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Nursing abroad: My Erasmus experience

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Student nurse Rosa recounts her experience of the Erasmus student exchange programme in Barcelona, Spain

Rosa Milne

Rosa Milne

Rosa Milne

I am a stress-head. I always have been and I probably always will be. But I try my best not to let my worries or anxieties get in the way of what I want to achieve or experience. 

Which is why I took the plunge and embarked on an adventure that has greatly impacted both my personal and professional development: Erasmus.

The Erasmus programme is a European Union student exchange programme. As part of the programme, many universities in the UK offer the chance to take part in either a study or work placement exchange programme in European countries. 

In January of this year, I moved to Barcelona and began my clinical placement. For the first time in my life, I lived on my own in a lively and cosmopolitan city.

I was lucky enough to spend three months in psychiatric wards in Barcelona. I spent time in a drug and alcohol rehabilitation ward, a substance use outpatient clinic and a mental health accident and emergency department.

Not only did I navigate my way through a new, huge city and transport system, but I also found my way through new clinical policies, procedures and language barriers. I had tried to learn as much of the language as I could before I arrived, as it was a requirement for my placement.

I had days where I wanted to go home, feeling disheartened by failed attempts at speaking to patients or feeling incompetent due to having a different skill set compared to mental health nurses here. 

But, I also had days where I had the chance to practise entirely new skills such as taking blood, administering IV infusions or assisting in drug education programmes. On top of learning new skills, performing them in another language was a fantastic feeling! 

Despite the challenges of homesickness and adjustment to a new environment, I carried on and muddled through and I am glad I did. Learning a language, fundraising and working to save money alongside coursework, essays and exams is not easy. But I would recommend it to everyone. 

It sounds cheesy but money cannot buy what you will feel and learn whilst you are nursing abroad. I have learnt so many valuable clinical and therapeutic skills that I can continue to use when I return to wards at home. 

I have learnt that I am resilient, capable of adapting and learning in different situations and most significantly that I can express care and concern when words fail me. Compassion and empathy can overcome many things, including language barriers. 

I also explored this beautiful city and visited other parts of Spain. I will miss the tapas and beer I used to have on my way home after work, I will miss the sunshine and architecture and I will miss the exquisite galleries and the great coffee. 

But I will take with me the confidence I hadn’t experienced before that can only have come from overcoming my anxieties and throwing myself into this learning experience. 

So, friends go ahead and take the risk. Yes, you might be homesick, you might have tough days, but you will gain so much more whilst experiencing new cultures and meeting people from all over the world. 

Rosa Milne is a currently in her third year studying mental health nursing at RGU in Scotland 

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