As the Spring semester has just started in most European universities, this second part of our Erasmus exchange guide will focus on how to help new exchange students make the most of their experience. This series of articles is brought to you by Klaudjo Kavaja.
Most Erasmus students usually receive the news of their acceptance in an academic exchange programme well in advance, usually in the middle of the previous semester and will eagerly await the upcoming semester and what it has to offer them. Nevertheless, there are some questions and issues that they will have to deal with: “Will I find proper accommodation? Will I be able to make new buddies? What about the academic level in my courses I will be following? How will I deal with the language barrier?”
First things first, host universities have an Erasmus, or an international student office and this office will help you with most issues, such as preparing the required paperwork for the registration, finding housing, and getting around in your new environment. They will be your referral point that will help you deal with the necessary administrative procedures.
Through my personal experience, I would highly recommend any prospective students to take up accommodation in one of the student housing units offered by the host university. There are a number of benefits to it; good price for value, living in the same environment with other students from around the world, lots of socialisation and events, and above all it will save you from the hassle and stress of having to search for accommodation in a city you do not know well. Nevertheless, if you feel that the housing units are far away from where all the fun happens in the city, or you want some privacy, then the various housing Facebook groups, Erasmus student groups, apps and websites, and housing agencies will become your best ally in finding your new short term home.
The Erasmus Student Network of your university will also become a good part of this new experience. The Erasmus Student Network (ESN) is a non-profit international student organisation that has branches in most European universities. These branches are run by student volunteers. Some universities may have an International Student Network, who cooperates or is part with the ESN. They will organise a number of welcoming events helping in the cultural understanding of the people coming from different countries. Prospective exchange students can sign up for their events, which include parties, cultural activities, forums, and educational trips. Furthermore, by getting the ESN card which is valid for one year, students get access to all ESN events, and discounts to a number of venues such as museums, cultural centers, housing platforms, web shops, travel agencies, pubs, and with the new partnership of ESN with Ryanair also to their flights.
An additional benefit to your exchange abroad is the opportunity to learn a new language through immersion in the life and the culture of the country you are about to move in. First, seek if the university offers any language courses. These classes are either for free, or ask for a low fee which is sometimes partially reimbursed after passing the language exam. There are also other alternatives such as registering with a language school in case you seek intensive learning, check with the local municipality, or local community organisations for free or cheap classes, and find a person for tandem learning . This last option is the most preferable one after you have managed the basics of your new language. You will be able to find tandems through your network of friends in the university, or various tandem groups. And if you are serious about your new language you can start by enrolling in some beginner class in your home country the months before, or use one of the free language apps such as Duolingo to help you with some basic understanding.
Organise and enjoy
Last but not least, organise your trips well in advance, because as we all know too well you will want to travel around the city, see the museums, the galleries, sit in parks and libraries, check the best pubs and cosy cafes, and why not travel around the country. All that is part of your Erasmus experience, but it shouldn’t be a trade-off between this cultural enrichment and your academic achievements. Schedule your trips for the weeks or days you do not have classes or papers to submit, and always put into your schedule designated days and weeks which you will dedicate to writing your papers, studying, and preparing for your exams.
Ah! Before I wrap it up, if you find your new classes challenging, talk with your professors, see what their expectations are so that you prepare accordingly. Also, ask the help of your classmates, they will always have some good tips to share with about the classes!