My Erasmus Story

In my last year of studying law at university, I was looking for a scholarship to pursue a master’s degree and was about to lose any hope of getting this chance. Time passed, and three years later I gained admittance to the Bar. I seriously doubted, though, that I would have an opportunity to travel abroad to continue my higher education even though my academic records and English language skills are very good.
I registered for a master’s program at Birzeit University, and during my first year, when I was checking the webpage of the external relations office, a post suddenly caught my attention: “An Erasmus Exchange semester in Estonia is available for enrolled master’s students at the college of law and public administration.” I couldn’t stop thinking about this post, so I went to the office and applied! And I have never regretted it. It seemed a kind of miracle that I was accepted, and I was really afraid of the experience. Numerous obstacles emerged: how to convince my family that this would be good for me, how to get used to the idea of living abroad alone, how to organize my schedule, arrange accommodations, etc. And the next thing I know, the Erasmus experience had started.

My limit is the sky, everything else is just the weather.
My limit is the sky, everything else is just the weather.

In January 2016, in a temperature colder than I have ever known, -28°C, we had our first meeting – 150 people from different countries gathered in one place. At Tallinn Technical University, all of us new students from a variety of cultures and countries throughout the world began our first language and cultural exchanges and international dinner nights. Time passed very quickly, and after weeks of lessons, meetings, exams, and language courses, we became one big family!
Erasmus students used English in their daily and academic life, which improved my English skills. This first Erasmus was great. I learned some new things, was offered various opportunities, and faced some potential problems. I met new incoming foreigners, and I started to become part of Estonia’s Erasmus community. Erasmus finished in June, but I had already decided to apply for a second Erasmus semester. I looked for another opportunity, and suddenly I found an announcement about an Erasmus program leading to a high diploma in gender studies – in Iceland! This turned out also to be a great opportunity for me. I stayed there for five months and had the opportunity to give a speech on behalf of my colleagues and the program staff in front of the president of Iceland, Mr. Guðni Thorlacius Jóhannesson. This experience helped me to become who am I today, a legal researcher at the Palestinian General Prosecution. Time continued to pass, and I started to mature and develop my passion for international relations and my desire to support my local community.

The coldest day in the world.
The coldest day in the world.

Living abroad for a limited period of time is different from traveling, but it is also different from permanently moving to another country. It is too long a time to spend simply focusing on yourself and having fun, but it is too short to consider yourself settled enough to begin long-term projects. You learn about people, about life, about cultures, and about how important it is to embrace new ideas and be open-minded. Erasmus is not just a simple exchange experience, it is, by far, the best experience you could ever have! I’m grateful that during my master’s degree program I studied in Estonia and super mega grateful that I went to Iceland. Both experiences were awesome, and I hope that through this post, maybe I can convince whoever you are to go for it because life is too short, and staying in your comfort zone is the biggest mistake you could ever make.

Those were the days, my friend.
Those were the days, my friend.

The Erasmus experience will change you. It will become a way of life. I believe that it’s important to be part of the European community, which offers young people an unforgettable opportunity to study abroad and get to know other people and cultures. The Erasmus experience doesn’t have to end; you will see it as the beginning of a new chapter of your life. You will experience things you never thought you would experience, and these little things have the potential to change your life for the better – the way you think, the way you behave, and even the way you live.

Graduation meeting with the first female president of Iceland.
Graduation meeting with the first female president of Iceland.

Erasmus gives you valuable skills and helps with your professional career. Studies may be only a small part of the Erasmus experience, but they’re a crucial part. You will study at a different university, you will try new extracurricular activities, meet a variety of students and teachers, and do it all in a language other than your mother tongue.
And because of all of that – once Erasmus, always Erasmus!

Article photos courtesy of the author.

Haneen Salameh is a Palestinian female lawyer and feminist political activist. She earned a BA in law from Al-Quds University (2013), obtained the Palestinian Bar license in 2015, and earned an MA in business law from Birzeit University (2018). She also holds a high diploma in gender studies from the University of Iceland (2017), under the Gender Studies and Training Program, funded by the United Nations University.