What is it like for a Romanian student to take the chance and live an Erasmus experience full of challenges, hopes, and special moments? Now let’s double it! Alexandra told us about her two different journeys, in two different countries, both of them lived in the name of one single desire: to enjoy as much as possible the opportunity to study and travel abroad while making some great and unforgettable memories. Which were her Erasmus decisions? And what about the funniest story out there? Let’s find everything out!
How did you decide to become an Erasmus student?
I have always been drawn to the idea of exploring and chasing the once-in-a-lifetime experiences offered by the world out there. So, the fact that I could do that WHILE getting an education had me thinking... SAY NO MORE! I did it and I liked my first Erasmus experience so much that I did not hesitate when they opened the applications for the following year!
Which countries did you choose and why?
My first choice was France. I felt that studying in a country with a highly-praised educational system would serve very well to my own education. Also, the fact that I had been exposed to the language before was a bit more encouraging and less threatening, so to speak. Overall, the thought of living in a country with such a remarkable historical background and rich culture, especially where art is concerned, was truly motivating. Oh, and let’s not forget Paris!
For my second Erasmus, I knew I wanted a change of scenery. Palm trees, sunshine, and the ocean didn’t sound bad at all. So, Portugal sounded perfect. Again, the language seemed accessible and easy to learn since I already knew some Spanish (but I’ll admit that it turned out to be a bit more challenging than I had thought.) Briefly, this time I was more interested in the surroundings. I wanted to see the sights, and what the country had to offer from an environmental point of view.
What did they have in common and what was different about these two Erasmus experiences?
First of all, I believe that the people of a country shape culture, mentality, and its social well-being. So, they will surely contribute to your overall experience. From my point of view, the people were just as warm and welcoming in both places. There is the stereotype that the French are cold and distant, but in both countries I was greeted with hugs and kisses. And I don't need to mention how kindly I was treated by the university staff in Dijon, France. So, their positive attitude made my stay even more enjoyable.
Looking at my experience within the university, I would say that in both countries the students are truly devoted to their school work. I appreciated the fact that for each course a syllabus was given and respected (meaning that we never skipped anything and each subject was fully covered). So, everything related to courses and assignments was well-organized and clearly brought forth.
Regarding the language, it was easier for me to improve my French since the university actually provided French courses. In Portugal, I wasn’t exposed to the language as much, so it was harder to pick it up.
On a personal level, both countries carry a great significance for me. Both are beautiful in their own ways and yet, I would be dishonest if I failed to admit that I enjoyed Portugal more. To start with, I was just a bit younger when I left for France. Although I was excited, I had my fears and reticence. But I soon discovered the joy of the journey in the process. To put it simply, France had an initiating role for me, while Portugal offered me the chance to apply all that I had learned before and prepared me for what is next.
Can you tell us a funny story?
Many cross my mind. But there’s the unforgettable one when my friend and I went on a trip by train. I shall call myself "Alexandra". ☺
This story is about Alexandra, who decided to trust something she had read on the internet rather than what she was seeing in front of her eyes. The two of us were headed to Coimbra. The train ride was only supposed to be a little over an hour. I repeat, “only supposed to be.” So, there we are on the train: headphones in, music on and the world turned off.
After a considerable amount of time, we were told “Next stop: Coimbra-B.” My friend there starts panicking, “Coimbra B???? What does that mean? Why the B?” At this point, Alexandra instantly gets a flashback of the travelling blog she had read the night before on how to visit Coimbra. Didn’t the article say that Coimbra had 2 stops and the second one was closer to the city? Yes, it did, "so the B must stand for that," she thought. She decided that this was just a trick and in reality they had to get off at the station following Coimbra-B. And so Alexandra convinces her friend to trust her.
The train passes Coimbra-B and keeps going... and going... and going... and still going! Twenty minutes later, her friend says how relieved she is that they didn’t get off back there. To quote her, “It would have been SUCH a long way to walk to the city!”
Alexandra only nods, but she’s secretly starting to wonder whether they hadn’t missed their real station.
After a while, Alexandra asks her friend if she could check Google Maps... you know, just to see where exactly they were... just to check if... perhaps they passed Coimbra!?!? The grave and ominous glare Alexandra receives from her friend tells her that she’d better be wrong! Yet, it was true! Alexandra and her friend had passed their destination by 50 km! 50!!! More panicking. More questions. The conductor was just about to check their ticket. THE TICKET! Yes! The ticket should have mentioned the exact name of the stop! Why add an extra B at the station and not on the ticket? They should complain about lack of accuracy! But when they finally decide to look at the ticket, they see it clearly. The one and only stop was indeed Coimbra-B. There wasn’t a second one. There was no trick... except for the obvious one: READ YOUR TICKET!!
Still on the train, Alexandra and her friend are haunted by one question: “When will the train stop?” Hopefully before Lisbon! Its final destination was Lisbon, which was 200 km away from that point! That would make a total of 300 km away from their home in Porto. Alexandra's friend is angry, but Alexandra can’t control her laughter!
Finally, they come across a French couple in the hallway who are in the same situation. Thankfully, the train stops soon and they all agree to take a taxi back to Coimbra-B because the next train back there wouldn't leave until hours later and there was no time to lose. The city was waiting to be explored, and so we didn't waste any more time.
But to be honest, the train ride was the highlight of our trip!
Did you meet your expectations?
Overall (and on the one hand), yes! I loved the places and experiences they offered more than I thought I would. I was very pleased with the courses, the schedule, and the routine I had in what I called my new home. I was living my best life!
On the other hand, the weather in Portugal disappointed me a bit. As I previously suggested, I expected full-time sunshine and warmth. I can’t entirely complain, we got that every now and then. But most of the time, it was unbelievably cold, especially at night. None of the buildings (neither the apartment I was living in, nor the university and the library) were heated at all... ever! I had to get used to sleeping with several layers of clothes. And I had to walk around in just as many layers of clothes during the day. But because of that, I truly appreciated the sunny days. I promised myself I would never complain about the heat again. Of course, I broke that promise. But living so close to the ocean was a huge blessing, nonetheless!
What were the most interesting things that happened throughout the Erasmus mobility?
Definitely the travels! Seeing the cities of France was nice, but my favorite part was going to my dream country, Switzerland! It was the first time I traveled by myself in Europe and, although it was a bit scary, the trip was fantastic!
As for my second mobility, nothing beats the routine of having a booked flight every other weekend! The tickets around Portugal were incredibly cheap and the places we were able to visit were even more impressive.
Besides the travels, I would say that the time spent with people coming from different cultural and social contexts was a memorable one. In France I took part in a 13-week Intercultural workshop, where we tackled several topics (such as food, family, education, and so on), and discussed them in the way they applied to our own countries. It was amazing to hear the differences between countries like Russia, Syria, Congo, China, Germany, Romania, France, and at the same time, see how much alike we are, after all. It was an inspiring and eye-opening experience.
Portugal gave me the opportunity to meet people from countries like Brazil, Japan, Syria, Iran, Italy, and to notice how this puzzle of distinguishable cultural traits and pieces is still able to be put together and make one beautiful picture.
Have you kept in touch with the people you met there?
More or less. In France, I made a good friend from South Korea with whom I talk every now and then. We hope to meet again somewhere in the middle of the world.
The same goes for the Italian roommates my friend and I had in Portugal. Our group of 5 girls is planning to meet and make another "RoTalian" dinner somewhere, someday soon.
How did these Erasmus experiences change you?
First of all, they left me craving for more. I see myself out there, chasing the adventures of the unknown, embracing life as it is.
I have become more grateful, independent, and responsible (yes, I will check my train tickets from now on!), but also more sure of myself. I think ”If I did that, I can do this, too!”
Yet, I am aware that I still have so much to learn, so much to discover, so much to grow. I like to believe that this was only the beginning.