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Erasmus Stories - Episode 2: Martina's Erasmus in Málaga, Spain.

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For the second episode of Erasmus Stories, we move to Spain together with Martina, a former classmate and a dear friend of mine. Let’s start with introductions and tell us how you ended up in Málaga.

Martina on a trip to Seville, Spain
Martina on a trip to Seville

My name is Martina, I’m 26 and I live in Genoa (Italy). I studied English and Spanish for my BA in Interlingual Mediation at the University of Genoa. I’m glad that the Erasmus exchange was compulsory for us in our final year, because otherwise I don’t think I would have gone. The idea of going on Erasmus made me incredibly nervous.

I had to pick three destinations: I put Granada as my first choice, followed by Málaga and Soria. The first choice was Granada because from the photos on the internet I thought it was the most attractive destination, and the university was well ranked. But, as fate would have it, I was sent to Málaga. Although at the beginning I was a bit disappointed that I was not selected for my first choice, I immediately enjoyed being in Málaga when I arrived. Actually, after visiting Granada, I was even happier that I was living in Málaga because it’s a less touristy city.

1) How did you feel before leaving?

I was extremely nervous at the idea of staying away from home for six months, away from my family and friends, and to live in a new city on my own. To be more precise, I wasn’t completely on my own because I left with other university mates, but I didn’t know them well at the time. In short, I left Genoa with more anxiety than enthusiasm.

2) Did you have any organizational problems before leaving?

Apart from the bureaucracy, which I think is a problem for everyone, it was difficult to find a house that rented only for six months because contracts are usually one-year long. Indeed, I found a room that was normally occupied by a Spanish girl who at the time was on her own Erasmus for six months.

Apart from that, I know it may seem silly, but I had trouble preparing my suitcase, because I had never been away for so long… From September to January, the weather changes a lot in Málaga because it shifts from summer to winter, so choosing what clothes to take was a bit problematic for me, especially because I left just with one big suitcase and a hand luggage.

3) Was it your first time in Spain?

No, I had already been to Barcelona on a school trip in Middle School; I remember it well because it was our first trip abroad. Then, I went to Rosas in my second year of Language High School because I studied Spanish, as school trip destinations were related to the languages we studied.

(In Italy Middle School follows Primary School and precedes High School).

4) Italy and Spain are considered culturally similar countries. According to your experience, what were the biggest differences between them?

Well, since Spain is similar to Italy, I didn’t notice any major differences between the two countries. Generally, I think the south of Spain is similar to the south of Italy, both in terms of lifestyle and of people’s attitude. Since my father is Sicilian, I know Southern Italy quite well and I could notice some similarities. Probably the most difficult thing to me was getting used to Spanish eating habits, because in Málaga it’s normal to have lunch at 3:30/4 and dinner at 10/10:30. Even though at home I tried to keep to Italian habits, it was often not possible because my housemates were Spanish.

Unlike Genoa, there was always a festive atmosphere in Málaga: everyone took things slow, and even during the week you never saw anyone in a rush. It’s this holiday-like atmosphere the thing I liked the most about Málaga and, more generally, about Spain.

Malagueta, Málaga's beach, Spain
Malagueta, Málaga's beach

Another thing to keep in mind when you go to Málaga is that you queue to get on the bus, and you buy the ticket from the bus driver. I also noticed that there were few pets in the streets, maybe there isn’t the same pet culture that we have in Italy. Plus, unlike Genoa, the population is young, and you see many families with children.

5) What was your impression about local people?

Generally, people are very friendly, but at the beginning I struggled to understand them. I arrived there thinking that language would not be a problem, since I had studied Spanish from Middle School until university. However, in Málaga people have a strong accent and I understood little or nothing for the first weeks. Moreover, my housemates came from different cities, which means different accents. It was difficult to understand them, especially when they all talked together. I remember that one of the first nights I burst into tears in my room out of frustration because I didn’t understand anything when they spoke. But, little by little, I started to understand them more and more, and at the end of the Erasmus I was even able to use some of their regional expressions: it made them laugh so much!

6) Spain is often considered a party destination, especially for Erasmus students. Can you confirm this?

It’s undeniable that Spain is a country with a fun-loving soul, especially in the south. Since Málaga is Spain’s southernmost city, the weather is hot and you spend a lot of time outdoors, so nightlife is something normal. But there isn’t only this party side: Málaga is full of modern history, with lots of museums, theatres and cinemas. In the main street there are many shops and it’s full of bars and restaurants. There’s always something to do, for sure you don’t get bored. Moreover, Spain is cheaper than Italy, so you can often go out for food or other activities. For example, I attended Zumba classes in a gym near university that cost around 20 euro per month.

Martina at Malagueta beach
Martina at Malagueta beach

7) From an academic point of view, what are the differences you noticed between the Italian university system and the Spanish one?

Well, Málaga University has two campuses: one in the city centre and one in the outskirts, which was the one I attended. Every campus contained more faculties: for example, I attended the Faculty of Translation and Interpreting and nearby there were Business, Spanish Studies, and Medicine. This was something new for me because in Genoa faculties are scattered around the city. I like the idea of studying in a campus because you feel part of a big university.

Compared to Genoa, I had fewer hours and much more free time. I sat three exams that semester: Translation Italian-Spanish and Spanish-Italian; Interpretation, which was very interesting; and Business. Generally, in Spain they tend to have more written exams, while in Italy we have many verbal exams as well. To be honest, I think Italian university is a bit more demanding. Erasmus students in Málaga did not have tailored exams, but they got good grades, sometimes even better than Spanish students. I found it a bit strange, but maybe it was because Erasmus students had fewer modules and more time to prepare for exams.

8) Did the university organise many events for Erasmus students?

During the first two weeks there were many welcome events for Erasmus students. I remember that they gave us university hats and bags and we were invited to a lovely reception, where both professors and students welcomed us warmly. During the semester there were lots of events you could participate in, but I don’t think they were directly organised by the university.

9) Did you travel a lot in that period?

Yes, basically every weekend me and my friends went on a trip. We found a travel agency, Malaga South Experiences (MSE) that organised great trips on the weekends. I went to Ronda, Marbella, Cádiz, Seville, Gibraltar, Córdoba, and el Caminito del Rey with MSE, while I visited Granada and Benalmádena on my own.

The Caminito del Rey (The King’s Little Path) is possibly one of the places I liked the most: it’s a walkway among the steep walls of a gorge, very evocative. In the past there were no adequate protections, but it’s safe now. I’m very happy I got to go there because they picked random visitors due to the high number of requests.

Seville is the most beautiful city I’ve ever seen, just the main plaza is jaw-dropping. It has a special place in my heart because we spent the night there and I could bond with other Italian guys on the trip with us. It was really nice.

Cádiz is an amazing city as well, and it was so special to celebrate Carnival there, even though it was a bit tiring. Some friends of mine and I disguised ourselves as Native Americans and we took the bus to Cádiz, which is quite far away from Málaga. We arrived at 9 in the evening and we spent all night celebrating in the streets and at 6 we took the bus back home.

I visited Granada on Erasmus Day, a meeting for Erasmus students from all over Spain. It was great to see all my university mates again who were studying in other cities.

Gibraltar greatly impressed me because it is completely different from Spain: they mainly speak English in the shops and at 6 everything closes. It’s truly a small England in the Iberian Peninsula.

A trip I also remember with great pleasure is the one to Benalmádena, a lovely small town near Málaga. The town itself has nothing special, but I remember that trip fondly. Maybe I enjoyed it so much because I knew it was the last trip before going back to Genoa.

10) What did you learn from your time abroad?

Martina on a trip to Ronda, Spain
Martina on a trip to Ronda

I strongly believe that the Erasmus programme is an experience that all students should do, not only those who study Foreign Languages, because it’s an opportunity for all-round personal growth. You find yourself facing situations that you don’t usually have to deal with if you live with your parents. Ordinary examples are: paying rent and bills, doing the laundry, cooking, etc. You must learn how to make do in all aspects. It’s true that your family supports you from afar and that you meet people with whom you share the Erasmus experience, but fundamentally you have to get by on your own. I think my mentality changed thanks to the Erasmus exchange and I found out I am able to adapt better than I thought.

11) What was the biggest challenge?

The only unpleasant incident was this: two days after arriving in Málaga, at the hostel someone stole 400 euro that I had hidden in an envelope in my suitcase. In these moments you realise that you really have to get by on your own. Now I smile thinking about it, but at the time it was not nice: I had just arrived in a place I didn’t know, alone and disoriented… and they stole so much money from me!

Generally, the biggest challenge for me was learning to cook. Luckily for me, prices in Spain are low, so I often ate out.

12) With whom did you bond the most?

You know, I regret not bonding a lot with my Spanish housemates, because in the end I was always with other Erasmus students. I think it’s easier to bond with other Erasmus students and, maybe, it’s easier to make friends with people of your same nationality. At the beginning, me and my classmates from Genoa said: “Let’s not make friends with other Italians”, so that we could speak Spanish as much as possible. But Málaga is full of Italians and, precisely, we found ourselves surrounded by them.

I think that Erasmus friendships are unique because they develop in a short period of time and you share lots of experiences. It’s strange because, even if now I don’t hear from them anymore, with some Erasmus friendships I shared more things than with some of my long-time friends. If you don’t experience it, you cannot understand. It is also true that, even though the bond that you have there is strong, it is difficult to keep your friendships alive afterwards. Maybe it was easier with other Italians at the beginning, but in the end not really: I had a group of friends from Northern Italy and, after five years I still keep in touch only with one of them. It’s normal to lose touch after a while. But I’m still friends with a girl from Uruguay, who was the first person I met on Erasmus while I was at the hostel.

13) What did you miss about Genoa?

Pesto. Spanish food is really good, but it’s normal that I missed Italian cuisine a bit.

Obviously, I missed my family and friends, but I thought I would have missed them more. Luckily, we live in a world where it’s easy to keep in touch via WhatsApp, Skype, etc. To be honest, I was so happy on Erasmus that I didn’t miss home that much.

14) Have you returned to Málaga after your Erasmus?

Yes, I returned to Málaga for a week a few months after the end of my Erasmus. It was very strange because you are in a city that you feel like you never left, which was your home for six months, but at the same time you live it as a tourist. Visiting the places that you used to go to every night and seeing that there are different people, both Erasmus students and staff, makes you feel a bit melancholic. If I could turn back time, I would probably have waited a few years before going back to Málaga, because otherwise nostalgia really kicks in. Anyways, Spain is really beautiful: I like the language, the people, the atmosphere… so yes, I returned, and I would gladly go again.

15) What piece of advice would you give to someone interested in going on Erasmus to Málaga?

Well, for sure to focus on your studies, but not to overlook the social aspect of Erasmus, because personally I learnt more in my everyday life than at university. Enjoy this experience fully because living such an experience won’t happen again: being six months away from home, carefree, meeting people from all around the world… Don’t turn down any experience, any trip, maybe spend a bit more, but I’m sure it will be worth it. What you live on Erasmus won’t come back, so you have to make the most of it. Some friends of mine went on a second Erasmus during their master’s degree and they all confirm that the first Erasmus was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Plaza de la Constitución, Málaga, Spain
Plaza de la Constitución, Málaga

From a practical point of view, if you go to Málaga choose a room near the city centre, not near university, because Teatinos is on the outskirts and it’s a bit inconvenient to return home at night. I think it’s better to take a bit longer in the mornings, but to be already in the city centre for the rest of the day.

Another thing that I would change if I could is returning home for Christmas. To me the real Erasmus was the one before the holiday break, because I returned to Genoa for two weeks and yes, it was nice to see everyone again, but then when I went back to Málaga in January and it was a bit sad, a bit melancholic. I had to sit my exams and I was aware that those would be the last trips, the last night’s out… Let’s say I didn’t enjoy the last month as much as I wanted. Maybe if I had stayed in Málaga for Christmas, the experience would have been uninterrupted.

Martina, thank you for sharing your experience: you make me want to go on another Erasmus exchange!

I hope you liked this second Erasmus interview. Follow me on Pinterest and Instagram not to miss the next one!

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All photos on this blog post were taken by Martina.

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