February 12th 2003 – February 12 2013: front Santiago de Compostela to Europe.
“And I took the plane and I was right”. My favourite songrwriter will forgive me for misquoting his song. The fact is, however, I actually left for Santiago de Compostela on February, 12th 2003. My generation has lived Erasmus through older guys’ stories, and then we experienced it on our own skin. Word of mouth. Few socials, many stories. Real stories, lived, handed-down, and sometimes overstated. Boys and girls leaving, and they still do, to learn a new language, to take their exams abroad, to know a new way of studying and a new university; in a word, to live a new life. Well, at least for six months.
Ten years have passed, for me. Not so few. It’s the right time for an analysis, and so let’s unroll these years, let’s try to understand how that experience has influenced my life, my competence (at the time I didn’t even know this word) and my character. In 1990 I used to watch a tv show called Europa Europa. I barely recall it being hosted by Fabrizio Frizzi and that, if you heard your phone ringing between 8.30PM and 22.30PM, you had to answer saying EuropaEuropa so you won several millions Lire. Many legends spread about the show in years. They said that in every family there has been at least one person picking up the phone saying EuropaEuropa, with comical effects to be handed down to future generations.
We were in the early Nineties, and my parents were doing their best to explain to me that within some year we would have had a new currency, all boundaries and custom duties would disappear, and we’d all speak one language. They said you, not us, but that day seemed very close, anyway. Berlin wall fell not long before, and Europe was about to become a new model of integration. Then times have enlarged. For many valid reasons, the process slowed and in the meantime a whole generation has lost its occasion. And so now those theorising the new Eldorado thirty years ago are the same talking about United States of Europe. In the second half of 1990s, the Erasmus Project has developed a lot, and students began to move more easily, to do some more soul searching (because this is what Erasmus is about, also) and to consider this experience as a fundamental passage for one’s life. Far be it for me to part the world into categories, but you immediately recognise those who experienced Erasmus or a similar experience; at least for their open-mindedness.
When I arrived in Santiago, I was a different guy, and not only because I was 10 years younger than I am now (blessed, blessed youth). I thought I arrived in Spain, but instead I was in Galicia. I was trying to feel european in a land who struggled to feel spanish. First trick. I began listening the reasons of those guys talking about independentism, about their own language, about habits and traditions to be handed down and protect. I believed them, I liked the way they loved galician land. I changed my mind, I understood that a process of globalisation can’t ignore defending tradition. And I understood that every country has its own history and Spain went through a process of unification extremely different from the one Italy, Germany and Russia went through. But you all know about this. The fact remains that you take the months you spend in Erasmus with you for the rest of your life.
My little talks with Luis, or walking with Tereza, or preparing my exams with Michael. Or Santiago de Compostela’s sky. It’s so beautiful that it is light even in rainy days. An endless rain, that can last weeks. What’s the matter, my galician flatmates used to say. Rain dries, you just have to wear the right shoes, not those dandy shoes you italian wear. And I changed my shoes, I admit it. But I did it just to stay more comfortable and to walk unafraid under that sky. I have spoken two languages (spanish and the local language, galician), forgetting english for a while (you can’t keep too many languages at once, in your head), I have thought and dreamt with words different from italian. I have cried before leaving, in that moment you think why bother. And then I cried while coming back home, when you think it must not finish this way, not now. I walked through the streets of a wonderful and ancient town. I have been happy everyday, almost everyday, and (this is the most beautiful thing) I knew I was being happy. Just like when you’re dreaming and you don’t want to wake up. You want to extend that moment because you know so well it won’t come back. I have gone biking with my head up high, I have given directions to people, knowingly deceiving myself about the fact that that was home. I cried, because in every unforgettable experience you can’t avoid crying, I kissed, I left and (unfortunately) I cheated. But that does not depend on Erasmus, be sure about it. Time has passed, by the way, be kind to a 23 year old boy.
We didn’t have Facebook, but Messenger was beginning to connect people, allowing them to stay in touch. Or, at least, to flirt with this idea. Now I know I have friends all over Europe. In every nation there is someone who can host me. It’s not insignificant, believe me. I don’t think as an italian, but as a european. I adapt myself. I’m not afraid of another language.
I embrace different cultures and their food, as ordinary as it may seem. Maybe the United States of Europe we all were talking about at the beginning of the Nineties are still far to come. But I know that in every part of this continent there are guys belonging to a generation that can look at the world with eyes wide open, more open, and can connect, nowadays more than ever, to contribute in educating people that are more tolerant, open minded, open to exchange culture and ideas. Maybe I went too far with ambitions. But, after all, Erasmus of Rotterdam was a dreamer, too. And a traveller. And we partly owe to his example this wonderful invention that, in my opinion, made us better.
Cristiano, 10 years later.
You can read this post in italian too!