If you’re jetting off on your year abroad this September, this is normally the time when you’ll start to panic. The paperwork is piling up, you’re terrified to try writing an email in your foreign language, and you lie awake at night wondering how you’re going to cope without an unlimited supply of Barry’s Tea. Whether you’re feeling the fear or you can’t wait to see the back of our fair isle, here’s what they don’t usually tell you at those endless preparatory meetings:
1. You won’t be speaking as much of the language as you might expect.
Because most European countries teach English from primary school onwards, 99% of the people you meet on Erasmus will be fluent, or near-fluent, in our lingo. Having you, a native English-speaker, in their midst will drive them crazy with excitement, as they’ll finally be able to converse in the language they’ve been learning since they were four years old. This makes it very easy for us English-speakers to make instant friends, but don’t be surprised if you have to fight to speak the language you came to learn. A simple “could we chat in French/Spanish/Italian/etc.?” every now and then will get you back on track.
2. Which is handy, because you’re not as good at it as you think you are.
I’m not going to lie—I thought I was pretty competent in French. I did well in tests on the subjunctive tense and essays on Molière, and I was pretty chuffed with myself when I managed to get all my Erasmus paperwork sent off before I left. However, when you complain about being charged an extra six Euro at the hairdressers, only to find out you unknowingly agreed to a deep-conditioning treatment, you’ll come to realise that the reality of speaking a foreign language is much more difficult. Don’t be disheartened if it takes time.
3. The first few weeks will suck.
Oh, how they will suck. Especially the days before you find accommodation, when you’re enjoying ice-cold showers in a youth hostel that serves bits of stale baguette for breakfast. All you’ll want to do is hop on the next flight home, collapse on your couch and rip open a packet of Tayto in front of Home And Away. But—to put it bluntly—you can’t. And you’ll be glad of that—because it gets so much better. After a couple of weeks, I’d made some great friends, and even stopped bursting into tears every time someone asked me a question in French.
4. You won’t be half as homesick as you’d expect.
When I first came to France, I had a countdown timer on my phone that counted the days until I would visit home again, seven weeks later. I checked it every ten minutes for a couple of weeks, then forgot all about it. Once you start making friends and having fun to take your mind off it, the homesickness wears off bit by bit. Now, I’m in the middle of a four-month stretch without seeing anyone from home, and I barely even think about it—your Erasmus life just becomes, well, your life!
5. It might not be your best year.
I know, it’s almost blasphemous to say it, but hear me out. I expected a lot from this year, mainly because Erasmus internet forums are full of assorted Europeans crying over their year abroad coming to an end. The reality of Erasmus, however, is a whole bunch of ups and downs, so don’t be shocked if things don’t go perfectly. It hasn’t been the best year of my life (that was my wonderful, newly-single second year of college), and most of my friends who are scattered across Europe this year have said the same thing. My Erasmus has been a great year— I’ve met some really special people and learnt a lot—but it’s not the smooth ride that all the online stories make it out to be. It’s a cliché, but you need to put into it what you want to get out of it.
6. You’ll become more Irish than ever.
I never really gave Today FM, Cadbury’s chocolate or Penneys much thought when I lived in Ireland, but any time someone mentions them now, I feel like jumping up and down with delight and nostalgia. It’s only since I’ve been away that I’ve started to appreciate the few things Ireland has to offer the world: overly friendly bus drivers, proper bacon, shops being open on Sundays… the list goes on. There are six Irish people in our group here, and I think it’s safe to say that huddled together in the midst of twenty different nationalities, we’re the most Irish we’ve ever been.
7. You’ll grow up a lot.
I can’t really explain how, but I look back on photos and diary entries from September, and it feels as though I’m a completely different person now. Somewhere among the endless paperwork, horrific hangovers and awkward conversations with my landlady, I grew up. Leaving behind everything you know, forming a whole new group of friends and speaking in a foreign language for nine months is bound to make you more mature, so don’t be surprised if you feel a bit out of place for a while when you come home. You’ve changed for the better!