End of January 2014, I was exactly halfway through my university path and I was seriously thinking about applying for the competition announcement for the Erasmus scholarship. Usually when I do things I don’t ponder a lot, I live instinctively, however this time it was different: I HAD TO think. I had to consider many things and for the first time I sat with Claudia to prepare an attack plan. I started doing some accounts (if you are wondering it, as far as I was concerned I had already won the position before applying for it. Over the top self-confidence!). My family, as many other families, isn’t rolling on money so we had to really think about what would have cost us letting me study in a foreign country for six months. After racking our brains for hours over calculations and estimates, my mother put down the pen and told me: “Giulia, who cares, just apply for it. We’ll make it some way, but you can’t and you mustn’t miss this opportunity. Do the application now.” You can’t even imagine what my heart was feeling in that moment, a mixture of contrasting emotions was filling up my head and brain.
Ok mum, I’m doing it.
In that exact moment the bureaucratic ordeal started. Applying for the Erasmus is not that easy; there are a lot of papers, signatures, documents, pains in the neck. I went on my university portal and I went forward with the application form. The first thing they ask you it is the destination where you would like to go and among the many available ones I chose The Hague, the Dutch political capital. I carried out some research: good university, quite town but crowded with students. Ok, I had to WIN the place.
I enclosed my average grade, the course credits I had in that moment, my level of English knowledge and at the end of the form the motivational letter. I remember it took me the whole night to write it. Everything was ready and I would have only had to wait the publication of the list of the winners. First of all, I have never won anything in my whole life. I could sound like a victim, but well this is just the simple truth (I managed to be admitted at the university only thanks to the repechages, what rotten luck!). Anxiety and stress were my daily bread for more than two months, I even made a resolution: no Spritz until the publication of the list of the winners. And if you’re not Venetian you can’t really understand how hard it is to say no to a Spritz.
7th April 2014, I was in the wonderful Florence and I just came out from the Gallerie degli Uffizi, after having my fill of art. When I’m visiting some museums or art galleries I keep my phone in silent mode randomly left inside my bag especially because often you can’t even take pictures. Definitely disappointing. Well, I was looking for my phone to check the time and I saw 135 missed calls, 687 Whatsapp messages, 8 E-mails and 4 carrier pigeons. I didn’t even had the time to open the notifications when suddenly I received a phone call from Lisa, one of my university classmates and a very good friend of mine, who did the application for the competition announcement together with me for the same destination.
I answered the phone and she almost burst my eardrum.
“ Where the hell are you?! Why don’t you answer at your phone? Are you happy? My heart is bursting with joy!”
Well, I didn’t understand. Dazed by the 3 hours in the museum I asked her what she was talking about and, after calling me an idiot, she told me that both of us would leave for the Erasmus.
I couldn’t believe it. I threw my backpack on the floor and I started screaming, running around and jumping like a lunatic, after five minutes of madness I realized being in the square surrounded by people who were staring at me astounded so I got a grip on myself with my heart up in my trachea. I hung up the phone and I called Claudia who, when I told her I won, was moved and she moved me too telling me that she already knew that I would win. Obviously I called the whole family to communicate the news and I went to drain a beer to celebrate my victory.
The departure was scheduled on 20th August 2014. I bought a one-way ticket for Amsterdam with my hands sweating with excitement even if getting out from the almost endless bureaucracy would be rather boring! But I wasn’t caring anymore! The countdown started.
That year I wasn’t working at the airport yet so my economic resources were almost nothing. I found a job for the summer in a little bar on the beach of Lido of Venice and while I was stuffing sandwiches and doing 300 coffees I was counting the days left before my get-off. I always heard talking about the Erasmus as an experience capable of changing your life, of giving you a different vision of the world and of opening your mind towards new horizons and I was looking forward to feeling this on my own skin. While summer was passing, the other winning girls and me, we all started looking for an accommodation; we got in touch with some girls who were there for the Erasmus during the previous semester and we told them that we would rent their house. Wow, what luck! A house in a well ready and checked neighborhood! At that point we got in touch with the landlord to reach an agreement with. We deposited the first month payments and we started enjoying the wait before our departure. My Erasmus buddies, as well as flat mates, were Lisa, my desk mate, Marta and Berny, two of my university mates.
5 days left before our departure and we were crazy happy. Marta decided to do a nice, short road trip as far as The Hague with her mother, Marzia, and her boyfriend, Leo, so they left 5 days before the girls and me. 3 days left before our departure and I got and audio note on the Whatsapp group we had created:
“Girls we are right in the shit. I’m outside what should have been our house, there are the walls but nothing else. No floors, only dust, stacked furniture and exposed electric wires. I’m here with my mum and she’s completely panicking. I don’t know what to do.”
We started freaking out. Basically, the house was being renovated, but the landlord didn’t inform us and we were ruined. I think that he never got blackmailed that much in his whole life, in fact terrified by the menacing rage of five women he gave us back all the money we deposited some weeks before. Well, at that point we had no house 3 days before leaving. Lisa managed to find a temporary house for the first 10 days and then we would look for a permanent accommodation directly on the spot. Our Erasmus didn’t start at all in the way we imagined.
A bit discouraged, but still super thrilled and excited, we got at the airport on 20th August with a thousand suitcases, bags and purses dangling everywhere. Passports and boarding passes ready, we hugged our families with a bit of emotion and we went towards our gate, we sat on the plane and we were so thrilled that we couldn’t stop laughing so that we even got scolded by the hostess who told us to calm down and to follow the usual instructions for the emergency cases.
After almost two hours of flight we landed at the Amsterdam Shipol airport and I think that was one of the happiest day of my life.
Full of suitcases and joy we took the train that would brought us in the city that during the following six months we would call home (and I still consider it so). At last we got in the little house we rented and we camped as we could, we ate and we started preparing a plan to solve the house situation. Problem: we didn’t have Wi-Fi, so we wisely chose to scrounge it at Mc Donald’s in the center and armed with 4 computers, 8 I-Pads, 16 I-Phones we started our mad and desperate research.
Meanwhile days were passing and we allowed ourselves to explore around. I immediately fell in love of that city, the atmosphere, its welcoming people, the shops were always open, the Stroopwafel. I was already at ease! A few days after our arrival the Welcome Week at the university would start and we would enter fully in the Erasmus mood. We enrolled for the various classes, we signed the arrival documents and we followed the guys of Interaccess, a university organization which takes care of international students and helps them to integrate themselves in the university environment but it aspires especially to create links among students throughout parties, trips and activities. As first activity they made us visit the city, they showed us where we could do the shopping at a good price, the best places where usually there are the best parties, etc. we walked up to the beach of Scheveningen where that same evening there would be a firework competition among different nations. So cool! We met some of our Erasmus mates and we made friends with them straight away. During the Erasmus making new friends is extremely easy, since the beginning you create such strong bonds which later, I would say, become eternal friendships. At least for me it was like this!
“But what about the house? Did you find it at last?”
The day before leaving the small house, we found it! An apartment in a residential area 20 minutes away by bike from our university, aaaamazing!
The university, The Hague University of Applied Sciences, is light years ahead ours. During our whole stay we were cuddled by teachers, secretaries and tutors. Well, a true luxury!
As many of you already know, in Hollande people move around especially by bike. Rain, snow, sun, fog, you cycle! Bikes have right of way almost on everything, even on pedestrians! In the university basement there is a HUGE bike park and there is the meeting point of B-cycle-it where lovely Richard and Reggie provided us with the best bikes in town, and they promptly rescued us every time we had got a puncture!
During the months of my Erasmus I clearly had the opportunity to fully express my free soul and so to wander far and wide in Hollande, backpack on my shoulders. I obviously visited the wonderful and lively Amsterdam, the rainy Leiden, Gouda where they produce the delicious cheese bearing the same name of the city, the young Utrecht (another wonderful university city), Dordrecht for its Christmas markets, the ultramodern and supercool Rotterdam, the small Derlft and Kinderdjjk where there are the windmills, fresh and clean air and a view that can be used as a desktop background!
The people who had been there before me were right. The Erasmus changes your life and your way of seeing things, it makes you grow up, become more responsible, it opens your eyes and it makes you understand that you can only learn something new from a different reality. Here below I quote what I wrote in January 2015, that is the end of my experience, to let you understand what meant to me doing and living my Erasmus.
“ I love food, you know it already. So the first thing I can think about and that I can use as a subject for this post is FOOD. The Erasmus is like a sumptuously decked table with delicacies from all over the world. The only problem is that you only have six months to eat and taste as many things as you can. In the beginning you’re hesitant, insecure and shy but as soon as you do the first bit and you realize that what you’re eating is so good, you start feeling more self-confident, and in that moment you start feeling so thrilled and delighted that you literally start to stuff yourself. You’re always hungry and you want always more, but then it comes the moment when the time is over and you have to stop eating. You’re forced to stop.
Food apart, the Erasmus changes your life for the better, it opens your mind. The first time I had set foot in The Hague, I was alone, I was with 3 friends who I already knew in Italy but I was alone anyway, I was only a person. For me this was the first time I had lived alone, far away from my family and so for the first time I had tasted true life. You’re an adult. There I could be myself and I never felt judged and this was, in my opinion, the best existing mood. As I always say, the Erasmus, should be compulsory for everybody. The Erasmus would make the world a better place. I met wonderful people who have been able to change my life forever. They made me change, for the better! We are and we were the perfect salad where every ingredient is very tasty but when you mix them up, there’s a party going on in your mouth!
I will always be grateful for this extraordinary experience and I am a very lucky girl.”
I will always thank Claudia for giving me the opportunity of doing and living all this, because right now I wouldn’t be the person I am and I wouldn’t be writing on this blog too! The people I knew are always in my heart and despite the distance and the various time zones we’ll always love each other.
The Erasmus links. The Erasmus is the starting point to gain the peace in the world. I am serious when I say this because only by knowing what’s different from you, from your customs, your traditions, your habits, so only by tumbling down that barrier called ignorance can you realize that what’s different it is beautiful because it is so.
If you’re thinking about doing the Erasmus, DO IT! It’ll be one of the most amazing chapters of your life.