Unexpected lessons

As you already know by now, I am here in Madrid through the wonderful project that is called Erasmus+: it’s one of the greatest experiences in life. And as I already explained in the previous post, I almost didn’t come here because I was (needlessly, it turns out) scared of homesickness. But aside from learning how to deal with that, I also found out there certain things you can only come to understand by throwing yourself into the unknown for a longer stretch of time.The goal of Erasmus+ is to make the youngsters of Europe familiar with different cultures, to give a new definition to the word ‘world citizen’. It’s about experiencing another way of life, gaining fluency in a strange language, building connections and lifelong friendships all over the world. And, not to forget in my case, studying in an educational system unlike the one you’ve been in for years on end. However, there are many more lessons I have discovered since arriving in Madrid. Here a compilation of the ones I encountered so far that I never would have guessed, starting with the most important one:

  • I don’t actually feel 100% Dutch. Mind you, it might seem logical to others, but it came as a huge shock to me: for over half my life I had to vehemently defend my nationality. (Proudly Dutch, and only Dutch!) Moving at a young age to a new country where I didn’t fit in made sure that I felt like my nationality was of the utmost importance to identify myself, for me and others. It was a tangible difference, one I could prove and made me feel like I still did belong somewhere. It took living in yet another country on my own to finally realise that being in Belgium for so many years has left a mark. Suddenly, getting French in high school wasn’t so bad (I’m the only one who can understand almost everyone in the apartment), and years of thorough bureaucracy prepared me for the paper maelstrom that comes with both being independent and Spain. Belgian friends, Belgian stepfamily: it turns out that there are also good things about moving a lot, and one bad apple doesn’t spoil the whole bunch. After all these years, I’m happy to have finally come to understand that. Proudly Dutch… But living in Belgium. (Go Antwerp! City and parking space, you know the rest¹)
  • There are different kinds of homesickness and I’m actually able to be alone. Or at least, I can actually live away from my family and friends without dying. An illogical fear I’ll admit, but one that was very much present until I hit one month of living in Madrid. Having social and cuddly roommates is a must though, I can’t go without that. And hey, that’s okay. I’m an independent young woman who happens to need hugs from time to time. There are worse things to be dependent on in this world.
  • Meeting new people can be incredibly easy and incredibly hard at the same time. The weather does a lot, and so does background noise. But one thing is certain: it’s not impossible. Making new friends is something you can learn and become good at with practice. Who would’ve guessed? (Maybe obvious to some but I’m honestly surprised by the amount of people I know and call my friends here.)
  • The importance of both fresh air and a comfortable temperature cannot be understated. Madrid’s climate is a lot dryer than the one in Antwerp, and a lot warmer as well. It feels amazing to be able to go out in the middle of October without a coat or scarf. On the other hand, the smog is a constant that I never experienced before. The air feels heavy and your rooms gets stuffy everyday: thankfully there are parks scattered all over the city to escape the fine dust.

Who knows what new things I know when February is around the corner… I’m excited to wait and see!

¹ A saying the (sometimes too) proud people from Antwerp say: Antwerp the city and the rest of the country is parking space. It stems from feeling as if Antwerp is the only big, ’real’ and the best city in Belgium: kind of a sore spot for the people who either don’t live in Antwerp or simply don’t agree. Still, I think it’s a funny saying, certainly original.


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