By Caterina Rossi
Cambridge dictionary defines the word hyper as something of which there is too much of. The word hypermobility then implies an excess of mobility. Applying it to a lifestyle – one might ask – what is too much? Where do you draw the line?
Obviously, it is something completely subjective as each person has their own rhythms and preferences. When asked though, the majority of people would probably tell you that moving twice a year for multiple years could probably be categorized as hypermobility.
Firstly, let me start off with a disclaimer.
The past year and a half taught me lessons that I could never even have imagined before, inspired me on so many levels, and I am very grateful everyday for the opportunities that this path opened for me. If I had to go back, I would choose to be an Erasmus Mundus student all over again! Hands down!
However, I truly believe the importance of sharing the other side of the coin to construct a full picture, one that does not only focuses on the bright, shiny and glamourous aspects of such a lifestyle, but one that takes into account the critical reflection on the negative social and psychological effects on a population of young people.
Karolina Czerska-Shaw and Ewa Krzaklewska are two researchers and lecturers at the Jagiellonian University of Krakow. They spotted the problem way before I did, and they are actively investigating it. In 2021, they published two articles on students experiencing hypermobility: Uneasy belonging in the mobility capsule: Erasmus Mundus students in the European Higher Education Area and The Super-Mobile Student: Global Educational Trajectories in Erasmus Mundus. Their research is conducted with Euroculture students.
In the past 5 years I lived in 6 different countries other than my own, Italy. And I can most certainly affirm that it was for my own choice, I was never forced to do so. I was in country number 4 though, when all the excitement and thrill of being on the go that I would usually feel started to fade away. I still remember the very first day of the Master programme, during the introduction session of the programme, a lecturer asked the class “why did you choose Euroculture?” – not a single person forgot to mention the mobility aspect.
Mobility isn’t an added value of Erasmus Mundus programmes, but the raison d’etre of them. Students of Erasmus Mundus programmes are usually people who have traveled a lot and already lived abroad, speak several languages and are comfortable in international settings.
Living in several different places within a short period of time, getting to experience different cultures, places, traditions, languages and so on is a lifetime experience. The path through it though, does not come without obstacles. The status of never being ‘academically at home’ of Erasmus Mundus students is reflected in feelings of detachment from the actual homes (or countries of origin). This liquid migration is characterized by temporality, flexibility and open-ended trajectories. These characteristics that at first have a strong positive connotation, mutate and stratify in what becomes the struggles of “placelessness” and “social disembeddedness”.
Due to this constant moving, several students reported feelings of anxiety and sheer exhaustion of relocating and maintaining ties in multiple loci, both geographically and virtually.
On the most superficial level, the practical struggles of relocating to a new country are the first things that come to mind. Completing the paper-work, finding a room, settling in. According to the study, dealing with the institutional barriers becomes a problem especially for non-EU students who are forced to deal with extra sets of paperwork in order to regulate their stay in Europe.
The two researchers found out that the biggest hardships that students faced though were on the social and psychological level. Despite the strong group connection, the sense of ephemeral relationships was a very powerful theme in their observations. As students transfer between universities and semesters, the composition of their social groups changes, and acquiring new friends becomes an exhausting activity. Many students stated that they are “tired of making new friends” and that, at the expense of personal contact, they continue to appreciate pre-existing ties via virtual networks.
It struck me when talking to a friend from the programme she said “at this point I don’t even try to make friends anymore. I know I will leave this place in a couple of months”. It is sad, but it’s true. After moving for the third time in one and a half years, it is very understandable.
What happens is that the majority of the students tend to maintain the contacts and the ties they already made i.e. other Erasmus Mundus students. This eventually ends up in creating a sort of a bubble and, consequently, even a feeling of detachment from the local culture.
So now, it comes naturally to think “what is the solution?”
There is no solution. There are not many solutions rather than talking about it and considering the other side of something as beautiful as hypermobility. It is amazing to have friends and ties all across Europe (and the globe!), but at the same time that can feel quite lonely. And that is ok.
The perks of hypermobility are too many compared to its downsides. However, I truly believe in the importance of shedding light on this issue, and avoid considering only the glamorous and high paced run between universities and airports. As a tip for future students I would recommend trying to hang out with local people or at least people not directly linked to their study environment. As mentioned, it is really hard, because it would be double work to do, but I believe that in the long run it pays off. And in the end it would have feeled to have lived more in each place.
Photo credit: Claudio Schwarz