Erasmus Diary

Between September and December in 2013, I studied in Madrid as part of the Erasmus programme, below is a brief account of my time there.

Entry One

It has been a week since we landed in Madrid and already this is shaping up to be one of the best decisions I ever made. In 7 short days we have made friends from all over the world, we have hung out with people from as far away as Japan and California and are already learning so much about various cultures. Our grasp of the Spanish language has already improved dramatically (to be fair anything is an improvement from the level I was at), and with a little help from O'Neills Irish Bar (hat tip to Mr. Mark Young) who have organised a "language exchange night" every Tuesday, we should be speaking the language to near perfection at the end of our stay here.

Within two days we had found an apartment to stay in. A nice four bedroom with a view of "Plaza De Toro". We had done a bit of research before coming here and previous Erasmus students told us to stay somewhere near the city as opposed to living nearer to college as it could get quite boring and we would spend our days going to the city anyway.

So, since we moved into our new apartment, the majority of our time has been taken up with trying to find a suitable supermarket for our weekly shopping. Needless to say the majority of our meals for the first few days were bought in a restaurant. But after a couple of days we found an Aldi just a few metro stops away, which means we won't starve! (always a bonus).

So I would count our first week in Madrid as a success, we are managing to cook for ourselves, do the washing and even managed to meet Gary Cotterill outside the Bernabeau stadium on transfer deadline day, probably a more familiar name to those of you who watch Sky Sports regularly.

So for anyone considering doing the Erasmus programme in future, my advice for the first week is, expect to spend more on food the first few days, find a flat near the city centre and most of all, make friends! Without friends, homesickness will kick in very quick!

Hasta Luego!

Entry Two

My apologies for the massive delay in posting, unfortunately I managed to burn out the fuse on my laptop plug. But thankfully I have now fixed it, I have had a frantic couple of weeks since the last post. I have finally begun my classes at Universidad Rey Juan Carlos.

For those of you unfamiliar with the Erasmus process I will give you a brief summary. The process begins months before you actually arrive at your intended University. For me it began mid-way through my previous semester in Tralee. You must contact the international relations officer in your college and they will explain to you what universities you can attend, how long for and how much of a grant you can get, depending on the university you are going to.

 Once this is done, it is then time to begin researching various colleges with which yours is affiliated. It is important to chose one that has courses similar to what you are studying so you can choose classes which (roughly, they don't have to be exact) tie in with your course. Once you have put in the research and found relevant classes from your desired college, you must then have said classes approved by your department head and year tutor.

Then once all this is completed, you will get a forma called a "learning agreement" where you fill out your class details, amount of credits and all other relevant information. (Yes it sounds like a lot of hassle but it's easier than I make it sound, I promise you!) Once this is completed, the international officer in your college will forward your nomination to your desired University.

Then once you arrive for the Erasmus programme, you will receive an enrolment certificate along with a few more documents to fill out, most of these are just registration forms for the classes and are easy to take care of, just make sure they are done in the specified time-frame.

Unfortunately for Andrew and I, our paperwork is not quite finished. We are enjoying the majority of our classes, they are not overly difficult thank god, and our classmates have been amazingly friendly and welcoming. But one our classes which was supposed to be taught in English is, in fact, being taught in Spanish. So rather than risk failing we are filling out the "changes to learning agreement" form. Which does exactly as the title would suggest, it is a change of classes from the original agreement, again this must be approved by the home institution (your college) before it can proceed.

As well as starting classes, we have begun to join in some of the Erasmus/Munde student events in Madrid city, these events range from club nights to picnics to trips to Morocco and Ibiza! We are making friends from all over the world and they are all genuinely nice people and easy to get on with. So far, only three weeks in, this is already proving to be a once in a lifetime experience.

Entry Three

So far almost everything I  have written about my Erasmus experience has been positive, and rightly so. But it would be wrong if I did not mention the bad points which these past couple of weeks have highlighted to me personally.
First and foremost there is the homesickness which, I am sure, has hit almost everyone who has emigrated or done the Erasmus at some point or another. There have been times at which I have been tempted to book the next flight back home and call it quits. For me it is very small things that trigger it, like not being able to get a decent cup of tea or seeing everyone on Facebook discussing Love/Hate and wishing I could be part of it. Over time you get over these small things but, of course, there will always be that part of you yearning for the friends and relatives back home. But of course that is to be expected is it not?

Not one store sells Barrys tea, my life is over!

While the homesickness get better over time, the financial strife is a constant. even if you have saved all summer, got a bank loan or whatever else, there is the constant pressure to watch what you are spending. When you are in a foreign country, the safety net of your parents is not as prominent. Obviously each individual will be in a different state financially but I'm speaking generally here of course. It is a terrifying thing to find yourself in the middle of a big city with no family around and only a few euros in your wallet. But if you are any good at all at budgeting I'm sure you would do just fine, unfortunately I am horrible with money and have found myself nearly running short on many occasions. But, on the other hand, it is a good learning experience.

Entry Four

With exams and assignments coming thick and fast I have found little time to update my blog in recent weeks. After having a number of quiet weeks at the beginning of my time here, where there were no assignments or exams to speak of, all of a sudden it has become a rush of panic and confusion as to what is due when, and what to study for exams.

Group projects and presentations seem to be very popular over here, although in all honesty most of the group work we have been assigned could have been done easily by one person, so we end up with a "too many cooks" situation where everyone has an idea of how it should be done and it takes too long to decide on anything. When it comes to presentations, it is easy to see that the local students have had little or no teaching in how to speak in public, on the other hand, myself and Andrew have had lessons from our home institution on how to speak in public and the difference in quality of presentation is vast and obvious.

Outside of coursework, life in Madrid has been pretty relaxed for us. We meet with our friends in the city regularly or have them over to the apartment. So with just over 2 weeks remaining, I will have one final diary entry to follow this.

Entry 5

Two weeks have now passed since I have finished the Erasmus programme. I have had time to reflect on what has undoubtedly been the most rewarding experience of my life so far. It is not just what you learn in the classroom, there is so much more to studying abroad. You do not just learn about a new culture and country, you become a part of it. You get a handle on the language and the customs (siestas in particular for me).

You learn a lot about yourself when you move abroad, and Erasmus is no different in that respect. Yes it is only short-term, but for those few months away you are tossed into a completely new environment where you must, essentially, start from scratch in terms of friendships, routine and simple things like shopping and cooking.
Cynics would say that its not nearly long enough away to actually "learn" anything about a new culture or yourself, but it is not something you can fully understand until you do it.

The friends you make, both locals and other Erasmus and Munde students , in whichever country you would go for Erasmus, are likely to be much different from friends you have made at home (no better or worse mind you) you create these relationships quicker than you would normally and get to know these people very well in a short period of time, probably because of the short period of time that is available to spend with them.

It was tough for me to say goodbye to such good friends, but that is the nature of the programme, it is temporary but never quite leaves you. If ever any of my readers have a chance to take part in a study abroad programme, I would encourage you to do it, it is an amazing, rewarding experience and you will not regret it.