My Erasmus in Spain. Global Cultural Exchange
Do you know about the Erasmus student exchange program? It is a program created to make the future European Union work force more flexible, to unite the cultures and make people more loyal to each other. You can read some facts about Erasmus program here.
Well, for many students it is just a way to make a 6-12 months break from their home university. No wonder that Spain is the most popular country among European students to do their Erasmus. I will explain you, why you should also do your Erasmus in Spain!
My Erasmus in Oviedo, Asturias
I did my first Erasmus in Spanish Oviedo in the region of Asturias, which I never heard about before coming to this place. You thought that Spain is just about sunny beaches and relaxed people drinking sangria in the bars’ summer terraces starting from the noon?
Hell no! It rains more in Asturias than in my homeland, Belarus, over 3000 km to the Northeast. Fortunately, it was the only disadvantage of the place I spent my exchange semester in Spain. I loved all the other aspects, like the local culture, which is so unique and authentic that you feel like a local citizen of a Spanish (almost) medieval town.
What is Special about Asturias
The region of Asturias calls itself the “Natural Paradise”. It suits the image of this part of Spain, but Asturias has much more to offer than just the beautiful nature. Historically, it was the only part of Spain, which wasn’t occupied by the Moors because of the high mountains that the Arabic horses couldn’t climb in, in contrast to the Asturian short and strong ones.
The independence helped Asturias to protect its culture and traditions, so you won’t see Arabic architecture, orange trees, and some other aspects that the Moors brought to Spain. Here, you will see authentic Spanish cities with its own history and culture.
The sights and things to do in Asturias need a separate article, which I will post soon. Here, I will tell more about how is it to be an exchange student on Erasmus in Spain.
Lost in Translation
Well, one of the main problems for tourists in small Spanish towns is that nobody speaks English. In big cities like Barcelona and Madrid, which are full of tourists, people need to be able to communicate in English, as many of their customers are foreigners. In Asturias, there are not many tourists, and about 90% of them are Spanish.
Language is even a bigger problem, when you are going to live in such a city. First, I took a cheap (about 15 euros) flight from Poznan to Barcelona, where I spent a few days trying to arrange the accommodation in Oviedo. I made lots of calls trying to use my 1-month old Spanish skills to find out everything I need to know about the apartments.
First Organizational Issues Upon Arrival
It finally worked out, and on the day of my arrival, the apartment owner picked me up from the bus station in Oviedo and brought to one of the hostels in the city center (he called it a hostel, although it was a separate room with bathroom in an old house). I took a night walk on the street, where I spent lots of evenings afterwards. I liked the city from the first glance.
On the next day, I bought a sim card, met some other apartment owners , but chose the apartment of the person that picked me up the previous day, where only the Spanish students lived, went to the international office (where they didn’t speak any English!!!) to register and met the other exchange students.
Living Erasmus Life in Spain
Well, after the first days, the life in Oviedo became pretty stable and every week was similar. Sounds boring? It wasn’t boring at all!
I found a freelance job that I did for the first 2 months in Spain. I was learning online courses on Coursera and I finished a Google’s ‘The Graduate’ program (about AdWords, SEO, SEM, and so on) with distinction, visited most of the classes (I didn’t visit classes, where the teacher was explaining everything so slowly that it was much faster to learn the same material using the course’s online documents). I also did some sports like football, basketball, gym, running.
Almost every weekend I was traveling with ESN (Erasmus Student Network) student organization that organized trips for us, exchange students. I will tell you later how their trips looked like. Well, I wasn’t just a diligent student sitting on my computer studying or working all the time.
The ESN organized different parties and events. I met new people every day, got used to change up to 5 languages after each small talk. I also learned Spanish that way. No need of grammar, no need of learning words at home. Just live communication and your ‘Party Spanish’ is ready. I called it so, because I learned it mostly at the parties. I had no problems talking to my Spanish neighbors, to Italians, French and Mexicans, most of which didn’t speak any English at all.
First 2 months, I’ve almost haven’t been home from 9 pm to 3 am, although I woke up at 7 every day. After 2 months of such tension, my hands were shaking because of tiredness and constant action.
Traveling in Spain with ESN
Well, I don’t think you’ve ever been traveling the way the ESN organizes trips. Mostly, Friday night you go out taking your backpack prepared for a weekend in the Basque Country, Leon, Galicia, Seville or some other part of Spain. You leave the backpack in one of the bars-clubs (in Spain, there is usually not much difference between the two) and party ‘till 4-5 am.
Our ESN supervisors during the trip to Leon
Then you take your backpack and get in the ESN bus, where the members of this student organization are not really going to sleep, they turn on loud music and start jumping through the whole bus cheering up the tired Erasmus students.
Tough weather conditions have never been a problem for ESN
Several hours later, you get off the bus and the city tour begins (ESN called it city tour even when we were far from any settlement). We walk around the new place, the ESN guys tell us about the history and culture of it. A few hours and 10-15 kilometers later, they give you 30 minutes to have a breakfast, while drinking their morning beer.
After that, the bus takes you to the next place, where you walk ‘till about 9 pm. Then you get an hour to take a shower and dress up to go partying. Well, it lasts until about 5 am, when you get 3 hours to sleep and then you go to the next place.
Some free time out of parties on Ibiza
After 2-3 days of such trip, you are so tired that you can hardly walk the 500 meters from the place, where the bus stopped to your home (not even saying about the Ibiza trip, which lasted 9 days ? ) . At that point, you have just 5-6 hours left to sleep, because next day you have classes (ok, not everybody attended their classes, but I did).
Cultural Exchange Really Works
One of the goals of the Erasmus program is the cultural exchange between European students (not only European), and it really works. There are events, where you represent your own country and you cook your own food. I was the only Belarusian, so I was pretty serious about such events and the responsibility I had. It was the first time I was cooking traditional Belarusian dishes, and the people liked it.
I should admit, without visiting South America, Asia, Africa, Australia, you discover so much about their cultures and the world becomes much smaller just meeting those people. You get a whole picture of the world, and realize that due to globalization and the internet, some cultural differenced fade away, so you can easily understand each other with the guy from Argentina or Australia, which are located thousands of kilometers away from you.
Maybe, it is because we are students. Young people are much more open-minded and have less prejudices, they (we) are less nationalistic and racist, so we can make friends from all over the world without any problem.
So, it was my Erasmus in Spain. I don’t think I spent it in the same way as most of the other exchange students, but some of my impressions are similar to the others. If you are a student going for an exchange to Spain, you will now know, what you have to pay attention on. If you want to find out more, just ask me in comments and I will edit this article. During my Erasmus in Spain, I visited about 20 cities all around the country, and my favorite city now is Valencia. You can also read about the reasons, why you should travel here! Travel more!
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I think it’s cool that you got to do a cultural exchange such as this. I did a study abroad program in Tokyo, Japan (I’m from the USA) and it was a huge change. It is mind blowing to be able to experience cultures and habits that are so far from your own. I wish I had more opportunities to get to know people from other countries and have them teach me about their cultures, foods, and more!
That’s great. There was even more cultural difference than in my case