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A year abroad

Ever wondered what it's like to study abroad? Mariella de Souza tells all.

With roughly 90% of European universities and colleges
facilitating the movement of thousands of students each year, enabling their
travel to one, two or three of the available 31 European destinations,
participation in the ERASMUS scheme is an unforgettable experience and an
undeniably stimulating break in one’s academic career. The scheme consists of
one single year devoted entirely to improving your language skills,
experiencing education in a foreign institution, and an overall immersion in a
brand new culture. Whether you attend a foreign university, act as a school
language assistant, orfind yourself in an enviable international internship, it
is an opportunity our generation is lucky to have. Sounds good right?

Along with a few hundred Holloway students, I found myself
in the heart of the Loire Valley in Tours, France. As a joint History and
French student, the rich history of the city provided a year of ample
explorative opportunities and interestingly enough, linguistically, Tours is
considered to host the purest form of French in France. Consequently, any
apprehension at being left alone in a foreign country was considerably
outweighed by the overwhelming desire to get out there and examine the
potential of my new home.

So, beginning in September 2010, I enrolled myself as a
student of Université François Rabelais. The university was a huge and
bizarre-looking utilitarian collection of concrete slabs and staircases, enough
to make Thomas Holloway writhe in his grave. However, the whole vibe of this
university was brand new and rather intriguing. In the corridors there were
temporary stalls erected to promote political manifestos, students lighting up
on the wide terraces and constant announcements of cultural activities in and
around the city. Classes consisted of a few four hour lectures a week, in
which, every student would have to produce and present exposés on a particular
subject; a requirement no Erasmus student was spared.

Before coming I had prepared myself to be crowned the weird
exchange student in an amphi-theatre full of Art Historian students. One
lecturer didn’t fail to disappoint and she spent a good 10 minutes detailing my
entire life story to the 150 strong audience. Despite wishing to jump out of
the window and dive straight into the Loire, it did provide a good icebreaker
and by the end, a few sympathetic students approached me and we went out to
lunch that day.

Making friends was an easier process than I had imagined. On
arrival I had already bumped into some other students in my halls, doing the usual,
“oh would you look at that, I’ve accidentally made the perfect amount of spaghetti
for three people and I just happen to have some wine and scrabble lying around,
do you fancy joining me?” thing. The university is not campus based and my
halls were close to the medical faculty so I encountered several hardworking
medics who naturally weren’t as forthcoming with my social ideas for the year. However,
there had been a language test in the first week for international students,
which had been a good opportunity to see all of the ERASMUS students. I met
students from Germany, Peru, Spain, Italy, England, Ukraine, Belgium, Portugal,
Canada and the States just within two hours. We all exchanged numbers and
planned to meet at the Mayor’s welcoming party in the grand town hall. I’ve
made some life-long friends and have been invited to visit them all over the world.
The ERASMUS status to me therefore, is really a badge to wear proudly, in order to
help me more easily forge international alliances and set up interesting life contacts.

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