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.
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.