In our Erasmus series, Features editor Rachel O’Neill describes her own experience studying abroad. Far from the adventure of a lifetime the year abroad is sold as, her’s has been plagued by loneliness, a longing to come home, disappointment and guilt. She takes you through her final year Erasmus in Frankfurt, highlighting the lesser talked about darker side of what can be a lonely and sad year away from home for some.
Erasmus has nearly always been sold to us as an incredible opportunity, a chance to see the world and study at the same time. I myself had always intended to go on Erasmus when I got to college. However, now that I’m here I find myself wondering is this worth it? Before I go on I should probably explain that my Erasmus is quite unusual. I’m a final year Neuroscience student and I’m over in Germany on Erasmus to conduct my final year laboratory project. I’m in the lab from 9am-5pm, Monday to Friday so it’s more like having a job than studying.
I arrived in Bochum on September 8th and I’ve wanted to come home ever since. There are a few personal factors that have played into this such being alone with no roommates for almost a month, being away from my boyfriend and having a mother going through chemotherapy for the second time. Now the last reason in particular isn’t going to affect everyone but I feel like people not enjoying their Erasmus is something we should talk about a bit more. We may be a small minority but I feel that people tend to gloss over the hard parts of Erasmus.
Moving to another country is never going to be smooth sailing but nobody tells you about the crippling loneliness that you can experience. I might have just been unlucky but I’ve found the last month one of the hardest of my life. The homesickness and loneliness consumed me like an illness. I found myself crying in bathrooms, hiding from my lab so I wouldn’t be embarrassed. Of course people notice and try to look after you but you don’t want to become a burden to them. Suddenly you’re crying every time you Skype your mum, your partner or your friends. Everyone expects you to be having the time of your life and then when you’re not, you feel guilty.
“Suddenly you’re crying every time you Skype your mum, your partner or your friends. Everyone expects you to be having the time of your life and then when you’re not, you feel guilty.”
It’s for these reasons that I’ve felt like an imposter these last few weeks. I should be enjoying myself. I’ve already been to Frankfurt and Berlin. I’ll be heading back to Berlin and also going to Dusseldorf and Leverkusen to see a football match too. By the time I come home I’ll have watched many TV shows on Netflix and probably have written most of my thesis. But I’ll have done all of this to fill the time until I can come home. I’ll have done nearly all of this to distract myself from the homesickness and the loneliness I’ve felt since the moment I stepped off the plane. I’ve set a countdown to my flight home and I look at it every day, a little happier with every passing hour. This sounds obsessive and unhealthy because it is. Erasmus has made me obsessive about going home, making it nearly impossible to enjoy anything about being here.
When I sit back and reflect on my first five weeks here I have to remind myself that this is not forever and that I’ll be home in a little under 8 weeks time. I am a little bit more hopeful that things can only get better given how hard they’ve been. I might get to go to two or three Bundesliga games, I might get to meet some more international students, I might get to experience a real German Christmas market. So I could have some really good experiences in the next few weeks. That being said, I can’t help but feel that my Erasmus experience will be overshadowed by my first few weeks here. I don’t want it to be but when you’re only abroad for 12 weeks, things stay with you a bit more than they would if you were here for a year.
I cannot call quits on my Erasmus for reasons relating to my degree and thesis. There are people who have ended their Erasmus after a month because they didn’t like it and I think those people are incredibly brave. It takes a lot of guts to realise that what you’re doing is making you unhappy and that coming home is the right decision for you. You should be allowed to back out of something when it doesn’t work for you. Certain people are perfectly suited for Erasmus and some are not. I think it’s important to work out which one you are before you sign up. It’s a lot harder when you work it out when you get here.
Bearing all that in mind, I am only one person. My experience of Erasmus will not be your experience but keep me in mind when you’re considering if you want to go or not. It might be the best decision of your life but it also might be one of the hardest things you’ll ever have to do. Make sure you’re ready for it regardless.
Rachel O’Neill | Features Editor