Thursday, June 2, 2011

Post-Erasmus Syndrome

Hey everyone! I know many of you won't understand the title of today's blog. However, I'm sure some of you will relate to this topic. First of all, if you're not from Europe, you might not understand what "Erasmus" means to us. In a nutshell, Erasmus is a European Union (EU) exchange program for students. Students from one country can study one or two semesters of their degree in a different country within the EU. As I've mentioned before, I did my Erasmus year in Tallinn, the capital of Estonia, and it was one of the best experiences ever. I will definitely never forget that year. However, there's one terrible thing most of the Erasmus student undergo: the post-Erasmus syndrome. Which is everything that happens right after the end of the Erasmus period. I know the Erasmus program is a European thing, but this syndrome applies and can affect to anyone doing an international studying program, regardless of the destination. 

I'm talking about it now because many people are already finishing their academic year, and this might be the time for many of them to go back home. Even if I thought moving to New York would eclipse the fact that I had to leave Tallinn, I must admit I still haven't recovered 100% from this syndrome!

The reason why it is so hard to come back is because this is such an intense experience. The year abroad is a year full of discoveries, new friendships that become your new family, learning thousands of things every day, seeing the world from the eyes of many other cultures... and the list goes on and on. After such an enriching and frenetic period, going back home is a radical change again. From my own and my friends' experiences, being back home feels like life has a slower speed. Everything is simple again, everything is like it was when you left, except that you're not the same anymore. Now that I have been away for so long, I can say that it was harder for me to adapt to being back home than to adapt to the new country.

I did a lot of research about it when I left Tallinn. However, I couldn't find many psychological publications that could help understand what was going on. What I did find was thousands of articles written by students who found themselves in the same situation. There's a quote I often find in this kind of entries that was published by Fiorella de Nicola in the dissertation "Anthropology of the Erasmus. Leaving as students, ruining our lives, returning as adults". I think she describes it in a perfect way and I'm sure many of my readers will feel identified in the following lines:
"They don’t have a clue about what is waiting for them back in their countries “the post Erasmus syndrome”. They don’t know how horrible their house will look, their city either too cold or too hot, University boring as never before, the TV squalid, their friends just average…they will be overwhelmed by a depression as huge as a Kuala Lumpur sky scraper. They will reject anything which is not related to their Erasmus. The syndrome is experienced by all, without exception, but the intensity and the length of it will vary. Since it is just a syndrome that will be by definition a temporary condition, a thing that can, must, last just a while…not to become pathetic"
Well, I agree with everything except with the friends part. I never found my friends just average, because I missed them a lot and they're all awesome! But the rest is true. The first months everything seems just wrong, boring, slow... but hey, it's temporary! It is a big change, especially for those who return to their countries and live with their parents. During the Erasmus program, students must be 100% independent, and they become freedom junkies. 

However, life goes on and soon all of us realize how great that semester or year was. It's as enriching as it can be. Even though you're the same, something changes. There are so many inputs in such a short time that you will find new values, new ways of thinking, new ambitions and above all, you belong to a different race: "once Erasmus, always Erasmus."

I guess I was very nostalgic and I'm hearing how many people from Europe are struggling now to go back home. If you're one of them, I hope you find the way to be happy anywhere you are, and most of all, be grateful for the opportunity you just had! I also started thinking what will happen when I finish at Berkeley, but I still have at least a couple more years to figure that out and, to be honest with you, all these doubts are somehow exciting! Have a great day! :)

3 comments:

  1. great. kinda similar to my experience I also moved to the States after the Erasmus but I still haven't recovered 100% from this syndrome!

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  2. great. kinda similar to my experience I also moved to the States after the Erasmus but I still haven't recovered 100% from this syndrome!

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  3. This is old but I can totally relate to this. I am from the states, but I've lived abroad for two separate occasions, once studying abroad in Valencia, Spain then again teaching English in Santiago de Compostela, Spain. Each time I lived on my own, paid my own rent, bought my own food, and I was completely independent, I could walk everywhere..to the grocery store, to my friends house, to the bar, museums, whatever..I miss that independence and living in a walkable city, now I'm back in the suburbs, but in a metropolitan area where you can take the train or bus around or a car, but it's not the same as walking everywhere. I'm not a big city like Madrid or New York City type of girl, but a small town or city that was walkable place would be awesome. And living on my own again. I miss not having to tell someone where I'm going with who and why. It just bites.

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