“Go on Erasmus”, they said. And so I did. Erasmus, an experience that changed my life and played a significant role in forming the person I am now. Was it easy? Hell no! Was it worth it? Don’t doubt that for a second.
People who know me would tell you I rarely prepare myself for any travels nor do any useful research before I leave my home. Well, in this case, this approach in the sense of “in case something goes bad, there is always a solution” wasn’t that smart. I handed in my application for Erasmus, got excited right away and headed home to find out I had chosen a university in a city that lies on ARCTIC CIRCLE! Me! A person who loves sunshine, swimming in a sea and drinking coconut milk under the palm trees. I knew I was going to cold Finland and I thought I was prepared for that in my mind, but after I did the proper research and found out, where exactly I was going and that I will probably share my room with polar bears and reindeers and will be living in darkness for a few months, I freaked out! But there is no way back now, so let’s do this.
The first exciting moment was when I saw for the first time a police task force drag some nasty criminals out of the plane. “A beautiful beginning of Erasmus, the flight will be probably delayed,” I thought.
It is necessary to mention that people of Rovaniemi are obsessed with Santa Claus. After all, this city is his official hometown. You could spot Santa taxi, Santa post office, Santa sports centre, Santa village and many more places and institutions dedicated to this being. Even at our university, we had a Santa classroom. Sometimes I was afraid to open the door of our fridge, expecting Santa there.
Before I came to this beautiful city, I expected me and my friend to be the only Czech people there… I was so wrong. I’ve got a suspicion that Erasmus is just a cover name for the Czechoslovak invasion to European countries. Out of around 150 Erasmus students, there were around 20 from the Czech Republic and Slovakia, which was pretty unexpected, but great at the same time. I know Erasmus is mainly about getting to know other cultures and habits, but this feeling of home was priceless at some moments. Especially in situations, you needed some supplies that were not available in Finnish shops; you knew that your Eastern European friends got your back.
I love challenging myself, and this certainly was a challenge I will never forget. I could write books about those four months, but instead of writing long stories and words to motivate you to go on Erasmus by yourself, I would like to point out some milestones of my Erasmus and things I’ve learned during this crazy journey.
During this short period, I was lucky enough to visit Norway and its beautiful landscapes (unfortunately we didn’t see Daenerys and her dragons there). I was able to visit Russia and Sweden. I happened to see the Aurora Borealis (polar lights). I was swimming in the Norwegian sea when the temperature was around 5 °C. Crazy? Watch this! After that, we were swimming in a frozen river when there was around -20 °C outside. I’ve learned how to make French croissants, how to survive in a sauna, how to sing Finnish songs (this was harder than any task they gave us at the university), how to ride a bike in the snow and on ice everyday without killing myself.
I’ve learned how to love cold and winter because you just don’t have any other choice there. I’ve learned how to appreciate the Czech public transport because we didn’t have any, except the dog sledges, which would be too expensive to use for our everyday ride to university (and yes, we went to school every day during our Erasmus).
I saw a helicopter that landed in the middle of nowhere, just so that the pilot could visit a bar - again, in the middle of nowhere. I experienced a bear attack during the night, which eventually turned out to be just a huge, and I mean huge, happy dog welcoming us at that bar, in the middle of nowhere.
There are many more examples of how amazing this experience was, but I would never be able to express that entirely through writing, you need to live that. During my Erasmus, I’ve learnt how to take care of myself, how to take care of others, how to trust people, and how it feels when someone’s got your back no matter what. We all, as Erasmus students, were in the same situations together and we knew that if anything goes wrong, there is always someone to help you and stand by you. This feeling is probably the most precious thing I brought back from Erasmus, and I wish everyone to experience it in their lives.
The only thing I can say now is - go and try it yourself, and I promise you will not regret it. After all, if anything goes wrong, there is always a solution, and my Erasmus was a great example of that from the beginning till the end.