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Erasmus student exchange in Granada

Erasmus student exchange in Granada

Hi guys !

For the last five months I have been living as an Erasmus exchange student in Granada, Spain. It is actually interesting because usually students experience a very big culture shock, but it was actually the reverse for me. Originally I study in Groningen in the Netherlands but I am myself not Dutch and it was my first time living there when I started my bachelor. When it came to my Erasmus, I received less of a culture shock in Granada, than when I first arrived in the Netherlands. This could be because I am French and that my culture resembles more the Spanish than the Dutch one. So whilst my Dutch friends were trying to get accustomed to eating dinner at around 9pm I was feeling very comfortable. And I have to admit that I quite liked the acceptance of ‘arriving late’ at a meeting. As a result, I felt at ease in this beautiful southern town.

Of course, I had some difficulties getting accustomed to the language because even though I spoke Spanish before arriving, I was definitely not prepared for the Andalusian accent! And albeit the fact that financially it was very hard for me because I didn’t find a job as I had hoped for and had to go to Senegal urgently during Christmas (unexpected expenses…), I enjoyed the city very much. I love to walk around and discover new areas or go up the Sacromonte to enjoy a view of the Alhambra by sunset.

Besides my macho housemate, I met some amazing people and have to admit that the Spaniards are very kind and welcoming people.

In relation to the Erasmus program, I think that it is a wonderful idea, but I have to admit that the educational quality of the Universidad de Granada is very low compared to the Rijksuniversiteit Groningen. If there was one recommendation I could give to future Erasmus students it would be that they bring warm clothes and blankets because the houses in Andalusia are very cold during winter.

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Brace yourself. Winter has come

Brace yourself. Winter has come

My adventure with Erasmus + started 2 month before my 31st birthday, when I’ve discovered, that it was my last chance to participate in an EVS. Luckily, I found a 10 months offer in Spain for working with mentally ill people. I like the plan of going to Spain for enjoying the palm trees, sangria and heat.

I came to little town in Castilla y Leon region, without knowing any Spanish. Surprisingly, people from the daily center of mentally ill people  didn’t speak English. This didn’t prevent one participant from falling in love with me. It could be a really lovely story, but in fact, it turned out to be quite dangerously. My admirer started following me and soon he became a stalker. When I realized, that I’m not safe, and mentally ill person probably will not bear any consequences of his actions, I’ve decided to quit my job.

Despite this fact, my organization offered me another solution to relocated me in the main office in Valladolid, capital of Castilla y Leon. Thanks to this decision, now I’m gaining new experience in department of European projects. Nowadays, now I’m safe and sound.
Regarding the weather, I feel cheated by people who told me, that there’s no winter in Spain. Don’t believe so! Of course, on the south you can look tanned even in February, but I live in cold pole of Spain. For example, at the night temperature is around -4’C, which is not shocking for someone who raised in Poland. Unless… you haven’t brought any winter clothes. Yes, I didn’t brace myself and winter has come. My main goal in December was to survive  without being freeze. Well, mission almost completed! I’m sick twice a month,consequently, I’m spending a lot of time at home, under blankets, waiting for spring.

Except for all the inconveniences, I don’t regret of my experience in Spain because  I am surrounded by palm trees, I have tried sangria and I have experienced siesta. This is the time of my life 😉

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Sergio, how was your voluntary service?

Sergio, how was your voluntary service?

Everytime I am asked about my voluntary service my eyes look brighter. It is a pleasure for me to write about my volunteering time in Bulgaria.

As you read, I made an European Voluntary Service in Sofia, Bulgaria, in a project called Mountain assistants. It was a 4 months long project. A very short project, when I was actually looking for a long period stay, up to 12 months. So why did I chose it? When I read and understood the purpose of the project, I told to myself: THIS IS MY PROJECT

In few points, this was about the project:

  • Improving and taking care of a marked route – or ecopath
  • Collaborating with Bulgarian Red Cross
  • Learning the Scouts and Rovers methodology
  • Promoting eco-friendly ways to enjoy the benefits of nature and mountains
  • Learning about security and disaster prevention in nature
  • Developing skills to survive in natural environment

And about the frequently asked question: Why Bulgaria? I just told to myself: WHY NOT?

I’m not going to lie, I was actually attracted to the idea of spending 4 months in a country like Bulgaria, as I knew very few about it and I found it exotic for an spanish guy like me. But the decision was already taken after reading the program of the project. I am a mountain and outdoor sports lover.

And this is what it took me to an airplane destination to Sofia, the capital city of Bulgaria. So I was there alone, sitting and reading a piece of paper with the cyrilic alphabet written on it, what I thought it was the first step to learn Bulgarian language – in reality I had printed the Russian alphabet by mistake.

Few years after, I not only keep many memories as treasure but also I realize of my own growth and development with the time and perspective. It was not only exciting, interesting, funny, challenging. It was life-changeing. Short but intense.

Today, thinking about my voluntary service gives me the will and the strength to work for somehow improving people’s life, as I feel very grateful and want to give it back to society.

Teaching children how to set up a tent

 

Sergio

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A small town girl in the big city

A small town girl in the big city

Hi! I am Alice and I am currently doing my EVS in Barcelona, Spain. I am originally from Estonia, a very small country from the northeast of Europe. The population of Estonia is only 1,305,038 million people but nevertheless we have our own independent country, language and a rich culture. In the University of Tallinn I studied Spanish Philology and culture, during my studies I worked a few odd jobs and also in two international companies. I must say that from the first day I started my studies at the university I had in the back of my mind the plan to move to Spain and to see everything that I studied in my classes with my own two eyes. Unfortunately, I did not have the chance to study abroad and after my graduation I felt that it was about time to pack my bags and go on an adventure. I got in contact with my sending organisation Continuous Action and after two months I was already packing my suitcase to come to Barcelona

 

So I believe that you can already imagine that coming from such a small nation and moving to Barcelona, a city so vibrant and big, has been quite a change for me. Well, the truth is I am still getting used to living abroad and nevertheless in such a big city as Barcelona. I started my European Voluntary Service on the 4th of January, so it has now been roughly a month living in Barcelona. Even though it has only been a month here I feel that I have already got to experience so many new fun things. I started my work in the Fundació Catalunya Voluntária (FCV)  where I will be working during my EVS project, I have had the chance to meet new interesting people, attend a meeting with an organisation called REFAL (The Spanish network of the Anna Lindh Foundation) and through my work with FCV I will get to experience many interesting events that will involve people from different places of the world that are all working towards bettering our societies and communities.

 

Apart from the work that I am doing during my project length, I have already had the chance to explore the city a bit and discover some really beautiful and cool places in Barcelona. Furthermore, I have started my Catalan language course and I must admit that I find the classes a lot of fun and a good way to meet new people. Of course, there are still so many things I am yet to experience and explore but since I have only just arrived a month ago I still have plenty of time for traveling and new adventures. I am very excited to to find out what my time here will entail for me and with a little bit more time I would have a lot more to write to you guys about. I would love to keep you updated on my doings on this great VolZone platform!

Alice

 

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My adventure in the Red Cross

My adventure in the Red Cross

Soooo, where to start… I am a Hungarian girl but from Serbia (no it is not that confusing as it seems…), from a little town, called Subotica, near to the Hungarian border. Due to my grandparents and my parents were big travelers, my mother decided to enroll me in a language school when I was 6. I am sure she knew that I will also travel a lot. And she was sooo right. English was my third language, and when I was a student I began to learn Spanish. And there started everything… my love towards Spanish language, culture, people, etc. Since then I knew I will be live there one day, I just did not know when and how…and why.

Since my childhood I always did some voluntary jobs. I worked in a local radio, in the library, in the theatre, helped to a local dog-shelter, worked as a group guide at a festival. Volunteering was always part of my life. It was something normal for me because my father was a member of the Red Cross in my city.

A friend of mine mentioned this program for the first time, and I decided to try it, due to I could not do an Erasmus-program during my student years. I sent like 40 curriculums, but nothing happened. I tried to be more official, more creative, tried to mix these two things, send a Power Point presentation, but without any result. And then I saw a post of the Red Cross in Tudela, they were searching for 2 volunteers, one for children and the other one for work with elders. Due to I am a teacher, I applied for the one with the children, but finally they put me in the other program.

So in September I arrived to Tudela. It is a little town on the north of Spain, in Navarra province. Its population is around 35,000 and it is sited in the Ebro valley. Fast trains running on two-track electrified railways serve the city and two freeways (AP 68 and AP 15) join close to it. Tudela/ Tutera is the capital of the Ribera Navarra, the agricultural region of lower Navarra and also the seat of the courts of its judicial district. This town is also famous for the tomato called „tomate feo“ or in English ugly tomato(it is not that ugly in the real life). I was nervous because I did not have any experience at this field but my tutor and all of my colleagues were very kind and they helped me a lot. Then I realized that it is same like a teacher job, just the only difference is that my students are a little bit older.

There are more groups, in the mornings we work with people who have Alzheimer, and in the afternoon as well but those classes are more about playing games, making crafts, drawing, painting. Sometimes I help to my coworkers who work with children. We usually go to the local park, to see the nearby river or just to take a walk in the town. I also have some administration tasks. Every Tuesday I go to see an old lady in her home, usually we just talk or play cards. On Wednesdays we have healthy walks, we are walking around the city because our mission is to take care of the body as well. And then there are hobby classes, like „aula del bienestar“ there are people who do not have any problems, just want to be active. Every Friday is a day for sewing and make different crafts. We made fish, pumpkins, witches, Christmas trees, cactuses, pigs.

Normally when we visit a foreign country, we have a cultural shock, it is a reaction to new custums. It was not my first time in Spain, before I lived in Andalucia, so I did not really have this feeling but still there are some things to mention. In my country we are more or less punctual, but in Spain you can arrive late, they will not say anything. What else, it is a very frequent thing. Sometimes it can be irritating, but I prefer this flexibility. The other unusual thing was the late night Spanish dinner. Normally I can not eat after eight, but they eat around ten. Oh, and the siesta! From two o’clock until four every shop is closed, it is a time for the lunch and to take a rest-a siesta.

My organisation is very professional and I am very thankful to them for their help and cooperation. I really hope that I can work for them in the future because my plan is to stay in Spain. And I also recommend them to anyone, if you apply you will not regret it! Write me if you have any questions.

Best wishes, Adri

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When the sun is missing

When the sun is missing

My Erasmus experience took place in a city called Groningen in the north side of the Netherlands. However, I came from a more southern city, Barcelona (Spain). Comparing the population between Barcelona and Groningen, my city has a total of 1,609 millions of people while Groningen counts with 200.952 habitats, which is 6 times the population of Groningen. Therefore for me, it was similar to live in a small village.  A place where you frequently run into friends and neighbors while biking.

Exploring the subject of cultural shock, what surprised me the most was the weather! Especially, because it was freezing and raining all the time. On top of that, my only way of moving was by my lovely bike. During the wintertime it reached a temperature of minus 18º because of that I could not notice any limb of my body while I was baking. Plus, the Dutch weather was a problem for me because I need it to organize my day really well, in order to have time to do my duties. For enjoying a little bit of the sun which helps me to maintain good humor, however, it was not always there. Hence, during the winter I miss so much the sun of Spain since it usually sunny most of the time. After this experience, I start comprehending why there are many Dutch tourists in Costa Brava every summer. Fortunately, after 3 months have passed the body gets used to the weather. So I haven’t missed any party just because it would be windy, raining or even healing. The bright side of this phenomenon was that Dutch people tend to be hospitable and they offer their apartments to have fun with friends.

The second cultural shock I found, it was how the spontaneous the Dutch were not. This characteristic crashes with my culture since Catalan and Spanish people tend to improvise plans, and for us, the unexpected plans are the best. So you could imagine, I personally was difficult to coordinate my schedule with every Dutch friend. As an example, even as a friend they need to plan in their electronic agendas an appointment for meeting you, but this would take time around 1 or 2 weeks because they are super busy people. I guess, they also put all their courage in their demanding jobs and universities.

The third shock was related to the language since I was brave enough to go to the Netherlands without speaking a word of Dutch. I found that Duchy people are very friendly and speak super fluent English. Nevertheless, it was complicated to integrate into a Dutch group, especially if you don’t speak their language fluently. Lately, my Dutch vocabulary increases in order to get by in the market or in cafes. But still, it was not enough acceptable. Through my experience, I really met friendly people but mostly international students. I get the chance to be in a very international city which host over 4000 international students every year for studying in Groningen universities.

My hosting university was Rijksuniversiteit and it is at the top of the best universities in the world. The University of Groningen provides me with quality educational programmes. There are degrees of every branch you could imagine, from arts to engineering. So all of these were great advantages.  On the other side, the university was extremely demanding in terms of assignments, that much that I was feeling overwhelmed by stress, and I even was thinking of quitting the university. However, I achieved to overcome this crisis thanks to talking with other international students who were in the same situation as me. Overall, my Erasmus experience was unforgettable, despite the barriers I experienced because of cultural shocks. Finally, I feel that all these open my mind and help me to understand other cultures better considering that I had the big chance to meet hundreds of Erasmus students.

To conclude, it can be said that exchange mobility programmes should be compulsory because they develop personal skills, such as independence and autonomy. Moreover, it can reduce misconceptions associated with gender stereotypes. All of this is possible because of the economic resources the Erasmus Mobility programme offers. Despite the fact that international students may encounter cultural shocks, the programme brings about a reinforcement of their identity once this is successfully overcome. In the future, the government should invest more money to reduce the cost of studying and living abroad in order to maintain the successful participation of international students in Erasmus programmes. This contribution may well encourage more students to participate in this beneficial programme by offering intercultural experience.

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