A good change: Thibaud & Bianca Gilis
Sometimes everything can change in just a few moments, and then other experiences change you so gradually that you go about your days with barely any notice of the profound shift in trajectory that your life has taken. One day, years later, you realise that you barely recognise the aspirations and plans you had for yourself when you started out, and at the same time, you couldn’t imagine being anywhere else.
When both of us decided to study law at Kent as part of the Erasmus exchange programme, we never thought that 20 years later we would have founded a multicultural family, live in the outskirts of Paris and constantly navigate between languages and cultural differences. Looking back, that year was a clear turning point.
Our gradual change began when we separately, more than 1,000 kilometres away from each other, decided to learn more about a different law system, enhance our foreign language skills and dive into British life and culture. We arrived at University of Kent at Canterbury for the Welcome Week in September 1996. The autumn term began, and we noticed how different university and student life were in our new country. Lectures challenged our expectations of what law studies were like. Familiar with inaccessible French and German law professors, we found their English counterparts to be more approachable and encouraging. Teachers responded to our questions and engaged with us during lectures and seminars. Pride reigned as we looked upon our first email accounts, which we used to communicate with teachers and family and friends back home (nights in computer labs ensued…).
The newness didn’t fade when we left the classroom. We both lived on campus, just a few doors away from each other in Park Wood, where we encountered our own tiny Europe. Mostly fellow Erasmus students, our housemates came from Spain, Italy, Finland, France and Germany. We studied together, explored, and during our free time we delved into new European cuisines that went beyond the classic fare of pasta and pizza. We valued being part of the Kent community and took full advantage of the opportunities the University offered us alongside our lectures. Thibaud deepened his passion for rowing on the University rowing team, signing himself up for months of rowing blisters tempered by crisp and beautiful (very) early morning training sessions. At year’s end, we left Kent with a baggage full of wonderful memories, great new friends & our diploma in English law!
Today, 20 years later, we still get excited and nostalgic when we reminisce about our year at Kent. We have stayed in touch with our friends from Canterbury ever since, gotten together for weddings, skiing trips and memorable weekends in the UK, France and Italy. Before our Erasmus year, we never expected to integrate entirely new traditions into our yearly calendar and to watch our daughters growing up with both languages and cultures as if it’s the most normal thing in the world. We couldn’t have imagined that our lives would turn out this way, but now that our multicultural environment is so central to our daily existence, we couldn’t imagine living any other way.