Due to Erasmus+ Program, studying abroad is a reachable dream to thousands of people from all over Europe. While a year ago, the main worries were related to bureaucratic matters and how to stretch the grant to enjoy the experience, now with the global pandemic, the decision of going abroad became a lot harder. The world is very unpredictable at the moment and decisions need to be made daily as everything progresses, so how can we prepare to go to another country, with a different culture, language, measures - that can change overnight - and where we don’t know anyone? How can it be an enjoyable experience?
We asked that question to three people that did Erasmus in Lisbon during different periods of 2020: Marysia Salamon, Marco Comotti and Francesco Csermely - and they have very different answers.
When Marysia applied for Erasmus, the only Corona she knew was the alcoholic beverage brand. She left cold Poland on route to Portugal in February 2020, with big expectations: “Plans were endless – the Azores, Cabo da Roca, Sintra, Porto, Évora, Algarve, surfing…”. While coming to Lisbon was a great start of the year, in March it all changed “I had not fully felt and understood what it meant to be an Erasmus student in Lisboa when the international authorities started to implement restrictions. Initially, no one really believed in what was happening. Universities, one by one started to close, places that once were full of life began emptying, and people who once used to stand in line to get Galão were now standing in a long line to buy a hand sanitiser.”
After a hard decision, she returned home sooner than expected, but her love for Lisbon remains “Having still a dose of hope, I was monitoring the Covid situation in Portugal every day. When the restrictions started to be slowly alleviated, I began thinking and dreaming about my Lisbon come back, which actually happened!”
On the other hand, while Marysia was returning to her country, Marco was planning to leave his. He came from Italy to Lisbon in September 2020, already knowing what to expect, however, it was a challenge “Coming on Erasmus while covid is just outside the window may not be the easiest choice to make. Luckily enough I decided to come despite everything and there is nothing to be feared of!”. As expected, the experience was not as used to be, but he found his way to enjoy the city “we could surf with no problems and have lessons, hang around the city, meet many other international students, which as we, were facing the same decisions”, and he even managed to make a group of good friends to explore Portugal together.
As it’s not all rainbows, he also caught Covid-19, but luckily with light symptoms and good support from the Portuguese National Health Service, “I had to stay quarantined for some time… but even in this time we kind of created a community of international people staying in Lisbon and having gaming nights all the time just to make time pass by faster” but despite that, the balance of the experience is still positive “going back I would be doing the same”, that’s why he decided to extend his stay for extra 5 months!
Marco is not the only Italian with a good experience of going on Erasmus during the pandemic, Francesco has only good words about his experience. While he left Italy quiet scared about “everything that regards Covid”, he says that everything got better once he arrived in the city that he decided to call home for a year: “Everyone was in the same condition so we all managed to be brave and meet each other, also thanks to ESN that showed us where to go and what to do”, but coming during summer was a good help “the first months were even more beautiful due to the fact that the weather was hot and the sun was strong”.
During the past few months, he managed to make “amazing friends and meet so many different people. It is so incredible to be with so many different cultures and hang out all together in such an environment and beauty that is Lisbon”, showing that more than anything, Erasmus is about the people you meet - they are the ones that will make the experience worth it or not.
For him, the result is very positive “Actually I could even say that this Erasmus, even considering the covid thing, was one of the best semesters of my life, and for sure it was the most unpredictable!” and he is for sure happy to stay one more semester, even with the current restrictions “the only thing I fear is to leave this city and finish this Erasmus…”.
Going on an exchange is always a big step to take, the unpredictability of the current situation makes it worse but the process of making the decision is quite similar: gather information online, search for Erasmus groups, ask people that have recently experienced it, and taking everything into account, figure out if it’s something for you or not. The only people that can decide whether you should or should not go are you, together with your parents and IRO, but it’s the first of many decisions you will have to make on your own if you think about taking this step, never forgetting that once you arrive, you will meet a lot of people in the same situation as you.