by Monica Nica
We left Brussels a week ago but it already feels like we have been travelling for a month. The numerous hours spent in trains and the lack of proper rest is already starting to take its toll. Fortunately, the people we have met along the way, who helped us in so many ways, make us bounce back instantly.
Although we have only spent half a day in Zaragoza, we had some interesting discussions with the AEGEE members present there in quite high numbers. The presentation and following interviews focused on what mobility signifies for young people, what pushes and what hinders them to go in another country to study or to work.
One idea that stood out early on from the conversations was the lack of information on the various mobility options available for young people. It was surprising to discover this from AEGEE members, who are more mobile and knowledgeable in this area than the average young person. The various AEGEE projects helps them come in contact more easily with others that have already experienced some type of youth mobility programme. If they are not aware of all the available opportunities, I can’t help but wonder what of the young people that are not active in organisations, or are not even students?
From all the options we have presented to them (Erasmus, Leonardo, European Voluntary Service (EVS), Comenius, Grundtvig, Erasmus Mundus, Youth in Action, etc.), the majority of participants were familiar with the Erasmus programme – If they have not already experienced one, they are about to start one next semester or are thinking about it. The only other opportunity they were familiar with was EVS.
The main source of information is the university and from friends that already had the experience of a mobility programme. As Veronica from Slovakia, doing her Erasmus in Zaragoza at the moment, said, “knowing something exists doesn’t mean one will also use it”. This is true even when it comes to Erasmus, which seems to be so common and easy to do these days for most young students. If one knows a friend who did it, then it becomes more real, more achievable.
When we asked the participants where they would like the information to come from, we didn’t receive a clear answer. Some expected it from the university, while for others it seemed normal that the universities focused mainly on Erasmus. The ones who knew about EVS found out about it from AEGEE, but as Christina from Spain said, “this isn’t normal”. I believe the information should come from a source which young people trust and with which they often come in contact. I am sure most universities can provide information on mobility options, but the problem is that they do not advertise them properly. If students are not aware of the various programmes, then they can’t avail themselves of the advantages they entail.
Moving on, the young people also shared with us what Erasmus meant for them. Their answers revolved around improving language skills, making friends, being exposed to different and varied culture and becoming more independent and self-reliant, all of which in the end boils down to personal development. Furthermore, meeting people from so many different backgrounds when it comes to nationality, religion, ethnicity, etc., helps in breaking and, at times, confirming stereotypes. This in turn, increases the feeling of being part of something more than one’s region or country; it makes them feel more European.
The advantages of Erasmus are undeniable, and the opinion was unanimous among the participants that every young person should have this experience. So why doesn’t everyone have it? Except the lack of information, it was also mentioned the fact that there are people who just don’t like getting out of their comfort zone, or for whom language can represent a hindrance more than a challenge. But the most important reason seems to be money, or better said, lack of it.
If one would want to sketch the portrait of the average young person taking advantage of Erasmus, it should include a student with initiative, the fact that most probably he or she is already active in some kind of organisation, has a certain level of financial security, enjoys a challenge and wants to develop both professionally and personally.
Although Erasmus is somewhat elitist, as most young people don’t fit the portrait above, the usefulness and importance of Veronica’s call that all young people should “travel, experience and discover” remains valid. What needs to be worked on, besides improving awareness about all the mobility options for young people, is that they are indeed available for everyone.