If you have any friend who „did Erasmus“ you have probably heard a ton of cliché stories from them about the exchange period – like it was the best thing that ever happened to that person. That is probably true, but you will never find out or really understand that person if you don't take that opportunity yourself. My advice to anyone who is at least a little bit interested in studying abroad, or just wants some change in their study days, is to try to take part in one of the exchange programs at your university. Maybe for you it will not be the „best life experience“, but you will surely have to get out of your comfort zone and see how things work somewhere else with some different people and different mindsets. It will also change your perception of yourself and help you to figure out how is it really important to meet new people and to adapt to new challenges.
One day I just decided I needed something new so I applied for the Erasmus+ exchange programme at my home institution. I got the best understanding from the staff employed there (Mirsada <3), who was always available and helpful for any student's question (there are no stupid questions).
Luckily, I got selected for Lisbon with two other students (Dženana and Irfan) who I just met maybe a week before going to Portugal. We were really three different personalities, but within time, we became lifetime friends, because it just connects you on some different levels. Lisbon was probably the furthest destination from our country, but everything about it attracted me. It was also the first time I took a flight anywhere.
The first month we lived in hostels in Lisbon (about 11€/night), I remember it was a pretty hard period, you need to adapt to everything new, to a whole different system than we are used to, after that we got a place in a dormitory (Alfredo de Sousa Residence) which was pretty good and cheap (225€/month for a single room) for Lisbon's standards and really close to the university (1 minute). So after I got to the dorm and slept couple nights in my room in peace I remember waking up one day and realizing „that's it, that is what I expected how to feel“. Everything after that was so easy for me, I enjoyed every moment. The dorm also had an awesome canteen on the lowest floor (2,65€/full meal).
The staff (Ana, Carlotta) in the host institution were really kind to us. They understood our „fear“ of being abroad and so far away from home and did everything that was in their power to make us feel like home and they succeeded in it. I am very thankful for them. NOVA Information Management School is the faculty I attended. It is a very well organized faculty with the latest technologies implemented and great professors who helped us with everything we needed. We could have consultations any time we needed, even in non-working hours. NOVA IMS had a great student council with their awesome president (Patricia) who did their best to introduce us to the city in our first few days there. Student council also organized various activities in the faculty yard like bbq's and live music. The students who attended the same semester were from Turkey, Greece, Italy, Lithuania, Germany etc. and also some of the Balkan countries like Slovenia, Serbia, Macedonia and Kosovo.
Lisbon is the capital city of Portugal with around 500k people (so about like the capital of my country). It lies on the western Iberian Peninsula on the Atlantic Ocean and the river Tagus as well on the other side (basically you can go to two different big great beaches within most 1 hour travel with public transport). Surfing is a great part of it. It is a charismatic city which is „alive“ 24 hours a day with an awesome climate. The city has a welcoming and liberal atmosphere, while still embracing its deep-rooted heritage and extensive history. In Lisbon there are all kinds of people – any type of personality and looks that you can imagine, it is an absolutely multicultural city. I can say it is pretty safe if you don't look for problems (why would you?). Police officers are everywhere and it's very effective, still danger can be found in the form of pickpockets. Public transport is amazing and it connects all of the city. As a student you can get a discounted monthly ticket for about 30€ which covers all the transport services (bus, metro, tram, even a boat to different parts of the city). Not far from Lisbon there are many places you can visit like Pena Palace, Quinta da Regaleira, Cabo da Roca (the most western point in continental Europe) which are located in Sintra and as well as the beautiful city Cascais and travel tickets to those places are mostly included in monthly ticket. Lisbon has a lot of students on exchange every semester. So I had an opportunity to meet people from every continent.
During the exchange I started to like something new in my life – traveling and exploring the cities. In that period I traveled to Portuguese cities like Porto, Coimbra, Leiria, Obidos in inland Portugal and as well Portimao, Faro and Sagres in the south. Porto is one of the most beautiful cities I have ever been to. It has a river in the city centre which divides two parts of the city and reminds me very much of my hometown. Some of them I traveled alone or with friends. Tickets were around 15 to 20€ one way. Others I traveled with student organizations like ESN (Erasmus Student Network) and ELL (Erasmus Life Lisboa). Those are helpful people who organize various trips to the beaches in Lisbon or the cities near (Sesimbra - Riberia do Cavalo, Setubal – Troia or Comporta), but also trips to Gibraltar and Spain.
But definitely, the best trip then and still now in my life is visiting the Portuguese island Ponta Delgada (Sao Miguel) which is part of Azores (archipelago). Azores consists of 9 different islands which have volcanic origins. If you like nature, hiking and swimming in natural spring pools – you should go there, but it's much more than that trust me. Return tickets are around 50-100€ with low-cost Ryanair, depending on when you buy them. It is a place with beautiful hidden waterfalls, viewpoints and natural hot spring pools. Weather can change really fast there (from storm to sunny without cloud just within 5 mins), so it is incredible to see how the clouds move fast, like real-time time-lapse. A funny and good thing there is that there are no dangerous animals because of its volcano origins, so almost all animals were imported somehow. Only some kind of birds are native there. I managed to travel there with a Bosnian friend (Hana) whom I met at the beginning and three more friends who we then met just for these specific trip and the dates of the trip in the Facebook Erasmus student group in Lisbon. We rented a car and shared expenses. That's what Erasmus is all about.
I also visited Madrid which was my childhood wish since I am a fan of Real Madrid. It takes 7 hours by bus and the one-way ticket is around 20€. It is also pretty well-connected and easy to travel to northern Spanish cities and as well Andalusia on the south.
For the end I would like to thank you for taking your time to read this long text. My suggestion to everyone would be to try the experience of studying outside of your country, it doesn't matter what the location is. You will meet a lifetime friend there, which is the most valuable thing you can get from Erasmus. It's something you'll remember forever.
The next year I gained another opportunity to study in Poland, which is a totally different from Portugal, starting from the climate and then everything else. But I happily accepted it and it was also one hell of an experience.