In the UK we have a tendency to associate ‘Erasmus’ solely with courses that offer a year abroad and as an ambiguously-defined institution that awards language students free money to galavant around Europe. In reality, it is much more than this and is in fact a very serious scheme offered by the European Commission. It remains unclear what fate Erasmus will face post-Brexit and whether it will continue playing a role in British students’ education, but for now I will share my experience with you as these options are currently available for all young people in Britain.
“I’ll begin by busting the myth; Erasmus is not just for language students”
I’ll begin by busting the myth; Erasmus is not just for language students, in fact it is isn’t even limited to students. While Erasmus is indeed the main source of funding for students on a year abroad in Europe, it also offers training courses and youth exchanges that are open to any young person aged 18-30. As I am currently in Lille on a year abroad I too saw Erasmus only as a source of money. It is only since arriving in France that I have become aware of the other opportunities they offer and how much better promoted they are in France in comparison to the UK. I was informed of this through my internship at a french NGO, Organisation Française de la Coopération Internationale, which regularly takes young French people on these Erasmus + projects.
I have recently returned from a Youth Exchange in Lithuania which consisted of teams from France, Greece, Romania, Italy and Lithuania. The focal topic of the exchange was ‘Youth Unemployment Across Europe’ and the main aim of the week was to discuss the issues we face during our job searches as young people in our different countries and to share our employment experiences. The week felt a lot like a real-life version of Big Brother, with thirty-five young people living in a house together and partaking in group activities. We touched on issues such as the minimum wage, impacts of the 2008 crisis, help on job searches, reliability of employers, worth of a university degree, work experience expected and general conditions in the workplace. These unsurprisingly varied greatly across our countries.
“activities were designed for team building so it was essentially a week of playing games during the day and partying during the night”
Fortunately for us, these Youth Exchanges are very relaxed. While several tasks obviously revolved around employment , most of the activities were designed for team building so it was essentially a week of playing games during the day and partying during the night. Don’t get me wrong, we covered some very important issues and got to network with other young people from across Europe, but it was not a training course (which Erasmus + also offer) and was hence not as intense on the ‘professional’ side of things. We even spent a day in Vilnius, the Lithuanian capital, touristing.
The European Commission offers several of these Youth Exchanges and Training Courses every month for free. Accommodation and food is all catered for and your travel is reimbursed for up to 275 Euros, so it is a perfect way to discover new parts of Europe and meet new people. I recommend you make the most of these opportunities while we still have them and encourage you to spread the word about Erasmus+ to other internationally-minded young people.