MY ERASMUS EXPERIENCE IN SPAIN
Are you thinking about filling in the application for your Erasmus+ stay? I’ve got an answer for you – Don’t hesitate and just do it! You won’t regret it! All the people, who went on Erasmus say, that it was the best time of their life and I can confirm that. I always wanted to live abroad but was too lazy and scared of the paperwork connected with the Erasmus application in my first years at the university. However, then in my third year, I finally decided to do it and it was the best decision of my life. I managed to do all the paperwork while writing my Bachelor’s thesis and preparing for my state exam. But enough of this boring talking, here is my story!
I did my Erasmus in Vigo, a city in Galicia, Spain. I decided to go there because I study Spanish and it was a great opportunity for me to improve my language skills. The city is in the northwest of the country on the Atlantic coast, just one hour from Portugal. Perfect location for me as I am fascinated by the water and I always wanted to live close to sea (or ocean in this case). People asked me why I wanted to go there because it is raining there all the time. That’s the reason why the nature there is so beautiful. Sometimes it even reminded me of Slovakia because of the mountains and the fact that everything was green. I was there with my classmate and have to admit that we were a bit scared of the weather there. However, the global warming is real (un)fortunately and in fact it rained only six or seven days while we were there. Most of the time, it was sunny and warm; the perfect weather for going to beach.
We arrived to Spain in the end of August two weeks before the start of semester. We didn’t arrange accommodation in advance and had to stay in a hostel during the first days. For a moment we were homeless in a foreign country because we had to leave the hostel after two nights even though we still didn’t have a flat. What would you do if you were homeless in a foreign country? We went to the first fast-food we found, had something to eat, connected to Wi-Fi to skype with our parents and waited for the flat owners to answer us. When we were about to book another night in the hostel, one flat owner answered us that we might accommodate in his flat immediately. Just in time! The fast-food changed the password to their Wi-Fi and we had to leave (after 2 hours of sitting there and skyping). We stayed in that flat for the rest of our stay. It was huge with seven rooms at least. Our flatmates were Spanish so we could get to know the local people better. They told us where to find the best places and told us a bit more about the city and their different cultures as each of them was from a different region of Spain and one of them was from Venezuela. And most importantly, they taught us to cook the typical Spanish dish – tortilla. We fell in love with it and cooked it all the time. I still cook it at home and my family likes it too. We arranged all the necessary stuff, did all the paperwork at the university and our adventure could begin.
First days were about exploring the city, lying on the beach and watching the sunset. It was perfectly warm and I couldn’t wait to swim in the ocean. There was just a little problem I didn’t think of. It was Atlantic Ocean and the temperature of the water there was about 17°C. Not really an ideal temperature to swim so I just laid on the beach and sunbathed. We wanted to get to know as much people as possible so we went to every ESN event during our first days there. Welcome week came and it was time for our first party in Spain. It should start at 12pm and we didn’t want to be the first ones to arrive so we left flat at 12:30 pm. We arrived to the bar where the party was held and it was totally empty! We were the first ones to arrive. It was a bit awkward so we went to eat (luckily we were in Spain where it’s normal to go eating at midnight). After more than an hour we decided to come back to the bar. Finally, there were people arriving and the party was slowly starting at 2 am. What’s the first lesson learned? When you want to go to a party in Spain, always come at least an hour later than it should officially start. Otherwise you will party alone.
We met a group of five girls during our first week there and since then we did everything together. We even won the price for the best team at International Dinner where the Erasmus students cooked dishes from their national cuisines. I have to say that it was the best event the local ESN organised. We’ve become really good friends and are still in contact with them and are planning to meet again in Vigo in the summer, two years after our Erasmus. We even stayed there for Christmas and New Year’s Eve so we could celebrate it together and in Spain. It was definitely the most interesting experience of my life because it was the first Christmas I wasn’t spending with my family. I was a bit worried about it but on the other hand, I wanted to try something new and experience the atmosphere there. Spanish people do not celebrate Christmas like we in Slovakia do. The thing is that in many families they receive gifts and have a family dinner 6th of January and the gifts are brought by the Three Wise Men. On the other hand, in other families gifts are brought by Papá Noel (Santa Claus) on 25th of December and they have family dinner 24th of December. We wanted to experience something different; therefore we went to beach on 24th of December. The weather was perfect and it was about 20°C. It was something new because I’ve never been to a beach on Christmas and in fact it didn’t really feel like Christmas for me. Just to make it feel a little more like Christmas, we built a snowman from sand, so called “sandman”, and used it as a motive for our Christmas postcard. It really seemed like a normal day in Spain because all the shops and restaurants were open even at 6 pm when we were coming back from the beach to have dinner. When it comes to New Year’s Eve, the interesting thing is that in Spain fireworks are no really lit by towns, therefore we could only see fireworks from individual people. That’s something that really surprised us because we were expecting huge fireworks. The funny thing is that when we were coming home at 5 am, the local people were just going out and starting celebrating. They were all dressed up and our flatmates told us that you have to dress for New Year’s Eve. Men wear suits and women dresses.
The best thing about Erasmus is travelling. You are living in a foreign country and it’s natural that you want to use every possibility to visit as many places there as possible. I have to say that I fell in love with Galicia coastline. During our first two weeks there, we visited Islas Cíes islands which are 40 minutes by ship from Vigo and it’s a paradise on earth. We went there by the first morning ship. Therefore we were the first ones to arrive to the beach and we were accompanied only by seagulls. It was really magical because they were not afraid and we could walk among them. Without any doubt, I can say that it was the most beautiful place I’ve ever visited. For a moment I felt like in the Caribbean, because of the which sand beaches and turquoise water of the Atlantic Ocean, and the other time I thought that I was in High Tatras because of the green forests and mountains on the island. We visited also some other places in Galicia, like hot thermal springs, where you can go for free. We also criss-crossed the Galician coast and even saw a dolphin jumping out of the water when lying on one of its many amazing and astonishing beaches. Andalucía is a must visit when in Spain. We went for a week-long trip through the most famous region in Spain and were not disappointed. We visited Malaga, Granada and Seville. I fell in love with all three cities and even wanted to stay in Malaga. Something unexpected and amazing happened to us when we were in Malaga. We were walking by the port when suddenly we noticed Greenpeace ship Rainbow Warrior anchored there. Me and my classmate are really into nature protection and environmental issues and this was one of the best things that could happen to us. They stopped by on their way to Egypt and enabled the people to see their ship from the inside and explained their work. We didn’t hesitate for a moment and stood into the line. It would be a shame if we did not visited Portugal since we were only one hour by car from there and we visited it for several times. One of my funniest stories from my Erasmus is from Portugal, where I accidently dropped my phone into a pond and a gardener had to jump in and take it out. I will never forget his face when he pulled a phone out of water after half an hour and I told him that it was not mine. Luckily, after ten more minutes he pulled out my phone and saved me.
When it comes to people, Spanish people are the greatest. They are really kind and smile all the time. I really loved it when I was walking on the streets and people I’ve never seen were smiling at me for no reason. It always made my day. You could see that they are happy and enjoying life. That’s something I miss the most about Spain because people in Slovakia don’t really smile and they are mostly gloomy. I was very surprised that even older ladies were stylish and cared about their appearance. Spanish are also very loud which can be a problem for you if you are not in a mood and travel by bus. But that’s the best thing about Spain – the people there are always in the mood and when you live there you are also always in the mood. I’ve heard many times that Spanish people sleep a lot and don’t like to get up early. Yes, it is true. Our flatmates couldn’t understand how could we get up at 7 am when going to university, because it was a night time for them. However, I have to say that I understand them now and when I was living there, I couldn’t wake up earlier than at 11 am when I didn’t have classes. Imagine you wake up at 8 am and it’s still dark outside! Yes, the sunrise and sunset times are different then in Slovakia. In November, the sun was rising at 8:30 pm and setting at ca. 9:30 pm. That’s why the life there is a bit “shifted” there. If you wake up at 12 am it is normal to go to sleep at 4 pm and therefore it’s also normal and expectable to go out at midnight. It is usually really hot during lunch time in Spain and so they have so called siesta. It’s the time when most of the shops, bars and restaurant are closed and people are relaxing at their homes. And that was exactly the time when I usually decided to go shopping and came back home with empty hands because almost everything was closed. After few weeks I learned to go shopping later.
Many people think that Erasmus is only about parties and enjoying the life. Yes, it is mostly true, but you also have to go to school. At least sometimes. After two weeks of lying on the beach, partying and exploring the city and its surroundings it was time to go to university. We had only six subject but had classes from every subject twice a week. That means only twelve hours of school a week. The perfect schedule! That’s what we thought before we knew what was waiting for us. I mean the subjects we chose were easy and we passed them almost effortlessly. The problem was that one class in Spanish university lasts two hours. Yes, two hours and then you got ten minutes to move to other classroom and continue for other two hours. And it goes like this until the end of your schedule. We didn’t have classes on Friday but on Monday and Thursday we had classes from 9 am to 5 pm without a single break for lunch! Those two days were really difficult but then on Tuesday we had only one class which means only two hours of school. The university campus was huge and there was even a shopping mall! It was surrounded by mountains and wild horses were walking and running all over there. Imagine you go out of the university building and there are wild horses standing on the grass right in front of you and walking on the streets where the cars and busses have to stop in order to let them cross the street. That’s exactly what happened to us and I was really shocked when I saw them for the first time. The local students were used to them and they didn’t really care about it. However, you could immediately say who was a foreign student, because they took photos of them and were really surprised and excited. After some time I also got used to it and I really miss not seeing them now.
And what’s the best thing about living in abroad? That everywhere you go, you always meet a person from your county. After all, it’s a small world. We were walking to shop one day and talking Slovak when suddenly a man asked us something in Slovak. At first we did not notice it was in Slovak but after few second we realized what just happened. We talked to him for a moment and even met him more times! Erasmus in Spain was the best time of my life and I fell in love with the country and its people. I will definitely come back again and maybe even move there.
Article by Alexandra Mikulová