Monday, October 10, 2016

Exploring the Erasmus Experience: Participating on exchange may impact intercultural competency

Exploring the Erasmus Experience: Participating on exchange may impact intercultural competency

By Juliane Micoleta

Julianne Micoleta wrote this blog entry for the course “Language and minorities in Europe” (FRIT 418) in Spring 2016 as a rising senior, majoring in Political Science and minoring in Global Studies.


Boasting a budget of 14.7 billion euros and more than four million opportunities to study, train, gain experience, and volunteer abroad, the European Union’s Erasmus Program works towards providing life-changing experiences to thousands of Europeans every year.

First established in 1987 by the EU, the premise of the Erasmus program is to provide students, registered in higher institutions, within the EU foreign exchange options to study abroad, according to the Erasmus program website.

Now, nearly 30 years later and set to last until 2020, the Erasmus program does not have opportunities for just students anymore. Combining seven other programs, it now houses opportunities for a wide variety of individuals and organizations including universities, education and training providers, think tanks, research organizations, and private businesses. The overall goal of the Erasmus program is to contribute to the Europe 2020 strategy for growth, jobs, social equity and inclusion along with meeting the goals outlined of the ET2020, the EU’s strategic framework for education and training, according to the European Commission.

Since its inception, the Erasmus program, especially the higher education component, has grown significantly. With more than 4000 students involved in the program at any one time, it allows the opportunity to build cross-border cooperation between states, aid the growth of international studying, and provide hundreds of mobility options for students to build cross-cultural understanding.

According to some scholars, a possible byproduct of participating on an Erasmus exchange is an increase in intercultural competency, that is the ability to communicate effectively and appropriately with people of other cultures.

Photo Courtesy of Jare Jarvinen
Take, for instance, Jare Jarvinen, a third year Politics and International Relations student at the University of Aberdeen, who spent one year on an Erasmus exchange at the Institut d'Etudes Politiques de Lille in Lille, France. According to Jarvinen, he was motivated to go on exchange to further his studies on the French language and to learn more about French culture.

“I really enjoyed my Erasmus experience,” Jarvinen said. “It was the best year of my life so far. I learned so much about a different European culture and made life-long friendships with people from all over the continent. I think it also enhances my employability.”

He also agrees that his experience studying in Lille had some positive effect on his intercultural competency.

“I now know much more about other Europeans and I am more aware of what unites and separates us,” Jarvinen said.

Other studies also point out that participating on an Erasmus exchange can possibly help foment a European identity.

Photo Courtesy of Jare Jarvinen
“This experience definitely fostered my European identity,” Jarvinen said. “The whole program is genius as it creates these life-lasting connections between young people and shows us the benefits of working together.”

However, Jarvinen’s experience was not always easy. He was exposed to some cultural differences that he believes are so deeply rooted that will be difficult to overcome any time soon. He also noticed the economic discrepancies in Europe more. Despite this, he did not completely see this as a negative thing and feels that his Erasmus experience generally had a very positive impact on him.

“In a way, I leaned that the European integration process is much longer than I expected and somehow also felt unsure if the differences are too big to really integrate in the near future,” he said. “But it's not necessarily a bad thing. I think that we don't really need a single European culture, but that these cultural differences are what make us special. Like the EU motto goes ‘United in diversity,’ it's definitely true.”

Sources:

Erasmus Programme. (n.d.). Retrieved April 15, 2016, from http://www.erasmusprogramme.com/

Erasmus - European Commission. (n.d.). Retrieved April 15, 2016, from https://ec.europa.eu/programmes/erasmus-plus/about_en#tab-1-0

European CommissionEurope 2020. (n.d.). Retrieved April 15, 2016, from http://ec.europa.eu/europe2020/index_en.htm

Schartner, A. (2015). The effect of study abroad on intercultural competence: A longitudinal case study of international postgraduate students at a British university. Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development, 37(4), 402-418. doi:10.1080/01434632.2015.1073737

Jacobone, V., & Moro, G. (2014). Evaluating the impact of the Erasmus programme: Skills and European identity. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 40(2), 309-328. doi:10.1080/02602938.2014.909005

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