Cuts threaten Erasmus

“The EU’s university exchange scheme Erasmus could be threatened by budget cuts in member states across the union. The much-loved scheme allows university undergraduates to spend up to a year studying for their degrees in foreign countries all over the world.”

(25/10/2012, euronews)

Penelope Erasmus1

Penelope Vaxevanes │

The first Erasmus

I remember vividly the day my Erasmus in Lyon, France ended. It was six in the morning as I boarded the shuttle to the airport, to catch my flight to Greece. I was with my friend Paul. We were both tired as we had crashed a party the night before with some other friends and had left at 4am .We walked in the warm night for the last time, slipped into the quiet residence, I took my luggage and we left for the bus stop, silent. A couple of minutes later the bus came, we hugged, I boarded the bus and as it took off I waved, not only to Paul but also to that part of my life that I could never go back to. I cried all the way to the airport. It was the first of the countless times I would cry in the following months, as I suffered post-Erasmus depression. Don’t laugh. It’s actually a thing.

Eventually, I got over it. I put the whole experience in that part of my mind where everything seems glorious and happy. The experience shaped me like no other before it. It opened my horizons and made me appreciate the life I had been accustomed too. I got to meet so many different people, that came from all these different countries and whose lives were so similar to mine and yet so different. I got to emerge myself in another culture. I had to forget all that was normal in Greece and simply follow the French normal. The experience was educating. It transformed me, as it has transformed millions of other students before and after me.

Imagine my shock, then, when I read one morning in late October that the European Union (EU) is planning to cut the Erasmus budget. Not only does the EU make budget cuts in education, but it does so by cutting the funds of one of the best features of the European university life: the Erasmus exchange program. What a ludicrous idea, indeed. On the one hand, I think that maybe the EU funds are in such a state that they have become desperate. On the other, though, I think that they just view the Erasmus programme as a luxury they offer students which they do not appreciate. Indeed, students hardly see the benefits when they are on Erasmus, but rather realize later, when the whole thing is over.

Largely, Erasmus is considered a good excuse to go abroad, meet people, travel, party 24/7 and occasionally appear in class and write a paper or two. Mostly it is like that. Or rather, it seems like that. Yes, of course, all the Erasmus clichés are more or less true. The Spanish people who always hung out alone, only speaking Spanish.  The people, who never go to campus during Erasmus, let alone to class. Those people that always compare the country they’re in with the one they came from, always finding the first one lacking. There will always be people that the Erasmus experience will not affect at all. They are the excuse the EU is using to label the program a ’failure’ of sorts, when, in reality, it is so much more.

It is an experience that shapes you. Most people that go on Erasmus arrive one day in a foreign city, where they more or less speak the language (sometimes very badly) and they have to manage life alone. They have to make friends from scratch. They have to fight homesickness. They have to manage with the customs of one country or the complicated beaurocracy of another. They have to live on a certain budget, sometimes in a currency they are not accustomed to. They have to manage ,especially if something unexpected happens with no family or friends to fall back on.  It is an adventure. Yes, a great one. But it is also one that shapes your character and makes you a better person; a more open one; a more tolerant one.

And..the second one

This year, something totally unexpected happened. I got to live the whole thing again which gave me the opportunity to look at Erasmus experience as an outsider as well as insider. So, how did it happen? As I arrived in Hamburg for my internship in the Greek Consulate General, trying to make friends, I hesitantly joined some Erasmus events. It was the start of term. People were coming from all around Europe and soon I found myself going to the Erasmus orientation of a university I was not a student of, hanging out in university dorms, partying every night (and going to work in the morning) and generally enjoying once again the whole Erasmus experience that I was not ‘technically’ part of.

I met amazing people, who go through this living abroad thing for the first time and saw their excitement and their first experience of real freedom. Ana, the ’butcher’ who always asks you why you would want to go home; the other Ana, who is a real artist but has to do a very practical job; Joao, who is the guy that deserves the best life can offer; Kresho who cannot stand many people but when he likes you, he loves you; Kostas who speaks Greek to me; Marc who always sees the best in people even when others cannot; and Tom who wouldn’t be Tom if he did not have something to complain about.

I laughed and joked and shared views and images and stories. I was in it as much as I was out of it. But it made me realize again, how precious the whole experience is and how devastating it would be to let it go. And even though I cannot be as sentimental about Erasmus as I was when I was 20, I can still feel the impending doom of saying goodbye, and the bitter-sweet taste of memories that are to come. The promises of keeping in touch, that you want to keep so much… And in the end, you will grow out of it eventually except the memories will never be gone. A very famous Greek actor said: “Each day, something beautiful ends and you cannot have it back”.

You have to let go, and forever cherish it.


If you liked Penelope’s article, also read Feature Story − The Home I Left, the Home I Found : A Vacation in Greece in the Middle of the Crisis

Penelope Vaxevanes, News Editor

penelopePenelope is from Greece and has studied French Language and Literature in the Philosophic School of the University of Athens. She spent the first two Euroculture semesters in Goettingen and Krakow. She wants to make a career in Cultural diplomancy but so far, she enjoys avoiding writing an MA thesis while testing her alcohol consumption limits in Hamburg.

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