The European Region Action Scheme for the Mobility of University Students (ERASMUS) is an agreement between the countries of the European Community that allows students to attend a certain time period of their education (usually a semester) in a foreign university, in a country member of this agreement. It takes its name from the medieval philosopher Erasmus of Rotterdam, who was known as an experienced traveler and polyglot. Created in 1987, the Erasmus Programme has become one of the most beloved rituals for university students from all over Europe. Why is it so successful? In an effort to answer this and many other questions, I interviewed Kamila Ishalina, third-year Bachelor student in Business Administration from Russia, recently returned from her exchange in Nottingham, United Kingdom. Here’s what I found out.
Why did you choose the United Kingdom as your destination?
I have wanted to visit the United Kingdom for a long time: since elementary school, I have been reading a lot about the country, its rich history and customs, which I have always been fascinated by. When I was offered the chance to actually visit it, I had no doubt it would be my first preference: after all, visiting the Anglo-Saxon world is the reason why we learn English in the first place! The University of Nottingham was particularly appealing to me, as it allowed me to also take elective courses outside of my specialization, for example Spanish and Psychology.
And did your experience reflect your expectations?
Yes, I was really satisfied with the way the courses were structured. Universities in Britain focus on a group-like approach, which means that we worked on many projects as a team, and it was really interesting. In addition, I had the chance to undertake many other courses and activities, which I hadn’t thought about before.
A few technical questions now: how did you apply for the exchange?
I applied through the Erasmus Exchange Program at the University of Amsterdam. The procedure is mainly computer-based: you have to write a motivation letter and answer a few questions, such as: why you want to go on exchange, why you chose a specific destination and how it is going to contribute to your academic career.
So what are the requirements, in order to be eligible for exchange?
Your grades are important, but the main focus is on the motivation: it’s really important to show the recruiters that you are the one they should select, by stressing your enthusiasm for the programme and your internationally oriented attitude.
About bureaucratic matters: did everything go smoothly? Did the university provide you with accommodation, for example?
Yes, I was indeed assigned an accommodation via the university’s international office. It was very close to campus, which was convenient because that’s where most of the student facilities in Nottingham are. Some friends of mine actually lived on campus, which is very different from here in the Netherlands, where students live mostly in the city. The only issues I experienced were related to my visa for the United Kingdom, which delayed my arrival for a week, but everything else was just fine.
What kind of accommodation was it: shared or private?
I had a private room with shared facilities, so the bathroom and kitchen were in common with five more people. This was really cool, since it allowed me to meet my flatmates who came from all over the world: we had a girl from Chile, two from the United States, and the other two from Malaysia.
Let’s get down to business now: what courses did you attend at the University of Nottingham?
I followed six courses, all of which were included in my specialization, which is Business Administration: Entrepreneurship, Strategic Management, Tourism and Sustainability, Branding and Advertisement, plus two electives. That’s where I chose Spanish and Psychology.
Did you feel the workload in the UK was heavier than that at UvA?
The setup was quite different: for example, there is no such a thing as midterm exams, which I believe reduces the stress. Instead, there is just one set of finals, for which you have one month of preparation. However, to make up for the absence of the midterms, there are several assignments, which are included in the courses. Overall, I’d say it was somewhat easier.
Was the relationship between students and professors friendlier or more reserved and professional?
The professors were really passionate about their subjects, and they were always open to suggestions from students. What I found very interesting was the way they used different means of communication, even including social media, to keep in touch with the students. I believe this creates a very productive dialogue.
Did your schedule leave you enough time for other activities?
My schedule wasn’t that busy: for each course, I had around one/two lectures a week, which left plenty of time for extra-curricular activities. What I found the most exciting was the existence of so many different student societies within the university, which allowed to put people with similar interests in contact. In my case, I chose the Public Speakers’ Society, which was one of the best experiences I have ever had: I would have never thought of myself as a public speaker, but being part of this society helped me overcome my fears and insecurities, and now I feel much more confident when speaking in front of an audience.
So was it easy to adapt to the new environment, overall?
Well, the good thing about doing an exchange alone is that you are forced to move out of your comfort zone and meet new people, which exposes you to all sorts of new experiences. It was very easy to get along with my flatmates, but also with other exchange students: everyone is new, and everyone is open to making new friends.
Tell me something about Nottingham.
Nottingham is a relatively small city, pretty much a student town. Since most young people in town are students, this creates a very lively environment, which means that many events are designed specifically for students. It also has a rich history, which has remained in the form of medieval buildings and churches. Fun fact: Robin Hood is considered a symbol of the city.
Describe one memorable moment of your stay.
It’s quite hard to recall one specific moment, since it was a pretty great experience overall, but there was this trip to Bath and Stonehenge that I really enjoyed. It was Halloween, so we also had a chance to see how it was celebrated in that area: apparently, pub crawling on Halloween is actually a thing in the United Kingdom.
In conclusion, do you think your exchange made the difference? Would you recommend it to your fellow students?
Yes, I definitely would. It was a real experience of personal growth, which made me more confident and open to new things, and I believe everyone should try it: apart from experiencing new approaches to education, it is a great opportunity to create long-lasting friendships from all over the world. So yes, I would strongly recommend it.
If you also want to experience how it is to study at one of the European universities and come back with unforgettable memories, don’t miss the chance. Remember, the application deadline for an Erasmus exchange in 2016-2017 is the 1st of March, 2016 (before 10 p.m.)!