ERASMUS STUDENT EXCHANGE by Ena Jurić: “Once you go Erasmus, you never go back!”

On the 8th of February 2017, I left Croatia and went to the unknown. To the country, I didn’t know much about – Portugal. And let me tell you, that was the best decision of my life!

I will try to summarize the most beautiful year full of memories in this sunny country.

Algarve, Portugal

FIRST IMPRESSIONS

Coming to Portugal looked something like this – 0% of fear in my being, 100% of excitement. Only big wish to meet new people and discover new amazing places. I remember entering my new home for the next 6 months – a huge 3-story house, meeting my new 15+ flatmates I will be sharing this big house with and thinking to myself – Woah, we are gonna have an amazing time here! Roomies from Czech Republic, Macedonia, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Angola, Brazil…and me, a Croatian girl. Total melting pot. I met almost every single nationality I could meet. That right there is one of my favorite parts of Erasmus adventure. Multicultural environment, everyday learning from each other, listening to each other’s stories from night ‘till the morning. Since I was a part of the Erasmus Student Network community for three years before I left on my very own Erasmus student exchange, the multicultural environment and everyday communication (in English) were not strange for me. I’ve always enjoyed being in the company of new people from all around the globe.

My Erasmus squad

PORTO


Immediately upon arrival, I started exploring the city. And, oh, let me tell you, Porto is such a heart stealer! It is beautiful, authentic, colorful city that can offer the enjoyment of any kind – from traditional romantic fado music, great nightlife, amazing street art, famous Porto wine, excellent gastronomy, and warm, helpful and welcoming people. What more could you possibly ask for? Immediately conquers my heart like no city so far, taking the first place on my travel list!

Porto view

Porto is located in the north of Portugal, on the coast of the Atlantic Ocean. Cool, thought to myself when googling it for the first time. And beyond cool it was! Imagine a city that never sleeps. A city where every house is adorned differently. A city whose streets are decorated in different ornaments in every color. It’s a paradise for any art lover such as myself.

Symbol of Porto

LEARNING ABOUT PEOPLE AND CULTURE

Portuguese people are extremely dear and kind. Warm, happy and always, always ready to help. Even when you do not even ask for it. They told me that it was quite normal for faculty professors to kiss on the cheeks with students, sometimes even before and after class. In the beginning, it felt a little weird to me, but soon enough I got used to this level of courtesy. Another thing I needed to get used to was their punctuality. Or should I say – which punctuality? 😀 Everyone told me to pay attention to this when talking about Portuguese people. Famously known as “Portuguese time” a.k.a. “I’ll be at least half an hour late.” People were late to every meeting, even professors at the beginning of the class, some even never showed up, without any previous warning. They are all mega chill and relaxed.

Portuguese have a lot of holidays. Like the day that they don’t work when their carnival starts. Everybody takes a break from work just to dress up and go dance on the street! How amazing is that?

Carnival atmosphere

Most of the students wear their traditional uniform that we famously called “Harry Potter Suit”, which consists of the suits and cloaks. They just needed their magic wand. It is not such a surprise if you know that it was actually in Porto, more precisely the library “Livraria Lello”, where J.K. Rowling was inspired to write the world-famous Harry Potter. Cool, right?

Portuguese students in “Hogwarts” pelerine

EXPERIENCING PORTUGAL

It could be said that I enjoyed my Erasmus study to the maximum. Not only did I meet a group of wonderful people with whom I am in daily contact, learned so much about their cultures and countries, but also got this amazing opportunity to travel the whole Portugal, from Porto and all the surrounding cities, parks, UNESCO heritage sites, to the beautiful Lisbon and the stunning Algarve – southern Portugal. It is the best thing I did for myself. Ever.

Benagil Caves

From all the beauties of Porto, my favorites include stunning Ribeira and Douro river, the most beautiful park of the whole city Palacio da Cristal, the stunning views to Porto from Gaia and Jardim do Morro, and let’s not forget about the heart stealers Virtudes and Torre dos Clerigos. The place that captured my heart is Miramar beach, with its little solitude church is worth visiting! These are just a few gems from the bunch!

Ribeira

So, just like that I visited the oldest university in Europe in Coimbra, saw the castle in Guimaraes where Portugal was founded, surfed some waves at the most popular Portuguese beaches, participated in the famous all-day Easter celebration in Braga, witnessed a beautiful view of Portugal from the top of the cathedral in Vianna do Castelo, listened to the most beautiful fado performance in Viseu, saw the highest Portuguese waterfall in Aguda, danced all night at the streets during the famous Sao Joao festival in Porto, stayed in a 5-star hotel in Figueira da Foz, stomped through the corridors of the Portuguese building Portugal dos Pequenitos (where all the buildings were made in a mini edition featuring all the cities of Portugal), walked through the most colorful striped street of Aveiro in Costa Nova, swimming in the beautiful Vila do Conde and Vila Nova de Gaia beaches, went camping in Geres and bathed in the cold waterfalls of this beautiful UNESCO heritage national park, danced all night at the most famous carnival in Ovar, and apart from northern Portugal, got to travel to the beautiful south – from the most western point of Europe – Cabo da Roca through stunning palaces of Sintra, Cascais, Portimao and magnificent Lisbon. The south of Portugal deserves another story, with all of its mindblowing cliffs Algarve has to offer and its enchanting beaches. The list is inexhaustible.

Stunning palaces of Sintra

One of the many things that touched my heart, so much that I wrote the entire thesis about it, are Portuguese azulejos – hand-crafted tiles which are decorating facades of almost every house. Inside and out! That is why every house is unique and adorned differently. Even the great train station Sao Bento is wholly decorated with azulejos! What a beautiful country – I thought to myself every single second spent in Portugal…Is this real life? Can I stay here forever? (…)

Azulejos

The story of Festa de Sao Joao and unforgettable moments

Wanna hear the story of how I became a Cinderella for a night? 😀 I briefly mentioned Festa de Sao Joao on June 23rd, when the famous saint of Porto, Sao Joao (St. John), is celebrated. It is the most important day of the year for Porto! All the people go out to the streets, just singing and dancing until the dawn. And oh, definitely the most gorgeous fireworks I’ve ever seen! A must-have prop on that important night is a big plastic hammer which you will use to hit every person who passes by. They say it brings good luck. Well, how many times I got hit on the head, and luck was nowhere to be found – since I got stepped on my shoe and lost it in the massive crowd. That is the story of how I became a Cinderella, walking and dancing at the Porto streets – not until midnight, but until the dawn 😀 Shoutout to my amazing girls who took turns to carry me on their back so I don’t step on broken glass on the floor! Those friends are for keeps! 😀

Erasmus squad ready to party 🙂


Or the story of how we backpacked through Lisbon, didn’t know where are we going to sleep, so we randomly couch-surfed in the middle of the night. In the end, we slept on a couch of Erasmus students in Lisbon. Or how we hitchhiked through Cascais, Sintra and Cabo da Roca. We wrote the name of a place on a big paper and patiently waited next to the highway. 😀 You know, stories and little moments like that are what you will talk about one day. All the nights out and waiting for the sunrise on the beach afterward – memories that I wouldn’t change for anything, as cliché as it sounds. Another unforgettable experience only Portugal has to offer- Queima das Fitas, a student festival which marks the end of the academic year. It’s an absolute must when in Portugal.

National park Geres

WHY SHOULD YOU EXPERIENCE ERASMUS?

I recommend Erasmus student exchange from the bottom of my heart. Not only you will visit the country you always dreamed of and learn its language, but you will meet friends for life. Friends, you will call your best friends, even if you don’t see them that often or speak with them every day, but you know they got you. And they get you. Imagine meeting all of those amazing people with a mindset just like yours, and you will not feel lost, you will feel like you are at the right place at the right time. Like you just belong. If you ask me, that is what Erasmus is all about. About sharing precious moments with new friends that turn out to be your soulmates. The stories we shared, the adventures we had, the spontaneous moments that became the best memories of our lives. Memories I will cherish forever. (…)

Erasmus exchange changes you, opens up your mind, expands your horizons, forces you to look at things differently than before. It makes you realize that the world is not such a dangerous place as it is portrayed through media. It shows you every day that there are exceptional people that think alike. As one famous saying goes, and no, do not immediately think of “Not all who wander are lost”, but “I’m in love with the cities I never visited and people I never met. “(…)

“Erasmus exchange changes you, opens up your mind, expands your horizons, forces you to look at things differently than before.”

No one who experiences Erasmus returns home the same. No one, I can guarantee you that! Because ‘’Erasmus is not a year in your life, but life in a year’’. Venturing into the unknown became my obsession even more after Erasmus exchange.

That was THE time of my life – so amazing that I had to return on Erasmus one more time! And I would repeat it for the rest of my life. So, if you want to experience this amazing exchange, just go for it! Trust me, it is the best thing you can give yourself! Learning, expanding your horizons, meeting new people from all around the globe and traveling are just bits and pieces of an Erasmus exchange. In the end, you will end up getting so much more. It is up to you to venture into the unknown and discover for yourself which story you will be writing one day.

“Porto, obrigada por tudo.
Ate logo, meu amor. ”

Feel invited to read stories about other countries I have visited on my blog Incurable Travelholic or just check out my instagram.

If you want to explore more funded opportunities for young people and youth workers check out the Facebook group Mobility opportunities.

Author: Ena Jurić

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