So you have Erasmus coming up – you really are in for a treat! It will be one of the best semesters in your degree. However, there are a lot of things you need to know, which usually you don’t find out until you’re there and then panic. Fear not. After reading this I hope you’ll be a lot more informed and prepared. I myself went to France and – while I met an amazing group of people and had an experience of a life time – anything that could have gone wrong on the academic side did. Here is all the advice I can give to help you make the most out of your Erasmus experience.
If you’re going to France, you should probably be learning French and if you’re not I can’t stress how important it is that you take some classes before you go. Even if you are learning French the classes can be terribly hard to follow unless you make best friends with your French classmates. They aren’t fans of using PowerPoint so you’ll have to take all your notes in class as the teacher talks. Which, believe you me is stressful. Between hearing new words and focusing on these so much, you can forget the rest of the sentence and before you know it you didn’t hear your lecturer say that you have a really important assignment due in a few weeks.
Erasmus is an amazing time to get to know yourself better – you’re on your own in a foreign country with complete freedom. If you are anxious about going and want to know as much as you possibly can, ask students just back! Believe me, we all love talking about our time abroad and the experience and how “cultured” we all are. We would be only too happy to fill you in on our experience. Ask the international office for the names of previous students who went to your host university. While it isn’t advisable to go to a country if you don’t speak the language – don’t worry! Most, if not all of the universities partnered with UL offer classes in English. In my case in Orléans in France, they offered Erasmus classes on French grammar and general French which were a lot of fun and worth 2 ECTs each.
Be warned however, ECTs will be the bane of your life. By the end of your Erasmus, you need to obtain 24 credits, so if possible try to take classes you find easy to help you get them. Anything you can do to make your life easier go for it!
From my experience the best way to pick up colloquial sayings is to get out into the city you live in and talk to people in shops, cafes etc. Travel as much as you can and make sure you buy a Carte Jeune (you can get this in any SNCF office) to save money on train tickets.
Erasmus is expensive so you need to save your money when you can. Stay away from Dia,unless you just need the essentials, and instead go for shops like Carrefour, Leclerc and Auchaun for your weekly shops. Try to budget even though you will always spend more anyway. Also, if you go to France, apply for CAF so you can get money back on your accommodation. It’s a pain to apply for but worth it when you return home and have a nice amount of money deposited in your account.
Another thing to be aware of is while Europe isn’t like a different world to Ireland you should be ready for a few culture shocks, as it can happen. In my case, France shuts down on a Sunday. There is nothing open so be prepared to have lazy Sundays. If you do venture into town be prepared for a ghost town with the exception of the occasional kebab shop. If you happen to be out and about and hungry at 4pm there will be very few restaurants open until maybe seven in the evening. The way of life is different and it can take some time to adapt. If you do find yourself homesick, get out, make plans and try not to go home for a visit. Trust me when I saw it’ll make you feel worse.
If your university has an ESN club (Erasmus Student Network) be sure to sign up. They will organise amazing trips that will make your Erasmus experience and also fun nights out during the week. All these little things will make your time abroad. Don’t feel anxious about the academic side of it, while it is important to do well and to try to improve your language, it is only one side of the experience.
You are about to enter a time in your life that will change how you see things. You are going to meet people from all over the world and you will be opened up to new opinions, new cultures which will affect you in an extraordinary way. If you are lucky, like I was, you will make friends for life and leave Erasmus with memories you will cherish forever. The key to avoid any possible obstacles is to be prepared and try to get all your paperwork done in the first few days. Bring printed copies of all your documents – don’t just have them on a USB – trust me you’ll thank me. The main thing is to enjoy it, ask for help when you need it, be persistent and make the most of your time in a different country. Try everything and when you come back everyone will be sick of hearing about your time away. Don’t be taken back when you do get home and realise no one cares that you went away. Don’t worry that you’ll miss out on things at home, it will be as if you never left. Best of luck and remember find out as much as you can, read the reports in the international office and ask other students. Make the most of this exciting experience!
By Sarah Redfern