It’s 2020 and my world map is filling up with the places I have visited. I managed to visit 10 new European countries in a span of six months – there are only 34 more countries to go.
Erasmus is a scheme that was created in 1987, with the intention of modernising education and training across Europe. When I applied to join the University of Derby I saw the many institutions around the world, and I narrowed my choices down to NHL Stenden in 2019. I was encouraged during the Open Day in 2017, and inspired in my first year by the International Office – from there I applied to study abroad and hey presto.
Before I set off, I did have some reservations about Erasmus. It felt like I was starting university all over again, only this time in a different country where I didn’t know the language and with people I didn’t know. I also would be experiencing a new way of teaching. All of this newness can be overwhelming. However, what I say to this is – university is full of changes, not one year is the same. Different people will come and go, as well as opportunities and experiences. So why not? Why not be involved in a programme that has stood for 3 decades?
The Capital of Culture
I was fortunate to do my Erasmus in the north of the Netherlands, a city called Leeuwarden which was given the title ‘the Capital of Culture’ in 2016. Aptly named too as when I arrived in Leeuwarden on a cold January afternoon and stepped outside of the train station, BOOM! Culture to the right, left and centre with monuments and art everywhere, not to mention the plethora of bikes that zoom past you. It was refreshing to see a new way of life to adapt to.
I set off to the NHL Stenden in late January 2019 to study Tourism Management. There I learnt rudimentary Dutch and Spanish – yes, at the same time. I had to learn another way of teaching. Here in the UK, it’s like this: you are given a set timetable, you have lectures and then seminars which total about 8 hours a week, typically spread over 3 days a week. In the Netherlands every week is different, there is no set timetable. Instead you are put into groups and every week you work together to answer the question set for that session. It’s a more hands-on approach with the help of your group which, in turn, helps you to get to know each other a little better within that time. It helped me to broaden my friendship group.
The culture shock was always with me from the moment I stepped off the train, and remained with me until June 2019. I befriended people with different backgrounds, nationalities and to this day we still speak and comment on each other’s social media. We created bonds that are stronger than our friendships back at home. We’ve weaved our memories and experiences together that every time you look back at a photo, you remember that moment vividly.
The highlight of my Erasmus experience was the modules. You are in control of what you want to learn. In one module, students were asked to create a package holiday, although this time we had to execute this plan. All the students participating had a role to play, whether it was being the overseer of the whole project, or even the cleaner in the cabins. The practicality of creating something out of theory was really exciting, and an insight and learning curve of what’s to come in the work place.
Another highlight was getting to ride a bike again. After almost 8 years of not cycling, I took to the road with a slightly bigger bike (it was the smallest bike they had) – it took some time getting used to it. Cycling was used for everything, to meet friends, to get groceries, to get to a party and to get to lectures. To get to the town centre by foot was roughly 30 minutes there and back from our accommodation so it was ideal to get one! I loved cycling so much that I got myself a bike for the summer.
And, of course, another highlight of my experience was the people I met whilst I was there – they made me feel like the Netherlands was my home.
The benefits of studying abroad is an endless list. Through it all you learn so many skills, like being more independent than you were before because you’re away from everything you know. Learning another language is an important skill, especially in the tourism industry that I potentially want to go into, and working with different people. It’s definitely helped with my social skills, and academic skills – it’s helped me to make and deliver clear and concise presentations and helped me determine what a good piece of work is, from how it is presented, referencing the books and journals that I used and the flow of my writing. Of course, everything that I have learnt is a transferable skill for a future career in tourism.
Looking to the future
The future is within my reach – I graduate in less than a year (Buxton graduations are in November) and I’m hoping to be working in a different country next year, hopefully in New Zealand?! Right now though, I am helping with the Erasmus students of tomorrow embark on their adventures. Good luck to you if you get the amazing opportunity. Make the most of it.
For more information visit the Erasmus Plus website.