Among everyone who filled out the first and second EVA survey, we choose the winners of the competition. They all will be joining us at the EVA Final conference at the European Parliament on 24th of September 2014 and spend few days in the capital of Europe. We’ve asked them to tell us how their Erasmus exchange or any other experience abroad influenced their feeling of being European. Let’s see what Nikesh from Ireland has to say.

How did your Erasmus exchange / experience abroad influence your feeling of being European? 

"When I left for Santiago, there were only two of us from Ireland and the first students I encountered were other Erasmus students, in the events organized by the Erasmus Student Network (ESN). I went over essentially knowing no one, thus Erasmus students became my friend circle, my support network and my international family. I came into contact with a multitude of people from all over Europe. The experience was a confluence of different European cultures and it instilled a sense of a very European community between us all. We were all bringing our country’s unique flavour to the table as we adjusted to the Spanish lifestyle together. Every one of us came away with new knowledge of other traditions and experiences with people from those countries.

Erasmus in Santiago was a kaleidoscope of international students from almost every part of the world, from Italians to Czechs to South Koreans.  Thus it was a very European, and moreover, international experience. Erasmus gave me the opportunity to interact and associate with people in a way that I wouldn’t have had the chance to do at home and I came away from the experience feeling a lot more connected to the world. I especially feel more in tune to other European cultures. I have learned so much about Europe and the different lifestyles of its inhabitants.

The camaraderie shown between Erasmus students is just astounding and for me it really strengthened the idea that we were a united European and international society. There are no countries divides on Erasmus as we are all in the same boat; international students, studying away from home and grappling with the daily usage of a foreign language. Erasmus built cultural bridges between people of countries that, under normal circumstances, would not exist. Like the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage, we all walked together along the same path but made our own individual journeys through our experiences. When I walked a section of the Camino, it emphasised this sensation of being connected to something bigger. On the Camino, people of every colour, nationality and creed walk together for different reasons but the common drive to get to our final destination kept us going and encouraged a sense of international solidarity as we helped each other through it.

Erasmus also makes you aware of the great diversity in Europe; the variety of languages, foods and traditions. It highlights your country’s role on a European and international level and how your country is perceived by people from other countries. For example, Ireland was either seen as a beautiful, mystical land or it was almost completely unknown, often grouped as part of the UK. I myself learned more about countries that I had only known by name, and at that solely thanks to the Eurovision! On Erasmus, I no longer felt like just another young man from Cork. I was now representing the image of Ireland for this diverse community of students and I strived to make the best impression of my country that I possibly could.

I really tried to immerse myself into Spanish culture, not only by speaking the language, but also through the gastronomy, the cultural events and of course ‘Las Fiestas’! It was quite interesting as Galician culture, although it is Spanish, is quite unique and shares a lot of ties with Irish culture due to its Celtic roots. Due to the intensive exposure to the culture, my lifestyle in Santiago influenced the way I normally live life and my culture became an Irish and Spanish hybrid. Some of these Spanish customs I intend to take with me and introduce to my life in Ireland.

All in all, I definitely came away feeling a lot more European than I did before my year abroad. The Erasmus experience is profoundly enriching and I would recommend it to everyone."

Nikesh Chopra from Cork, Ireland who did Erasmus in Santiago de Compostela, Spain.

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