I’ve realised a couple weeks (thank you Facebook) it was 7 years ago I finished my 6 months of studies in Madrid, part of the Erasmus program I had enrolled to. Madrid was the only place in Europe that wasn’t buried in 10 meters of snow during the winter I could actually afford to live in at the time. Plus, it wasn’t far from home. It was safe. Yup, safety was the word of order at the time for me. I wasn’t adventurous. Not even close to what I am today. But I had that deep desire of exploring the world, while secretly thinking I wouldn’t be able to.
I was 20. The start of one of the most important decades in the formation of my personality, really. In those 6 months I learnt lessons that would definitely change the way I would live my life onwards. That made me the person I am today.
LESSON 1 – YOU’RE ALWAYS CAPABLE OF MORE THAN YOU THINK
I know that this can come across as a cliché. But it’s one of the only things people share on those inspiring quotes that I can vouch for. Again, and again I go through things that remind me of that. But until I was 20, I really didn’t think much of me. Raised in a pretty safe and protectie environment, I never had to go through serious life hardships. As a shy, introvert person, I never thought I would be able to make my way through the unknown. But when I found myself in the position of having to speak in a different language, finding a room in Madrid, getting a metro pass to be able to go to class… a lot of these things were harder than I thought. But at the time, I was pragmatic about it. I would do whatever needed to be done to solve a certain situation. No dramas. No cry babies. And everything turned out just fine! As it always does.
LESSON 2 – DO NOT EXPECT YOUR SO-CALLED-FRIENDS WILL MAKE YOUR LIFE EASIER
It wasn’t just affordability that made me choose Madrid. It was also the fact that other friends of mine wanted to go to Madrid as well . Today, I deeply regret having relied on others to make such an important decisions. It was a lesson I learnt and will never forget. It is the main reason why I travel solo so much nowadays. I don’t regret Madrid, and I would have probably have ended up there anyway. It just the fact that I let that to have a massive weight in my decision.
Some of these friends ended up hindering my Erasmus experience a little. I was just able to stop them from hurting it even more.
I learnt that in life you really are on your own. More often than not, the ones you think you could trust are the first to turn their back on you. Do not hold back from doing whatever you want just because your friends don’t want to come along. Or because you’re afraid they’ll judge you. If you want to do something just do it. Do not put your life on hold just because of others. Your friends should support you. Not bring you down.
LESSON 3 – YOU CAN’T CHANGE THE INTROVERT NATURE IN YOU, BUT YOU CAN FIGHT IT AT TIMES
I will never stop being an introvert. A reserved person. The Erasmus Student Body in the University I was attending was great at organising cool activities – not only parties, but also cool trips through Spain at very affordable prices. As most of my friends didn’t seem nearly as interested as I was in coming along, I had to face my fear of the unknown and join a group of completely strangers.
On my first trip, I could barely sleep with the stress. Now that I look back, that was probably when my “solo” trips started. But it was when I sat on the bus, next to a stranger, I realised all of them were like me. Erasmus students, coming from abroad, trying to meet new people, make new friends, whilst also sharing a passion for travelling and culture. That’s how I made friends in Madrid!
Have you done Erasmus or are you thinking about it? I’d love to hear about your experiences!
P.S. While in self-isolation due to COVID-19 pandemic, I’m keeping a regular schedule of posting about my traveling experiences to bring some light into this dark time. A lot of my travel plans will most likely be canceled or postponed, and I want to continue to blog.