Erasmus is the European Union student exchange program that, since its conception 30 years ago, has enabled 4 million young Europeans to study, volunteer and gain professional experience outside of their home countries.

Currently, 4,000 higher institutions in 37 countries are involved in the program. But of course, it's not only an opportunity to study. It's a chance for young people to socialize, experience diversity, meet with different nationalities and better understand the host country. What makes it so popular is that, for many young people, Erasmus offers their first chance to live abroad. German-born Anna Luise Dieball was one of these students.

Delivered. talks to Anna about her Erasmus experience, how it changed her worldview and her hopes for the future of Europe. 

Where did you go to abroad with Erasmus and why?

I studied the binational course German-Italian Studies at University, so going abroad for a year was a required part of my program. So I chose beforehand that I wanted to go to Italy for a year - because I wanted to discover the real culture behind stereotypical images of the country. When I got the chance again to study abroad during my Master's, I went to France because I'd studied French in school but I didn't know how to speak it. I think when you learn a language in a classroom setting, yes, you may know all the grammar, but if you've never immersed yourself in the culture, you can't fluently communicate.

What did you want to gain from the experience of living and studying in a new environment and culture? 

Of course, languages weren't my only motivation. I think when you live abroad you get to learn a part of yourself that you didn't know before. By separating yourself from the bubble you grew up in, you're free to act differently and explore new ways of behaving. It was also exciting to meet such a new diverse range of people and to find similarities and connections despite coming from entirely different backgrounds. 

How did it feel to make friends in a place where you didn't know anybody? What did the experience teach you about both yourself and the way we mix and interact cross-culturally?

In France, I was in a very mixed environment with people of many nationalities. It was a shock at first to adjust to new behaviors and cultural differences, but with interest, patience and an open mind, it was easy to get past those barriers. 

With Erasmus, the process of making friends is made easy because, on the one hand, you have a supporting network of university organizations, such as ESN – Erasmus Student Network. They organize events for Erasmus students to meet up, party together and to explore the new city and country. On the other hand, everybody's new in the country, doesn't speak the language fluently and nobody knows anybody, so your network becomes super close super fast. Everybody supports each other like a surrogate family. Also, I think there's a certain kind of people who go abroad: people who are open, sociable, curious… so you quickly find people you mesh with. 

Describe the friendships you made while in the Erasmus network. How are you staying in contact with the people you met?

I made friends from all over the world! With many of them, we still regularly keep in contact via Whatsapp and Facebook to let each other know if we're planning to visit each other's countries. It's easier to stay in touch with Europeans because flights are cheap, so we can plan to meet up somewhat spontaneously. For example, my best friend from the UK just recently booked tickets to visit me in my hometown next month. Also, the lack of time difference means it's is easy to catch-up on the phone and most mobile networks charge you the same to call anybody anywhere in the EU.


What do you think are the benefits of living abroad while you're so young?

It's not just a benefit to your curriculum, but also to your character. It forces you to grow up in a way that's different from simply moving to another city in your own country. Being alone in a place completely alien to you teaches you a lot about how to be independent and how to adapt to new environments. 

I believe a crucial point is that you become more open-minded and tolerant when you're surrounded by people from other cultures and backgrounds, people whose experiences and worldviews are different to your own. It makes you challenge the beliefs you were brought up with. Plus, learning another language is such a door-opener to meeting people and learning new perspectives.

Do you think this experience influenced your opinion on living abroad in the future? Would you seek job opportunities outside of your home country?

Right now, after being abroad for so long, being close to family is a priority for me. But in the future, I would absolutely consider living in another country. I'm lucky that Germany neighbors so many countries and that borders don't matter in the EU. If I wanted, I could potentially live in France, work in the Netherlands and visit my family every weekend in Germany. But if I had to go through border checks every time, this kind of thing wouldn't be possible!

The EU has recently increased funding for this project...  What are your hopes for the future of the EU?

I'm hopeful that the EU will continue the Erasmus program and other projects that promote mobility and integration between cultures. Studying abroad is such a cool life experience and a real benefit to your education, and I believe the demand for it will only continue to grow.  Young people are adventurous by nature, they will always want to travel and challenge themselves. I believe in times of growing Protectionism and political uncertainty, it's becoming more and more important for young people to go abroad and open their worldview.

The European Parliament election takes place on the 23rd to the 26th of May, 2019. To find out more information on how to vote, click here—  Giorgia Rose

Published: May 2019