Every time I was overwhelmed with work during my last semester in Germany, I told myself not to worry because the next semester, my Erasmus semester, would be completely devoid of academic demands. The Erasmus students around me at my home university seemed to spend most of their time having coffee and talking about parties and barbeCues. In other words, university work did not fill much space in my planning for Krakow.
That all changed when the semester actually started, even if only temporarily. I was introduced to the apparently supernatural course registration system, called USOS. Everybody fears it, and now I know why. It may be just a computer program, but it seems capable of taking a dislike to individuals, and one of them was me.
USOS would not allow me to register for classes. Eventually it had to be done the old fashioned way, with application forms. In the end, I had enough classes to fulfil my requirements in Germany (at least I hope so) and at some point, those classes even appeared on USOS. Since then, our relationship has at least been neutral.
The semester started with an orientation week. It was filled with a lot of information, many activities and different sorts of parties. There was cinema night, tram party and a library tour, speed dating, paint ball and ‘city games.’ Classes started at the same time, so the week was a strange mix of fun and organisational stress.
The following months, however, were pretty much what I expected my Erasmus semester to be like. There were so many new people and so much to discover. I don’t think I have ever travelled so much in such a short time. I also think I have never tried so many cafes and restaurants before. Or so many pubs and party places. Furthermore, I am now proud to call myself an expert in multiple computer games, and my knowledge of TV series has at least tripled. Of course, there was some homework, I had to read quite a lot and hand in some essays, but it did not interfere with any of our free-time activities.
What made the autumn winter really special was seeing the various holiday customs. The many candles and flowers on All Saints’ Day really impressed me. I did not expect it to be such an enormous event in Poland, even if I had been bewildered by people buying candles like crazy weeks before the event. On November 1, I could understand why their preparations took so long.
December arrived, and with it all the Christmas decorations on the Rynek and across the city. Even without the feared and, at the same time, hoped for snow, we spend many enjoyable hours on the Christmas market or on walks through the streets. Some students even had Christmas trees and decorations in their flats. The dubious methods they used to obtain them are perhaps best not mentioned.
Most of us went home for the holiday. For many, it was the first opportunity to see our families again after many months, and everybody was excited about which local specialities to take home from Krakow. Chocolate, vodka and pottery were the top three. It was also around this time that the professors began to remind us of the exams in January. Fortunately, there were enough distractions to drown out their warnings. January was next year after all.
‘Next year’ arrived rather suddenly. All of a sudden, there they were: the exams, essays, presentations and oral tests. Even famously relaxed Erasmus students began to feel the heat. “Isn’t this supposed to be our semester off?” we complained. “Maybe it will help if I make a small note on my test: ‘Impossible to fail, see Erasmus charter.’”
Even with this foolproof plan in place, we have started to study. The problem is that many of us know these are our last few weeks in Krakow, before we all disperse across Europe again. There is an unspoken understanding that studying may be allowed to cut into TV time, but not social time. In fact, the latter is rapidly increased.
Even though I am still here in Krakow, I get a bit melancholic at times. This might be my last real hot chocolate, my last meeting in a milk bar, the last time somebody buzzes our domofon and I cannot understand why they want to come in. At the same time, of course, we are happy to be returning to our home countries, to see our friends and family and to be able to understand what people are saying again – Polish turned out to be quite impossible to learn in such a short time.
I am torn between happiness that I am going home and sadness at leaving Krakow, and many of my fellow students share these feelings, I guess. However, it is very clear to all of us that we will be coming back (as soon as it gets warmer), and there is no doubt about our feelings towards this prospect.