Author: Leonie Martin (President of JEF Nederland & JEF Maastricht and co-organiser of the Cross-Border Network)
Spending a semester or two abroad is awesome – no matter if you’re an Erasmus student or on some other scholarship. As a student in European Studies, I realized how little I knew of Europe – which is why I applied for Prague and Budapest, but also Stockholm and Belfast, first of all. Every direction would be fine with me, just please send me to another corner of Europe! Budapest, the pearl of the Danube, and a diamond located in Eastern Central Europe turned out to be my destination. Fairy tales, impressive architecture from especially the end of the 19th century, cake, schnaps, and facades reminiscing the Communist past – this is what I expected and also found. Budapest is also a good starting point to explore the region. You can easily and for little money live out your wanderlust and take the train to Krakow, Bratislava, Vienna, Belgrade, Zagreb… Thus, going on Erasmus, you’ll learn about Europe by getting to know your host city but also by studying, partying, travelling with your fellow Erasmus students.
My second motivation was to live at a place where I could not understand the language. I figured that the experience of improving French in France might be less of value than this – and let me tell you, Hungarian really deserves the title of being one of the most difficult languages to learn! Up to now, I can only say “sorry” if I bump into people, convincingly order a beer or two at a bar, and, of course, say cheers (Egészségedre!). Standard Erasmus linguistic skills, you might call them. I was able to help myself with English and German on the tourist streets but go along further, bring yourselves in non-touristy situations and you’re left at sign languages and the skills you have from few games of Charade with friends. When I had a small accident, for instance, I had to portray the whole scenario of burning my hand in a shop in order for the shop assistant to help me find the crème. Experiences like this taught me how to be more open in situations where language is not helping. And of course, a semester abroad challenges your mindset! At my home university, we watch videos of Nigel Farrage for fun while in Hungary, the students watched it because they took him seriously. I came out of the pro-European bubble and basically had to defend Europe at some points. Whilst the political situation in Hungary was drawing more attention (I was still there when the Constitution was changed, beginning of 2012), I realized that I need to appreciate the basics of the political system I live in and take for granted everyday, more. Hence, going on Erasmus, you’ll learn about yourself.
And yes, let’s be frank: If I’ll go back to Budapest, I won’t really have Hungarian friends to visit. Yes, I stayed within the legendary Erasmusbubble. But when I do go back to Budapest, I will be able to tell you stories of each corner of that city and of what my friends and I have experienced. I will be able to tell you stories of Europeans, Americans, Asians, studying, partying, travelling – everything what those 5 months include. And I will tell you those fun facts and memories with a smile on my face because it was my home. So, use your opportunity and go abroad! Take up the risk, even if it is only that you realize you dislike the city at some point, this is still an experience you will take with you. In the best-case scenario, you will find yourself a second home in Europe. Eitherway, I promise you, you will not regret it!
We will publish Erasmus stories on our website till the end of the year to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Erasmus program. If you want to share your Erasmus experience as well, don’t hesitate to send us your story at firstname.lastname@example.org! You’ll get eternal gratitude, a huge smile and a lot of readers in return. Let’s explore Europe!