TAO: Erasmus is the adventure of a lifetime

Photo: Hanna Martynenko

By: Hanna Martynenko

Erasmus is the experience of a lifetime. While those words are certainly true, you will never know how something feels if you do not try it yourself. My desire to take part in the Erasmus Programme has brought me to a point in my life I never thought I would be able to reach.

The question most often asked of an Erasmus student or programme alumni is something along the lines of ‘Why did you choose this country?’. For me, the decision to go to the Netherlands was mostly based on my preference for the English language, which was the deciding factor on my priority list. I knew with great certainty that my number one thing to do during the Erasmus programme was to improve every aspect of my English language skills. I did well because the after-return English test showed significant improvement. My next point to consider before making a final decision about a place for my half-year exchange concerned culture. I got lots of feedback from people at my university in Poland, where I study, about how amazing and helpful Dutch people are. So yes, I chose the Netherlands as the country for my adventure and if you ask if it was worth it, I will undoubtedly say: ‘Yes, definitely!’.

I spent five unforgettable months in the oldest Dutch city – Nijmegen, where I took several courses in different disciplines. I did various subjects on distinct practices and challenged my analytical skills. I had to use all my creativity, courage and patience to succeed in merely one part of obligatory courses I picked. I was blown away by the number of compulsory articles and books that needed to be read, but the greatest shock I experienced was due to the high level of self-organization. Almost all the assignments students needed to do had to be submitted through an academic portal or, although rarely, by handing in a hard copy. Also, on campus, you do not have printing points operated by people. Instead, you are encouraged to use the printing machines spread all over campus by yourself without any assistance.

When it comes to the approach of Dutch people to university matters, strict rules have to be followed. If the Dutch professor gives the students an unbreakable deadline, he means it. Moreover, the assessment system is also quite demanding as good feedback from a lecturer or a well-prepared presentation is not a guarantee for a sufficient grade. Student life is not a piece of cake in the Netherlands – it is hard work and there are a lot of obstacles to overcome. The library plays a very important role in the everyday life of an ordinary student, I would even call it ‘my second home’. Such places are always booked, busy and extremely quiet. This fact makes an excellent reference to how well Dutch people organize their living space and time. No matter what time of the day it is or which department the library belongs to, all the places with silence and computers will be packed by students, hungry for knowledge.

The most wonderful things about my experience in the Netherlands were learning this culture’s lifestyle, enjoying a perfectly developed and organised structure of life and, of course, getting to know new people. Everybody around seemed to be fit and worrying about the daily routine. For example, lunch took place at noon when the university bistro was fully packed with people but an only hour later you will see noticeably fewer people having lunch. All the students can profit from having a gym right in the middle of campus because the sports offered can satisfy even the most demanding person. Everything around encouraged me to join: to do spots, to eat healthy and self-prepared food and to devote much time to studying. By the way, cycling is a norm for city citizens in Nijmegen. For me, this astonishing habit was hard to develop. I had to learn the traffic rules and become a confident and fast cyclist who is good at movement and coordination. Even though it was hard, I had so much fun! One of the downsides of biking, however, is the disastrous rainy trips after which you will end up with wet trousers. But now I am sitting in front of a computer in my flat in Krakow and the fact of remembering those moments warms my heart.

How would I describe Dutch people in brief words? That is easy, those people are very straightforward, reliable and helpful. Almost everyone is glad to help you and there will always be people telling you to ‘have a nice day’ in a supportive manner. I met some amazing fellow students from different parts of the country and gained loads of knowledge about Dutch traditions, food, history and life rules. The Dutch people are great advisors, sincere friends, and skilful workers.

Unfortunately, I did not manage to travel as much as I initially planned. I hardly visited the main Dutch cities, because I invested a lot of time in my studies. Although I did succeed in building strong bonds with people from all over the world who have become an inevitable part of my life. I am very grateful for the opportunity I had to meet them and for being able to stay in touch even after leaving the Netherlands. The Erasmus programme taught me to have more solidarity to events and people around me and to comprehend facts with a deeper understanding while also perceiving them with ease and an open mind.