As human beings, we often get lost in planning for the future or get stuck in the past. This, however, robs us of our present, making us unable to savour the current moments in their entirety. This happens to us in our everyday lives but even more so in experiences such as travelling, which might bring with them feelings of nostalgia for home and/or fear of what lies ahead, making the experience pass us by before we know it. We caught up with Michela Borg, who last year was in Belgium for three months on an Erasmus exchange to discuss how she made it a point to live this time to the full.
Taking us through the very start of the experience, Michela, a 21-year-old nursing student in her final year, explained to us how it never occurred to her to study abroad, yet, since Erasmus is highly promoted by the local faculty, she was ready to try new things and give it a try. She applied with a ‘let’s wait and see’ attitude and immediately shifted her mindset when she got the news that she was accepted.
For three months she got to attend Thomas More Kempen College in Geel, Belgium and had her placements at AZ St. Elisabeth Herentals hospital. In this relatively short period of time, she had to get used to independent living, study in a new college, work in a hospital completely alien to her, write a thesis, enjoy the possibility of travelling to nearby cities, as well as immerse herself into student life. Needless to say, all these things kept her quite busy.
Living in a shared flat with Belgian students and also working in a local hospital allowed her to have an immersive experience in the daily lives of the locals. She made it a point to be more open to this new way of life, as she embraced this new lifestyle in her day-to-day routine of going for placements, studying as well as sharing chores with her flatmates.
She explained to us how adapting to the Belgian education system was extremely difficult, not only because she was in a foreign college, but also because the mentality was very different to ours as well. Lecturers seemed to be more open with their students, building a greater bond of trust, something which she noted immediately upon her arrival. This allowed her to have really good conversations not only with her classmates but also with the lecturers themselves.
Despite arriving in Belgium with another Maltese student, Michela made it a point to make friends with other international students in her course, exposing herself to new ways of thinking and perspectives of life. She had the opportunity to go on excursions with her classmates as well as travel outside the city during weekends. She did comment that despite loving having her friends and family visit, given the short stay, she felt that these visits limited her time to get to know the other students even better.
Moreover, she does admit that whenever her Maltese visitors would leave, it would reawaken in her a sense of homesickness, since saying goodbye was a little heartbreaking at times. She missed having the people she trusted and loved being close to her, especially in times of stress, yet, even in these times of sadness, she made it a point to remind herself to really seize the moment and enjoy the experience, reminding herself that she was there only for a short while. In fact, she encourages anyone doing such an experience to really get off the phone and limit the time spent contacting family and friends so as to really experience the actual life there, rather than hold on too tightly on to what one has back home.
This ability to live fully in the moment came in handy when it was time to come back. For Michela, this process was quite seamless. Even though many people had told her that she would go through a grieving process of what she was leaving behind and that she would miss the independence of living on her own, she begged to differ. She told us that once the three months had passed, she felt it was time to come home and that the settling in process was easy because after all “home is home and [her] comfort.” After living the three months in Belgium intensely, she was now ready to come back and savour every little moment life would bring her with her loved ones back home.