Studying Abroad: Erasmus. Part 1
July 30, 2012
By: Nadine Schreiner
In the course of their studies, many students decide to go abroad for a term or even for a whole year. Attracted to the unknown; to a different culture and a different setting, they leave their country, friends and family behind and study at a university abroad for a few months. But there are different possibilities of studying abroad, such as studying as a “Freemover” or as an “Erasmus student”. This article will focus only on the Erasmus programme, and be based on personal experience.
Let me just begin by saying that for me, leaving my country behind is not something really new. Being an international student at a university in the UK, I have already gone through all this. Two years ago, in spite of enormous fear, I decided to jump over my shadow, leave my comfort zone and make my dream come true. And the past two years have been among the best in my life. In the time I have spent in England so far, I have met the most wonderful people and made the most amazing experiences. I have settled in, and I really feel like I belong. And yet, it is now compulsory for me to leave England behind for a year as well.
I’m studying Languages and Translation, and it is part of my programme to study abroad for a year. As I’m studying Spanish, I knew from the beginning on that I will have to spend a year in Spain. In the beginning, it all felt unreal to me, and I couldn’t imagine it actually happening, but in the meantime, after many Year Abroad meetings at university and after a lot of paperwork, it is now beginning to take shape. In two months, I’ll be studying in Spain, and I have to admit that I feel nearly the same that I felt when I moved to London: I’m excited and looking forward to the different culture, people, food and climate, and to making new experiences and learning new things. But I’m also scared of many things, such as leaving the place and people I know behind, and starting again somewhere else. I know that, although I’ve now settled in so well in England and have all my friends there, I will have to go to Spain in September, and get used to a completely new environment, find people I get on with, and make do with my level of Spanish – and I’m only lower intermediate.
But in spite of all these fears and worries, I can now already say that the experience will be a very exciting one, and I’m eager to learn new things. At the beginning, the whole thing seemed intimidating to me, and I wasn’t sure if I could manage all the paperwork, the application procedures, sorting out accommodation and so on, but having gone through all this now, I can calm down any future Erasmus students: it is not as complicated as it looks at the beginning. In my university, many “Year Abroad meetings” took place, where we were provided with the necessary information, and where we could ask additional questions. And in fact, the whole procedure can be separated into a few parts.
The first one, obviously, is to decide what you want to do on your year abroad. You can choose between working, teaching English to foreigners, or studying. If you decide to find a job in the country you’re going to, you’ll still have to choose a university in case something goes wrong. Finding a serious and useful job from a distance can be quite difficult, and due to the current crisis in Spain, you’d probably not have a real guarantee. Plus, the job has to help you improve your language skill – in speaking, listening, reading, and writing. After all, that’s what you’re going abroad for: to improve your language skills. The second option, teaching English to foreigners, is in relation with the British Council, and I was disappointed to find that this is only an option for native English speakers. English is my third foreign language, and therefore, it is certainly not an option for me. And that leads us to option 3: studying abroad. And in my opinion, that sounds like the easiest one. If study as an Erasmus, you will find that your university has partnerships with universities all over Europe, and in the Year Abroad meetings, you’ll be given information about the ones you can apply at. Besides, your tutor will help you make the choices that are best for you.
The next step will be deciding what universities you would consider studying at. You have to give your home university three choices, along with a personal letter why you think that you’re the right student to be sent to these particular universities. And then, if you’re lucky and convincing enough, you will be nominated for the university that was your first choice. However, even if you then eventually know which university you’ll be studying at, there will still be a lot of things for you to do. Your tutors will help you in case of questions, but you are still expected to work quite independently.
You will have to fill out a number of forms and papers. These include the Student Mobility Agreement and the Exchange Student Agreement, where you’ll have to accept to the conditions of the Erasmus programme. You will also have to establish your Provisional Learning Agreement: when you know which university you’re going to, you will have to search the modules online and decide which ones you’re intending to take. Your tutors will then approve of your module choices, if they think that they’ll be useful to you on your year abroad. Other documents, like the Erasmus Grant Information form, will have to be done, if you are eligible for that grant.
When the paperwork is finished, it will eventually be sent to your host university by the International Office at your home university. And although it certainly feels like a huge relief when all this is done, there will still be a lot of things for you to do.
Not only do you have to make sure to make (health) insurance arrangements, but of course, you’ll also have to apply to your host university. Even if your home university nominated you, it is your own responsibility to find out the deadlines and to send your application on time. The deadline is different for each university, and so is the procedure. In my case, the application had to be done online, but other universities may require additional documents sent by post. Once the application is done, you will have to be patient, and wait.
One of the “last” steps is sorting out your accommodation. I recommend to only apply for accommodation after receiving confirmation of your place at university. As for finding the right place to live, it depends both on the city you’re going to, and on your personal conceptions. Looking for privately rented accommodation can be difficult from a distance, and it is advisable not to pay any deposits or agree to any conditions before you have actually seen the flat in person. You can also choose to live at a hostel on your arrival for a while and then start looking for something else, but you’ll have to keep in mind that especially in the first weeks of term you will be very busy with the final paperwork, registration at your host university, Erasmus inductions, and so on. If you want to get “additional stress” by flat-hunting and moving all your things, is up to you. Another possibility is to live with a family, if you wish to do so. Or alternatively, you can apply for on-campus accommodation, respectively for accommodation in a hall of residence of the university, which is probably the most convenient one when you study abroad for a year.
Once the application and accommodation are sorted, there won’t be so much to think about anymore. There will be some more things you have to do when you arrive at your host university, such as send the final learning agreement, and of course, write on your report. But all in all, I think that the aforementioned steps are the most important ones to be done BEFORE you set off to the host country.
And then, all you have to do is wait for the day on which you travel to your host country. In my case, that will be in less than two months, and as I have said before, I am both excited and scared, but I’m also sure that I will have an amazing time in Spain. If you want, keep an eye out for the second part of this article, which will be based on the first experiences as an Erasmus student in Spain.
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