This week the UK Parliament voted to end the UK’s involvement in the Erasmus scheme, which for more than 30 years has provided an opportunity for students and researchers to experience life beyond their own borders. I find this inexplicable. Here is a post I wrote almost three years ago (23 May 2017) about my own Erasmus experience.
I had a great time today at the EU Centre at RMIT, who held a celebration of 30 years of the ERASMUS Programme. This student mobility programme, financed by the EU, took me to Leiden, in the Netherlands in 1992. At the time it seemed to be just a fun way to enhance my under-graduate experience and get something interesting on my CV (that’s all it took in those days – we didn’t need 14 internships…).
However I’ve long been aware that it was much more than that. It was the beginning of wonder and joy at the new and different, of calculated risk-taking and a confidence about my ability to cope with almost anything. It was great to hear that story repeated by the others there, pretty much all of whom had the early experience of the programme that I did. Maybe we didn’t realise it at the time, but we were pioneers, the first of the Erasmus generation.
Through my au-pairing experience a few years before and the Erasmus time in Leiden, I learned about problem-solving, resilience, adaptability, flexibility, empathy and getting a different perspective. These are the kind of skills that are going to be at the heart of the jobs of the future – those particularly human attributes that are more difficult for machines to replicate. So programmes like Erasmus are setting our young people up for the future.
(If you want to get a feel for what I’m talking about, I’ll tell you what I told the assembled room today – watch L’Auberge Espagnole!)
I feel such a sense of loss for the young people that will find it harder to experience what I did all those years ago. It won’t be impossible, of course – my grandmother lived in France for 18 months in the 1930s. But it won’t be as easy and it won’t be as accessible to young people from low-income families. And that’s a shame.
The photo is of Leiden, the town where I spent my Erasmus semester.