By Sara Lopes
“Where to?,” the employee at the travel agency asked. “Manchester,” she said, “Erasmus!”
In 1987 someone had the idea to study in a university abroad for a short period of time. Maybe for new experiences, or even just to meet new teaching methods. But one thing is certain, that person forever changed the lives of many students.
Now, 28 years later, thousands of students do this every year. Coming from all over the world, there are many who decide to do Erasmus.
But do you think that you can imagine what Erasmus really is?
It is not simple to face this challenge. Going to an unknown country where we do not know anyone is not easy. But this does not prevent students from doing so. We currently live in a world where we have to be more than just Portuguese, English or any other nationality. We should be proud of our origins, but we also need to become human beings of the world.
I could tell you how a day is in the life of an Erasmus student but, instead, I will tell you about a girl that came to study abroad without having left her country before.
Everything started two years ago. When she applied for the university she had in mind the possibility of doing Erasmus. Time passed and she decided to face this challenge. It was scary at first. Leaving friends and family behind wasn’t easy. But everyone always said that she was being very brave for deciding to go alone, wishing her the best of luck.
As someone who lives in a small city in Portugal like her, coming to Manchester was a huge change. Going to another country, meeting new people, discovering new cultures and new ways of living. Everything is different. In fact, nothing in Manchester is like it is in Portugal.
Manchester is known as a city where it’s possible to find a little bit of each nationality. It’s a small world inside a city. There are Portuguese restaurants, Polish stores, Italian shops …
“Everything is so different. It’s more exciting”, she said with enthusiasm. “I see a lot of new things. So many different nationalities and smells. I live close to a place called Curry Mile and, in there, exists a huge range of Arabic and Indian shops and restaurants. Every time that I walk through that street, I always notice a different smell.”
“The first week was the worst,” she said. Lost most of the time, and alone, she was starting to regret her decision. But something changed. She met another Portuguese girl and her enthusiasm started to grow again.
“It was so good to hear someone talking in Portuguese! I did not see the girl often after that day but that was something that I just needed. I wasn’t afraid anymore,” she confessed.
The classes started and she realised that the teaching methods in Manchester were very different from what she was accustomed to. All courses have practical parts. The students are no longer “locked” inside the rooms. The classes serve only as an aid, as a path to achieve something more.
As a new student in Manchester, she knew that she needed to enjoy the experience as much as possible. The Erasmus program was only for three months and she wanted to make some friends. The opportunity appeared when she joined a self-defence course organised by one university society called SMART – Systematic Martial Arts.
Since the beginnings of universities, societies were also created. With numerous types of societies, each student can find a place to be. Film societies, English societies, volleyball societies … Manchester Metropolitan University has approximately 100 clubs and societies. SMART is only one of them and that was the one that she decided to join.
“SMART is like a family”, she whispered. Systematic Martial Arts is more than just martial arts, “SMART is about helping each other and making real friends,”she confessed between smiles.
Two-and-a-half months passed and she is now leaving Manchester. With sadness, she admits that she would like to stay for more time. “I feel that I didn’t do so many things. I wish I could stay but my family is waiting for me in Portugal. In my family, Easter is a big day and I can’t miss it,” she said.
The plane is taking off and she looks at Manchester for the last time. “I will miss a lot of things, but mostly people. I have met amazing people and incredible friends.”
Now, she can say that she has a lot of friends from different nationalities – English, Polish, French, German, and Chinese …
She could be anyone. She could be you. But, for now, she is me. And this is my story.
Despite the fact that I was only here for two-and-a-half months, I can say that sometimes we need to go outside to grow inside. Erasmus is an experience that changes the way that we see the world. We no longer live in a small country … we live in a tremendous world, where there are thousands of different cultures, colours, foods, languages and people.
And so, now? Do you think that you know what Erasmus is? Think twice if you answer is yes because Erasmus is not something to know, it is something to feel.
My name is Sara Lopes. I’m 20 years old and I’m from Braga, a city in northern Portugal. I’m studying communication sciences and some of my passions include writing and photography.