Everything comes to an end, one way or the other. So does my academic year abroad, 9 months of raging being abroadness, also known as Erasmus. More or less now-ish. Hi Hamburg, I am back.
What can I say? It’s been a blast. I want to thank, wholeheartedly, the very special people who I hope know that I mean them by this: People with whom I’ve had conversations valuable as gold, moments of pure joy and experiences I treasure. Thank you. I was very lucky to meet you, and I am very happy to think of some of you as my friends, and I am not the person to throw that term around just like that.
Oh, and there is no way I am not mentioning the amazingly kind, cheerful and engaging coffee people of Dublin: Thanks a million to the folks at Vice Coffee Inc., Roasted Brown, Coffeeangel and 3FE. Walking into one of your shops, having a nice chat, and most of the time staying for hours, reading or studying, became one of my favourite rituals over in Dublin.
Before the harmony-o-meter explodes and I come across as the next best hostel hippie who only talks about the experience and power of meeting people (the pre-Erasmus me would’ve stopped reading by now), I want to try and explain what my main takeaway from living in Dublin for 9 months is.
As I see it, we are kind of trapped in our daily life. Not in a dramatic, dark, dystopian, 1984 way that dehumanises us, not quite. More in a way that makes it just a bit too easy to lose focus on ourselves, and by that also the passion for what we love. There’s all the habits that slowly become defaults without us realising it. We tend to default to behaviours, people and places that are just part of our life because they snuck in and we missed the opportunity to question, reject or dismiss them (just like with relationships sometimes).
There may be people out there with the ability to review their own actions frequently and on a level low enough not to have this problem, and I admire them. But the rest of us, and I’m talking about myself here, we need experiences like this one.
When I arrived in Dublin, I didn’t know anybody or anything. I also had no daily schedule yet, college wouldn’t start for another two weeks. I found myself not doing the common sightseeing stuff, but wandering the city of Dublin and checking out the places on my self-curated foursquare list (mostly coffee places, naturally). While doing that, I would occasionally take a photo, so I might have done some typical tourist stuff, but it was what I wanted to do, nothing else.
I was in something like a ‘social vacuum’ I’d say, with all the nice emptiness I can fill myself, but minus the annoying suffocating part. Emptiness of the best kind, a fresh start. The point is that there was nothing and nobody I was able to fall back to, in no regard. That was especially so before college started, but also after it did: While I kept my distance towards German exchange students, it was the start of a new year at a new college, after all. And in the most extreme way possible: All of it happened in an all-new city in a foreign country. Again: I did not know a single person. It literally was a ‘Hello World’ situation, because there were students from (almost) all over the world. Introducing yourself to another person doesn’t become easier than that. So I couldn’t help but get to know students from all over Europe as well as the US and Canada.
Maybe it is that I have less preconceptions about people from cities abroad I don’t know very well (Didn’t think this would come in handy one day!), or that everybody in that situation feels alone and therefore is more forthcoming, but I found most students were really open, easy to connect with and seemed to embrace the situation.
This wasn’t just the first few weeks, though: Really getting to know people takes time, so the social groups are changing over time, and routine doesn’t build up that fast. Since all the international students are more or less equally new to the city, there’s no default regarding places to go for food, drinks and so on either. It doesn’t take more than picking a place you’ve never been to before and inviting one to four people who don’t know each other very well to have a unique, fresh experience.
What I’m getting at is that it’s hard to make yourself free from all the defaults while your regular every day life goes on, even if you focus on it and try really hard. Erasmus completely takes care of that, obviously. It is interesting to see who and what you find yourself gravitating to when external factors are removed for the most part. It is a reset you just can’t have without changing the country.
So you can’t help but be yourself a whole lot more than ever before, recognise what part of the stuff you used to do you find yourself doing anyway, and what part not – and by that learn who you are.
I can’t think of anything better than that, to be honest. It is a true luxury to have an opportunity like this, and I am deeply grateful to my parents who support me like crazy and made all the overhead that comes with something like this a breeze. It’s also nice that Erasmus is, relatively speaking, implemented okay in the organisational structure of most universities (Trinity’s Law School’s International Office was nothing but very helpful, I didn’t have any problems at all, but YMMV).
So I urge you: If you have the chance to go on Erasmus or study abroad in some other way, do it. But please, please, please don’t hang out with your own nationals, especially in the beginning. Yes, you’re alone and yes it’s easier, but you will miss an awful lot. And, but this is less important: you’re way less likely to improve in the language you’re supposed to get better in. So, if you can avoid it, don’t go abroad with friends or multiple students from your year. Yes, you’re gonna be alone at the beginning and maybe even feel homesick, but if you give in to those feelings and seek out people from your home city to feel better, you might as well just have stayed at home.
And if possible, go for the whole academic year, not only one semester. There’s only so much time after getting to know people and places. My second term consisted to a large extent of events that were one way or the other set up in the first term. Even though my second term was on a personal level as well as in general less of one big party, I wouldn’t want to give it back for anything, it was the necessary second act to the first one.
Now I’m back, and it might be that I tap into the same trap as Paul Miller did when he left the Internet, but I do feel very focused.
I can’t wait to get started again with the ‘regular’ part of studying. And in my free time I don’t plan on dwindling from week to week, I am determined to re-discover Hamburg and spend quality time with friends and enjoy the summer (the weather in Dublin really wasn’t that bad, but now I’m more aware of the niceties Hamburg offers).
Thank you, Dublin.
I skipped the romantic/relationship part in this post because I want to get back to that in another dedicated post that’s been in draft status for way too long.