“It will be okay, you’ve done this before.” is what I kept telling myself. Originally from Venezuela, I arrived in Norway to pursue a bachelor’s degree in Biology. It was not only my first time in Norway but on this side of the world. Four years later and with a bachelor’s degree, I started my master’s with the idea of wanting to go on exchange.
I was ready for something more. I wanted to gain knowledge about subjects I simply couldn’t learn about at my home university. It also didn’t hurt that I had my eye on an Erasmus+ exchange, which according to my calculations, would leave me with a pretty hefty sum of money at the end of my exchange, as I had also been granted Lånekassen. Groundbreaking knowledge from one of the best universities in the world, plus a financial gain… exchange was suddenly a no-brainer.
I applied for a couple of universities for exchange, but ultimately decided on Wageningen University & Research (WUR). With it, came doubt. WUR was known as the best university in the Netherlands, and ranked first in the world in many areas. Would I measure up? Was I up for the challenge? Could I take courses in subjects I had never taken before, at a master’s level no less, and succeed?
Perhaps because of that doubt, I worked harder. Studied as I had never done before. But it was certainly very hard leaving Norway, even knowing I would come back. Life here in Bodø had become, at that point, certain, comfortable, easy. Filled with friends and family who I could hang out and rely on at any point. I looked to what I wanted to do at the end of my studies, the career I wanted, and decided I needed to do more. Going on exchange is a great way to stand out to future employers. It does wonders for personal growth. And even if I had done it before, arriving in a foreign country to study, albeit at a different scale, why not do it again?
The process was long. The faculty exchange coordinator and the Erasmus+ responsible were people I talked to constantly. Fill in this form, apply for that, get that visa, buy the tickets, buy insurance… On and on. Easy? No. Exciting? Yes. Stressful? It could be.
So at the end of it, I packed most of my things into storage, packed my bags and left. Moved to this old building near the WUR campus where I had to share bathrooms with people I didn’t know, where previously I had had my own studio apartment. “It’s fine, it’s only for 4 months.”
Then AID (their version of the buddy week) started. I met my group and almost all of them were also on Erasmus exchange. It was actually rather similar to the buddy week and I got to know these people better. Even though I didn’t have any classes with them in the beginning, I saw them after class and over the weekends. Some of them became close friends.
Then corona got to the Netherlands, and you could feel the communal worry. Classes were still going but one could hear whispers of new cases, cases in other countries, Italy, Italy, Italy. The first class was amazing. I had never seen someone so engaged with teaching. I’m used to being taught by researchers who also teach, but these were instead teachers who also research. There’s a difference. It is noticeable.
Not that I don’t love Nord, I do. It’s my home. But WUR is just on an entirely different level. The campus is huge and everything is cutting-edge. The cultural activities are impressively advanced for such a small place as Wageningen.
Unfortunately, my exchange ended early. 4 months turned 6 weeks because of Covid-19. But it also didn’t really end. I kept having courses, but online, from Bodø. I learned things that I would have never learned if I didn’t go on exchange, both in an academic and social way. I did much better than expected in the courses, much better than I even do at Nord. Maybe it was because I felt challenged. Maybe I enjoyed the classes a lot more. Either way, I feel ready. To write my thesis, and to go into the next stage afterwards, which is working.
I encourage everyone to go on exchange. If anything, it helps to get out of your bubble and gain some perspective. You may get to know yourself better. You will for sure learn something new. And if in doubt, reach out. We’re here to help.