Erasmus+: expanding connections between the EU and the Eastern Partnership
May 27, 2024

Erasmus+: expanding connections between the EU and the Eastern Partnership


Most European students are keenly familiar with the Erasmus+ Exchange programme, established in 1987 to create cooperation among European higher education institutions.  Since its establishment, over 13 million students have benefited from this opportunity, leading them to explore new environments. Although purely an educational project at first glance, it provides its participants with much more depth of personal experience: Erasmus+ does not only connect universities and people but also countries and cultures.

Choosing the destination for your Erasmus+ exchange semester can be quite challenging. There are so many aspects to consider: the university, the weather, the expenses, the language, and, most importantly, the accommodation. However, we, Kamran and Margarita, Young European Ambassadors from Azerbaijan and Moldova, have been lucky to spend a semester in four major EU countries: Germany, France, Spain, and Estonia. And it would be a shame if we didn’t share our experience with both those who are planning their semesters abroad and those reminiscing about them. Although it was almost impossible to put the experience into words, we tried anyway.

Kamran’s Erasmus+ experience

Eau de Cologne

I was blessed to spend my first semester abroad in Cologne, also known as the land of Eau de Cologne. Prior to my exchange, I had never been to any German city, so I had no expectations whatsoever. But it turned out to be one of the most memorable and enjoyable experiences of my life. So, what made it so special? First of all, one thing that makes any city special is the people. There is no better feeling than a sense of belonging in an environment with like-minded peers and that is exactly what Cologne offered. In addition, living with host parents made me feel welcomed even more. Second, the university and classes added an extra nuance to the overall experience: the classes at the University of Cologne were engaging and quite different from the ones offered at my home university, allowing full flexibility for students to manage their time. Third, was the unforgettable German nightlife. One of the essences of a semester abroad is letting go and having fun. And Cologne was the perfect place for it. Lastly, the convenient location of Cologne for travelling made the experience more international. The agenda for every weekend was to explore a new city nearby: Berlin, Hamburg, Luxembourg, Amsterdam, Paris, Zurich, and so many more. Looking back, the only downside of this exchange was the day of departure. But it is the law of life that all the good things come to an end eventually.

The City of Love

My grief for the end of the first exchange semester did not last long. After a month I left Cologne, and despite the challenges of finding accommodation, I arrived in Paris, the City of Love. I feel like this exchange semester is pretty self-explanatory: how can anyone not fall in love with Paris? I had the pleasure of studying at an elite French institution, Sciences Po, in the heart of the city. Yes, THE Sciences Po where Christian Dior and Emmanuel Macron studied. What was I doing with my free time after thought-provoking classes with the top professionals in their fields? What any foreign student in Paris would do: try French desserts, travel to Versailles, visit Shakespeare & Company, and drink Chardonnay. Paris made me lose and rediscover myself all over again. Most importantly, it made me feel seen. My last day in Paris got me thinking: what kind of a person would I become if I hadn’t come here? To be frank, I wouldn’t like to know. The whole experience made me grow as a human and appreciate different cultures even more.

Margo’s Erasmus+ experience

“Non Plus Ultra”

Erasmus unlocked a new world for me — a world of freedom and happiness that I have never experienced before. My first destination was Cadiz, where the most powerful Spanish energy is concentrated, absorbing me into its culture. From the very first minutes of landing, a profound sense of belonging washed over me as I immersed myself in Spanish society. I was welcomed with open arms at every stage of my introduction to this experience. I was fortunate with my flatmates: diverse nationalities, instant friends, and endless cultural insights. I was pleasantly surprised by the variety of university courses and the possibility of choosing a suitable schedule for myself. When it comes to Spain, you cannot overlook its fiestas, but I’ll be laconic and say that they are colourful and unforgettable. Additionally, I must mention Spanish gastronomy and wine. I had the opportunity to enjoy their national cuisine in different Andalusian cities such as Seville, Malaga, Granada and Cordoba. However, the most fascinating point is how different each region of the country is. By going north, I discovered a whole new Spain with its peculiarities. Nevertheless, Cadiz will always remain my favourite place. The legend of the place says that Hercules, during his tenth labour, had to go to the end of the world, which turned out to be the region of Cadiz, hence the motto “Non Plus Ultra”, meaning Nothing Further Beyond.

Meeting point of wisdom and youth

My next stop was Estonia: a delightful country that is constantly progressing. While being there, I was always haunted by the desire to absorb all the knowledge that I was presented with. The University of Tartu made a huge impression on me because of its interest in each student. I genuinely felt cared for by my host country. There is a common misconception that people from northern countries are more reserved and less emotional. However, through this experience, I met people who turned out to be very friendly, open and reliable. Estonians themselves are very organised: they know how to divide work and leisure correctly, one of the traits I enjoyed adopting from them. When it came to everyday life, I found elements that resonated with my own culture: the hearty, flavoursome food and robust traditional beverages perfectly complemented their climate. Furthermore, the breathtaking landscapes constantly evoked memories of my homeland. Reflecting on the entire experience, I can confidently say that Estonia thoughtfully welcomes every eager Erasmus+ student, the University of Tartu’s library is so inspiring and attractive that it is considered as the meeting point of wisdom and youth. Taking a look back, I am extremely grateful for the experience that helped me to discover myself and see the world from diverse perspectives.

To sum up, it is safe to say that the Erasmus+ Exchange programme allows students to develop and learn about other cultures, expanding the connections between the EU and the Eastern Partnership. In this article, we wanted to show from our own experience that it is worth taking advantage of such an incredibly valuable opportunity. Erasmus isn’t just a year of your life, it’s a whole life compressed into a year. That is why we encourage everyone to consider this important step into their future.

Sources

Erasmus to Erasmus+: history, funding, and future, European Commission (2024)




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