My Erasmus was very much as Porto itself. When you see it as a whole, it's beautiful, charming and incredible. When you look closer, you'll see the flaws – you see some houses that are just in ruins next to the perfectly preserved ones, the traffic, never-on-time buses, the struggle of balancing housing for locals with hotels for tourists and so on. But altogether it has the most amazing atmosphere and is just an incredible place.
I could probably write a whole book trying to describe these almost six months, but I'll talk only about a few aspects, and that can hopefully give you a bit of an idea.
When I arrived to Porto, I only had a hotel for a few days and some not fully confirmed viewings of rooms. It was almost mid of September, so most of the rooms were already taken, and I was feeling a bit anxious to settle in somewhere. Those were some of the factors that contributed to my decision to trust my gut and take a room that later became my home even though it was totally not what I initially wanted. It was more than what I wanted to pay, bills were not included, shared bathroom, bunk beds (can't imagine this space accommodating more than one person but oh well) … But it was a great location and the other people living there that I came across seemed nice. So as I said, I just decided to trust my gut.
Can't tell you how happy I am for this decision! There were 6 of us living there from 4 different countries, and we got along really well. All the shitty things we've had to deal with made us more resilient and brought us closer. Just to name some of the bigger ones: water leaking to one of the rooms and hallway, being without electricity for a day thanks to that and being without electricity for one whole evening on a very cold day in December.
Some of us would always happen to meet in the kitchen when going for tea or food and we'd get stuck in there for hours talking about anything and everything. This was especially a thing with two of my housemates that I now consider among my best friends and that have over time become like a family to me.
After a summer of part-time work and active volunteering in ESN mixed with my perfectionist tendencies, I was used to working all the time, and my life was very much planned to a T. Looking back, I was busy all the time and kinda workaholic. And I assumed I'd function the same just somewhere else for a bit, so I took on a lot of work even for the time I'd be in Porto. Imagine my happiness when I suddenly had to wait everywhere and for everything and nothing was on time.
One of the instances was when I went to get my transport card in the middle of September. I was waiting in line for about 30 minutes only to find out that the paper I got from school isn't sufficient and I have to get a different one. Wanting to deal with it immediately I went back to school, waited there, got the paper and went back. This time I waited about an hour or more. Honestly can't explain what a victory it's been to leave with my very own transport card.
In the end, I gave in and did my best to become more patient. This was one of the biggest lessons I got from Erasmus. I learned more how to balance working and achieving stuff and having free time, relax and be more spontaneous.
When I say Portugal, what do you imagine? 20°C and sunny all the time? Well, some places are like that, but in the North, it rains a lot during autumn and winter. And it's not just a cute rain. Sometimes it's RAIN. Honestly, I'm struggling to even find words to describe it. You could have a raincoat and an umbrella and still would probably end up wet. When you combine the rain with strong wind you have an extreme natural shower. Thankfully this type of rain didn't happen that much but still leaving the house without an umbrella was quite the risk.
Towards the end, I learned to be okay with it, to even sometimes like the rain (not the yellow warning type of rain though). When it wasn't raining, it was usually beautifully sunny, and my friends and I learned to appreciate it all that much more thanks to the rain.
To leave was heartbreaking.
I was fortunate enough to stay a bit longer than the official length of the semester. I told myself that if I'm paying the rent for the whole month might as well stay. My friend decided to do the same, and another was staying the full year anyway, so the decision was easy.
During this time, it was the welcome month, and the new Erasmus students started to arrive. We took this time to take part in as many ESN events as possible, to discover more of Porto than we did so far, visit Spain, go to our favourite restaurants and cafés and most importantly spend quality time together.
Porto said goodbye to me in the most incredible way. My last day was sunny, and there were so many moments and things I've noticed that would probably say nothing to others, but to me, they were so typical for Porto and made me smile.
It wasn't entirely goodbye though it was more of a see you later! I'll be back in no time.
Unity in diversity
I loved every minute of being immersed in this international environment. I learned a lot about different cultures, languages and opinions. I also learned a lot about my own cultural background and customs. When you compare what you do and how you think with others, and then you together try to discover why, you learn to see things in a new light.
And you know what? Even though we were all different and from different cultures, we would always find something that we had in common and found a way to communicate and work with each other.
I hope that all of us can learn to kindly embrace our differences, no matter where we live and where we come from and have compassion for one another and work together as I've seen possible.
The best time of my life so far! That was my Erasmus. It wasn't all sunshine and happiness, but I wouldn't change a thing. It was perfectly imperfect.
P.S. If you're reading this and you're deciding if you should go on Erasmus yourself – GO! Find a way and go. Don't expect that it will always be easy but know that all of it will be worth it.