In June 1987, the European Economic Community has launched the Erasmus program to give young people from European countries the opportunity to study abroad. It had been the very beginning of a program which turned out to be the perfect following on the basic spirit of the European building on, that is to say: to create bridges between countries in order to encourage understanding between people, and make peace durable. 30 years later, its success is undeniable: 5 million people live the European experience, grown a true European citizenship feeling and joined the “Erasmus generation”.
The start: a concrete overview, by Stéphane Dugast
When you experienced Erasmus, the program was not yet 10 years old. How deep was it settle in the university environment? What was the reaction of your family and friends?
I experienced Erasmus during the academic year 1995-96. I had just joined the IAE of Lille to follow a master’s program in « marketing, culture & communication ». Beside a course less academic and more focused on the professional world, this more professionally focused section of the university offered a great number of Erasmus opportunities, rarely fulfilled. It was indeed easier to start as an Erasmus student in Lille than in Nantes, my home university. There, I had attended an economic sciences course but I wasn’t part of the best students of the group. I had then no chance to take part in the Erasmus program, as the selection was based on your academic results! Thanks to the IAE of Lille, I could study abroad in Ireland for one year, taking a marketing course at the Waterford Technical College. It’s over there that I learned the basics of marketing.
We started with no guidance, just receiving advices from the former Erasmus students. Nobody was waiting for us there. We had to find our own accommodation, and then settle there by ourselves. On the university front, the French and the Irish degrees were perfectly matched. I decided to live 10-15 kilometres away from the campus, in Tramore, a seaside resort not yet fashionable.
My family was sceptical. I had just left Nantes, my hometown, to study in Lille. As soon as I arrived there, I told them that I was going to study in Ireland. But they understood. And, for the first time, I had a scholarship. I came back to France for Christmas, right in the middle of a strike. Shock! Then, I came back to Ireland. I stayed the whole year in Waterford. I took my exams in English, which forced me to work hard. We had no Internet, no phone, it was a full immersion at the time.
What have been the benefits of such an experience and how did they affect your career path? Do they still have an impact on your life today?
It’s in Ireland that I learnt English and its idioms. I remember that during the first weeks, I had terrible headaches in the evening, because I had to listen and speak English all day long.
In order to improve, I used the notebook trick. I was writing all the words I didn’t know in a notebook, and I would look for their meanings in the evening before writing them in another notebook arranged in alphabetical order. It was tedious but very useful as I arrived in Ireland with a very school level English. In France, I had learnt English by filling in blank exercises, and by writing essays in an approximate English. I had barely heard English or watched movies in its original version. Well, DVD’s didn’t exist yet… it was an Erasmus of another era (laugh)!
Beyond learning a language, Erasmus opened me up to another culture and other European people. On the campus, there were Spanish, Danish, Italian and even an English considered as an Erasmus student by the Irish!
Thanks to this experience, I became aware of Europe and the rest of the world. It made me want to move and to travel as I met Irish people, whose cousins lived in Alaska, the United States, New-Zealand and Australia. For my Irish friends, travelling was part of life. Shortly, I caught the travelling bug thanks to Erasmus. I passed my bachelor’s degree, as it was called at the time, in Ireland before coming back to Lille and studying for one more year. I undertook an additional postgraduate year before choosing to go another way, in the field of journalism. Erasmus gave me the chance to open my eyes and my ears.
This Erasmus period still resonates in me, because it was the beginning of my travelling life. It has stayed in me, especially because I was 21-22 years old at the time. It was in a way my first initiatory trip over a long length of time.
You co-wrote the book « Ils ont fait Erasmus » (« They’ve been on the Erasmus program »), in which features the portraits of 30 Europeans who took part in the program. Did you notice similarities or differences in the difficulties encountered by the very first partakers? Did you notice a significant evolution in the program through the stories you gathered from students that have been more recently?
After investigating for and writing the book « Ils ont fait Erasmus », I can confirm that the Erasmus + program has matured. All is more regulated, and possibly prepared, but it is also easier to follow this program and to get information ahead of time. The Internet, websites or forums can provide any practical information regarding accommodation and everyday life. But there is still a big step to take, leaving one’s home comfort to start an adventure and discover a country. And thank God for that!
According to me, the real change is the opening of the Erasmus + program to young people -high school pupils- teachers, apprentices, the disabled and the unemployed. If I may say, it is open to all profiles and tastes! This great variety of profiles surprised me when I was investigating. And it perked me up.
For everybody interviewed, this experience of mobility undeniably changed their life. It had motivated and opened to the outside and others. Erasmus is a thirty years old program which had been able to regenerate. It gave birth to a European consciousness for a lot of participants. Each person has, I think, a better understanding of its nationality and of what it means to be a European citizen. It gives you a better understanding of your own country and of the rest of the world. Old or new Erasmus participants, we all have the stars of the European flag shining in our eyes! And it is a good thing. Because Erasmus is a true school of life, even a passport. Long live Erasmus !
From Erasmus to Erasmus +
As mentioned above by Stephane Dugast, Erasmus very much evolved since 1987. In fact, the European Union had designed other mobility programs for young people alongside: the European Voluntary Service, or the Leonardo Program for example. Since 2014, these programs are all gathered under the name of Erasmus +, which designates all mobility and European cooperation projects in the fields of education, training, youth and sport. Moreover, Erasmus + is now open to many profiles such as high school pupils, apprentices, trainees, trainers, unemployed people, graduated, education and association staffs.
Concretely, it means now that different kind of institutions are concerned, beyond universities. As an example in Lyon, the SEPR is a vocational training center which manages a professional center, a technical college, a lifelong learning center and a private institute. It offers more than 200 courses in IT, tertiary and retail services, graphic design and print, art and design, beauty and social services, catering and cooking services. With the Erasmus + program, they give their students and apprentices opportunities to follow internships abroad and increase their professional skills within an intercultural experience. In 2015, 510 persons of this school have lived individual and collective European mobilities. They have been welcomed in 13 countries, from Germany to Canada, and 50 companies established in the professional fields taught at the SEPR.