Education has never been this fun. A broad generalization that basically sums up my Erasmus+ experience for almost six months, inclusive of the COVID pandemic that spiced things up. As a 28-year-old, master’s student from Saint Louis University, Baguio City, Philippines taking up Masters in Business Administration (MBA), this opportunity has significantly influenced how globalization shaped my view on internationalization of modern education. It is no secret that most students who experience studying away from home acknowledge the fact that internationalization of education enhances their core foundations which according to many became the most significant experience they ever had in their lives. Sceptic as I am, I see this as an overrated definition, but true enough, it proved me wrong. This experience indeed shapes a person in remarkable ways that only cultural, political, and economic differences of the host and sending countries can link in the shortest possible time, one semester. In an effort to summarize my Erasmus+ experience, I made a list of the pluses of my transformative Erasmus’+ international credit mobility experience.
The increasing trend on standardization of educational convergence across the globe for student mobility and guest lecturers is evidently carried out in Bulgaria that keeps learning more fun and interactive. Meeting guest lecturers and speakers with proven expertise in their field is one of the awe-inspiring experiences that I have encountered during the mobility program. Professional learning under the master’s program are promoted through paper works, research studies, and engaging discussions on first-hand applications of real-world circumstances. Through this, our leadership skills and global competence are heightened in class to help us achieve our full potential as future leaders.
Most international students would find it hard to socialize and find friends due to cultural differences and language barriers. In my case, I was able to witness culturally different individuals create a bond moulded through diversity. Living by Airbnb’s slogan to “Belong Anywhere,” finding real friends in a foreign place starts by feeling at home with each other. We all started by sharing our traditional food from Adobo and Afritada of the Philippines, Uzbek and Azerbaijan versions of Palov rice, Albanian version of Russian Salad, Biryani and Poori of India, Pierogi and Kotlet shadowy of Poland, Potato Tadhig of Iran, and of course Rakia of Bulgaria. We were able to celebrate Nowruz and Iftar with our friends. Aside from that, we were able to creatively showcase the Philippine’s Barong Tagalog and Maria Clara in our own quarantine version of international day.
Looking back, I never imagined myself making friends and meeting new people during and after the semester from literally around the world. Having genuine friends from Albania, Azerbaijan, Cyprus, Norway, Poland, Portugal, and Uzbekistan all the way to India, Iran, Singapore, South Korea, Mozambique, Uganda and of course Bulgaria. This network of connection is all linked by each person’s entwined Erasmus+ experience of various batches. A common ground where friendship, encounter, interaction, and time capsules are shared for lifetime memories that unintentionally changed our lives.
Travelling is another great plus of being part of the Erasmus+ International Credit Mobility program. It is like an unwritten rule to complete your Erasmus+ experience which of course is better when shared with friends. Before the pandemic, I was able to explore the greats of Constanta, Romania. The Covid-19 pandemic affected everyone in unimaginable ways both negative and positive notes. After the pandemic, it makes local travels in Bulgaria half the price cheaper and tourist sites less crowded.
Coming from a young country like the Philippines, studying in Bulgaria is like living inside the history books where fortresses, castles, and monasteries actually exists in some of the places I visited like in Provadia, Shumen, Burgas, and Veliko Tarnovo. It is an honour to catch sight of the UNESCO World Heritage site in Nessebar, an ancient city of Bulgaria. Places where every stone and wood in the fortress gives you a glimpse of the past with an empire story to tell.
Sunny Beach, Golden Sands, Varna and St. Anastasia felt more like a homestay than a getaway. Visiting these places after the torments of the Covid-19 pandemic gave a real beach therapy that makes me feel closer to my home, the home of great beaches, the Philippines.
It is normal for international students to feel homesick and lonely. But feeling homesick, disappointed, and lonely during the pandemic despite being surrounded by quarantine friends and social connection makes my Erasmus+ experience more unforgettable. The fear and worry of your health and your loved ones add to the stress and anxiety brought by the pandemic. Being able to cope with it reveals how strong one’s support system is. It shapes a person’s mindset in addressing difficult situations, a kind of training that can only be achieved in an international educational environment.
When asked, how was your Erasmus+ mobility? I could answer them in various ways but usually ends up out of words to describe how it really feels to be part of the program. Transformative. Having a transformative experience could be the closest word I can think of to describe what it is like to be part of the program. The transformative experience that gave me a personal unexplainable meaning to what “harmonious interconnectivity of cultural diversity” really means. The same way how people explain to a blind person what a certain colour looks like, through feelings. You have to experience it to know what it really means because sometimes, words are not enough to explain and describe that “most significant experience” of international student life.