So, I have returned to cold, cold England. The benefits of this involve Christmas, family, friends, and bacon. The downsides include no Mediterranean sun, no Erasmus friends, and no Lays bolognese-flavoured crisps.
The last two weeks of my Erasmus experience was entirely consumed by exams, which to me seemed quite unfair, really. Everyone always returns from abroad saying it was the best experience of their life – and I don’t understand how that can possibly involve exams. But still, there was something comforting in them. As I sat my final paper, it occurred to me that I was in the lecture theatre where our introductory lecture had been held. Four months ago, we all sat there for an hour, and then left hoping that all the other Erasmus students had understood as little as we had. By December, we were writing three-hour exams in French on literature, philosophy, linguistics and even Occitan. Even if the material was difficult, writing in French, thinking in French, was second-nature.
So at least the ‘Improve language’ box has been ticked. And what about the ‘Have time of life’ box? This is definitely everyone’s biggest expectation, and probably their biggest let-down. You won’t have the time of your life. You will have to deal with relationship difficulties, crazy landladies, terrible administration, and important deadlines which nobody tells you about. So don’t be deceived into thinking that every day abroad will be a ball, a four month holiday with no challenges. Let’s face it – the people who describe it in this rose-tinted way are the fourth years who have just moved back to a frankly very grey and drizzly country to start their finals.
But I do understand what they mean when they say that it’s one of the best things you’ll ever do. Living abroad will improve your independence and self-confidence in a way that moving to an English university can’t. You’ll meet people and have experiences that you would never have been introduced to at home. You'll see amazing new places. For me, the first four months have helped me find an inner strength and confidence I didn’t even know I had.
So no, this is not the most amazing experience ever. Sometimes, honestly, it’s rubbish. But living abroad is still the best thing you can do to improve your language, and on a personal level, it has to be up there as one of the most fulfilling things you can do with your life. As long as you’re realistic about the ups and downs of moving country it is a genuinely positive experience.
Russia may be completely different – I have no idea. But instead of going out there apprehensive, I’m excited for the challenges I’ll be facing, because while I understand that elements won’t go perfectly, I also know that I’ll overcome them to have a brilliant time. So until then, Happy Christmas, Happy 2012, and onwards to St Petersburg...