“Excuse me, do you know where the school’s International Office is?” - I asked a group of female staff upon entering the office hall after walking straight around the big campus for 15 minutes.
They stared at me for a second and started to talk with each other in Spanish, then turned to me and answered in a kind of broken English, together with strange hand gestures.
Nonetheless, I did not understand what they were trying to say. I turned to the nearby elevator, trying to find another help. I walked into the elevator, at the same time with a woman aged around 45 or 50.
“Excuse me, do you know where the school’s International Office is?”
“Are you Minh from VinUni?” - she answered my question by a question.
“Yes I am” - I responded immediately, could not hide my surprise and excitement.
“I am Elena! We have been emailing back and forth in the last months - welcome to UPV, Minh!”
Ms. Elena is an Erasmus+ KA107 coordinator, and she was the first one that I met at the Polytechnic University of Valencia - my host university in this exchange semester to Valencia, Spain.
To me, this exchange opportunity is unique among other chances that VinUni offers to its students. Not only because of the scholarship and funding that Erasmus+ grants to the awarded students, but also because of the large and rich ecosystem that Erasmus owns: its big student communities coming all the way from diverse European countries to other lands different from their own, and its organized student associations that help elevating cultural experience while in mobility. No matter where you come from, being an Erasmus student is the first common thing that connects people together.
“I am also an Erasmus student!”.
Located on Spain's Eastern Coast, on the mouth of the Turia River, Valencia is a hot destination for Erasmus students, thanks to its lovely weather, pleasant living environment, festive events all year round and stunning architecture. This year in Valencia alone, there are over 1200 Erasmus exchange students coming from different European countries, not to mention others also coming to other cities in Spain. Among the 1200, more than 200 are from Germany, around 200 from Italy, 150 from France, several dozen boys and girls from Northern Europe countries such as Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland, Poland,... and many more. Among all of the gorgeous Erasmus students in Valencia, I am the only Vietnamese.
Being a student from Vietnam coming under Erasmus is something uncommon, as Erasmus is traditionally only for students within the EU. Thanks to the unique Erasmus+ KA107 project and the bonds between UPV and VinUni as the partnered universities, I was lucky enough to be granted this one-in-a-life time chance.
So what are the beautiful things and the not-very-beautiful things being an Erasmus+ student from Vietnam?
First of all, you receive double, if not nearly triple the scholarship threshold for students from EU countries. This includes your travel, accommodation and living expenses. And with such a privilege, I will not have to pay anything if I manage to wisely and reasonably allocate the funding, whereas most of the other Erasmus+ students will have to spend more than the given grant. Studying overseas with no financial burden is such a great thing that everyone has dreamed of.
Secondly, among a large pool of people from Europe, you are such a breath of fresh air. Particularly when Erasmus is famous for its rich cultural exchange experience not only inferred from the host country but also from the diverse Erasmus community, being a representative from Southeast Asia offers you a lot of spotlight to stand out and impress people. However, this is also a big challenge.
For me personally, to what extent that you try to mingle and connect with people from all around the world, there will always be a missing piece of a taste of your home community. That is, being the only Vietnamese in all of the Erasmus activities sometimes gave me some lonely moments. Even in Spain, my teammates for a group assignment sometimes speak in Scandinavian languages as all of them are from this region, and there are moments that they ask each other what the words mean in English so that they can explain to me.
Another side of being the only one is that you might face a lot of difficulties regarding your mobility logistics: accommodation, food and living habits, getting acquainted with the new environment and community. Particularly in countries and cities where only a few Vietnamese reside, with no relatives or close acquaintances, that is a significant problem that you need to thoroughly see through and find ways to figure out. I will spend the next articles sharing about those experiences.
Ms. Elena welcomed me at the International Office, we met for roughly an hour as stories flushed in when I told her about the home country and she explained to me about how things work in Spain.
“Wishing you the best of luck on this journey, I think that you will have a great time here” - said Ms. Elena, while handing a city map to me.
“Sure, I will come back telling you great stories later”.
Un cordial saludo,
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