I was standing at the airport, with my passport in one hand and my expectations in the other, feeling nervous and excited at the same time, waiting for the plane to a life-changing journey. While I was sipping my coffee, the past few months were rewinding in my mind. How did I get here?
The process could be long and tiring, and might seem unworthy of your time, but once it passes you realize you have made the best choice. The only requirement is to be a student, have a good CV and even better reasons to apply. I was planning this journey for a long time and it all started with a choice, a choice to leave my hometown and study in a German university for one year in the department for English and American studies. The selection of university is not completely arbitrary and it depends on the agreements signed between your university and other universities. This was followed by the submission of an application for Erasmus+ exchange studies with my local university. The application was reviewed and I was chosen to experience the perks of being a Erasmus+ exchange student. As a non-EU citizen, I was facing the challenge of visa regimes, which affects travel itinerary, accommodation and needs to be prioritized and planned.
I was boarding the plane and could not even imagine how it would change my life. The path of an Erasmus+ exchange student leads to personal development and independence, networking and opening doors to new opportunities, overcoming language barriers but gaining language skills, adapting your life to a new environment as well as surviving in a foreign system.
The first perk of being an Erasmus+ exchange student is independence. Students who have had the privilege to study in their hometown and reside in an already familiar environment, like me, have the opportunity to experience the difficulties and benefits of being independent. Living alone in a foreign country could teach you quite a lot in financial planning, time management, nutrition, and emotional stability. One must be aware that it is quite difficult to adapt to sunny weather and rainy darkness without feeling at times nostalgic, but it is all part of the process for personal growth and development. The main obstacle that is quite hard to adapt to is administrative procedures in the host country, which need to be dealt with precaution and finding proper information, that will teach you to always ask good questions. You will learn how to manage your time accordingly, being aware of the deadlines and juggle between your university obligations and social calendar, simply said you will learn to think and plan ahead of time. Universities often offer warm welcoming support to new students by establishing the Student Buddy System and welcome weeks upon your arrival, to help you complete all administrative procedures such as enrolment in the university, registration of your address with the city and residence permit (for non-EU students). I would be dishonest if I’d say it was not at times overwhelming, but independence is not supposed to be "a piece of cake".
The second and very significant benefit of doing an Erasmus+ exchange studies abroad is networking. When you enter the Erasmus network, you open a window of opportunities. One opportunity for a scholarship leads to another, building your resume and contributing toward future career success. It is not simply studying abroad but also familiarizing yourself with brand new societal structure. The greatest surprise from Germany was the efficient recycling system and the very different educational system. As a student in the Balkans, I was comfortable with the standard ways of learning and being graded based on the gained knowledge, that favoring research and production of knowledge present in the German educational system was quite challenging and rewarding for my future academic life, but also my future encounter with the Austrian educational system. Embracing "the new" broadens your perspective and complements your transnational identity. Life in a new country brings the language barrier and draws you out of your comfort zone and it is a big bonus for your language skills. Learning the German language was a prerequisite for my following internships and life in other german-speaking countries.
Last but certainly not least, adapting to a completely different system is very hard, particularly if the social norms are quite different to what you are used to at home, but after you have accepted the new environment, you soon come to realize it is part of the process of being human, and you can adapt to living anywhere in the world. You will miss your family, your friends, the local cafe as well as your grandmother`s pastry, but Erasmus allows you to share that with the rest of your group. Suddenly you become the ambassador of your culture, language, traditions, and national cuisine, taking your homeland and everyday life everywhere you go. This exchange program, therefore, makes you international forever. As they say: Once you become Erasmus, you are always Erasmus.
Ivana speaks 5 languages and is a passionate writer who loves to travel. She completed two Bachelor Degrees in Law and Pedagogy: English Language and Literature at the University “St. Kliment Ohridski” in Bitola, Macedonia and currently pursues European Master in Migration and Intercultural Relations in different countries and universities.
She did her Erasmus + student exchange at the University TU Chemnitz in Germany, Department of English & American Studies, and was “Best of South East” scholar in the Karl-Franzens University in Graz, Austria, Department for Legal Studies.
She firmly believes that education is a human right and should be available to every person in the entire world. Ivana has over 5 years of experience in the non-governmental sector and participated in multiple Erasmus + trainings and youth exchanges, national conferences, and courses.