As the new academic year rolls around, many students will be preparing for their upcoming Erasmus program. Erasmus is an amazing study abroad program for Europe’s students and young people, allowing them the opportunity to mature and grow in a new environment, whilst exploring different cultures around the continent. You may even learn a new language or two in the process! At the same time, preparing for this move abroad can be daunting, especially if it is your first time living away from your family and friends. Packing, culture shock, and the stress of making friends can negatively affect this experience and your student life. However, with some preparation and foresight, you can minimize these issues and make the most of your Erasmus program.
Packing Tips for Study Abroad
Whether you are new to the international student life or a seasoned professional, packing is one of the first – and one of the most overwhelming – aspects to face when considering preparing for Erasmus. There are many things to consider, including the climate, culture, and how to transfer your baggage, of course!
A thorough understanding of the climate that you will be experiencing is absolutely crucial when preparing for your Erasmus period. Completing a single-semester or whole-year exchange will require different clothing. For example, if you are moving from the north of Sweden to the South of France for a spring/summer exchange, it is very likely that you can leave most of your wardrobe at home, freeing up space in your luggage. As well as this, you must consider the fact that you may decide to travel before, during, or after your Erasmus program, so you may need one heavier jacket when interrailing all the way to Budapest for a week in January, an unforgettable aspect of Erasmus student life!
Many countries throughout Europe have different cultural norms. In Italy, for example, you may be expected to wear more modest clothing when exploring churches and other sacred places. Packing clothing that covers your knees and shoulders (even in warm weather) may be necessary depending on where you will be studying or travelling during your study abroad period.
Preparing your Luggage for Erasmus
Luggage is another factor that needs to be considered when thinking about preparing for your Erasmus program. There are a number of options as to how you transfer your luggage and baggage from your home country to your destination. Adding extra bags to your plane ticket is a great option for most people. However, if your journey requires multiple transfers, or if you will be away for a long period of time, shipping your baggage may be an effective alternative. Companies such as Send My Bag have experience working with Erasmus students and offer quick quotations and a variety of packing and shipping methods. If you think you will be returning home, or have family and friends planning on visiting, you may be able to bring items over and back as you need them, or indeed as the seasons change.
Packing cubes or vacuum bags may help to compress your belongings, but, especially if travelling by plane or shipping baggage, you must ensure that your luggage meets weight and capacity or size limits. If these limits are exceeded, you may risk paying a hefty fine at the airport, or, if shipping your items, the company may not take your shipment. At the end of the day, you will likely accumulate more souvenirs, clothes, and memorabilia abroad than you think! Less is more.
It is also important to ensure that you are taking enough home comforts with you. Whether you are studying abroad for a couple of weeks or a whole academic year, your destination country is your new temporary home. The photos, birthday cards, stuffed animals and blankets that adorn your apartment or childhood bedroom at present may go a long way to helping you settle into your host country.
Culture Shock When Moving Away
Culture shock can affect even the most well-travelled students. There is a huge difference between spending a week in Magaluf with your best friends and spending a semester alone in Madrid. You may find yourself more affected by a language barrier or cultural differences than expected. Even if you do not have much time when preparing for your Erasmus program, you can still begin to mitigate these issues if you are prepared to.
Preparing for a Language Barrier on Erasmus
Facing a language barrier during your time abroad can be extremely distressing for some students. It can lead to feelings of isolation and loneliness when trying to make friends or enjoy student life, as well as general frustration and confusion during daily tasks, such as when grocery shopping or using public transport. Applications such as Duolingo and Babbel can help you learn the basics of the language used in your host country, you can better build your confidence by having conversations with other speakers.
The Best Way to Learn a Language!
The UNBLND application offers users the opportunity to speak to others anonymously, and joining language interest groups is a fantastic way to become used to speaking to others in your Erasmus destination language. For example, you can speak with French speakers through the French Language group and learn about the language and culture by participating in events and other interest groups, such as film, cooking, and travelling groups; another great way to begin preparing yourself for Erasmus!
When moving abroad to complete the Erasmus program, you will likely encounter many cultures that are different to your own. It is very important to understand and respect these cultures, even if, at the beginning of your study abroad period, you find it difficult to fit in and integrate into student life. Differences as seemingly insignificant as breakfast foods may seem insurmountable at the beginning, but as you relax and become more comfortable in your new home, you will begin to appreciate these contrasting cultural elements. Making an effort to learn the language of your host country can help you settle into a new way of life, as the communication barrier will be eased. Taking time to travel and explore your new home in all of its glory can also help you to understand the history and culture of the country, as well as occupying your mind for a while.
How to Make Friends during Erasmus
Building relationships with others whilst on Erasmus can help negate some of the culture shock and loneliness that you may experience, as well as allowing for a full and rounded study abroad experience. It may even help you to learn the language of your host country! Many students wonder how they will make friends, making it a huge source of worry and anxiousness for those preparing to move abroad.
How to Make Friends at University
Whilst taking part in the Erasmus program, it is very likely that you will be spending a lot of time on your new university campus. Due to this, it is important to make the effort to reach out to those around you in order to make friends in your first few weeks abroad. When choosing the classes that you will be taking during your study abroad program, it may be helpful to pick courses that offer a group work component if possible, as it will force you to get out of your comfort zone and really engage with the other students in your class. This is another method of preparing yourself for your Erasmus program well in advance of your start date.
Clubs and Societies
Joining student clubs and societies at your new university is a great way to get involved in the school community and meet new people. These days, most universities offer numerous types of clubs, from sports, dance, music, languages, and culture, to more niche offerings such as Harry Potter societies or Taylor Swift appreciation clubs. There is a student society for everyone, and becoming a member of one ensures that you are in the company of like-minded people, which can be a great starting point for creating a group of friends abroad.
Student Networks and Induction Programs
Some universities will have networks for Erasmus or study abroad students already in place, which can offer an accessible way to meet people in the same position as you, who are eager to make friends and explore the area and its student life. Your university may also offer an induction program just before the start of term which allows exchange students to meet up through facilitated activities, such as cultural tours, classes to help you learn the language, and other similar events. If you are unsure whether your host university offers such a program, it is worth reaching out to them, as it can be an invaluable opportunity to make new friends and settle into the city and university right at the beginning of your time abroad.
Making Friends Outside of University
It is equally important to attempt to make friends outside of your host university. For example, if you are studying abroad for a full year, some students may leave during your exchange; they may return home or move away for their own Erasmus program. As well as this, if you are conducting your exchange through English in a country such as France, it is likely that much of your classes will be dominated by other exchange and international students. Therefore, making friends with local young people is a great way to learn your new language and better appreciate and understand the culture and customs of your host country.
Expat Networks Abroad
If you are missing the comforts of home, you may find some solace in Facebook groups for people from your country or of your nationality in your host country. Groups such as Irish in France can help you to make friends with ex-pats or immigrants in your new area, which can be particularly helpful when you begin your exchange. Some groups will organise events and meetups, whilst others will provide help with finding, for example, English-speaking doctors near you.
Erasmus Networks Abroad
Most cities or areas that have an established Erasmus population will have a designated Facebook group, similar to expatriate networks, but for students of all nationalities and cultures. Groups like Erasmus Berlin bring international and exchange students together in the local area. Whilst these groups are great for making friends, again, especially at the start of your period abroad, they are also useful for finding apartment lettings or sub-lets and roommates.
Using an App to Make Friends (The Ultimate Way!)
Social media applications can be another great way to make friends before and during your study abroad program, and can even be a tool you can use to put your mind at ease when preparing for Erasmus and international student life. The BFF function on Bumble allows users to find friendships in a similar way to the dating function on the app, wherein you can swipe left or right on perspective friends in your area.
The UNBLND application is also a fantastic way to build relationships during Erasmus. The app uses an algorithm to sort you into anonymous communities based on your interests, both generally, and in your city. As well as this, you have complete control over the connections you make, as you choose who can see your information, adding another layer of safety when you're a young person in a new country. The app also allows users to create events and activities either online or in person, which is another great method of bringing people like-minded people together in order to make new friends.
Moving abroad to participate in the Erasmus+ program is a big step, and it is completely normal to feel overwhelmed by the entire process. However, with a little work and effort, you can really make the most of this amazing opportunity by preparing for your Erasmus program in advance. Don’t be afraid to try new things and step outside of your comfort zone and enjoy the student life, it will all be worth it in the end!