So you rock up in a completely foreign country, unpack your things, work out where the nearest supermarket is, and with that you are READY to find yourself some beautiful new friends to can share this beautiful new culture with you.
The generic “Hi I’m Zoe! Intern at Airbus, UK, and yourself?” is repeated like a broken record for most of your initial evenings abroad.
Some you don’t hit it off with, but some you do. You both decide to rendez-vous somewhere that doesn’t involve alcohol; a coffee, a walk, a dinner, and you get to know what they’re really about. Over the next weeks and months you learn all about their culture and how it contributes to who they are, how different their home country is to the UK, the differences in your values and your senses of humour. You laugh at each others accents and the strange slang that they use, you wallow in missing your respective home countries and then proceed make up for it by drinking and eating and partying. Although on paper you’re both so different, there really needs nothing more to maintain your fantastic new bond than the common ground that is you and them, being present in Toulouse in 2014.
But before you know it, it’s all over. Those people who had helped ween you in the first weeks and months into your new life abroad return back home and back to their normality. The difficult part as a newcomer, is to understand that their normality isn’t you and your host country, because as far as you’re concerned, this person has lived here their whole life, forever a part of the Year Abroad clan. The feeling that they would leave you stranded feels almost like betrayal, because why would they want to leave you and the fantastic bond you share for anything else?
You then realise that they’ve encountered this exact feeling throughout the entirety of their time abroad, and have felt the upset of being the ‘left behind’ by other Year Abroaders. Your pal leaves and you feel lost. You start the friendship process over again only to find that your next Year Abroad pal will also leave in 2 months time, leaving only a countdown until another set of last goodbyes and good luck wishes.
The combination of the diverse nature of Erasmus and the way that Erasmus students are naturally wired means that you promise to visit everyone when they’re back home. You can’t wait to visit Zaragoza and Berlin and Vienna, to see the sites and to be paired once again with those who share your fondest Year Abroad memories. The reality is however that life as it always does, gets in the way, and even as you give your last goodbye hug you’re all too aware that it will probably be your last.
It’s a cruel cycle from which no Year Abroad student will escape. The sooner you accept that this is a natural and compulsory ritual of being away, the easier it will become to ‘live in the moment’ with the good times you spend together which, rest assured, will never be replicated no matter where your next adventures lead. What I’ve learnt at this early stage is to make sure you always say goodbye in person, to always take their next address and to always remember that while they might be leaving you lost and alone now, a poor Year Abroad newbie will be feeling the exact same way about you this time next year.