It’s the people, not the place : an ode to Leuven

Iný pohľad na erazmus alebo vyvrátenie všetkých obáv pred vycestovaním

I want to start this post with an apology: I am sorry that this has not been published in a timely manner; but that is for a very specific reason. I did not post something on Leuven immediately after Erasmus because I never really understood the significance of Erasmus Year, and especially the significance of Leuven as a part of my life. Now that I have had time to let my thoughts gather, I feel much more comfortable about what I have to say about Leuven and the people I have met specifically.

Life Etiquette: Make the most of your opportunities, especially the people who help show you the opportunities.

So, what is the deal with this post?

Erasmus was the most beautiful challenge I ever had in my life…. So far. I believe it is (generally) not an unpopular opinion among my peers (especially the sexy ERASMUS heads). I must let you in on a little secret, though, before I can continue, which may shed light on the significance of the year:

I have Never lived outside my parent’s house in arse-end of Galway, Ireland. ever. This meant two things:

1/ I had an idea that things might be a little different.

2/ I knew the last thing I have just written is a colossal understatement.

So, there I was going to a place that I have never really been to in my life. I was going to live outside my parents’ house for the first time in my life- in a different city. Shit….. Shitshitshit I was so fucked. I would be alone for the year, spending time with strangers and socializing with people who did not speak the same language as me. Shitshitshit.

So I packed my ambitious ass up and got it out of the country. I arrived in my new home (which I had already booked a month earlier), and I sat myself down in my new room. And i cried. Like a little child who had forgotten their favourite toy on the car trip to Cork from Mayo. Where was I? Would anybody understand me? Would I understand anyone? Who were my friends? Who weren’t? Shitshitshit.

I was alone, and I cried. I cried shamelessly and loudly. I was afraid.

This was a short lived fear, as I soon got my bearings on the city, and the people. Especially my fellow lost-lambs. I guess when you are in a place on your own, with no idea where you are or what you are doing, you start to talk to anybody and EVERYBODY, in order to find SOMEONE who you can get along with, and be friends with and be lost with. I was lost, and so were they (I guess).

The People are what’s important in a new place.

I named my post appropriately, because no matter how beautiful a city is or isn’t; it is the people that make it worth living in. I found that out the easy way. I found friend after friend after friend this year, and I love every single one of you. I could never imagine that the frail, no-quite-a-child-but-not-yet-a-man could ever become so confident. I owe all of you that.

I fell in and out of love with the city a million times a day, and saw the beauty of the buildings, with the ugliness of the system. I saw the busy streets full of smiling faces, or drunk louts shouting abuse at girls. But I always knew that my friends would be there for me. If I was to try to be something I wasn’t, they would be there to keep my mind in line. I was the king of nothing, and i had to be reminded of that on a regular basis. I did not care because, when I needed them and I showed up with a little more humility, I was welcomed again, in spite of whatever shit I said or did the day/night before. I was in a place that could have been ruthless and unforgiving, but the people there always made me feel myself again, in spite of myself.


I had a friend in Leuven. I had hundreds of friends in Leuven. Some I met only once, but others I saw nearly every day, and being without them would be just unfair of the universe to inflict on someone. But I always had someone to talk to. I had someone always to go for a beer with, to dance with, to be stupid and childish with, to be poignant and mature with. I was no longer the not-quite-a-man anymore. I became the nearly-a-real-man. I don’t see that I have really grown a lot in the social or intellectual sense, but I certainly have grown a lot in the emotional sense. The super-sensitive manchild had become a much stronger person. I felt good. And I could not have done it without the help of the beautiful people around me.

And Now I turn to my Leuvenites; My Classmates and Friends of ERASMUS

Thank you. Thank you all so much. I could not have chosen a better group of people to associate with, or to socialize with. I could not have loved people more than I did each and every one of you that I met on my year abroad. You have all changed who I was into who I am: stronger, better, smarter and more aware of myself, which is something I attribute to you all. You have given this sad ginger-bearded paddy a family to love in places I never thought I would have family. You have all been the best of friends, lovers, and comrades. I appreciate and respect you. If you ever come to Ireland (not all at once, the parents might not be too impressed with that) you have a home. And I will be seeing you all at some point in the not-too-distant future, I promise.

This is the end…. Of our elaborate plans.

Come to the end of the year, I found myself crying again. Worse than before. I was afraid again. But for a different reason. I was going to lose the thing I had the fear of not getting in the first place when I got over there. I was going to lose the thing that saved me from myself. The people who changed me. Who were honest with me. Who gave me advice, and insults and a slap every now and again. They made me grow up, and I was not ready to lose that. Nobody can be ready to lose something like that.

But I remembered what a friend told me: “Shane, your mind is prepared to deal with a lot of shit. You are a strong person, but you wait for the hard things to come to you, and I think that those things will hurt you if you don’t face them first”. So I put my chin up for the last time, and walked out my front door, hoping to someday return.

I hope this post meant something to all of you, as it is hard to find the right words to describe how I feel sometimes. It means something to me that I can (eventually) dictate my emotions and share them with you all.

Anyway, I better get my sentimental, soppy ass to do something a little more productive.

Peace and Love


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