Erasmus stories: 6 months after

Photo Credits: Bart Weerdenburg

It won’t be a traditional Erasmus tale. How many times did you hear “making friends from all over the world”, “experiencing new culture”, “having the best parties”? Undoubtedly, it’s a part of any exchange, but there is something more behind this: something, that each of us, exchange students, discover and experience in our own way. This is why I write my story. The beginning of it is not covered with glittering sprinkles, but that’s how it usually goes – the worst beginnings mysteriously evolve into the happiest endings.

I still remember that night: after submitting a part of my research project, I made a cup of coffee and started to fill my notebook with pluses and minuses for the exchange. At the time I had everything: a cosy apartment, my dream job, the most interesting study program, and additional research projects with the best professors of our university. But in the same manner as I appreciated everything I had, I knew another thing: it can’t go like this anymore. Drowning in a pile of papers, swimming in the sea of phone calls, juggling between ideas for work and studies, I felt that I’m losing control of my own life. The only thing that I honestly wanted was to close my apartment door, draw the curtains, and sleep for weeks. I was gathering courage and saying “Yes, I’m going”, but then suddenly stepping back again as “it doesn’t make sense to throw everything I have”. While trying to solve this dilemma, I checked the time. Unexpectedly, it was 4 in the morning: the best moment to make important decisions, right? Fill the form. Submit it. Wait.

Picture by Pierre Banoori

Fast forward half a year and I’m counting my last times in Lithuania: last day at work, last glass of wine with my best friends, last night with my huge dog sleeping on my feet. I knew what will be waiting for me, when I’ll take my first steps out of the plane: one big discovery. Even though, I felt quite confident. After half a year in Germany, I though there’ll be no cultural shock. You wish. From the first days in Utrecht…

  • My face was looking like a strawberry out of shame, while I was learning to bike (to be honest, I still think that I’m a danger on the road);
  • I was failingly mixing my German-Dutch-English knowledge, saying awkward sentences as “jullie hebben en lekkeres Hund” (tasty dog, - well done, girl!) and getting frightened when someone would answer their phone with melodic “oi-oi” (we say that when we get hurt in Lithuanian);
  • I discovered whole new eating habits. Dutch stomachs start to ring a bell for a big dinner exactly at six (no sooner, no later), while you would be probably grabbing some bread and cheese (the best combo!) for lunch;

I couldn’t stop wondering how beautiful Dutch cities are. We made a tradition to visit another city every second weekend: that’s how towns as Zwolle, Gouda, Giethorn, and Ouwerkerk appeared among my visited places, contributing to infinite list of canals seen.

I can’t stop smiling while writing this, because behind every bullet point there is a story (and not even one!). Every step here was a move out of the comfort zone, taken to learn and discover something new. While leaving my house in the morning, I was never sure how the day will end and what will happen through it. Even if Dutch people love planning and you need to claim a space in their agendas weeks in advance, that’s the beauty of inter-cultural communication: you can also teach them to be more spontaneous. A random day trip to Haarlem did not harm anyone, right?

Photo: Michael Brunek

Being here taught me a lot things, but the most importantly – appreciate every person. Listen, try to understand and respect every opinion, even if it’s completely different from yours. There is no one truth, everything depends on the strength of your argument: that’s what you’ll experience during classes as well. The levels of tolerance and respect were surprising for me: even if your idea is far from great, your opinion here really matters and will be taken into account. People here are curious and supportive: it’s the best time and place to realize your ideas and put them into practice.

I came here running from a burnout and my suitcases were filled with depressive thoughts. After half a year of treatment while traveling, meeting incredible people, exploring Dutch cuisine, and getting over myself every day, my eyes are shining again. Don’t be afraid to risk, don’t be afraid to loose: if nothing changes, nothing changes. I’m leaving Utrecht in less than a week and I feel that it sounds terribly banal, but a piece of my heart will stay here. No thoughts about packing yet: I have no clue how to squeeze all the love, experiences, and memories to take them back home. I guess, it’s time to buy more coffee: one more 4 a. m. dilemma is waiting.