It all started as a passing mention to my friend that I didn’t think much of. “Hey, why don’t we try a student exchange program together? It could be fun.” Fast forward a few months’ worth of planning, work, and convincing of our respective parents later, we experienced what felt to us like a really good dream… complete with the feeling of being woken up early.
My friend and I decided to try the Erasmus program, each with our fair share of reasons to do so, including but not limited to the experience of living abroad and how that enriches one’s mind, traveling, opportunities to meet people and expand our horizons, a change of pace, etc. We spent around a month and a half in Lisbon, Portugal, with the experience proving just to be just as rewarding as we expected, until at the request of our families, on short notice we returned to our home country as the pandemic started getting dangerous, with the expectation that we’d be back within a month to finish our studies.
Unfortunately, things didn’t turn out as we wanted, borders closed and remained closed for a while, one online semester turned into another, and we accepted that this was a new reality that were just going to have to get used to. It’s very obvious that the pandemic’s impact will stretch far beyond the period that things finally become safe, and that the advent of the virus has changed things a lot and will continue to do so when it comes to the daily life of people worldwide. In the short term, many businesses had to be closed or have their capacity greatly lessened. More obvious is that most people had to continue their work and studies online.
For many, online studies are just not the same as the in-person experience, rife with technical difficulties, miscommunications, and a lack of a personal feeling that enriches the educational experience. For many, it was easy to slip into a cycle of lacking productivity or motivation as it seemed like the world around them is falling apart. Even with more introverted individuals such as myself that are more comfortable indoors, we all eventually began yearning to experience that social feeling again, wondering if we truly took things for granted. Humans are inherently social creatures, but unfortunately, that was the reality that had to be faced if we were to collectively work together as a species to manage the damage of the pandemic.
As things start to clear up and opportunities open, I highly recommend to travel as much as you can while you are young. It can often be observed that well-traveled individuals have a more open and enriched perspective on the goings-on of the world, and traveling is just really fun in general. As quickly as my Erasmus experience felt like it was cut off, it is still something that I know I will remember and cherish, and I learned a lot from my time too. The experiences one has abroad stay as a part of you forever, and that becomes more obvious once you’ve felt that yourself.
When it comes to the pandemic, the impact is still being felt, but I am left hopeful. I feel that we all learned things about ourselves in the process of the past year+, and the pandemic created a worldwide connection and desire for support in its own way. The younger generations are more interconnected than ever and take the time to educate themselves more. The pandemic had many unfortunate side effects and it is clear that many were negatively impacted far more than other people, but I don’t doubt that the negative circumstances mobilized a greater desire for participation, education, and activism in the youth. We’ve seen injustices highlighted globally, and it seems like there is greater participation than ever worldwide. I also don’t doubt the fact that there will be more investments into medical technology and infrastructure that can contain similar large-scale health disasters such as this.
To restate, humans are social creatures, and that affects how we tackle problems; with cooperation, and that was the only way something like this could be gone about. We are also quite resilient, and I definitely think that there was a collective sense of growth and initiative from this, especially among the youth. The great interconnection highlighted here also segways into me once again reminding those reading this to travel and learn about the world around you as much as you can. If you can do the Erasmus program, I highly recommend it. Almost everyone I know has great stories to share and came out of it as a better version of themselves, and now that things are clearing up, the opportunities are going to start growing. I implore you to participate, to learn, and to connect.
By Jovan Richkovski