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Why Erasmus is a year very well spent

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I studied in Dublin just shy of four months. In that time I made strong attachments to the people, culture and most of all, the city; an emotional attachment which surprisingly no one could have prepared me for and one which made the farewells difficult.

Since its inception in 1987, the Erasmus+ plus programme has placed emphasis on students accessing both opportunity and learning in another European country. It works using three easy steps; gain a second family, gain new friends and become a local.

My choice to study at University College Dublin was easy. Being a Scot means that some way down the line there is family heritage here, but also it helps to have a passion for Guinness, (aka "the black stuff").

On an unrelated note, I’m told that Guinness in fact makes your hair darker - a usefully useless tip.

So, after making my choice and having signed all the necessary paperwork, I packed some belongings into a holdall and headed off for Ireland - easy. Well almost. See, the truth is, the Erasmus experience does not come easy at first. The few weeks prior to heading out to Dublin had been busy prioritising lists, flights, and accommodation so much so that nothing would prepare me for the "parent send-off" at the airport. From the car journey to departure gate there was a game of careful seating and glances rather than words; avoiding eye contact at all costs. Then came some hugs and goodbyes - tears, surprisingly, at one point too. Less than one hour into my semester abroad I sensed the year was going to be a learning curve.

Then came the initial period of host-family introductions, locating UCD and general settling in. The city soon became a list of endless opportunities. Being a friendly city I found the streets bustling with tourists and students. According to the Irish Times, the Erasmus scheme brings 7,200 students to study or work in Ireland annually, contributing an extra 14 million Euros each year to the national economy.

In an increasingly populist world, amidst deep economic uncertainties, surely students learning from and interacting with other cultures abroad is essential? I’d imagine these figures would be higher for the UK and I’d argue it’s a cherry in the cake to keep when negotiations begin to withdraw the UK from the European Union.

Second to the location and setting of what becomes a new home for a year are the people and the friendships you make. I found university classes function just as well socially as academically. Through my classes my knowledge of Irish political and social history has improved, giving me and my fellow classmates opportunities to investigate and research key topics of interest, such as the Easter Rising of 1916.

My courses varied slightly but allowed me to pursue humanities courses unavailable at Strathclyde University, in particular those that focused on the Irish economy. Exposure to these new courses opened up new avenues, such as being invited to a guest lecture by Art O’Leary, secretary-general to the Irish President. This lecture brought me into contact with influential figures and provided me with further lines of enquiry for my dissertation research, but also contacts for future work in this field - perhaps.

During my first week there were a vast array of orientation events, from movie nights to ceilidhs. Being an Erasmus student requires a certain amount of energy. Suddenly, you are faced with a completely unknown environment, with new transport and buildings. Less than a week had passed and my Facebook friends had doubled, with new friends from all corners of the globe, who I know with a single email would jump at the chance of a beer if I was to fly and visit them.

Yet, ask exchange students what they enjoy doing most in their spare time and I guarantee that the most common answer is travelling. Life as we know isn’t patient - in a few years you could well find yourself stuck in a routine, work or family commitments; or simply stuck due to insufficient funds. Galway city, Co. Kerry and Northern Ireland are just a flavour of some areas I visited.

The Erasmus experience has definitely made a positive contribution academically, professionally and personally. That is not to say it came easily. The options available to me during my year abroad were not handed to me but were the result of maintaining an open mind and attitude, as well as a determination to develop and work hard.

For all students out there thinking about taking the plunge, my advice would be to get out there. Take full advantage of the trips, the different classes, and all that’s offered on your doorstep. It’s definitely an experience that should be embraced by all those fortunate enough to have the opportunity. But this, perhaps like all unfamiliar endeavours, requires a fine print: this experience will change your life.

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