EU programme for education, training, youth and sport

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In the spotlight: Erasmus+ opens up your mind

Erasmus+ provides people with the competences needed to lead independent, fulfilling lives. It helps them find their place in our societies and develop a sense of a European identity – one that complements our national, regional and local identities.

Self-confidence, adaptability, openness, mutual understanding, and solidarity are only a few examples of what can be gained through an Erasmus+ experience. When people have the opportunity to meet others – to exchange ideas, volunteer and learn new things – they often find similarities that create lasting bonds. For Matthieu Saglio, a French violoncellist, Erasmus+ represents a sort of remedy: ‘A lack of tolerance is always based on a misconception.’ In overcoming these misconceptions, Erasmus+ provides a unique opportunity to acknowledge differences and learn to look past them. Reflecting on his own Erasmus experience, studying in Spain, Matthieu believes that ‘all these exchange programmes are helping to foster a lot more tolerance and openness.

With Erasmus+, openness is not only a value, it has become a reality. The programme has shaped a new generation of European citizens by opening up numerous opportunities. It has even led to the creation of new families that bring together different nationalities: one in every three former Erasmus+ higher education participants has a life partner with a different nationality – compared to only one in every ten graduates without an Erasmus+ experience.

Being open makes us also more inclusive. In the context of the EU Leaders' meeting in Gothenburg this month, President Jean-Claude Juncker remarked that 'Education and culture are the key to the future (…) It is how we turn circumstance into opportunity, how we turn mirrors into windows and how we give roots to what it means to be "European", in all its diversity.' To harness the full potential of education and culture as drivers for jobs, social fairness and active citizenship, the European Commission is encouraging Member States to boost Erasmus+ with an even stronger commitment and aim for a European Education Area by 2025.

The benefits are clear and the ambitions, shared. According to Member of Italian Parliament Sandro Gozi: ‘The biggest selling points of the EU are its culture and its language diversity. We must invest in these more’. As an Erasmus alumnus himself, Sandro sees the benefit of the programme: ‘When more people know about the EU and what it stands for, this is the best antidote against poisons like populism, hate and discrimination’.

Read our spotlight stories from Erasmus+ participants

Matthieu Saglio – 40 – France

Matthieu Saglio – 40 – France

Erasmus+ Higher Education – Spain, 2000-01

The Erasmus+ programme is a cornerstone of the construction of the EU. Every time someone goes on an Erasmus to discover another culture, integrate into another culture, learn a language – they form new relationships with the people around them directly, and also indirectly.’

Matthieu found love thanks to Erasmus. He met his wife when she went on a year abroad to his university in Nancy, and the next year he followed her back to Spain as part of the Erasmus exchange programme that existed between their universities. Now they are raising their 3 Franco-Spanish boys together.

‘Erasmus+ changed my life. You could say that I became Spanish in a way. I really feel that Spain adopted me.’ In Valencia, Matthieu immersed himself in the Spanish culture, learnt to cook paellas and discovered flamenco. Erasmus+ also changed his professional choice. Without this experience, meeting the musicians in Valencia, he would never have made the decision to begin an international career as a cello player.

For him Erasmus+ leads to more openness and tolerance towards other cultures. He believes people discover intercultural exchanges ‘with passion, and at the same time with a certain distance as you come from somewhere else’. Matthieu tries to integrate this into his work and believes ‘this openness is something which is passed on through our concerts.’

Hacer Zeynep Yurtoğlu Tetik – 32 – Turkey

Hacer Zeynep Yurtoğlu Tetik – 32 – Turkey

Adult Education – Germany and UK, 2010-12

‘What I’ve learnt thanks to international exchanges was not to judge by the first impression. [If] you don’t know the cultural code to read behaviours, you can’t interpret the situation well.’

For Zeynep, a European project coordinator from Koacela’s city hall in Turkey, running international partnerships is an ongoing adventure. ‘I always learn something new,’ she says.

During her first project “Library of my dreams”, an Erasmus+ (formerly Grundtvig) strategic partnership between libraries from Turkey, Germany and the UK, she and other participants discovered how cultural differences make the world go round. Everything – from the way libraries operate to the activities used to attract readers – is culturally based.

Accustomed to formal library settings, Zeynep ‘found it very inspiring that libraries can be such a friendly and welcoming place’ in Germany. The experience resulted in adding a kids’ corner to the local library back home and opening new libraries. 

Another impactful learning experience had to do with hospitality customs. ‘In Turkey we took our partners everywhere by taxis and accompanied them all the time, whereas in Germany we were instructed how to use the metro and were left on our own’, she recalls with laughter. She points out that experiencing such differences may be difficult, but you learn not to judge too quickly by realising that these are actually cultural differences. 

In fact, Zeynep is convinced that ‘Erasmus+ does an enormous job in promoting openness and mutual understanding. The best way to challenge prejudices or to make people understand others is when they have a chance to meet or to cooperate together over reaching the same goal.’

Małgorzata Walentynowicz – 37 – Poland

 Małgorzata Walentynowicz – 37 – Poland

Erasmus – Germany, 2003

‘People who are able to travel can discover other cultures for themselves and appreciate diversity. This is something that you cannot learn just from television.’

Music breaks down barriers. Polish pianist and lecturer Małgorzata can attest to that. As an Erasmus student in Hannover, she immersed herself in ‘an abstract subject that at the time was completely unknown in Poland’ and got to know many cutting edge composers.

The experience left a lasting impression on the classically-trained pianist, who has since made it her mission to inspire students at the Stanisław Moniuszko Academy of Music in Gdańsk to explore contemporary composition. If it was not for Hannover she argues, she ‘would not have had anyone to show her this world of music’ in the first place.

This passion is also reflected in her involvement in 2 highly respected music ensembles in Cologne and Berlin. Małgorzata travels frequently to Germany, sometimes even 3 times a month, and says this has made her appreciate ‘the practical benefits of European citizenship’, particularly because she remembers life before Poland joined the EUThe Cologne ensemble is made up of people from 7 different countries, so she’s well versed in being open to others.

She appreciates the challenge of playing abroad, as well as having the opportunity to learn how other countries function, explore different cultures and embrace diversity. Erasmus was the programme that enabled her to follow her unique path of self-discovery. ‘I now feel European,’ she says.

Marco Meloni – 28 – Italy

Marco Meloni – 28 – Italy

Erasmus+ Volunteer (EVS) – Argentina, 2014

It was great to go into a community and really be recognised as part of a community.’

Since his first youth exchange to Russia at the age of 16, Marco never passed up an opportunity to go abroad. Upon arriving in Rosario, Argentina, with the European Voluntary Service (EVS), Marco could not anticipate how much he would have learnt, both culturally and by training volunteers to engage in community service activities.

Over a 7-month period, Marco carried out several activities primarily as a volunteer with the association Agenda Siglo 21, which coordinates projects all over the region with various local organisations including, among others, TECHO Rosario and the Banco Alimentar Rosario

Marco’s chief goal as a trainer was to ‘instil the community aspect’ of volunteering work and enlighten the importance of creating connections with people in need all over the world. For him and his team, it was important to not only boost solidarity but also respect the community. ‘They learned a lot from me and my background in non-formal education activities,’ he recalls. ‘Volunteering is not just about working better as a team, but about the social part… understanding and approaching the communities.’

In addition to training, Marco had the chance to be a part of another culture. ‘Now when I travel in a Spanish-speaking country, to them I am Argentinian.’

Marco feels that his Erasmus+ experience not only introduced him to a different culture but also inspired his PhD research at the University of Coimbra (Portugal): ‘I was going in one direction and I am now on another direction, studying, making research, a really fantastic experience.’ With the help of a national fellowship, Marco is entering his second year of his PhD at the University’s Centre for Social Studies, focusing on the field of public participation, social inclusion and democratic innovations in upscale budgeting.

Irene Goméz Arnáiz – 23 – Spain

Irene Goméz Arnáiz – 23 – Spain

Higher Education – Finland, 2016

Erasmus+ has not only opened my mind but allowed me to take responsibility of my capacity and build trusting relationships across nations with my hard work and dedication.’

Through Erasmus+, Irene learnt first-hand at an interior design architecture firm in Helsinki, Finland. In the office as well as the classroom, this eye-opening experience exposed her to a different culture and new ideas, ultimately giving her a stronger voice and personal direction.

From the cold to the cuisine, Irene recalls the transition to her Finnish routine. One of the main differences was the Finnish culture of respect, which translated into an enriching and encouraging atmosphere working on different design projects with the studio. This sense of respect was evident in her position in the group:  ‘I was not just an intern/apprentice or an Erasmus+ student, I was a part of the group and my opinion was important.’

This experience was not only inspiring for her own design style and skills but also had an impact on Irene’s perception of herself as a Spanish citizen, a European, a student, a designer, and so on. In her own words: ‘Through different encounters, I got to learn about various cultures, places and people,’ all of which contributed to ‘an increased feeling of belonging to the exceptional European community.

Irene recently started a one-year master’s programme in Interior Architecture.

Sandro Gozi – 49 – Italy

Sandro Gozi – 49 – Italy

Erasmus Higher Education – France – 1990

Don’t take the EU for granted. We are more European than ever before – we don’t need to change our money when travelling, we don’t need to show our passport at EU borders, we can go and study in a foreign city.’

Just after the fall of the Berlin wall, Sandro was one of the first students to take part in the Erasmus experience in Paris which kick-started his career and led to him becoming the Undersecretary to the Presidency of the Council of Ministers of Italy.

Paris made him feel like a true European citizen, he saw how he could fit in with locals and was made to feel at home, as if he was a native. By broadening his horizons, Sandro’s experience affirmed his interests and ultimately motivated his career path.

He was so inspired by the value of his experiences that he wrote a book: Génération Erasmus. Ils sont déjà au pouvoir (Erasmus Generation. They are already in power). In it, he details how Erasmus alumni ‘are in the position to make Europe even better’. He challenges former participants to ‘give back to the EU’ and ‘multiply the opportunities for young people’.

Sandro believes that as ‘more people know about the EU and what it stands for, this is the best antidote against poisons like populism, hate and discrimination’.

‘The biggest selling points of the EU are its culture and its language diversity. We must invest in these more,’ he says. He maintains that Erasmus+ is the best way of promoting these unique characteristics, adding that the programme is vital for attracting students, professors, and other talent from outside the EU.

Félix González Ardanaz – 28 – Spain

Félix González Ardanaz – 28 – Spain

Higher Education – Poland, 2008-09

‘The Erasmus experience made me feel like a global citizen. I’m at home in any place in the world.’

At the age of 28, Spanish classical pianist Félix has already performed on many of the world’s most prestigious stages. Forming part of the alumni of several music schools, including those in Warsaw, Paris, London and Vienna, Félix’s musical training opened his eyes to different European cultures and customs.

His journey began when he became an Erasmus student, travelling to study at the Fryderyk Chopin University of Music in Warsaw. ‘I was only 17 and living alone in a foreign country was a big change for me,’ he says. ‘Especially since there are many cultural differences between Poland and Spain.’

He was surprised to see his fellow students queue for hours to practice their instruments at school, and was moved at the popularity of classical music concerts. ‘I noticed that music is a large part of the Polish national identity.’

Félix’s Erasmus+ experience taught him to be brave and to trust himself.  Through an appreciation of other cultures, he began to understand music differently and applied this to the music he played. ‘Music is a dialogue between the performer and the audience. The more the musician is open to other cultures, the more this dialogue is feasible, rich and moving.’

The time he spent in Poland propelled Félix’s career: ‘I had the chance to be inspired by highly accomplished Polish pianists and conductors,’ he says.

Looking to the future, Félix believes that European education systems should teach more about diversity to foster openness to other cultures. ‘Europe is a marvellous mixture of cultures and we need to know how to deal with that.’

Ewa Skwarka – 59 – Poland

Ewa Skwarka – 59 – Poland

School Education, ‘European Folk Tales: Hidden Treasures’ project with 6 partner countries, 2016-18

'Erasmus has opened my eyes to the world and to other cultures.'

Ewa, a dedicated pre-school teacher and former host of a popular children’s TV show in the 1980s – ‘Domowe przedszkole’ (‘Home preschool’), says openness to other cultures had a great influence on her approach to education. ‘I noticed that in post-communist countries early education is extremely formalised whereas in countries like Italy, Portugal or Turkey the approach is much more relaxed. Teachers follow the needs of children, not the other way around.

Her first taste of international exchange at work came through the eTwinning platform. Inspired by the possibilities, she joined the ‘Little Europeans Know Each Other’ project (2011-13) and then successfully helped launch an on-going Erasmus+ project called ‘European Folk Tales: Hidden Treasures’.

The aim of the project is ‘to get to know other cultures through their folk tales’. By engaging senior citizens to perform the tales for kids, they are not only promoting not only cultural awareness, but inter-generational awareness too. It has helped Ewa discover ‘how at the basis of those tales the same archetypic stories about the fight between good and evil, love, friendship, etc. are hidden, … somewhere deep under the cultural coat of things which differentiate us, there are hidden treasures that connect us’.

Taking part in Erasmus+ projects gave Ewa opportunities to exchange knowledge and best practices with teachers from other countries. As head of a public school in Warsaw’s suburbs, she can pass this along and is ‘very proud of giving the teachers at [her] preschool opportunities for professional and personal development’. Being open has exposed the teachers to different learning methodologies and a range of techniques including ICT tools and e-books.

Enrica Sciandrone – 36 – Italy

Enrica Sciandrone – 36 – Italy

Vocational education and training – United Kingdom – 2010

‘I became more mature and confident as a result of the [Erasmus] experience. I am definitely more open to other cultures.’

The music industry is competitive. For Enrica, making the most of every opportunity enabled her to pursue her passion for music.

After studying composition, harmony, counterpoint and piano at the Conservatorio ‘L. Refice’ di Frosinone near Rome, Enrica moved to London to complete a Master’s degree at the Royal College of Music. She stayed there and was accepted for an Erasmus+ traineeship (as part of the programme formerly called Leonardo da Vinci).

When her traineeship finished, she found out there was an open teaching position. Despite being ‘extremely young for a professor,’ Enrica got the job. ‘I was successful in part due to the praise I received from the students I taught during my internship,’ she said. ‘Thanks to my Erasmus+ experience, I was able to demonstrate that I had all the skills required.’

Several years on, Enrica is not only a university professor, but she has also composed soundtracks for many award-winning independent films, documentaries, animations and television commercials. Most recently, she worked on the 2017 film Life, starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Rebecca Ferguson. ‘Erasmus+ has played an important role in what I do today,’ she said.

Looking back, Enrica feels that she always aspired to prove her talent but couldn’t fulfil her true potential in Italy. ‘London brought me into contact with other cultures and gave me a good balance.’

Not only has her experience in different countries helped her become an internationally recognised composer, but it has also become woven into the music she creates. ‘Music is always about intercultural projects,’ she emphasises, ‘which is important for my inspiration.’

Sofia Jagbrant – 31 – Sweden

Sofia Jagbrant – 31 – Sweden

Youth in Action – North Africa/Middle East - 2005

‘I met people I wouldn’t have met otherwise. I developed an understanding of how to work with people from different cultures and backgrounds.’

Before travelling to Egypt under the Erasmus+ EuroMed Youth Exchange Programme, Swedish native Sofia felt she was shy and unassuming. ‘The experience gave me more confidence and took me out of my comfort zone. Before, I was too shy to speak in front of people. Now, I’m regularly speaking in front of large groups,’ she says.

Sofia found her confidence by volunteering in various youth organisations, working on equality and human rights projects. By putting herself outside of her comfort zone, Sofia was able to gain a sense of self-assurance. ‘I challenged myself and it felt natural. It felt like skydiving with no safety net but it felt good.’

She has gone on to manage over 10 youth projects, including an international youth exchange involving young Swedish and British girls who had been victims of violence. Now based in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, Sofia is working as Bilateral Associate Expert for the Swedish International Development Agency based in the youth-focused non-profit organisation Restless Development Tanzania. One of the programmes of Restless Development, Youth be Responsible, is funded by the EU.

Alongside helping vulnerable groups, Sofia has learnt languages such as English, Swahili and Arabic. She has also taken a variety of courses in coaching and personal development, which she wouldn’t have contemplated had it not been for Erasmus+.

Being part of Erasmus+ has opened up new worlds for Sofia, and finding her confidence has allowed her to embrace new experiences. ‘It’s easier to relate to someone you have met in person. This reduces misconceptions of different cultures as you see things from another perspective,’ she says.

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