“Leaving Athens”: Harriet Barrett’s Erasmus Diary (Final Entry)

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Some thoughts and reflections about leaving Athens. Photo Source: nuigalway.ie

Harriet Barrett, Contributor. 

Well, this is weird; I’m back and writing this from my new bed in my new house in Belfast. I’m not really sure what I was expecting to feel when I returned to normal university life, but it wasn’t this. I’ve only been back for a few days and if I’m honest, it’s a bit of a funny cocktail of emotions; I am so glad to see friends again and to be in a place so familiar and safe, however the city does feel a little different. My world here feels smaller and perhaps less vibrant than it did before. Now a lot of that has to do with the fact some of my closest friends are still absent and that it’s my third year so there is not exactly the time for endless coffee dates, afternoons in the pub and raves at the weekend.

But I also can’t help feeling that my perspective on Belfast life, in fact life in general, has changed. Living somewhere so different and interacting with people from multiple cultures each day makes you become more comfortable in new environments, you think far less about what the other people around you might be thinking of your voice, your hair, you clothes or your opinions and you begin to engage more in the moment. You also become more adaptable: this means you seek opportunities to push your boundaries and begin to thrive on challenge. Moving to Belfast in first year had a similar effect on me personally and made me a better more rounded individual; moving to Athens has done the same but in a more intense and extreme way and I’m immensely thankful for that. But this development leaves me feeling as if I’m on the cusp of outgrowing this city, this space, and this chapter of my life.

Having spoken to a few other people who’ve also just arrived home from Erasmus and the friends I made in Greece whose Erasmus experiences are also drawing to a close, I get the sense that mine is a common feeling. I am also experiencing pangs of sentimentality; when I look back at all of my wonderful pictures full of sunshine and so many smiles I pine a little for the ‘Erasmus life’. It really was a special bubble to have lived in; people are so warm and so welcoming; everyone is there for adventure, to make new friends and challenge their ideas. When you become used to being surrounded by people who are hungry to open their minds, you forget for a moment what it is like to live your previous life of humdrum routine. Erasmus has made me less frightened of the unknown and I no longer feel such a pull towards home or familiar places. Home and Belfast will always hold a special place in my heart but the last few months has given me the kick up the bum I really needed, and I’m determined to follow my career and travel dreams, with an emphasis on happiness and personal growth for my future.

One of the things that continually frustrated me during my time in Athens was the fact all of my friends had so much time in education, so many opportunities to study and very little debt because of it. Now of course that’s nothing to do with them but everything to do with the attitude of their home countries. As a conscientious and diligent student and a natural born worrier, I have always been a victim of the message peddled by UK schools and universities that life is a race and I need to sat in my desk at my dream life long career by the age of 23. No, I don’t. In fact, I won’t. I won’t be sat in that seat because I’m not actually sure what it looks like yet, or that I want to have one seat for my whole life, what I know is that my focus is on continuing to learn, developing my CV and my life skills.

I’m determined to carry a little bit of my Erasmus experience with me everyday. Yes, of course, I must go back to my routine and the library but I really will be trying and have been trying to keep some sunshine inside me everyday. I am aware I am painfully cheesy but that’s really what it feels like. It’s hard, I’m not going to lie, the readjusting and the grey sky’s, but I suppose the toughest part of finding self acceptance is learning how to sustain it even as your life changes. Learning to be your own cheerleader all of the time and not just when you’re on a long Greek holiday.

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