This summer I finally plucked up the courage to go on the infamous ‘Colossus’ at Thorpe Park.
It started with a long uncertain anticipation; a sense of impending doom at the queue, the launch and the ascent. Then, there was a swift gain of momentum followed by the thrills; several unexpected twists, some ups and downs, a few loop de loops - and it was all over before I knew it.
Anyone who has overcome a fear of roller coasters will understand what I’m trying to illustrate.
More to the point, anyone who has embarked upon Erasmus will understand why these sensations seem a good analogy for my own Erasmus which was, looking back, full of thrills and unexpected twists and is occasionally, a bit of a blur.
In fact, it’s only as I think what to write that I come to appreciate some of the things I took for granted while I was away: Audrey- the smiling lady at the Boulangerie, long hot bike rides to and from the beach, the smells that emanated from the creperie, the fireworks on the 14 July – things I tend to forget but which made my time in Montpellier truly fulfilling.
Like the token snapshot at the ride exit, I tend to stop, look back at my photos and relive the whole experience- oh yes, I remember this -it was Awesome!
To be honest, I never really had the choice not to embark on Erasmus (thank goodness!). My degree required me to study law at a foreign University, speaking a different language with the native students. I’m sure this thought alone is enough to alarm even the most enthusiastic individuals; not to mention the idea of new accommadation, trying to fit in and embracing a whole new culture.
The first two weeks went by slowly. Upon arrival my flat mates and I were desperately trying and failing to find a group of people who would become our tight-knit circle of friends.Every evening, we’d return home, dejected, thinking what none of us dared to voice; why weren’t we automatically making friends? What were we doing wrong? Then one evening, there came a knock on the door. We opened it to a young French student, “Hello, I’m Clement; I’m your new neighbour. Would you like to have dinner with me tonight?” Oui mon ami!
Clement and his friends led to us meeting even more friends. Soon after that came wave after wave of new Erasmus arrivals; all eagerly anticipating the thrill of the unknown that Erasmus offers.
In the space of two months, I could scroll down my facebook account and see messages not only from English and French friends, but German, Spanish, Dutch, Finnish and many others. My calendar was crammed with parties, events and excursions. We didn’t go looking for friends ever again.
This was, by far, the biggest lesson of my year: things will happen, but at their own pace. Don’t worry about not making a circle of friends straight away, not understanding lectures or even feeling totally out of place - it’s all part of the learning curve. Like waiting for the trains during the French strikes (which I painfully experienced several times) – they’ll come!
The momentum started to pick up and all the challenges I encountered became easier as I mastered the language and became confident in my own proficiency. My exams became passable, I could order what I wanted at the butcher’s without having to repeat myself and I could navigate alone around France despite transport strikes, delays and grumpy train conductors! I successfully integrated into the lifestyle rhythm of the bustling student city.
The location is - other than beautiful, sunny and a short distance to the beach - the perfect place to meet young, like-minded people and, in particular, those who enjoy eating and drinking! (The French have a tendency to invite you to dinner on first meeting them - be warned of excessive amounts of cheese and wine!)
It was a fun and exciting way to gain a European network of friends. I grew to know and love a wide range of people from different cultural backgrounds whom I still keep in contact with.
However, while I was still adapting to this Mediterranean lifestyle, I didn’t hesitate to seize exciting moments that were immediately at my disposal –moments for the Erasmus grant to come into play!
A large chunk was spent on hostels in Bordeaux, rollerblading in Nice, dinners in Avignon and day trips to Sete. Apart from travelling, I attended an extreme sports festival, gained some useful work experience at a French law office, found a job promoting Erasmus evenings at my local bar (‘nowhere else is going to serve you a two euro beer you know!’) and got tickets to see live acts; from Joan Baez to the Arctic Monkeys. With Erasmus you never know what’s around the next corner!
I have recounted this fun-filled year to all my friends and family till they have complained of boredom (or jealousy I like to think, especially my sister). However, I still can’t seem to stop myself blurting out anecdotes that spring to mind every time I see so much as a baguette.
The truth is that no one can truly understand and appreciate it until they have taken the ride on the ‘Colossus’ that is ‘Erasmus’.
Undoubtedly, one of the biggest rewards of the scheme is to be an ex-Erasmus. Like a class of leavers at graduation, we have experienced a rite of passage, completed the ride together and hold a solid bond at the end of it. They are a group of friends I know I will always be a part of, long after having returned home.
Personally, Eramus has changed me from someone who never once dared go on a rollercoaster into someone who cannot wait to try them all. As Desiderius Erasmus said himself: ‘Fortune favours the audacious’ and I know this to be true. I have grown massively in confidence, become more independent and developed my skills.
So, if you ever find yourself hesitating at the foot of ‘Colossus’- please don’t. When the rollercoaster slows to an end and you disembark, a little shaky, heart still in your mouth, you will definitely have the undeniable urge to queue up and get on again, because you too, were audacious once.
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