An Erasmus state of mind: A time marked by the passing of supremely perfect days. Days and nights spent with people I had only know for a few short months, but because we were all away from home and in a strange land, we bonded fast. It was like attending a cultural convention all the time, except the other ambassadors were actually friends. Not only did I learn about Austrian culture, I learned about the cultures of all my friends.
My roommate, Ashley, who became a cherished friend, and I would catch ourselves applying the word Erasmus to ourselves. And, even though we are Americans, I still think we got to experience the magic that is Erasmus, or what inter-EU exchange students are called.
Each day would begin much the same, waking about 9:00 and making my way to the kitchen I shared with 30 others. I would make myself eggs on a piece of good European bread, and enjoy coffee in the quiet of the normally loud kitchen. Most other students on my floor slept until around 10:00, mostly because no one went to bed before 1:00 or 2:00 am.
After preparing for the day, I hopped on my trusty bike for the 12 minute ride to school along the river. I perfected the art of bicycle dancing, mostly to TSwifty, on my rides to school. This was one of my favorite parts of the day, rain or shine.
Three mornings a week I attended German class, my favorite class because of my strict, sassy, and formidable teacher, Proffesorin Eva Stuppnick-Bazanella. She is amazing, a woman of 65 with a uniform of pants, shirt, and scarf in coordinating colors, with her blond hair tightly secured in a pony. She shows up for class, so you better too. Every class 40 other students and I were drilled on German grammar like we were preparing for war. Stuppnick had a great sense of humor and she was not above making fun of my American accent. Esmee, one of my best friends in Austria, and I sat in the second row each class session and made sure our homework was complete everyday. Although my speaking ability only marginally improved, I learned a vast amount and wish Frau Stuppnick the best in her retirement.
After class, Esmee and I made our way to the rooftop of our school building for lunch with 360 degree views of Salzburg and the Alps. Usually we would see and chat with other Erasmus on the roof until 2:00 when I would head down to the library to plan my next trip, write a blog post, or do homework.
Around 4:00 I would head to the store for some groceries, then home for a run or the pool for laps.
Around 7:00 p.m. we would gather for dinner in the kitchen. Our group usually consisted of Ashley (my roomate), Zach ( USA), Eliska ( Czech Republic), Delphine (Belgium), Celina (Germany), Rafa (Brazil), Winston (Taiwan), Kai (England), myself and occasionally Maggie, Anna, Tommy, Jared, and Robert, other Americans on the floor. My, the fun we had. Every night was like a family coming together at the end of the day to share their days happenings and events. We cracked open a couple of beers or wine, and talked, danced, ate, and messed around till we were too tired to keep our eyes open.
This was what my Mondays-Thursdays were mostly like. Mondays I had yoga in the mornings. There were always parties on Wednesday and Thursday nights and each day brought spontaneous activities, because Erasmus actually have time to be spontaneous. Friday-Saturday were spent exploring the area in and around Salzburg or on various trips which are chronicled on this blog. I partied a fair amount, but there were week stretches I didn’t go out at all.
The thing that makes Erasmus so special is the time I had just to think, and talk, and do things normal life gets in the way of. I started swimming for exercise again, something 24 hours a week in the pool in high school made me hate. I also read a ton, 18 books so far.
There was some stress. I had German exams that I had to study many hours for on most Thursday mornings. The constant energy needed to navigate and speak in German was also taxiing. It was hard to decide who to spend time with, because everyone was just so cool. At times it was overwhelming. Erasmus attracts a certain type of person so it was easy to find friends.
Austria is on the more expensive side of Europe, and Salzburg it’s most expensive city, so budgeting was a constant battle. There were a couple weeks where I lived off beans and carrots till my exchange money came in. All of March, and most of April, I wanted to go home everyday. I missed my home, family, and friends terribly and didn’t feel like I was learning anything worthwhile in my classes. I was tired of having the same conversation and drinking and staying out till 3:00 was getting old quick. Coming from a tight knit family, I felt like I was floating around from one group of people to the next. It wasn’t until I established an anchor of friends that I realized how much I had been missing the comfort of having people to rely on. Since I left my laptop at home, and brought an iPad mini as my only computer, finding wifi fast enough to skype my Mom was a bit of a challenge. I can’t wait to go home and be able to use a phone.
It was also hard to come to terms with why I was even able to go on exchange. Here I was, with little responsibility to anyone but myself, living it up in Europe. My parents didn’t get to put their lives on pause for six months and go galavanting across the old continent. Many of my friends at UM remained home for the semester. I still don’t know why I am so lucky to have been given this opportunity, but I am incredibly thankful for it.
Now here I am on a night train to Krakow, Poland, about to embark on a great journey across 10 countries in 24 days, ending at home in America. I’ve just said goodbye to some amazing friends, some of which I will probably never see again. But that’s the beauty of exchange. The time is brief so you must seize it, without thought for tomorrow or next week. These past six months have been full of some of my most present filled moments. Friendships and experiences made stronger because nothing like them will ever happen again. My tolerance for BS has been significantly lowered, and I’m more of an introvert than I previously thought. I’m sure I’ve changed in other ways, but you’ll have to see for yourselves.
Reading this back to myself, I feel like a chump, a cheesy and sentimental chump. But take it from me, it’s a pretty great time.
Thank you Mom, Dad, Alex, Elaine, Sky, Monica, Janie and Soj, Laurel Jo, Kara, all my supporters at UM and, especially, my friends in Salzburg for some truly golden times.
Your golden girl,
P.S. Magic times ahead friends. Check out my Stats and Trip record for my itinerary.