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8 things to consider before choosing your Erasmus destination!

1 - Teaching Quality

Above anything else, this should be the most important aspect that you think about. Erasmus is an important time and, in my mind, enriching for student and professional life in the future. However, don't forget that these types of grant are state funded. Therefore, the more people who do Erasmus in the same region, the less money each one gets.

It's imperative to view these 6 months, or whole year, as a time in which you could benefit from the best teaching in Europe. I'm not saying that teaching in Portugal is not high quality; only that there is a great variety and we would only benefit from experiencing these and learning other approaches in our area of expertise.

School rankings do not clearly show the best and worst schools. The rankings are also based on specific and subjective criteria. However, it can be useful to have an idea of the rankings in your area of study in order to see which schools are worth a greater time investment.

Another good approach to assess this aspect is to search online for student work in the various faculties that you are interested in and see how demanding it is.In my case, for Architecture, this step was relatively easy to do since searching on Pinterest or Google was quite easy to do.


2 - Accommodation

I think that it's bewildering that some students choose their Erasmus destination without first speaking with their parents about the normal rent prices in their chosen city. This is a massive mistake which often leads to last-minute withdrawals, when students finally realise that they don't have the necessary budget.

(Advice: don't count on the grant. It's good to remember that you need to have a good amount of money for the first few months since the grant takes a while to arrive in our bank accounts, and in almost all cases it will not completely cover all the cost during your exchange).

There are several ways to find out about accommodation prices. It's always a good idea to talk to people in the city. It's very likely that there will be a student from your university doing Erasmus in the same city that you want to go to. There's nothing like talking!

Joining a Facebook group or another type of social network is also a good way to find out about prices and work out what to expect and the normal living conditions. Another idea is to search on the University website or on that of the local ESN group. They usually have section dedicated exclusively to this area where they publish the most common problems but they are always available to answer private messages. There's a little bit of everything on these sites, from information about university accommodation, if there are any, to hints and tips about dealing with a rented apartment.

3 - Living Costs

Another extremely basic aspect! Of course the grant will off-set the average cost of living in the country but you should do more research until you understand how the market works and make the best possible choices.

To be honest, it will be difficult to find anywhere with a lower cost of living than Portugal - maybe only some Eastern European countries - therefore is important to have saved money and pay attention to the economic news.

In order to know more about this, I spoke with people from Milan (I was lucky enough to meet a boy from Erasmus in my university last year who gave me some wonderful pointers) or with students from our university who have already done Erasmus where we want to go to (There is nobody better than these last students to talk about the differences between the two systems. )

For those of you who aren't going to a country that uses the Euro (€) it would be worthwhile researching the currency and knowing beforehand some money saving tips so you won't be ripped off in the country. There is no shame in asking your friends how much to pay for x item or x service, but at the start it can be quite complicated to work out if the asking price is fair or not.

There is another site which could be useful, where it is possible to do a price comparison between cities and what the normal prices would be. I know that it already has a lot of information and many cities, but I don't know if it will have all of the cities worldwide.

4 - Transport

This is something which changes a lot, and which can be split into two questions: How do I get from my city to back home? and Once there, how do I get around?. (Transport isn't as easy as it seems). As a rule, this question changes with the size of the city. Milan, for example, is a city which has an enormous amount to offer in this regard, and I admit that it wasn't a situation which worried me much. It's a city which has transport going all the time and to all parts of the city (much better and more reliable than in Lisbon). However, I had a friend who did Erasmus in Padua and they had to rent a bicycle so that they did not feel cut off.


First question: How to get there? Generally, it will be by plane. You will need to check if there are direct flights, how connections from the airport to the city are done, which companies fly there and what the baggage policy is... For Milan, I was able to fly with either TAP or Ryanair. I was travelling in September, I chose TAP since the basic ticket choice was cheap and allowed me to bring on hold luggage and 10kg in the cabin (which was very useful since I would to bring my camping bag for future journeys to Milan). During Christmas, as I didn't have any luggage, I opted for Ryanair who have unbeatable prices.

Make sure that there are airports in the vicinity and that there is a good transport network such as trains or buses. It's also smart to take into account anyone who will travel with you, or visit you. There are three airports in Milan, this gave me the luxury of enjoying scrolling through pages of flight offers, such are the offers I have. (In Italy's case, Ryanair has good coverage which ends up being useful, being able to fly from any airport in the country).

Then you need to see what the options are for return journeys - these will be what you will do most days - home-university/university-home. Normally, all cities will have a public transport network - (In Milan's case, it's the ATM) which would be useful to consult before choosing your accommodation. As a result, it's possible to compare better options and make a more informed decision.

Here in Milan, for example, I live about a 10 minute walk away from the university (Città Studi - Lambrate). I preferred to pay a little bit more for my accommodation in order to have slightly more space and to be nice and close to the university. Now the hot days are coming, my choice will be to walk (or cycle, in case I decide to buy a bicycle), but during the winter I always had two choices: go by metro, which lies right outside my house and is a station away, or the tram for a few stops, which is always a nicer journey. Currently, students pay 22€ per month (April 2017) for the monthly ATM pass. This allows them to travel within the city limits with whichever ATM transport they need.

5 - Location

There's nothing wrong with travelling to a location which is further away. There are even some people who prefer it! It could end up being an experience which is quite different and unique (beauty isn't only in the big cities).

However, it's worthwhile examining the links that the destination has with other possible sites of interest that you may want to visit. (In the case of Architecture students, the advice given to us was arrange our studies with our travels so that we were able to see new places, the better to see how our rich Europe works in its similarities and also its differences).

When I chose Milan, I did my research! I found out that there were airports in the city: Malpensa, Linate and Bergamo (Orio Al Serio). Malpensa and Orio Al Serio have countless flights for less than 20€ to many different European destinations; best to be alert and search well. Linate is the closest airport to the city centre and it flies with EasyJet, which sometimes visits certain destinations as well. It's even possible to use public transport to get to the city centre from Linate, but from Malpensa and Orio Al Serio which lie about 45 minutes to 1 hour from the city centre, you will need to catch a shuttle. There are shuttles from the Centre and Lambrate to Orio Al Serio with a very frequent timetable (I once caught the shuttle at 4 in the morning) for about 5€ and to Malpensa for 8€. There is also a train to Malpensa for 12€.

Trains are another blessing! Italy is very well connected and the regional company which operates in Lombardia has high quality services. It's possible to go to cites such as Cremona, Bescia, Pavia and Mantua relatively quickly but affordably (even at Christmastime, I went to visit Pavia and only paid about 5€). Between the northern cities, train prices can also be discounted (I went to Vencie with the CartaFreccia Young for around half price). The train is also the best choice to visit the Lakes, and is also a quick escape to Switzerland (Lugano) for about 8€ as well.

And finally, buses There are many operating companies in Italy, but the one which I used and which I swear has the best coverage in Europe is Flixbus. Up to, and including, today I have not had any problems with this company (with the exception of a few delays, but they are normally on time) and I've used them to travel all over Italy and the South of France. You need to be alert and note the slyness (check the bus prices in private mode) but I ended up buying tickets between Italian cities as cheap as 5€. Last month, I also went from Milan to Lyon for about 19, 90€. A true bargain.

There's nothing better than checking these queries before travelling and thinking about what you would like to visit in order to see what is important in a central city with good transport links. I also know people who have done Erasmus in smaller cities and they have found places which are not so tourist-y and they are really loving the experience. Find out about the area and about less trendy sites. It could make you fall in love with sites which, to begin with, you didn't find very interesting and which, in the end, have a lot to offer.

6 - Cultural Contrast

Anyone who has done Erasmus frequently forgets that, despite us all being Europeans and being in shared culture, there are also many cultural differences which many people joke about but which also, in the first few weeks, make us feel strange in the city.

In Italy, for example, I am able to say that my adaption was relatively easy but that some aspects took longer for me to absorb. Even within Italy there is a lot of variety (as I saw after visiting a few cities and sharing experiences with friends who are doing Erasmus elsewhere in the country).

It is worth noting that the early days cause more shock and it is necessary to go with an open mind, to try and understand and appreciate other lifestyles. However, for more 'stay-at-home' types, destinations where the cultural contrast is greater may not be the best options.

In Milan, for example, I found out that people tended to be a bit less personal and colder, but this isn't to say hostile. I learnt that they work during working hours and that there is always some time for fun. I learnt that two kisses for an Italian start on the opposite cheek to Portuguese. I learnt that Italian cooking is much more than just pasta and pizza. I learnt that I have a whole world open at my feet ready to be discovered if I am open to new habits and ways of living.

7 - Language

It's correct that English, currently, works as the universal language, but choosing a destination and thinking that you will get away with just the Queen's language is being a dreamer. There is nothing worse than feeling like we can't communicate with those around us and express our opinions. In the first few weeks in Milan, I understood everything that people were saying to me, but I was too afraid to speak (and of course, I didn't know as much as I know now). I confess that I felt frustrated with myself since I can generally talk well and I like joking.

Those who do Erasmus have to bear in mind that you also have the challenge of learning a new language in front of you. To begin with, I played with the possibility of going to Paris, but I thought that I needed a greater linguistic challenge since my French was already quite good (something which I've lost with Italian and with a lack of practice). You can't be afraid and not exclude countries with more difficult and strange languages simply because it's unthinkable to learn a language in six months or one year.

I've arrived at the conclusion that we learn much more than we think and that it's fantastic to see our evolution. There's nothing like learning when you're immersed in a language 24/7. (If there is one thing which annoys me here in Milan, it's that there are lots of international students and I am living with other Portuguese, I just use English and Portuguese equally in my day-to-day life).

Universities generally offer language courses for mobility students; there are Tandem projects and, online, there is always the chance to do some exercises and learn more on the OLS+ platform. There is no excuse (remember that it may validate you in the future, having another language under your belt).


8 - Credits

Now, we do the most boring and bureaucratic thing: credits! Fortunately on my course, and in my university, I was lucky enough to have various options (meaning destinations) in which acceptance was almost guaranteed. It's not too tricky to find similar subjects to those here in Lisbon in our Erasmus universities.

The first step is always to assess to curriculum of the various countries and cities to assess the similarities between the two. Talk with someone who has already done the same Erasmus scheme, it could be useful to find out which areas are better or worse for finding 'sister' subjects.

Then, it's a question of negotiation! Firstly, since there are more flexible mobility offices than some others and not all subjects have the same universal feel (it's much easier doing Erasmus for Architecture than for Law, for example).

Going in informed when you have to fill out your Learning Agreement is the best weapon. This way, it's possible to justify your choices and perhaps choose subjects which are a bit left field in order to enjoy the validity of our destined university, to enjoy subjects which we don't have here in Portugal.

My study plan is quite different to what I would have done if I had stayed at the basic one agreed between the universities, but since I researched and defended my choices, I was approved by my Mobility Office and am currently studying extremely interesting and enriching subjects which I would never have been able to do in Portugal.

Finally, remember that not all universities have the same way of giving credits. There are some universities where some subjects have a higher value than others and you need to check and se if the number of credits is enough to meet the 30ESCT, and is possible. Otherwise you'll end up doing gymnastics to reach the target. I know some people why are doing 9 subjects per semester! Be careful!

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