Not only a place with a special flair and the perfect combination of a business city and a holiday / beach location, but I also have an emotional connection to Valencia. The reason for that is the extraordinary 12 months I spent here 12 years ago – being an ‚Erasmus’.
All of you who took part of an Erasmus or any other exchange program will know what I’m talking about…
It’s a year so special and so different to your normal life. You live together with different people from all over the globe. You share everything. Happy and sad moments. You share flats, you cook together, you learn together. Your life is happening between the University (especially the cafeteria of the University;)), the ‘pista deportiva’ (sports ground), the supermarket and the beach.
The beach was VERY important. You chill at the beach, you learn there, you drink, you exercise, you run, you cry when feeling blue, you recover from a hangover, you kiss in the dark… The beach was our best friend.
Playa de Gandía – where some faculties of Valencia’s University are offered – is a quiet tourist place where during the academic year between October and June you only see the students and some local grannies.
What was special about this place was that the holiday flats of the Madrileños stood empty outside of the season and so we could build groups of 3-4 people and look for a flat we liked to rent for that year. Obviously we Erasmus wanted to live with Spanish people because we wanted to learn the language and the Spanish people wanted to live with an Erasmus because they usually have the reputation of having the best parties going on ;). It was all so easy.
We lived a simple life in a small place between the beach and the mountains, spending the evenings over a shared meal, a bottle (or a few) of wine, a guitar and long conversations.
Since we were all far away from home, we were home for each other. We were giving each other support and became a big international family.
A friend from this Erasmus group told me 6 months after we went back to our respective countries that he had a job interview and his interviewer while reading through his CV, stopped at one point, looked him in the eyes and said the magic word ‚ah… Erasmus’ with a dreamy, smilingly knowing look on his face.
My friend said to me ‘Bea, I swear his eyes were saying ‘‘I KNOW what you lived, I did it too and in was amazing, we both would prefer to be back there but now we have to face real life’’ and with a little shake of his head he seemed to wake up to reality… and offered me the job’.
For the people who didn’t experience an Erasmus year I recommend watching the Spanish-French movie ‘L’Auberge Espagnole’ with Cédric Klapisch about a French guy going to study for a year in Barcelona. This movie reflects the emotional stages you go through when leaving your comfort zone to experience something new. From the first fear of the unknown and the blues and home-sickness when feeling like a stranger in a new environment, to the excitement of discovering a new place and meeting new people. You start to love the local habits and be part of this new life. You create a new home… and then the moment arrives when you have to leave all that behind you again. You go back home… and actually feel like a STRANGER all over again, missing all of which became part of your heart. Feeling like you are trapped in a small and limited reality and no one can understand you because no one lived what you lived. Then eventually step by step you start to re-adapt yourself and the big nostalgia inside of you slowly makes place for a new feeling – a gratitude of this enrichment of your life and all the new people who will still accompany you in your life no matter where they live.
They are not next door anymore but they are just one small flight away. They are there waiting for you to meet again, open a bottle of red and laugh together about old stories, talking out old pictures and maybe there is even a guitar – in which case sooner or later you will feel the tears of emotions running down your cheeks. Happy tears.
The movie is in fact a trilogy and came along exactly with my own experiences. The first part came out in 2002 – the year I left for the first time to spend a longer period of time abroad. The destination was France: First Paris for one month of a language course as preparation for an internship of 6 months in Nantes. During the French classes in our language school they showed us the movie and I thought ‘OMG I want to experience THAT’, not knowing that exactly one year later I would be sitting in the class of the Escuela Politecnica Superior de Gandía/ Universidad de Valencia and during the kick-off event of my Erasmus year they would show us ‘Una casa de locos’ – that exact movie – as if it was for ME, just to remind me that my wish from last year came true and I am about to live that movie experience!
There were 3 guys in the group who became close friends. I used to think of us as ‘Bea and the three Musketeers’.
The guy who jumped up to help with the technical aspects while trying to screen the movie that evening was one of them. He is the very same involved in the job interview story. We don’t talk to each other on a regular basis anymore but when we do it’s like time didn’t affect us in being the kind of soul mates we were back then.
The second one was our group musician. He was French and all charm. I had a little crush on him. He moved afterwards to Nantes – where I used to live before. We watched the second part of THE movie 3 years later in a cinema in Nantes.
This part was called ‘Les Poupées russes’ and it’s about the ex-Erasmus guy now being a young professional, dating and wondering how long before he commits and settles down – just like the two of us at that time (poupées russes means russian dolls: You open a doll and there is new one and you keep on opening, wondering if the next one will be even better… and who/which is the last one). My friend eventually met an amazing lady and he will be a daddy soon! So happy for him!
Well… my third friend is still living in Valencia and he always made me feel at home, every time I returned in the last 12 years.
Those 3 guys were my flat mates back then.
Speaking about close friends I can’t forget to mention my special Viking-lady. My neighbor and my everyday companion. She was an inspiration at every meal we cooked, the craziest photographer, an unshakable adventurer and probably the coolest person I ever met. Although it’s not in her nature to be sentimental and she would never write something like this, I know she secretly agrees that what we had was special. She lives in a cold country and is a tough lady who finds it ‘cool’ to have a cemetery instead of a park as a walk through to her new apartment building, but her heart is soft like butter.
We lived in a modern flat, in a building with a swimming pool just opposite of the university.
Our group however did have our very own ‘casa de locos’ – just like the shared flat in the movie.
A large part of our group rented out an old, charismatic Spanish house with the typical patio where all the good parties took place and where the police were a regular guest every Thursday (the ‘going out day’) when the musicians among us took out the guitars and we all yelled along to ‘No woman no cry’ or ‘Hotel California’.
Our casa de locos was a place of laughter and happiness. The house itself was full of surprises. You would find rice in a pair of freshly washed jeans because the pipe of the washing machine was connected with the sink or during rain you would sit inside with umbrellas because the ceiling was leaking. Also there was no need to buy plants because there were some growing through the walls.
The residents of this villa were the same kind of crazy as the house itself (i.e. they would decorate the Christmas tree with little skulls, organize a ‚burning paella’ competition or have grasshopper as pets giving them names like ‚como?’ ‚donde?’ or ‚que?’). We loved them all. After years most of them still belong to my circle of friends and although they are spread out between Ireland, Poland, Bali, Mexico etc. I make sure that whenever I am ‘around’ I see them to laugh over all the old anecdotes.
What I want to say is that I am very happy I had the Erasmus experience and that I was very lucky to be part of a special group of people who after years are still in each other’s lives. We celebrate our weddings and the birth of babies together, occasionally meeting up for a spontaneous New Year’s Eve ‘somewhere in between’ the respective countries.
Two years ago (just after I quit my long-term job and before I headed off to my Southeast Asian backpacking experience) I organized a 10th Erasmus anniversary here in Playa de Gandía. Two of our local and very special friends of the Erasmus are still living here and helped to find a house and organize things. Obviously not all of the people were able to attend but the 10 people who came spent some amazing days traveling back in time.
The highlight was a moment when sitting in the dark on the beach and playing the old tunes some current students came along, sat beside us and started singing with us. Then they told us they are Erasmus students and we said „that was us 10 years ago” and they looked at us, amazed, checking our faces in the dark, commenting ‘dude! how OLD are you guys?!’ (big laugh on our side) and then ‘you guys are SOOO cool doing this’!
-Yes we know we are!-
What was also special is that our only REAL Erasmus couple (not Erasmus-Spanish but an Erasmus-Erasmus couple) survived the distance after the magical year was over and they got married! A Mexican-Polish connection with the Mexican living in Poland and even swearing in polish! Amazing! They came to the reunion with their 6 month old baby. Our proper Erasmus-child!
Laurent, if you read this – this is for you: You were right with your comment during our first tequila party when saying that ‘Erasmus was invented to make us international giving us money and sending us to a fun, hot place where people meet, fall in love and make international babies’!
I remember this moment like yesterday and I thought you were crazy but you were actually right!
Now I live here which feels a bit strange, almost like this place was reserved for the special year and not for normal life…
The other day I went to Playa de Gandía to spend a Bea-day with the town and my memories. It was magical. The air smelled the same, the sea was still beautiful, the streets still quite empty at this time of the year, the noises and the chaos in the cafeteria were familiar and the only major change I noticed was that at one point I was standing at the corner where there used to be a phone box from which I used to call home and now the box had disappeared and I found myself at the very same corner sending pictures and regards to my Erasmus-family via Whatsapp and Facebook.
Twelve years have passed… We all went in different directions. Some of us are parents, some are hippies, some have properties (and even boats), some are travelers, some are business people, some are gay, some are still trying to figure out their destiny… We gained new people in our lives and we lost some… but I know that everyone from our group who will read that post will know what I mean when I say that WE ARE ALL THE SAME.
Just as Xavier in ‚Auberge Espagnole’ said:
‚je suis lui et lui..je suis elle, et elle aussi…Je suis francias, espagnol, anglais, danois. Je suis pas un mais pleusieurs. Je suis comme l’Europe. Je suis tout ca. Je suis un vrai bordel..’
(I am him, and also him… and I am her too… and her… I am French, Spanish, English, Danish. I am not one but many. I am like Europe. I am all that. I am a mess…’)
I love you guys! Let’s plan our next Erasmus meeting.
This time our Erasmus-baby Tonito can sing along with us! Maybe Beatles ‚Yesterday’?
Some souvenirs from 2003/04
The Reunion in 2013