I started university knowing that I wanted to take part in the Erasmus programme. Everything about it appealed to me; the chance to immerse myself in a new culture, to meet people from a variety of different countries, and of course, to improve my French. I also wanted to get out of my comfort zone. One of the reasons I chose Trinity was because it was close to home. One of the reasons I chose my course, TSM French and Art History, was because they were subjects I already knew I enjoyed. I thought Erasmus would give me the push I needed to get out of my comfort zone and challenge what I thought about myself and the world.
And it did, it really did. I lived in this tiny apartment in the Marais in the heart of the city with neighbours who often choreographed synchronised dances to the tune of Aqua’s Barbie Girl and Doctor Jones. My district was made up of quirky boutiques, outdoor cafés and gay bars. The best falafel in Paris was sold just down the street and four of the city’s best vintage stores were all within a five minute walk. I studied at the Université Paris-Sorbonne with a timetable that was divided between two separate schools on opposite sides of the Seine. My courses varied from modern art to journalism, to the history of Ancient Egypt. And although I was desperately dependent on my French classmates for help, I did love trying classes that wouldn’t have necessarily been available to me in Trinity. And I made friends with people from across the globe with various backgrounds and life experiences. Friends who invited me into their lives to celebrate birthdays with their families, who cooked me Irish-themed meals to help me feel more at home, who brought me to festivals to dance through the streets of the city, who made Erasmus the experience it was. Spending the year abroad also reminded me of the great friendships I already had, the ones I had left behind in Ireland. Despite being in another country their emails, calls and visits not only gave me a connection to home but also gave me the courage to keep living abroad.
Because it does take courage to live abroad and leave behind the comforts of home. And although it was one of the best years of my life it was also one of the most challenging.
Unsurprisingly, French bureaucracy has a reputation for a reason. Everything is an uphill battle and nothing is ever straight-forward. Hours were spent bouncing from office to office in pursuit of that particular form, or that essential signature. But I learned to be persistent and persuasive, and I suppose having a streak of stubbornness never hurt anyone. University there tends to focus on academic development, rather than the development of the student as a whole. So while Trinity prides itself on its numerous and varied student societies they were often quite difficult to find in Paris. And although this didn’t stop me from making friends it did make it slightly more difficult to meet people. However, homesickness is possibly what intimidates people the most about Erasmus. It’s distressing and disheartening and sneaks up on you when you least expect it. But even though homesickness can be uncomfortable, it’s only ever a fleeting feeling. A phone call home, a coffee with a friend or exploring a new district reminds you of why you chose to move there in the first place.
What doesn’t challenge you doesn’t change you. And I chose to do Erasmus because change was exactly what I wanted. Given the chance I’d do it all over again.