Thousands of students from every country in the world study in the Erasmus programme each year. It’s a great opportunity to get to know a new place like Portugal, its culture and its people, but the big mistake everybody makes is staying with the other international students all the time rather than befriending the locals. English is no doubt the international language, and instead of speaking Portuguese it’s all too easy to fall back on the mother tongue.
Is this really the best way to make the most of your Erasmus experience? While it can be a comfort, you may be limiting yourself and the possibilities open to you in Portugal. Use these tips to make sure you don’t fall into the same trap as all the rest.
What you can do
Before heading off on your Portuguese adventure, do a bit of research. Check out the website of the university you’ll be going to and find out what schemes they’ve got for making sure Erasmus students are well-integrated. By planning before you go, you’ll have an idea of what you’re in for and can start off on the right note as soon as you touch down in Portugal.
One such scheme that exists in many places is the ‘Buddy Programme’. It basically involves each Portuguese student being paired up with an Erasmus student to help them get to know their way around a bit and introduce them to some other Portuguese people. While no one says you have to stay friends with your ‘Buddy’ the whole time you’re there, it’s an excellent way to start at least.
Also, before you move out there, you should think carefully about what Uni you’re going to and what subjects are available there. There are many universities that oblige you to take courses just for Erasmus students, but predictably they are full of foreign students. Look for a Uni that will let you choose what courses you want to take where you can mix with the Portuguese students.
Still, most universities will put on an orientation week before term starts and Erasmus events throughout the year for the international students’ benefit. That’s all very well, but if you want to socialise more with the Portuguese, you can join a sport’s team or other student society – they are the perfect opportunity to widen your social circle and do as the locals do.
Away from the classroom and campus, where you live also makes a great difference to how you experience your time as an Erasmus student. Many international students live in halls of residence, which can certainly make for a lively multicultural atmosphere, but if you’re looking for a more typically Portuguese slice of life, you might be better off sharing a flat. If you search online for a place to live before you go, it’ll save you having to move there a couple of weeks before the school year starts and living in a hotel until you find somewhere.
Even after all this, though, there is one thing that could still prevent you from hanging out with more Portuguese people, and that’s speaking the language. You should try to learn as much Portuguese as you can before you go out there because most Portuguese people won’t want someone hanging around who takes five minutes to say a simple sentence. That said, your knowledge of English can come in handy here as lots of people are willing to do language exchanges, giving you Portuguese lessons in return for you teaching them English. It’s another fantastic way to meet people.