Blog: The Erasmus Students Network: uniting and supporting youth across Europe
November 28, 2022

Blog: The Erasmus Students Network: uniting and supporting youth across Europe

‘The youth of today are the leaders of tomorrow.’

Nelson Mandela

How lucky are we to keep proving this statement by working hard on making this world a better place day by day? How lucky are we to have opportunities to express our creativity and ideas, united and surrounded by amazing like-minded people!

In order to be surrounded by people with similar values and views, you need to consciously shape your environment and become part of networks that can help young people develop. One of these networks is the biggest student association in Europe, the Erasmus Student Network, ESN.

ESN is the biggest volunteer non-profit international student association in Europe that helps incoming foreign students to integrate into their host countries. Its mission is to support and represent international students’ interests, thus providing opportunities for cultural understanding and self-development under the principle of ‘Students Helping Students’ (more about the organisation’s aims and principles here).

ESN was born on 16 October 1989 and legally registered in 1990 for supporting and developing student exchange. Nowadays, it is present in more than a thousand Higher Education Institutions from over 40 countries, has around 15,000 active members, but also involves around 40,000 young people voluntarily offering their services to around 350,000 international students every year.

The network operates on three levels, local, national, and international, and works for the creation of a more mobile and flexible education environment by supporting and developing student exchanges from different levels and providing an intercultural experience also to those students who cannot access a period abroad (‘internationalisation at home’). Many local sections are set up by former exchange students, often because they have had good experiences from their exchange period or because they felt a lack of help during their exchange. They also understand better the issues and challenges in a foreign environment.

As simple as it sounds, ESN is a huge organisation built around certain principles. We aim to support our fellow students as much as we can while being students ourselves. Our core principles are health and well-being, culture, skills and employability, environmental sustainability, social inclusion and of course education and youth.

ESN Austria, one of the sections which I represent at the moment, has been part of the ESN Network since the early 1990s. Members are always participating in projects on the international level, which allow them to develop themselves while helping to improve the lives of exchange students.

Has this made you interested in becoming an ESN member? It’s not rocket science! Just find an ESN section in your city. Even if the section is not based at your university – you are still very welcome to join. ESN is a strong young community that needs to grow because mutual help is the only thing that will help us, the young people, to survive in this challenging world.

How do we manage the successful work of the organisation? We have national and international events that help us to strengthen our connections, build new ties with our fellow sections and discuss practical questions such as calendar planning, budget planning, trips etc. This year an extremely important event for the ESN community, the National Assembly (NA), took place on 4-6 November in Styria (St. Ragund, Graz, Austria), a state in the southeast of Austria. As an active member of ESN FH Wien WKW (Vienna, Austria), I participated in the NA and would like to share my insights and tell more about ESN activities in general. The event brought together up to 50 active young people living in Austria, and within three days of meetings and workshops, we planned more than 100 events for the upcoming year 2023.

So what is the ESN NA and why do you need to know about it if you are planning to join the ESN team in your country?

An NA is a statutory meeting of ESN, where the National Board (the bosses of ESN) meets up with representatives from all sections, partners and international guests. Such events happen three times a year in 32 member countries and include presentations about the latest ESN updates, projects, events, best practices among the sections, and workshops led by internal and external stakeholders. ESN sections in Austria take turns as the Organising Committees for these events, and this teaches the volunteers how to organise such meetings. It is also common to have a special social programme for the duration of the event, in which ESNers from different sections have the chance to get to know each other in a more informal manner.

This year, the NA Styria took us to the green heart of Austria. With many first-time NA attendees, the focus of the event was on training and networking, which was achieved through many workshops and interactive sessions. Local section members and international guests presented their sections and the activities they are planning for the Social Impact Days (more information here). Our Social Inclusion Coordinator presented the causes of ESN and the concept of the Social Impact Days. Moreover, she gave tips on how to organise impactful activities and proposed “Inclusion Stickers” to label events according to certain criteria.

But beyond the NA, what other kinds of events does ESN organise?

Under the principle of SHS – ‘Students Helping Students’ – the mission of all the ESN sections, the core of ESN, is to foster student mobility in Higher Education Institutions by providing prospective, current and former exchange students with services, support and guidance for making their stay abroad a success. As you could probably guess, the events are focused on raising youth awareness on such topics as gender equality and identity, global conflict resolution, providing help to those in need/charity events (have a look at how ESN helps Ukraine here), sustainable development goals (about SDG here) and environmental protection.

ESN advocates for the quality and quantity of mobility in the European Higher Education Area. We spot obstacles and motivations for students to go abroad, try to detect solutions and advocate in Europe to ensure that detrimental factors are reduced and favourable components are increased. ESN members are simply your friends and helping hands during your studying abroad and even after. So, if you want to join the ranks of the organisation that unites the most active youth of Europe and neighbouring countries – join the ESN in the country where you are currently residing!

Interested in the latest news and opportunities?

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