If you had to relive a period in your life, which one would you relive? Of course, I am only 20 years old. I don’t have enough life experiences to answer with certainty. But for the past four months, since the start of my Erasmus in Amsterdam, I have been experiencing a period of uninterrupted happiness. So much so that today, this Erasmus would be my answer to that question.
It’s three in the morning. I am cycling through the streets of Amsterdam. The city is silent. Not a rat in sight. I ride along the Amstel and its canals. The trees on the side of the road almost make me forget that I am in the most populated city in the Netherlands. Speaker in the bag, I turn up the volume. I sing, or rather bellow. I bellow my happiness.
You become what you are through experiences. You evolve by discovering, by meeting new people. So, what could be better than a whole year in a city hundreds of miles away from your hometown to evolve? What could be better than being immersed in a world without reference points, and where the language you have spoken for 20 years becomes useless? Erasmus is the birth of an interest in one’s neighbour. It is a unique opening onto the world. The friendships you make are completely different from those you have in your home country. Everyone is so different, yet everyone is in a similar situation: being in a country that is not their own. From this single commonality shared, beautiful relationships of exceptional intensity are born. From a completely unknown place, a city can suddenly become a home full of landmarks and memories.
And then how can you talk about an Erasmus experience without mentioning the language dimension. In the space of a month, you make more progress in learning a language than you would in ten years of lessons at secondary school and university. The most marvellous thing about this progress is that it does not even constitute an effort, as it is necessary to create a social life in this foreign environment. It’s magical.
An Erasmus is also for some the beginning of independence. Except financially, where the help of the state and parents or family members is still necessary, you become the master of your life. You become the decision-maker of every second of your day. You decide what you eat, what time you go to bed, how you organise your living space, when you go out, you are in charge of your administrative life and so many other trivial things that propel you towards autonomy.
Only 5% of European students are lucky enough to participate in the Erasmus programme. To be part of this 5% is a privilege. It is a pity that the number is not higher. Living these moments is a source of extraordinary happiness. Stepping out of your comfort zone makes you grow and mature. We often hear that an Erasmus experience changes your life. You may have heard it, but you only really become aware of it when you experience it.
It is two in the morning. The city is fast asleep. I am almost at my house. The cold freezes my fingers, I can hardly feel them. Yet I slow down my bike. I slow down to savour this precious moment. I feel alive.