Once Erasmus, Forever Erasmus: A Portuguese Erasmus Experience in Istanbul en.wikipedia.org
Hagia Sophia, a landmark of Istanbul

Istanbul has always been in my imagination. I have always wanted to see the city of two continents and understand its mysticism and spirituality; so the decision to spend my Erasmus study in Istanbul was an easy one.It was four years ago when I started my Erasmus adventure, and my life has never been the same since. 

It's true: the Erasmus programme does change your life. Erasmus is not only all about having fun and going to parties. You need to go to classes and pass your exams as you do in your home country. You need to find balance between studying and having fun. It’s not too hard to do so, but it always depends on you.

At the end of your Erasmus adventure, your life will be very much different and having to leave your “new home” isn’t something you would happily do. Last days of Erasmus study are very sad and you could get a so-called “post-Erasmus depression syndrome” after getting back home. This could be solved with a few talks with your Erasmus friends, trips to your hosting country, or by finding something that connects you with it, such as restaurants, cultural associations, and language meetings.

There are more people in Istanbul than in the whole of Portugal, my home country. It could scare off someone like me who comes from a small city of four thousand inhabitants. But I have never been scared. I like adventure. It’s true; sometimes it’s hard to find a quiet place in Istanbul among its 15 million inhabitants. It’s hard to have a break from all the city’s chaos and traffic. The Prince Islands are an ideal refuge to do so. There aren’t any cars or motorbikes, and you could discover the islands on a rented bike. However, even in the middle of Istanbul, you can find streets which are peaceful and quiet.

Turkish lifestyle and culture are quite different. However, after spending a year living in Istanbul, I can draw some similarities between Turkish and Portuguese people. One of them could be a way of receiving and hosting foreigners.

Turkey and Portugal are both secular countries. However, in Turkey the majority of its population is Muslim. Even with a Christian influence, it was easy for me to adapt to the new sounds of Ezan (the Islamic call to prayer). I got used to very easily to Turkish food too.

I had no problems to adapt to my new life, but sometimes I felt homesick and there was nothing Portuguese in Istanbul to kill my homesickness with. So it’s good to have a few friends who can visit you and bring things from our home country.

My hosting university was really far from the center of Istanbul where I lived. It would normally take two hours to get to university and even longer to get back home. My Turkish university – Fatih University, has better conditions than my Alma Mater in Lisbon. Maybe it’s because all departments are located in one place, while in Lisbon departments are scattered all around the city. Also, Fatih campus has plenty of facilities; there is free gym, hairdresser, post office, canteen, small supermarket restaurants and cafés. It simply couldn’t get any better!

Fatih University is also known for being a part of the Hizmet Movement, therefore in some respect it’s more conservative and religious. But this didn’t affect my studies at all. It was better in some way as the difference between the two universities caused a bigger cultural shock. I was immersed in a totally different reality.

I spent my last year of university abroad and I missed my graduation ceremony, but the Erasmus experience was far better. I wasn’t successful in all my modules taken at Fatih University, some modules were irrelevant to my course at Lisbon University, and I finished my Bachelor degree in International Relations after getting back in Portugal. But the Erasmus experience was worth it.

Travel is also a word linked to the Erasmus programme. If you have an opportunity to travel, just do it! While living in Turkey, I have seen many Turkish towns and villages as well as some neighbouring countries. Traveling is also an important way to learn from the other. Erasmus is everything: it’s traveling, parties, studies and meeting people.

I have made lots of friends, learnt Turkish and felt in love with Istanbul. Istanbul is a city I call home now. It was a great experience which taught me a lot about life. I’m planning on going back to Turkey as often as possible to treat my post-Erasmus depression.

Turkey, and especially Istanbul, is a popular destination for Erasmus students. But the Eramus experience is equally wonderful and uniquely amazing anywhere else. Anywhere else you would meet new people, learn about cultures, enjoy new cities and lifestyles, improve your English and learn a new language. If you have the opportunity to participate in an Erasmus programme, do it! It will give you an enriching experience you would never get any other way. International experiences, such as EVS programs, are always good and worth-doing. During my Erasmus I created a blog (Diário de um Erasmus em Istambul) where I shared some of my experiences.

Once Erasmus, Forever Erasmus.