Once I was asked: “Do you have a best day of your life which you would like to repeat?” It is a tough question for me, as I do not have such a day. I have 365 amazing days, a whole year, which I would like to repeat.
It was my Erasmus year in Portugal in 2014. I was an exchange student at the University of Lisbon for two semesters as part of the TEMPO project, in the framework of the EU’s Erasmus Mundus Action 2. For me, a student from Belarus, a country that is extremely closed to international cooperation, it was an absolute dream to study on a year abroad.
At the same time, it was a challenge for me. I had to travel 3,500 kilometres to the other side of Europe. I needed to find a new house and make new friends. I had to be able to speak English in lessons and learn Portuguese to survive among locals. It was necessary to be flexible in order to overcome the culture shock, enjoy local customs and ensure I didn’t fail my exams. However, I decided to turn these challenges into brilliant experiences by learning and exploring as much as possible.
I started my exchange year in the Architecture faculty with the goal to obtain knowledge which my Belarusian alma mater could not provide. Therefore, I decided to develop extra projects in graphic design, fashion and photography. During each course, I met people who were smarter and more experienced than me. It helped me to recognise the importance of surrounding myself with successful and experienced people in order to become an outstanding professional. During each course, I was faced with problems and topics where I had no prior experience. Thanks to this, I learnt how to get organised and educate myself on such topics. As a result, my portfolio consists of 70% of Erasmus projects and I am no longer afraid to start working in areas which are unfamiliar to me.
However, my Erasmus year was not only about education. It was also about exploring my limits and myself. I learnt Portuguese, my fourth language. During the year, I visited five countries, 20 cities, one island, conquered one mountain and made17 new friends from around Europe.
Regardless of how bright this year was, it had a huge impact on my future. The biggest discovery for me was the awareness that dissatisfaction and discouragement are not caused by the absence of things, but rather the absence of vision. The TEMPO project gave me a strong vision for my future career, according to which I aim to become an outstanding architect and entrepreneur who implements modern technologies in urban environments. This vision has led me to the decision to obtain a Masters degree abroad. I was offered places in Oxford and Westminster in the UK, at Curtin University in Australia and at KTH Royal Technical Institute in Sweden.
However, I see the biggest impact of Erasmus in my ability to be a mentor for Belarusian students who wish to receive an education in the EU. I am very proud to be a person who can help other people to reach their goals and fulfil their dreams by sharing my experience.
My story is not about education in a classical sense. It is not about going to university abroad. It is about the importance of leaving your comfort zone and facing up to challenges. It is about shaping yourself through education. My story is about the power of education that can make any dream come true. Thanks to Erasmus, a “dream” has become a synonym for a “goal”, which I achieved through hard work and a strong vision.
Author: Katsiaryna Varfalameyeva
This story is the winning entry for Belarus in the #EUaroundU writing contest organised by the EU Neighbours East project, inviting young people between the ages of 18 and 26 from Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, the Republic of Moldova and Ukraine to tell their story of how the EU has impacted their personal life or community.
Read the other winning entries:
Azerbaijan – Stronger and together with the EU, by Sara Rajabi
Georgia – The EU and I, by Georgi Kakhniashvili
Ukraine – My Europe, by Lilia Ovcharova