Three Nights Before Departure

August 24, 2013

After four years of whining, the moment is finally here. No more nagging mom and dad, because Claudia is finally going to study abroad! Yay! Ever since I was halfway through high school I wanted to go abroad for more than two just weeks. My first choice wasn’t Spain – I have always preferred to go to the States. What I wanted was to really experience a new culture and take on a new lifestyle for year. I wanted to live a unique experience.

Granted, in the beginning the main reason why I wanted to go to the States was the fact that the idea of living like high school students from the movies seemed very attractive to me. I guess it’s a good thing that I have a more realistic idea of how the world works by now. My parents were aware of this (that’s why they are my parents after all) and told me I couldn’t take a gap year before university. It would only be valuable for my career after I have a diploma, so in the meantime I was sent to language camps. I could do the Erasmus-thing later. Honestly, they were right, as parents so often are… Even though I think a gap year after high school is very valuable for your self-development or if you don’t know yet in what you want to study after highschool, I do admit that it is probably more valuable for your career to do it after you got a degree. You know, being responsible and all.

Erasmus is the perfect alternative! You continue your degree in another European country. The schools are all adapted to each other to make exchanges like Erasmus possible without causing any discrepancies to your curriculum. I say, an exchange is definitively a must for language students like me.

So, in the meantime, my parents sent me off on language camps. I didn’t like the first two, which were too much like boarding schools and as I have been allowed to walk home by myself since I was nine, these restrictions were very annoying and a diminution of my freedom. At age 18, I got what I didn’t realize I wanted (and needed). My parents allowed me to go to adult language courses in Paris, London and Barcelona where I stayed with host families. This turned out to be the perfect formula for me: my host moms let me do whatever I wanted, as long as I mentioned whether I would be home for dinner and didn’t set their house on fire, I had classes in the morning and the afternoon free to discover the city. In short, it was the perfect balance between freedom and parental supervision.

When I discovered Barcelona on the list of locations for Erasmus, this was the place I needed to go. I had lived towards this moment for years. When I started my first year at the University of Antwerp (in Belgium), one of the first things I did was ask the professors about studying abroad. In my second year, I was finally given the information I wanted. I attended each of the three information sessions. The first two took place in December and were meant for anyone who was interested. We received information about the registration procedure, the administrative paperwork, the rules, the destinations…

Actually, the timing couldn’t have been worse. It was a bad time for students to have to think about all of these things, to have to take care of the first few deadlines and issues, to make some important choices – after all, all of this had to be done just after the exams. I think many dropped out of the process pretty quick because of all of the work and time that you have to put into it. It asks for a lot of preparation.

I, myself, had a difficult moment in February, when I was doubting myself: why don’t I just stay in Belgium, where life goes on the way it always has and where I have the certainty that every problem will be solved easily? Why make things difficult when it can all be so easy? I thought about all the little things I’d miss: the premieres of my favorite movies, the monthly meetings with my friends in my favorite café, the mouthwatering hot chocolates between classes on cold Thursdays, my car, playing table tennis during lunch break… I suppose I was a bit overwhelmed by the whole process and that was probably the reason why I almost gave up on the crucial moment.

At some point, however, a week before the deadline, I reminded myself how much I had always wanted to study abroad and how could I forget that when the possibility was right there in front of me. So, I looked in the mirror a couple of times and said to myself: “Claudia, just enroll in the program already! You’ll regret it if you don’t. In two weeks you’ll think differently and you’ll be angry with yourself for not going through with it. You can always decide later if you don’t wanna go anymore if you really don’t want to.”

I guess it’s a good thing I can be very convincing sometimes.

My top three destinations was sent in:

  1. Tenerife
  2. Granada
  3. Madrid

I can totally imagine the confusion on your face right now! But yes, Barcelona was not on the list, because the destination was added to the list only 1 day before the deadline and I had seen it too late. As usual, I was very early sending in my application and I immediately regretted my enthusiasm. The thing is, I wanted to go to my beloved Barcelona so badly that I mailed an extensive motivation to the designated person at the administration office. They answered the same day: of course I could adapt my list of destinations. So, that’s what I did:

  1. Barcelona
  2. Tenerife
  3. Granada

I was quite certain that I would be chosen for my favorite destination, because who else would have wanted to change their list last minute? Most likely, nobody would go through the trouble of changing their list just to add Barcelona to it. Pretty soon after, it turned out I was right: I was the only one to be selected to go to Barcelona!

The next step was to figure out what that meant. I sifted through the website of the Universitat de Barcelona and contacted my previous host mom, Esther, to ask her if she had a place for me to stay for 5 months. She didn’t, unfortunately. Instead, she introduced me to her friend Cristina, who offered me a room with half-board in her apartment in Sant Gervasi. I was eager to accept her offer, because Barcelona is not a cheap city to live in and with this formula, my parents would know exactly how much a month of living expenses would be. I should also mention that I don’t know anything about cleaning, cooking or whatever… My mom believed it would be more convenient if I learned how to be ‘that kind of independent’ in Belgium, where she could intervene when necessary. I didn’t, and still don’t, disagree!

April came along with a third information session, meant for selected students only. We received more specific information about the Learning Agreement (LA), the paperwork we would have to fill in before, during and after our stay, the scholarships, the credit system etc. Evidently, I was the only one there who had any idea of the subjects they wanted to take, the only one who had already taken care of their accommodation… I was almost the only one who could ask really pointed questions. It is so typical for me to start planning things before things are actually confirmed.

Already the next month, it appeared that the UB was a good choice. I got super quick replies to all of my questions – and curious plan-freak that I am, there were a lot of them – while others had to wait several days or even weeks before they heard anything. The UB themselves sent me – together with my acceptance letter – several useful links which made navigating their website – which was mostly in Catalan – much easier. Moreover, they sent me information about schedules, deadlines, accommodation…

It shouldn’t come as a surprise anymore that I finished my LA pretty early, even though the UA had to be a pain in the ass and cause complications. I had only just sent out my LA to Spain, by snail mail I must add, when my own school told me to change a couple of things about it. Fortunately, the UB – and most Spaniards in general – are quite flexible about these things and everything was quickly solved and taken care of.

In the months before my departure, there were lots of things to be done. Off to the dentist to get my last two wisdom teeth pulled out. Make a schedule to get the most out of the summer holidays. Sending out resumes for a job during the holidays. Make arrangements to write my Bachelor thesis abroad.

What had been a couple of years away, then a year, half a year, a couple of months etc., is now only a few days away! I’m all packed, have one day to go at Starbucks and have little time left to say goodbye before I leave. I think it is important to say our goodbyes, but I also believe that the next five months will be over in the blink of an eye. I’ll be back before you can miss me!

During my stay, I hope:

  • to attend classes that are at least half as fun and interesting as they are at the UA
  •  to take good exams
  • to meet a lot of new people and make new friends
  • to experience some more of the Spanish culture (and maybe even absorb some of the typical mañana-mentality)
  • to travel now and then, to Valencia, Sevilla, Madrid, Lissabon or anywhere else…
  • to welcome friends and/or family, so that I can show off my new hometown (although I have low expectations, since I am not allowed to let people stay over at Cristina’s apartment, which I totally respect but am still kind of sad about because of aforementioned reason)

And last but not least, I hope I’ll get the privilege to get to know Barcelona like a local, inside and out.

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