As I entered the first class of final year, I couldn’t help but notice the deep breaths and sighs amongst my classmates as we came to the realisation of what’s to come – final projects and dissertations.
I could not resist thinking about and missing my Erasmus semester, a time when dissertations and final projects were a world away and when everyday brought something new.
Utrecht, a vibrant, beautiful and unsung city, located in the Netherlands is where I chose to spend my Erasmus semester. Utrecht stole my heart with its winding canals, breath-taking architecture and peaceful parks.
Erasmus+ (European Community Action Scheme for the Mobility of University Students) is a European Union programme which gives students the opportunity to study or train abroad and improve their educational and social skills. It also allows students to live and study in another European country for up to a year and experience a new way of life.
I arrived in a rainy, cold Utrecht to my 17th floor apartment on the campus of Utrecht Science Park. I felt scared and anxious of what was to come. Who will I be living with? Who are my classmates? Is this going to be the ‘time of your life’ which so many students who studied abroad say?
The first days were daunting, which is natural when you move to a new city and throw yourself into a new culture. However, there was no time to dwell because number one on the agenda was to buy a bike. In no time, I was cycling during the chaotic rush hour of Utrecht and feeling at home.
My first class at Hogeschool Utrecht, Monday, 9am. Reality. Although, this was not your typical 9am lecture. It was an introduction and bonding session with fellow classmates and professors who were from all over the world. It is very rare to have the opportunity to study alongside such a diverse and international group. Our professors were enthusiastic, engaging, passionate and eager to get to know us as individuals. The modules were wide-ranging and enjoyable. For example we embarked on a class trip to Berlin and were asked to travel Europe for three weeks, not bad eh? It was easy to travel around the continent via train or bus for a low price, one of the many benefits the European Union has to offer its citizens.
Utrecht has such a fantastic student life with weekly parties, trendy bars, small festivals, and daily activities such as cycle routes to explore and boats to rent.
Over the last five years, many colleges have seen an increase in students studying abroad at partner European universities. DIT has the highest number of participants. In the 2017/18 academic year alone, DIT sent 549 students to partner universities.
Peter Dalton, Erasmus coordinator at DIT said: “The significance of the Erasmus+ programme is life changing for students. It allows students to broaden their horizons, both academically and personally. Any student who undertakes an Erasmus abroad, from an employability point of view, in the years ahead will stand out amongst the rest. It shows an employer that a student can adapt to change and learn new cultures. The Erasmus+ programme is an academic and personal journey in life that should be experienced by all students.”
UCD have sent over 2,000 students abroad over the past five years. UCD student, Jane Moloney, took part in the Erasmus+ programme in the 2017/18 academic year. Jane said: “I originally chose to go on Erasmus because I was not overly happy with the course I was doing in UCD. I decided that if I went away for a year it would really stand to me in my future careers and set me aside from my peers when applying for jobs and graduate programmes.”
Jane, said a year away from Dublin did her the world of good as she had the opportunity to experience a new lifestyle and culture. “It is so important for students to take part in the Erasmus+ programme because there are so many different countries right on our doorstep in Europe.” Jane said her time abroad allowed her to become more confident and independent. “I gained, not only an international degree and international experience, but also international friends and connections that will last a lifetime.”
Five things you should know about Erasmus
If participating in the Erasmus+ programme is on your agenda, first thing is to attend an Erasmus information talk. This gives you a sense of what’s in store and where you can study. If you already have a city in mind, all the better. With a host university decided, ideally talk to someone who has studied there to give you a small feel of it.
There is a lot of paperwork due before your departure. Forms and letters are sent back and forth between you, your home college and chosen college abroad, however this is all part of the process and worth it in the end.
Of course, the purpose of Erasmus is to study but the social aspect plays a huge role in the overall experience. The Erasmus Student Network (ESN) organise various events and parties throughout the semester. Their goal is to connect internationals with locals and give students a chance to meet people outside of their class and apartment. ESN are located in 40 countries across Europe. I strongly advise signing up to the ESN in your chosen city. A huge benefit of the Erasmus+ programme is making new friends and connecting with internationals.
Familiarise yourself with the most efficient and ‘local’ ways of getting around your chosen city, for example purchasing a bike in the Netherlands. Meet locals through ESN and discover the must-do and see parts of the city, as well as exploring other cities in your chosen country.
Unfortunately, like everything, Erasmus costs money. ‘Start saving now’ is the advice I was given months before my departure. Having extra cash in your pocket allows you to travel around Europe and your chosen country.
Sometimes it is hard to balance socialising and studying when abroad. There’s always an unmissable event and new friendships to be made, but on the other hand, there’s always a paper due or an exam looming. Maintaining a balance between the two is key.
As our Erasmus came to an end, saying goodbye to friends and the now sunny and warm city of Utrecht was tough and emotional. I travelled back to Ireland with a heavy heart but with the fondest and happiest of memories and long-lasting friendships. Every Erasmus experience varies, however if your course gives you the chance to study abroad, grab it and enjoy every moment.
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