A BRIEF INTRODUCTION | Written on May 9, 2019

Let’s talk about European taboos on Europe Day? 🇪🇺

All those who surround me know that I am the biggest supporter but also the biggest critic of the Erasmus+ Studies programme: from recognizing that it is an experience that makes us feel more European and that we belong to something bigger; to criticizing the lack of inclusiveness (especially towards individuals in an economically weaker position) and advocating for mental health during Erasmus, something that seems to be forgotten in all the testimonies I have been gathering over the years.

This was the programme that gave me the opportunity to live two unique experiences, in two completely different parts of Europe — but also a depressive state which, today, after having surpassed it, I have the openness to talk about. At the time, it was very different: stories of Erasmus that did not go “so well” (because, besides everything that went wrong, this was a super positive experience!) were rare; and isolation was the solution I found. No one prepared me for the problems that I had to face alone, everyone told me it was going to be a “bed of roses” — something that was (very) far from being 100% true. There is a huge social pressure for Erasmus to be seen as perfect, and it is up to us to break down that myth. Fortunately, in the middle of all this, I have found an “Erasmus family” (the circa 20 people of 11 different nationalities with whom I lived during my first experience), that held me and helped me when I needed the most and isolated myself. They showed me, above all, that I was not alone.

However, I am aware that not everyone has the same opportunity I had — and I feel extremely grateful for that. I owe everything to my parents, that have always supported me, during the most difficult times; and when the living/working/studying abroad bug I always had inside me spoke louder. Therefore, this Europe Day, there is nothing left for me to do than wishing that the Erasmus+ programme (Studies or any other) gets to become more inclusive; and that the flaws of this amazing programme get to be talked about more openly — because, even though it has some flaws, it keeps on being one of the most amazing things the European project brought us!

For a more European Europe, a more inclusive (and demystified) Erasmus! 🇪🇺

THE ARTICLE | Published on May 9, 2019

WITH TIME, “ERASMUS STARTED TO REPRESENT AN ALMOST IDEAL WORLD, WITHOUT BORDERS”

Inês and Catarina did their Erasmus twenty years apart. One in 1995 and the other one in 2016. It shaped the way they live and feel Europe, but they had different experiences. This Thursday is Europe Day.

THE PROGRAMME HAS CHANGED

Spending a whole year abroad was Catarina Neves’ plan. The young university student is still studying at the University of Porto and in 2016 left for her first Erasmus experience (she went twice), in Maastricht, the Netherlands. Catarina is the same age Inês Espada Vieira was when in 1995 left for Hamburg, but Catarina’s experience was not so happy as the one recounted by the professor. And she criticizes: “People sell us Erasmus as something it is not anymore.”

“Since I was a little girl that I wanted to live abroad”, remembers. Going through the exchange experience was also at the top of her priorities, therefore, as soon as she got to university, she tried to understand what she needed to enroll. On the first semester of the 2nd year of the degree in International Relations, there she went. The expectations were high and were mostly based on stories her colleagues told her — “It is going to be fantastic”; “It is going to be very easy”; “All the professors are going to understand you are an Erasmus student”.

But it was not exactly like that. All the classes were in English and the educational system was much more demanding than she expected, even though she choose Maastricht University precisely because it held a higher position in the international rankings she looked through. “I had to do a paper almost every week”, she tells. Catarina Neves’ plan was to stay one year in the same country. That did not happen, but she did not give up. In the 3rd year, she went to Brno, in the Czech Republic. It turned out to be better, “but it was not easy anyway”, she summarizes. Even so, Catarina does not belittle the importance of the experience: “It was what made me feel European for the first time.”

Regarding the reason why other students do not describe their experiences more faithfully, Catarina says that “there is a huge social pressure on Erasmus having to be perfect”. When she shared her situation with other colleagues, others ended up recognizing they had the same problem. Therefore, these days, the university student participates in information sessions and always stresses: “If your Erasmus went/goes wrong, you are not alone.”

THE VALUE OF INTERNATIONALIZATION

(…) Catarina Neves also recognizes this value and admits that the “idea of an employer towards Erasmus is different from the one the rest of the society has”, which often associates the programme to parties and trips around Europe.

For the future, Catarina hopes that the programme becomes more inclusive. To the point that it allows students with lower financial resources, any disability or in charge for a family member, to benefit from the experience. (…). *

I would like to thank Rita Marques Costa for the invitation and the opportunity of advocating for a topic I am so passionate about; and Adriano Miranda for the photos! 🇪🇺

Originally published on May 9, 2019, in Público’s segment “8 Lives of the European Portugal”, supported by the European Parliament; and that shows how the European Union had an impact on the lives of the Portuguese. Written by Rita Marques Costa (in Portuguese); translated and adapted by me. You can also find this article here:

Portuguese with a passion for all things youth, European and global. Somewhere in Europe studying or working on ENP, the Mediterranean and the UN.