What do you think about multiculturalism

society The migration

Migration is one of the defining topics of the 21st century. Globalization and open borders in Europe have made it easier for many people to travel and live a good life. In 2018 alone, 239,000 people emigrated from my home country Romania. 70 percent of the Romanian youth have plans to emigrate. In a study by the Friedrich Ebert Foundation, they cite the reasons for poverty, corruption, social injustice and a lack of career opportunities.

© Cristina Semco I ask myself whether migration has any advantages for us, the millennials. My friend, Cristina Semco, is a 20 year old college student who loves travel. Last year (2019) she spent an exchange semester in Belgium on an Erasmus + scholarship and shared her experiences with me.

Irina: Hello Cris, please tell me something about yourself

Cristina: I am an active, creative, sincere, and supportive person. I am into painting and photography and I enjoy volunteering.

Irina: Where are you currently studying and what?

Cristina:I am currently studying International Relations at Babeş-Bolyai University in Cluj-Napoca, Faculty of European Studies. In the coming year I want to write my bachelor thesis.

Irina: Why were you in Belgium?

Cristina: One reason was that my mother's sister lives there and I wanted to be closer to her and her family. I can also speak French well and thought that studying in French-speaking countries would be great. I even thought about doing a master's there. I studied at the University of Liège.

© Cristina Semco Irina:What were the main reasons for studying abroad?

Cristina:Multiculturalism, acquiring new knowledge and experiencing student life in another city or country. In addition, there was the opportunity to deepen the course content and learn things in English or French that are only taught in Cluj in the master’s course.

Irina:What are the differences between Belgium and Romania?

Cristina: Belgian students have many advantages, including significant discounts on cultural events - tickets to the opera for around two euros, intensive studies and many student organizations. The most important are the Erasmus Student Network and Cespap Erasmus and International students. On the other hand, trains are not free for students like in Romania. Although students in Belgium have more opportunities, financial differences play a role. I was lucky because my relatives living in Belgium were able to support me. For students from other countries, especially outside the euro zone, life in Belgium is often too expensive.

Irina: What surprised you about your studies abroad, what advantages and disadvantages did you have?

Cristina:I expected the course content to be comparable in both countries, as well as the exams. In fact, there were differences. So it was not only difficult to study for the exams in Liège, but I also had to take exams in Cluj after my return. I've made friends from Belgium, Switzerland, Czech Republic, Italy, Turkey, Nigeria, Cameroon, India, Myanmar, Pakistan, Japan and Brazil. We visited new cities almost every weekend: Bruges, Brussels, Spa, Rotterdam, Maastricht, Paris, Vaalserberg-Dreiländereck, Cologne. The experience was beautiful.

© Cristina Semco Irina:How did the adaptation to Belgium look like?

Cristina: The adjustment process wasn't that difficult for me as I've spent every vacation with my aunt in Belgium since 2011. As a result, I was used to both the lifestyle and the language, even though I had to improve certain expressions in academia. The involvement in student associations and the support from mentors made my adjustment process easier. The adaptation to the Belgian academic environment was unusual: the organization of the lectures and seminars, the schedule. The first few weeks were chaotic. I and my Erasmus colleagues often didn't know in which room a lecture was taking place. So we had to look for these rooms in the big university, knock on every door and ask. The schedule was like this: only lectures, no seminars. The lectures lasted about two hours with only a five-minute break. On Mondays and Tuesdays I had two lectures, on Wednesdays free time, on Thursdays I had four lectures - with a two-hour break in between. That was a disadvantage for the colleagues who did not live nearby, I was happy that I lived in the dormitory not far from the university. On Fridays I had lectures from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. That wasn't so flexible for me. I would have liked to travel on Fridays.

Irina:Did you have a culture shock?

Cristina:(laughing) Yes. Every time you meet someone you know, you have to kiss them on the right cheek.

Irina:What was the biggest challenge during your time abroad?

Cristina: During the Christmas vacation, I had to study for exams instead of decorating the house, cooking appetizers, and smelling the scent of vanilla candles. I found it difficult to divide the time between studying and family.

Irina: You emigrated for a short time. Did you feel like a foreigner in Belgium? Did you feel integrated into society?

Cristina: Yes, I felt integrated, especially thanks to the new people and the Erasmus Student Network, which organized various activities for international students such as a treasure hunt welcome week, a boat trip, a laser game on a boat, an evening in pajamas and a trip to Rotterdam with the aim of integrating ourselves into Belgian society. In the end, I felt at home.

© Cristina Semco Irina: During your stay in Belgium, did you have the feeling that you were culturally distancing yourself from Romania or emotionally from family and friends? How were the relationships at that time? How did you keep in touch?

Cristina:Yes, I had the feeling that I was distancing myself from certain people, for example from a good friend. We always went out together. Since I flew to Belgium, it has become more and more difficult to synchronize our time for meetings and finally we stopped talking to each other. I did not stray from my family, I appreciated their presence, even if it was only online. The same goes for other good friends with whom I kept in touch on a daily basis, either through video calls or messages on Facebook, WhatsApp or Instagram. My parents and a Romanian friend from Utrecht visited me. Cultural cooling ... maybe because I spent Christmas and New Years in Belgium.

Irina: Did you do any activities outside of your studies?

Cristina:I took part in various cultural events (opera - Orpheus and Eurydice, ballet - the little prince, Dalí art exhibition in Brussels, theater, museums) and attended weekly capoeira courses.

Irina:Has such an experience changed / developed you?

Cristina:Yes, because I became more reserved. I learned to appreciate the attention of close people, to communicate with any colleague or new person, and to enjoy every moment. Moments in which I received new information and views or spoke in a language other than my mother tongue.

Irina: What did you gain from this experience?

Cristina: Friends and unforgettable memories. New expertise in European studies. I could imagine continuing my studies in Belgium in the future.
I also noticed something interesting: the Erasmus students mostly learn practically, the focus is on research and teamwork. The Belgian students are more theoretical.

Irina: Did this experience help you to want to change / improve something in your country?

Cristina: Yes, I want to support multiculturalism in Romania, fight against discrimination of any kind and be present in society. I want to make the voice of the young generation audible and defeat corruption in Romania. I would like to introduce multiculturalism, as I experienced it in Belgium, in Romania as well. Society accepts people around them, regardless of skin color or religious worship.

Irina:How would you describe the experience in three words?

Cristina:Self development, moments, wellbeing.

Irina:What does Belgium mean to you now?

Cristina:The country my family members are in. I can settle there because I enjoyed student life in a Belgian city.

Irina:What do you want to do professionally in the future?

Cristina:Working to become an ambassador. I would like to represent my home country externally. My favorite areas are education and culture.

Irina:Where do you want to have a career?

Cristina: Probably not in Romania. Definitely abroad. Belgium is already on my list, but I still want to discover, get to know the profession from several perspectives. So I would like to study in Scandinavia. I notice that the career opportunities for our generation are better abroad than in Romania. For example, in Scandinavian countries, the master’s courses secure internships for students, and in the fourth semester you write your thesis. I also think the social environment is beneficial. There are social grants for foreign citizens, if you work you get a financial bonus from the state. This allows students to maintain a balance between study and work, the schedule for parents is also flexible so that they can be more present in the children's lives.

Irina:Aurora Liiceanu, a Romanian psychologist and author of the book Life is not made to measure, puts it this way: "If you leave places today, you suffer from it, but you do it lightly". What do you think of our generation millennials?

Cristina: I think millennials are more open to challenges than our parents' generation. If someone close to my heart suggested that I go to South Africa at 5 a.m. to build a school and promote the education of the children in the area, I would immediately toss three items of clothing in my backpack and set off. Time flies and life is worth living without looking back.

Irina:Advice for youngsters who want to study abroad?

Cristina: Don't be afraid of challenges, especially those that bring benefits. Take every chance that brings you more acquaintances and friends who you can then visit anywhere in the world. Educated! Discover the beauties of the world! Be curious and study!

Migration helps us to grow alone and / or together. Migration is a challenge, personal development, an opportunity to lead a more beautiful life.
Immigrants can be workers, students, volunteers, or tourists. We, the young generation, can serve as role models for improving the migration phenomenon.

© Cristina Semco We millennials can stay in other countries for short or long periods of time or settle down there for a long time. This process is a life experience and is used for self-development. We, the millennials, grapple with prejudices and are better able to reflect on them. We help people and build an understanding of foreign ideas, ways of life, behavior and cultures. This enables us to learn how integration works. Some of us will then return to our own country of origin and change it for the better, others will try to have a lasting positive effect on the foreign country. Don't things like gaining experience, keeping memories and broadening your horizons make life worth living (more)? The economy, a lack of rights and freedoms or wars still influence migration. Don't we, the younger generations, have the potential to make a difference? In our own country, in other countries, for us and for other people?

© Irina Stan


Irina Stan, 21 years old, born in Craiova: "Everything around me is an opportunity in life!"