Moving to another country for the first time in your life as a twenty-one-year-old is never an easy step to take but to do so during a pandemic is a feat in itself. Looking back on it, participating in Erasmus has been the best step I have taken in my life so far and has taught me the invaluable lesson of saying yes to opportunities presented in college.
Studying abroad is something I always heard stories about. Older students I knew were always talking about the memories they made, the friends they met and the experiences they had and being inspired by this, I applied to go on exchange to Stockholm University, Sweden for the second semester of the academic year 2020/2021 which I was accepted for.
By December, seeing the case numbers rising yet again and being forced into our third national lockdown, I almost cancelled the exchange altogether. If I was already feeling so isolated and lonely despite living with my family in Ireland, how much more isolated would I feel in a new country speaking another language and with no support system?
Most people go on exchange to make friends and how was I to make friends in a global pandemic, where we had at that point long forgotten what it felt like to physically be near the people we loved the most?
However, I fell in love with Stockholm as soon as I stepped out of the airport on a cold, January night. It could have been the fact that it felt like I was stepping into freedom from the restrictions at home, or it could have been how beautiful the night sky looked with its purple and orange hues.
The next six months would take a lifetime to pen and scribe into mere words when all I can remember is the feeling of elation, constant excitement and the feeling of belonging; realising that we are capable of making a home anywhere. Everyone I met just wanted to make friends and spend time together and it was probably the lasting impact and hole that living in constant lockdowns had had on us.
Living abroad and having to make a life for myself after living in lockdown during a global pandemic made me realise the depth of life humans have the capacity to live and enjoy. It made me realise how much friendship we are able to give and how little we were able to exchange during the pandemic. How starved we were of the ability to nurture our friendships and enjoy our youth.
Being a part of the European Union is a significant advantage. The Erasmus programme affords opportunities to students that are not as readily available to students living in other parts of the world. Furthermore, the opportunities to travel while on Erasmus are unmatched. It is such a privilege to be so young and to be able to travel with the support we get from the EU and our university Erasmus Co-Ordinators.
I was lucky that the country I chose to go to on exchange was fairly lax on rules regarding Covid in both our own homes and restaurants and bars. This opened up so many opportunities to make friends and make memories, all of which I took with open arms, graciously. For example, I was able to go on a trip to Lapland to see the Northern Lights in the winter and take a road trip around southern Sweden during the summer.
Living independently for the first time in my life with no worries regarding commuting (as I would have in Dublin, still living in my parent’s home), I experienced the best of what student living has to offer in Scandinavia. The 4 am electric scooter rides going back home and stopping to watch the sunrise, spontaneous plans to visit the nooks and crannies of a city we now know like the back of our hands and even the random movie nights in the small student rooms of our accommodation.
Erasmus is a leap of faith and if it works out, it’s one of the best things you can experience in your college life. It certainly was for me.