Thinking of going on Erasmus? Aislinn McCooey recounts her semester in Belgium and gives advice to those considering going away. 

The time of your life-a bit of an overreaction you might be thinking, but you’d be wrong. The chance to move away from your parents and experience a new culture, meet new friends and either improve or create new language skills is one that can’t be missed. Thankfully in my course (Journalism with French in DIT) Erasmus is mandatory but even if it’s not mandatory for you, you should seriously consider doing it.

If money is an issue (and let’s face it who is it not an issue for these days) do your research early, look into all the grants and financial aid you qualify for. Everyone going on Erasmus qualifies for an Erasmus grant and while the amount varies depending on where and how long you’re going for it will go a long way towards covering your rent while you’re abroad. Also if possible look at getting a part-time job before you go so you can save up a bit of money. You’ll be glad of anything you can get trust me!

As soon as you know where you’re going apply for accommodation, this is one thing you don’t want to procrastinate on-you do not as someone (Ahem me) did and leave it till the week before you go and end up living in digs with a mad Belgian woman confined to one room with a poster of a naked baby in the toilet.

Do your research before you go, and bear in mind that while the internet is great you can’t beat first-hand experience so ask lecturers or friends to put you in touch with people who have been there before, the more the better. Don’t feel shy about asking them questions or annoying them they were in exactly the same situation not so long ago and don’t want others to make the same mistakes that they did. They may even end up saving you money and time.

Do also get in contact with your local ESN or Erasmus Student Network-most tend to have Facebook groups. They can put you in touch with potential roommates, and they often organise great trips and parties throughout the year and you’ll meet a whole host of new friends.

Whatever you do, don’t spend all your time with other Irish people or in the Irish bar (there’s always an Irish bar) while it’s great that they’re there especially when you’re homesick and all you want to do is hear a few familiar accents it’s way too easy to do nothing except hang out with Irish people. In Louvain la Neuve Belgium where I was there was a huge Irish community of both students and bar staff and unfortunately we spent way too much time together.

Don’t get me wrong I made some unbelievable friends and had an amazing time but it did really mean my interaction with local and other Erasmus students was limited meaning I didn’t learn as much as I could have. If possible live with local students or at the very least join an extracurricular activity at your host institution that will bring you into contact with locals and force you to interact.

And here’s few things to remember:

  • Homesickness happens to everyone the thing to remember is you will get over it. Make sure to bring a supply of your favourite tea (Barry’s or Lyon’s) and lots of photos from home, they’ll make you feel better in an instant. 
  • Skype home your parents are more than likely helping you financially and it’s a small and easy way to say thank you. Even if they’re not they genuinely want to know how you’re getting on and what you have seen.
  • Do at least attempt to pass the exams, repeats abroad are a messy and expensive business (Trust me).
  • Travel, mainland Europe has excellent rail and bus links, make use of them who knows when you’ll be back!
  • Sample all the local stuff, whether it’s the beer brewed in your new home town or the stinky cheese that’s made up the road, you’ll be glad you did.
  • Don’t stress if something goes wrong these tend to be the funniest stories when you come home.
  • Take mementos from your visit, take hundreds of pictures, keep all your train and bus tickets and also keep a playlist of all your tunes from over there. Even the bizarre ones that you hated trust me it’ll bring back some great memories when you’re back in rainy old Ireland.