Two Italians, a French, a German, and a Malaysian-American sit at a table, enjoying French quiche lorraine and sangria, while chatting in Spanish. This is more or less how many of my meals have been during my semester here in Spain. Little did I know that when I came to the Universitat Jaume I in Castellón, Spain, I would meet more than local Spanish people and discover more than Spanish culture. Living with a host family, my Spanish has improved by leaps and bounds, and I have learned how to live like a Spaniard. However, from the other Erasmus and exchange students here that I´ve met, I have learned how to make real Cabonara pasta from an Italian, how to greet people in Dutch, how to make Congolese rice from a French-Congolese girl, and how to Latin dance from a Ecuadorian.
Most of the students that I´ve met here are in the Erasmus Programme, the EU student exchange program to encourage more communication and intercultural understanding within Europe. I love the fluidity and ease with which this program allows European students to study in a foreign country and immerse themselves in a different culture. The Erasmus students and the other foreign exchange students here are like a big, assorted, extended family here. It puts a smile on my face to think about how much we have all learned from each other and the good times that we have shared.
Spanish may not be out first, second, or even third language for us, but we somehow manage to communicate and connect with each other through this foreign language, albeit sometimes with the help of Spanglish, Itañol or creative sign language. Our conversations range from our families back home and the different education systems in our countries, to the Las Fallas celebration in Valencia or the impossible exam in our Spanish class. When I look at the motley group of students gathered together, all from such diverse backgrounds and culture, it always amazes me how we can all be in the same room laughing out heads off. Half of us didn´t speak the same language a few months ago! But thanks to Spanish and our semester in Spain together, we now have lifelong friends and homes where we are always welcomed all over Europe.