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Erasmus: a small handbook for the future student

, by Philippine Lefèvre, Translated by Jill Haapaniemi

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Student enthusiasm for this educational training program is particularly emblematic in the European Union. French, German and Spanish students are the most common to participate, and France, Germany, and Spain are three of the most popular destinations for the “Erasmus Generation.” So how do you make the best of this year? By enjoying yourself, but also through self-development and appreciation. Here is some advice from former Erasmus students...

Poster: Erasmus, 1987-2007 – Credit © European Union, 2011


Since its creation in 1987, the Erasmus program has permitted over 2 million students to either study or intern abroad, and 200,000 take advantage of this opportunity each year. Students are not the only ones who can benefit from this opportunity of higher education in a real European environment; teachers, or anyone who wishes to teach or train in another country, are eligible for the exchange.

Anticipating the departure

Among many of the reasons students choose to go abroad, one of the most commonly cited is the desire to learn or perfect a foreign language, and the desire to discover another culture and change your environment. Even though these are good reasons, they are not always sufficient enough to get you admitted to a country of popular choice, or a country that your university has not had many exchange agreements with.

You need to enroll in a year (or semester) of complete training with Erasmus, and in case when competency is not clearly evident, you should pay particular attention to your cover letter. The number of available spots is limited and students who want to work internationally in their future careers will have a better chances than others. If you are worried that your academic records are not permitting for a certain country, certain students have turned towards Scandinavian countries or countries which have most recently entered the European Union. Here, courses are run partly in English. The key is to inquire and look into all of the information early on so that your application will be both coherent and appropriate.

Once you arrive in a your new city, Erasmus students must find housing. Certain universities offer convenient residencies, but they are not always targeted to those who are doing an internship, and others would rather choose to live with a roommate. To avoid waiting around in endless lines when you arrive, it is recommended to look for a place a bit before the academic year.

Though it is sometimes difficult to take on new customs, the first moments on site will remain for the most part great memories: like discovering the many bike paths of Germany, the Italian aperitivo or the Swedish beaches...

During an internship, a student is rapidly integrated to a team and is put to use right away. This is not the case for students studying through Erasmus. Universities generally provide informational meetings (sometimes mandatory and always necessary), visits to the campus and the city, and even “Erasmus parties” to welcome foreign students. The former Erasmus participants of your university are also excellent sources of information; contact them! Finally, to get the most from your Erasmus opportunity from the very beginning, you have to be prepared before your departure.

Once there, Erasmus students gradually settle into their new life. While the pace of an internship may be about the same from one country to next, the academic schedule is often quite different, and above all a lighter work load. However, the workload will still be different: big presentations or memorization in foreign language, if not yet fully mastered, will obviously take extra effort.

The ideal solution for many is, then, is to room with a student from the host university. Based on the exchange and equally beneficial for both parties, you can quickly get to know one another, and even form a friendship. Taking a language course is sometimes necessary, at least for the first semester, but for those who choose university courses that are too light may risk quickly losing interest. Thus, it is important not to overestimate or underestimate your skills.

Furthermore, students must pay particular attention determining their chosen courses. Certain classes, in fact, will issue ECTS credits, but will not issue grades for the one year of transfer credits that need to be validated by the home university.

Offers are often paid internships for many foreign students, and very useful for those who want to uniquely benefit through Erasmus: language courses, childcare, research assistant... To find them, the simplest and most effective way is networking (the good tips and deals are shared within Erasmus participants) or asking for help at the universities, embassies and consulates.

The flexibility of the year with Erasmus also makes it possible for students to travel more than they normally would be able to. Students usually go to neighboring countries for their destinations but sometimes go further. Erasmus students usually organize their trips with other students they have met while abroad.

Finally, the important thing is finding a balance between all that is possible to do in a year with Erasmus. For example, some participants have expressed regret in not having benefited more from the experience because they returned home too often, or having not learned more languages while they had the opportunity to...The goal of the Erasmus year is the exchange of discovery and learning, where you take advantage of this extraordinary opportunity intellectually, culturally and humanely. That is the great challenge of Erasmus.

To go or to stay? Enhance one year like no other

The end of the Erasmus year often marks the end of an adventure abroad for students who have benefited from the program. They recount their last days of Erasmus with nostalgia. Some, however, won over by the country, the city and their encounters, choose to stay. All seek to keep in contact with the people and experiences discovered during a year unlike any other...And promise to return again soon! The latest Eurobarometer survey shows that 53 percent of young people in Europe are ready and willing to work in another European country or consider the prospect with enthusiasm.

Whatever the final choice may be, the transfers of grades and validation of the internship at your home university are required in order to graduate. Universities and schools, as employers, value the skills acquired by students who have had some of their education or training abroad (foreign language skills, the ability to cope and adapt to situations, relationship skills...). Students who have benefited from experience abroad are increasingly valued in their future paths, and this exceptional opportunity should be emphasized.

The Erasmus year is not a break, it is a step which offers multiple opportunities. It is becoming easier to leave on these journeys, and all of the former students explained that their experience has helped them, both at the university and profession level. Why not try an adventure?

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