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Foreign universities, or a couple words about Erasmus

Educational center GoStudy

1 July 2023

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Studying in the Czech Republic means having the opportunity to take part in the Erasmus program and explore a new country, broaden the horizons, learn a foreign language or make new friends.

A couple words on what Erasmus is and what pitfalls Czech students come across - provided by Alexandra Baranova for the GoStudy blog.

Erasmus is a non-profit program founded by the EU in 1987 and aimed at student and teacher exchange between different countries. Initially, it included all EU member states as well as Iceland, Lichtenstein, Macedonia, Norway and Turkey. The program is named after the Dutch scholar Erasmus of Rotterdam, who travelled all across Europe in search for valuable knowledge and experience. The word "Erasmus" is also an acronym for European Region Action Scheme for the Mobility of University Students.

In 2014, the Erasmus program was replaced by Erasmus+ - an EU educational program for the period of 2014-2020. It doesn't differ much from the original program, except now it also covers sports and guarantees financial credit for higher education abroad.

In addition to the updated Erasmus+, there is also a separate program called "Erasmus Mundus". Its main advantage is that it's not restricted to Europeans only and is aimed at promoting higher education in one university or another and supporting young postgraduates, magisters and teachers. Similar to Erasmus, it includes scholarship support.

How to apply

If you want to take part in the Erasmus program, you have to take several things into account. Firstly, by the time you're submitting your application, you must have studied at your university for at least two years. Secondly, your grades must be above the average set by your university - excellent students have the upper hand. Thirdly, the total duration of the stay abroad as an Erasmus participant must not exceed two years: you can spend one year as a student and another year on a work-related traineeship. Finally, you must be fluent in a foreign language - English at the minimum and preferably the language of the country you are planning to stay in (the latter can be mandatory in some cases).

Ask your home university's administration for more accurate information about the application guidelines, since the procedure and the list of required documents may differ depending on which university you want to study at. For example, the Erasmus program guidelines for Charles University students can be found here, and all the additional information related to studying and getting medical insurance, visas, etc. - here.

Universities generally hold seminars and conferences on studying abroad, where you can meet representatives of the institutions you're interested in and get information first-hand. You can also see presentations of the students who have taken part in Erasmus and decide whether you've chosen the right country and university and learn about any pitfalls.

And there will absolutely be pitfalls, so when you're planning the trip, rely only on your yourself above all and check the information several times so that you don't end up in a foreign country without proper documents, money or a roof over your head.

While the details may differ, the procedure in general is as follows:

"submission of the application (usually online) The application includes a motivational letter, so be ready to explain why you want to study in Portugal or Turkey in particular."

"the selection procedure It may be broken into several stages: within one academic department, a department or the entire university. The candidates are then approved with the foreign partner university."

"collecting and preparing documents and planning the trip You should do it as soon as possible, don't delay it till it's too late. In other words, even if your trip hasn't been approved yet, you can study in advance all the necessary information about the plane tickets, accommodation, insurance, bank accounts (your ""home"" card can easily become an unpleasant surprise on the first day of your stay), transport and the educational process at the university, find future peers in social networks and ask them to describe the realities of your new life."

"receiving a rejection/approval in your university In case of a rejection, ask what the reason for it may be, and if you strongly disagree with it, you have the right to request it be reconsidered."

"active preparation for the trip This step is done based on the information you've found."

"departure Say hello to your new life!"

Pitfalls

Let's get back to the pitfalls and mistakes that may occur despite your meticulous preparation. What to expect?

Stefan, a student of the Faculty of Social Sciences at Charles University who went to France as part of Erasmus, says: "The French are extremely bureaucratic. To get one little document, you need five more, and to have them all signed, you'll have to run from one part of the city to another. What's more, the signing process takes a very long time; I barely managed to collect all the required documents in time (yes, you'll have to do it in the foreign country, too, hence the language requirement - author's note.). Opening a bank account is very important, too, as it turned out. I came to France with a Czech payment card, but it turned out that the scholarship I was to get would only be transferred to a card of a French bank. To make things worse, the Czech card stopped working. Had I not had any cash on me, I would have eaten nothing but bread and water the first week there".

Speaking of scholarship: the fact that you've passed the selection and become the lucky winner who'll go abroad doesn't mean that you can rely on a scholarship which will barely cover even half of your expenses.

"I didn't receive the scholarship right away, or at least definitely not until after leaving the Czech Republic," Stefan says, "Red tape reminded of itself once again. Plus I barely had the money to cover the payment for the accommodation: in my case, a room in a rather modest dormitory. After moving in, I found the dormitory in the middle of a renovation, so not every room (mine included) had window frames. I was lucky to have taken a pillow and a blanket with me - a hiking habit of mine - and the weather wasn't too cold yet plus I'm not picky at all about such things". Granted, he could have played it safe and rented an apartment or a room instead of a dorm room, but the housing prices in France - and in Paris in particular - definitely exceed the 400-something euros you can expect to get as financial support from the university.

Therefore, a university scholarship alone is not enough, so it's important to consider saving up for the trip in advance or finding a part-time job.

"I spend a semester in Norway during my third year at university", Anna says, "I cherished the idea since my first year, so I studied at home and worked hard on my time part job for two years to have at least some savings. Life in Oslo is unbelievably expensive, even if you're a student and try to save on everything. I'm also very grateful to my parents - they knew how important it was for me and helped me".

"My program in Barcelona wasn't very intense. I went there for a year, so a month or so later, once I settled down, I found a job in a restaurant near the apartment the girls and I rented together. Dormitories are too noisy, and there are plenty of things to do in Barcelona already," Martina says, "I did have to work unofficially, but I was hired without any issue because I know several foreign languages".

"I'm a freelance copywriter, so I can work whenever and wherever. It helped me a ton when I spent a semester in Scotland: I could focus on my studies and earn a living at the same time", Martina explains.

Unpleasant surprises can happen even when you don't expect them at all.

"I went to Spain for six months during the second year of my Master's program. I didn't know Spanish, so I signed up for a program in English," Yana says. "But when I arrived, it turned out that the academic office workers had made a mistake and signed me up for a program in Spanish. Swapping the programs was already too late. You can imagine the initial shock and terror I felt, but I pulled myself together, and a month later I could more or less speak Spanish and understand the gist of the lectures. That being said, I had to forget about any free time and entertainment: all of my time after the classes was spent on learning the language".

Mom, I'm home

In order to avoid any additional problems upon your return - don't forget that after all, you skip a significant portion of the education process in your home university - choose such a date for your trip that ensures that you skip the least number of classes or at least have the opportunity to catch up, and reserve some time for handing in crucial qualification papers and writing the graduation paper.

European universities utilize a so-called "credit program": each subject has a specific number of points - or credits - you need to earn in order to successfully move to the next year and graduate. After choosing a university abroad, look through the program and the subjects you'll be taking and have this learning plan approved by your university's academic office. Ideally the credits you earn in the Erasmus-university should be recognized by your home university.

Is it worth it or not?

No matter how many problems and obstacles you may come across, no matter with what result you come back home, one thing is certain: studying abroad (think, a situation where you're all alone and can only rely on yourself) is a unique experience that will not only make you more resistant to stress and change but also allow you to develop communication skills and find your bearings in an unknown environment, teach you how to overcome difficulties, and help you meet interesting people and get new knowledge, and maybe will even become your first step to finding completely new discoveries and horizons.

In other words, it will change your life.

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