Despite the tremendous excitement I felt before starting my Erasmus year in Madrid, emphasised by the fact I started packing over a month early, it would be disingenuous to suggest this was the only emotion I felt before embarking upon life in an unknown land. Rather than just a breathless, giddy enthusiasm, I also was battling with housing-drama stress, a forever tingling sadness at the thought of leaving my finest friends and ever-annoying but forever adored family, and, of course, a plane-load of anxiety about what was to come. Because, of course, I had no idea what to expect.
Yet, although I was constantly aware of the fact that this year would not follow the path of predictability I was accustomed to, it did not stop me from being surprised by somethings that I learnt to be almost universal Erasmus truths. Some were things I had heard before from other students who had done Erasmus that I assumed were just exaggerations (they weren't); other such discoveries where ones that no one gave me any warning about, yet they seemed to have been a reality for nearly every other Erasmus student I have met here as well. Maybe you will disagree with me, and that's fine; every foreign exchange (and life for that matter, but let's not get too deep), is as unique and special as a hipster snowflake. But, for the large part, these are just some things that have been very true in my experience, and that of many others too, of living, loving, and of course, learning (albeit, slightly less in the classroom than intended) in a foreign land:
1. People of the same nationalities really do tend to stick together.
Okay, maybe this seems obvious to a lot of you, but considering that I, for one, choose to do an Erasmus year to practice my shaky Spanish and to talk to people from lands and cultural heritage to me, it surprised me that a lot of people didn't seem to share this attitude. Whilst I understand that it can be hard when you are trying to adopt a new tongue not to resort back to the one that fits you so well and, thus, talk to others that share this comfort, I feel native English speakers don't really have this excuse not to branch out. I say this as I noticed a lot tend to stick to not only other native English speakers but in particular ones from their own country. The majority of Erasmus students actually have a decent level of English, and that's excluding the exchange students that come from other English speaking countries, so language barriers aren't really blameable here. As speakers of the universal language, why limit yourself to one planet of thinking and perceiving the world when you, in fact, have the capacity to explore a whole galaxy of minds and world-outlooks just by being fortunate enough to be born embraced by a blanket of this particular accumulation of words and grammar?
Despite this, if you are like me and want to mix and mingle with many fine beings of this world, do not fear; you will meet your people. And they will be awesome. (see point 2)
2. Having said that, when you do branch out, you always seem to meet the most interesting and open-minded people out there.
It sounds like a stereotype, I know, but it is surprising how open-minded and interesting EVERYONE you seem to meet here is. Perhaps it is because you are exposed to a cultural system of being that is different to yours so everyone seems shiny and new, or perhaps it is because you have broken out of the golden comfort of your own shell, you just seem to attract the same kind of people who actually do some bad-ass, crazy shenanigans with their life. Who knows? The point is, you find yourself meeting with probably the best ambassadors of every country ever, with their cracking characters and fascinating life stories and adventures. So much so, your future planning becomes a nightmare, as you really can't decide where you should settle down in...
3. A lot of people actually do their Erasmus year with their other-halves.
This may be because when I started my Erasmus year the nearest thing I had to a significant other was a list of names for my future cat army, but I did assume a year abroad would be something you did, at least physically, single so that you could, as cheesy as it sounds, discover a bit more about yourself as well a new terrain. Yet there seem to be a large proportion of my fellow Erasmus peers who do bring their darling snookums with them, to varying degrees of success. Yet, fortunately, at least in my experience, you're never made to feel like an endless third wheel, tagging along to their pre-wedding honeymoon. Instead, these darling couples usually respect you and each other enough to let you enjoy their company as individuals, rather than just as overbearing, conjoined beast of love and romantic giddiness that would make a future cat commander feel a tad queasy...
4. But if you do not have a significant other, fear not; an Erasmus romance is almost inevitable.
Whilst I am not suggesting it will quite be like the forever enduring passion that Jack and Rose would have felt for each other if Rose had, you know,(*spoiler alert) shifted a tiny bit on that damned makeshift craft, a small romance or two definitely appears to be on the cards for the darling students of Erasmus we are. Whether it is a short-lived but immensely satisfying fling, or something a little bit more, involving two souls actually connecting on a deeper, more profound level, some foreign-loving is sure to come your way. That is, if you get over your hopeless crush on your unattainable yet gorgeous class/flatmate...
5. Particularly if you stay for a year, the fact you're constantly meeting new people and forming lasting friendships, even in your last weeks here.
Due to the nature of Erasmus and "the two semester" system common to most European universities, you will find that the friends you'll spend your time hanging out with will be constantly changing. I could have predicted this. But I guess what I so readily underestimated is not only how speedily these new friendships could be formed, but also the fact a lot of these would be genuinely close and loving connections, as of the kind I have with my nearest and dearest back home. These are the kind of platonic relationships were it isn't just about the funs and joys of going out in the city, but also about being there when things are a bit tougher, as well as being able to talk about the Earth, the stars, and way way beyond.
I'll admit, not every Erasmus friendship will be like that; sometimes they will just be out of convenience, or just to have some excellent company whilst hitting that dance floor. Yet it is amazing how many are of this lovely, truly incredible kind, and how they can be formed so astonishingly quickly.
6. Despite your Erasmus friends quickly becoming out of sight, they are never truly out of your mind.
It's not just you constantly think about them as you continue to wander down these streets now empty of their presence, but you never leave their thoughts either. They'll still be sure to check in with you once in a while and to send you a picture or link of anything that reminds them of you, months and even years after you have physically parted.They will never truly leave you, nor you them. And that's something simply wonderful really.
7. How much your opinion of your own country actually changes.
Although how your sentiments will change will vary person to person, the point is they do seem to change an astonishing amount. Whether you are more open to the flaws and failings of your country, or, quite contrarily, you actually see it as far better than you truly realised before, living abroad certainly helps you get a huge amount of perspective, the extent of which you couldn't really predict. I know in my case, despite being able to see a great deal of problems in my society and not being sure I could ever really remain there, I know but I will always hold it dear within my heart.
One thing, that wouldn't change, however, is your readiness to defend your people when they are being attacked. For you know, from all the epic friendships you have had, and all the phenomenal people who have raised and inspired you to be the person you are today, not they are more than just the exaggerated worst aspects of your country, just as you know your Erasmus friends are not of theirs. You recognise, despite the faults in every culture, and in every way of thinking and being, incredible individuals do thrive from every part of the world. And this is one truth that shouldn't really surprise anyone, but sometimes, we really need to remind ourselves, when there is so much hate and anger in the news and in the world, how true this actually is.