When the applications started and during the whole process of applying to the program, I thought I had zero chance of going to Portugal. The coronavirus had just reached Europe and suddenly no one knew what was happening and what are they doing. 

It was my last year of undergraduate study at University of Rijeka, and I was looking forward to doing my three-month practice in the hotel at the place where I live. When corona came, that was cancelled immediately and I ended up being at home for three months, bonding with my parents, having existential crisis and discovering new hobbies, like drawing and doing yoga. But all that free time led to applying for an Erasmus exchange in Portugal which would happen in the beginning of 2021. I applied to a few universities in the city of Porto and got accepted to ISAG, the private faculty. 

As I was gathering and sending all the documentation needed, I never fully believed I would actually go. Even when I booked my flight and paid for the first month of my rent – I made sure that I can get all that money back in case of the corona going crazy. To be clear, the corona went crazy, especially in Portugal, but I could still move there because I had a valid reason – to study at their University. For others who wanted just to travel, Portugal was not an option at that time. Therefore, I went, I packed two large suitcases and went abroad to live with people I’ve never met before. That is one of the top reasons I’d go again, the excitement of meeting new people from different countries and cultures. 

If I had to describe my Erasmus experience in a few words, it would be fulfilled, inspiring and stressful. I risked failing my exams in Croatia to go to Portugal and I wrote my masters there. So, last two months I spent on my computer in our beautiful garden, writing my thesis and studying for exams on both universities (Portuguese and Croatian one) while my Erasmus friends got to and go on trips. So, if you are thinking of going on an Erasmus exchange, maybe don’t do it on your last year if you don’t want to longer your studies. I made it all work in the end and I kept telling myself: ”Isn’t it better for you to be stressed out in Portugal at the ocean beach, than at home?”. And it really was better.

The corona restrictions in Portugal were very different than at home – we had to wear masks all the time and everywhere (outside as well), the police was going around on their bikes giving people fines for not wearing a mask or being outside their part of town, being in larger groups etc. We were trying so hard to maintain our social life, so we gathered in our apartment, which did not go well since our landlord threatened to kick us out because of the noise. But then, they opened the borders to other municipalities in Portugal – we started travelling around in rented cars and enjoying every step of the way. We visited many places from North to South. Those were amazing times with amazing people. 

Regarding University I was studying at – I’d say I am pretty satisfied. I enrolled in five classes which were all about marketing, event management, communication and content production. My schedule was not so tight, so I had enough time to explore around the city and surroundings. The faculty International Relations Office was always here to help and they were more than welcoming, and so was Erasmus Student Network (ESN) Porto. Portuguese people are usually really easy going and they always have time for everything – no rush at all. I liked that because it felt like home. 

I can freely say that I met friends for life in Portugal, from all around the world, but Portugal also became my home away from home. If you are a student who’s thinking of going on Erasmus exchange – I would encourage you! Don’t think about it too much, just accept the opportunities and enjoy it as much as you can, while you can. You can join the ESN in the city you are going to and hang out with locals and other Erasmus students, attend the events and get amazing discounts on rent-a-car, bikes, restaurants, even flights with Ryanair! For many countries, the Erasmus scholarship you get is often enough (I got €720 per month), although for me it wasn’t since I decided to travel the country and Portugal in general is not considered cheap. I had few student jobs that helped me go through and a little bit of help from my parents. 

There are also many options for Erasmus if you are not a student – you can volunteer in other countries or participate in short-term projects like I did in Slovenia and Latvia. You always come back just a little bit richer in experiences and with few more friendships.

Writer: Paula Petrinec

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