional food and tell about their culture. Of course, it was done in Erasmus style, with loads of fun and wine, however it still gave an opportunity to learn about the cultures.
Sharing Erasmus period with people from all other the World makes you change a lot. First of all, you get rid of the stereotypes, mostly the ones about nationalities and cultures. I would never think before, that one of my best friends and soul mates could be a person from totally different culture, coming from the country thousands kilometers far away, but I’ve got a friend from South Korea. It is amazingly surprising how well you can get along with the person, despite all cultural prejudices. At the end you understand that cultural differences that everyone around is discussing is nothing! No-thing! The most important is who you are, but not from where you are. Of course at the end it hurts, when you have to say ‘bye’ and you wish our planet would be smaller, there would be no oceans and Ryanair would fly to Asia. Despite all the tears that might drop out of your eyes, it is really worth it!
Another cultural discovery I made in Maastricht are German people. I was one of those people believing stereotypes about them – not friendly, boring, need tutorials for everything, arrogant etc. I met different German people here and some of them actually confirmed these stereotypes, but having German roommate and hanging out together a lot, made me rethink my attitude. Once again you see that not nationality, but personality matters. I can make ‘Nazi’ jokes about my German friend and he can joke about ‘poor life’ in Eastern Europe. Yes, there is a difference between our lives, but it makes our friendship even stronger and funnier.
After some time spent in this intercultural environment you cannot imagine yourself living differently. This diversity of colors, accents and attitudes becomes an addiction. And then you want Erasmus to last forever, because it’s so wonderful (believe me, it’s truth J)
Immediately after hearing word “Erasmus” most people would think about unstoppable parties. And they will be right. Hell yeah , Erasmus is not possible without house parties, going out on weekdays and visiting clubs with mainstream music, where you would never go in your normal life ! It is obligatory to have a crappy song that every Erasmus person in the Uni would know and you would remember of your exchange period.
Honestly, Maastricht is not the best place for going out. For extreme party lovers and those, who prefer fancy clubs there will be no place to party. You can find some places to dance, but it is never exciting. However, when you are Erasmus, you can have fun everywhere! Actually, Erasmus people are tend to hang out as a closed community in their private house parties. For me those were the ones, where I had the most fun. Maybe because once in a lifetime I had a large party space and I was able to organize parties myself (gosh, such an amazing feeling, hehe J ). Sometimes something broke down, sometime police came, sometimes people fell down from the bikes while going home, but always it was a lot of fun!
Doesn’t matter if you are a party animal, or quite person, preferring to sit in the bar with a glass beer in your hand, you will find your people and your way to have fun. Of course if you want to (if you try really hard, you can manage not to have fun during your Erasmus, but it’s quite difficult, sorry J).
(pictures of the author)