During orientation week, someone said that a semester abroad is like a rollercoaster: in the beginning everything is exciting and new. Then, there comes a phase of soberness – where reality and daily life kicks in – and this phase might be accompanied by some homesickness as well, before the last part of the semester accelerates with pace and excitement again. International students usually only talk about these happy, speedy phases and it seems like it is an unwritten rule not to talk about days or weeks in which they actually miss their home city or friends and family. Sometimes, despite all the excitement and craziness of the semester abroad, something might be missing.
Going on Erasmus is always a step out of your comfort zone and it challenges your flexibility and self-confidence. Some students take this step although they are comfortably embedded in their lives and jobs and surrounded by friends and family, and others take this courageous step to get away. Every international student embarks on this journey from a different life and study context with different attitudes and expectations.
Homesickness is defined in different ways, sometimes it only refers to missing special food (e.g. German bread! Sorry, Dutch bread is just too soft!) or missing friends or family. Other times, homesickness goes to a deeper level, where you realise that you start to appreciate your actual home country or city in a different way and appreciate the life you have back home. I advocate to talk about this part of the Erasmus journey as well, as it affects more students than you would have thought. Furthermore, the intensity of experiences is always shaped by your personal connection to the place – either you click, or you don’t click.
Yet, the amazing thing is that Erasmus students have one more place to call home. Nijmegen has become a home now, a place I know so well, where I have made good memories and learned life lessons, and to which I can always come back. When I first lived away from home a few years ago, I read this beautiful sentence in an article and it stuck with me ever since: ‘It’s weird, because you don’t know how much a place is part of your identity until you leave it.”
As well as going away from home is important, so is returning home, since you will see your home with different eyes.