7 tips to survive your mandatory Erasmus year
Saoirse talks about her nerves before going on Erasmus and how she made the most of her time abroad
The Erasmus+ programme helps students at undergraduate and postgraduate level to expand their cultural and intellectual horizons by spending 3-12 months abroad. With over 33 participating countries and over 4,000 institutions to choose from, the entire process of the Erasmus + program can be an extremely exciting or stressful experience.
Some courses include the study abroad program as an essential and non-negotiable part of the four-year degree. Students are forced to drop their part-time jobs, leave friends and family, and pay their way in a new country without having any say in the decision. When its a mandatory part of your course, it can feel claustrophobic.
While money is one part of the issue with the mandatory Erasmus program, personal choice is another. While the program brings with it lots of opportunities, it also brings a big bag of anxiety. Some students get lucky. They love meeting new people, they've got a big group of friends, they're sociable, confident and love being in new situations. For this type of person, they can excel on Erasmus. Some students are more introverted. They grow anxious in unfamiliar situations and shy at the idea of a group of new and foreign faces. Both cases are okay, but both should at least be given the opportunity to choose.
The Erasmus+ program is a fantastic initiative which gives students the opportunity to meet new people, be introduced to new cultures and live somewhere they’ve never been before. It allows for development, growth and new connections. All of these positives are great - if you are ready.
Having done the program myself I've become a more educated and rounded student, but it was not an easy experience. Initially, I didn't want to go. I had spent the previous six months living in Cork City where I completed mandatory placement (I'm from Tipperary). I had enough of living away and wanted some time at home with friends and family. By the time I got my head around the idea of Erasmus, the list of countries left to choose from had shrunk. I was left with a list including Sweden, Turkey, Norway, and Poland. None of the options made the idea feel any less daunting or any more exciting. In the end, I settled with Stockholm, Sweden. Hesitant and anxious I put the idea to the back of my head while I tried to focus on finishing placement in Cork.
After a few weeks I contacted the Erasmus department at my university to talk about my concerns. I was told unless I had a valid reason i.e. doctor's note, being exempt from Erasmus would not be possible. After weeks of talking with the Erasmus department about my concerns, I was left with the only suitable option - to complete my Erasmus in Manchester, England.
In hindsight, the experience I gained abroad was undoubtedly invaluable, and I'd do it all over again. However, the experience would have been less stressful if it has been optional and more accessible. The day of having no choice over what we do and when we decide to do it should be long gone.
Tips for completing mandatory Erasmus
1. Don't feel too brave for the UK
If you’re feeling anxious about Erasmus, don't hesitate to look at options in the UK. While it may not be blessed with warm weather and golden beaches, it's still an experience in itself. Everywhere you go will hold new and exciting adventures. The UK was the perfect option for me as it gave me that safety net of knowing I could fly home, while allowing me the freedom of being somewhere new.
2. Book flights in advance
The first day you arrive can be really intimidating. Saying your goodbyes is never easy, especially with an unknown sell-by date. Booking a few flights in advance helped as I had an end goal and didn't feel like I was going to be their forever. Keep an eye on Ryanair sales by downloading the Ryanair App on your phone.
3. Join clubs and societies and go to your induction week
Joining a club or society in your host university is key to having a good time. I made the mistake of not going to my induction week. This meant I never had the opportunity to meet the other Erasmus students and missed out on the first few social nights. If you want to enjoy your time abroad, try throwing yourself into as many events, nights out and clubs as possible.
4. Encourage friends and family visit you
Having a friendly face come to visit can be key to getting you through Erasmus. Getting a friend or family member to pre-book a flight over to see you before you go gives you that reassurance it's not going to be forever. Having a fresh face come see your new town/city can make you appreciate it more. When a visitor comes over it makes you do the touristy things you might have taken for granted otherwise.
5. Be sensible with your spending
Erasmus can be a tough time financially. For many people, working while you’re away isn't an option. Spend your money wisely. Allocate the money you have by order of necessity i.e. bills, food, commuting expenses, travel expenses, socialising, shopping. You're in this new country for a reason, to see it and experience it. So, use your money wisely and spend it on experience rather than tangible goods.
6. Make good use of FaceTime
Living abroad you'll start to find FaceTime is your best friend. FaceTime was a tool I used regularly (basically every day) to see the faces of people I missed and to keep phone bills down. No one wants those massive roaming bills! Even if it’s only 5 minutes every other day, FaceTiming someone from home makes you feel like they're there with you and you don't feel so alone.
7. Don't take it too seriously
While it’s easier said than done, remembering the move isn't forever is key to getting through Erasmus. Putting things into perspective and remembering it’s only a few short months of your life will remind you not to take the whole adventure too seriously. Use it as an opportunity to discover yourself and the place around you. It'll be over before you know it and you'll hopefully wonder what all the fuss was about.