The time of an ERASMUS student, though the University might like to think otherwise, revolves largely around social interaction. The sort of
environment offered in a small town such as Toledo only serves to heighten the strength and importance of any relationship within
its walls. The nature of these bonds, and the richness of
the ERASMUS year in general, makes the inevitable
good-bye a particularly
Over the last few days I have been getting ready to bid farewell to the picturesque former Spanish capital of Toledo where I have spent the last year as a student on the ERASMUS program. As part of my preparations I decided to browse the countless souvenir shops which line the streets, satisfying the needs of the staggering number of tourists who visit the city all year round. Amongst the ubiquitous swords, shields, and armour – Toledo being world famous for its steel production – something else caught my eye; in each of these tiny shops there was a limitless supply of snow globes. Toledo’s historic centre lends itself perfectly to being portrayed in this form. The way its marvelous buildings are clustered together atop a hill bordered by the river gives it an almost fairytale like image. This sent me to thinking: My life in Toledo has been lived in a bubble of this sort.
Actually, this will not be the first time that the idea of living in a bubble has been attributed to the ERASMUS scheme, but I would argue that nowhere is it more applicable than in this mysterious and charming city.
With comparatively little study to be completed on the University side of things, and the expectation that you are here to enjoy all that your host city and its people have to offer, with the help of the ERASMUS grant, it really is a unique, once in a lifetime opportunity. When making decisions regarding the destination for this year, I had set my heart on Madrid. Having visited it previously, the vibrant and bustling capital in the centre of the country was all I had considered. But that was before a talk with a Spanish tutor changed my mind. He argued that such a city can be faceless and it would be easy to become isolated and despondent, especially without a good grasp of the language. And so it was that I would enter the Toledano bubble.
Now, at the end of a truly fantastic ten months, I am convinced I made the right decision. The proximity of life inside the casco allows you to feel part of the community almost instantly with bars, a local carnicería or frutería and, most importantly, friends never more than five minutes away. Not to mention the fact that I could wake up ten minutes before the start of lectures and still make it to University in time – some contrast to the forty minute commute endured by friends who had opted for Madrid!
The ERASMUS experience, with the help of the film L’auberge Espagnole is perhaps famed for the intensity of relationships formed under its influence. The excitement of meeting people from exotic and interesting backgrounds and absence of any real responsibility encourage an open atmosphere which allows friendships, and more, to be forged at an astonishing rate. The time of an ERASMUS student, though the University might like to think otherwise, revolves largely around social interaction. The sort of environment offered in a small town such as Toledo where everyone essentially lives on top of one another in a few square miles only serves to heighten the strength and importance of any relationship shaped within its walls.
The nature of these bonds, and the richness of the year in general, makes the inevitable good-bye a particularly difficult experience which brings with it a phenomenon quickly becoming recognized as ‘post erasmus syndrome’. Many articles dealing with the subject can be found all over the internet, and it is attracting the attention of several psychologists. Before you leave for your year abroad, there is a lot of focus put on the process of adapting to a new culture, advice about what to expect, and a lot of support given. On returning however, there is very little.
What is interesting in this respect is that having spoken to a number of people who have taken part in the exchange, this is actually the more difficult in terms of adjustment. Recall the feeling after a particularly enjoyable weekend, or even a week away on holiday, returning to work and reality can be rather tough. Now imagine the situation after having been away on an intense and life changing experience lasting for an entire year – it’s easy to see why the period upon return can be so challenging once the bubble bursts.
Having experienced such a high, a year full of interesting and exciting discoveries, there is an inevitable change in your personality, your thoughts, your beliefs and, while this will vary from person to person, everyone will feel some shock on returning to their homes to find everything largely the same as when they left it. This can feel comparatively oppressive in direct contrast to a time of such freedom, and many will struggle for the first few weeks.
However, despite these difficulties, the ERASMUS experience is one of a kind, a fantastic movement giving opportunities to thousands of young people every year, and I can be almost certain, ask any student who has taken part and they would jump at the chance to relive even just one day of what is a truly unforgettable year.
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