I’m currently a little sad, sat here in England. Never thought I would say this, but compared to the last 9 months of my life it’s all a little lonely and monotonous. After the journey and adventure I’ve been on since September, you kinda feel lost and confused when you sit down and realise it all ended a few weeks ago.
Writing this piece isn’t going to be easy – have a box of tissues ready for me, will you?
I went to Grenoble on Erasmus in September 2013 to study at IUT2 (Pierre Mendes University, France) on one of their economics/management courses. During that time my life completely changed – I don’t think I will ever be the same person again. The entirely different life I lived, the people I met, the experiences I enjoyed… all of that is bound to change you in some way, isn’t it?
I guess if I had to come up with a short list of the highlights, it would have to look like this:
- Studying for one year, learning management skills and economic theory, all with a foreign culture and language at the heart of the course.
- Playing American Football for one of the most high-octane, exciting teams in France – playing with and against some French national players and even some from North America. I also got to referee the game too.
- Engaging in the Erasmus community through meet-ups and parties – different cultures and lifestyles colliding in one year-long celebration of international collaboration and learning.
- Becoming an English Language Assistant in my college, helping lots of students improve their conversational English to prepare them not just for exams but also their life ahead too.
- Meeting people from all over the world who weren’t on Erasmus, understanding why they went to Grenoble. I made great friends with many of them and will do for years to come.
- Continuing to develop my foreign language skills with practical experience – sometimes to the degree where I was making mistakes in my English.
- Immersing myself in a culture that I never truly understood until I went there and lived that life.
I knew that when I arrived that I was going to have a lot of fun with different experiences though at the same time I knew I would have to adjust my lifestyle to fit in with the French idea – the language is much faster, the shops don’t open much on a Sunday, to give two examples.
What I found is that Erasmus helped me settle in so much more easily than if I was there on my own. In the beginning you get to sit down with people and what I quickly realised is that we all had the same sort of problems – everyone had travelled to be in Grenoble and had a different level of French from what was expected. Some of us were older than others but it didn’t seem to matter – there was no generational gap between us. We were all there for the same reason, which was to have an entirely new experience all together.
As time progressed I found that Erasmus was more than just a way of going out and partying together – these people became great friends who I spent time with, tackling our difficulties of life, socialising, studying together and experiencing the culture together in general. That’s not to say we didn’t enjoy the odd party – the mental image I have of four shirtless Swedish lads dancing on tables to Abba’s ‘Voulez Vous’ on a ‘Euro Cheese’ night in town is going to stick with me for a few years to say the least.
The people on my course were great people also – they understood that I had grown up in a different country with a different attitude towards life and education and so they helped me get settled in. The vast majority of my group were French and so that really helped me get much closer to being fluent in the language – the Colombians who were in there too brought their own vibrant and rich culture also, which made for a lot of fun and interesting debate.
I was lucky to meet people from the UK who were studying out on Erasmus also – they would tell you the same thing if they were asked about their experiences. Every British student I met explained how they had gradually fallen in love with Europe, from the trips to Oktoberfest to Christmas markets to their incredible parties and social nature – it all meant a lot to them and they certainly came out with a positive experience from it all.
I know I talk a lot about parties and all that – I realise that I have to be balanced and explain the working side of Erasmus too. The work was tough, there is no doubt. For me I took a year out to study more of what I had studied back home – the University of Lincoln. I had already studied International Business Management for two years and so consolidating that knowledge with a French twist was certainly a fantastic experience. It proved a real test for myself but I got through it – I look back and it certainly tested me and my skills and knowledge. I would love to go back and do something in France again one year – they have a certain way of teaching which I love and appreciate. To be honest I wish I could go back to that style of teaching when I start again in Lincoln in September.
Speaking of going back… I wish I didn’t have to leave Erasmus. People talk about the ‘post-Erasmus depression’ and how difficult it is to come back and adjust to being back at home. It’s been an incredible experience and it’s tough to get to terms with the fact that it’s all over now. I met one person in Grenoble who loved it so much she decided not to leave at all, even though it was 6 years ago – don’t think I could ever blame her.
I’ve learnt so much about Europe, the world and so met many different people I don’t think I could ask for a better year. It’s been amazing and I would always encourage people to go.
Long live Erasmus. And long live the memories too.