My name is Caitlin, I’m 22 and I’m a final year French student at the University of Liverpool.
Doing the course that I do, learning French, and immersing myself in French studies every day, I always knew my year abroad was looming—and not in a good way. It hung over me like a cloud. Funnily enough, I never actually wanted to do it, but it was essential to becoming fluent and growing my speaking capabilities. Doing the year abroad meant a loss of everything comfortable to me—a loss of hearing a language I understood every day, a loss of the same old supermarket (big Asda), and a loss of knowing my way around a place easily. I’ve done a lot of comfortable things in my life so far. Challenges have existed of course, but none quite like this. It was going to be the biggest mental challenge I had ever faced. But it turned out to be the best challenge I ever did.
My Erasmus+ program, and the experiences I had abroad in France, turned out to be the making of me. Of course, the first few months were difficult. It was an adjustment that was only comparable to that of moving to university for the first time, and even then, that’s not quite a satisfying comparison for me. It was bigger than that. I stumbled over trying to make French come out of my mouth and I had to deal with being in a completely new environment. I had moments of panic and anxiety to the point of looking at flights home, to leave France and quit the year abroad. It’s important to stress that this would not have been a failure and is certainly not a bad thing. However, over the course of one month, and then two, I started to settle in. I made friends (French and English speakers!). I discovered new cultural interests that I didn’t think I had—Loire Valley chateaux are my Mastermind specialist subject. I saw places that I had only ever seen in films. I eventually started to truly speak, and get quite good at, the French I had been superficially studying from textbooks my whole academic life. The Loire Valley became my home, and I can truly say I’ve never felt so at home somewhere ever.
Having to leave my year abroad abruptly in March 2020 (for a reason we all know, so I shall not speak of it here!) was incredibly devastating. My whole life had been built there. But, most importantly, the whole character-building story arc of the film that is my life took place there. I was forced to overcome the obstacles that came in my way but, equally, I was forced to relax and just enjoy myself.
Travelling, living, and working abroad was without a doubt the most interesting and engaging period of my life thus far. My Erasmus+ experience had provided me with more confidence, more cultural exchange, and more thrills than anything I’d done before. The person I am today was made from my year abroad.
That’s why I would recommend travelling and/or working abroad to anyone. And that’s also why the Erasmus+ program (and being in the EU) was so special—it afforded opportunities to me and all my peers that don’t come about every day. They both gave us all a chance to connect with different people, different countries, and different ways of living. As for me and my friends who also participated in Erasmus+, we all grew as people—the people who went away to their year abroad programmes turned into their wildly more confident and experienced versions by the time 2020 rolled around.
All that being said, my biggest takeaway from my Erasmus+ experience is the sense of togetherness and the sense of being part of something bigger than ourselves. The connections I made to people, to Europe and to the planet are so strong that I guarantee that they will stay with me forever. While we may not have that so much anymore, it’s still possible—I believe these things cannot truly die.