Erasmus isn't about studying; it's about learning
We have read Viktor Gronne and Dalia Miklaseviciute's column about the flaws of the Erasmus programme with great interest. We are all former Erasmus students, from different countries and different backgrounds, and we feel it is a civic obligation to answer you on the specific points you make. In fact, in our opinion, the message conveyed in your article is both wrong and dangerous.
Your indictment revolves around three points: The lack of academic requirements for Erasmus students; the absence of direct ties with local culture; and the party culture attached to the programme. All of this leading to the conclusion that Erasmus has fallen short.
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First of all, let's agree to disagree on the academic dimension. In our experience, there is nothing in the Erasmus programme that prevents anyone from studying anything. If you wish to take extra classes on top of the credits you are expected to bring back home, it is fully possible pretty much everywhere we've been, and this includes advanced language courses.
You claim that Erasmus students are isolated and treated differently. On the other hand anyone would agree that it would be a little unfair if they were treated on an equal footing with native speakers. It is absolutely normal that there is an adapted curriculum for foreign students. In this context there can't be equal terms of academic evaluation – unless all courses are dispensed in Esperanto.
Another thing that seemed to have bothered you a lot is the absence of ties with local culture. You seem disappointed at the ESN network for not showing you where the local national history museum is located.
Our answer to this is: couldn't you find it yourselves?
We are talking about twenty somethings with a university education here. If they want to find out about the history of the country where they're going to spend at least the next six months, we sincerely believe they are clever enough to buy a couple of books about it, download a documentary, and google the main cultural spots before departure. Indeed, this is an essential part of the learning experience the Erasmus programme provides for.
But your main problem seems to be this dire 'Erasmus party culture', a thing of such an 'unhealthy' nature that you use this very expression no less than four times in your column. Be afraid, be very afraid of the mighty Erasmus party culture! You don't exactly sound like a couple of night owls; and that's fine, partying isn't an obligation when you are a student. But it doesn't mean you have to spoil the fun for everybody.
You will probably admit that you are the voice of a tiny minority of Erasmus students. Well, there is a very good reason why things are this way.
Erasmus isn't about studying; it is about learning, and sadly you haven't understood the difference between these concepts. There are indeed many ways to learn new things, and studying is just one of them.
During our Erasmus experience, we all learned far more outside the university than during the courses. We discovered new landscapes, new cities, new countries, new languages. We made new friends, from new countries, speaking a whole variety of different languages, and while struggling to understand each other we created languages of our own.
We loved new people; we had sex with new people. We learned how to make cultural compromises living under the same roof as people from all around Europe. We opened our personal borders.
We learned how to open our minds to new experiences. We went out, as often as possible. We explored, we wandered, we travelled and we partied. We partied hard, because for the first time in our life and probably the last, we were absolutely free to do so.
You don't seem to think that nightlife is part of the local culture; you have a very narrow vision of what culture is. We danced to new sounds, we tasted new drinks, we met people everywhere, sometimes making friends for life. We embraced every chance we were given to do so. We gathered a lifetime of beautiful memories of these parties. And these unforgettable moments wouldn't have been possible if it hadn't been for the so called 'flaws' you seem to see in the Erasmus programme.
All in all it seems you have completely missed the point of the experience. You were given a unique opportunity to broaden your horizons, but all you have to talk about after you come home is the lack of an efficient sanction mechanism in the Charter. In all fairness it is this kind of mentality that we would call 'unhealthy'.
The success of Erasmus can't be reduced to academic achievement figures. It should be measured through the enthusiasm it generates and how generations of young people identify with it. In this context, you are trying to discredit one of the only true successes of the European Union's recent heritage. It is not surprising that young people are not going to vote on Sunday if the one EU policy they actually identify with is described with such contempt.
In fact your column is a good synthesis of everything that is wrong with the EU discourse today.
Our message to all future Erasmus students: do not listen to Viktor and Dalia. Be young, be free, and don't worry too much about your grades. Make the most out of your time there, be curious, be foolish, and don't forget you'll only have one such opportunity in your lifetime. Now go and enjoy the party.
Carla Chiaretti, Italian, Erasmus student in the UK, Fabien Miclet, Irish-French, Erasmus student in Turkey, Maj Lervad Grasten, Danish, Erasmus student in France