Erasmus: the European exchange program
Being a student of any Czech university means you have an opportunity to participate in the Erasmus program, discover a new country, expand horizons, learn a foreign language and find new friends.
Learn about Erasmus and possible pitfalls Czech students may encounter in the article by Alexandra Baranova, written for the GoStudy blog.
The non-profit EU’s program aimed at the exchange of students and teachers between different countries was created in 1987. Initially, all EU member states, as well as Iceland, Liechtenstein, Macedonia, Norway and Turkey, participated in it. It owes its name to the Dutch scholar Erasmus of Rotterdam, who has traveled to many European countries to acquire knowledge and experience. The word Erasmus is also an acronym for the European Region Action Scheme for the Mobility of University Students.
Since 2014, Erasmus program has been replaced by the Erasmus + program, an EU educational program covering the period from 2014 to 2020. It differs from the initial program only slightly: it now includes, among other activities, sports, and guarantees financial loans for studying at a university abroad.
In addition to it, there is a separate Erasmus Mundus program. Its main advantage is that it is accessible not only to Europeans and is aimed at increasing the appeal of higher education in certain universities, at supporting young doctoral students, masters and teachers. Erasmus Mundus program, as well as Erasmus+, offers scholarship.
How to apply
There are a few things to keep in mind when considering becoming an Erasmus program member.
- Firstly, an applicant must have completed at least two years of higher education.
- Secondly, academic performance should be above the average; A-students hold all the cards actually.
- Thirdly, the total duration of being abroad as Erasmus student cannot exceed two years – one year of learning and one year of internship.
- Finally, an applicant must have excellent knowledge of a foreign language – English at least, the language of the country of interest, all the better (in some cases, the latter is required).
You can find out application guidelines at your higher institution. The scheme of actions and the list of required documents may differ depending on the university you want to get into. For example, all necessary application guidelines for Charles University students can be found here, all other necessary information related to education, health insurance, visas and more can be found here.
As a rule, universities hold seminars and meetings dedicated to learning abroad, where you can get acquainted with representatives of the educational institutions you are interested in and get the inside scoop. You can also listen to the students who have already tried Erasmus, and see if you were right about your choice of the country and university, as well as learn about all pitfalls.
You will surely encounter these pitfalls, therefore, when organizing a trip, take into account that you will be on your own and double-check all useful information, so as not to accidentally end up in an foreign country without necessary documents, money or a place to stay.
Despite some differences in detail the whole process is as follows:
- filing an application (usually electronically) The application includes a motivation letter, so be prepared to explain why you want to study in Portugal or Turkey, for example.
- passing the selection procedure It can be stage-by-stage process: within the department, entire faculty or university. Candidates are also agreed with the foreign partner university.
- collecting and preparing documents and trip arrangements This should be done as soon as possible, not at the last minute. In other words, even if you have not yet received a positive answer, you can read all the necessary information regarding plane tickets, accommodation, insurance, bank account (your card can easily be an unpleasant surprise for you on the very first day of your stay in a new place), transport, educational process at the university, find future coursemates on social networks and talk about the realities of your new life.
- obtaining a refusal / consent at your university In case of refusal, be sure to ask the reason; if you strongly disagree with the decision, you have the right to apply for a revision.
- preparation for the trip In case of consent, arrange your trip on the basis of the information you already have.
- departure Here’s to your new life!
Let’s get back to the pitfalls and miscalculations that, despite all your thorough preparation, can happen. What can you expect?
Stefan, a Social Sciences student at Charles University who was in France within Erasmus program, says: “The French are extraordinary bureaucrats. In order to get one document you will need to take five more, and you will collect signatures on these documents, running from one end of the city to the other. Moreover, all this is happening very slowly; I barely managed to collect all the necessary documents on time (yes, you will have to do this in a foreign country as well, hence the requirement for knowledge of the language – author’s note.). Bank account registration is also an important thing, as it turned out. I came to France with a Czech card, and immediately became aware that the scholarship that I was entitled to would be paid only to a French bank card. As bad luck would have it, the Czech card also stopped functioning. So, if I hadn’t had some cash, I would have been living on bread and water for the first week.”
Speaking of the scholarship, the fact that you have been the lucky one to travel abroad does not mean that you can count on a scholarship that will at least partially cover your expenses.
“I did not receive the scholarship right away, at least not before leaving the Czech Republic,” Stefan says. “Time consuming bureaucracy once again reminded of itself. In addition, it was only enough to cover the accommodation costs, in my case small room in a very minimalistic dorm. When I checked in, I found that it was in a state of renovation, so not all rooms (including mine) had windows installed. Out of my travel habit I luckily took a pillow and a blanket. Besides that, the weather was still good, and I am a very unpretentious person.” You can avoid dorm, of course, and rent an apartment or a room, but the costs for renting in France, especially in Paris, certainly more than 400 Euros, and this is about all financial assistance from the university you can counted on.
Thus, one scholarship from the university is definitely not enough, so you should think about how to save up for a trip or find a part-time job.
“I spent a semester in Norway as a third-year student,” says Anna. “I have wanted to go there since the first year, so I worked part-time and save up for two years. Live in Oslo is incredibly expensive, even if you are a student and trying to save money. Thanks to my parents, they helped me, knowing how important it is for me.”
“My program in Barcelona was not very difficult. I came there for a year, so about a month later, having got settled, I found a part-time job in a restaurant not far from the apartment we rented with other girls. It would have been very noisy in the dorm, and there were already enough entertainment in Barcelona,” says Martina. “I worked, of course, unofficially, but they hired me without any problems, since I knew several foreign languages.”
“I am a freelance copywriter, so I can work anytime and anywhere. It helped me a lot when I spent a semester in Scotland; I could studied and worked at the same time,” says Christina.
Unpleasant surprises may await you even when you do not expect them at all.
“In my second year of master’s degree, I went to Spain for six months. I didn’t know Spanish, so I signed up for an English program,” says Yana. “But when I arrived, it turned out that the academic department got something wrong, and I was enrolled in a Spanish program. It was already late to change it. You can imagine how terrified I felt. But I pulled myself together, and after a month I spoke Spanish quite well and understood the lectures a bit. I had to forget about leisure time and entertainments though, after lectures I learned Spanish.”
Mom, I’m back
Remember that you miss significant amount of learning process in your own university. So to avoid unnecessary problems upon your return, plan your trip so that you skip as less as possible or have the opportunity and time to catch up, pass crucial exams and write a thesis at least.
European universities use a so-called credit system – each subject has its credit equivalent. Student has to obtain a certain number of credits in order to qualify to the next semester or year. Before you made your decision about university abroad, read about study plan and all the courses you have to learn there and agree this plan in the academic office at your university. If everything is perfect, the obtained number of credits at the Erasmus university can be credited to you at home.
Is it worth it or not?
No matter how many problems and obstacles you have to overcome or what result you achieve, one thing is for sure: studying abroad (in other words, being on your own and relying on yourself) is a unique experience that will not only make you more resistant to stress and changes, but will also help you to develop communication skills, understanding of new places and situations, teach you how to cope with difficulties, give you interesting acquaintances and knowledge, and possibly even become the first step to completely new shores and horizons.
Basically, it will change your life.