Who: Emilie from Belgium
When: March- July 2008
Where: Università degli Studi di Roma “La Sapienza” , Rome – Sociology
What made you decide that you wanted to participate in a student exchange?
One year before leaving, I visited a friend doing an Erasmus (European exchange programme) in Barcelona. After a couple of hours with her and her Erasmus friends, it was completely obvious to me that I wanted to study abroad too. I have parents from many different origins (UK, Poland, Russia) and I felt so well in this group of students from all over Europe discussing and laughing together in a very approximate Spanglish!
How did you choose where you wanted to spend your semester/time abroad?
My university in Brussels gave me a list of universities they had agreement with. Most of the other students in Sociology were going to Spain, to learn a language that is widely spoken. However, my attention was directly attracted by Rome, a city with so much amazing history in a country which so much good food!
Before leaving, what were your expectations for this experience?
I expected to discover the Italian way of life but also to interact with fun people from all over the world. It was also my first time living without my parents and a good way to proof to then (and to me!) that I would not starve to death after one week!
What were your first thoughts upon arrival at your new campus?
It was sooo messy! It was nearly impossible to find where I had to go! I finally found the coordinator of all exchange programmes and… I did not speak any English! Thanks for the Italian organisation guys!
What were some hurdles that you had to overcome/how did you do it?
I arrived about 3 weeks after the majority of the other exchange students. They had all met in the language classes but it was too late for me to join them. So I was a bit worried that it would be complicated to integrate among these groups. On the second day at uni I forced myself to be a bit less shy than usual and speak to a Polish girl and it was a great idea! She was organising a pre-party at her house that night. I went although I did not know anyone but I have no regrets: the first girl I spoke to become my best friend during my whole stay in Rome… and we continue seeing each other as often as we can even if we live in different cities now!
And to learn Italian quickly without any language classes, I decided to live with Italian people only. They did not speak a word of English so my Italian skills improve extremely rapidly and after a month, my gesticulating stopped and I started to think and dream in Italian!
Did you notice any major differences between studying at your home country and your host country?
There were many interesting differences that struck me:
- Italian students just go out of the room when they receive a phone call and then come back in afterwards. A phone ringing can get you out of the classroom at uni in Belgium!
- Students can choose between being interrogated at the exams on the content of the classes or on some designated books. They can also choose between several dates to take the exam but even more surprisingly, they can refuse their note if they are not happy with it and choose to come back at a later date to try again!
- Italian students don’t dress up for oral exams whereas guys come in shirts and suits in Belgium. Teachers were so surprised to see me well-dressed that one complimented my shoes and another one asked me if I was going dancing afterwards!
What are some of your favourite memories from your time abroad?
There are just so many… Let’s see: the four-day trip to Sicily organised by the Erasmus association of my uni was just awesome. We were 200 students from all over the world discovering the beautiful Greek temples in Agrigento, climbing up the Etna, partying in Catania and on the beach of our camping, admiring Taormina…
But the great souvenir is a tradition for Erasmus people in Rome at the end of the year: we all jumped at night in the Trevi Fountain! We got out purchased by the police as we stopped a movie. Well not really purchased… one of the policemen actually asked me to go out for a coffee!
Has this experience at all changed the way in which you view yourself/other cultures?
I was already very open towards other cultures due to my multiple origins. So I cannot really say it changed my way of viewed other cultures but it confirmed the fact that I liked interacting with people from different backgrounds and countries.
Did you travel much whilst you were abroad?
I went on some organised trips to the Cinque Terre, Genoa and Sicily. And I went with friends to the Gardens of Tivoli, Naples, Pompeii and many beaches around Rome.
If so, did this travel enhance your experience? Why/why not?
I’m not really sure because we stayed among Erasmus students so we did not especially meet a lot of locals or did local stuff.
How did this experience change you?
I can definitely say that my experience abroad was actually the reason why I started to travel so much. I could not stand staying in my country for long periods of time. I think that since then I’ve made at least 6-7 trips a year.
Furthermore, when I got back from Rome, I also decided to get involved in the local Erasmus association to stay in contact with foreign students. Later on, I decided I wanted to work for the European Union and this is actually what I’m doing right now: I’m working in communications for European institutions in a company with nationals from more than 20 countries! Although in Brussels, I work in English and I hear Italian and Spanish every day!
Would you recommend other people participate in a student exchange?
If so, what is your top reason for why people should study abroad?
This will be the time of your life! You will make friends from all over the world, you will taste food from everywhere, you will learn to say the same insult in 10 different languages… The only down side is that you will not be able to say still afterwards!
To read more stories about Studying Abroad like Emilie’s, check out the Student Abroad Series.