Are you young, full of energy and desire to learn new things and explore new cultures? Then you might be interested in Erasmus+ short-term programmes – non-formal educational projects where you gain knowledge in the topics of your interest. In addition, Erasmus+ involves cultural exchange, since the EU cooperates with other countries in this field.
There are two types of Erasmus+ short-term programmes. Youth exchanges are created for young people who work on the same project during some time, usually from seven to ten days, while Erasmus+ training courses are aimed at youth workers, teachers and activists in civic activities. In both cases, they can be devoted to a variety of topics, from democracy to entrepreneurship, from physical to mental health, from science to arts.
I took part in two youth exchanges and four training courses dedicated to constructing a camera obscura, exploring the history of Lviv, mental health and mindfulness. Every time, the activities were in different countries and even in different formats: online in times of COVID-19, and in Ukraine, Portugal, Cyprus, Denmark and Spain. Based on my experience, I outline several reasons below why you should seize these opportunities.
I would compare Erasmus+ to a surprise box, which is always unique thanks to the mix of many factors – knowledge, culture, connections and ideas – that each time creates a completely different outcome. Here, participants are immersed into a new learning experience, which is all about productivity and fun. They are often built in such a way that you get to know each other better, establishing a connection that can evolve in future. Once strangers, in several days you become friends who will maintain contact even after the project despite country boundaries. Even though the programme is oriented at EU countries and partners of the EU, the cultural aspect touches not only European cultures. For example, during my training course in Denmark, I had a chance to meet participants from Mexico, who came to the Netherlands for studies.
Changing the environment helps you to question your priorities, goals and aspirations through reflection and introspection. They might be further developed or completely transformed under the influence of new surroundings and exchanges. I was so inspired by my first training course in Portugal in 2022 that this pushed me to volunteer for the Ukrainian NGO “Development and Initiative” developing non-formal educational projects for the youth of the Dnipropetrovsk region, which are supported by the EU.
Boosting career prospects
Aside from educational and entertaining aspects brought about by Erasmus+, you have an excellent chance to become more competitive in the labour market. Indeed, more and more employers appreciate experience of work in a multicultural environment since it demonstrates the potential candidate’s awareness of peculiarities of other cultures and their ability to interact with people from different cultural backgrounds. In addition to having increased my chances for eventually being selected for the Schuman Traineeships programme at the European Parliament, the experience I acquired also helped me to facilitate further cultural exchange and take the maximum from this traineeship.
Realising the scale of cooperation between the EU and your country
Taking part in such projects also gives an understanding of the scale of cooperation between the EU and Ukraine. This is not constrained to the educational domain, though; you might learn about democracy, healthcare and much more! And turning back to revising priorities: in my case, the desire to promote this knowledge eventually led me to the YEAs initiative, since this is a good way to raise awareness about this subject among Ukrainian citizens.
Exploring the multidimensional nature of your own country
Last but not least, on Erasmus+ you learn not only about other cultures but also about your own. Each time I participated in Erasmus+, I met young people from different corners of Ukraine with diverse knowledge and traditions. Thus, exploring the significance of Lviv for both Ukraine and Poland, learning songs from the Lemko region during the project in Cyprus and finding out about the vibrant cultural life of the pre-war Mariupol – a cultural capital of Ukraine in 2021 – were incredible discoveries that were the icing on the cake.
Where to look for these projects?
In Ukraine, there are NGOs which are in charge of Erasmus+ projects and are sending organisations. Most of these projects are put in one place on the Telegram channel of the YEAs. Organisations offering these opportunities include the NGOs “Development and Initiative”, “Unit”, “Non-Formal Education for Youth”, “Vzayemopomich” and others; they have pages on Facebook or Telegram so you can monitor them not to miss an opportunity.
Other Facebook pages include the Center for Euroinitiatives, Info Centre for Erasmus+ Youth and European Solidarity Corps in Ukraine, and the National Erasmus+ Office in Ukraine & HERE team.
Anyone can sign up for one of these projects! All you need to do is to fill in a form for the project of your interest, stating your motivation and experience.
While this article has listed many benefits of participation in these projects, the list is by no means exhaustive. Each person would reflect on the subject in their own way, analysing their current life with regard to past experience. If you have never participated in these programmes, it is time to act! Make the best of your student years, as education shapes people’s lives. And afterwards, ask yourself: how has Erasmus+ shaped my life?