Even if you do end up going to the best university in your host country, which means you’ll have a crazy workload, you’ll still have an adventure. I experienced lots of new things whilst I was away. You may even learn something more than studies, like riding your bike no-handed whilst carrying something in your arms.
You learn things about cultures that you never even considered before. For example, I learned that education systems in other countries are so completely different, something I had never suspected. You also learn how countries operate differently, such as the strange Dutch financial systems – not just their unique attitude to plastic money, but also banks that sometimes either do not allow you to deposit money, or will not let you withdraw any. You get to actually be part of the culture as you live in that country, as opposed to only scratching the surface when you see the country as a tourist.
3) A change in university lifestyle
You get to take a break from total focus on your studies in your own country and get to see the wider picture of life again. You can also, again, see the cultural difference – such as how many people on the continent commute to university – or (in my case) a whole other way of studying, ie. liberal arts and sciences.
With you newly-acquired wider view of life, and with greater opportunity to go places you’ve never been (as you’re in a new place already) it’s inevitable you’re going to look around your host country and experience what they have to offer. I visited Apeldoorn, Groningen, Breda, Leeuwarden, Dordrecht, Alphen aan den Rijn, Volendam, Gouda, Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Eindhoven, Wezep and Aalten. Plus you will become an expert on the cheap flights that are easily available, and perhaps the very cheap option of hitchhiking, so you can leave the country you are staying in and see what else Europe has to offer. I visited France, Belgium, Spain, Germany, Italy, Austria, Hungary, Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia, Bulgaria, Macedonia, and Sweden. It is a process that opens your eyes to more than you have ever seen before. I had never thought about travelling beyond Western Europe, but now I have seen that there are many more interesting places to see and learn about, and how easy they are to get to.
There is always the worry that you won’t make friends when you start somewhere new, but the friends that you make on Erasmus are different to your friends at home. Not only are they useful (for free accommodation when you go travelling), but with their different perspectives and experiences you can learn a lot from them. However, in the end you can also see that despite these differences everyone underneath is essentially the same, and you can find a common ground and really get along with them all.
If all the above hasn’t managed to persuade you then hopefully this will. With the Erasmus scheme giving you money to study (on top of any UK student grants or loans), and with no tuition fees to pay, this year abroad is, essentially, free – with just your usual living costs to pay. So why would you not go?