Erasmus is a programme that gives students the opportunity to study in Europe as part of their degree. I traveled to the second largest city in Austria, Graz, in February 2013 and spent four months undertaking my research project at the city’s university.
My Erasmus journey begun the year before travelling; applications for the programme were done through UCL SOP and initially required filling in a short form. The form contained my preferred travel locations, project areas, if I spoke any other languages and a short personal statement. A few months after this, there was an informal interview with UCL SOP members of staff. The questions centred on my past exam grades, reasons for wanting to go abroad and how I would adapt to the change in environment.
After being accepted for the programme, there was a period of silence…until one day I received a package in the post from the overseas university. The reality of Erasmus sunk in and the thought of going abroad started to excite and unnerve me at the same time. I booked a one-way ticket to Austria, hovering the mouse cursor over the “confirm” button, until it was done. There was now no turning back!
The next step was finding a roof over my head for the four month period. My host university was brilliant in helping with accommodation and provided the details of a reputable organisation that offers housing for international students. I was fortunate to share a flat in a dorm block with four other amazing girls from other parts of Europe. Private renting was also possible, however it is important not to part with your hard earned cash before seeing any accommodation. In this case, it would be more sensible to stay in a hostel or hotel for a few nights before finding a suitable place to life.
With regards to university fees, the Erasmus programme is brilliant, as there are no additional costs to pay to the host institution. However some universities may require a small administrative fee on arrival. More importantly, a grant was delivered direct to my bank account to cover travel and living costs.
I tried to plan as much as possible before leaving London; I even used Google Maps to streetview the location of my flat, the university and how I would get around the city. The university offered a buddy scheme, whereby a local student would pick me up from the airport and show me around. Without her, I would have been completely overwhelmed and terrified on my arrival, and I was so thankful for her kindness and help.
I travelled to Austria alone, so I was absolutely petrified I would be unable to make friends and feel alone in the country for months and months. However there was an Erasmus Student Network (ESN), which is an organisation that arranges events with other international students. I went to many of the socials and became friends with people from lots of different countries. I am still in contact with some of the people I met and regularly reminisce about the times we spent together.
The language barrier at first was daunting for everyday activities, such as grocery shopping and buying a sim card. The last time I spoke German prior to going to Austria was for my GCSE exam and I tried my best to assimilate into the culture by using my broken standard phrases. However everyone in the city was lovely and thankfully spoke English, so after a while, I felt less scared of asking for help.
During my four months abroad, I made sure I spent every weekend travelling to a different place or doing an activity I had never done before. The countries I visited included Germany, Slovenia, Croatia and Czech Republic, and of course many parts of Austria. The connections between these countries are convenient, so the travel was cheap and easy to book. Before I left for Erasmus, I had no clue of the places I wanted to visit, but after I arrived and the weeks went on, I went with the flow and travelled with my newly-made friends to wherever we fancied!
However Erasmus does have one major downside; the following summer holiday is occupied with the project write-up. In combination with work placements and pre-registration applications, it can be overwhelming and stressful, so it is best to try and pace everything out to avoid burning out!
My Erasmus experience will undoubtedly be one of the main highlights from my time at university and I would urge everyone to take part. It is unlikely there will ever be another opportunity like this during working life; to live, work and play in different country for months on end. If I had my way, I would make it compulsory for all students to do Erasmus, as it is an unbelievable life changing experience!
Fourth year student