“Live every moment”. If you’re going on Erasmus or exchange, this phrase is certainly familiar to you. It’s almost an underlying echo heard throughout your entire time abroad. After all, between making friends, and going to classes and parties, the days fly by. We’re advised to push ourselves to do absolutely everything we have the opportunity to, in order to create a year full of memories and new experiences.
Unfortunately, there is an issue with this mindset, as slowly but surely the well-known Erasmus guilt can creep in and bring you down. Erasmus guilt is the feeling you get when you’re not busy every second of every day. The idea that, because you only have one chance at Erasmus, you’re supposed to always be exploring or doing something new. In my six months in Utrecht, I have had countless conversations with friends who feel as though they’re not ‘living it up’ enough. Sometimes they feel guilty for having a movie night with a cup of tea. This stems from the expectation of having a crazy party life in a new city. But, after the initial high, there often comes a crash when people realise that such a lifestyle simply isn’t sustainable throughout an entire year.
Where does this expectation come from? Well, largely from social media. My Instagram feed is full of filtered pictures of people having brunch with friends or clinking cocktails in the evening. Admittedly, I am one of these posters too. I often add photos to my Erasmus highlights reel to show all the new things I’m doing, a folder that I know is purely about my "best bits". As I am posting a makeup clad boomerang, it is probably 1:00 pm and I’m still in my pyjamas. Yet, when someone else looks at it, their own Erasmus guilt can be triggered, completing the vicious circle of social media.
After speaking with my friends, I realised that this mindset is universal. Everyone I have spoken to has answered with a resounding “I thought I was the only one who felt like that”. This solidarity is a great comfort, especially when you feel Erasmus guilt, but it is also important to take care of yourself and remember that Erasmus is a marathon, not a sprint. Although it can feel like it, Erasmus is not a yearlong holiday, so you need to pace yourself and see that you are living in a new country, not just visiting.
Having a balanced life does not mean failing to make the most of your Erasmus experience. Rather, it is key to having a successful year. Everyone on Erasmus has different experiences and they don’t all need to look the same. Simple things like having coffee with your flatmate, or having a chat with somebody in class, are also part of your unique Erasmus experience. So, take and savour those moments no matter how small they seem.
Being halfway through my Erasmus, the one piece of advice I would have for anyone who has just arrived is to not waste your Erasmus feeling guilty about what you are doing or not doing, whilst comparing yourself to everyone else. Go and fill your days with what makes you happy. That’s the key to truly living every moment.