I would be lying if I said that back in September; I was thrilled about leaving my uni bubble in Birmingham and embarking on my year abroad in France. I spent hours compiling pros and cons lists concerning staying or going. I didn't want to leave my boyfriend, my family or my dog and the thought of my uni friends graduating without me had me feeling like I was going to suffer from a calamitous dose of FOMO (Fear of Missing Out for any older folk reading). Nevertheless, reluctantly I departed for my Erasmus year in Lyon albeit puffy-eyed and terrified.
However, despite my initial reservations, after living in France for five months I can only recommend GOING ABROAD to everyone. Indeed, even though we are just over an hour away from Lyon by plane, British students here are somewhat of a minority in the international student community. Apart from among language students (myself included), most British students don't seem to be aware that the Erasmus year abroad programme even exists yet it is an opportunity that is open to all and not to be missed.
So, what is Erasmus? Founded in 1987 with the aim of increasing student mobility within the European Community, the Erasmus programme is the European Commission's programme for Higher Education and HE/FE students, teachers and institutions. It allows students from various partner universities to spend a year out of their domestic studies to study abroad. For all the shortcomings of the European Union, I would say that the Erasmus programme is their crowning glory. It allows for an exchange of cultures and experiences between nations which on the wider scale creates a more integrated Europe but more importantly it is a fantastic experience for each individual that participates.
Below is my list of top five reasons you should go on an Erasmus year abroad:
1.) You can learn a language
Ignore the conventional wisdom of "everyone speaks English so I don't need to learn a language." This quite simply isn't true and it is probably this line of thought that has led to 75% of British people being unable to speak a second language (which is a bit embarrassing when there are Scandinavians that speak better English than most of us.) The British Council reckons that Britain will lose "economically and culturally," if we don't start taking up languages.
Moreover, graduate employment firm The Milkround reports that a second language is second only to IT ability in a list of skills that increase employability. To add to this, research reveals that knowing a second language also boosts your earnings; the mean salary of language graduates three years after finishing university is ahead of engineering, maths, physics and astronomy, and chemistry graduates. So if like me you're technologically backward and/or number shy, then learn a language or lose the rat race. The Erasmus programme is a great start.
2.) It is well funded
So the Tories pissed all over the gap year dream for me by hiking up tuition fees in 2010. But studying abroad has provided me with much the same experiences (travelling, meeting people etc) that I would have had on a gap year, only it is affordable. One of the pillars of the Erasmus scheme is its bursary system. Every single student is entitled to a grant which covers your cost of living (and some.) In fact I'm better off monetarily living in France than I was back in Birmingham. I also don't have to pay any tuition fees. Thanks Erasmus.
3.) Make new pals from all over the world
Aldous Huxley once said that "To travel is to discover that everyone is wrong about other countries" and living abroad enables you to do just this. I know in Britain, hating the French has become a national tradition much like drinking tea, baked beans, roast dinners and small talk about the weather but now I am actually living here the 'frogs,' are pretty hard to dislike. When I first arrived dozens of passers-by stopped to give my directions when I was looking completely lost and aimless. The French students at my university too were pretty welcoming; each international student is paired with a French student who shows them the ins and outs of student life. In fact I'm a bit ashamed that back in England we don't do more to make our international students feel welcome.
Further, making 'lifelong friends,' from across the globe is wonderful in itself but also great for when you all go your separate ways and you have friends to stay with in Berlin, Budapest, Madrid... I could go on.
4.) You can travel
One of the major perks of my year abroad programme (and many others) is that it doesn't actually count towards my final grade at university which means it's basically like fresher's (except the food is better and you can go skiing when you want). Use your spare time wisely and take some time to tour.
Remember: Once you're on the continent, Europe is your oyster. If you book in advance train travel is pretty low cost and variations of Bla Bla Car have sprung up all over the place also enabling you to travel at a fairly low price. You can spend your weekends doing all manners of things; sampling the 'coffee,' in Amsterdam, skiing on the Alps or sunbathing on the Mediterranean coast. All this while your final year friends back in Angleterre are in a dissertation- induced state of depression. And if that doesn't make you want to study abroad then nothing will.
5.) It is open to all
You don't have to be a language student to go on a year abroad. The majority of European Universities now do courses in English (I know this kind of contradicts point one) so whether you study fine art, engineering, pharmacy or golf management there is probably a course somewhere that suits you. Alternatively, if you want to get a bit of work experience, the Erasmus scheme is also open to those who would like to do an internship abroad.
So what are you waiting for? Allez! Allez!
Lyon by Night. Photo by Hannah Strumwasser