EU programme for education, training, youth and sport

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In the spotlight: Erasmus+ brings people together

Patrycjusz Ceran a mountain rescuer from the Mountain Volunteer Search and Rescue testifies: 'Being a volunteer makes you stop for a second and see others around you. You can make new friends, learn new skills, and end up happier. It’s really worth the time and the effort.'

Experiencing life in another European country opens the eyes of Erasmus+ participants: it provides them with a fresh look, new ideas and an eagerness to contribute to their community. In fact, 88% of those who took part in a European school partnerships say that they increased their social skills and 4 out of 5 participants in youth exchanges say they are more likely to participate in society.

The Erasmus+ generation actively brings the change it wants to see in Europe. 81% of mobile Higher Education students voted in the 2014 European Parliament elections, compared to 30% of young people in general. Moreover, 83% of Erasmus+ alumni claim to develop a European perspective during their time abroad. As Dr. Pablo Biderbost, Founder Partner and General Coordinator of Bringing Europe Closer project says: 'Erasmus+ also helps to create institutional capabilities that enable European values such as solidarity, free speech and equality to be shared'.

By learning from each other and collaborating in various fields and projects, the Erasmus+ generation is more equipped than ever to do its part in the world today.

Everyone can get socially involved. That’s why we invite you - past, present and future Erasmus+ participants - to join the Erasmus+ Generation Meeting Point. This online platform gives individuals and groups the opportunity to discuss and shape the future of Erasmus+. We know you have something to say, go ahead and share it with us!

Read our spotlight stories from Erasmus+ participants

Democracy and Human Rights Education (DARE) - Germany

Democracy and Human Rights Education (DARE) - Germany

Erasmus +, Grundtvig, Vocational Education and Training (Leonardo da Vinci)  – 26 EU countries – 2003 – present

There has never been an EU programme that has been so open to promote democracy.’

Thrilling, exhausting and addictive’ - this is how Georg Pirker describes his 17 years at the helm of the DARE Network. It all started in 2003 as a Grundtvig project but today boasts 48 member organisations from 26 EU countries. DARE helps organisations involved in human rights and democratic citizenship education (EDC) to share experiences, create exchanges, and enhance the quality of their education programmes in democracy and active citizenship.

Examples include France’s ENGAGE, which focused on encouraging school children (aged 8-12) to think democratically in the classroom. Another in Portugal known as STEPS developed a media relations toolkit for educators working the field of democracy. EDC for All developed a game-based low-threshold educational entry programme for people facing difficulties to access citizenship and Human Rights Education.

Over 17 years, up to 30,000 trainers and other educators have been involved in DARE and the network looks set to continue well into the future. ‘After all, the debate on democracy and active citizenship is continually evolving and we need to be there to question societal developments, especially in today’s political climate, where the challenge in more and more countries is to connect  the EU work back to the ground of societal debates said Georg.  Subsequently DARE´s current project STEPS aims to develop a Survival Toolkit for EDC in Post-truth Societies.

Caroline Gillet – 33 – Belgium/France

Caroline Gillet – 33 – Belgium/France

Erasmus+ Higher Education – Spain, 2005

'It’s important for a society to listen to its young people and to let them express themselves, to listen to them, which was our objective with the radio project'.

For 2 years, Caroline interviewed young Europeans reflecting on ‘new ways they could be active’ in Europe. These video portraits were published on France Inter every week under the names ‘I like Europe’ and ‘Tous les européens’. The project provided young European an opportunity to reflect upon their 'hopes, aspirations and regrets, what they know about their history, what their relationship with their elders is, what relationship they have with their culture'

For Caroline, Erasmus+ is a mini-version of ‘a European utopia where we succeed in living together’.Though she had already lived in several countries before her Erasmus+ journey, Caroline's  experience reinforced her belief that making Erasmus+ and other experiences abroad are life changing: 'having Erasmus+ more accessible to people of all backgrounds will encourage openness to other cultures across and beyond Europe'.

Digital Natives 4 Democracy (DN4D) – Italy

Digital Natives 4 Democracy (DN4D) – Italy

Erasmus+ (Comenius Regio) – Italy/Iceland, 2012-14

‘The students discovered new media as a means to express their thoughts on democracy. They also expressed an interest in each other despite never meeting face-to-face.’

Instagram competitions, podcasts and writing blogs - all in the name of democracy. These are just a few of the activities students from Iceland and Italy took part in during the Digital Natives 4 Democracy (DN4D) project - piquing the interests of young people in democracy through their digital prowess.

In Florence, students produced and moderated 6 online podcasts, which were aired on a local web radio station and on social media. Additionally, in an Instagram challenge, students took photos depicting democracy in Florence and Reykjavik, attracting some 500 followers via the hashtag #DN4DMyCity. The campaign website, managed by students, attracted more than 25 000 visitors. Many of the students also contributed their own ideas to the DN4D blog, after being taught how to write articles for the web and code html.

Students discovered new ways to express and share ideas but it’s not only the students who benefited. Elisa Molino, who took part in DN4D, saw staff members gaining confidence in their digital abilities and becoming more active online. Communities in Florence and in Reykjavik plan to work on future projects together, because as Elisa says, ‘having the chance to exchange experiences with people from different countries offers real added value. Afterwards, you come back home with fewer prejudices, new friends, better work methods…’

Elfriede and Arno Eckhardt – 63 and 66 – Germany

Elfriede and Arno Eckhardt – 63 and 66 – Germany

Erasmus+ (Grundtvig 50+) – Lithuania, 2014

"Many elderly people – it doesn’t matter whether it’s in Germany or Lithuania – are increasingly lonely. That’s why it’s important to care for them and to give them thought-provoking ideas."

During their 3 weeks as senior Erasmus+ volunteers in Lithuania, Elfriede and Arno received a warm welcome. They shared ideas regarding organisations of older people in Lithuania, with the hopes of setting up senior citizen groups similar to those in Germany. Thanks to the Erasmus+ project ‘Grundtvig 50+: See for yourself - friends help friends’, they helped develop projects of the Lithuanian Samaritan Union.

For one elderly lady this was opportunity to meet new people.  “Sometimes you also need someone to talk to" says Elfriede.

Elfriede and Arno also planted seeds in volunteers’ gardens so once grown, the vegetables can be given to elderly people in need.

The couple left a lasting impression on their hosts and in return Lithuanians from the project travelled to Germany to visit them and their senior citizen groups. As Arno summarises: 'I think we brought a piece of our culture to Lithuania, we managed to get to know each other and to meet people who have a different culture. This leads to an understanding for one another and enables you to deal with each other in a problem-free way and accept people who live in another country as they are'.

Patrycjusz Ceran – 40 – Poland

Patrycjusz Ceran – 40 – Poland

Vocational Education and Training (Leonardo da Vinci) – Germany and Austria, 2012-13

Erasmus+ – Germany and Austria, 2014-16

'Being a citizen obliges us to actively take care of our community. By doing voluntary work you add a whole new dimension to your life.'

The 3 things that Patrycjusz loves the most? His family, mountains and the idea of united Europe. This is why he joined GOPR (Górskie Ochotnicze Pogotowie Ratunkowe) – the Polish Mountain Volunteer Search and Rescue service in 2012. The closeness with nature, adrenaline, and an unstoppable urge to help others were also motivators that pushed him into playing with the dangers of the wild Polish mountains. 

Having worked with European regional cooperation programmes, Patrycjusz came up with an idea of organising international training for Polish GOPR volunteers with fellow rescuers from Germany and Austria.

The main objective was to exchange experiences, knowledge and good practices. Volunteers were trained on how to conduct rescue actions on a glacier, in an avalanche or from a helicopter. The last edition of the project was about building an e-learning platform to enhance the effectiveness of the training process based on the German example.

'Being able to help others is a privilege which makes you feel needed and useful. It’s an amazing school of cooperation and mutual trust. Your life depends on the action of people around you, same as their lives depend on your action. Is there a better way to learn humbleness?' says Patrycjusz

The partnerships with German and Austrian services resulted in ongoing cooperation and the teams are able to conduct rescue missions together. This collaboration fosters not only cooperation and mutual learning, but also 'It had shaped me as a European making me understand the true value behind such words as openness, tolerance and integrity'.

Voluntarios Solidarios en el Municipio de Elche – Spain

Voluntarios Solidarios en el Municipio de Elche – Spain

European Voluntary Service (EVS) – Germany, Poland, Estonia, Italy, Cyprus, Turkey, Croatia, Slovenia, 2015-16

‘For all of us, from the volunteers who come here to our partners abroad, projects like this change lives.’

Young volunteers from across Europe participate every year in social projects organised by the Municipality of Elche. During 9 months the volunteers lead and participate in a range of projects that focus on youth, education, the environment and above all European citizenship. Volunteers who work in education would lead activities for children aged between 1 and 5 years, while environmental activities have included replanting schemes involving handicap people.  All volunteers come from different countries, this brings cultural richness to the Spanish town and provides volunteers, with experiences that they would not otherwise have, placing ‘cultural exchanges at the core of the programmes’.

After 9 months, volunteers return home with renewed self-confidence and a range of sharpened social skills which, according to technical support officer, Jose Manuel Garcia Sempere, is ‘the strongest proof that projects like this make a huge difference.’ Jose believes that being able to talk in front of a room full of people, learn Spanish and be able to live in a foreign country ‘is a huge deal for an 18-year-old who might not have had many opportunities to do so before.’ The project shows them that their lives are in fact ‘full of possibilities’.

The impact on the local community is also significant, and Jose says this demonstrates that ‘everything we do for our community affects us directly’. The project has also brought Europe closer to home; Spanish youngsters who might never have thought of travelling abroad before are often inspired through meeting other young Europeans.

Bringing Europe Closer – Spain

Bringing Europe Closer – Spain

Erasmus+ – Spain, 2016-17

'Erasmus+ is about creating awareness and citizenship. Here in Europe, it has been incredibly difficult to destroy the psychological walls that have existed between nations, but programmes such as this make it possible to talk about real European citizenship'.

A project bringing 16 Spanish and Greek youth workers together with European officials for an intensive training week has provided a template for teaching the benefits of European citizenship. Born out of an awareness that anti-European sentiment was growing among young people in these 2 countries, the Bringing Europe Closer project helps youth workers to develop new non-formal training activities, understand the role of agencies and institutions better, and fully explore the benefits of European citizenship. A visit from a European Central Bank official for example was an exercise in empathy; the official could place himself in the shoes of a Greek youth worker, and vice versa,’ said General Coordinator, Dr Pablo Biderbost. His partner and Project Coordinator, Alonso Escamilla added: ‘We hope that young people can increase their European citizenship, their active citizenship and the solidarity in their country and other countries of the EU, and that this project can help them to rediscover the EU and to keep working to build a more inclusive Europe.’

Participants from secondary schools, universities, NGOs and churches have since gone back to their places of work to pass on what they have learnt, with the intention of ‘helping to generate European awareness among a new generation of Europeans’. Pablo estimates that over 500 youngsters have already benefited from the new techniques and knowledge developed within the project. He added that while criticism is ‘an indicator of a healthy democracy’, there is still a strong need to ‘show that European citizenship and European projects like Erasmus+ change lives’.

SocialErasmus and ESAA Entrepreneurship Incubator, Erasmus – pan-Europe

SocialErasmus and ESAA Entrepreneurship Incubator, Erasmus – pan-Europe

SocialErasmus– Belgium

Erasmus– pan-Europe, 2008 – present

‘Participants can give something back to the local community, and really leave their mark’ - Gizem Altun, International project coordinator.

ESAA Entrepreneurship Incubator – pan-Europe and global

Erasmus – pan-Europe and global, 2011 - present

‘Business is becoming more social and social ideas need to be more business-like to thrive.’ - Stephanie Raible, instructor of cultural entrepreneurship.

The SocialErasmus and ESAA Incubator projects help participants of Erasmus programmes to ‘leave their mark on local communities and achieve long lasting social change’. Through engaging in social projects, international partnerships are forged.

SocialErasmus encourages Erasmus exchange students to take part in projects in their host country and help address local issues. Promoting active citizenship and fostering change in society, exchange students are invited twice a year, through SocialErasmus Week, to join ESN volunteers. Popular activities include language courses, animal shelter and environmental protection. According to international SocialErasmus project coordinator Gizem Altun, the project demonstrates that ‘we are far more than just what is printed on our passports’.

The ESAA Incubator helps entrepreneurship, including social and cultural entrepreneurship, in Europe and beyond to flourish by teaming up Erasmus+ students and alumni from across Europe and further afield in innovative internationally-minded projects. The key benefit of the ESAA Incubator is that ‘it creates a connection among participants from all over the world and underlines the strength of Europe as a broad concept, advocating unity and cooperation’ said Stephanie Raible, an instructor of cultural entrepreneurship and an organiser of the ESAA Incubator since 2013. Successful projects to have emerged from the incubator include a wide range of professional networks, product lines, social movements, and service organisations.

In this way, both the ESAA Incubator and SocialErasmus are incubators not only for innovative social ideas to benefit communities but also for European values of unity and cooperation.

Big Hands Help Little Hands – Austria

Big Hands Help Little Hands – Austria

European Voluntary Service (EVS) project, 2015-16

‘Volunteers go back with open eyes and can deal with new situations better; if things go wrong they have the capacity to adapt.’

The ‘Big Hands Help Little Hands’ project invited 5 young, foreign volunteers from socially disadvantaged backgrounds to spend 9 months working in kindergartens in Vienna. The experience brought joy to little kids ‘who don’t care if you speak German or not’, and also to the kindergarten staff 'There is no doubt that long term volunteers who spend nine months with us, from the beginning of the kindergarten year, have a major influence on the teaching team' explains Birgit Fetty (on behalf of project coordinator Daniela Fellinger). It also transformed the learning atmosphere, described as ‘totally different when you include people from other countries.’ To further break down barriers and sweep away stereotypes, volunteers and parents got to know each other when invited to family dinners.

Above all, the project transformed the volunteers, who learned how to live independently in a new country and achieve self-confidence though finding strengths and abilities that they perhaps did not realise they had. It successfully demonstrated exactly why new, challenging experiences that ‘take you out of your routine or family structure’ can be positive, and that while sending young volunteers from disadvantaged backgrounds abroad might be a challenge, ‘the potential impact is so much bigger’. Ultimately, the success of this project, coordinated by Grenzenlos, underlines why EVS is an experience from which everyone can benefit

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