Space Mountain is a famous rollercoaster attraction in Disney theme parks. The term Space Mountain was also popular with former wrestler Ric Flair, using it as a catchphrase to brag about his bedroom performances with women (I am referring to the wrestling persona, not the real-life person, of course). I really like this kind of expression as during my Erasmus in Malaga some Ric Flair’s videoclips were keeping me company in some dead moments of the day, or maybe when I was relaxing on the bed or the sofa.

People often say that life is a matter of continuously going up and down, like a rollercoaster. I had no idea of how this abused sentence would be true before experiencing my third and last Erasmus. Today I know it and that is why my experience in Malaga was truly a ride on Space Mountain.

Little throwback: it is May 12th, 2018 and I am visiting Malaga during my Erasmus in Granada. I am visiting its most famous monuments, having a bath in La Malagueta and laying under the sun. I am there taking care of a group of Romanian students that are visiting the Costa del Sol capital city. I am just a student in the first year of his master’s degree, without any big thought in mind. My only worry is to get the job done properly and stay relaxed. I could not know it yet in 2018: Malaga would stay in my heart and destiny.

May 12th, 2021, three years later, with a master’s degree in Management of Tourism and Cultural Goods completed, I am writing this article.

The ride begins

Let us take a step backwards (I know it is unnecessary, but we are talking about Space Mountain, right?) to November 2019. During that period, I was looking for a company to host me for my third Erasmus, for traineeship and as a recent graduate. I would end in an incoming tour operator, again in Andalusia, this time in Malaga. My main tasks would include to manage the Walking Tours (sightseeing tours) and the Pub Crawls (nightlife tours) as well as some administrative tasks. The start date was scheduled to be in May 2020. It would eventually be postponed two months due to Covid-19. My Erasmus can finally begin in July 2020 with the reopening in all Europe, in Italy as well as Spain. The end was scheduled at the beginning of October 2020, it would be eventually postponed too (one month). During my first two months of my experience, I met only one other Erasmus as me: she was my colleague and flat mate (July and August are usually unlucky for my personal side). I would have three more different flat mates later, but I could not know it yet. It was a relation of love and hate, made of some very good moments together and some very hard fights, but eventually we ended in a good relation (Space Mountain again). Generally, it was a period of few joys, but I was confident that things were about to change, like in Granada two years before.

Going down, deep

During the entire period of July and the first days of August I was suffering, without being conscious, the pressure of an Erasmus in Malaga, that had to be good in my mind: parties, friendships, big tourism, and a valid professional and life experience. The reality was different: the mentioned pressure was my worst enemy and was making me destroy anything good that I could build. The people around me, the flat mate mentioned before and more colleagues (now friends), meanwhile, were pushed away by me, and I just could not be aware of this. August 7th: the blow comes, unexpected. That day my manager decided to remove me from the Pub Crawl, the main product of the company. The motivation was due to my lacking professionality.  I felt the weight of the world over me. I had some really bad days: I could not believe I had been so stupid. At the same time, the punishment was unproportioned to me.

The turning point

Days of disappointment and bad thoughts follow (try it yourself to stay in Malaga, in the middle of the summer, locked at home and without any friends). One day I decide to open up with my flat mate and I pronounce the fatidic: this is a s****y Erasmus (in these exact words). I could not know it yet but that French of mine would be the turning point of the whole stay. Light-hearted as the Erasmus was lost (in my mind of course), I start to live my experience without any pressure and slowly I start to be myself again. The people I had pushed away – thanks to my behaviour – were coming to me again. New friendships come next. Meanwhile the Covid-19 strikes back again, and the tourism sector pays the highest price, I mean economically, of course. Bars that can serve only up to midnight and forced to close and one o’clock, clubs closed and flights to Spain every day less frequent. One receptionist confesses to me that she would have more work during winter in normal conditions, and no, it was not sarcasm, she was speaking seriously. All this happened in the middle of August, when Malaga usually hosts the Feria, a very important local festival, even though it was already cancelled months before, due to Covid-19. Few tourists mean few work and the manager is sad. One of those nights I am on the beach with some friends. While looking for a toilet I run in a group of French youngsters. They invite me for a drink and tell me they are in Costa del Sol and they do not know how to enjoy the nightlife, worried for the restrictions. What is better than the Pub Crawl? Thanks to them, in one night, I get in good again with the manager. What follows is a growing well-being on both the professional and personal sides (a happy worker is a productive worker, isn’t it?). My Walking Tours and Pub Crawls are appreciated, even with the due limitations. At the end of the month, with the pandemic still hitting hard in Spain, I decide to extend my stay, also for economic reasons. I could not make a better choice.

Up again, more

September comes, taking summer away and bringing, finally, other Erasmus students. Friendships, people to know, travels in amazing places and so many laughs. September is a month of changes: many friends leave, many others arrive. Bars, restaurants and hospitality structures are every day emptier and the tourism in general suffers every day more. I have seen owners of bars and hostels in a very bad mood, downhearted and stressed for this situation. Anyway, I keep living my Erasmus, even with the due limitations. I have many pictures and videos of that period: so much nostalgia and fun mixed together.

October arrives and my flat mate mentioned before leaves: a new one arrives and she is a very sweet person, completely different from her. More Erasmus, more Covid and tourism even more suffering. This is the moment when I first experience the curfew: midnight, 11 p.m. and eventually 22.30 p.m. I see hostels with more employees than guest, really. I understand too well the situation, unfortunately and I try to help creatively: I organize some rooftop dinners and I try to animate the Pub Crawls and Walking Tours, when possible. But there is not much to do: if the planes are grounded it is impossible to work decently. It is in October that I realize how intense my experience has been so far.

Down once more, the ride comes to an end, or maybe not

My Erasmus officially ends on November 5th, 2020. I still remember that day “Angelo è finita” (Angelo, it is over), I was saying to myself, sad and dejected. My father came to pick me up at the airport in Rome. During the journey back home (I live in Molise) I was telling him how sad I was to be there once again: I love my family, but I had rather seen them on a different occasion, not at the end of such an important experience for me.

And here we are, May 2021, while writing about this experience, I look backwards and I think: do I realize how much did I change in four months? Do I realize how much did I grow up? Do I realize how many people, from how many countries and with different backgrounds I have met? How would I recommend taking part in such an experience? Probably there is not a certain answer to these questions.

The only certain fact by the way is that Malaga is now part of me. And the Space Mountain of my life never stopped hitting me as today, June 2nd, 2021 (date of publishing ndr), is my first day of work in the same company that allowed me to take part in an Erasmus almost one year ago. Today, June 2nd, 2021, I am back in Malaga.

Author: Angelo Panicciari.

Angelo has already published for L’Eclettico Diventare europeo: il mio Erasmus a Granada and Cracow e Kocham Polskę.

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