Going on Erasmus is one hell of a ride. Back when I did mine, Babbel didn’t exist yet, so we had to learn languages the old way. It was, without a doubt, one of the best years of my life. Just 21 and blissfully naive, I left Madrid, my hometown, for a little Italian town called Viterbo, close to Rome.
I had booked a room in student accommodation for my first two weeks, but needed to find an apartment for the rest of my stay. My first human interaction was in the Casa dello Studente. I entered my room and quickly realised that there was no internet, so I had to figure out if other students had the same problem. I left my tiny, depressing, seminarian room, and knocked on the first door I found. Two girls from Hungary opened up and I had no alternative but to speak our only common language — Italian — to explain the problem and, most importantly, solve it.
Tip #1: When in need, you will speak
The internet issue was solved, but I still needed to find a room in less than two weeks. I knew I didn’t want to stay in that place forever; it was awful! The long corridors with small rooms reminded me of a jail I was never in; it was full of Spanish people (meaning, I would never ever learn Italian); and the Casa had more rules than my own parents’ casa in Madrid. I wanted the freedom and the fun that the Erasmus months promised me; I wanted my own flat, and I wanted to share it with Italians.
And so I started the search, and I explored the universities of the city just to check their boards. You could see lots of ads for people offering/looking for rooms, and so I added mine there as well. An Italian passed by and he laughed so hard! I had misspelled a lot of words, so I asked for his help to write a proper ad which real Italians would read and understand. And through this ad I found my Italian roommate!
Tip #2: Ask natives for help, they will gladly help you
Internet: check. Italian roommate: check.
Now I just had to go through minor things, such as ALL. THE. EXAMS. The Italian uni was pretty relaxed and I learned Italian very fast. I’m Spanish, so I naturally talk a lot (the two main ingredients in my recipe for success), and I could understand a lot from the very beginning. I did pull the oh-sorry-this-is-not-my-native-language card. My karma is still healing.
Anyway: it worked! Teachers were way more patient and understanding than the non-exotic Spanish teachers in my hometown. Mi dispiace, non capisco l’italiano (“I’m sorry, I don’t understand Italian”)! Worked every time.
Tip #3: Take advantage of your “foreign student” condition and let teachers talk slower and be nicer to you than they would normally be
And so I passed my exams, and some of them with very good grades! Of course I celebrated with my brand new Italian friends — and by celebrating, I mean drinking. They introduced me to new sorts of drinks such as Camparis and sambucas in a time when I only knew Cuba Libres and wine with Coca-Cola.
They also taught me a lot about coffee, pizza and pasta. Who would’ve thought there was so much to learn? But yeah, drinking espressos and eating pizza bianca or calzone and other eating rituals was an art I got to master by the end of this magic year. Remember, when in Rome…
Tip #4: When in Rome/Paris/London, do as the Romans/Parisians/Londoners do
I couldn’t learn the language alone from one day to another. I needed people, experiences, music, and things that were appealing to me and that would make me want to learn the language, so I asked my roommates for movie and music recommendations.
Ana, from Slovenia, was so passionate about Italian music that I learned a lot from her and we still sing Parole, Parole every time we meet. Thanks to many friends, I started listening to the oldies but goldies, such as Lucio Battisti, The Incredible Mina, Adriano Celentano, and Paolo Conte. Italian friends keen on movies also helped by recommending good stuff to watch, mainly mob movies and neorealism, but still, listening to real life Italian and watching movies with other Erasmus friends was the best way to passively learn the language.
Tip #5: Take advantage of free language classes — or any other free thing offered in your uni!
Cool, so you got an Erasmus scholarship. You are one of the chosen ones, one of the cool ones. Congrats! Now you have to take advantage of that. Getting this scholarship doesn’t mean you’re rich now; you just get a few pounds/euros/crowns to rent a place and eat cheap fast food to save for drinks and trips around Europe and stuff.
My tip: take advantage of the cheap (or even free!) things that unis offer: discounts on sports and free language lessons. I took my Italian lessons more seriously than my actual studies, but the teacher was so nice and I actually liked it more than most of my subjects! Also, I made friends on Erasmsus who were studying different subjects, so the mix was quite interesting… Don’t miss your (free) chance!
Thanks for reading this post!
What other tips do you have after doing Erasmus? Let us know in the comments. And remember: if you need student accommodation in Europe, you’ll find the student home you’re looking for on Uniplaces.