Sometimes we just feel like we need a change. To shake up the status quo. To challenge ourselves. Like I did, when I went on Erasmus to work as a language assistant for children.
No matter how many hobbies you have, and how many friends you meet; when you go on Erasmus, your life simply gets more intense. It feels like when a baby comes into the world, everything’s so new. Every step you take, every person you meet, every obstacle you overcome. Things you knew and considered “normal” suddenly become strange to other people and you wonder why on earth you decided to leave your beautiful comfortable home in exchange for a place you struggle to fit in.
Well, let me tell you…that is exactly why. You wanted to struggle. And you wanted to grow. No matter how upset you get when someone breaks your heart, when you have no friends, or when you feel alone. That is exactly where you find your inner strength and start to appreciate the little things more than ever before.
As another year passes, you will realise how much it changed you. Of course you will deal with other problems again but now you will know that everything will eventually work out for the best. And when you look back at the list of things you’ve learnt, you will realise you no longer need a list because what is important will always stay in your heart.
Here is what has stayed in mine:
1. Things aren’t always as you expect them to be. Make the best out of what you have.
Maybe you don’t know anyone, you get a bit homesick and you feel like a stranger. Well, guess what… you ARE a stranger there and it is perfectly okay to feel that way. Just remember that your time in this brand-new country is limited. Sign up for a dance class, visit a local event, learn a language from your community. Make sure you embrace the chance that this country is giving you.
2. Even good decisions can be hard to make. Take your time to get over their consequences.
Good or bad, you can’t really know how things will turn out when making a decision. Maybe, there isn’t such a thing as a bad decision, actually. Because everything you do and every mistake you make can only teach you something. So stop regretting “bad choices” and look for what you can learn from them.
3. Cultural differences don’t make boundaries – closed mindsets do.
It’s not cultures, religions or languages that divide people, it’s our attitudes. Keep your heart open so you can give a chance to strangers. Even when someone hurts you, don’t judge them. Free yourself from anger and disappointment. You have no idea what’s behind other people’s actions. Most likely, they are just insecure or unhappy and need to cover it up or pour their anger onto someone else. Forgive them, but at the same time make sure you don’t let other people treat you badly.
As a Spanish proverb says: Grande es aquel que para brillar, no necesita apagar la luz de los demás. (A great person is the one who doesn’t need to dim the lights of others to shine.)
4. People come and go. Make sure you leave good stuff in other people’s lives.
Psychologists call it mindfulness, I call it catching the moment. It’s the time when you stop doing everything else, just look at the people around you and think “I want to remember this moment.” Sometimes you take a picture of it, sometimes you don’t but that doesn’t really matter. Just be aware of time you have with people around you and always try to give your best. It will come back to you as a few true friendships, honest joy and love, especially that from children who might not understand your language but they can always feel your love.
5. Trust yourself. Your best will be good enough.
You had courage to leave, now you need to find strength to stay. Don’t miss a chance of benefiting from your exchange just because you’re scared. As George Addair said, “Everything you ever wanted is on the other side of fear.” Maybe you question your presence here but trust me when I say that this was meant to be.
For all that has been, for my family who proved to always stand by my side, for strangers who opened their doors to me, for my students who rewarded me a lot more than any salary could, and for myself who kept going even when I felt like giving up. For all that, a huge thank you.
And now? New adventures, welcome!
Because “when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.” Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist