I had the privilege of going on the higher education Erasmus+ exchange programme in 2019 to Evora, a small city in the south of Portugal. In the historic centre of the city stands the ancient Roman temple of Évora (known as the temple of Diana). Next to it, white houses surround the cathedral of Évora, a massive Gothic structure. Its construction dates back to the 12th century. Igreja de São Francisco features Gothic and Baroque architecture and includes the Chapel of Bones adorned with skeletons.
Let me tell you a few more of the things I learnt whilst on the Erasmus+ exchange programme that continue to influence me positively today and helped me in my career.
I learnt that language and culture are definitely not barriers to making friends and building contacts.
Probably one of the Erasmus+ programme’s most celebrated and spoken about advantages is that its alumni leave with a network of lifelong friends, learn a new language, and experience a new culture, but what if I said, prior to Erasmus+, that I was already that person with friends from all over the world? You’d say, well how could the Erasmus+ programme possibly be any different to what I already knew? Let me tell you the difference!
During the Erasmus+ programme, I was forced to communicate in languages I wasn’t that fluent in. Whilst hard at first, I eventually learned to home in on my vulnerability and simply accept it for what it was – getting out of my comfort zone. The outcome of this was my communication style - my lack of vocabulary made me just use the essentials in what I was trying to say. That ‘honest’ dialogue was reciprocated by others, which actually created deeper, meaningful, and much more genuine friendships and business relations that I still have today.
I think part of my transition from a freight forwarder to EU project manager is down to this, I’m able to communicate with people of all different cultural and linguistic origins and understand the meaning behind what they’re saying.
I embraced vulnerability and discovered a new side of me.
The vulnerability I felt on my Erasmus+ experience, coupled with being surrounded by so many people in the same situation made me discover a different side of me. Despite my seemingly out-going personality, there is a part of me that is quite shy and introverted. During my Erasmus+ experience I learnt to listen to those parts of myself. In a way I was detached from past labelling, etiquettes, responsibilities, cultural rules, norms, and morals such as I had known them– and so what I was left with was just ‘me’ – all of me!
I travelled, which prepared me for my international career.
There’s a saying that most people only visit their home cities when people come to visit them, and that no-one goes to visit their local art gallery unless a foreigner is around. Well, I think that would’ve been true of Erasmus+ had the group and diversity of incoming students not been so large. Meaning that even though it was my home, due to the Erasmus+ network I discovered my hometown to the fullest.
The students from Portugal took us around their country and the Erasmus+ students would add elements of their own interest to influence our trips.
Broadening my cultural horizons in this way has made me more open to international work opportunities and helped with my current career and I think it’s this openness and cultural awareness that helped me in my new freelance career.