Exchange in London
I’m writing this during my second Erasmus experience: an internship in Valencia this time. The fact that I’m here is a direct consequence of the year I spent in London; I came to Spain for a guy I met on my previous exchange in England, where I met a whole bunch of cool people from various parts of the world.
I always knew I would take part in an exchange at some point, I just didn’t know when exactly that would happen. There was always something making me stay: a boyfriend, my family and friends, the comfort and simplicity of living at home. And then, on a random December day in 2016, I had lunch with a friend who had recently returned from an exchange in China, and she got me so excited that I decided to apply, even though the deadline was in two days. I thought: if she could do China, I sure as hell can do London. I spent a day preparing the documentation and writing motivation letters, and then I applied. And that changed a lot of things.
I went on exchange because I had this vision of myself becoming a proper Londoner, getting some British accent, travelling the whole UK. None of that happened, though. In the whole nine months I spent there I haven’t made a single British friend, haven’t acquired a trace of British accent and the only proper UK trip I did was to Edinburgh. And despite all that, I had the best Erasmus experience I could ever wish for. I met people from different countries with whom we partied a lot and, more importantly, became great friends. I’d still say that my exchange was a classic, nothing I haven’t heard of before. I believe most people have an amazing time studying abroad and experience similar things as I did. Except for falling in love, maybe, but that’s not out of the ordinary either: roughly one million Erasmus babies were born since 1987, they say.
The point is that it was a great year: the most special, different and interesting so far. It also changed me in many ways. Before I left, home was an easy notion to understand and describe, but it isn’t so anymore. When I’m in Slovenia, I always feel like it’s temporary, like it’s just a period I’m spending there before I pack my bags and disappear for a few months again. And truth be told, it doesn’t just feel like that, it is like that. The past academic year felt like trying to get the uni stuff over with just so that I can spend the summer working in Spain.
The best part of my first Erasmus were the people; I love London but, to be honest, we would’ve had fun anywhere. I’m still in touch with the friends I made there and we’re trying to get ourselves in the same country at the same time every now and then, even though that’s easier said than done. It’s hard enough to organize trips with friends from my hometown; imagine doing it with people from Spain, Italy, Poland, Finland, Greece, China and so on. But hey, from time to time we succeed.
Internship in Valencia
You can do 12 months of Erasmus during your bachelor’s and 12 during your master’s. I haven’t used any of the months during my bachelor’s but decided to use them all during my master’s. After 9 months in London I still had 3 left, and where else would I spend them if not in Valencia, the place where my boyfriend lives, a cool city, and an opportunity to improve my broken Spanish. On top of that, I found a translation related internship (that’s what I study).
It’s safe to say that it’s nothing like London was, and I don’t mean that in a good or in a bad way. The place is completely different, it’s summer and I primarily came here to be with someone, so that’s what I’m mostly doing. I’m working from home most of the days, so I don’t see my co-workers every day; the interesting part is that most of them are Erasmus interns too, but that’s not a rule, it’s an exception. We’re quite lucky when it comes to that as we always have people to hang out with (and the gang is great this time too). I think the biggest difference is that I don’t have flatmates, except my boyfriend. That changes a lot of things; some of the greatest and funniest memories I have of London happened in the kitchen, in the hall or in one of our rooms.
The biggest difference is the amount of time: one summer is nothing. Two and a half months are over in a heartbeat and here I am wishing I could do it all over again. The work isn’t exactly what I was expecting; I’m not learning as much as I thought I’d be. The co-workers, though, were a very positive surprise. When you put a group of exchange students from different countries in the same place, amazing friendships and funny memories are bound to happen. I thought I’d just be spending a cool summer with my boyfriend and his friends, so making international friends was a big plus. As for Valencia, if you’ve read my previous post you already know I love it here.
So, study exchange or internship?
I’d say study exchange is the one that’ll give you the proper experience. Studying abroad as an exchange student usually isn’t that hard (it was very easy in my case), you have less classes, and you don’t have to work if you don’t want to (and if you have enough money; the scholarship won’t make you rich or anything). All of this means a lot of time for all the nice things: parties, trips and hanging out. If you want to go abroad for a shorter period and get some working experience, an internship might be the right option for you. It’s harder to know what to expect, though, and you might find it harder to meet people, as you may be the only Erasmus intern at the company (but you have Erasmus groups on Facebook, so no worries). As for applying and getting accepted, it’s easier to get accepted for an internship (that’s just because you find the employer after you’ve been accepted, while for the study exchange you apply to a certain university, to three, actually, in order from your first choice to your third choice). The places are limited for the study exchange, but they aren’t for the practice. At least that’s what I’ve been told.
For how long should you go?
As for the internship, that’s completely up to you and your employer (I found mine, or better said he found me, on erasmusintern.org). You can go for anything between a month or two and a whole year. An exchange is usually for one or two semesters, some are for a whole year. I’d recommend going for at least half a year or one semester, because that’s roughly how long you need to really get to know a place, a country, and to understand how it is to live there properly. Two months is cool, but they’ll pass faster than what you think. For me nine months passed incredibly fast, not to mention the summer that’s coming to an end.
Where should you go?
That’s a completely personal choice, of course. I went to London because I love it, and because I like the accent and the culture. You should think about any possible languages you’d like to learn, any culture that interests you or place that really appeals to you. The scholarship does vary according to the country, but, for example, you get the same amount of money for Italy and the UK, and the latter is much more expensive, especially London. I got around 500 euros per month (80% of the whole amount right away and 20% after I came home), but that depends on the country you come from; that’s what Slovenian students get for going to the »first category countries«, so the more expensive ones. In general, you will need more money than what the scholarship gives you, so if that concerns you, you should go to a cheaper country. You might get some money from your employer if you’re an intern, but that’s not a rule (it’s more like an exception).
Student residence or private accommodation?
Student residence forever. That way you’ll meet people, it’s even possible that they’ll put you in a flat or block with other exchange students (they did it with me) and you’ll have to try hard to be lonely. If you get private accommodation it’s possible you’ll end up living with people who are older and working full-time or just with people who, you know, already have a life and don’t need you in it. In case you’re going to England, you’ll get a single room, and I think that’s the case in many other countries too (not in mine, though).
Erasmus will give you more than it will take from you, that’s for sure. Your friends, family, boyfriends and girlfriends will wait, you’re not going for that long. Your independence will increase because you’ll have to find your way around in a foreign country, and your mum won’t be there to wash your clothes or cook your meals. You’ll learn how to communicate in a foreign language with ease and you’ll meet people from all over the place (which also means free accommodation in the future, wink wink). People who participate in exchanges are generally open-minded, into hanging out and into travelling, so you’re bound to find people you have something in common with. Basically, you’ll feel like you’re on a long holiday: you’ll party like you’re back in high school, uni won’t be that demanding, you’ll take random day trips and you’ll have fun, I bet you will. And really, have you ever heard of anyone regretting Erasmus? Me neither. So just apply before you get old because the only thing you’ll ever regret is not doing it.