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Culture Shock #11 – in which our hero says goodbye… three months early

Sob. I can’t believe it’s come to this so soon. It doesn’t seem like nine months since I first strolled into the Observer office for a visit and left having agreed to write a column about my tales of Erasmus in Germany… but here we are, coming to the end of Semester 2, in the last issue of the year, and I’m already sending my final missive on life abroad.

I say ‘end of Semester 2’: what I forgettably mentioned long ago is that German academia doesn’t quite run parallel to the Irish equivalent. The first semester runs from October to February; the second from April to July with exams in August. Hence, strangely enough, this and the previous two columns haven’t in fact been written from Germany at all, but from various spots around UCD and Greater Dublin. So my apologies for misleading you since last month: it hasn’t really been Culture Shock but rather the less appetising Culture Abandonment. Sorry about that.

Erasmus is a concept both simple and strange; it throws you into the most unusual of situations, slams you into wonderlands unknown and stamps on your personality with challenges that either copperfasten your character or break you down altogether. It would be amiss of me to unashamedly declare that the entire experience (so far at least) has been wonderful; there’ve been times where I was inches away from handing in my keys and booking a flight home. But similarly there have been moments, gliding on trains to Munich and lounging on a bench at the Danube, and memories to go with them, that I wouldn’t change for the world.

Before I finish I want to put on record, to Carla, Clem, Sandy and Neil, my Passau buddies, for keeping me on the rails when I veer to one side; to The Girl at home for keeping me going when home seems so far away (you know who you are!), to Stephen, Michelle, Zelda, and all at o2 for having me; and to those of you reading now and over the year: a heartfelt and sincere danke schön.

Erasmus is an experience that will change your life. Don’t dismiss it out of hand; but don’t feel compelled to delve into it looking for excitement either. To those who’ve never thought about it, run for Class Rep. Get involved in a society. Write for the college papers. UCD is a wild and wonderful place: it gives to you exactly what you put into it. It’s the one thing about my life that I regret least, and even though by the time you read this I’ll be back in the Vaterland, I don’t need to go abroad to know, sitting in April sunshine on Baggot St, that there’s just no place like home.

So thank you all for reading, and see you next year.

Auf wiedersehen,
Gav