October 6, 2016

The ‘Erasmus Programme‘ at Cardiff Met enhances opportunities for student cooperation and mobility within the European Union.  Despite improving statistics, student mobility figures show that while the UK is one of the top receiving countries for Erasmus students, it is not one of the top countries to send students. Why is that?

Well, I only knew of two other people from my faculty that embarked upon the Erasmus Exchange. There are a number of potential explanations for this. Notably, Cardiff Met has been ranked top for International Student support for the sixth time running, so it’s clear that the staff and their student ambassadors do a fantastic job in helping incoming students feel safe and welcome. Another reason could be down to culture. Having studied in Germany for my exchange, I learned that in most European countries, it is expected – even mandatory in some cases – for students to complete some of their studies abroad. The same is not expected of students over here.

Talking from personal experience, I think that the biggest deterrents for UK students, are finances and fear. Not everyone is aware of the financial support that they could receive, and living abroad can be a daunting prospect.

So let’s start with finance:

Most students are eligible for a higher maintenance grant from Student Finance during their time abroad. Also, most universities in Europe have no tuition fees, but Universität Leipzig (where I studied) did have a mandatory semester fee. As worrying as this was to me initially, the fee actually included a public transport pass which was very useful. I received around €350 a month to help towards additional fees and general living expenses.

Erasmus programs are financially supported by the EU (at the moment, but following BREXIT this may change). Whichever side of the Brexit debate you stand on, the changes in legislation will take a few years yet. However, our current political climate is arguably an incentive to apply for the programme ASAP,  just in case opportunities to study within the European Union become more difficult in the future. Take advantage of this amazing opportunity now! Discuss financial options with your Erasmus coordinator when you get to Uni. You may be surprised by the extent of financial help available.

Alongside finance you may have queries about accommodation:

Your Erasmus coordinator will help you to secure your accommodation abroad after you have done your research and selected appropriately. Universities in Europe normally have plenty of information about living arrangements on their websites. While you are overseas, you may begin to realise that UK housing prices are expensive; Germany seemed delightfully affordable when I was there! Also, my flatmates in Germany were amazing ladies (two Europeans and one American). I miss them even now.

Aside from finance & accommodation, there are more emotional aspects to consider:

The prospect of a language barrier is off-putting for many people, however, the majority of the institutions involved in the Erasmus exchange teach their modules through the medium of English. Therefore it is not essential to learn another language. For instance, Universität Leipzig where I studied, taught many modules in English. They had literature focused modules such as Literary Modernism in England, and cultural studies modules like Africa and the British Imagination. Most institutions also offer language classes (some of which are free). By the time that I had completed my studies in Leipzig, I had attained a basic certificate in German (Level A1). This gave me more confidence to complete normal day-to-day tasks such as asking for things in shops and greeting new people. It’s polite to make an effort to learn another language and most people are very patient and genuinely respect you for trying.

Moving to a new country (albeit temporarily) where you will live, socialise and study might be a huge step outside of your comfort zone. Research, and a positive attitude, are essential in easing in to the transition. Check out your chosen university’s websites, prospectus and their government’s tourism board. Most institutes will have Facebook and a number of social media feeds, especially their student unions. Leipzig has Erasmus pages with different social nights and activities. International students have a real presence in European countries. There are so many integrated and intercultural social activities to be a part of, I never once felt like an outsider and my input was appreciated in every seminar. If you love learning about other cultures, meeting new people and just having a good time then Erasmus+ is perfect for you. Your work when you return home will benefit from the wealth of new and alternate ideas you will have picked up.

Do you remember how you felt when you first started high school? New place, new lifestyle, new people. You were probably nervous then but you settled in, made friends and adjusted. Have faith in yourself; you can do it when you start Uni too, and then you can do it anywhere else in Europe via Erasmus. There are 27 EU countries included (and five non-EU countries) to choose from, with more relationships established every year.

After my studies I spent the summer travelling across 9 European countries with an Interrail pass. I visited my new friends in their home towns and travelled with them making even more unforgettable memories. Think about it; if you’re on the continent then it would be silly not to!

Check out Grace’s top 10 tips for preparing to study abroad.