Lena Tschauder – French/German
Université Côte d’Azur, France
Erasmus at the University of Warsaw, Winter Semester 2020/2021
In February of last year, I received in my mailbox a message with a pdf document attached that would fill my heart with joy: I had been accepted for a one-semester Erasmus exchange at The University of Warsaw. In reality, this kind of exciting adventure that was yet to come was not completely new to me. I had in fact done two exchanges in Latin America before, and I already knew some of the personal gains and challenges such experiences could bring up. As a teenager and young adult, I always wished to travel as far as possible from where I was coming from, between France and Germany. This time I felt that I wanted to explore more from Europe, also in order to get rid of some prejudices I had, like the fact that staying in the same continent wouldn’t be so exciting as it could be on the other side of the world. One year before finishing my studies, I wanted to know what this „Erasmus thing“ was all about.
Choosing my Erasmus destination
As I was staying in Nice in France at the time I had to decide about my destination, I was determined to choose a country with significantly different weather, architecture and landscapes. The cities proposed to us from the northern European countries were rather too expensive or didn’t really attract me, which led me to finally choose Warsaw, a destination I had never really heard about that much, which ended up being even more interesting for me.
Unfortunately, the covid situation and restrictions made it uncertain that the exchange would even take place. I remember waiting anxiously for days and weeks until I got that one e-mail at the end of June that would confirm the possibility to study in Warsaw, even if all my courses would be online. As I already had the experience of living abroad, I knew that going to university was just one part of the overall adventure, and I thus decided to come to Poland.
Two months later, I got on a train for a 13 hours trip from my home town in Germany to Warsaw. What I first observed from the window of my wagon was the change of landscapes, with different kinds of forests and trees that made me feel like I was in a dream, combined with the hearing of the beautiful language I couldn’t yet understand.
During the first weeks, I searched for a flat, which ended up being an Airbnb studio that I have had a hard time finding. I also decided to explore the city and its diverse parts, the wonderful old town, as well as the modern skyscrapers and the buildings remaining from communist times.
The feeling of coming to a different place where nobody knows you are what makes me so fascinated about travelling and learning to build your new habits in the unknown. Surprisingly, Warsaw made it easy for me to feel like I was at home within just a few days. I love how many parks it has, each one more beautiful than the other, all the history it contains, its good functioning transport system with a very clean subway, and the fact that as a capital, it doesn’t feel overwhelming or overcrowded. Additionally, Warsaw shines through its several vegan places and restaurants and shows in this way a bigger concern about animal rights, the environment and our health than most of the other European cities. If it wasn’t for the – sometimes – bad customer service and the fact that some Poles don’t understand English I could even forget at times that I am a foreigner in a new country.
A different kind of Erasmus
Nonetheless, the whole covid context had also a big impact on my experience and one of the other Erasmus Students. All the places where young people usually enjoy going to, bars, clubs, museums etc were mainly closed and we had to find other, more intimate ways to meet. This was made possible through seeing each other at someone’s flat for example or participating in some activity outside, which was usually organized by the Erasmus organization.
What also influenced my exchange was the fact that I had brought with me all the past experiences I had from my former stays abroad. I was more conscious about what I actually wanted. I didn’t intend to have a „party-Erasmus“ kind of experience like I had back then in Mexico, where being drunk with friends at night was one of my main activities. I did go out, but I didn’t feel forced anymore to stay until a certain hour, or guilty if I didn’t participate in a specific activity or trip with other students.
I was rather focused on taking my time to get to know people in a more personal way, meeting Poles and studying Polish. This language is a very hard one to learn, but once you start understanding its overall structure and some words it gets thrilling. Moreover, the Poles I have met so far were always very generous and willing to help me improve my Polish.
Finally, I could say that I am indeed grateful to have had the opportunity to do my university exchange in Warsaw in this strange covid-19 context in winter 2020/2021. On the one hand, because I could witness how so many women (and men!) protested in the streets defending women’s rights to abort. On the other hand, I believe that I had more freedom than I would have ever had in France or Germany where the governments were imposing more restrictions. In fact, I feel incredibly lucky
to have the privilege to meet so many and different interesting people from all around the world in times of social distancing. Not only have I gained new friends from so many nationalities, but I have shared incredible moments with them that I will never forget. It’s all about the nights drinking beer at the Wisła river, board games evenings, taking dogs out for a walk, having interesting
conversations… Doing an Erasmus is sharing a piece of you with people who decided to coincide with you at the same place and time.
The adventure goes on
My Exchange Semester came to an end over one month ago, and yet I am still here in the Praga district writing about my experience, while snowflakes are slowly falling down to the ground in the middle of March. As I almost finished my university career, I didn’t have any obligation to return home and decided to stay at least some more months while letting the future surprise me about what it holds.
I definitely know that Poland has a lot more to offer than I could ever discover in only five months. Warsaw is probably not my dream city or the most beautiful one I have ever seen, but it is the place I am at right now and I would like to give it a try. I am curious about how it feels to understand Poles and their culture better, somewhere that could become a new home for me. I would like to meet new friends, get involved in exciting projects and create a daily routine in a country I didn’t know much about one year ago.
This is what is fascinating about doing exchange abroad: it gives you the chance to randomly meet people from all around the world in a new place that enables you to re-discover yourself. So if you are ever unsure about starting the adventure, don’t hesitate to accept this incredible gift, embrace the new experiences and the new you!