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Unspoken struggles of Erasmus

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In an ever closer global community, travelling has never been easier. But behind the charm of a year in sunny Spain, or the allure of authentic Italian gelato, there is a side to Erasmus that is not as glamorous. Moving to a foreign country brings with it a host of struggles that many excited students are shocked to find when they arrive in their new home.

The pressure of a new environment manifests itself in several ways. My own Erasmus experience was in Nantes, France. I remember coming away from my first lecture at the University and not understanding anything, feeling rather overwhelmed and anxious about the rest of the year. Something I was surprised to discover, mainly in the first few months of moving abroad, was how tiring it can be speaking another language all day. Coming home and watching English TV shows or reading an English book was a good way to unwind and relax my mind.

 There is a side to Erasmus that is not as glamorous.

Having a support system around you is key. As many Erasmus students will know, access to mental health services are not universal. There can be significant language and cultural barriers, and the wellbeing facilities offered in UK universities are often unavailable abroad. Being aware of this before you go, and keeping contact with your loved ones and home university tutors will make a huge difference to your experience.

I was lucky as I came to Nantes with five of my course mates and we became a support system for each other. For those who go alone, it is useful to befriend someone local who you can turn to when navigating an educational, administrative, cultural system that is completely new. One such option is the Erasmus community, which is friendly and welcoming wherever you go.

Keeping contact with your loved ones will make a huge difference to your experience. 

The stereotype of Erasmus being the best year of your life can lead people to feel pressured to constantly have a great time. The notion that this is a unique opportunity not to be wasted is true, but the burden of having to prove to other people that you are having the time of your life is counterintuitive.

Social media shows us the highlight reel of peoples’ lives and they are not accurate representations. We are all aware of the dangers of social networks on our mental health. Erasmus students spend a whole year (or a semester) in a given place, and it is perfectly okay to skype home once in a while instead of going clubbing – spoiler alert: European clubs aren’t that different from British ones.

Spoiler alert: European clubs aren’t that different from British ones.

In reality, we all feel homesick sometimes, and this feeling is exacerbated when moving to a different country and the ability to hop on a train home isn’t available. This article is not to discourage people from going on a year abroad. The benefits far outweigh any drawbacks. However, it is important to be aware of the bigger picture. In reality, a year abroad is a year of your life, and like any other, there will be highs and lows. It is a big change, and so it is even more important to take care of your mental health to enable you to enjoy yourself to the fullest.

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