Dismantling prejudices, learning foreign languages, changing perspectives: all this is best done abroad. The Erasmus Programme has been promoting student exchange since 1987, and is celebrating its 30th anniversary in 2017. Seven current and former participants report on their experiences. And tell what Europe means to them.
Erasmus is celebrating its 30th birthday: launched in 1987, the programme has so far sponsored the exchange of more than three million students in Europe – 1.3 million of them from Germany. The programme has now left its mark on more than a generation of Europeans. Over the years it has expanded its offerings to include trainees and school children, adult education and youth work. Since 2014, the joint EU programme for education, youth and sport has gone under the name of “Erasmus +”.
Here seven current and former Erasmus scholarship holders tell of their experiences – and what Europe means to them.
© Markus Lutter
Johannes Trommer, political scientist from Jena. Erasmus scholarship in 2008/09 at the University of Padua, Italy
“If you’re studying political science, you’re concerned with different countries on a daily basis – with their similarities and differences and their relationships to each other. You have to know what you’re talking about by gaining experience in other countries. I wrote my bachelor thesis on whether experience abroad changes the attitude towards Europe or not. An interesting result was that people who go abroad – for example, with Erasmus – are already pro-European. So that we all see ourselves as Europeans, more and more people should get the opportunity to go abroad. That’s why I work for the Erasmus Student Network (ESN) as a supervisor for Erasmus students in Germany.”
© Yngve Olsen Sæbbe
Friederike Bischoff, pianist from Germany, lives in Tromsø. Erasmus scholarship in 1995 at the Høgskolen Music Conservatory in Tromsø, Norway
“There are no borders in music. Still, I’m grateful that my German piano professor initiated the Erasmus network at the Trossingen University of Music. In this way I went with Erasmus for a year to Tromsø after taking my preliminary diploma. Tromsø seemed to me to be so at the end of the world – I had to see it! From here, the perspective on Europe changes. When you fly south, the Norwegians say, unofficially: We’re going to Europe. The negotiation of Scandinavian and European identity, and the assessment of European politics, is very exciting to experience here. The people are open and interested, the conditions at the university are fantastic, the extreme landscape phenomenal; in short, after taking my degree, I returned here and now teach and live in Tromsø with my husband and children.”
Kathrin Pietz, teacher in training from Münster. Erasmus scholarship for the 2013 bachelor degree semester in Spain at the Universidad de Cádiz
“Erasmus is a marvellous enrichment for everyone. In Spain I experienced daily how prejudices and clichés are dismantled in contact with people. Your way of seeing things is corrected quite naturally. I found Spanish society very open, social, optimistic and outgoing. When I’m a teacher, I want to create a living Europe every day in my classroom.”
© David Ausserhofer
Bénédicte Savoy, art historian and professor from France, lives in Berlin. Erasmus scholarship at the Humboldt University in Berlin in 1993
“Erasmus in Berlin changed my life. I didn’t want to go back to Paris. While I was in Berlin world history took place. I then completed my studies in Paris, returned here and today teach in Berlin. My research is concerned, for example, with the German-French cultural transfer and globally circulating art. At any rate, I urge my students to travel through the world with Erasmus! Especially in times of intolerable re-nationalization, Europe must be perceived and cherished not only as an idea but also as an actual physical space experienced by the (moving) body. This is exactly what Erasmus makes possible.”
Oliver Guist, mechanical engineer from Frankfurt am Main. Erasmus scholarship for the 2014 master’s degree semester in France at the Ecole Central de Nantes
“My Erasmus exchange aroused my interest in issues of the European Union, but also in France. I’m convinced that we need more Europe and not stronger national states. The overall concept of the EU has ensured stability and peace in the past decades and I can’t understand why people are afraid of ‘foreign infiltration’. These people have probably never had the opportunity to travel or to learn a different language and are therefore afraid of the unknown. Erasmus improves the experience of exchange between countries.”
Mathilde Baty, sociologist from France. 2017 Erasmus + scholarship in 2017 at the Viadrina European University in Frankfurt an der Oder
“I’m a child of Europe. Born in France, mother German. I travelled through Europe already as a child. The variety of cultures, histories and other aspects that I experienced gave me much more than merely a French view of Europe. I’m now underway for the second time with Erasmus: during my bachelor degree studies I was in Poland; now for my master’s I’m in Germany. Erasmus provides a different experience of life abroad. In the Erasmus flat-sharing communities, you meet a strongly international group of Europeans, with plenty of solidarity with each other. That’s important, but you also have to go out into the host country to really get in touch with people, to learn the language and see the country not only through the Erasmus glasses.”
Alexandra Bronnhuber, research associate in private enterprise, living in Augsburg. Erasmus scholarship in 2002 at the University of Bradford, Great Britain
“My mother came from Hungary, so I was never ‘only German’. I had a cosmopolitan view at an early age, moved out of my parents’ house at eighteen and wanted to go abroad as quickly as possible. This experience doesn’t harm anyone – quite the contrary. During my university studies in the social sciences, I went to Great Britain for two semesters through Erasmus, but took courses there in business and management. I found I had a lot in common with other European exchange students – that was important to experience. Because Europe is necessary.”