A beat dances down the stairs and through my cracked door as I sit on my mattress on the floor, my laptop balancing on my crossed knees. One of my housemates is testing a new set for a gig he is playing the following weekend. I can hear the front door bang shut as two other housemates come in, one laughing, one whining because they just came back from leg day at the gym. It is a sunny day in Brussels and I just moved here as I will start my masters this fall and it makes me think of the time I first moved to Groningen. In contrast to my move to Brussels, I had no time to adjust to the city when I first arrived in 2020. Due to the circumstances of my first degree, I had to wrap up my life on a Thursday, pack up on Friday, say goodbye to family and friends on Saturday, board a train on Sunday, and start my first day at the Faculty of Spatial Sciences on Monday.
Moving house is identified as one of the most stressful periods in a person’s life and the subject is well-studied in academic literature (Sandoval, 2013; Cheung & Wong, 2022; Garner, 2005). Moving is a very stressful yet necessary step for many people, most often young adults who move for education or job opportunities. Having moved to and lived in five countries, I agree with many of the emotions of stress identified by Dyson and Renk (2006) who studied the adjustment to university life of first-year students, such as stress, depression, and loneliness. The excitement of meeting new housemates who might become lifelong friends and the overwhelmingness of sitting in a lecture hall among a hundred fellow newbies for the first time make for a good emotional rollercoaster. According to the University website, 27% of the RUG students are international students, which means they have to assimilate into a new country and language, in addition to the new apartment, friends, and university life that the many Dutch students that moved from outside of Groningen have to adjust to.
The first time I moved, was to attend a university of applied sciences about an hour away from my childhood home. It was the closest I have ever lived to my parents and yet it was the hardest move for me. From one day to the next, I had to do everything on my own – from groceries to registration with the municipality. I knew how to do individual tasks, like laundry and cooking, but actually building up a routine took me some trial and error. Some tasks like proper time management or understanding the garbage disposal system unexpectedly sneak up on you. This transition into adulthood, paired with the struggle of trying to fit in and make friends, actually has taught me about who I am and what I value most in people. I met so many people and had countless great experiences in the years I spent doing this first degree, including a draining year abroad in Switzerland, even though I keep in touch only with two close friends I made during that time. The number of life lessons however is practically infinite.
Student mobility has been on the rise for decades, in Europe this has been especially facilitated by the Erasmus programme launched in 1987. Students move to countries for a higher quality of education, to improve their language skills, or to immerse themselves in a new culture. In 2021 the Erasmus+ programme has helped over 600.000 people into mobility activities in over 70.000 organisations. Over three decades of Erasmus has even led to several interesting phenomena, one of them being the “Erasmus Babies”. A 2018 study found that more than 16% of “Erasmus couples” had children, with an estimation of around one million babies having been born to couples who met while on Erasmus exchange. Another well-placated phenomenon is the “Erasmus Effect” (Dolce et al, 2023) which describes the increase of characteristics such as cognitive cultural intelligence and resilience students acquire while on exchange. True to the saying “a rolling stone gathers no moss”.
Moving in an exchange programme seemed easier to me even if it entailed a 14-hour flight to the other side of the globe. When I studied abroad as an exchange student in Korea during my third year, I quickly found a home with the exchange student community. Daily life was challenging but mostly framed as an adventure – trying a Korean supermarket for the first time or finding the best phone plan deal. I believe the awareness of the finity of staying abroad makes it easier to just get up and go. A stark contrast to trying to settle somewhere for several years, like coming to Groningen. Instead of making lists of sights to see and foods to try, I had made it my mission to find the best cheapest supermarket in Korreweg (spoiler, it is Lidl) and to organise my desk for the most effective online studying (thanks 2020). I immediately joined extracurriculars, Ibn Battuta and Girugten, to try and find friends beyond the lecture hall – something I felt I would not have enough time to really immerse myself in on the exchange, it was also somehow obsolete as I had the exchange student community. Great memories. Alas, all good things come to an end.
A rumble of steps comes down the stairs, one of my housemates yells a quick goodbye as she makes her way out the door. The smell of another housemate’s cooking is making its way through my cracked door. It is a rainy day in Brussels and I am laying on my bed, which is now standing in the middle of my furnished and unpacked room, several tabs open on my laptop. I am making a list of sights to see and extracurriculars to join.
- Dyson, R., & Renk, K. (2006). Freshmen adaptation to university life: Depressive symptoms, stress, and coping. Journal of clinical psychology, 62(10), 1231-1244.
- Sandoval, J. (2013). The Stress of Moving. In Crisis Counseling, Intervention and Prevention in the Schools (pp. 198-211). Routledge.
- Cheung, K. S., & Wong, D. (2022). Measuring the Stress of Moving Homes: Evidence from the New Zealand Integrated Data Infrastructure. Urban Science, 6(4), 75.
- Garner, H. (2005). Moving experience [The stress of moving house.]. Monthly, The, (Sept 2005), 34-39.
- Dolce, V., Davoine, É., Wodociag, S., & Ghislieri, C. (2023). The road to an international career: The “Erasmus effect” on resilience, intercultural interactions and cultural intelligence. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 92, 101741.
- European Commission, Directorate-General for Education, Youth, Sport and Culture, Erasmus+ higher education impact study: final report, Publications Office, 2019., https://data.europa.eu/doi/10.2766/162060
This article was published before in the 2023 – Freshmen Issue.