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Erasmus taught me many lessons; the most important by far was that it’s okay not to fit in. It quickly became a recurring theme throughout my time away from home. However, I found that only being able to express myself in the present tense was not what hindered my progress the most, it was my unwillingness to jump into things both feet first.
After choosing Málaga as my year abroad destination (based on proximity to the beach – shallow, I know!) I did very little research about how to make the most of my time there. In retrospect, I should have researched accommodation, university courses, Erasmus networks, and the city of Málaga in general. My first piece of insight to anyone considering doing an Erasmus year is this: don’t leave accommodation until the last minute. My flatmates and I learned very quickly that we had taken for granted the abundance of available apartments in the city centre, and in late August, we found ourselves with very slim pickings. Second piece of advice: do a bit of research about your course at your chosen university if possible.
I can only compare my first day at University of Málaga to Cady Heron’s first day at North Shore High: a stressful, surreal blur. After sitting in the wrong classes, getting stared at, being told that we weren’t suitable for many classes, and finally, hearing another student utter “¿Por qué es su piel tan blanca?”, I felt alienated, demotivated and homesick. It wasn’t until returning from my first trip home (after various pep talks with my loved ones) that I decided to grab the opportunity with two hands. I enrolled in an Erasmus Spanish language course, we signed up to MSE (Málaga South Experiences) trips to cities across Spain, and we also discovered local ‘intercambio’ meetings which took place in popular bars and restaurants.
A final word of advice to any aspiring Erasmus students: don’t shy away from being different, embrace it! Without doubt, at times you will stick out like a sore thumb, with your pasty skin and awkward language skills – it’s hard not to notice us. However, if you never leave familiarity, you will never experience anything new, because life begins at the end of your comfort zone. It is all too tempting when you’re having a bad day to hibernate in your room and spend hours facetiming home or binge-watching a series on Netflix, but my most important survival tip: turn Netflix off, put your phone down and take advantage of your new surroundings and culture (because Pretty Little Liars can wait!). Go to the cinema, watch your local team in a football match, go for tapas and tinto, rent a car for the weekend and drive to a different city, go surfing, buy a second-hand bike, don’t just survive… thrive!
I can honestly say that my year abroad was the craziest, most rewarding adventure of my life thus far, and I would relive it all in a heartbeat. Having met so many wonderful new friends from all over Europe and having experienced such an amazing new way of life, I don’t think I will ever feel truly at home again. I never believed one year could make such a difference, but Erasmus isn’t just a year of your life, it’s a life in one year.
Written by Laura Jones
Title quotation taken from “Diaspora Blues” by Ijeoma Umebinyuo
The UoB Linguist Magazine
Guild of Students,
University of Birmingham