……….My Erasmus Journey
By Marijn Verdenius
On 31 August 2015 I stepped on a plane to Ireland. I was super excited about my Erasmus+ exchange semester that was about to begin, but I also was insanely nervous, filled with adrenaline, and already a bit homesick by the time I boarded the plane. I think that everyone that has spent an extended period in a foreign country will understand those feelings. I was 22 at the time, had lived on my own for four years, had been to Ireland before, and I speak English probably better than my native language, still it is very scary to pack up your life in a suitcase and move to a different country. But as always, the people you meet will make or break the experience for you. And in my case, they made it so great, that three years later I still feel homesick for Ireland.
I am not great at first impressions, or at least, that is what I think about myself. I am either a blabbering fool, who keeps on rambling about everything. Or I make a joke, and just get blank stares. Or I express some of my usual clumsiness and drop everything I am holding. I cannot be sure whether this self-assessment is correct, but I ended up with some great friends that I am still in contact with, so I think I am fine.
A few things really helped with this: the orientation week, the International Society, other UL clubs & societies, and (international) housemates.
Having a varied bunch of housemates – we were with seven people both from Ireland and other parts of Europe – got me a good start. I sometimes hated their guts, as you do. But in the end, we had some great times together: Halloween and birthday parties, evenings in the pub down the road, complaining about the filthy kitchen and then cleaning the house together.
To this day, I still talk to my friend Sophia. Of all my housemates, I connected most with her. I was at the house when she first arrived in Ireland, and I believe I blabbed her ears of. But by the end of the week we had had gone to Orientation week together, went on an organised trip to the Cliffs of Moher (what else would you do in your first week in Ireland?), and drank beers together at Stables. And thus, we started becoming friends.
Active Student Life
An exchange can be a great way to explore a country. But not everyone has the money, the will, or the energy to plan endless trips in their weekends. This is where the student union and all of UL’s clubs and societies come in handy.
The International Society’s weekend day trips are legendary. I believe I was part of their biggest trip to Dingle ever! It is not just a great way of getting to see some of the famous parts of Ireland, but you get to do it on a budget with a lot of people who are fun and know what it is like to be on this scary adventure on your own. The TGIF International parties in Stables are also a good way to start your weekend, since – unlike the Irish students – there is a slim change you will be travelling home.
I also joined the swimming club and the comedy society. This too ensured that my evenings were always filled with activities and people.
If I were to tell you about all the events and all the activities I participated in, I could probably write a whole book. But suffice it to say, that you don’t need to be the most outgoing or fun person in a room to find someone you connect with. However, leaving the front door – even if it is just for a walk or a quiet cup of tea in the grass on campus – is necessary to connect, and if you do you will find your people.
Staying in Touch
After I got home, I started planning on how to stay in touch. I regularly called with 5-10 people for the first half year after I got home. During this time, I also planned a trip that took me to meet 4 of my ‘Limerick-friends’ throughout Europe. I travelled to three countries – four cities – to meet them so that they could show me their homes. I met these wonderful people in a foreign country, now they could show me where they grew up and what they loved (or hated) about their own country.
After this trip some contacts started to water down. Everyone leads busy lives and tries to keep up with uni, work and life in general. Some I only have whatsapp/facebook contact with, others none.
But there are still three women that I see on a regular basis: my friends Sophia, Ina and Zeliha. To this day we skype once every 2-3 months, we send postcards, and we keep each other up-to-date by sending messages in a group-chat. In that sense we are like any other group of friends: we want to share in each other’s’ triumphs and struggles, we want to be there to support, and cheer each other on. The only difference is that we live in different countries, in different time zones, and that part of us will always remember Limerick.
To this day we care for each other and try to meet up. For example, I am flying to Scotland this summer because Ina is going to be there, and I have not seen her in person since we said goodbye in Ireland.
Going on Erasmus was a wild ride and it was amazing. As an added bonus, I met some very special people that I would otherwise not have known.