“It was the best year of my life”: Former Erasmus students on what could be lost with Brexit

Verne speaks to Spanish alumni who studied in the UK on the importance of the program, which could be at risk if Britain crashes out of the EU without a deal

Spain is the most popular destination for Erasmus students.
Spain is the most popular destination for Erasmus students.GETTY IMAGES

The Erasmus exchange program is a life-changing experience for many university students. At the beginning, everything is challenging: the language barrier, hunting for an apartment and getting to know a new city. But the experience also gives students the opportunity to learn new things, be independent and have an amazing time.

Since it was founded in 1987, the Erasmus exchange program has hosted more than four million students. But uncertainty surrounding Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union, a process commonly referred to as “Brexit,” has cast doubts about the future of the program in the United Kingdom. If the UK crashes out of the EU without a deal, Spanish students enrolled in the 2018-2019 academic year could lose their scholarship to travel and study in the country.

Since it was founded in 1987, the Erasmus exchange program has hosted more than four million students

After France and Germany, Spain is the country that sends the highest number of Erasmus students abroad. It is also the most popular destination for foreign students in the program, according to an annual report published in January 2019 by the European Commission. In the 2016-2017 academic year, the UK was the second-most-popular destination for Spanish students after Italy.

“Apart from the language and the quality of the universities, many students choose this destination with the aim of finding future work there – they know that there are many professional opportunities. Since last year, applications to study in the UK have fallen as students fear they will not receive financial aid. We’ve also noticed that there is less interest from British students in taking part in Erasmus,” says Paula Sancristóbal, secretary of the Erasmus Student Network (ESN) at Madrid’s Complutense University.

While many European universities offer classes for Erasmus students in English, Malta is the only other country in the program aside from the UK where English is the official language. Verne spoke to former Spanish students who did their Erasmus year in the UK to learn about what will be lost if Britain is no longer part of the program.

Paula, 23, Erasmus in London, England (2015-2016)

“I chose to do [my Erasmus year] in London because I was studying English and I wanted to improve my language skills and understand the culture I was studying. I chose London specifically because it’s a big city, and I wanted a contrast to Asturias, where I am from. It would be a shame if Brexit affected Erasmus scholarships [...]. The university used methods I had never seen before: they were young professors who could relate very well to us, they organized debates and theater outings. It was a very enriching experience.”

Ana, 23, Erasmus in Coleraine, Northern Ireland (2013-2014)

“I was in Coleraine, a town in Northern Ireland with about 20,000 residents. Going to Northern Ireland was a very interesting way to understand the different ideologies and religions and how they coexist in the country. I chose that destination because I figured that in a small and isolated town, there would be fewer Spaniards at the university. What you want to do when you go on Erasmus is speak English.

“It saddens me that Erasmus is at risk in the United Kingdom. Living with people whose native language is English is crucial to learning the language. Going to live in the UK allows you to meet people from around the world because as a country with former colonies it has a more diverse population.”

Diego, 29, Erasmus in Sheffield, England (2009-2010)

“The experience was unbelievable. University life in the United Kingdom is a very different concept to the Spanish one. University [in England] offers many alternative extracurricular courses and activities, to an extent that would not be socially accepted in Spain. They don’t just offer classes, but rather a complete life experience. I don’t think that Erasmus is at risk because of Brexit. Ending it would only create problems for both sides.”

Andrea 24, Erasmus in Leeds, England (2015-2016)

“My time at Leeds University was amazing and different to what I experienced in Spain, both in terms of university life and studies. There, they focus on individuality, on ensuring you contribute your own ideas and have the tools to educate yourself. If they end Erasmus, it would be a waste of money and talent for a university like Leeds. It opens doors for you on a personal and professional level.”

Beatriz, 23, Erasmus in Glasgow, Scotland (2015-2016)

“I chose Scotland because I played soccer. Being able to play there was a unique experience and it was the best year of my life. Going to Glasgow not only allowed my to play with my favorite team, it also helped me grow as a person and meet people from different countries [...]. It would be a huge loss if going to the United Kingdom was no longer an option, especially for those studying languages and those who want to practice their English.”

Laura, 23, Erasmus in Leeds, England (2015-2016)

“I went to Leeds for its high of standard teaching and literature classes. They offer seminar classes, where a text is analyzed in small groups. I thought the teaching style was very different, and in my opinion, more effective than the one in Spain. There’s a huge university life and you live differently. In England, you can meet people from around the world, not just Europeans.”

Alba, 22, Erasmus in Leicester, England (2016-2017)

“I didn’t want to go to a big city because I didn’t want to be around lots of Spaniards and I didn’t want the experience to be too expensive. It was the best year of my life. My university experience changed completely and it helped me break stereotypes. If the opportunity to do Erasmus in the United Kingdom is lost, those who taught us English Studies will have many problems.”

English version by Asia London Palomba.

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