By Valentine Oliviero (2015)

“Tom, he was a piper’s son, he learnt to play when he was young,
And all the tune that he could play, was ‘over the hills and far away’.”
(nursery rhyme)

Why travel abroad? Why go somewhere where you may be completely lost and unable to communicate with others? As a student with the option of going on an Erasmus exchange, these are the questions you have to ask yourself. My instinct was to take the plunge and try to make this experience happen. It was worth it. The year I spent in Chichester, England gave me so much, personally and culturally, that it was one of the best decisions I have ever made.

My year abroad gave me the opportunity to see another culture, speak another language every day and meet new people. I discovered several cities around England, enjoyed drinking tea in a café, and read The Hobbit while listening to The Lord of the Rings’s soundtrack in the park. I also joined several clubs, met other international students who became very important to me, and even watched a (real) Quidditch match! It was life, perfected.

I attended modules that I could never have imagined possible in France. I enrolled in classes on Writing for the Screen and Writing Children’s Literature, and followed lectures about Cinema and Fantasy Literature in which we studied Tolkien, Lewis Carroll and even J. K. Rowling. These normally inconceivable modules gave me the opportunity to work in completely different fields and meet teachers that had different, and sometimes striking, approaches to their subjects. The way they worked with their students contributed to an academic experience that was wholly different from what I had known up to this point.

This year was also critical for my personal development. Chichester was the first place I have ever lived alone. It was a whole new world, socially and academically. And while I loved being abroad, I also learned how much I could miss parts of my own country, even sometimes something as simple as the bread.

I am worried that I cannot fully explain my experience. It is necessary to live abroad to understand it. And everyone that goes abroad encounters the same problems – the challenge of explaining such a unique experience and the surprising difficulty of going back home. After a year that changed me so profoundly, both personally and in terms of how I see my work, I will never be the same.

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