Erasmus in the “Coronavirus Age”

What I was given and taken by the Erasmus study stay

,,I can’t believe that! You are going on Erasmus, buddy!” my friend says, smiling and pulling my old creaking bicycle.

Neither I can believe. The whole application process was like a roller coaster ride. Up and down, down and up – enthusiasm alternated with disappointment, disappointment alternated with enthusiasm. Afterwards, ISARA has appeared, and voilà, suddenly we are standing in front of the bus. Destination: Lyon.

,,I’m a bit jealous. This is going to be the best part of your student life,” the friend continues with the typical sparkle in her eyes. ,,Exploring new country, the fun, the trips, and all the new people you will meet… Whoooa! I’m pretty sure you will not have time to even think about us! Enjoy! This is going to be a great adventure,” she says while giving me a strong hug. A minute later, I am already settling on my seat, getting ready for a long journey. Last wave and the bus leaves. I am exhaling deeply, assuring myself it is really happening. May the adventure begin!

Lyon is welcoming us with open arms. Sun is shining, summer mood is still in the air, shyness seems not to exist; conversations with strangers are as simple as breathing.

This is encouraged by the meeting with local student union ISAR’RIVENT and spending an afternoon together in the city centre, but especially by well-structured Intensive French course, which is so intensive, that it, in my case, leads to dreaming in French. The French teachers are extremely friendly and supportive and they make us fell in love with Lyon. Except of regular classes at school, we are taking an all-day city tour. Together, while having an opportunity to get to know each other better, we explore picturesque streets of the old town, taste the best local ice-cream and practice our French skills at the local market, buying some delicacies for our afternoon picnic – how else than baguette, fromage and charcuterie!   

What I immediately observe in the city, are those cyclist belts along almost each road… plus no hills. Even though I come from approximately three times smaller city than Lyon, riding a bike there might be equal to a suicide. But Lyon is a paradise. My bike and me become one body. And if I want to go to explore the city and do not tight myself to a point where I park my bike? No problem, because there is the amazing Velo’v system. Simply pay 1.80 (less than for a public transport ticket), and you have a bike for 30 mins plus sightseeing tour as a bonus.

Our integration carries on even after the Integration Week. Within the first Module – Agriculture and Landscape Management, we create groups and head to explore the countryside! More specifically, Mont du Lyonnais in the west of Lyon. Thanks to this amazing opportunity we can observe not only the landscape, but also the local architecture and a bit of authentic culture when meeting local farmers and stakeholders for the interviews.

Generally, Czech people are often being described as grumpy people. Here, my soul is melting with each kind-hearted person we meet, and I feel that this is what the world should learn from French people – kindness, cohesion and hospitality.

Thursday becomes my favourite day of the week. Every Thursday, there is a little market close to my dormitory. This market becomes my regular French course. ,,Five to six leaks, please,” I’m telling to the vegetable seller. ,,Do you mean pears?” he is asking back, when seeing what I am looking at. Suddenly, a short lesson of French pronunciation and the difference between leak, pear and pepper starts. At the fromagerie it is similar. The fromager always laughs, and even though he knows my French is very poor, he starts a conversation, asking how the school is going and if I enjoy my stay in Lyon. Since the second visit, they have always greeted me with a smile. If I enjoy my stay in Lyon? Of course, I do, I feel like being at home!

However, all good things must come to an end. After few weeks we have to switch to online classes as thousands and thousands of other students all around the world. Does it make sense? Everybody has an own opinion; however, we have to accept the fact it is happening. No gathering, no sport activities included. Le confinement has begun.

With no previous experience with online classes, I know this will not be easy. Generally, I avoid computers and phones like the plague. Even though I have no problem with face-to-face communication, I honestly hate phone calls. Scientists call it “phone anxiety”, I call it simply “being born in a wrong century”. Even though I am lucky being able to move out the nine square metres room in the dormitory, frustration arrives. Headaches show up as a consequence of the online regime and they last… every single day, from morning till the evening. Soon they are joined by light insomnia and stress. “What is going on?” I am asking myself every day.

Even though I admire our teachers, how positive and supportive they are, even though I miss my classmates, this way of virtual contact on daily basis is simply too uncomfortable and it is holding me back from further integration. Since I do not talk much about this with anyone, soon I start to feel as a freak. Everybody loves phones, right?

“I was told I would meet a lot of new people, make new friends, create memories… but instead I am just sitting at home,” often goes through my mind. There is a Czech proverb saying „a friend in need is a friend indeed “. If we come across a hundred of kind people, we are lucky. But if we meet one person, who is there for us at any time to catch us when we are falling, it is a gift to be truly grateful for. I have been very lucky to meet such person at school and several other special ones.

The Erasmus stay (as anything else) does not necessarily have to follow the scenario we have imagined. It might result in completely different way, at some moments it might seem to be upside-down and noting might seem to go well. I do not know what I had expected before my arrival. No lockdown at all? It was a time full of uncertainty, and I was extremely happy for having the opportunity to join this course. And I still am.  

What have I gained? In addition to the new friendship, all the knowledge, new insight in agroecology, deepened love for agroforestry, I have learned something extremely important from an additional course to the ones I had subscribed to – Life. The “something” is self-knowledge. It is possible to discover our weaknesses and strengths, and to set the life priorities. I would say this is one of the most important things in today’s world full of changes and future uncertainty.

Every cloud has a silver lining. Therefore, there is nothing to worry about.

Thank you, Lyon, for showing this to me.