Claudia Paez is one of the many students who come to Zaragoza thanks to the Erasmus mobility program. A plan to manage academic mobility opportunities, both for teachers and university students within the member states of the European Union.
After her arrival in Spain on January 27 as an Erasmus student, Go Aragón talks to Claudia Paez Soller, a 22-year-old student recently arrived from Milan, Italy, to continue her studies in marketing at the University of Zaragoza.
What motivated you to apply for an Erasmus scholarship?
Leaving home was always one of my dreams, but not because I didn’t feel good with my parents, but because I think this is a very exciting experience and a once in a lifetime opportunity, and I wanted to take advantage of it. I love the fact of traveling and meeting new people, and I have always wanted to go abroad and see what university was like in other countries.
How was the selection process? Do you think that most European students can access a scholarship of this kind?
Yes, of course. It depends a bit on which university you come from, because some of my Italian classmates have had some problems organizing their courses. For me it was quite easy, I mean, I had to ask for the scholarship already 1 year ago, that is, the waiting times are quite long, but to do all the necessary paperwork you have a lot of information and people to ask, at least at my university. So it was easy for me to get this scholarship.
Why did you choose Spain as your Erasmus destination?
Let’s see, my first choice was to go to Portugal because I could understand the courses better, the subjects, and in general the language was a little easier than Spanish. I could choose 5 destinations, my first two were in Portugal and the other 3 in Spain.
I chose them based on how big the city was, and I also thought about the climate, but above all I took into account the university. I informed myself about the different universities I could go to, the schedules and the subjects they had available and that I could also take.
Within Spain, what were the destinations you could choose from and what made you choose Zaragoza as your Erasmus destination?
Well, as I said, I chose between 3 destinations, but the University of Milan gave us the possibility to choose between several cities in Spain, Almeria, Granada, Cadiz, Zaragoza, Barcelona, Madrid and Santiago de Compostela among them.
But the reality is that the university gives us the destination, that is, we cannot choose our city, but we propose 5 cities we would like to go to and they give us the final destination.
How are you doing with the language, did you know any Spanish before coming here?
Well, to be honest, I did a little bit. My parents are originally from Peru, but they came to Italy when they were young, around 20 years old, so I was born in Italy, in Milan. My parents always tried to speak Spanish to me, but I never answered in Spanish, always in Italian, so I understand a lot of things in Spanish, almost all of them, but it’s a bit difficult for me to speak the language well and correctly.
Tell us, what do you think of the city and its people? How have you been welcomed by the locals?
I like being here very much, I mean, I come from a very big city, stressful and overwhelming, so here I feel very well, because it is as if I were in a smaller city than mine, and everything is calmer.
Besides, people in Zaragoza are very respectful, I mean, this is another difference that I feel with respect to Milan. For example, just in the means of transport I see how there are many differences between Milan and Zaragoza, there people push you, they make bad faces at you…, here people are much more respectful.
What places have you visited here in Zaragoza and in the province of Aragon?
I have not yet had the chance to visit the other cities of Aragon, but here in Zaragoza I have visited most of the city. Either by streetcar or bus I have been to the most important neighborhoods of Zaragoza such as Sagasta, Paseo Independencia, Delicias or Plaza San Francisco. I have also been in the Old Town seeing the Cathedral of the Virgen del Pilar and the Seo, as well as visiting the aquarium of Zaragoza and the Expo area.
But I still have to visit the Aljafería, and I would also like to go for a walk along the banks of the Ebro and see the Cathedral of Pilar in the background, from what I have been told, there is a beautiful sunset.
Besides these places, have you visited other cities in Spain?
Yes, since I arrived here on January 27, I have traveled to Pamplona and Barcelona, but I plan to travel more in Spain and also outside Spain. My intention is to go to Portugal and France with an Erasmus association.
But at the moment I have several trips planned, I’m going to Salamanca and Segovia for a weekend, later I plan to go to Valencia, Seville and Granada, and I will also go to Madrid, where my parents are coming to visit.
What has struck you most about our customs and habits?
Well, what has struck me the most is how respectful people are compared to my city, and I am also very surprised that the city is very clean, I mean, the city center seems to be always very clean.
In Milan it is not like that, it is not as clean as Zaragoza, it is true that if you go to the center you always see garbage trucks and people cleaning, but it is much more noticeable the passage of people, and as many people live there, it gets dirty quickly.
How is the relationship with other students of the Erasmus program and with the students here?
Well, we Erasmus students understand each other more emotionally, and we help each other much more in everything because we are all in the same situation, we have come to a completely new country. For example, I understand the language quite well and I help the other Erasmus students more in that aspect, and if I need something, they help me. So, it’s like a friendly relationship that you get very fond of, because during these months they are like a family.
And I feel very good with the students here. I mean, if I need anything they help me, they are always there looking out for me, they talk to me or ask me if everything is all right. And also the professors, if I ask them a question or ask for tutoring because I have some doubts, they always help me and give me my place as just another student.
Is there any organization at the University that carries out activities to promote relations between Erasmus students and Zaragoza students? Tell us a little bit about this.
Well, within the University there is no such organization, there is only an international relations office and we can go there to ask anything. From asking for advice on how to find accommodation, to asking about sports activities or which supermarket to go shopping at, they are always there to help us. They are always available, but they do not organize events or meetings for Erasmus students, there is nothing like that inside the university.
And well, outside the university there are several organizations, but the best known here in Zaragoza are two, ISA Zaragoza and AEGEE – Zaragoza, also known as Happy Erasmus. I personally feel better with AEGEE – Zaragoza, because they include people from many countries.
They also do great events and organize get-togethers like going for a drink in different places in the city, and they exchange students from different majors and different nationalities, so I am always meeting new people. They also organize trips and activities outside the city every weekend, for example wine tastings, gastronomic tours and so on, in fact I am planning to go on one of these trips.
How long will your stay in Zaragoza last? Do you think you will have time to do all the things you have in mind both in Aragon and in the rest of Spain?
Well, the truth is that I don’t think I will have time to do everything I want to do, I plan to be here until July, and as the exams end in June, I hope I will have time to visit most of the places I want to go.
In fact I have some friends who have already made a trip to Spain, they have rented a car and have gone here nearby to see cities like Teruel or Valencia, so we would like to take advantage of that summer month to come and see me and visit more areas of Spain and Portugal.
If you could give some advice to students who are considering applying for this scholarship, what would it be?
Not to be afraid of anything, that is, not to worry about what might happen, but to let themselves go and enjoy their stay in their new country. The truth is that you may have some uncertainty before leaving, for example, you may think “I will be alone”, “I will not know anyone”, “University will be difficult because I do not understand the language” …, and in fact many of my friends thought so and backed out. But in the end, if you don’t dare and don’t take the risk, you will always regret it.
The key is not to think about what can go wrong, but to think about the positive things you can take with you, and also not to have high expectations, nor low ones, but to go to your destination, be calm and think that it will be like a continuation of your life. What you took with you from your native city will always be there, and this is going to be one more experience, but in another place, that is, you don’t have to have many worries, because they are not necessary many times.
What is your favorite corner of Aragon?
My favorite corner is the university area, near Plaza San Francisco, and I also really like the Parque Grande area.
And a restaurant we can’t miss?